Collective Enquiry 2

27 June 2016

Culture; the customs, beliefs, arts of a society or particular group. The word’s origins can be tied to mid-15c ‘Tilling the Land’ ‘Cultivating’, and from Latin – Cultura ‘a cultivating, agriculture’, figuratively ‘care, culture & honouring’. Around the mid 18th century the meaning went on to mean ‘cultivation – of the mind, faculties and manners’, and later ‘collective customs and achievements of a people’.

The Earth’s vegetation is part of a web of life, an ecological system made up of intimate relationships between plants and animals. How do we as a society listen to, and become aware of, how our own systems have consequences on, and impact on these relationships?

“Agriculture is not only about seeds and soil, sun and rain, but also about the people who plan and produce each season’s crop. In this way agriculture is intrinsically a cultural activity. Each farmer, whether he or she tills half an acre or a thousand, is guided by the norms of his or her culture”  Peter Lowrey from FAO Orientation texts, Culture & Agriculture, 1995

With these perspectives in mind we invite you to share your reflections on the following quote:

“Now more than ever, nature cannot be separated from culture”

Felix Guattari – The Three Ecologies


June 28 2016 00:00:00


  • Listening to yourself and others is at the heart of the Enquiry.
  • Try sitting quietly with the Enquiry and waiting a few moments for a response to surface.
  • Try and read through some or all of the other responses before you write your own, remembering to come back to the original question rather than responding directly to someone elses’ statement (although they may influence your response)
  • When writing your reflections it’s fine to quote other people or their writings but we are unable to accept web links or downloads.
  • You can write a maximum of 2500 characters (around 400 words). Please make sure that you send your response at the end of 20 minute your period and no later.
  • You do not need to fill the word count and you can contribute to the enquiry by offering a silent response. Send your form in at the end of the 25 minutes so we know you were present at the Enquiry.
  • Do not worry about your writing style.
  • Please do not comment on or rebut anyone else’s statement.
  • Although you may want to consider the Enquiry in advance try to come to the Collective Enquiry with an open mind and be prepared to write something unexpected.
  •  This is a space to share your thoughts whatever your levels of knowledge and experience drawing on your own feelings and contemplative insight as well as rational thought.


Ruth Levene

Ruth is one of the co-ordinator artists on Field of Wheat.

Anne-Marie Culhane

Anne-Marie is one of the co-ordinator artists on Field of Wheat.

Jonathan Baxter

Jonathan Baxter is an artist living and working in Dundee. He is the invited 'Ponderer' for this Collective Enquiry and will reflect on the whole process at the end.

The Collective Responses

Peter Allen-Williams

Not only are we influenced by the ‘norms of our culture’, but also by our own life experiences and these may be stronger . A very strong influence in my own life has been wanting to be, and becoming, a civil engineer. To quote my professional institution,
“Civil engineering is all about helping people and shaping the world. It’s the work that civil engineers do to make our lives much easier”.
My understanding of what that is has changed, as has that of my profession, over the years I was working. I am talking about civil engineering because on Friday we were hearing about water.
The drainage that allows Peter to farm on the fens was put in around 400 years ago by a civil engineer from Holland. Before that, the River Witham meandered through a marsh inhabited by fiercely independent swamp dwellers, who fought and lost, to protect their (locally sustainable) way of life. Now we have a drainage system where the pumps that keep water levels down and make it viable for Peter to farm, run on electricity produced by burning fuel somewhere else in the country. An increased level of complexity and interdependence that reduces sustainability. (They first ran on wind power, but were much lore expensive and less dependable).
So now we have agriculture that works within our complex world and relies on many things to produce – the soil, the sun, rain, drainage, power, markets, legal systems and most importantly other people. People are “society”. And we all live and work depending on others for our very being.
When I was younger, I worked in both Kenya and Java. In both places, the locals lived a “subsistence” life on less than a $1 a day. However, we saw great differences in the way they lived. In Kenya, the kids often showed signs of malnutrition and art was rudimentary. In Java, there was a long and sophisticated tradition of arts and performances, dance, batik, architecture going back 4000 years. It was a salutary lesson for a young man.

