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Collective preparedness

Back in 2018 Artist as Family was asked to be involved in an art event called Pandemic at Arts House in North Melbourne. The exhibition, coordinated by artists Lizzy Sampson & Asha Bee Abraham, was one of a number of Refuge events centred on where art meets emergency.

Artist as Family’s role was to address the topic of Collective Preparedness. A dinner was held and Patrick joined a Médecins Sans Frontières field coordinator, a herbalist, an epidemiologist, a Melbourne Uni outbreak forecaster, an Indigenous Futurist, a medical ethicist, and a human rights academic as one of eight Sanatorium Hosts.

Photo: Lizzy Sampson

This was one of the questions he was asked:

What do you do individually and what should we be doing collectively to prepare for the future?

And this was his reply:

[We are] learning ever more knowledges that decouple our household further from the monetary economy and help model ecologically focussed and resilient communities of place. [We are] re-establishing economies that make returns to people, biomes and the future.

Patrick took some talking point objects and brews with him. Our hand-made hunting and fishing equipment, hand carved tools, medicinal mushrooms, shade-dried herbs, Meg’s fermented mistress tonic, elderberry syrup, and our hawthorn fruit leathers as our walked-for Vitamin C, “fermented by the sun.”

Photo: Lizzy Sampson

Nearly two years later, we find ourselves no longer in an art event, no longer in a dress rehearsal, but actually cancelling house and garden tours (today’s was again fully booked), cancelling visitors, volunteers, public talks, play dates, community meetings and events, and basically every social hang. Today we also cancelled all future bookings for our Permie Love Shack. A first known case of Coronavirus, albeit still unofficial, has landed in our small town.

Things have been moving pretty fast over the past two weeks and we’ve been following the speed of the Coronavirus pandemic closely. However, this morning when a friend sent a link to Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now, we decided we wouldn’t wait for our leadershipless leaders to finally recommend everyone socially distance themselves. After reading the article we feel it is a social responsibility to act now, for the sake of health-compromised people and the health system more generally. There will be medical shortages, and therefore those of us who are prepared and have good health must step back from services and equipment that will be vital for those at greater risk.

Today we are pressing grapes to make wine, stewing and bottling apples, quince and pears, chopping and bringing in firewood, making bread and pancakes and pickling gherkins.

Photo: Michal Krawczyk

We do these things as we always do them, but now with a greater sense of urgency and intent. Our non-monetary home chemist will keep us as well as we can be.

Photo: Michal Krawczyk

Several weeks back, after the bushfire crisis, we were in Melbourne to speak as part of another art-meets-emergency event, Earth: A Place of Reconciliation, a Reconciliation of Place. Listening back to that talk is a strange thing now, as world events race across our local places and intersect with our local lives. One crisis follows another. The next will be another global recession.

Innumerable well-meaning folk have said to us over the years, “When the shit hits the fan, we’ll be knocking on your door.” While this comment is perhaps supposed to compliment us, it actually always makes us feel vulnerable and angry. The comment isn’t “we can see the resilience, economic logic and environmentalism of what you’re doing, and we’re also going to get on with our transition before the shit hits the fan.”

It’s time we all share in the responsibility of the predicaments of our time. We’ve been advocating for years decoupling from the Capitalocene before affluence-descent sends smug Modernity into chaos. Those luxurious days are numbered. Speaking of luxuries: five years of using family cloth, and these little op-shopped squares of soft flannel cotton are still going strong!

We’ll keep blogging in this time of social distancing and keep our sharing going digitally. We’re looking forward to honing our hunting, sewing, repairing and foraging skills. Reading all those books we haven’t had time for. Carving new objects, fixing tools, sowing more veg, and generally resting. We’ll prepare another post on what we’re up to shortly. You might find yourselves having more time for things you’ve been meaning to do too. We hope so. In grief there is learning, there is praise, there is renewal and opportunity.

We hope, Dear Reader, while this pandemic is still largely an abstract and mediated phenomenon, you are not vulnerable, not in despair or panic, but are preparing as adults in any capacity to meet this global predicament, remaining eternal students within this shapeshifting world as the Anthropocene matures deeper into systemic crises and calls on our adult selves to step forward.

Much love, community-immunity, social warming and joy,
Patrick, Meg, Woody and Zero

The show closes, the forest grows on

In the balance: Art for a changing world ends today. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have been participants in this show.

Thank you to the MCA staff, especially Anna Davis, and thank you to Francis Chalwell and the St Michael’s community. Thank you to the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, and the Keir Foundation. And thank you to everyone who supported and assisted the development of this work, especially the Surry Hills community. We hope it will bring much pleasure and social warming for years to come.

Food forest is a free food commons. We only ask that it be a shared resource and that people, when they can, bring food to the soil (compost) in exchange for its bounties.

Food Forest: A Very Public Resource

Perhaps we’re clutching at One-Straw Revolutions, but an interesting thing happened recently that we thought was worth sharing. Sydney Morning Herald writer Rachel Olding emailed us to ask whether they could use the Food Forest as a site to photograph a local chef foraging for his slow food restaurant for a story she was writing. We politely declined:

Dear Rachel,
Thank you for your email.
If Jared were cooking the food for a community event, then yes absolutely, we would be thrilled for him to be photographed in the Food Forest.
As we’re sure you can appreciate, the principles of the Food Forest are to promote public, uncapitalised food. The Forest supplies local residents who might not be able to afford organic food, and the church’s weekly soup kitchen.
We applaud the ethics of The Danks Street Depot, and what Jarred and Melanie are championing, but it still comes down to the Forest being a public resource, that celebrates the free transaction over anything monetary and exclusive.
Best of luck with the shoot, and apologies we were not able to be of help in this instance.
Meg, Patrick and Zephyr — The Artist as Family
Olding’s article is great in terms of promoting the relocalisation of food resources and providing creative ways for getting off a heavily polluting agriculture grid (that’s responsible for around 40-50% greenhouse gas emissions and wholesale deforestation). In this way the Waterloo chef’s ideals and ours are similar. But it’s the privatisation of public food resources we object to.
What Olding’s article doesn’t raise is the problems of privatisation, ecologically and socially, or how this chef’s activity is akin to business taking content from blogs licensed under creative commons and capitalising on the material. Why should a restaurant owner take food from a community garden or public commons (ie foraging for edible weeds in Centennial Park) and then put a price on it?

Jared Ingersoll at the James Street community garden in Redfern.
Photo: Jon Reid, courtesy Sydney Morning Herald