Collective Wandering

Hanging Out with Our Everyday Ecology

Abstract: My curatorial nomadic practice ‘Collective Wandering’ explores self-organised learning-working-living environments. By researching (and doing) practices of home-making based on the values of collective care, collaboration, solidarity and support, I aim to stimulate social ecology. Social ecology studies the relationships between people and their environment, often the interdependence of people, collectives and institutions. The word ecology is derived from the Greek word oikos, meaning ‘household,’ ‘house,’ or ‘place to live.’ What could that place to live well together be today and what conditions are needed? In this essay, I elaborate on my experiential research into self-organised social-ecological communities and collectives, which sprung from my need for more commonality in my practice and life, as well as my wondering about how to collectively build and live actual alternatives to the neoliberal capitalist systems that dominate our daily lives.

It is essential that we—engaged designers, makers, cultural workers, educators, artists—begin to act, negotiate and create our own conditions together, and research and reflect on all the ways livelihoods are made. I believe we should no longer act out of scarcity and competition, driven by profit, consumption, acceleration, centralised powers and economic growth. Rather, I long for abundance, well-being, collective care, deceleration and solidarity based on cooperativeness. I also share how my practice-based research into alternative fashion practices took further shape while immersing myself in various communities. Our daily ecology—starting with our own body—is the place to start practising what it means to change the systems we inhabit, since fashion is an embodied and relational practice rooted in everyday life.

Keywords: social ecology, collective care, intentional communities, alternative fashion practices, community economies, collective wandering


The home used to be more of an extension of the public space. During the Middle Ages, for example, work, eating, sleeping and social contact took place in the home, just as it does for many of us now during the pandemic. However, in contrast to contemporary Western norms, students, employees and friends were part of the household as often as parents and young children. Privacy did not exist: home was a public, porous space. This began to change from the seventeenth century onwards. This transformation took place across Europe and had a myriad of causes, like any major transformation. ‘Homeliness’ came to mean ‘conviviality’; a ‘household’ became equivalent to a ‘family,’ and ‘home’ took on the meaning that it still has today.1

Social Ecology and Interdependence

Social ecology reveals our interdependence2 with each other and our environment. A declaration of dependence as we are connected and give cause to each other. For me, this is about what I experience in my daily life beyond the dominant neoliberal structures that have nestled themselves within me and the clothing I wear. As many of us might experience, neoliberal capitalism invaded our homes and households while slowly undressing the oikos— the socioecological place that we call home—by commodifying social life 24/7 (Uber, Airbnb, and social media to name just a few examples). Even the word economy evolved out of the word oikos; the global force that directs almost every system within society was once based on local exchange. How can we take back the economy by creating alternative economies in which ethical negotiations around our interdependence with each other and the environment are put centre stage?3 We will have to practise what it means to change the systems we inhabit. How can we work towards new proximities? What do we welcome with these relationships, and how do we establish them?

During my research, I encountered the work of Hannah Arendt,4 whose writing sharpened my desire to explore the concept of home as an extension of the public space5 through acting collectively. Arendt introduced me to the concept of ‘natality’:6 the capacity to make beginnings, a freedom expressed in action to create shared spaces through interaction with others. For me, ‘natality’ articulates my desire to put something in motion by contributing to your personal environment. This is why it is essential for me to connect and to collectively articulate which new beginnings we choose in order to re-create our households. To devise and to discuss7—not from the perspective of what you are (a summary of qualities), but from the perspective of who and where you are.

Who we are stems forth from our embodied experiences, our power of imagination, and how we want to show up for each another as beings in the making. This too is ‘natality’; we have the capacity to change and to renew, to bring new things into the world. In my experience, this exploration calls for deceleration and a pause for reflection in order to reach a deeper connection with our lived experiences and with each other through temporary coalitions. From there, gaining new insights and giving space to our imagination before we can enter the public space and contribute to the development of a common world.