2016-06-27 09:11:22

Parsons Cerulli Family

The quote, to me, seems to say that a re-connection with the way our food is produced, and an awareness of the implications of our actions and choices on what sustains us, is crucial for our survival as a species but only possible by making these things part of everyday culture again.

Popular culture particularly here in the UK, feels very much driven by technology, the media and capitalism-driven accumulation of ‘stuff’. As the rate of advances in technology, and new versions of products increase, there is, I think a decrease in continuity and shared experience between generations. Screen-based technology, and instant connectivity is also a threat to sleep, to slowness, and time to pause – being offline is a fear for many. We are made even more aware of this through our two children.

Recent experiences camping with a number of other families and children, were interesting, being out of mobile reception as we were – the experiences were heightened, shared and memorable, but also connected to similar things we had done as children. On Friday, many found the visit to the field, the immersion in the landscape and silences a welcome escape from the intense social media storm around the referendum result.

A large part of popular culture has nothing to do with stimulation of the senses (touch and smell, and through temperature in particular), or the seasonal or biological rhythms (day/night), seasons. The change in these often dictated cultural events – on a small scale, picking elderflowers and making cordial, picking blackberries and making jam are more special when they can only be done once a year. We need to reclaim a connection with nature as a ‘must-have’, not a poor relation to other more ephemeral stuff, and through this engage all of us with its stewardship.

2016-06-27 09:50:53

Shelley Castle

I think we know what the solution to this very palpable issue is. We need to put the ground and other animals and plants in the centre of our lives and not just on wallpaper or plates. And I think we perhaps even know how this might happen in terms of a creative joining of worlds through celebration, ritual, marking events and art, music, theatre taking on the role of mind-shifter for a new world where the wonders of our natural environment become felt strongly, play a central part in our story and are raised up in status. But perhaps because we are so many and ‘other’ is dwindling rapidly (I’ll be painting a series of portraits of the Bramble Cay Melomys very soon) we are now in a situation where those able to make work and take it out into the world should perhaps only focus on the needs of other (animal, plant, earth, sea etc) and find ways to reconnect them into our daily lives. We can’t speak for the natural world, but perhaps we can connect back to the place of balance, wonder and a symbiotic relationship with the natural world through urgent but gentle interventions. I can’t really think of anything else because it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless otherwise.

2016-06-27 11:57:04

Ruth Allen-Williams

It seems to me that attitudes towards nature and the cultivation of the land have been changing gradually during the last 40 odd years that I have been concerned with farming. In 1973 I met my first husband who was then a mixed farmer growing arable crops and rearing beef cattle. During our 17 year marriage I became involved practically in the cultivation of around 300 acres of variable arable land including 2 fields of fenland not far from Peter’s own farm. I learnt to drive tractors and operate machinery and I have happy memories of working the fields on the farm where we lived. But I don’t remember much concern about the impact of fertilizers and pesticides in those days. Far more important were the yield levels and the quality of grain produced. Nowadays there is definitely more interest in the environment and how we are treating it. Programmes on TV such as the widely popular Countryfile on BBC 1 every week often have articles about nature conservation and the ways in which farmers of today are caring much more about the impact of their farming methods on the land they work. As do Radio 4’s farming programmes and even daily newspapers and magazines. So I am broadly optimistic about the future of the land farmed here in Britain and hopeful that similar concerns will have an impact on land use all over our beautiful planet.

