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Creating in crisis? Turning collective precarity into socio-ecological transformation

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Abstract

In the aftermath of 18 months of covid-19, how can our world build new ways forward out of the ashes of the old when its most creative minds – artists, makers, crafters, tinkerers, practitioners, educators – are faced with not one or two, but instead three global emergencies at once? A devastating virus with no clear end in sight; the economic and social instabilities it brings along with it; a planet and its six million species on the brink of climate catastrophe. The word ‘ecology’ is derived from the Greek word oikos, for home. How can we create when our home is sick?
Material
Futures
‘THE DANCE OF RENEWAL, THE DANCE
THAT MADE THE WORLD, WAS ALWAYS
DANCED HERE AT THE EDGE OF THINGS,
ON THE BRINK, ON THE FOGGY COAST’.
- Ursula K. le Guin
As the warnings of our world’s oceans, forests
and species become ever more urgent, it is
clear that business-as-usual is no longer an
acceptable option if we intend to survive. It
is now known that the coronavirus is but one
of many hundreds of zoonotic diseases which
are increasingly likely to reach humanity if our
destruction of biodiversity continues. Referred
to as the “tip of the iceberg”, global viruses
of this kind reect natural ecosystems under
extreme stress (Vidal, 2020). But how can our
world build new ways forward out of the ashes
of the old when its most creative minds – artists,
makers, crafters, tinkerers, practitioners,
educators – are faced with not one or two, but
instead three global emergencies at once? A
devastating virus with no clear end in sight; the
economic and social instabilities it brings along
with it; a planet and its six million species on the
brink of climate catastrophe. The word ‘ecology’
is derived from the Greek word oikos, for home.
How can we create when our home is sick?
Creative practitioners have long been required
to adapt to conditions beyond their control to
do the work they love, navigating the often-
labyrinthine structures of global neoliberal
capitalism to make a living. Data on the impacts
of COVID-19 on the cultural and creative
industries is now offering us a stark reminder of
just how precarious our futures have become. A
survey of 4,000 arts practitioners and curators
by the artists’ membership organisation a-n
found the livelihoods of 93% of respondents
deeply impacted by the virus, with 82% citing
their upcoming work has been cancelled (2020,
2). 60% of craftspeople surveyed by the UK
Crafts Council have reported a loss of income
of over £5,000 in the next six months. 90% of
freelance creatives surveyed by Art Handler
do not have paid leave, and 69% are concerned
about paying rent (2020). The OECD reports
that 90% of museums are running off limited
reserves due to ongoing closures, and the
remaining 10% will never reopen. These impacts
will be long lasting, ‘affect[ing] the production of
cultural goods and services and their diversity
[…] in the years to come’ (OECD, 2020, n.p.),
and we are already seeing their ramications,
with institutions like Tate laying off hundreds
of precarious gallery staff despite weeks of
worker strikes. When our labour-power is so
undervalued and our stresses so acute, how can
we refocus our attentions on the even vaster
concerns of a rapidly warming earth experiencing
species ecocide? How can collective despair be
transformed into collective hope?
Perhaps the answer lies in dening the nature
of transformation itself. While denitions of
transformation vary according to our cultural
context, in English the term can be described
simply, as ‘the act or process of changing
completely’ (Merriam-Webster, 2020, n.p.).
As such, transformation emerges not from
periods of stasis, but instead from states of
ux. Instability, after all, is a necessary condition
in the natural world for the ossied to make
way for new growth as seen in the ‘safe burns’
of forests by indigenous cultures, an ancient
lesson in multispecies coexistence long ignored
by settler colonialists. As the Xenofeminists put
it while arguing for the strategic deployment of
existing technologies that re-engineer society’s
many inequities: ‘Nothing should be accepted as
xed, permanent, or ‘given’ – neither material
conditions, nor social forms’ (Cuboniks, 2015,
0x01). It is in this very state of impermanence,
which sits at the root of our natural world and
impacts the forms taken by its relations, that
there is possibility. Experiences of dislocation,
ux and rupturing cultivate new subjectivities,
and encourage alternatives. Social theorists
Stuart Hall and Doreen Massey have described
these as the “cracks” that have appeared in
hegemonic systems of power throughout history
– cracks which manifest, time and time again, to
dismantle unsustainable ways-of-being (2013, 3).
