James Reed asked MAP director, Janeil Engelstad to talk with him about the Earth and climate change for his "About Location" text. The transcript of the conversation, held in June 2011, follows.
Currently based in Portland, Oregon USA, James Reed has produced AoC throughout the world.
Portland, OR, USA (Portland State Univ, Open Engagement Conference, May 2011)
Santa Cruz, CA, USA (lecture and workshop at UC Santa Cruz, February 2011)
Portland, OR, USA (Lecture at Portland State University, February 2011)
San Francisco, CA, USA (Discussion/ Workshop at SFAI, October, 2010)
San Francisco, CA, USA (Workshop at Berkley University, October, 2010)
San Francisco, CA, USA (Intersection for the Arts hosted Public Interventions,
Workshops and Lectures, May-July 2010)
San Francisco, CA, USA (BAYCAT workshop, June - July 2010)
Stellenbosch, South Africa (Design and Sustainability Symposium, March 2010)
Muizenburg, South Africa (Public Intervention, March, April and Dec. 2009)
Durban, South Africa (Kgotla Youth Conference, Jan. 2009)
Venice, Italy (Public Intervention, Cultura 21, Joseph Beuys Conference “In Defense
of Nature," Sept. 2007)
Oxford, England (Intervention, Oxford Brookes University, September 2007)
Basel, Switzerland (Intervention, Ursache Zukunft Congress/Social Sculpture
Today Exhibition and the Mittendrin youth conference, Dornach, July/August 2007)
Basel, Switzerland (Public Intervention, Connect Youth Conf., Dornach, April 2007)
Basel, Switzerland (Presentation, Waldorf Steiner School, April 2007)
Janeil Engelstad (JE): I am glad you suggested this conversation because I find myself thinking a certain way, or I am thinking certain things and going about my day, doing things, and despite there being a certain level of consciousness I find myself in a routine, and not being as present as I would like to be. Its actually beneficial and welcome to have stopped, paused and written down these things. I have three or four thoughts written here, and my initial one was brief - MAP, MAP is my response. From there I expanded that initial thought (that just came right out) . . . not only am I interested in work that engages people, but also engages the land itself.
James Reed (JR): Yes
JE: So, as in trying to preserve the land, and contribute to initiatives that set land aside, or get people to think about their relationship and interaction to land, to water, the atmosphere, to the planet, things that preserve water tables. The reason that I really appreciate the Harrison's work is that they are creating concrete solutions for water tables, things that sustain species. And then I started to think about what is my response when I am watching a documentary film or I am reading an article that really highlights the kind of things that could happen as a worst case scenario of where we are. I realized that I don't spend a lot of time in the emotion of it, because its not productive, however, that is not to say that I don't get sad or angry or even scared, those emotions certainly come up. I get angry at the way that humanity has used the planet, hasn't respected it. Usually, I take that energy and quickly try to move it into a productive response, but also to sit in that place, is to acknowledge it and be with and it is a good thing to do, because I don't want to shut those emotions down, but, at the same time, I don't want to sit in a place where I am just experiencing the emotion and not being productive, so I really think that that is part of the energy that fuels my bigger response, which is MAP.
JR: This is a very interesting idea, and way of being that you live in terms of allowing yourself to feel the emotions and then letting them be the activator for action or engagement. So you have developed a productive response, and I think that is the key word here, being productive citizens, because if people who are not living with the idea that they are artists or producers or visionaries, questioners or shapers, then we live in a kind of state of denial from our emotions, we live in a state of disconnectedness, and live in a state of repetition contributing to the kind of system that we are not producers in, but consumers.
I like it that you make a connection to your own work, in the way that you invite people to participate or collaborate with MAP. I think this is where MAP is of interest to me as it embodies a philosophy of yours which is of interest to me, where the rising ocean levels and climate change are of interest to me, and I will try to unpack this a little. Where you have been able to connect the dots, where you have been able to connect the emotions to a need to respond, and put it into a form that is a living response, and this is the area that is a skill or an ability that people can develop. What I have noticed from working with Agents of Change (AoC) and been involved with this way of thinking , is that there is a disconnection from the emotions the insights and the kind of knowing that people have, and been able to shape a response. So all these things seem to float around with out a sense of the wholeness, of how they are integrated. So some how, in been able to see there integration or wholeness enables a kind of internal action or engagement, activating a will to respond and this response has many possibilities to peruse. In terms of your philosophy of bringing an awareness of moving emotions into response, which is valuable.