2016-06-27 12:32:44

Carol Farrow

Yes, I think it’s time to reunite nature and culture!
Culture doesn’t just make me think about ‘the Arts’. It makes me think about the natural yeasts and enzymes in sour dough bread, Kombucha and ginger beer ‘cultures’. Such foods feed the bacteria in our guts. Like the soil they’re life giving.
A couple of minutes looking at an etymological dictionary and a couple of websites made me realise how much Culture has become disasociated from the land, from nature.
Our FOW project is part of a growing band of projects helping people to reconnect to the soil as a living, life giving but finite resource that needs to be cared for carefully.
Patrick Holden, a past director of the Soil Association, has said ‘The soil is not only our planet’s greatest repository of stored carbon, but also its organ of digestion – I have recently come to realise that we can reach a better understanding of the dark interior of our fertile soils by relating it to the process of our own digestion. We can imagine the earth as the collective stomach of all the world’s plants, ensuring their nutrition through the extraordinary and symbiotic relationship between plant roots, soil bacteria and fungi. It is an eternal truth that the health and fertility of soils, plants animal and people are one and indivisible.
The Soil Culture Forum examines the cultural and environmental importance of soil and looks to inspire people to reconnect culture and soil via art and literature, making us think where mere advocacy doesn’t.
Thanks Peter, Ruth and Anne-Marie for re-awakening my connection to soil and the importance of its mindful stewardship.

2016-06-27 13:44:36

Daniel Kindred

Now more than ever, nature does seem to be separated from culture, in that first hand intimate experience of nature is rare for the general populace. Perhaps as a response to this distance between individuals and nature, the perspectives of the populace of what ‘nature’ is, and hence how ‘nature’ is perceived in our culture, has become idealised. We are quick to think of nature in terms of pristine environments, pretty wildflower meadows and fluffy bunnies, but the nature ‘red in tooth and claw’ is less easily embraced into our cultural consciousness. From the farming perspective, nature brings the realities of disease, death and decay into daily awareness, and there is acceptance of this circle of life. The farmers job is to maintain healthy soils, crops and livestock, through knowledge and experience of the natural processes that govern them, as well as through the cultural learnings and scientific technologies that have been proven to enhance health and productivity. The interventions that farmers make are often to promote one sort of life (livestock & crops) to the detriment or death of another (parasites, bacteria, fungi and weeds), to produce food of the quantity and quality that our populace expects. For our culture to make judgements on the decisions and interventions made by farming, and any negative consequences, it is important that the nature of ‘nature’ is understood in its entirety, including our place within it.

2016-06-27 14:48:42


“Now more than ever, nature cannot be separated from culture” – worth reading the article

Today – and having reflected on the quote and the article I feel that we need to look at the wider extremes of our own society – and not simply be focused on our own spheres of concern and influence and social groups

If we were to travel to the housing estates of Redcar,Tower Hamlets or South Wales do we really believe that the culture we’d see/hear and feel is built upon the foundation of the “nature “we experienced on Friday with Peter and the collective

If by nature we mean the wider socio/economic/geopolitical environment we are brought up in/live in then I do believe that this has driven the culture we can experience – but not neccesarily like or agree with

The recent referendum result shows what a polarised society we have become – and our culture is divorced from the nature we experienced last week

2016-06-27 15:43:02

Nick Groom

It was ever thus: nature has never been – cannot be – separated from culture; however, the two cultures (broadly, the sciences and the humanities) have increasingly separated the two. Biosciences, meteorology, climate science seem to offer solutions to environmental crises while the arts and humanities struggle to make themselves heard in ecological debates, the challenges posed by mass migration, questions of sustainability and resilience, or of renewable energy, agriculture, and GM. And yet the study and practice of literature, history, and folklore – not to mention the arts – is fundamentally environmental. Experiences such as the weather are represented and understood according to cultural and historical expectations taken from books and proverbs, personal and communal memory, and laced with latent meaning and portentous significance, and these representations have structured the understanding of the environment in the past, and continue to do so today. A bird, a flower, or a field of wheat are sites of emotion and meaning and heritage that overlap with their importance as instances of biodiversity or natural resources or food security. We need to take the humanities out of the library, the museum, the classroom and get it working in the fields and woods and rivers that sustain us – as more and more artists and writers are doing. In doing so, we can make culture a way of ensuring a fuller and crucially a more active engagement with the world, rather than a means of escaping from it. What we need to develop, in other words, is a ‘cultural environmentalism’. And alongside this cultural environmentalism, this greening of the arts, should be the humanizing of the sciences – bringing the harvest of culture into ivory laboratories to enrich the study of nature.
Culture has in any case been responsible for reimagining and reinventing the countryside over hundreds of years. Today we can depict and engage with the environment in ways that resist outmoded artistic traditions, that actively value local identities and indigenous cultures, and write identity, heritage, and history back into the land. That could be the basis of environmental thinking, of ‘natureculture’. Landscapes are not just physical spaces but layer upon layer of personal, local, and regional identity. One secret of a life well lived is surely to remind ourselves of how we can dwell *in* a place and entangle ourselves with it – not spectating and separating, but enmeshing culture and nature.

