Interview by Morvern Rennie – follow Ariane on Twitter @ariane_burgess
How did you end up designing labyrinths?
I had a much longer answer – however realised that I better keep my responses brief – or we’d be on our way to a book rather than a blog post! The short answer is that I believe sharing and reciprocity will play a huge role in our response to climate change. Yet humans have tended to lose that natural ability.
I moved to the Ecovillage at Findhorn to action learn/research what it is to live and collaborate with other people who have a predominant intention to create a way of life that involves sharing more and prioritises ecological, social and cultural regeneration. This ecovillage community has pioneered a range of eco-social responses to climate change including setting up one of Scotland’s first wind turbines and starting what is a thriving car club – it’s been running since 2007 and we’ve got over a 100 members.
I’ve just finished teaching as one of the lead faculty on a course called Ecovillage Design Education. The intention of this course is to look at all the elements needed to create full-featured human settlements that focus on the ecological and cultural regeneration of place. The core dimensions we look at are ecological, social, economic and cultural. My dream is to make this relevant and available to people living in existing villages, towns and city neighbourhoods in the developed world. We need to rapidly change the way we get our needs (and wants) met to one of sharing and reciprocity.
The Findhorn Foundation is one of many organisations that exist at the Ecovillage. So while I live in the Ecovillage I am not a member of the Findhorn Foundation. If I showed you a recent data visualization map of all the organisations involved and active at the Ecovillage you’d get a sense of the complexity.
AB: The short answer is – live these ideas of eco-social and cultural regeneration as much as possible, and talk to people, persist to connect in the face of the wall of isolating gadgets, and start community gardens.
Community gardens are such a radical intervention point in the global economic growth system because they offer a place where people of all ages and diverse backgrounds can connect through shared experiences with each other and to the land and growing their food.
And part of a longer answer… According to the work of cognitive linguist George Lakoff, what we’re experiencing with President Trump and Brexit was started by the US-based conservative businessmen in the 1950s. Realising their potential demise they created a strategy that involved framing the message and owning the means of conveying the message. They funded think-tanks and provided college scholarships to entice people into their world. They’ve been so successful with this strategy that people today vote for politicians and policies that will hurt them.
When I read Lakoff’s book, Don’t Think of an Elephant, I felt like the wool had been pulled from my eyes – suddenly I understood why things I experienced when living in the US so often didn’t make sense. This book should be a primer for anyone living or going to live in the US. It’s relevant to what’s happening with the rise of the right in the UK and Europe.
The main idea he puts forward is that countries identify with the metaphor of family – the mother- or fatherland. He poses the idea that in the US there are two predominant families: the conservative family that is ruled over by a strict disciplinarian father who tells everyone what to do, and the progressive two-parent family that cultivates self-responsibility and care of others. The messages of the Trump and Brexit campaigns spoke to those who identify themselves with the strict disciplinarian father family, either because they are that father or they grew up in that type of family. These people feel out of control of their lives. The campaign messages led them to believe that they’d regain control, “Make America Great Again” “Let’s Take Back Control” when in actual fact that’s not going to happen. And people will continue to be ruled by a climate of fear and hate of the other.
Scotland is a special place, it was a relief in many ways to come back to live here. There is a strong progressive voice, the act of caring for those beyond your immediate family, for your community, is still alive and there is a history of embracing diversity. Opposition to nuclear armaments and energy is supported by the current government and the unanimously supported Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 gave us the statutory framework for greenhouse gas emissions reductions in Scotland. Climate change is not denied here.
The next step will be independence so the power to make legislation on all matters sits with our elected representatives in Holyrood. We also need to work to bring these levers of power to the place where people live.
We need to create the contexts for empowerment – where people have control of local strategy and decision-making in a way that works to include all perspectives while being pragmatically practical.
We can’t however expect people to know how to do this if they’ve never done it before and I’m over leaving it to fall to retired white men to pick it up because they have the time and some previous business experience, (no offence to retired white men – many of whom do great work helping their communities).
If we’re going to have local power we need to create the social infrastructure by providing people with means to develop the skills for self-governance – making long-term strategies and proposals and taking meaningful decisions to shape their lives, the lives of others and how those decisions will impact future generations. We need the develop competency in skills for healthy relationships, of communication and the ability to stay with conflict, and learn to take a restorative rather than punitive approach to justice.
If we start doing this in high schools, I imagine that young people would get involved with their communities to the extent that they might stay. How about getting a degree from the Communi-versity? We have to change the paradigm from education for a job, to education for a thriving local climate change responsive community, and a job with a more than living wage.
AB: I have a few ways to switch off.
AB: I can’t say one experience, transformation happens incrementally over time.
Living in New York City was cumulatively transformative.
Ah here’s one, I collaborated with a friend on his film La Ciudad, four stories of Latino immigrants coming to New York and trying to make a life there. We decided to work with people who’d lived that experience, rather than actors.
I met and became friends with people who’d risked their lives – stowing away on boats or locked in the trunks of cars to come to the United States. They were fleeing political and economic oppression and they were the lucky ones, they arrived, alive. Their stories deeply touched me.
I reflected on how easy it had been for me to come to the US, how easy it was to leave Scotland, I didn’t think I was being economically or politically oppressed. After working on that film I started a personal action-research project with the question why was it so easy for me to leave Edinburgh and Scotland? I grew up at a time in Edinburgh with friends who had their eyes set on the southern drift to London.
Among the books I read was James Hunter’s eye opener, The Making of a Crofting Community. I wandered along the straths in Sutherland finding the remains of abandoned settlements. How was it I hadn’t learned about this horrific history at school? What I was taught was the history of kings and queens. I recalled that the only time I came across the Clearances at school was on a trip to Sutherland. We made a brief stop at Croick Church. I still have the vivid memory of seeing the spidery writing where people etched their names into the glass window panes, a trace of their suffering as a result of the Clearances.
That’s when I first met Andy Wightman. I went to talk with him to learn more about Scottish land ownership issues. And I started to understand the deeper history of displacement that affects Scotland today. What happened in Scotland happened and is happening all over the world, displacing people from the land is a powerful way to undercut people’s culture, sense of meaning and power. A meaningful life is created through a relationship with a living place.
Back in New York I was talking to a lawyer friend at a party. I told him I’d been researching the Clearances and he said, “the Clearances are happening right now in this city.” What he was referring to was the systematic destruction of the twenty and thirty year old community gardens that had been lovingly cultivated by local people just getting out and making them. These gardens are essential oases, places where you can meet people from all walks of life, of all ages and enjoy being outside in nature when the heat gets too much. I joined the successful direct action campaign that stopped over 100 community gardens being auctioned off to developers. Today they play a key role in the movement for food sovereignty in the city.