Posted by: stelladuffy | August 29, 2014

Fun Palace as Open Space, Open Space as Fun Palace

Last night we had a Fun Palaces event at OvalHouse, inviting London Fun Palace makers to come along and meet each other. In July our roadtrip (Exeter, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Leicester – in 2.5 days, 4 women & one toddler), we confirmed what we’d already guessed – that we (FPHQ) can – and do – send out all the mailouts and emails and support and ideas and help we can manage, but the real connections happen when people can get together and talk. So we decided we would hold one in London too. OvalHouse very kindly gave us their cafe/bar space, we bought pound-shop nuts & crisps, and invited them in.

A lot of what Sarah-Jane, Kirsty, Hannah and I from FPHQ were doing was making introductions at first, knowing some people only had half an hour before their train and needed to meet others quickly, or that this person had a Fun palace idea and that person had a space that needed an idea to go in it – and then, after a while, as ever, it took its own course. SouthBank (producer-led FP) talking to Whitstable (community-led), individual artists linking with others and with FPs they might join in, Deptford talking to Glasgow about how to get more sciences engaged and how to be an artist who isn’t worried about ‘getting science wrong’ (and vice versa), great ideas shared, links made. And maybe those links will feed Fun Palaces this year, or next, or never. Maybe they’re about other things. It doesn’t matter. What is becoming increasingly evident to me, to all of us working on Fun Palaces, is that we are unearthing what is already there, unearthing passions for working in community, for making hyper-locally, for making and doing and participating. Fun Palaces is simply providing a framework for people who want to engage, who want to engage locally and in community, to do so – and to help each other do so, whatever community they’re in. And the most exciting bit about it, for me, after 30+ years of working in the arts, 30+ years of seeing the gap between maker and audience too-rarely crossed, too-rarely closed, is how many people who don’t self-identify as artists or scientists or makers want to join in, want to create. How irrelevant the title we give ourselves.
Joan said “everyone an artist, or a scientist”, we’re saying “everyone an artist, everyone a scientist”. We mean it.

This incarnation of Fun Palace(s) was born at a D&D, an Open Space event. And Harrison Owen who found and shared Open Space as a format always says he wasn’t inventing anything new, but sharing what he (and many others over the years) have observed to be there – that people will gravitate towards what interests them, that we work best where our passion is, that left to our own devices we will create, together. Fun Palaces is that too. I’m sure Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price didn’t think they invented the idea of people coming together in one space to share ideas, passions, any more than Harrison thinks he ‘invented’ Open Space. Joan and Cedric were both smart, bright people and would have known we’ve done this for millennia, when we lived in roundhouses, when we lived communally, when we created the festivals that marked the seasons. Because human beings make, and we want to share that making. Long before anyone self-defined as an artist or a scientist, people made (food, bridges, hunting spears, crop fields, families) and shared them.
What Open Space does is offer a forum for people to come together and meet, to create their own agendas, in the moment. To make their difference, together.
What Fun Palaces do is offer a forum for people to come together and create, on their own terms, whatever they want to create – an experiment in the physics of swimming (Brockwell Lido), or an international community-shared banquet (Farnham), or a discussion on social conflict and the development of theatre (Darlington).

This is a great price on Price’s architecture – Open Spacers reading this will find loads of links.

If you want to join in with a local Fun Palace, or to make your own (wherever you are, UK-wide or elsewhere, we have FPs in Australia, France, Canada …) there’s still plenty of time, and everything you need to know is here, on the website.

And if you can’t get to a Fun Palace near you (check the map, there’s loads), or don’t want to make one, but do want to do something, perhaps by yourself – 53 Million Artists have a great way for you to make a solo fun palace.

Radical Bunting

Radical Bunting

Posted by: stelladuffy | August 11, 2014

Still not married?

When #EqualMarriage was passed into law we waited. And waited. A while ago, it was announced the date was to be Dec 10th. Yay. Finally.
Shelley called Lambeth Town Hall, they said to come in for an appointment, bringing CP certificate and proof of identity – and that we’d prob have to pay £70. We thought this was a bit odd, but figured they just hadn’t quite worked it out yet, and that the news that we DON’T have to pay (for the first year, if you’ve already CP’d, if you’re just transferring a CP into marriage) hadn’t filtered down to them.
This morning we went in, waited a bit longer than we’d expected, and then the nice man took us through to a room where he looked at us quizzically. He asked why we were there. I said “Because we want our Civil Partnership to become a marriage on 10th December”. He looked relieved at this point, as he’d figured we were there hoping to get married and he’d have to let us down. He explained the reason we’d been waiting longer than expected was they STILL have no official notification from government on how this is going to work. He’d taken a while checking with his boss who checked with others. No-one knows yet. He was very kind and very polite as he suggested we come back another time. “Closer to December 10th”.
So. Even where it seems it is ‘fixed’, even where it seems we get equality, even on the most basic level of boring paperwork, no, it’s not fixed, it’s not equal, and ‘they’ (the government) still haven’t told ‘them’ (the registrars) how this is going to work.
Marriage is one of the most basic of human interactions, and we are still waiting for this very ancient concept of marriage (dating back long before monotheism got involved and started telling us how to do it), the union of two people, to be available to us as a couple.
This is yet another point on the vast list of It’s Not Fixed Yet.
And yes, me and my wife marrying, after almost 25 years together, is not a big deal compared to ‘corrective’ rapes and (dis)honour killings and forced marriage and gay-bashing and bullying and all the abuses and humiliations, huge and small, that so many LGBT people suffer daily, everywhere. But it is part of the same continuum and it’s all joined up and therefore NONE OF IT is fixed yet and I am fucking furious that this government gets the kudos of having passed equal marriage into law and STILL makes it difficult (or indeed, technically impossible until registrars know what the paperwork will be) for us to marry just like all the straight couples who have the option to marry – or not – as they will.