2016-06-27 15:54:55


If culture means the “norms” by which a society lives and the habits and customs that evolve from this, then to stick to ones “culture” in a fast changing society is surely dangerous. We take in more knowledge now than ever before and rational thought should encourage us to accept or discard this – but I suppose even then our “culture” may subconsciously influence how we deal with this. But we can learn by our mistakes surely and a questioning mind should surely be the one thing we try to foster in the young. Blind acceptance of customs established long ago and which were pragmatic at the time because of prevailing conditions may now no longer be relevant and at least should be debated and, where appropriate, challenged. Having spent some time in Australia and been fascinated by its history, both by the settlers and the indigenous population, one of the many interesting facts in Robert Hughes fascinating history of its early settlement “The Fatal Share” was the insistence of the early farmers of following their custom of Spring sowing and Autumn harvesting in March/ April and September/ October with disastrous results. After failed harvests the “norms” were eventually turned round to suit the prevailing weather conditions. A soil scientist relative in that country is now fully occupied adapting current crop planting to changing weather patterns down under and it is hard to see, without a wholesale acceptance of the urgent need to curtail climate change and the depletion of natural resources by the entire population, how anything we can do more than take a pragmatic approach to this very serious issue, at least in the short term.

2016-06-27 16:23:51


I’ve been thinking a lot recently about this issue and around it. Listening to Annie Proulx on the radio about how the New World pioneers saw it as their god given duty to ‘tame’ the wilderness. Nature was seen as ungodly and bestial and forests were there to be logged and the new lands plundered and stripped of their resources. This mindset of ‘man’ at the pinnacle of all other life has persisted in many ways. The imagery in the adverts in the Farmers Weekly not so very long ago looked liked staging warfare on weeds, pests and diseases, in a most alarming way. Our global food systems are now dominated by five multinational corporations and food is commodified losing the richness of the varieties, striping them of their cultural significance. Just today on the food programme there was a piece about the blue maize variety, and its history and deep cultural significance to the Mexican people. Stripped of this culture it just becomes the ‘Jolly Green Giant’ F1 hybrid white bland sweetcorn brand that most of the planet will know. The same is true of so much rich diversity that has been eroded with increasing rapidity, paralleling the rise of industrial farming globally. From thousands of wheat varieties in Afghanistan, mustard seed varieties in India, chick peas in the middle east, and the hundreds of varieties of vegetable seeds which fell under EEC ‘standardisation’ in the 80’s. F1 hybrids and GM under the banner of ‘Feeding the World’ have been the main culprits of the demise of so much diversity linked to cultures globally. I’ve also been reading ‘Slow Food Nation’ inspired by a visit to the most wonderfully exciting food market I went to in Sicily not long ago. I was in Acireale near Catania, when I came upon this amazing collection of stalls, all selling produce from the area, which is around Etna. I was amazed to see the most enormous kohlrabi plants which had a long history in the fertile slopes of the volcano and these vegetables, along with other fiercely guarded heirloom varieties were becoming re-energised in the local culture. Luckily Italians have such a strong food culture and there is also much delight and banter around each communities favoured specialty foods. Every stall had a food story and it was so heartening to see so many young farmers and growers passionately involved in maintaining and strengthening the food culture.Small mixed farms feed the world; not the agribiz monoculture dinosaur which is killing our planet and cultures.