Visual Impressions

Damanhur: digging the temples at night in secret. Photo credit: archive Damanhur 1978
Damanhur: communal greenhouse of family Cornucopia. Photo credit: Lenn Cox
MASSIA: former school hall. Photo credit: Lenn Cox
MASSIA: former classroom now used as communal studio. Photo credit: Lenn Cox
Mothers & Daughters bar: ‘body language’ event by TOMBOYS DON’T CRY. Photo credit: Lenn Cox
PAF: body-work-wear-ware clothing piece on chair during Spring Meeting. Photo credit: Lenn Cox
PAF: participants Spring Meeting; ‘IT IS HARD TO BE ART ~ On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Art for Life’. Photo credit: Lenn Cox
PAF: my shared room during Spring Meeting. Photo credit: Lenn Cox
Sanctuary Slimane: communal food garden. Photo credit: Lenn Cox

Visiting Self-Organised Communities


In the spring of 2019 while participating in the ArtEZ M.A. programme Practice Held in Common, I began immersing myself in different self-organised communities and collectives in and around Europe. I did this by taking part in their daily life for a period of time, building up my own experiences along the way. This allowed me to have conversations with the various inhabitants and co-founders about the intention of their community and how it operates. Here is a glimpse of the intentional communities I visited.

Damanhur, in Italy, is one of the largest spiritual eco-communities in the world. Established in the seventies on a field in a valley in the alpine foothills, today more than 500 Damanhurians live, learn and work together in various residential ‘nucleo’ communities (each with its own goal, attuned to the greater community). The community is largely self-sufficient: it has its own agriculture, including farms and seed banks, its own currency, and self-established schools, universities and a healthcare system.

Sanctuary Slimane, situated outside Marrakech at the foot of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, has been operating as an amalgamation of permaculture, animal sanctuary and an artist residency for a couple of years now. Its intention is to rewild the site, as a countermovement against the desertification that is prevalent in North Africa.

PAF (Performing Arts Forum) is an experimental space established in 2005 in a former convent school in St. Erme, France. It is described as a place for the professional and not-yet-professional in the fields of performing arts, visual arts, literature, music, new media and internet. PAF is initiated and run by artists. It has a handful of permanent residents, including Jan Ritsema, who once purchased the building. (It is now collectively owned.) There are no staff. Everyone who stays—at a cost of less than €20 per day—is personally responsible for their own time and activities.

MASSIA, a similar space in Estonia, was acquired a couple of years ago. This user-run residency, situated in a former school, is more ecologically connected with the local environment than PAF. For example, experimenting with an herb garden and sharing a library with the small village community, located in a private house across the street.

Mothers & Daughters is a temporary lesbian and trans bar that manifests for two months each year at a shifting vacant premise in Brussels. It was born out of the independent magazine Girls Like Us,8 a queer and feminist arts publication, and its sister initiatives, as a response to the fact that there was no space in Brussels where they felt at home. There are two set price categories, as the organisation tries to address the undocumented gender gap (26%) in Belgium. Those who have a privileged position because of their (biological) sex, sexuality and or ethnicity, or are privileged in terms of their wage and access to opportunities and documented work choose menu B, and pay a 26% higher price than menu A. Furthermore, an abundant programme is offered, compiled by the intersectional group that runs M&D and provides pluriform direction. Expect parties, drinks, politics, film, poetry, workshops and barbeques.

Body-work-wear-ware Collaboration: TOMBOYS DON’T CRY

Following my stay at Mothers & Daughters Bar, I invited Ilenia and Dafne of the Milan-based intersectional lesbian, queer, transfeminist platform for girls of any gender, non-binary creatures and their allies, TOMBOYS DON’T CRY, to react to my Karate jacket, which I had previously coloured with natural dye under the guidance of fellow Practice Held in Common participant Alya Hessy.

Photo credits: Ilenia Arosio
Photo credits: Ilenia Arosio
Photo credits: Ilenia Arosio

Taking Back Fashion

While participating in the various households, my practice-based research into alternative fashion practices took further shape. As I prepared myself to go travelling, I considered what I should wear. The only items that I felt comfortable in, and in which my body memory was strongly ingrained, were my karate clothes and some trusted lived-in pieces from my wardrobe. Since fashion for me is an embodied practice rooted in everyday life, I was first and foremost in search of a personal perspective as an alternative to the disconnected fashion industry with which I can no longer really or want to associate myself with.

I regularly encounter this sense of friction when teaching fashion and design students and in conversation with alumni. I also recognise confusion and desire during projects with makers, designers and artists—who (just like me) have had their practices for over ten years—a desire for alternative and more meaningful ways of exchange, research and production that we ourselves can have a hand in, collectively creating our conditions. Taking back fashion as a relational practice, a cultural and social space!

While packing up my studio for relocation (I have not found a new home yet), I found some old textile paint which I applied as a first layer to my garments. Many layers and accumulations followed. During my visits to the various communities, the idea arose to invite a maker at each location to respond to one of my garments through their own practice. I also started making index cards containing terminologies and theories that inform and contextualise my practice. I incorporated elements of these into my garments, so that I can continue to carry them with me as conversation material. With these actions, I ritualise my clothing as a logbook.

