Archive for August, 2009

Research in Brazil – January 2009

August 21, 2009

In January 2009 I travelled to Brazil to visit 2 communities in very different environments who live in a sustainable way with their surroundings.

I intended to travel to Brazil to live with the sustainable and ecological communities living in the valley of Matutu in the Minhas Gerais Mountains and Ceu Do Mapia in the heart of Amazonia. There I lived with the communities for a period of time and wanted to exchange skills, ideas, organizing principles and processes useful to ecological and sustainable communities in other locations. Particularly the UK.

I have been developing a practice which explores how artists can usefully work in their local communities considering the twin issues of Peak Oil and Climate change. The opportunity to travel and live with well established sustainable communities would inform this research and strengthen an ongoing body of work.

Matutu

The community of living in the valley of Matutu are situated 30 miles East of Caxambu in the Minhas Gerais mountains. Approx. one days travel North of Sao Paulo. The valley is high in the rolling mountains (not sharp Alpine peaks…think more high sierra rolling grassland interspersed with woods). The community of 150 people are nestled at the end of the valley, surrounded by cliffs and waterfalls on three sides. They own the land all the way up into the mountains to the water sources (and each household process all their sewage and waste water individually) which means the water from all the waterfalls is potable and drinkable! A new experience for me.

The community produce all their own fruit and vegetables which they grow organically.They have their own cattle used to produce milk. A dairy which produces fresh yoghurt and cheese. Horses do a lot of the work in the community carrying heavy objects, ploughing, herding cattle and providing transport in the mountains.The community has two schools for the children, and every child is encouraged to attend University at the appropriate age, either in Brazil or abroad. Each family in the community have their own trade and income, but the basics of shelter, food, water and fire are communal and each member of the community has their own job to do for these. (e.g. basic food is planted, grown and gathered communally, then distributed amongst all the community; but individual families can grow their own extra food which they keep).

There is a spiritual aspect to life in the community, involving the drinking of ayahuasca, which acts as an important cohesive force in resolving disputes and bonding the community as individuals in a group with common purpose, and the land on which they live. Although the spiritual is ever present in all aspects of life this spiritual aspect is not the main focus of the community. This spiritual aspect is strange and alien to a Western secular culture such as ours, but is vitally important to the people living in this community. A gong is struck at 6am and 6pm every day, and everyone spends a few seconds of silence to hear it and be quiet. No matter what they are doing. Speaking to Guilherme (the first person to settle here and facilitator of the spiritual side of life), he expressed how the gong acts like the heartbeat of the community. A reminder to the community of something beyond the day-to-day concerns of living.

Aside from the inherent knowledge base and skill of the people who live here, what impressed me most was how this community organises itself and interacts with the outside world:

  • Community wide decisions are made in “clusters” of individuals who gather on a project by project basis. The more involvement an individual has in a project, the more decision making power they have in that project. Current projects include: Education, Fire Fighting, Hydro power, cafe and gift shop. The Fire fighting team have become so proficient that they are called in by the Brazilian government to fight fires in other communities – a bit like a Fire Fighting Special Forces!!
  • The community has decided to make itself difficult to access by the outside world but not impossible. For example the only road in, or out, of Matutu is a red dirt road. Accessible only when dry and then really only if you have a 4 x 4 (or battered old style Volkswagen beetle, which is the vehicle of choice for many members of the community for its front wheel drive and lightness). Rather than replacing the road with asphalt the members of the community only repair it when it gets really bad. They like it that way. Any visitors must park vehicles at the entrance to the valley near the gift shop and cafe (which sell produce made in the community) and hire a guide if they want to go walking in the valley. I like this approach as it does not close the community off from the outside world, but restricts access to a manageable level which preserves privacy and the fragile ecosystem which exists in this place.

I hope to return to Matutu one day to learn a much as I can of the knowledge and skills the people possess. To bring that knowledge back to the UK and implement the relevant bits in the communities in which I work.

Ceu Do Mapia

Crossing The Bridge To Santa Casa

Crossing The Bridge To Santa Casa

Ceu Do Mapia (Mapia) is a “Santo Daime” spiritual community in the heart of Amazonia. 1 days travel down the Purus river tributary from Boca De Acre and 2 days travel from Rio Branco. Very isolated when the river level drops away to nothing in the dry season, and boats cannot get to the community.

The community has regular visitors from the rest of the world (“visitantes”) who come to drink ayahuasca and take part in religious ceremonies. The centre of the community (both metaphorically and physically) is an amazing star shaped wooden church where the ceremonies take place.

From my own observations, and conversations with permanent residents in the community, the challenges currently facing the community centre around it’s interaction with the outside world and an nflux of wealth to a few individuals. In short the same problems facing communities throughout the developing world.

