They met at Kings cross station - some of them meeting for the first time. Some of them catching up from past meetings in different locations with different destinations. Many reached for coffees to aid their recovery from a dispiriting, cramped journey through London's Friday rush hour. Amounts of luggage varied. Some had enough to last them months, others were laden with books and 'documentation' that they would layout in a barn for others to view and handle. Some, sensibly, were traveling light.
They'd heard rumours of sub-zero temperatures and amidst excited hellos, introductions and reunions, they shared their thoughts on the prospect of a cold weekend at (for many) an unknown destination, somewhere not far from London.
Some members didn't know where they were going. They trusted the 'invitors' enough to get on a train to an unknown destination; to be taken away from the extraordinarily saturated and frenetic reality of London to a place with big skies and long, flat fields where winds sweep in across the Fens from Siberia. A place, as they would discover, with many many different types of menacing mud. A place which is usually defined by workshops, activities and assorted 'creative industries', all huddled together in former farm buildings where people protect themselves with a collective (but fraught) identity of an arts centre that is definitely N.I.L (Not in London). As they made their way through the station on to the train there was no way of knowing what the collective identity of the group might be.
It was soon revealed that the invitors had a plan and a timetable! They'd scheduled lots of food, walks and breaks. And they had allowed time through which they would present, exchange, discuss. They wanted the time to be shared, to be owned by everyone there and to reflect everyone's interests. They believed in the potential of collaboration and hoped that people would get along. They were optimists. As the invitors, they wanted to keep the content open - keep the space available so that it could be used and guided by 'what happened'. A sort of spontaneous cause and effect.
The group had all travelled a lot. Each of them were involved in many different projects, networks, initiatives all of the time. The invitors hoped that this time would be relaxing, refreshing and somehow different ...
Since we stepped off the coach on York Way on 27th November, Sophie and I have been reflecting on the Reunion weekend, trying to work out what it was and what it meant to bring you all together in Cambridgeshire. In talking through our respective responses, it has also forced us to look at how and why we work together and how we share a vision for projects and events and how our vision isn't always the same. Equally, the weekend at Wysing was not intended as a moment to level out or homogonise our individual and collective interests, approaches and practices. It was more an opportunity to ask questions of each other and use the space to consider potential points of connection and moments of exchange.
One of the things that I keep feeling about the weekend was that we all became very conscious of time passing and of time generally. By bringing everyone to a relaxing place and providing you with as much food and comfort as possible, we wanted to create time for people to get to know one another and to share approaches without a pre-determined outcome or plan. People always say there isn't enough time at events. Interestingly though, in the time that we had together, we became increasingly overwhelmed by the pressure of a 'public time' with the awareness of the Sunday event coming to catch up with us. But as we didn't come together organically, perhaps we remained to some degree in 'public' time throughout the weekend. Can you have private time together if you are new to each other?
These thoughts were written before christmas. It's the new year now and I've been trying to get myself back into writing about the weekend again and it already feels a long time ago. This quote from a fantastic video I saw recently struck a chord though and has helped me understand what the space and time at Wysing was and why it's important we maintain it, nurture it and allow it to remain complicated.
'... what you can try and do is to form platforms and networks and try, in that way, to create some free spaces. These are utopias, of course, and very fragile spaces, but you can believe in them while you're in them.'
Kajsa Dahlberg, '20 minutes (female fist) 2005'.
And finally, some potential meeting points: independence / poetics / change / optimism (not necessarily in that order)
I'm looking forward to continuing.