These cracks are already made evident when we
observe the kinds of interventions that creatives
have launched to help other creatives in response
to COVID-19s instabilities, in ways that foster
reection, wellbeing and collective action.
As a digital anthropologist and co-director
of the design studio We&Us[1 ], I advise public
institutions on how to invite their communities
to the table through material participation (e.g.
digital making) and commoning (e.g. cooperation,
sharing and openness).
Creating in crisis?
Turning collective precarity
into socio-ecological
transformation →
DR KAT BRAYBROOKE
RESEARCH FELLOW, SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING & DESIGN,
UNIVERSITY OF SUSSEX, WWW.CODEKAT.NET
48 49
My current projects examine the links between
creative multispecies practices and socio-
ecological transformation, and how museums
can co-design remote cultural experiences
with/for isolated and vulnerable publics. As
part of the CreaTures (Creative Practices for
Transformational Futures) research initiative[2]
based at the University of Sussex, my colleagues
Lara Houston, Ann Light and I took a look at
how the 300 members of Culture Declares
Emergency (CDE), a global movement of arts
organisations who have collectively declared
an ecological emergency, have responded to
COVID-19 (Houston, Light & Braybrooke, 2020).
We conducted a systematic review of public
statements and other communications used
by the organisations to reach their audiences,
from London’s Furthereld to the Belarus Free
Theatre, and found that despite social distancing
regulations, furloughing, closures and other
signicant challenges due to COVID-19, CDE
members were deeply engaged in fostering
imaginative ways forward. These ranged from
peer support to facilitating gatherings across
digital interfaces, and from building new social
rituals focused on regeneration to coming
together for the rst time to implement solutions
to long-standing sustainability concerns.
The COVID Creatives Toolkit[3], meanwhile,
was a crowdsourced mutual aid project that
emerged in the early days of COVID-19 to offer
much-needed support to creative practitioners
who, as the virus unfolded, found themselves
needing to migrate their practice onto digital
spaces, and quickly. My collaborators and I
noticed that many of the other kits, guides and
other resources at the time were geographically
skewed towards North America, and discouraged
public contributions (Braybrooke, 2020). Our
aim was to offer an alternative, a regularly
updated list of free and open source options on
a public Google doc that would be collectively
curated by creatives themselves. We tweeted
an open call asking for help[4] , and we were
soon joined by 30 other curators and countless
unnamed contributors globally from across tech,
community, academic, arts and gig work. The
creative responses they had gathered ranged
widely, from digital dance therapy to mediation
browser extensions and electric zine makers,
and the kit became so unwieldy that it had to be
organised into 8 chapters, from ‘digital gathering
spaces’ to ‘digital wellbeing’. The most recent
chapter, added by an anonymous contributor,
offers much-needed data on how COVID-19
impacts creatives, and other contributors
have called for the provision of resources on
how creatives can digitally organise, bargain
for worker rights, and take action against
exploitative practices.
These examples are but two of many projects
that illustrate how alternative ways of co-
creating and living-with can emerge in response
to crisis. Through the simple act of prioritising
collective ourishing, projects like these are
the ‘cracks’ that help dismantle the hegemony
of market-based logics and inequalities. They
illustrate how taking care, which Maria Puig
Bellacasa describes as ‘those doings needed to
create, hold together and sustain life’s essential
heterogeneity by creating relation, in ways that
recognise interdependence’ (2012, 2) can be an
impactful response to precarity. They remind us
that creatives are stronger in collaboration than
in isolation, and that social distancing limits can
foster radical digital forms. The recent successes
of unions in organising precarious workers across
the creative industries such as the Game Workers
Union and the UVW Designers & Cultural Workers
Union reect these possibilities. ‘Historically,
pandemics have forced humans to break with the
past and imagine their world anew,’ Arundhati
Roy writes (2020, n.p.). ‘This one is no different.