2016-06-27 16:57:54

Susan Haedicke

My first reaction to Guattari’s quotation was: Of course nature and culture cannot be separated, but why did Guattari start the thought with “now more than ever.” What is so different about “now” (or 1986 when he first published the essay)? Today, more than 50% of the world’s population live in cities and that increased urbanisation and wealth have divorced many people from the land, from nature. But that didn’t seem enough to warrant the “now.” So I did my academic thing and went back to Guattari to read the quotation in context. What I found was startling, especially as an American. Guattari insists that the intertwined relationship between nature and culture enables us to better understand today’s world. And then he writes: “Just as monstrous and mutant algae invade the lagoon of Venice, so our television screens are populated, saturated, by degenerate images and statements. In the field of social ecology, men like Donald Trump are permitted to proliferate freely, like another species of algae, taking over entire districts of New York and Atlantic City; he redevelops them by raising rents, thereby driving out tens of thousands of poor families, most of whom are condemned to homelessness, becoming the equivalent of the dead fish of environmental ecology.” Guattari must be turning in his grave today, but how prescient he was. Yes, certainly, now more than ever! A Field of Wheat, for me, makes visible and tangible the inseparable connection between nature and culture on multiple performative levels. Through the weaving of story-telling, place-making and everyday performance, FOW links nature in Lincolnshire farmscapes to art and culture: farming practices that Peter so eloquently transforms into engaging stories, Anne-Marie’s drawings of roots, Ruth’s Ears for Listening, and embodied cultural practices of a diverse group of collective members worldwide around the sharing of ideas, skills, experiences, meals and bread recipes: cultural practices that cannot be disentangled from the processes of nature. I think of Peter’s comments about the patch of ground where we stopped for lunch and of the tale of the water’s journey under the field. Tim Ingold, anthropologist at University of Aberdeen, explains it beautifully when he writes: “all creatures, human and nonhuman, are fellow passengers in the one world in which they all live, and through their activities continually create the conditions for each other’s existence.”

2016-06-27 17:24:49

Frances & Kevin Ryan

We’re all influenced by cultural perceptions of nature. My enduring and vivid memories of nature are from Jamaica where I lived until I was 17. I remember a beautiful island ‘land of wood and water’ of mountains and the blue, azure sea, of mostly living outside. But there was erosion on the mountain slopes, which resulted in land-slides during the rainy season and country people living in nature, often desperately poor. In St Lucia, which I visited a few years ago, I went into supermarkets where I saw a paucity of vegetables for sale, yet land lying fallow.

The Peak District is considered to be an area of great natural beauty; however, it’s been extensively farmed and managed for centuries, yet the general perception is of a ‘natural’ landscape. George Monbiot, in Feral, writes about ‘Shifting Baseline Syndrome’, whereby the people of every generation perceive the state of the ecosystem they encounter as normal…seemingly unaware that it often exists in a state of extreme depletion. In Derbyshire, the main reason for this depletion was due, in the first instance, to the cutting down of the indigenous forests (the wood used for ship-building and later fuelling the Industrial Revolution). The land was further eroded by the introduction of the ubiquitous sheep who have ’caused more extensive environmental damage in the UK than all the building that has ever taken place.’ (Monbiot).

I’ll finish by asking whether nature has ever been divorced from cultural impacts? Even prehistoric peoples must have had an impact upon the environment. Many of the animals that they hunted, for instance, were ultimately driven to extinction, thus by their actions they were changing the natural balance.

2016-06-27 19:41:41

Jon Orlek

To me the quote raises questions about the boundaries between urban and rural space. I think it is easy to split up culture and nature when thinking about these two environments (urban=culture, rural=nature) when the relationship is more complicated and connected. I think this can be seen within A Field of Wheat: we visited the London stock market to learn about the impact of the market on the field and also heard about how farming techniques can cause an eradication of nature. So what happens when rural areas are given cultural value and urban spaces/cultures considered part of nature? I think this question can be addressed in a number of ways including on a personal level. I consider myself to be a city-person; I can’t imagine living and working outside of a city. I feel (and think I look) out of place in the middle of the field of wheat, but I am interested in what I bring back as a visitor or outsider. I was interested to hear Peter value the project for its ability to communicate agricultural concerns to the public. Perhaps our best shot at connecting nature and culture is by travelling, experiencing, feeling out of place, touching the wheat.

