Unfix-ing – reflections from a weekend in Glasgow

The smell of a lime-tree stopped us in our tracks as we walked back home through the night. We swung underneath a railing to work out where the smell was coming from and buried our noses into  foliage bursting with flowers, breathing in deep.

On Saturday 11th July we collaborated with Tanja from Living Stage and Emily from Eco-drama to present a workshop at the UNFIX Festival of Performance and Ecology at CCA in Glasgow.

Co-devising with Plants: Exploring Gardening as Performance

First on our list of priorities for Saturday morning was to locate some plants to work with. Luckily Tanja and Emily had access to an abundant community of edible plants growing at Balornock allotments, for the show that they’ve been working on together this summer called Uprooted: the third iteration of the Living Stage, following its premier in Melbourne, and the Trans-Plantable Living Room in Cardiff for World Stage Design in 2013).

From amongst towering beans and peas growing in wellies, we selected five beautiful, colourful plants: borage, nasturtium, feverfew, chard and calendula.

Nasturtium

With plants, tools and watering cans squeezed into the back of Emily’s elegant electric car we made our way to the CCA, where we installed the plants on the window sills of our workshop space and prepared some fresh peppermint tea.

At half past five around twenty people joined us for the workshop, to explore how gardening can shape and inform performance and spatial design.

The workshop began with a game led by Emily to warm up imaginations and bodies, and moved on to listening to snippets from the interviews with Cardiff community gardeners:

“there’s only two things I’ve come across in life which I know that are life-changers, and that is, drama, and the other one is horticulture.”

Tanja then invited people to place the plants and gardening tools to create a sculpture. This lead to some interesting shapes and dramatic moments, including the rather precarious balancing of plants on top of piles of pots and bamboo canes, which sadly led to the poor nasturtium toppling on to the floor, soil spilling out.

animated sculpture

When in the next section we invited people to move and make sounds in the space, someone picked up the nasturtium and sobbed.  We reflected afterwards that what was lacking from the workshop was a time for people to focus attention on the plants, observing them and tuning in to what they need and where they wanted to be, which perhaps, in this case was to remain in their familiar greenhouse or at least on the sunny window sill.

Over peppermint tea, people shared some beautiful and moving reflections on their experience of gardening, and of the interview snippets they’d listened to:

“When you’re planting you’re not just doing it for yourself”

“Gardening can change the world. Gardening is a creative act. Growing is an art. Horticulture and drama are linked in their ability to empower people. Nature is the world, we are nature, it is all connected.”

” Planting and growing are political. All the choices you make are political”

“links between patterns and processes in nature, particularly permaculture and how they relate to making a piece of theatre (or perhaps any art), that failure is inherent in the process and must be embraced. Both are active process that require thinking with hands and bodies.”

The processes of performance and gardening do share characteristics: enlivening bodies; engaging intuition; frustrating expectations; and embracing failure as the compost of success.

There are infinite possibilities within each. We can approach them methodically, drawing out scripts and plans; building trellis to support growth; and we can make space for improvisation, responses to serendipity, chance encounters and the vagaries of the weather.

There are plenty more questions to explore and lessons to learn, slowly, tuning in.