Since last week’s kick-off post I’ve been thinking about how I divide my learning into Soil / Soul / Society. I’ve also thought about learning or reflective questions against these headings.
Soil: How have I tended my soil this week? What needs attention? What have I experienced / learned?
Soul: How have I nourished my soul? What could I do to stretch myself or expand my awareness? What else am I curious about?
Society: what have I learned about the role I play in society? How have I grown my capacity to act with others for change? Where do I take this next?
And I’ve also summarised my overall learning question: What does ‘innovation’ for climate justice look like? Who is doing this well and what can I learn from them? What challenges are they facing, where do they need support and what is holding people back?
This week has felt like another transitional week, made shorter by a bank holiday. A routine is elusive — and I’m also observing that jobs — all jobs seem to take longer. I don’t think this is because I’ve slowed down. I think this may be because I routinely underestimate how long I actually spend doing things, and when I allow them the time they need, they can take longer. So making active choices feels more important.
Soil. I finally got round to a job I’ve been putting off for a long time and emptied out the hotbin. It had become completely blocked and had basically turned into a big wormery. A couple of conclusions I drew in the process: that composting is another activity that works better at a community scale (I’m just not sure we produce quite enough food waste), but also that composting is a process of nurturing living organisms, and like all life (including our own creative life) the compost needs turning, aerating, regular nurturing to thrive. It did also remind me of this fantastic project (Compost Mentis). Our local nature innovation seed fund closed for applications this week. Obviously I’m not directly involved — but I’d be interested to see if any soil-based projects come up.
At the weekend we also visited Spike Island Open Studios. The theme of our entanglement with the more-than-human (and the crisis we face) was the dominant topic across a range of studios. There were videos of diatomous life-forms, screen prints from fossil-based inks, and all sorts of encounters with the microscopic co-creators permeating our compost bins, our soils, our bodies. I want to spend more time exploring Bryony Gillard’s work, and also Katy Connor’s (there’s a video of a talk she gave here). The one book on every artist’s book shelves? Staying with the Trouble. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to catching up on this recording of James Bridle’s recent Bristol Festival of Ideas talk.
On Monday we took part in the Bristol and Bath City Region Nature Challenge (with three 9 year-olds). A bet on how many flowering plants we could find was a good motivator: in the end there were 27 species within a short walk of our door. Some of the most beautiful are growing up even through the cracks in the pavement: valerian, dandelions, bellflowers, toadflax. I’m still pondering a more-than-weeds style micro-intervention… I still think iNaturalist is one of the best examples of enabling technology: a service that enhances rather than diminishes our experience of the natural world.
Soil and soul went together this week. I felt nourished and stretched by engaging with the creative community around me. But also this week we marked the 1st May (or Beltane) which also happily coincided with Eid. A Tunisian friend — whose is living through an experience of deep grief — shared this photo of her Eid table (the Centifiola roses are from her garden, planted with a now departed loved one), and for me it encapsulated all the joy of abundant (and melancholy) May.
Meanwhile, we had a visit from Laura Winn (after two long years) — and we saw in the May hanging out on the allotment around a small fire, and sharing cross-channel stories of where the future might be emerging. Links to explore further:
- The work of the Institut des futurs souhaitables and in particular
- This experimental project in the Drome bio-region (what would a just transition look like at landscape /catchment scale and how can we bring this to life?)
- We are ‘nature’ defending itself: Entangling Art, Activism and Autonomous Zones by Isabelle Fremeaux and Jay Jordan
On a different note, running in the back of my mind was Davina McCall’s latest menopause documentary. Seeing ourselves as part of nature also entails much more attunement to our cycles of living, and our hormones. Whilst I admire her campaigning energy — and it’s interesting to note what happens when you speak up about a taboo, what that unlocks — I found it very depressing that the narrative thrust was entirely towards one single medicalised solution. Not that HRT isn’t valuable for lots of women, but what would happen if we considered women’s bodies in a more holistic way? And what if we’re only treating symptoms, not some of the causes of distress (like work-based stress, for example).
On Wednesday I met up with Hannah van den Bergh and we talked about how her work is evolving, and her dream for an innovation hub in a derelict site in a local park. Something that emerged strongly from the conversation for me was the gap in support and funding for early stage ventures; most of the projects she supports our already quite well established. We also talked about how toxic an influx of venture capital at the wrong time can be — and how models that support sustainable growth (in the human sense this time) build stronger businesses in the longer term. It’s not OK to expect that starting a venture requires a form of Faustian pact — you shouldn’t have to work 100 hour weeks to service capital’s demands. I’m hoping we’ll meet up again soon.
The week was dominated however by the referendum on the role of the mayor in Bristol. I was a small part of the campaign to scrap the mayor — on the basis that we need more collaborative, representative systems of governance for better decisions in the city. In practice this meant lots of pavement-pounding to get out leaflets. I was delighted with the outcome — and it will be interesting to see how a new form of governance emerges.
On Thursday I also attended the Green Mingle. My first in-person gathering, and it definitely doesn’t lend itself to such a range of conversations. However, I did discover a new connection with someone who now works in community energy, supporting the development of new projects in the south west, backed by BEIS funding. Very similar conclusions from my conversations with Hannah: most of the projects she encounters are already quite established and backed by retired men. We pondered the options for increasing diversity in these kinds of projects — but none we concluded are as compelling as the four-day week for releasing untapped potential for community action.