Index Card: Community Economies. Photo credit: Lenn Cox

Body-work-wear-ware Collaboration: Afterseason

Afterseason is a collaborative research project by artist-designer Aliki van der Kruijs in which she researches the potential of using waste ink from the digital textile printing industry. During my stay at Sanctuary Slimane, I applied the Afterseason ink with a large brush, my urine, heat of the sun, clay and sand of the Moroccan desert as another layer on my Body-work-wear-ware clothing.

Photo credits: Lenn Cox
Photo credits: Lenn Cox
Photo credits: Lenn Cox
Photo credits: Lenn Cox
Photo credits: Lenn Cox

Collective Negotiation of and Search for

You might wonder what have I learned so far. I don’t have a clear-cut answer to that. There is no one-size-fits-all formula that you can just implement—and that’s a good thing because the world (and our homes) would become very monotonous otherwise! I learned that being together as an intentional community does not mean continuously doing things together. How important it is that each individual can contribute from the heart and in full expression. How crucial it is to take a position and role attuned to your own energy, and that this can and may change over time. That you don’t have to continually agree to be able to be together. (Embracing discomfort is a skill we will need to practise more.) So, listening and being open to plural perspectives is essential.

Collective ownership—as with consensus9 decision making, which is useful in including and engaging all participants—takes time, energy, maintenance and patience! I’ve also learned that it is important that we reconsider and practise ‘the economy’ beyond just monetised transactions to include all the way livelihoods are made. During my visits to the aforementioned communities, I gained insights that led my own new ideas to emerge. The collective negotiation of and search for new formats for social, economic, ecological living-working-learning communities being continual.

From the core belief that our everyday ecology, the household, is the place to start practising what it means to change the systems we inhabit, I initiated the collective z o m e r k a m p10 in autumn 2019. An assemblage of seven women11—connected by a somatic consciousness and shared material, social, spiritual-love of the world: Amor Mundi12—which sprung from a need for more commonality in our practices and lives, wondering how to expand from I to We and to practise the I in the We. As a reaction to the ecological, social and political circumstances of our time, we started by hanging out with our everyday ecology, intentionally placing focus on ourselves as part of the day-to-day. This decelerating act reaches beyond neoliberal economic-driven clock time: sharing, thinking, reflecting, acting, learning, playing, creating, discovering, crying, eating, living and loving together.

Each of us has our own art and or design practice based on a fashion background, in which collaboration and interdisciplinarity has a central role. z o m e r k a m p explores what it means to have a collective practice at this moment in time. In the cultural field, which is indicative of society at large, we experience the urgency for skills based on love, care and cooperation, rather than burnout and competition. We share the insight and tools we have assembled as a collective by hosting programmes and in the act of facilitating. We open up to learn by engaging with others, broadening our scope and curiosity. z o m e r k a m p is neither work nor holiday; it bridges the situations where life becomes work and work becomes life, and adapts to the needs of the moment. We generate space to try to understand what a nomadic household, based on collective care, collaboration, support and solidarity, could mean.

Cover manual

After experiencing various home-making practices, I wanted to share them and created the manual Collective Wandering: Hanging Out with Our Everyday Ecology.13 It is not a manual in the traditional sense, with linear instructions or guidelines; rather, it is a hopefully engaging collection of insights, moments and encounters, experienced during my continuing artistic research. What started out as a solo adventure consciously evolved into a collaborative and collective journey. The intention of this manual is to inspire and support kindred individuals who are in search of an alternative rhythm of learning-working-living, sharing multiform co-production processes and rituals of self-organisation concerning our common everyday lives.

Accompanying my own contributions, I have invited various practitioners who resonate with me on a personal and professional level to respond to our shared experiences, from and in relation to their respective practices. With contributions by Tigrilla Gardenia (Damanhur), Sepideh Ardalani (MASSIA), Jessica Gysel (Girls Like Us, Mothers & Daughters Bar), Tomboys Donʼt Cry, Lucas Meyer (Sanctuary Slimane), Katerina Tarnovska (Asgarda),
Alya Hessy, Lucie Chaptal (we made together), Marlies van Hak, Aliki van der Kruijs, Guusje de Bruin, Melanie Bomans, Niki Milioni, Rosanne van Wijk, Sanne Karssenberg and Femke de Vries. Graphic design by Heike Renée de Wit.