A guest post from my friend, theatremaker, writer (and cook) Sarah Chew. Sarah wrote a version of this on her facebook page and many of us thought it was so well put and so well argued that it needed a wider hearing. So here it is.

Professor Richard Dawkins is a world-renowned evolutionary biologist; he also writes extensively about his atheism, most famously in his book “The God Delusion”. A few days ago, he tweeted “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think”, and “Mild paedophilia is bad. Violent paedophilia is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of mild paedophilia, go away and learn how to think.”

In effect, Prof. Dawkins told me to “go away and learn how to think”.

So I did.

And what I think is that Dawkins’ choice of subject matter with which to explore his “abstract” moral relativism was hugely irresponsible, and also something of a logical own goal. To explore this, I am going to try two other thought experiments that explore the same point in different language.

Let’s imagine that Dawkins had said a really simple and innocuous thing: say, “Stealing someone’s Mars Bar is bad. Stealing £10000 is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of Mars Bar stealing, go away and learn how to think”. I still assert that the third sentence is ill-phrased, but let’s look at the other two. At a very first glance, yes, of course they are true. But, supposing, say, the Mars Bar belonged to a diabetic, who kept it for emergencies, and its loss meant that they had a blood sugar anomaly and died. It sounds pedantic – but it reveals a logical flaw in the structure of his point. Even if the statement is true 99% of the time, these “bads” and “worses” are not the absolutes they appear to be.

So now a more extreme hypothetical statement: let’s imagine that Dawkins had said, “Shouting “nigger” in the street is bad. Tarring and feathering is worse. If you think that is an endorsement of shouting “nigger”, go away and learn how to think”. Despite his shock-jock attention grabbing tactics, he would never have said that, because a white academic suggesting, even vaguely, that he is telling black people that they do not know how to think, is an utterly unacceptable thing. Thankfully, we live in a society that has moved on sufficiently that even the most blustery of academics are sensitive to this. But in other respects we have not moved on. Dawkins is an intellectual authority figure, evaluating, in a 140 character epithet, precisely how much oppression and pain victims of sexual violence can be entitled to have experienced. He is taking on the authority to decide whether or not readers are entitled to feel anguish when they experience sexual violence.

“Bad” and “worse”, in these cases, are messily subjective terms. You take two abuse survivors to a triage nurse: one is bleeding and bruised, needing immediate stitches, the other appears OK. You take the same two survivors for an x-ray: the bleeding one has flesh wounds, the unscratched one has terrible internal injuries. You take the same two to a psychoanalyst, a PTSD specialist, to the Crown Prosecution Service, to a jury, to their partners, to their mothers, to their employers… what counts as “bad” and “worse” entirely depends on what each viewer’s terms of evaluation may be. The very idea that “bad” and “worse”, in these situations, could be concrete concepts, is an idea posed by a grossly irresponsible writer.

I am angry and despairing at Dawkins’ assumption that he is entitled to define an empirical definition of “bad” and “worse” in this context, and indeed that that might be a responsible entitlement for any individual to take. I am angry and despairing that he has decided to choose subjects that bring up such already painful emotions in so many people. I am angry and despairing that he appears not to have factored in that he is not arguing on a level playing field of intellectual “impartiality”: that people who are motivated to disagree with him are often people who have experienced abuse, or who have loved ones who have experienced abuse, so for them this discussion is not an intellectual cat-toy to be batted about until the game becomes boring. For many survivors of any aggressively-delivered trauma, finding a functional way to tell the story of their abuse, and an effective system by which to evaluate grief and shame and blame, are ongoing and active projects of sanity and survival. This neat, pat little bon mot is an act of aggression towards that project of survival.

I discuss issues around sexual violence quite a lot on social media, and what surprises, saddens and inspires me is that people want to talk. I am astounded by how many people, be they close friends, acquaintances or total strangers, message me after posts like this, wanting to share or discuss their own experiences of sexual abuse. Women and men. Old and young. People lacking apparent social privilege, and people who seem to have it all. It always comes as a surprise. It always comes with deep sadness for a person who has had to put themselves back together again, and deep admiration that they have managed to do so. It always comes as a bleak bit of astonishment that the list of stories could be so very long.

Today, someone talked to me about their experience of “date rape”, and while what they described sounded pretty horrific, the person still stated that they were grateful that it wasn’t worse, that they weren’t scared for their life. And I admired their stoicism, but it also made me sad. “It could have been worse” is a survival tactic we all learn at times of trauma, because “it should have been better” is too bitter to contemplate.

Professor Dawkins, I would like to go away and learn how to think. I would like to go away and learn how to think of ways to express effectively and calmly why your sadly common colonisation of the territory of moral relativism is cheap, lazy and an active contributor to the silent tragedy of sexual violence that still seems to loom large over our culture. I would like go away to learn how to think, “it should have been better”, without despairing. I would like to go away and learn how to support others to think “it should have been better”, without despairing. I would like to go away and learn how to think about a better society where genuine respect for the individual means that these conversations have been rendered unnecessary.

One last question, though, Professor Dawkins – in order to do this, where is it, precisely, that you propose I should “go away” to?

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