I spent only a week or so living in Mapia (not enough to establish myself in the community) but the traditions and skills I was looking for there did not seem to surface. However, my time there was magical in ways which are only now becoming apparent. The individuals I met in that week were lovely, and there is a definite magical quality to the place itself. Hopefully the commitees in the community can address the challenges they face and build the harmonious and peaceful place in the heart of the jungle they hope for.

So, next is a plan to establish links with communities in the Peruvian Amazon and travel there in 2010 for further research…

Viva Maia! Viva A Igreja Da Floresta! Viva Jurema!

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Portscatho – (Grid Ref: 875347) “Jumper (Patience and Perseverance)”

August 21, 2009

Jumper (Patience and Perseverance).

Jumper (Patience and Perseverance)

The latest version of this participatory sculpture was exhibited at the Memorial Hall in Portscatho on 8th August 2009.

Participants (including the “Stitches and Bitches” knitting circle from nearby Falmouth), contributed to the piece by carding, spinning and knitting the wool for it.

Carding

Carding

Spinning With The Drop Spindle

Spinning With The Drop Spindle

Knitting

Knitting

The next chance to contribute to this piece will be at Lamorva House, Woodlane, Falmouth on 3rd September 2009 from 7pm onwards.

Many thanks to the following people who have contributed so far:

Margaret Gilliam

Belle Benfield

Annette Knight

Hannah

Hilary Jones

Annie Lovejoy

Portscatho – (Grid Ref: 875347) Memorial Hall

August 21, 2009
Memorail Hall, Portscatho, 8th August 2009

Memorail Hall, Portscatho, 8th August 2009

Annie had organised an open day in the Memorial Hall in Portscatho to celebrate sustainability. Throughout the day were many things to do knitting old plastic bags into clothes, Lynne Devey had her “Re-Dress” workshop (www.re-dress.org.uk) where people could bring along and transform old clothes into new snazzy garments, Kate had a display prompting questions of people how they thought the local environment would change over the coming years, fair trade and 2nd hand stalls….and me.

I was helping to facilitate 2 participatory pieces “Peg Loom” and “Jumper (Patience and Perseverance)”. Annie had invited the local Falmouth “Stitches and Bitches” knitting circle to the event to help contribute to the pieces.

Lots of great pictures of the day from Mary at:

http://home-and-garden.webshots.com/album/573966867SBHHqZ

Treloan, Portscatho – (Grid Ref : 875347). “Peg Loom”

August 21, 2009

Peg Loom.

A very ancient technology for making rugs and blankets. Consisting of a series of pegs and strings pushed into a pre-drilled board. Raw fleece is then wound around the pegs in an “in-out” fashion. Once the pegs are filled the wound fleece is pushed down onto the strings. Gradually a rug/blanket is created. It is washed once it is complete in order to felt it and retain some of the lanoline (“really good for your skin..”).

Mary had kindly donated the wool for this piece from her 2 sheep Molly and Oliver. In return I offered to give her the finished blanket as a “Thank You” for her help.

Initial steps were to dry out the wool which had been left under a tarpaulin outside since May. Needless to say it was not in the most pleasant state.

It's A Dirty Job But Someones Got To Do It!

It's A Dirty Job But Someones Got To Do It!


Drying Raw Fleece in the Awning By The Project Van

Drying Raw Fleece in the Awning By The Project Van

I love using raw fleece as it is such an underused resource and farmers with sheep cannot sell it for a profit. So often it gets dumped or burnt as there is so much of it.

More Drying Of Mary's Fleece.

More Drying Of Mary's Fleece.

Construction.

Peg Loom Construction

Peg Loom Construction

For this peg loom I used Willow pegs from the coppice and a 4ft length of scrap 4″ x 2″ timber hanging around at the campsite for the board.

Note: The Width of the final blanket/rug is determined by the length of the board and the length of the finished blanket/rug is determined by the length of the strings.

Method.

  1. Take a handful of raw fleece and twist it until it is the thickness of the gaps between the pegs. (Pick out bits of dirt, sticks and twigs as you go)
  2. Then tie this length of fleece around one of the end pegs.
  3. Keep twisting in the same way and wind it in and out of the pegs along the board.
  4. When you need more fleece place the new handful next to the old one and twist them together.
  5. When you get to the end of a line simply come back on yourself (ensuring you are twisting the same way and the wool is going in the the opposite “in and out” to the previous layer)
  6. Continue until all the pegs are filled.
  7. Then begin at one end and pull out a single peg, then push the wool on that peg down onto the strings.
  8. Go to the next peg and repeat step 7 until all the wool is off the pegs.
  9. Take up the end of wool left hanging and continue twisting and winding in and out.
  10. Continue until the rug/blanket is complete.
  11. Tie strings together in pairs to prevent wool being pushed off the end.
  12. Push down to make weave tight.
  13. Cut and tie strings at peg end.
  14. Wash blanket and dry.
Twisting and Winding The Wool On The Loom