The result is a textual and visual gathering of conversations, testimonials and observations, from essays to poetry, from clothing to recipes. I recognise the realisation of this publication as an extension of my curatorial nomadic practice, in which I initiate collaborative projects and co-facilitate spaces of home-making. This manual is such a space. I see it as a living document, an ongoing conversation. An open invitation to go on a collective adventure with your own everyday ecology.

Lenn Cox

Lenn Cox explores self-organised learning-working-living environments. Led by the values of collective care, collaboration, solidarity and support, she engages her curatorial nomadic practice to stimulate social ecology. By researching alternative fashion practices as a cultural and social space, Lenn initiates gatherings and facilitates spaces in cooperation, meeting each other as kindred spirits, and developing and sharing methods of co-production and rituals of self-organisation. In addition to participating in the z o m e r k a m p collective, Lenn is currently a practice plan mentor at the ArtEZ M.A. programme Practice Held in Common, initiated by Pascale Gatzen, which is an experiential, practice-based research environment. As linen steward, Lenn is learning how to grow, process and craft with a group our everyday textiles and garments by hand, with commoning as a guiding principle. She is also playfully moving around as co-initiator of SHIFT, a nomadic 24-hour unlearning school operating independently and situationally around a programme and a theme.

You can find Lenn on Instagram.

Bibliography

Bibliography

References

Lynn Berger, ‘Why the Meaning of Home Has Changed (Now We Can’t Leave the House),’ April 24, 2020, https://thecorrespondent.com/427/why-the-meaning-of-home-has-changed-now-that-we-cant-leave-the-house/56489696417-8ec4f74c.

As humans, we are not situated in opposition to nature but are a part of and inseparably entangled with all life and things on Earth. An ingenious but precarious system wherein each detail—from the energy of the wood wide web to the water inside and around us—is of importance.

J.K. Gibson-Graham, Jenny Cameron, Stephen Healy, Take Back the Economy: An Ethical Guide for Transforming Our Communities (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).

Arendt (1906-1975) was a German-American Jewish philosopher and political thinker.

According to Arendt, we are inhabitants of two worlds. In one, we are physically born. This world is concerned with how we sustain ourselves daily, in our private domain, the continually necessary labour. The order of the same (reproductive tasks) as ‘animal laborans.’ Furthermore, our work as homo faber, how we fabricate and produce goods.In addition to this, we inhabit a public cultural world, in which wonder and freedom reign, where we do not have to concern ourselves with sustaining life. This makes it possible to do something else, and to collectively shape this world by appearing with and to each other. Under one condition: that we do feel involved with that world. Arendt calls this ‘Amor Mundi,’ a collective love for the world.

Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998 [1958]).

Natality, bringing forth new insights and perspectives, and plurality, being mutually able and allowed to differ from one another. Both principles are essential to society, which remains dynamic and democratic in nature with their presence. ‘Men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world.’ Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998 [1958]), p. 234.

Reading tip: Jessica Gysel, part of the M&D team, founder and editor of independent magazine Girls Like Us, is sharing her research on alternative forms of cooperation and collaboration in queer and feminist cultures on Metropolis M. A must-read if you are curious to know more about these modes of home-making practices. Makers of their own time—Chapter 1: Salmon Creek Farm—Fritz Haeg, Makers of their own time—Chapter 2: A-Z West—Andrea Zittel. In Metropolis M no.3 (June/July 2021) Makers of Their Own Time - Relational Activism, Jessica Gysel presents conversations with artists who, in their queer and feminist practice, seek new ways in art.

Consensus decision making involves reaching agreement between all members of a group with regards to a certain issue. It differs from majority decision making, such as that used in democratic elections, in that instead of taking a vote for an item where the majority dominates, a group using consensus is committed to finding solutions that everyone can accept.

We initially wanted to organise a gathering (hence our name) that took place during a handful of days in the summer of 2020. But as a result of our collective effort and shared experiences, it became evident that the essential goal and intention of z o m e r k a m p is to be an ongoing collective movement.

Aliki van der Kruijs, Melanie Bomans, Guusje de Bruin, Sanne Karssenberg, Niki Milioni, Rosanne van Wijk and Lenn Cox.

The concept of Amor Mundi comes from the philosopher Hannah Arendt and is about taking collective responsibility out of love for the world.

The publication is available among others via: WALTER books, San Serriffe, Warehouse, rile*, Well Projects, Page Not Found, NAi Booksellers and Lenn Cox.