In August 2021, we (Jill Sorensen and Mark van Wetering) bought a 3.5h piece of land in Raurimu, on the northern foothills of Ruapehu. It is four hours south of Auckland, and 589 metres above sea level. This somewhat unkempt combination of pasture, a creek, trees, and blackberry will be the site for an evolving experimental art-ecology project space. It is exciting to be in a place to be able to put our spare income potential into something we value rather than consuming more. The project is in its infancy, but as the price of land is skyrocketing, we thought we had better get in while we can still afford it. So, cart before horse, we have the place before we have a clear plan.
Initial project: Cohabitation Collaboration
Our vision is to facilitate a collaborative, creative, multi-disciplinary research hub for experimental rethinkings and hands-on reimaginings of multispecies cohabitation and regenerative food cycles. We envisage it to be both a practical, grounded research space and also a philosophical and critical space – a ground for thinking, feeling, writing, cohabiting, and making, while at the same time caring for and reinvigorating the land itself.
At this point, we are seeking to establish a loose community of interested people; involvement might range from collaborative vision-building, proposing and undertaking projects on the site, waterway and soil restoration, regenerative gardens, fruiting forests, developing an artist residency program or just offering advice and or moral support.
We are starting out with some exploratory vision sharing conversations, hopefully this will organically lead into interested parties regrouping for further conversations, vision brainstorming and planning.
If this sounds like the sort of thing you might be interested in, please do send me an email.
Building an alternative reality hut should be undertaken as an imagination experiment. Imagine for a moment that things are real in the same way that you and I are real. Imagine that they have an actual, material existence that only partially coincides with our experience of them. Pretend for a moment that objects have material capabilities other than the use designated by humans. Play along with the possibility that a thing is an entity, a being of sorts that is dissimilar from ourselves. Now that your thing is an autonomous entity, you can allow yourself to will feel the kindness of things. Let’s play.
Who: of all the things in your home which ones will you call on to construct your alternative reality hut? Do you want a soft draped blanket hut (blankets, bedsheets, drop cloth, tarpaulin) or a planar construction from rigid sheet objects (cardboard, MDF, an old door, a sheet of corrugated iron.) Do you have unrefined organic things you can invite in? (A tree branch, a large potted plant, some bamboo, some autumn leaves.) Should this alternative reality be brightly coloured and patterned or soothing with soft colours and dim light?
What things have you got that could make a structure: an outdoor umbrella, a ladder, some brooms, a rope between door handles. A pile of boxes, a bicycle, the sofa, a bookshelf. What things in your home might enclose or form walls?
How: Will your hut be freestanding, or will it hang from the ceiling, the wall or a tree? Will it be low so you have to crawl in, or do you want it to be somewhat lofty see can lie down and look up? Angular? Rounded? Or maybe domed like a tent.
Where: is your alternative reality hut going to be in the middle of a room filling the space or tucked into a corner? Might it include others – a sofa, your bed or a tree?
Today, rest with your objects and contemplate the quiet kindness of things.
idea shares:some huts I have made over the past few years
Follow on Instagram for step-by-step guidelines on how to customise your lockdown zone into a smaller but more friendly Alternative Reality Hut. Share handy hints on ways in which you might reconfigure the things (objects, materials, furniture and other stuff) with whom you share your covid19 bubble. share photos of your hut-in progress on the Alternative Reality Hut community Facebook page
Saturday 24 April – Collect the things you would like to share your alternative reality with. make a plan for how these things could make a hut that you could fit inside.
BeKind and inclusive (Consult and involve all who inhabit the space, animal, vegetable or mineral.)
Buildsmall and intimate. (just big enough to accommodate those who share your bubble sitting close together.)
Sunday 26 April – DIY: ALTERNATIVE REALITY HUTMAKING DAY! build your alternative reality hut with the things that you have in your home.
Thought experiment: what happens if you think of it as collaborating with the entities with whom you cohabit and constructing an alternative reality hut together?
relax and dwell with the quiet kindness of things: spend some time in this dwelling within a dwelling. Let your mind wander. Take time to see your things from a literal and metaphoric new perspective.