Twisting and Winding The Wool On The Loom

Tightening Strings After Pushing Wool Onto Them

Tightening Strings After Pushing Wool Onto Them

Work In Progress

Work In Progress

Many Thanks to all the following people who contributed to this piece (it will be open to further contributions at Lamorva House, Woodlane, Falmouth 3rd September 2009- 7pm onwards):

Peter Pomeroy

Will Walker

Tom Ludwidge

Alison Arthur

Belle Benfield

Ottilie Yerbury

Mimi White

Hannah Yerbury

Sophy White

Deb Walker

Allan Collins

Edgar Mottershead-Davies

Hebe Mottershead-Davies

Jenny Brabyn

Mahrijka McCartney

Anthea Nicholson

Michael Jones

Julie Robinson

Treloan, Portscatho – (Grid Ref: 875347) “Willow Coppicing 2”

August 21, 2009

August: Returning to Treloan campsite in Portscatho to work with the large bits of willow coppiced/pollarded in June, and then work with wool from local sheep. First night Allan came over to show us the new coppice he has arranged to manage. The newly titled “Windsor’s Wood” is 11 acres of newly planted deciduous trees which need the black willow keeping under control. Amazing amount of wood to be used for hurdles etc.

Also makes residential workshops based at Treloan out of season a reality. Getting the idea for a week long residential workshop “From Willow to Crab”, where participants spend 5 days camping at Treloan and learn willow coppicing, boat building, crab pot making and then put them all together to go out and drop there own crab pots and bring their catch back for a feast on the last night….watch this space!

Is anyone out there interested in something like that?

Treloan, Portscatho – (Grid ref: 875347). “From Willow to Fire”.

August 21, 2009

From Willow to Fire.

Had stored all the large chunks of willow from the coppicing in June under the van on pallets to season it. Mac and Pete had found an old diesel drum which we cleaned out then got into shape to use as the charcoal burner.

Top of Drum - Bottom of Charcoal Burner

Top of Drum - Bottom of Charcoal Burner

Bottom of drum - Top of Charcoal Burner

Bottom of drum - Top of Charcoal Burner

We needed to get enough charcoal out of the burn for the feast planned for Thursday night.!!

Time for me to start cutting and preparing the wood, making sure it is all the same sort of size and length.

Note: Stacking the burner is a real art. Making sure that larger bits are at the bottom – smaller bits at the top and the minimum of air is in the drum.

Charcoal Burn Using An Oil Drum - Preparing Drum 1

Charcoal Burn Using An Oil Drum - Preparing Drum 1

Charcoal Burn Using An Oil Drum - Preparing Drum 2

Charcoal Burn Using An Oil Drum - Preparing Drum 2

Charcoal Burn Using An Oil Drum - Burn Method 1

Charcoal Burn Using An Oil Drum - Burn Method 1

Charcoal Burn Using An Oil Drum - Burn Method 2

Charcoal Burn Using An Oil Drum - Burn Method 2

In the end after standing with the kiln for 4 hours, then sealing the kiln. I had a nervous night of not knowing if the burn had been successful. Worst case scenario would have been if the kiln was full of ash and no charcoal!!! (Gulp!)

Came back the following day and Si informed me the kiln was still letting small amounts of smoke out but at a constant rate!!

This could be really bad.

Checked the kiln to find that the mud I had used to seal the rim had cracked and fallen of in places in the heat. Thus oxygen was still getting in and burning the wood rather than baking it!! I went around the kiln at about midday with more mud and water to seal every hole. 7 hours to opening time. All I could do now was pray and wait.

Just before 7 I tried to sneak down the field to open the kiln quietly (Just in case it hadn’t worked…) but mac was there ready with the camera and some folks from the site to record the moment for posterity.

Thank goodness it had worked. Probably not as much charcoal as we could have had without the leaks, but plenty for the feast. Phew! Very relieved and much learned as always.

Beacon Wood – (Grid Ref: 413298)

August 20, 2009

Wild Food.

Invited Rachel Lambert (www.wildwalks-southwest.co.uk), friend and local wild food expert for a tramp around the wood to see what could be found in July.

After cutting a path through the 7′ tall bracken (I kid you not!!), we managed to discover:

Angelica

Angelica

Wood Sage

Wood Sage

Wood Sorrel

Wood Sorrel

August 2009 019

Hawthorn

Hawthorn

Rosebay Willowherb

Rosebay Willowherb

Hogweed

Hogweed

Ribwort Plantain

Ribwort Plantain

Not bad for a quick walk around the woods.