Collective Futures

Collective Futures is born out of the desire to collaborate, identify and tackle the climate crisis issues which most concern the local communities close to our partnership.

Steered by a group who have been recruited for their perspective on the climate crisis, Collective Futures acknowledges that people can be experts in their communities and that the best plans involve the very people that are affected by them.

Identifying problems, exploring new ideas and possible solutions, Collective Futures will share and showcase examples of creative work that has made an impact in local and global communities. It will tease out the challenges faced by their local communities and arts organisations to explore what matters, what action to take and what motivation exists.

  • Collective Futures First Meeting – 26th June 2023

    Collective Futures began with a warm welcome of foraged pine needle tea. Introductions focused on connection to place followed by role and finally our names which brought a spaciousness to the room – a personal sharing and insight.

    Sam Pickett began with a talk. The Collective explored her exhibition through an informal comment and reflection session. Conversations about the gendered experience of being in natural spaces and feeling of fear transitioned to cultural fear of public spaces. Living with nature, side by side, such as the difference between pets and pests and the desirability of weeds and edibles were explored.  Acts of foraging for natural dyes, accessibility of scientific data, community participation methodologies and what is deemed a ‘wild’ space were interrogated. This led the group to question whether the artist’s role should be to challenge resistance by working with people who contest ‘wild’ spaces’ and what managed and unmanaged nature is.

    Debbie Yare gave an introduction to her work which focused on how the landscape supported her return to health and looked at low cost artistic practice in financial and environmental perspectives. Her talk centred on what it means to be alive in a place and be alive to a place. Debbie spoke about frustration for ‘ecosystems and service’ which relates to what humans can get out of nature, a term she felt was extractive.

    Debbie Yare gave an introduction to her work which focused on how the landscape supported her return to health and looked at low cost artistic practice in financial and environmental perspectives. Her talk centred on what it means to be alive in a place and be alive to a place. Debbie spoke about frustration for ‘ecosystems and service’ which relates to what humans can get out of nature, a term she felt was extractive.

  • Collective Futures Second Meeting – 10th July 2023

    A photograph of Jessica El Mal's Cyanotype images of rain presented at Castlefield Gallery.
    Installation View: Jessica El Mal, Spring Rain 09.12.2022. Photography by Jules Lister.

    The second introduction to Collective Futures incorporated a curator and artist-led tour of The Poetics of Water, an exhibition by Jessica El Mal and Parham Ghalamdar at Castlefield Gallery, Manchester.  Curator Matthew Pendergast situated the exhibition in the context of Castlefield Gallery’s origins as an artist-led space with a purpose of supporting artists in the North West and as part of Hybrid Futures – a pilot project which explores how artwork is cared for, collected, commissioned, acquired and transported.  Exhibiting artists, Parham Ghalamdar described the overlap between his practice and the climate collapse in terms of the existential concerns he has experienced as an asylum seeker and the fragility of democracy and life standards that could immediately change through the unfolding of political unrest or a threat to national/ individual security.  Parham spoke about his new departure into ceramics  – a material that can be both wet and dry at the same time, gloopy and solid or both dirty and beautiful. Parham hopes to reveal the ‘social, collective way to think outside the binaries’, to be conscious of our own carbon footprint and create space for conversation.

    The Collective shared a meal together prepared by the Open Kitchen –  a catering company who are committed to producing food in the most sustainable and ethical way. Dinner conversation included singing the praises of domestic spiders whose webs act as natural air filters and a call to do less cleaning, Louise Bourgeois’ spiders – stitching, weaving, mending, the emergence of mosquitos specific to the London Underground, red earthworm sausages found in the Philippines, climate-aware photography, presenting data connected artistically/creatively, utopian and dystopian futures and personal and collective responsibilities.  Discussion was expansive covering the failing education system compared with the regenerative activism of children through cultivation of sphagnum moss set against play, art, culture as vehicles for learning.

  • Collective Futures Third Meeting – Resonant Objects

    Resonant Objects and Regrouping

    A member of Collective Futures holds up a small punch of three bananas.
    A member of Collective Futures holds up a small bamboo model of a house with green trim.

    For our next meeting of the Collective Futures group, we met online on 5 October 2023. Each brought an object which holds a resonance in connection to the climate crisis and we shared why it is meaningful.

    Objects included a cast iron frying pan, an overlocker, an ornament, a banana, books, metal straws, Twin Peak DVDs, a calculator, antiques, a family photograph, a wind- up radio, cleaning products, a spider plant, bin bags, African rocks, breath and Sajida’s nose.

    A member of collective futures holds up a 35mm photograhic print of a baby on a parent's shoulders.
    A member of Collective Futures holds up a rock in front of their right eye.

    In under an hour, the Collective shared personal experiences, memories and emotions presenting objects that took us from the Amboseli, Kenya droughts and the mass deaths of animals, to sustainable bamboo building materials in Bangladesh to the worlds’ most contaminated  – River Doe Lea (1995) –  in Derbyshire to the everyday ritual of household waste disposal in Rochdale plus several other significant points of reference and resonances.

    The feelings that were indirectly and directly expressed included the need for preservation of the past, fear, disbelief, overwhelm, frustration, injustice in the present, a sense of rootedness, the possibility for change, obligatory hope, the desire to nurture and cultivate and the acknowledgement of our inextricable connection to the world.

    It’s not easy to get this kind of level of emotion and connection out of such a short session –  especially one that takes place online. It was a really powerful sharing and there’s clearly so much more to unpack between us.