8pm – 9.30pmTogether Apart #1 meeting the neighbours: a zoom drop-in session to share your alternative reality hut
Monday 27 April – relax and dwell with the quiet kindness of things: Let your mind wander a little further. Take time to see, sense, think and feel your things from a literal and metaphoric new perspective.
11am – 1pm Together Apart #2: alternative reality stories. Zoom in from the comfort of your hut and share an alternative reality story. It might be something you have dreamed of in your hut. It might be an alternative reality you would like to see as our new normal. Or you might choose to share the experience dwelling in your alternative reality hut or to reflect on the quiet kindness of things. (bring a picnic, a coffee, a glass of wine)
How can we playfully inhabit this hiatus in the everyday? What liberties of childlike curiosity and questioning can this moment of confinement offer?
DIY alternative reality Hut is a participatory art-structure for playful and thoughtful engagement with the last week of level four lockdown in Aotearoa. Over this week, 22 – 27 I will be posting step-by-step guidelines on how to customise your lockdown zone into a smaller but more friendly Alternative Reality Hut. Each day will focus on ways in which you might reconfigure the t(objects, materials, furniture and other stuff) with whom you share your covid19 bubble. Each day you’re invited to share your observations and reimagining’s using any of the platforms. On the final two days of lockdown, Sunday 26 and Monday 27 April) all hut-builders are invited to join virtual meetups from within their alternative reality huts, to video-share their DIY constructions and to share hopeful stories for alternative realities for our post-lockdown new normal. On the final day of level four lockdown, the project aspires to link a community of dispersed alternative reality huts to form an Alternative Reality City, a network of imaginative dwellings stretched out across Aotearoa.
Guidelines, handy hints and imaginative suggestions will be posted daily on Instagram and Facebookwith the handle @alternativerealityhut.
The Oaktree is old, some of his branches end in stumps but others stretch out wide, forming a canopy under which walkers, dogs, cyclists, runners, pheasants and rabbits pass by. The Oakley Creek walkway brushes up against his truck, cutting between him and his companion who stands a few meters closer to the creek. I have cycled and walked beneath this tree for around six years; a small wedge of my 53 years, a tiny sliver of his 160 years. Long enough to become aware of one another’s presence. I have watched his green leaves emerge in spring and gulped is soft oxygenated shady air in summer. I thought long and hard about the shared habitation of old-world trees brought by my ancestors and the regenerated and replanted native trees tracing a shared history of relocation and negotiation of space. I can’t help thinking that maybe the trees have been more generous in the sharing and we have.
Today it is autumn, and the Oaktree’s leaves are golden brown and making their leisurely way from branch to earth. As I cycled, I was thinking about how I could transition my shed/studio into a heterotopic space for dreaming and imagining. A dwelling space sufficiently private and safe to invite people to join me in undertaking the vulnerable journeying that I had in mind, but that still located within otherness, a space of unknowing and hopeful waiting with those both significant and other. As my bike and I approached the old oak, it seems that he invited me to gather up his fallen leaves and take them to my dwelling place. I stopped and spent some time with the tree checking in with myself and with him that I had understood. Self-consciously committing to unknowing while holding the balance of my awareness of the suggestive hopefulness my perception (am I purely projecting this) and my scepticism (you think this is research – really?). It seemed that he also suggested to me that I should bring my camera and make a video looking up the length of his trunk to the sky and take this image with me too.
I cleaned and prepared my shed, making an open space for a bed of leaves. On the appointed day for leaf gathering, I set off with my phone camera and some large bags. I lay under the tree with my camera; I gathered leaves into awkward bundles to carry out. Back at the shed, it seems like the right thing to do was to turn the leaves each day until they were completely dry. Turning the leaves and waiting to see what happens next.
Lying under the Oaktree I place the camera on my diaphragm with the intention of recording my breathing, surprisingly it also recorded my heartbeat, the tree moving in a regular and surprisingly rapid pulse, the speed of my heart pumping blood around my body evidencing an experience of duration distict from that of the tree. For me, existence is divided into the tiny segments of my heartbeat and the longer segments of my breath in and out of my body. The Oak tree appears to breathe in a continuous uninterrupted flow through his permeable leaves. I imagine his inhale and exhale as an annual cycle, his duration marked by the seasons of leaf growing; a long inhale, then leaf dropping and resting in the cold of winter.
