Over the past few months, I have been meeting up with playwrights, choreographers, actors, dancers, directors, musicians and other artists around Sweden, assembling the group that will form the Dark Mountain Workshop.
I’ve been inspired and excited by the conversations I had along the way, and there have been some hard decisions as I tried to find the right combination of artists, the right chemistry for a collective that I hope will come alive and be the start of something larger. In four days, that group will be in a room together for the first time, so it seems like a good moment to introduce them and to say a little more about how this works.
The artists taking part in the Dark Mountain Workshop have committed a day a month to be part of what is, at its simplest, a professional development programme which Riksteatern is providing in its role as expert support to the stage arts in Sweden. Yet, in another sense, the invitation that this project makes involves setting aside our professional identities: a predicament on the scale of the ecological crisis makes fools of our achievements, careers or qualifications. I believe that the kinds of human activity that go under the name of art have a vital role to play in how we meet this crisis, but unless we meet it, first, as bare humans, forked animals with heads full of dreams, then we have not met it at all.
So one of the things I’ve been looking for is the combination of artistic excellence with a willingness to set aside the safety of the social identity of the artist, to leave whatever pride or status we might be tempted to claim outside the door of the room. Several times, what impressed me most deeply in the conversations that led to people becoming part of the workshop was their ability to articulate their own journey in relation to this.
Another theme that rang through all of these conversations was a desire to engage artistically with ecological crisis, but also an experience of the difficulty of doing so. A sense that the artistic methods and ways of telling that we have inherited from the recent past are failing us, as we try to make work that acknowledges the scale of the forces at work in climate change.
Finally, again and again, people have talked about the loneliness of living with an awareness of ecological crisis. How rarely there is a time or a context in which to talk with others about what this means, the way it calls into question so much of the activity that makes up our lives, including our artistic work. There’s a hunger for a space where we’re allowed to share this, rather than carry it quietly in the dark places inside us.
I’m hugely excited at the thought that this group of people will finally be together in a room in four days’ time. I’m aware, too, that there are other people who could have been in that room, people whose lives didn’t allow for this time commitment, or whom I met too late, or am still to meet. Perhaps inevitably, the group is too Stockholm-centric, and I would have loved to have an even broader range of practices represented, opera singers, lajv arrangers.
But the journey we are setting out on does not depend on cultivating exclusivity; rather, it depends on opening out into further possibilities for connection and collaboration, all the way along. That’s why it was important to me that, even on the first day we meet, we end the day by opening the doors to whoever wants to join us, to create a new kind of meeting space for conversations and encounters under the shadow of climate change. That’s what I hope The Village & The Forest will become.
Meanwhile, here are the members of the Dark Mountain Workshop, the gang that is setting off on this journey together, a gang that I’m delighted to be getting to work with:
Clara Bankefors, dancer and choreographer.
Anders Duus, playwright.
Emelie Enlund, dancer and choreographer.
Lisa Färnström, director.
Andrea Hejlskov, writer.
Liv Elf Karlén, playwright and director.
Andreas Kundler, actor and director.
Måns Lagerlöf, artistic director.
Ida Lod, musician and performance artist.
Ayesha Quraishi, rapper.
Patrik Qvist, artist.
Ninna Tersman, playwright.
Jesper Weithz, novelist.
Ruben Wätte, artist.
Join us at Stockholm’s Kägelbanan on Monday, 12 October, and over the months that follow, when we welcome you to The Village & The Forest: A night with the Dark Mountain Workshop.
Image: Detail from Rima Staines cover for Dark Mountain: Issue 2