JE: Yes, I think it works and I think that is one of the things that is really an opportunity with AoC, that the different ways that activists , artists , scientists, are looking at and working with issues of climate change. AoC is helping people get in touch with, and, develop and then perhaps even communicate, their own responses, to these concerns, these issues. That is really important because people don't always know how to do this. Whether it be it in their own house, or in their own community, or even in their own life. If they do not have the capacity to activate change, having a structure where people can explore this and then gain that ability is really valuable.
JR: So this is where I think there is a lot of work that needs to be done in making the connections . Yes we could say AoC allows for the beginning of that and then the continuation of that is a process that can unfold or be developed by the individual involved or groups that are involved with it. This area of making the connections with climate change, is quite a complex but not impossible problem.
With our idea of climate change existing in peoples minds because of the media and the scientific research that has been done all around climate change, there is a kind of a strong, lets call it for arguments sake a culture of climate change consciousness that has been growing over the years, and there has not necessarily been a huge response from the public. But the consciousness has become as people want to start doing something. So here the scientists have been responding and being trying to develop an awareness, so now there is this general kind of idea of what climate change is in peoples minds. What I have found is that people do want to respond, but the area that concerns me is to maybe consider what is offered by the ideas of the scientists and how those ideas have manifest through NGO, and government programs, so that is a way of responding. However in this idea of Social Sculpture where peoples idea of being an artist or AoC , that every human being can be an AoC or Artist or Visionary. So brings into question, that we have to shape our own methodologies, we have to shape a culture of response from our own experiential knowing and deeply connected sensibility, this really is what is of great value I think. Climate Change gives us an opportunity to know , and in particular, the ocean levels rising, and that communities in one hundred years time, will have to have moved away from the coast lines. I know that there are cities in the world that have already started to take action for relocating certain industrial, transport, energy and housing, that will be effected. So this is starting to happen.
However as a generator of awareness in oneself, and become active in oneself, this is a key. As there is this kind of numbness, or state of denial that requires a moment of waking up. A moment of a kind of fresh seeing again, I think that if you can work or experience in this kind of way, a fresh response comes from you, the imagination is awakened. To allow that insight to grow and be facilitated, that is when the response can actually come alive in the world, that is where the individual and the groups new potential can come alive in the world. This is where AoC, I think, is playing a role, to facilitate that.
I also wanted to touch on an area you mentioned earlier, on the question of ways of being. Do we make the connection between what we do, feel and think in our daily lives , that help us actually realize that we are directly connected to climate change? The bases of that thinking for me is that we are nature, and that we are integrated, what we feel and sense is a collective consciousness and collective unconsciousness (for that matter). In the world, all living beings sense ability is active in that large consciousness. For instance, if I am feeling really good about something, which has just come from somewhere, ja of course there are all kinds of factors that shaped that feeling be it food, a special moment in the day, but there is also something that is happening in the larger social organism that I am tuned into, that I am aware of. In the same way if I am really depressed or feeling some kind of pain and I don't know where it comes from , there are a lot of factors involved with that, but also I can … as Beuys said' if you develop your organs of perception you hear the suffering of nature'..This is an interesting problem that he poses and to be challenged by that , I see as an opportunity. As you say, you don't want to be caught in your emotions, you want to feel them, you want to sit with them and know them, but to take action from these emotions is very close , I think, to what Beuys is talking about. You don't want to become paralyzed by the idea that Climate Change exists, and don't want to have to be paralyzed by your anger or your fear, but rather, how do you start to take that energy from that moment that awakens us from a sense of crises and turn it in to a potential, a possibility? This is the potential that we can become aware of, as I think this potential comes from what we all have already from living in this world, as we all have a sense of what is going on , but we also numb ourselves to what we really experience. So to develop our organs of perception from what we are really feeling and an organ of perception of caring and connecting up the dots, the emotions, the intellectual response, the conceptual, into form, that is the shaping that gives us an ability to respond.