After turning leaves, making videos with the tree and extending my breath work practice both with the tree and in my leaf pile I feel ready for some further experimentation in the space.
I have been playing with projecting these videos in my shed with the leaves, though the space is not large enough to get the projector far enough back for them to fill the walls. The movement of the trees with my breath is mesmerising and the sounds of the walkway’ the birds’ the movement of leaves, sets up an in-between space, an amorphos zone between the ‘here’ of my shed and the ‘there’ of the Oaktree by the creek. I think this could work well in an exhibition/installation context, however it feels slightly at odds with the practice of breath work, partially because usually you close your eyes during a breath work journey, but there is also a sense of artifice in the translation of the tree through projection. It feels contrived, which is not usually how I feel about projection. I am waiting with this question at the moment, not rushing to resolve it.
I have been making a dwelling space, a leaf hut, so as to be surrounded above and below by the leaves.
In the first trial I used a pink lace fabric from my collection, but it was too visible, separating the leaves too much from the inside of the space. It looks better photographs than it did in the physical space.
I enjoyed the way the umbrella skeleton forms a low shelter, though again it is a bit large for the space. For the second iteration I used bird netting that I had left over from the garden. I very much dislike the plastic brutality of the netting, it is just a stand-in until I find something better. It does however hold the leaves reasonably well and is less visible. I would like to be a little lower and more fully covered with leaves (a lower pitch or more leaf catching net so the leaves don’t slide off)
It is a lovely space to share with friends as in this informal gathering. It is redolent of childhood huts, moments of altered reality and brief holidays from the normality of everyday urban life.
I have not felt ready to invite someone for an event yet. I would like to do some breath work sessions, though I have two concerns regarding going ahead with this – one is my reticence to lead another person into a breath work session with the level of experience I have myself. (Though I would start with a very introductory and short breathing session, possibly leading into reflective conversation). My other concern is that I’m not sure how good for your lungs it is to breathe in Oaktree leaf dust, or even how dusty it is when you’re not moving and stiring up the leaves. I don’t want to cause someone to have an Oaktree allergy.
I took TJ Demos on a bike ride with me; he talked, and I listened and pedalled. He spoke via the multi-layered avatar of a downloaded PDF, (the introduction to Decolonising Nature), read aloud via the Voice Aloud Reader app on my phone, delivered via Bluetooth to my in-helmet headphones. Demos talked about the way in which we apprehend nature impacting on how we assign responsibility for climate change, as we travelled over and alongside the motorway, passing manicured parks and rambuntious mixed-species urban thickets.
I breathed the rank air of the cars, and the soft air of trees with a momentary waft of roast potatoes as Demos promised catastrophic circumstances. I inhaled mudflat, and post-rain sewage as Demos evoked the plethora of voices speaking with him through the litany of thinkers and writers listed in numerical order in the notes accompanying each page, read out in full detail by my reader.
He spoke of the complicity of big industry as the cycleway crossed over a train yard and ended in an industrial park. We turned for home with the setting sun in our eyes and the possibility that we might, together, move beyond anthropocentrism.
The next time I did this ride I took my recording devices with me and recorded what the bike saw, what I saw and what we heard.
what he said:
“Political ecology necessitates engaging with these inequalities of our neocolonial present, just as centuries of colonialism initiated climate change.32 Accumulation by dispossession occurs when the fossil fuel economy in so-called developed nations creates the atmospheric pollution that, in causing global warming, now threatens the existence of small island nations, such as Kiribati and the Maldives, creates havoc in the Bangladesh’s delta, and melts perma- frost in Alaska. Or when agents of “green capitalism”—which grants post-1970s cor- porate practice a cosmetic environmental guise—buy tracts of rainforest in the Brazil- ian Amazon in order to plant eucalyptus monocultures (green deserts that contain no life) for biofuel that forces Indigenous and Quilombola (Afro-Brazilian former slave) communities from their once-biodiverse, natively managed land. What are these cases if not contemporary corporate colonialism?33 “
32. In this regard, Eyal Weizman is right in arguing that climate change is the telos of colonial modernity. See Eyal Weizman and Fazal Sheikh, The Conflict Shoreline: Colonialism as Cli- mate Change in the Negev Desert (Göttingen: Steidl, 2015).
