Eroles at Frackanpada international anti-fracking camp (13 – 19 July 2015)

‘Frackanapada’: an international anti-fracking camp set in the foothills of the Basque country attracted around 600 people for seven days of workshops, discussions, food, music, strategy and protest a gainst the extreme energy industry. Activists from Spain, Algeria, France, Brazil, Germany, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Romania and Kurdistan united with Basque activists to build face-to-face connections. The Eroles project were glad to contribute an arts activism space to this busy and inspirational week.
Victory from the start
The camp took place on land donated by the local village, at a site adjacent to where the fracking industry had plans to begin exploratory drilling. However, on 30 June 2015 after years of campaigning by the ‘Fracking Ez’ network, the Basque government announced a ban on fracking near any sites that could affect the aquifiers – in effect a de facto ban.
Eroles co-organsied an arts activism space that ran throughout the camp together with Kevin Buckland (Creative Activism Coordinator at 350.org). We prepared visual inspirations including a map of campaigns and victories from around the world and a postcard space for participants to write about why they’re fighting fracking. Paint, cardboard, stencils, fabric and other materials were provided for people to make props, placards and banners for the protest march on 18 July, now re-conceived as a victory march in light the recent fracking ban.
Bringing together play and improvisational tools honed at the Eroles house in the previous weeks, we coordinated two workshops for creating visual art elements for the march on Saturday.
Let’s take a look at some of the components:
1. The importance of play and movement.
Beginning a workshop with physical activity is more than just providing an ice-breaker for workshop participants. Moving around is important for stimulating the senses and allowing us to see an issue or a task from a different perspective.
2. Creativity is built on collaboration
The workshops built on the idea that creative practice is often far richer when done together rather than as individuals. Sparking off each other, ideas were quickly generated, modified, dropped and evolved.
3. ‘Yes and….’ The importance of flow
All too often we can apply our rational, logistical thought processes to new ideas before they’ve had a chance to emerge and bloom. Applying rational statements too early in the process such as ‘that won’t work’ or ‘we don’t have time’ or ‘people won’t understand it’ can kill off new ideas.
Instead, our workshops used an improvisational theatre technique called ‘Yes and…’. It works like this: in pairs or a group, one person suggests an idea (such as “What if we ran around like geese”) which the group then literally acts out. Quickly a second person suggests another idea that follows on from the first such as “Yes and…we could chew through the padlocks on the gate over there” – which is also acted out. More ideas are added and acted out – but the central point is that the group has to respond with “Yes and….” and immediately act out the suggestion. The combination of saying ‘yes’ (as compared to a blocking statement such as ‘Nah, that sounds a bit daft’) coupled with the physical enactment of the idea quickly loosens the mind and new ideas start to flow. Whilst a lot of these ideas may well be daft, out of the multitude of concepts that emerge, one or two of them might form the basis of something that could actually work. It’s important to provide a space where these can ideas can emerge.
4. The action generator grid
Sometimes, working with some constraints can usefully channel our creative process. During our workshops, we used a ‘action generator’ table with four headings: form, location, activity and feel with some suggested words (only some of which we managed to translate into castellean and basque – our bad). Groups threw stones randomly into each column to generate some constraints such as ‘Mask, Crowd, Transformation, Victory’ and then given a 15 minutes to create a prop and a performance along these lines.
Some of the ideas that emerged out of this process included a ‘Kisses Not Capitalism’ puppet show, some recycled buckets to be used for both drumming and a water performance, a face mask play of a fracking rig being pulled down in victory and a larger mock fracking rig. The ideas were performed back to the other groups – and some of the group decided to develop the mock fracking rig further.
5. “Don’t think, do.”
This is contentious, but when it comes to improvising using cheap or recycled materials, there’s a lot to be said for cracking on and making stuff with your hands to get a creative flow going. Many people find this more productive than spending a lot of thinking time trying to come up with a perfectly conceived plan in advance. The emphasis is on flow, improvisation, adaptability. A time constraint can help this.
6. You don’t have to finish an idea yourself
Whilst finishing projects can give a sense of completion and satisfaction, allowing someone else to pick up where you’ve left off can also boost a creative project. The new collaborator can bring fresh energy, new ideas and skills to the task. I left the mock fracking rig for an afternoon and came back to find someone had massively improved the structure and was working on a skull head to crown the top. This was a big improvement on my intentions for the rig and imbued the whole sculpture with a demonic and toxic personality – good connotations when protesting against the fracking industry.
Meanwhile, other campers used the arts space to create ‘eguzkilore’ flowers:a Basque thistle traditionally used to ward off unwelcome and evil spirits since pre-Christian times. Frackanpada activists took this up for the anti-fracking campaign, with many of these sunflower-type props being made for the march. Land artists also made a huge version out of stone and wood.
March to Vitoria-Gasteiz
As the weekend victory march approached, the art space became busier as people finished off their props and banners. The march itself was colourful and vibrant, boosted by some DJs on the back of tractor as we weaved through the streets. Our fracking rig was loaded into a small rucksack and paraded along the route, it’s black hair jostling with the music. At the finish point, we acted out a quick piece of participatory theatre, with the crowd chasing the rig as it tried to establish itself against their wishes, eventually being pulled down to the ground, breaking as it hit the floor.
After that it was back to the camp for some dancing on a huge stage to some great bands. Esne Beltza ska-folk-punk-turntablist mash up was particularly enjoyable. Congratulations to everyone at Fracking Ez, EYFA and the international organising team who pulled together a fantastic and inspirational week. No frackaran!
Further reading:
by Claire Fauset, 24 July 2015
Do/Improvise – by Robert Poynton (Do Book Company, 2013)