  • Collective Futures Fourth Meeting – POWER

    Artist Hilary Powell and filmmaker Dan Edelstyn walked the Collective Futures group through their work and the motivation for POWER

    Dan and Hilary trade as Optimistic Foundation CIC, a creative and community-based organisation that focuses on shifting power and subverting power structures. Power as energy and power as financial system, taking on projects to wipe out decades of debt and galvanising communities to take direct action. Hilary and Dan use their sphere of influence to incrementally and strategically build a vision of a better future and develop strategies to resource this.

    Watch their presentation here.

  • Collective Futures Session 5 – Regenerative Cultures

    Two members of Collective Futures in discussion, sat back lit by a large window.
    Collective Futures members Mehren and Caroline in conversation at Rochdale.

    (5-minute read)

    Liz Postlethwaite of Small Things Creative Projects began the Collective Futures session by asking the group what they had each noticed in nature today. In response, the collective shared their observations on the changing colour of the autumn, heavy rain and the oxygenating effect of negative ions and bacteria release, the clouds and the light over the moors.
    In small groups the collective went on to explore what regenerative means to them: 

    • New iterations
    • Momentum and energy
    • Doesn’t take more than it provides
    • Application to different models, organisations, system
    • Connected, collaborative and co-creative
    • Renewed, continued as opposed to ending of fragmented

    From the sharing of a weekend activity – sweeping up autumn leaves – links were made between the body and the visceral process of regeneration, mutation and change including the menopause and searching for something in amongst the mulch. A comparison to the film Alien was drawn.

    Liz expanded on these shared views, drawing attention to process, ecologies, sense of connectedness and self generation. She explained how the earth is regenerative and has been developing complex regenerative systems for 4.6 billion years and is a continuous growth or cycle of life giving process. The conversation touched on abundance, a definition of ‘we’ being bigger than the human experience and what ‘we’ need, what’s extracted is different for different people at different times.

    Extractive, Sustainable, Resilient and Regenerative models

    Extractive was explained as the predominant, industrial culture which keeps taking until nothing is left in systems, exactly where we are now – with a system losing capacity over time. Sustainable provides a steady flow -a system that was not depleted but not rebuilt at the same time. Resilient – a term co-opted in contemporary culture referring to an ecosystems ability to recover from shock. Regenerative held an upwards trajectory ecosystem, building capacity, growing life to allow for a resilient system to flourish.

    The collective broke off into groups to discuss how these models of practice related to our own practices. This led to a discussion of how using these words was triggering for one member of the collective who connected the concepts to mutation and regrowth in an embodied sense. This directly linked to one member of the collective working for the NHS and the extraction of care from people and the body’s ability to regenerate cells from within a health care system with a depletive and extractive culture.

    Another group shared their experience of how the extraction of resources (green spaces and authoritative powers not listening to public consultation) is not ultimately beneficial to the economic models. This correlates to the pollution of the sea and subsequent depletion of tourism in Blackpool and the complex and intertwined economic / ecological systems we find ourselves navigating.

    The Collective Futures group sat in discussion around a table.
    Members of Collective Futures in Rochdale.

    There was a light bulb moment for two members of the collective and articulation of Sustainable and Regenerative Practice and what they want to be aiming towards.

    Liz talked about time and urgency and the need to slow everything down in terms of our own personal responsibility and our aspirations for change. The urgency and pressure we are under to fix the planet was spoken about as not particularly helpful and it was posited that perhaps we should be aiming to contribute to a future world we will never experience; An example given was a tree we plant today being the oldest tree in a forest we will never know. If our relation to time and timelines could be readjusted not to align ourselves with industrial models of production and consumption, we might understand our place in the ecosystem and cycle of decomposer/receptacle of biomass.

    Liz began to describe the three principles of permaculture as an ethically based design system informed by indigenous cultures caring for the planet, people and a fair future. Liz spoke about the context of late capitalism and how capitalism is designed to make us feel unable to step away from it as we feel trapped in a producer/consumer mode rather than producer/consumer/decomposer model we find in natural ecosystems.

    Liz spoke about the ‘impossible’ in relation to the fall of the Berlin Wall – how this once seemed unfeasible and towards imagining a future in which radical change and faith in uncertainty.  One member of the Collective shared her insight on rights of species  – such as sharks in the Maldives.

    An activity of reflecting on our own practice as regenerative and some self-congratulation from within the group. One member noted the way in which budgets were set for artists rather than asking the artists to quote for their work as something that could change.

    Liz showed the collective a wheel of privilege which visibly plotted that privilege is not a single entity and can have impact in multiple different ways.

  • Collective Futures Session 6 – Leave No Trace

    A visual storyboard showing the 6th Session of Collective Futures including a visit to Salford Museum & Art Gallery, and anthotype making.

    Artists are trained in mark making, printmaking, object making, film making and a multitude of ways to leave a legacy. Curators and archivists are trained in how and what to preserve of this process and cultural capital. How then can we reconcile this with ecological directives such as ‘leave no trace behind’ and ‘go zero waste’? What is sustainable making and how should we decide what is collected and valued? How can a collection or a creative practice be a vehicle for change?

    To unpack these questions, photographer Gwen Riley Jones gave the collective the chance to explore sustainable photography including printing with wet spinach and take a deep dive into the University of Salford’s Art Collection to consider permanence, ephemerality and the cultural and environmental cost of creating and collecting contemporary art. The collective toured Salford Museum and Art Gallery, sharing their experiences of galleries before getting up close to interrogate three pieces of the collection and making links to place – Salford – and their sense of permanence of perspectives, bodies and materials. 

    Reflections were made on how the programme is iterative and how parts of earlier sessions are being internalised and embedded into the collective’s lives and workplaces beyond the reach of each session. The group left with an anthotype, to expose in sunlight, slowly at home and then note how the image fades and disappears over time. The image to expose is a montage of each member of the collective holding up their resonant objects from session three.

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