33. For more on this argument see Ashley Dawson, “Putting a Human Face on Climate Change,” in Climate Change and Museum Futures, ed. Fiona Cameron and Brett Neilson (Lon- don: Routledge, 2014), 207–18; and Santiago Navarro F. and Renata Bessi, “Green Neocolonialism, Afro-Brazilian Rebel- lion in Brazil,” trans. Miriam Taylor, Truthout, December 28, 2014, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/28232-green- neocolonialism-afro-brazilian-rebellion-in-brazil.
Demos, T.J. Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology. Sternberg Press, 2016. p 17
I was fortunate enough to be invited to present at the 7th The Association for the Study of Literature, Environment and Culture, Australia and New Zealand (ASLEC-ANZ) Biennial Conference: Grounding Story, Feb 13-15, 2019 at the University of New England, Armidale, Australia
located between Sydney and Brisbane
As the name suggests, the campus is gracioius is a slightly stuffy English manner
This conference brought together writers, artists and activists involved in storying, or re-storying our shared experience of waking up to the Anthropocene, the moment Donna Haraway* identifies as The Great Dithering, a moment in which the impact of neo-liberal/capitalist care-less-ness can no longer be ignored, but Western culture in the thrall of this power, does not yet know what to do about it.
This conference shared the thinking and storying of people and organisations actively addressing this question of what to do about it. Importantly for me was a shared focus on what we can do here and now, in our own lives, communities and practices. what was presented was an array of strategies for identifying and taking up agency within existent social structures rather than deferring all possibility of action to upward to a governmental power or a wider public who needs to care more, think more do more. The stories shared here are embedded in the understanding that change, political and cultural, can be driven or activated from within, and seek to articulate new understandings and ways of thinking that can grow out from individuals and communities, building new cultural understandings from the bottom up. This is not to suggest that we abstain from direct political action, emphasising that the two are required in tandem to achieve the significant and sustained cultural shift our current predicament requires.
the conference was populated with facinating presentations, my only complaint was that, due to the concurrent schedule I was not able to attend everything that Ii absolutely wanted to see.
The following are a few of the individuals and groups that most strongly impacted on me.
Gabi Briggs (Aniwan)and Callum Clayton-Dixon (Aniwan) on the Anaiwan Language Revival project, and the associated visit to the Armidale Aboriginal Community Garden for the opening celebration of Gabi Briggs exhibition, “Surviving New England: Our Koori Matriarchs, Part One” and a shared meal with the community.
Dr Daniel Hikuroa (Ngāti Maniapoto), speaking on the Maoritanga of living in the embrace of Papa-tū-ā-nuku (the ancestor/god of the land) and Rangi-nui (the ancestor/god of the sky) and how this has directed his involvement inTe Awaroa – Voice of the River
the Australian collective The Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation introduced us to their latest project “An Artist, Farmer, Scientist and a Planner Walk into A Bar…” they also have a video for this ongoing project.
Sarah Edwards, Artist, presented her work The Growling Grass Frog and Its River Lethe: A sonic reflection on storytelling, memory and forgetting, based around an audio recording which is the sole remaining trace of the now extinct Australian Growling Grass Frog.
Elinor Scarth and Leoni Mhari (Edinburgh) performed their work We are sending a Scottish Landscape, an installation of objects and moving image projections, unpacking each item from the travel-case as the narrated it story.
Michael Chew (Monash) presented Images of hope, images of change: participatory approaches to north-south climate solidarity and shared his recent project Photo Voice in Bangladesh
The Association for the Study of Literature, Environment and Culture, Australia and New Zealand provides a research network through to share information and ideas on the human relationship with non-human ecologies through literature, the arts and humanities in Australia and New Zealand. ASLEC-ANZ
* Haraway, Donna Jeanne. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Experimental Futures Technological Lives, Scientific Arts, Anthropological Voices. Durham London: Duke University Press, 2016.
I broke my ankle in the holidays, this means that I cannot easily take a shower, I can, however, enjoy a long and relaxing bath with moon-boot propped on the edge of the tub.
The following is my process of getting this bathwater to the persimmon tree on the back lawn. Remember, I have a broken leg, I can’t carry a bucket of water.