agency [noun] : action or intervention producing a particular effect
It’s very easy, as a liberal intellectual environmentalist activist artist, to surround oneself with like-minded people, and become so insulated in some kind of smug-yet-angsty bubble that you start to assume everyone is worried about global ecological crisis, everyone recycles, everyone agonises over the organic or the fair trade bananas, and has occasionally experimented with soya milk.
But a humbling aspect of my practice – walking on foot into encounters with people – is that it is demographically neutral, bringing me into contact with characters and opinions I might not normally have the privilege of experiencing. Even or especially the ones I disagree with.
It has become increasingly apparent to me that, while these moments with people can be intensely political or profound – troubling, trite and touching by turns – caring about ‘the environment’ or ‘ecology’ is for many people a luxury. (Especially now, in the Age of Austerity.) And the knowledge that we can make simple, positive changes in our lives that can truly, and collectively, make a difference – the memory that we have agency – so often seems to have been lost.
So I came to realise that talking to people expressly about wider ecological issues was less important than simply empowering people to believe we can – and can make – change. How can we possibly connect with or feel our place within a wider ecology when our sense of conscious participation in our own ‘human’ ecology is so fragmented?
I don’t know how one goes about rekindling lost agency via an activist walking art practice. It seems an arrogance to think that such a thing is possible. But maybe that’s denying my own agency or efficacy as an artist, or an individual.
But what I do know is how there have been turning points in my life, when some simple event or act has revealed to me how I have absolute agency to make change happen. Like when I realised that to become ‘a runner’, I just needed to put on my trainers and step outside the door. (Or to become a walking artist, I just needed to invent a series of increasingly insane rules for walking in the countryside.)
My naiive hope is that through the sheer unexpectedness of the moments, encounters, interventions that I set up, a space of possibility and generosity is co-created. A lightbulb moment, to remind us that there is agency even (or especially) in turning the lights off.
[The images below are some of the responses from a workshop with the Dragon Orchard Cropsharers in January, when I asked the group what questions we can ask of strangers that elicit positive messages about power and energy – with thanks for their generous participation! The Putley WI also contributed responses and message of affirmation in March – with sincere thanks to them too!]