SHARE

Family Time in Eroles

The train runs upwards, along a deep, beautiful river valley with fragmented rocks. It slowly turns around the mountain edges, frequently blowing the horn and sneaking through short tunnels. In between, suddenly stunning views into the mountain valleys and the river bed. Further up, the steep and wild river becomes a big green lake with little hamlets on top of spiky hills. North Katalunia is full of wild natural beauty.
We end out in a little railway station, Tremp. As soon as we see Ruth, we feel welcome to The Eroles Project. She is picking us up with her black van, “GB”-plate and a radiant smile, hugging us as if we are close friends. And we feel immediately: we are!
A few minutes later we are on a small road, chatting and following some valleys upwards through a dry and meagre landscape. We turn into a sandy road, leading us through dry hills, and finally into a little, but very impressive village on top of a hill, with steep cliffs on the side. Eroles, 22 inhabitants. Plus 8 more through the Eroles project, now. The road between the houses is so small, that Ruth has to reverse the van – still we scratch the metal. Dry heat around us.
The house is big, maybe the biggest in town, with 3 floors, 6 guest rooms, a big living area, a space at the roof and a big yard that leads into a permaculture garden with little green vegetable islands along the sides. From the upper floor we have a stunning view on Eroles and the valley behind.
We arrive on Saturday, so we have 2 days without any “official” program to accommodate us and get to know the other people from the week before: Keith, Julia and Lara. In the evening, also Eli arrives. Beautiful people, talented, respectful and caring. The atmosphere is totally relaxed, but feels also deeply centered around a common vision that everybody seems to share. There is silence, and spaciousness in this group. Within hours we feel that time has disappeared and we are melting into the peace of the rural environment.
Our family-room is a former barn, emptied and cleaned for us by the group members before we arrived, with a massive double bed and a table. We are sleeping really well, and it is a quiet refuge for Leon.
On Sunday the group took a good amount of time to introduce themselves and what brought us to the Eroles project. It was very inspiring to hear the background of the people – some of them have their interests more on the exploration of community and activism, some have a strong professional background in arts and performance. After lunch we were preparing the next week with the ideas that everybody brought on the table – this could be either a request or an offer for a creative session.
Here are some of the ideas that we were experimenting with during the first week:An early silent walk through the stunning and wild nature around the houses and little village. Then we took inspirations from this walk and with the help of Eli we made an improvised house exploration using different spaces within the house, that later developed into a welcome performance for the next member: this was Lindsey, who arrived at the middle of the week. There was an introduction talk into magic and rituals from Keith, Yoga, bodywork, improvised music sessions where we were singing in a circle, and a lot of time for everybody to do their own things.
The daily meditation at 8, group circles (“check-ins”), common meals with holding hands and giving a simple thank, and other little rituals were really good to re-connect the group during the day.
We both (Melody and Gabriel) originally met during a retreat in Austria, and together joined several more, also with Leon. In these experiences there were always some leaders that would facilitate and organize the overall structure. So one of our main questions was: how would it feel to be in a group without leaders, where everybody is creating the structure?We were particularly interested in community building tools and experiences, because we are also part of another amazing project: the rent of a monastery near Girona to form an art community there for 2 months. (creative-art-community.org)
We had not much experience with community living, especially as a family and we found the open, including, relaxed and voluntary structure of our first week very inspiring and nourishing.
We are sitting on old chairs that break down sometimes. We watch the swallows, that have many nests under the porch roof where we often sit. Undisturbed by us, they fly in and out and feed their young.We eat vegetarian food, salad and zucchini from the garden – even though me and Leon have a little Salami in the room to add some power in between. We ring the cymbal to indicate the start of meetings and sessions.
