Playing for Time – Review
Playing for Time: Making Art as if the World Mattered, by Lucy Neal, April 2015. Oberon Books, 396 pages, ISBN 978-178319-186-4. RRP £16.99
The Transition Network was founded in 2005 as a response to the double threat of climate change and peak oil. Transition vision with its emphasis upon “getting it right for the future”, is a move towards self-sufficiency at community level in energy production, in food cultivation and even by the creation of local tender.
Lucy Neal, a theatre-maker and community activist, has been an active player in Transition since its beginnings and was co-founder of Transition Town Tooting (UK) in 2008. Neal was drawn to Transition by its language of “engaged optimism” and its emphasis on making “a change in how you live where you live”. Transition, Neal feels, nurtures innate cultural values that transcend self-interest and resist the dominant consumer culture and cultivates resilience in both individuals and communities.
Neal’s experience in organising community and celebratory events such as a Trashcatchers’ Carnival resulted in her advocacy of what she calls “transitional art practice”. She sees art-making and community-making as closely connected and is passionately convinced that the present cultural narrative of exploitation and greed can be subverted through the communal use of creative skills to reimagine an earth where life is cherished and sustainable.
In Playing for Time, Neal presents readers with the work and words of 64 artists and activists, who are engaged in reforging the values of community, connection and collaboration. In keeping with the spirit of the influential artist and thinker, Joseph Beuys, who declared “Every human being is an artist”, the contributors are, on the whole, not well-known, and drawn from a variety of fields such as archeology, film-making, dramaturgy, social justice, journalism, administration and horticulture. Further, art is extended to mean not a commodity to be consumed, but a practice that transforms the world directly.
As a fundamental need, food is of central concern to the artist-activists. As food buying has replaced food growing for most, the imagined future is one in which the “food web”, community-focused local food systems, replace the “food chain” of industrialised agriculture. A small project such as San Francisco’s Seed Library becomes a creative act of resistance against the three companies that own half of the global seed market. Public participation projects like the Edible Fruit Routes, Campuses and Bus Stations rebuild lost connections between the soil and an urban population.
One of the more memorable projects is Dougie Strang’s performance of Rannoch Wolf inspired by a campaign to reintroduce wolves into Scotland as a means of reducing deer numbers and regenerating woodland. Strang prowled the moor in a wolf mask and fake fur coat with the hope of prompting travellers to consider the possibility that the land should be shared with other species. However, waking up to the wider ecological world of which we are part and taking the responsibility of living within its sustainable limits could be an intimidating and frightening prospect.
Significantly, the greatest pleasure of Neal’s Playing for Time is the joyful and playful invention of those who gather together to reskill, to repair, to replant and to rescript the future and the generosity with which they share their “recipes” and “tools” for cherishing life on earth. The whole is best summed up by Sholeh Johnson’s declaration that “Creativity is the most sustainable and renewable resource on the planet. Let’s use it.”