As a score for a walking performance, Trans-missions has been on its own slow and meandering journey, going through many iterations before I finally settled on its current form. Originally, the structure of the walks – the idea of following the route of pylons and electricity power lines – derived from my interest in ‘performing’ a contemporary take on eccentric Herefordian Alfred Watkins’s ley lines: the network of linear trackways that he identified by the alignment of ancient features [mounds, barrows, hill forts] in the landscape, and along which he proposed Prehistoric man would have navigated by sightlines. How could one walk or follow the route of a very contemporary infrastructure – one that maybe invades or strides over landscape – and what new meanings could it reveal, about place and people?
Back when Trans-missions was first conceived, the moral of the trail was to be about disconnection and devolved responsibility – how we have become totally separated from the generation of the power we consume and thus any sense of awareness of the ‘energy’ it takes to produce. (In the same way as my other work has addressed, however obliquely, the ways in which we have become separated from growing our own food or fetching our own water.) My plan had been to follow the powerlines that ran from the field behind my then home across the country until I got to a power station, talking to people along the way about energy consumption. But through the course of my research and practice over the past few years, I have become increasingly convinced that this kind of blatantly didactic approach is actually really alienating: surely there’s nothing worse than a holier-than-thou walking eco-artist jumping out at you from behind a bush on a footpath to make you feel guilty about over-filling the kettle or how long you leave the fridge door open?
Instead, I started to think about energy in a completely different, more fundamental way: what energy do we possess as individuals, or collectively, that even allows us to ‘care’ – about the ‘environment’, the fridge door, or each other – in the first place? If this is being lost, or somehow denuded – by the pressures of modern life, the speed of communication, social networking, austerity measures – then perhaps my energy as an artist would be better put to facilitating small moments of human reconnection, rekindling this kind of energy through small ad unexpected acts of performance.
Pylons also have an inherently human form, and the idea that they might become ubiquitous symbols we look up to remind us that we are all connected – to each other and to the wider ecology of which are inherently a part (as Baz Kershaw says, trying to think/talk about ecology as humans – when we are inextricably part of ‘ecology’ – is like switching the light on to look at the darkness) was something that appealed to me.
Alongside this Trans-missions has also – and inevitably – been informed by my academic reading. In particular, some snippets of ideas that leapt out from (my own very subjective interpretation of) the work of two French philosophers: Michel Foucault (on power) and Jacques Ranciere (on the equality of intelligences). So it seems appropriate that the week before I embark on the Trans-missions walk, I’m currently in France (performing and teaching with everyBODY dance on their Kingfisher and the Damselflies piece).
So I will finish with the words on/from Foucault, Ranciere and some geekish photos of Breton pylons between St Brieuc and Rennes…
‘Foucault’s notion of ‘transmitting’ power through the stories we seek out and pass on and how we locate each other within available repertoires of human conduct and define patterns of social interaction, is not only a more accurate model but is more generative of the resistant, disruptive potential of art’
Alana Jelinek (2013) This is Not Art: Activism and Other ‘Not-Art’. London: I. B. Tauris, p. 90
‘This shared power of the equality of intelligences links individuals, makes them exchange their intellectual adventures, in so far as it keeps them separate from one another, equally capable of using the power everyone has to plot her own path. What our performances…verify is not our participation in a power embodied in the community. It is the capacity of anonymous people, the capacity that makes everyone equal to everyone else…’
Jacques Rancière (2009) The Emancipated Spectator. London: Verso.