“What is your Day One?” A dialogue on future visions, community resilience and participation
20th April 2015
one day : Day One – Resilience, a participatory artwork touring Bristol this summer with support from Bristol Green Capital Partnership members, began life in 2012 as a performance artwork. Back then, theatre makers, friends and long-time collaborators Sara Zaltash and Jenny Duffy worked together on a version called simply one day : Day One, which explored human aspiration, projected futures, and why humans keep their dreams always slightly out of reach.
This week Jenny, now a PhD researcher at University of Northumbria, interviewed Sara, who has updated the od:DO for Bristol’s Green Capital year, about ways that the project has evolved.
JD: In 2012, we were both interested in the way that people perform their aspirations for the future – how much of that is still relevant in this iteration of od:DO?
SZ: Future-forecasting activities undertaken by organisations around the city are a way of performing the future, but a lot of that activity is behind closed doors. They do it for themselves to understand what their organisation is going to go through, and they don’t or can’t necessarily share those insights with a wider public. So even though the act of future-visioning is always performative, those future visions are not public performances as people often understand that term.
JD: As somebody researching participation that is framed within contemporary performance and how that operates within broader political systems outside of that performance space, I am interested in your view on participation within od:DO.
SZ: I have definitely been influenced by your research, how participation is framed by policy, by more than the artist and the community enacting that interaction. How governing bodies – local, regional, national, international – want to have a say in how that participation occurs, because in that participation they enact their ideology, what they think about class, economy and culture, and all things that organise our daily lives. So you’re the expert! What do you think about the way that od:DO is engineering participation?
JD: That the project is funded through the Green Capital Award is wholly connected to an overt political agenda. I imagine a lot of the the funded projects this year revolve around “getting people involved” in thinking about green ideas. That is with a specific political agenda, and, for me, the transparency around that is important. Art is a way of communicating with people that is incredibly effective, and gets people to imagine things in new ways. The connection between those two things and od:DO’s explicit emphasis on resilience in local communities is clear to me. Bristol is a very cultural city though most of the cultural activity is centralised, and from my understanding od:DO is going to communities that don’t have an idea that Bristol is a green capital and who don’t have an awareness of the scale or access to culture in the way that a lot of people do in the centre. So I do think there is a very clear political agenda.
SZ: You’re right, I am being political. And there does have to be transparency. But my work as an artist is not at the top of the agenda of what needs to be made transparent in this artwork – does that make sense? What needs to be made transparent is what the people of Bristol are doing to become more resilient, and why we all are doing it. To make that transparent, I am engineering moments of synchronicity to create opportunities for personal meaning-making, for meaningful connections to the different works and thoughts that are preparing the city for the future, so that in that meaningful moment a seed of behaviour change is planted. But telling people that is not at the top my agenda. Telling people about how different members of different communities in Bristol care about each other and the city – that feels really important to share.
JD: And you know, we do need to save the planet…
SZ: Exactly! We do need to save the planet. All of those questions – about politics and ideologies and my role as an artist – are secondary to the work that needs to be done. As a performance artist, as a live artist, I am concerned with synchronicity, meaning-making, essentially wondering how I can craft space and time so that it changes peoples’ lives. But I’m just doing what I know how to do to fix the problem that we all know needs to be fixed – and I think everyone else needs to do that thing, too.
JD: So, how does your previous work relate to this project? You’ve worked mostly as a solo artist in theatre and performance – are there any parallels you can draw?
SZ: This is not the first time I’m running a project that is an idea, a concept, that I manage to enact, rather than directly perform. I enjoy marshalling an orchestra of creative works around one theme, getting them to all function synchronously in order to manifest a wider performative process. My solo work places me, the performer, as a central conductor of that process, where the orchestra of ideas moves poetically through and around me. With od:DO, it’s really liberating to not be the focus, to instead be in service to the concept, for every single part of the project to be some other artwork or performance or vision. It means that the city and the visions of citizens become that central conductor, charged with poetic connections.
JD: My final question is, for you, what if today were Day One?
SZ: If today were Day One, I would certainly live underwater, with other people, in some kind of underwater biosphere. We would have become amphibian. That is something I want from my life, that myself and other people have adapted better to water, that we move with water like we move with the air and earth now. Rising water levels are something that Bristol, at least, is going to have to deal with, so that would definitely be a feature of my Day One. Job-wise, I think that I’d still be a creative nuisance maker in much the same way as I am now. I would like for there to be absolutely no money, for that to be the economic mode, and we’ll look back on the time when people were obsessed with cash as Babel before the tower fell. You know the tower of Babel, once it fell, human language split and scattered. People talk about that as a bad thing, but actually the central language of money that everyone speaks with these days is totally corrupted and needs to fall. I would like for that tower to fall and for us to have smaller local economies that function without a token that we pass between us. That token is poison for its bearers. I would also like for politics to not involve charming politicians. I would like the representative system that we have right now to be replaced by excellent civil servants and regular digital referendums. And I would like people to stop being scared of the Internet. So on my Day One, people are politically engaged amphibian cyborgs who share things. But that is just me. What is your Day One?