The necessities of the house seemed to be floating without effort. There were always people to water the plants, prepare the table, cook, clean, wash the dishes, without having to make tough plans. Even though, it turned out later that this total freedom was leading also to frustration of other members that had different expectations around cleanliness, food usage and share of tasks. In the second week, we were addressing these issues in a more systematic way.
Very useful and nourishing were the daily “check-ins” at 10:00, were everybody had between 3-5 minutes to share feelings, thoughts and experiences. The first daily session – facilitated by always different members of the group and following our self-made weekly schedule – followed at 11:00. Then lunch, a long siesta, and later in the afternoon or evening a second and sometimes even third session.
We felt the structure that Ruth, and in the second week also Maria were providing, was supporting very well a creative and loving environment.
The second week started with a farewell to Keith and Lara who left us, and from Sunday on with 3 new people: Robbie, Maria and Kasia. It was interesting to observe how their arrival was changing the energy of the group. The female, sensual, slow and caring energy became now much more structured and analytic. The tasks were assigned in a much clearer way. The sessions were enriched with considerations about our common political ground and decision making focused on consensus. And more outside oriented activities like a local Anti-Fracking camp in Victoria that the Eroles group would collectively visit, or the international COP conference in December 2015 became a topic.
Still the caring, open and respectful way of dealing with each other from the first week remained. There was a lot of love, playing, sharing and laughter throughout the day – and the space remained open for everybody to participate freely and go through deep personal processes at the same time. When people were missing out during the meals, we kept them a plate full of food. And when someone was in resistance or dealing with strong emotions, no intrusive questions were raised.
Gabriel was facilitating a creative “making” session of little objects, and together with Melody a common object with all the group. The common making led into a strong “flow”and resulted in an amazing sculpture, inspired by the theme of fracking. Melody also facilitated a somatic movement session based on BMC principles. Gabriel initiated crazy music improvisation sessions in a circle, were the group became a great a cappella band (“Steeve”). And the other day we were all impressed by a very rich introduction into performance-oriented tools from Kasia and Lindsey – that ended with an image theatre session exercise from Augusto Boal.
We learned from Maria also about the Spanish revolution in May 15th, where Thousands of people in several Spanish cities had created an alternative environment of political participation. They were introducing consensus-oriented decision making in groups and collectively building camps on public places. And Millions of people supported them on the streets in demonstrations against corruption and austerity, leading into the formation of a new political party.
Gabriel was very impressed by many of the members in the group, who were dedicating their life fully to activism towards environmental and social change, and their experience in reaching group consensus by taking themselves completely out, just asking questions and including the voice and heart of everybody. Instead of just “voting over” the rest of the group, there is always a search for a better idea, that would take comments and doubts of other group members into consideration, and refine itself, until a consensus is reached. This can become a long, frustrating and time consuming process – but the outcome is that everybody is naturally engaged with a deep feeling of belonging to the group, and the proposal will also be carried out by everybody.
Alcohol is allowed only on weekends, which is a big problem for an addicted like Gabriel. But when he expresses his need for a small beer at the end of day, the group is granting this wish. After 5 minutes discussion and hearing everybody it is clear: One beer, after dinner, and not in front of others who might get tempted. Another victory for consensus-oriented decisions.
Our original question, if we would enjoy living in a self-organizing community, had been clearly answered. Yes, we’d love to!And today, on the first morning outside Eroles, we feel a little bit sad. But we just did our first family check-in.
Gabriel, Melody and Leon update posts regularly about their wonderful travelings though life. You can read more about them and their nomadic adventures here at The Gypsy Trio:http://www.gypsy-trio.com/