2016-06-27 20:02:19

Lucy Neal

It was such a pleasure to travel to Lincoln last week and spend much of the day running my hand across the wheat ‘tops’ as we walked through the field: the action grounded me absolutely after some intense weeks in London (where I live) working hard at conjuring a celebratory event to grow good change in a town, with the Tour de Tooting – a celebration of the wheels in our lives. ( I was thrilled to learn in the process of preparing this event that the word ‘wheel’ comes from kwel meaning to move around and in time this became ‘hweol’ (or yuke) in old English, chakra in Sanskrit, colere in Latin (to till the soil) and then cultivate and culture.

I am more and more interested in the ways in which we see ourselves as active participants in the making of our culture and how this is rooted in the cycles of the season, the cultivation of the soil to grow something new and the daily practice of marking change and embracing and observing the cycles of life and death all around. I like Carol’s analogy of the soil being like a great digestion system. I recently attended a conference of European rural forums in Amsterdam where I spoke as an artist alongside farmers and others working with and on the land. I was humbled by some of the shared experiences of taking risks, working with uncertainty and in service to something larger than ourselves: life!! I left imagining artists were like earthworms, tilling the soil, preparing the ground to grow new perspectives, seeing and nurturing different ways of framing how we look at and take part in the world.

It often feels as a human race we are adrift and have lost our bearings simply on how to be human: how to nurture a culture of ‘care’ rather than uncare. Life itself creates the conditions of life and binding back together again the ways in which agriculture and culture are connected is an exciting way to ground my/ourselves in reclaiming our part in stewarding the wellbeing of the natural world. To be in service to life once more. It feels like a simple return to something we know quite well how to do: running our hands across wheat field tops.

2016-06-27 20:52:49


Development is driving the specialism of our species. And with a certain predictability, the more specialised we become, the more precarious our position becomes. This is a natural phenomenon in itself. As a species learns to control its environment to a greater degree, it becomes more successful, adapts to its new environment as it adapts the environment itself. It wrings greater and greater resources from its environment, expanding to a greater sphere of cultivation, until those resources become increasingly scarce. Now the organism must adapt or die. Greater success in specialism now turns to greater weakness. Instability of the population causes a snowball effect, with more of the sparse resources being wasted. Ultimately those best placed to survive will be those who stay closest to the Earth. Those who know its ways and understand how to live in harmony and off the land. Nature has become separate largely from human culture, especially in the developed world. But it is true that nature cannot be separated from culture, as the greater the distance that our culture takes us from nature, the more fragile our species’ position becomes. culture cultured science interdependence land society humanities farm living garden beauty growth harmony opinion organisms people develop peoples art expose interaction social technology reveal habitat organism land survival compete expression cooperate innovation arts grow expand evolution live competition

2016-06-27 21:25:33

Peter Lundgren, The Farmer

‘Nature can’t be separated from culture’. But isn’t that exactly what’s happened over the past 60 years?
I’ve not read The Three Ecologies but looking at the precis Felix Guattari seems to be making the same argument I’ve been making for years – just using a lot of very long words ending in ‘ism or ‘ology.
For me it’s best defined as the difference between agribusiness and agriculture. Agribusiness is producing food to the lowest unit cost so that others in the food chain can add value; agriculture is producing safe wholesome food whilst offering the producer a fair return on time and investment, enhancing the environment and supporting the rural economy.
Sadly our government and our farming leaders see agribusiness as the model for the future, preferring to ignore the environment and the rural economy and concentrating on supporting jobs in food processing and keeping a lid on inflation (nothing drives inflation like food prices).
Maybe that would be ok if farming was the same as producing nuts and bolts in a shed near Bolton – but its not; farming is so much more.
Interesting the EU, which we have just left, was beginning to ‘get’ agriculture with the French government adopting agroecology as their preferred production model because agroecology delivers those additional social and environmental benefits. But I guess that opportunity to adopt a more enlightened farming system in this country has just gone begging…

