You come to a cross roads very quickly when you leave that system and you realise either I’m going to remain wholly immersed in this for the rest of my life, or I’ve got to go in the opposite direction. There is no third way. In fact it’s not a cross roads, it’s a T-junction, sorry! You have to take one turning or the other.
The bus turning circle just off Tooting High Street is not a place that would usually inspire carnival, creativity and dancing in the street. Usually it is home to buses, often idling their engines right next to the homes of the people who live overlooking it. On the other side, opposite the houses, is a huge Primark, with a huge, long, rather dull wall. As I say, not a place that would usually inspire great creativity, but that was until members of Transition Town Tooting started to look at it through their ‘Transition glasses’.
When I read Julian Dobson’s book ‘How to Save Our Town Centres’, I was struck by the thought that the city centres around us reflect a system that’s run out of ideas, and run out of imagination. So the first thing I asked him was “does that resonate with you, and if so, what do you put that down to?”
To do that I need to have sometimes quite a number of volunteers of people, of friends, of people from my team. Funny thing is, what people do remember the most at the end of that is not necessarily the image, even if we’re proud of the installation itself, but about the fact that we all shared something. The experience of it. That’s why I never really see any failure in anything because even if it doesn’t work, it helps create a link between people. It always builds something in communities that is not visible if you take the shortcut.
Well, I hadn’t thought very much about imagination until today, until you raised the issue, and now I am thinking about it. What I know is, from working with addicted people, which I do as a psychologist of course, and have been for many decades, when you ask them to complain, say, “What’s really wrong?” and you give them a list… This is a psychological test. You give them a list of possible things which they can identify as being wrong. ‘Boring’ is on the top of the list. They are bored.
It’s such a broad label for lots of things, so my approach to Craftivism is ‘gentle protest’. You’re protesting against something but you always focus on what you want in the world, a positive vision of the world, and you’re using craft as a tool to do gentle protest which is careful, considerate and compassionate activism, hopefully.
On a very hot Sunday I travelled to London to visit the Institute of Imagination’s ‘Imagination Lab’. The Institute emerged as an idea in 2011, and was up and running in 2013, aiming to “help understand the power of imagination and realise its potential”. They run different events, but their biggest are their ‘Lab Live’ events, which run every 6 weeks, and this one was called ‘Lab Live: Metropolis’, an interactive, family event.
What’s most amazing about the whole situation is that the places where people ought to do their thinking, places like the universities, and the thinking classes in general, are absolutely AWOL, as they say in the military. Absent without leave. They are not on the scene. They are not raising their voices. They are not making sense. We are living in a moment of unprecedented incoherence.
Venice is a place that has evolved in such a way that absolutely stokes the curiosity. Every step fires it up. You look up, you look down, you look left, you look right, everywhere there is something that invites you to explore, to examine, to enter, to reflect. Perhaps it is the acoustics of the place, car-free, bicycle-free, motorbike-free, just footfall, human voices, pigeons and distant boats, that puts us into an altered state we’re not used to, one in which our attention can flourish.
Part of the pipeline is intended to pass through the French-speaking state of Quebec, an independent-minded place, and although it still only at the planning stage, already in Quebec it has encountered a very unusual form of resistance. Beer.