It is a portal, a gateway between one world
and the next. We can choose to walk through
it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and
hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead
ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind
us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little
luggage, ready to imagine another world. And
ready to ght for it.’ As creatives, we are uniquely
positioned to address these uncertain times, and
build something from their ashes. As the projects
of this catalogue reveal, this is what our dance of
renewal looks like. This is our survival.
FOOTNOTES
[1] http://studiowe.net
[2] http://creatures-eu.org
[3] http://bit.ly/
COVIDCreativesToolkit
[4] https://twitter.com/
codekat/status/1244634
410823057409
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50 51
2020
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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How can design thinking respond to moments of crisis like covid-19 with sensitivity, in ways that transcend disciplinary and cultural divides? How can collective paralysis foster collective action? This article explores the possibilities and limitations of co-designing mutual aid in times of crisis through the case study of #covidcreativestoolkit, a crowdsourced compilation of free resources, from digital gathering and organising tools to syllabi, that aimed to support creative practitioners who needed to go digital in a crisis.
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What is the significance of caring for thinking and knowing? Thinking and knowing are essentially relational processes. Grounded on a relational conception of ontology the essay argues that ‘thinking with care’ is a vital requisite of collective thinking in interdependent worlds, but also one that necessitates a thick vision of caring. A speculative exploration of forms of thinking with care unfolds through a rereading of Donna Haraway's work, specifically of its take on feminist discussions on the situated character of knowledge. The notion of thinking with care is articulated through a series of concrete moves: thinking‐with, dissenting‐within and thinking‐for. While weaving Haraway's thinking and writing practices with the trope of care offers a particular understanding of this author's knowledge politics, the task of caring also appears in a different light.
Book
This book brings together in one volume the contributions made to the public debate around the Kilburn Manifesto - a porject that seeks to map the political, economic and cultural contours of neoliberalism. The manifesto opens with a framing statement and each essay then analyses a specific theme or issue - race and immigration, gender and class, the relational society, energy and so on. The contributors call into question the neoliberal order itself and find radical alternatives to its foundational assumptions.
Report on COVID-19: How to address the impact on craft businesses
  • Crafts Council
Crafts Council (2020). Report on COVID-19: How to address the impact on craft businesses. London. Available at: https://www.craftscouncil. org.uk/documents/1175/200330_ CC_COVID19_impact_on_craft_ business.pdf (Accessed: 8 October 2020).
How are environmentally engaged arts and cultural organisations responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • L Houston
  • A Light
  • K Braybrooke
Houston, L., Light, A. and Braybrooke, K. (2020). How are environmentally engaged arts and cultural organisations responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?, CreaTures: Creative Practices for Transformational Futures rapid response working paper v1.0. Available at: https://creatures-eu.org/wpcontent/uploads/2020/05/Lara_ COVID_Arts_Creatures_WP01.pdf (Accessed: 1 September 2020).
Definition of transformation
Definition of transformation. London. Available at: https:// www.merriam-webster.com/ dictionary/transformation (Accessed: 9 October 2020).
Culture shock: COVID-19 and the cultural and creative sectors
  • Oecd
OECD (2020). Culture shock: COVID-19 and the cultural and creative sectors. Available at: https://www.oecd.org/ coronavirus/policy-responses/ culture-shock-COVID-19-and-thecultural-and-creative-sectors-08da9e0e/ (Accessed: 8 October 2020).
The pandemic is a portal
  • A Roy
Roy, A. (2020). The pandemic is a portal, Financial Times,
Tip of the iceberg": Is our destruction of nature responsible for COVID-19?, The Guardian
  • J Vidal
Vidal, J. (2020). "Tip of the iceberg": Is our destruction of nature responsible for COVID-19?, The Guardian, 18 March. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/ environment/2020/mar/18/tipof-the-iceberg-is-ourdestruction-of-natureresponsible-for-COVID-19-aoe (Accessed: 8 October 2020).