2016-06-27 21:38:05

Abby Schlageter

What does nature being central to our culture look like? I think projects like Field of Wheat are a big part of that vision – cultural projects that enact, explore and question our relationship to the land we live on.
I also think of previous cultural projects like Agnes Denys WheatField that left me with dream-like visions of gliding through wheat fields. It was only in recent years that I realised my dream was a monoculture, a conventional farm vision. There that word ‘culture’ pops up again.
So now after learning about healthy land practices I dream of agro-ecological futures, where I float through forest gardens and meadows of companion planting. Although I haven’t seen many visions of this in popular culture. The impact of culture can not be underestimated. Our culture is part of nature – we mustn’t forget that.

2016-06-27 22:17:47

Jonathan Baxter

The Ponderer’s Thoughts.

Two images in this Enquiry stand out for me. Carol’s image of a ‘collective stomach’ digesting what the world offers and doing the work of renewal and Lucy’s development of this image in her description of artists as earthworms, ‘tilling the soil, preparing the ground to grow new perspectives, seeing and nurturing different ways of framing how we look at and take part in the world.’

In its own way FOW has become a collective stomach for our individual and collective reflections. FOW provides a space for what the artist Suzanne Lacy calls a ‘call and response’ paradigm. Suzi Gablik’s ecological imperative – to make art as if the world mattered – is part of this paradigm shift, one that extends our understanding of the world and recalls us to a different ecological sensibility.

Whether our response to this call takes the form of art, farming or some other social practice, at the heart of this paradigm shift is our ability to listen. And listening isn’t something we’re particularly good at. Indeed, in our everyday listening it’s said that we only recall 25% of what people actually tell us. If you relate this to our ability to listen to the world – with open heart and mind – then you can see (and hear) why we’re in the crisis we’re in.

Crisis? Yes. Opportunity? That depends on our listening.

This reminds me of an image evoked by Stephen Bottoms, an American theatre and performance maker. It’s worth quoting Bottoms at length.

‘Consider a spider’s web. The spider cannot measure the fly as a tailor measures a client before sewing a suit. Yet the spider determines the length of the web’s stitches according to the fly’s dimensions, adjusting the resistance to the force of impact of the fly’s flight. The spider has constructed the threads of the web in exact proportion to the visual capacity of the fly’s eye, so that the fly cannot see them, and flies toward death. The spider weaves the radial threads more solidly than the circular ones, coats the circular threads with viscous liquid, and makes them elastic enough to imprison the fly. The spider travels along the smooth, dry radial threads, drops on its prey, and winds it finally in its invisible prison. The perceptual worlds of fly and spider remain uncommunicating, yet attune to one another in such a way that we may describe the spider’s web as “fly-like.” The spider’s web is a performance of the intersection of two worlds.’

This is a complex image, which if you feel empathy for the fly seems rather cruel! But cruelty is misplaced in this context. Better to think this image through the lens of ecology, as a symbiotic relationship that in this instance benefits the spider. My real interest in this image, however, relates to the process of listening as attunement and what this teaches us about the relationship between nature and culture.

Here I – following the physicist F. David Peat – imagine nature and culture as a double helix in which nature and culture are always already entwined like the spider and the fly. Nature is our call. Culture is our response. What we do with our lives – whether art or farming – constitutes our life’s performance.

That we are currently performing this relationship as a dance that impacts negatively on nature is undeniable – we are killing the thing that gives us life. That we need to renegotiate this relationship by attuning our listening is something that FOW and this Enquiry makes space for.

Field by field, day by day, the responsibility, difficulty and pleasure will be ours. The spider, the fly, the earthworm, and the wheat have all spoken.

2016-10-11 11:17:54