JE: Yes, you know I was thinking about what you just said in this last part of your response, which really brings it home for me again, is the changing tides, and thinking about growing up in Seattle and living in California (where I am right now) and coming to California quite often as a child to visit family. One thing that I grew up with, was the concept, partly a joke and partly real, was that California is going to fall into the ocean, because of erosion, etc. I am really acutely aware of that now as I drive back and forth between San Francisco and Santa Cruz and go along these cliffs that are eroding more and more. And I was thinking that having that knowledge, whether it was in my head as fiction or as a joke, or it was some sort of reality backed by science, but having that knowledge since I was a very young child, really made it okay . So when I think of the rising tides, it is connected to that, and I think, okay this is just part of what I have always known is coming. But whats new is this whole knowledge of Climate Change, this bigger picture, this bigger subject, this bigger phenomenon, this bigger package of change on the planet that relates to drought and famine and Social Justice and all kinds of things. This is a place for me that carries a lot more unknowns and the emotions that I spoke of earlier can come up. Well, then I thought, isn't that interesting, I wonder if when you live with something as a child, if you develop your own way of coping? Coping with something the way that children do, whether, it is something positive or something negative, like abuse. So I would be really interested to look at how children today, are thinking about today, and what their response is to Climate Change, because its around them. Like anything else, it is probably more an issue in some children's lives than others. You know you could ask twenty ten year olds about Climate Change and they will all give you a different response and some of them might not even know what it is. But I wouldn't be surprised if there is an expectancy and a lack of fear, a mater of fact attitude of this is where we are at ... that children have. Which sort of echos my experience, as a young person with the thought of California falling into the ocean. And this was really interesting for me, because I had never thought about it in that way before. You know that this is a part of the whole Climate Change puzzle, if you will.
JR: To become aware of these insights and carry them with us, and see what responses you start getting as you open up that thought or allowing that question to live more. In particular, with new generations, the children that will be adults and the grand parents in the future when we are not here, what I have found from working with AoC is there is an incredible need to respond, but also this feeling that children don't have the feeling of having a voice in the world puts youngsters off from thinking that they can actually respond in some way. In some cases where there has been response, for instance, there was a national march recently called the I matter march, this was a kind of response to Climate Change, with the idea being this is our planet too, we all have take responsibility. So this very fresh voice of lets do something. And ja, it is a very enthusiastic energy. This appears in other responses , where the youth are going into slums and helping build homes for the homeless, with power and fresh water. In the I matter march, a protest giving an image of large groups of people in consent and mutual agreement around a concern, I think being involved in a protest, is a way of responding, but is it really growing a culture, or a shift in mind set? When I see some of these youth projects that are involved with issues such as water, energy and housing, also with a kind of an empathy, speaking in a very kind and considerate, caring way. In this there is something of a shift that I can identify. So I have come across young people who are really taking a conscious effort to grow and shape a culture of empathy which is a very important aspect of this whole area of concern, an organ of perception.
When you were talking about driving along the cliffs and seeing them crumbling, if we have had these opportunities in our world as it is at the moment, to have these kinds of thoughts and insights, would we not want a process to begin to evolve and transform the crises of our time for the people of the future?
And if there is so much concrete and so little coastline so that we could actually enjoy and hear our knowing from those travels along the coastlines where our insights come from with our direct contact with nature. If this is not there for the future, then how will they have an opportunity to bring new insights and imagination into the world, as adults? I think this is a kind of a threshold where we can activate that knowing too. This is also where I see it as an issue.
JE: To get people to actually think about how they can activate that imagination or activate that knowing.
JR: Yes, because I think it happens, to a certain degree, and then we forget about the insights. It is like you remember something of what you thought of but then you don't see the value of that insight, possibly because it is not discussed enough or maybe we haven't made an effort to hold on to and unpack that thought, because you don't think it is a relevant thought. You may think it is a passing thought. But I am saying that it maybe a real insight of value, how can you actually live with that and start to shape your own culture of thinking around that kind of insight? So sometimes we may think it is a fleeting moment without relevance, and so I am challenging that.
JE: Well, I think that speaks to the larger realm of consciousness with connecting with the idea you touched on earlier in the conversation, that energy follows thought….
JE: and that we are creating climate change, with our thinking, and we are part of it and this collective consciousness, this collective humanity, that we are all this energy, this life force, and so just by what we think , let alone how we act, just our thoughts start to shape and contribute to the shaping of…
JR: yes, whats really involved with that ,and, what do we really need to rely on to bring that into a concrete form or manifest in the physical and transform the current quality of thought? I was at a seminar the other day, it was regarding trust. There was a group of government ministry and people were discussing trust issues and relationships. I went away from that and I was thinking this is relevant, and was thinking where have I had to trust something that I can see now that I am not trusting? Well then I thought of an example where my intuition or my knowing really gave me a life direction or sensibility, but with time here is something, I am not trusting my knowing. So the strong sense that was initially there was really fresh and energized, but now, because of the difficulties involved, sometimes you loose track of that freshness and energized quality and the trust starts to go away. So I realized that to expand or to give these qualities , that I think too are connected to value and culture, that we have to give stamina to this , which is part of the work too. That is where this idea of sustainability is part of the question, is sustains those experiences of trust and insight with ourselves and each other and being generous with ourselves and each other for allowing insights and ways of being to manifest. As there is this strong force that has taught us to be mistrustful and fearing, this is what we can do well, to operate like that . I think a lot of people are questioning this way of being, however I think we need to have some tools or methods that will help us to sustain the growth of not loosing our value.
