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Trans-Plantable Living Room: Performing Slow, Growing and Edible Activism through Tea-Time

by on November 18, 2013

Co-authored by Lisa Woynarski (Central School of Speech & Drama) & Bronwyn Preece (University of Glasgow)

TY7A20533 performance makers: one from the UK, one from Canada and one from the US. 1 eco-scenographer from Australia and a community-engagement coordinator based in Wales. 1 community allotment garden with 150 volunteers. 17 interviews with community gardeners. All of these elements coalesced to create the Trans-Plantable Living Room: a process and practice of ‘slow performance activism,’ in which seemingly domestic gesture(s) became full of activist potential.

Recipe:

1 part freshly harvested organic mint

1/4 part freshly picked organic sage

1/4 part freshly picked rosemary

In a pot, pour hot water over herbs, cover with a lid, and allow to steep for 20 minutes.

Serve and share with neighbours, friends and community members….sit, sip, reflect and discuss how an inherently local act such as gardening can serve as a global marker for climate change….

Based on a design first realised in Australia by eco-scenographer Tanja Beer, the project existed as part growing experiment, part performance and part tea party, staging 4 performances in Cardiff for World Stage Design, followed by two London performances and an installation. The space, in its first incarnation, was an outdoor, edible living room; and the second manifestation saw the growing living room set indoors. This trans-plantable living room was grown by Riverside Community Allotment in Cardiff, while the London performance featured plants sourced from a series of local urban community gardens, and was activated through performances inspired by interviews with growers, created by Plantable Performance Research Collective: a trans-national group made up of Bronwyn Preece in Canada, Lisa Woynarski in the UK and Meghan Moe Beitiks in the US.

Like the slow food movement, the project sought to foreground the connection between people, food, land and nature; wherein ‘nature’ is not viewed as ‘other’, but rather inextricably connected, the whole of everything that is Earth. We start from the premise that the effects of climate change are, in part, due to the perceived separation between humans and the natural world. Through performance, we were attempting to bridge the divide and highlight the interconnectedness of humans and our surrounding world by literally and symbolically brewing and planting cultural interventions.  The Trans-Plantable Living Room project, by creating an immersive experience in a growing living room aimed to provide a phenomenological experience of gardening, place and community; merging and blurring the lines of outside/inside, the local and the global, gardening and performance, artist and gardener.

IMG_1798We entered this project with a collection of individual questions but with the shared goal of wishing to foster, what Heim calls “occasions for talking together, in public, about nature-human relations,” creating work which would “continue to have effect beyond the event, reverberating in the stories about it, passed along like a slow contagion” (Heim 2003: 184).

We were interested in the coherence and dissonance between an inherently local project, being devised by a team of globe-spanning performance practitioners, most of whom will have never ever set foot on this specific location of British soil until the week before the performance, and most of whom had not met the Wales-based gardeners interviewed for the performance material.  Does geographer Doreen Massey’s thoughts “against localism, but for a politics of place” apply?  Acknowledging that the effects of climate change are increasingly ignoring distinction between local and global, we struggled with what that meant for a trans-national approach and aim to highlight these tensions. How would the process of sharing tea (ironically a plant lovely consumed but not grown in the UK) facilitate the dialogic and diasporic process?

Gardening, particularly urban food growing, has been identified as a strategy for a gesture and site of ecological resilience; that being said, we also recognise gardens as having embedded ironies and contentions within the global context of ecological suitability and adaptability. As with tea, plants are often grown with no original connection to the local ecosystem (for example Russian kale in North America and potatoes in Ireland); unwittingly ‘imported’ plants may have invasive capabilities in new location, acknowledging that labels such native species and origin may contain problematic implications. These sites come with their own set of ecological and ethical imperatives, when one can now grow corn in Wales, or quinoa in Canada, and call it ‘growing local’. As Sally Mackey remarks, ‘historically, allotments are places that are deeply contested’ (2007:184).

To make, serve and drink it is an act of community. This simple gesture has the potential to engage with social, political, ethic and ecology dialogues within the frame of performance. In the Trans-Plantable Living Room, making tea functioned as a performative act, an ecological activist gesture, a form of conflict management and a social induction. Working with the gardeners of Riverside Community Allotments, we quickly realised the importance of the ritual of the tea break. Gardening here was 50% physical labour and 50% tea drinking. Tea, within the process and performance, also contained a number of ironies and tensions, making it a fruitful source of creative debate. We were equally exploring the tension of gardening as control over land while also possessing the ability to connect us to the act of growing and subsequently remind us of our ecological situatedness….to be housed in a series of mere 20-minute, interactive performances at World Stage Design and in London.

Photo 1

Trans-Plantable Living Room embodied a process of slow performance activism through the gesture of making tea – within an edible, growing space – steeping questions into a metaphorical and material tonic

More detailed accounts of The Trans-Plantable Living Room can be found at:

Blog: http://transplantablelivingroom.wordpress.com

And watch here: ‘trans-planted tea sets’ – a trans-national planting of teapots and teacups, by members of Plantable from each of our separate global locations (made before we met in person in Wales), set to an audio reel of the Welsh Gardeners (whom we had yet to meet)….this video served both as process-building and was incorporated into the London incarnation of the performance.

The teapot that Bronwyn plants in Canada, subsequently made the trip to Cardiff and London: being incorporated into each performance, and returned back to Canada, completing the tea/gardening performance cycle.

Link: http://vimeo.com/73564977

References:

Heim, W. (2003) ‘Slow activism: homelands, love and the lightbulb’ in Nature Performed: Environment, Culture and Performance, Szerszynski, B., Heim, W. and Waterton, C. (eds.). Oxford, Blackwell.

Mackey, S. (2007) ‘Performance, place and allotments: Feast or Famine?’. Contemporary Theatre Review, 17: 2, 181-191

Accompanying photos by Nigel Pugh @nspugh

 

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