Selde, Junget, Thorum, Aasted. These villages in Northern Denmark have captured my imagination. My curiosity has been excited about how people worked there, over many moons, conjuring, re-inventing and re-imagining the places where they live: trampling new connected paths together in making; painting; exchanging sto- ries; sharing food; staging plays; watching films and building new structures from old.
People said »They’re up to something bold...let’s go and see« as stories of what was happening there got out into the world Whether you were party to it or not, this book gives you a chance to see too
The story starts in Selde with an invitation to professional artists Birgitte Kristensen and Lene Noer to make art happen A new sculptural work takes shape and before long, art making springs up like a new kind of crop A villager says:
»Art is central to the village now and our consciousness maintains momen- tum«
Once ''Grasslands ''has germinated it sprouts elsewhere
What is this art that makes things happen in this rural area? Visitors tra- velling from afar wishing to satisfy their cultural curiosity are given hospitality by the network of villages and their creatively accomplished villagers This is the aesthetics of care: communal conviviality is in the air People go for walks with families on birthdays and sit on new benches chatting There is joy and new found stories:
»What is happening did not happen before «Individual narratives flow into a story larger than people themselves, responding to the »music of what happens« (What’s the finest music in the world? asks the mythical Irish giant Finn McCool, »the music of what happens, that is the finest music in the world)
Whilst practical creative ideas were suggested by villagers themselves - be- coming active artists in the process - the book makes sure we understand this was not easy There was a natural caution, resistance even, to professional artists coming in
Accounts of the process are inspiringly honest, teaching us about the careful practice and art of collaboration We must stay with difficulty; come out of our comfort bubbles to be patient, persevere, see clearly, listen and sometimes accept others« ways of seeing A recognition of creative interdependence develops over the course of practical work to be done There is respect, learning, forgiveness Things turn out better than hoped
There is collective rather than competitive working; pride; a lived ownership of ''Grasslands ''and above all, helpfulness as people work to find creative solutions - like painting in the rain together ''Liminal ''space opens up, where nothing’s fixed and anything becomes possible It is from these experiences and rehearsals of social connection, over time that different futures could emerge »We’ve some- thing to share again« says one person and another: »We can make things happen ourselves«
Artists light a touch paper for us to see things differently; tapping deeply into values of connection, story, place and meaning ''Grasslands ''shows artists can be circuit breakers; disrupting the status quo to make space to engage people collec- tively at an imaginative level
»Art takes nothing from the world« says the poet Gary Synder »it is a gift and an exchange It leaves the world nourished«.
Nourishing our world in such creative ways is essential as, globally, we face times of uncertainty A »new normal« is characterised by extreme weather events; a warming planet; a UN Climate Change Report in October 2018 sta- ting the world’s governments have 12 years to act to avert dangerous levels of climate change and the loss of much of the Earth’s majestic, rich biodiversity Systems of food production, economy and ecological and social webs of life need reimagining, reclaiming, renewing and reinventing and many of the greatest sys- temic challenges put the countryside on a new frontline: there is a need to co- operate globally and to create resilient communities Artmaking creates moments to begin again from in the story of humans on Earth
I have written – In ''Playing for Time – Making Art As If The World Mattered – ''about how many artists are now joining the dots between drivers of change in land use, energy, finance, climate change, food and community resilience to reimagine the world the way we would like it to be I recognise the same collaborative, »grass- roots« arts practice in ''Grasslands. ''
These »participatory« arts create an aesthetics of care, with professional and non-professional artists working together to set a new era for the arts They build connection between ourselves, our communities and the natural world Finding your place, digging in and taking responsibility from there
''Grasslands ''is the story of restoration the world needs: convivial, communal, pleasurable, peaceful, creative making together: breathing possibility into lo- cal communities, extending our imagination, collective courage and knowledge we’re part of a larger whole Working in community builds resilience for crises and emergencies, where skills and resources uncovered in creating celebrations leave a positive trace and memory of what a community can achieve together
If we are capable of painting in the rain together, we must ask, what else are we capable of? That is a serious question
So, should you chance upon people celebrating, planting trees, painting and trampling new paths across the land together, retrace your steps to check what’s happening
Join in! Humans are born open, altruistic, empathic, generous and coopera- tive
We don’t need to change human nature; we can work simply to reveal it
Participation, experimentation, engagement across differences, project by project over time, is all
To Aasted, Thorum, Junget, Selde; artists, all, thank you for showing us how true that is
Lucy Neal writer, artist Tooting, London