JE: I was reading an interview with John Lennon last night, this interview was done three days before he was killed, he said..' the most important thing that Yoko Ono taught him was not being afraid of being afraid'…
JR: That is lovely…you know a friend mine said a similar thing to me a couple of years ago, she said that her grandmother taught her that fear can be a tool for consciousness, so don't be afraid of that, as fear is there , it plays a role … as we were discussing is not to become paralytic from the fear but to actually turn that energy into an action or a good quality thought and let it expand in the world somehow.
JE: Yes, I think that when you unpack the fear and you look into it, and you think about ,well whats causing this fear, and you back up and back up , you finally get to the point where there is nothing there..
JE: Then you have arrived at the point where you can take action, and you realize that you know, the mind is so powerful and it is creating so many things, and, to quiet that and see whats underlying everything and if you can get to that place of knowing.
JR: I love this idea, and you know in AoC, its a safe space for that and a productive space from that. Being able to work through the bases of fear, to unpack that . The way we do this is through discussing and thinking into and reading into and experimenting , this becomes the way of working into the origin of the fear , and realizing the origin of the concern or question . Then coming to the point where you actually allowing your knowing to surface and let that response shape. So this sense of clarity, and I think we spoke about it in our last conversation, well I meet people and they ask why do you think you can change the world, and say you cant change people. Well then I say, ja, well maybe within that there maybe something that is valid, but then I say well lets get past our denial and numbness and layers of disconnection, so that we can get to our innate symbiotic sensibility , and at that point we can maybe realize something of being a full human being and that is the point we can respond from . So the change is actually to go past the denial and fear and disconnection, and disorientation, and actually allow the knowing to emerge. So yes, fear can be disorientating if you don't find the origin.
JE: And then to be artists, willing to go, and this can also be tied to fear, be willing to work in areas that increasingly can look less and less like art, or what people define as art.
JR: Well, this is the beautiful question, you know , with Shelley Sacks, she taught me something wonderful about this idea of ' scratching on the imagination', she said that with art, that there is this middle class idea of what art is, and this is something that her and Beuys use to discuss a lot, and that she was talking to me about this, and thats something that is like a thorn for me, it keeps me awake. It really helped me to question this idea of art. What is useful is to think of what the real materials of sculpture are, and you think of what Beuys was saying that thermal and spacial and the sound dimensions, those are the real materials of sculpture. So when I think of art in terms of this, then I realize that our whole consciousness , or nervous system and our physical world, our relationships and ways of shaping, that is art, because we are able to work with and shape that. If we do this in a very high quality of thought, which in my mind is knowing, and relying on the imagination , then we are actually allowing our aesthetic sensibility of how to become human beings, and realize our potential of being human beings and to actually manifest this in the world, so if you live in every moment and every thought consciously with this action of shaping this artwork then you are allowing the aesthetic impulse for the evolution of consciousness that needs to come into the world to manifest, because we are connected to the evolutionary force. So this begins to help me understand what the potential of what art can be, rather than getting stuck in the idea that we have to produce objects as disconnected individuals.
JE: Rght, good.
JR: So thinking about the ocean levels rising at the edge of the ocean, as we do in AoC, also helps us realize that we have an ability to respond to this 'big monster' called Climate Change or the Ecological Crises, which is the larger issue that we are all in involved with and participate in . So this is the kind of 'Social Sculpture' that exists in our world at the moment, the ecological crises is a sculpture which has been manifest by human beings and just as much as we have created it, we can reshape it and rethink it, and transform it, I think AoC is very involved with this.
JE: Thank you thats wonderful
JR: Thank you.
JR: Yes, I think we have this ability to be optimistic and a little bit maybe living in a utopian idea, but I think to maybe believe that we can be radical, is the way that we can allow some kind of shift in consciousness or evolution to take place, it helps us get out of our constructs that we assume, and can experience our real potential.