SHARE

Find me on the breeze…

I feel so honoured to have been a participant in the first official 2 weeks of this residency. The Eroles Project is an incredible place and its principles are totally enlivening: collective enquiry, self-organisation and transformative collaboration.
In the daily sessions we have improvised with our bodies, used authentic movement, shared one-minute performances & social presencing theatre; explored non-violent communication and discussed how these inner processes can feed into outer action in our own lives and in the context of the communities / movements we belong to.
The house has a creative spirit: it has been inspiring us and in return we have been breathing new life into it by clearing and cleaning, rearranging and repairing objects, and inhabiting forgotten corners and unusual spaces.
With the doors and windows wide-open, the heat, the wind and the sounds travel through the house in magical and mysterious ways. At times the Clarinet echoes up the stairs, round the corner and in through my balcony. At other times it is the singing and the stamping that vibrate through the walls and floors. I love it when it’s laughter, one of Ellie’s songs or my name that comes to find me on the breeze…
Mainly I have divided my time between the Garden and the Workshop space. The workshop space is one of my favourite places: The dark red floor to stand, stamp, draw and roll on; the red brick wall, a beautiful backdrop for our movement; and the wide-open windows that welcome the wind and frame the spectacular view of this majestic and peaceful valley. Here, in this high-up place, I feel like I am in a nest: held, nourished and challenged at the same time. Challenged in the most exciting way because I am totally free to choose what aspect of myself to bring into being, into relationship and into play in each moment. How can I contribute to this colourful “blank” canvas, today? How can I be of service to the group to enhance our world, right here, right now?
In the Garden I have been sleeping out, sewing seeds, propping up characterful tomato plants, removing the weeds from the veg patch whilst also weeding the thoughts and stories from my own mind that no longer serve me. Last week we saw an abundance of home-grown lettuce and the emergence of our first beetroot, so in gardening terms we have deep purple roots, lush green leaves and fertile ground.
Our previous experience of workshops, festivals, residencies, actions and climate camps help us to navigate how to live here. We have started to co-create a resilient and expandable community, a crucible for more magic to come. The culture we are building feels permissive and exploratory; a balance between structure and spontaneity, responding to both the needs and desires of the group, the project and each individual.
The daily rituals of meditation, check-ins, working together, cooking and sharing have enabled us to get to know each other in many lights, which has helped us honour the changing qualities of our creative natures.
Taking responsibility for ourselves has meant not hiding our shadows in the dark. We have been sensitive to each other’s depths and edges. We have voiced our needs, our fears and our doubts as well as the gifts we are cultivating to contribute to a more peaceful, just and caring world. I think we’ve inspired each other to reveal more of our full potential.
Through spaces like this we are getting closer and closer to being able to live with ourselves and with each other, despite difference; to sit with the difficult parts of life, to skillfully navigate the inevitable conflicts. Practicing this in community is hugely inspiring and on a micro level gives me great hope with regards to the global challenges we face.
This is exactly the kind of creative, collaborative, self-organising community I want to be a part of. Thank you Ruth, Julia, Ellie, Keith, Melody, Gabriel, two year old Leon and Lindsay for providing such an alchemical playground for personal and collective transformation!

SHARE