‘The world as we know it is built on a story. To be a change agent is, first, to disrupt the existing Story of the World, and second, to tell a new Story of the World so that those entering the space between stories have a place to go. Often, these two functions merge into one, since the actions we take that are part of the telling of a new story are also disruptive to the old’
Charles Eisenstein: ‘The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible’
The Book of Debts is currently touring around Brixton, in the loving arms of Barby Asante, a fellow artist, Brixtonian and producer of this chapter of the project. It has been a long time coming and now I see it has landed at the right moment. At least, that is what I hope, if it gets used by the various communities who encounter it in the way I dream it will -as a space for both rigorous collective and personal questioning of the power debt holds – or can hold – both over communities and over the human psyche.
As many people know, the Brixton Arches/ Market among other places is the subject of a massive campaign to resist the wholesale ‘regeneration’ phenomenon which is characterising the gentrification/commodification of so much of the heart and soul of communities across the country. It is close to home for me both because I once lived in Brixton and know that market to be the lifeblood of the body of this unique community – and also because at the moment in Lewes where I now live, we have issues with a development which proposes (and is at planning submission stage) to raze to the ground another place at the heart of our creative community – the Phoenix cultural quarter (where I have a studio space and hundreds of others work on a daily basis, affordably, for now). This to make way for not-so-affordable housing, supermarkets, car park and chain stores. The Phoenix Industrial Estate, like the Arches, is one of the most vibrant parts of our town and if it goes a whole section of the population, will go with it. Lewes has a campaign too to propose an alternative plan and it is called Lewes Phoenix Rising.
So what has this got to do with debt? In the Lord’s Prayer there is an interesting mix up over time /translation between Forgive us our sins / Forgive us our debts / Forgive us our trespasses, connecting debt/sin to property /power and I keep thinking of Rowan Williams talking at the Life Before Debt conference last year where he quoted Leviticus (which has a lot of frankly sound stuff to say about debt, profiting from others misery etc) and at one point, he talked about the breaking of moral boundaries in relation to unscrupulous lending, social inequality – but also inappropriate development projects:
‘The land does not belong to anyone. The land is on loan to you by God – you are already indebted to it. You trade its use not the land itself
‘Ownership is never absolute in a world where you are dependent on what you haven’t made’
It is not only a case with this project of questioning who owes what to whom, but who owns what and how is this related to the idea of a common good ? I’d love to see some comment on this from both those who are proposing to develop and those who are resisting development – both who would consider themselves ‘custodians’ of this not-so-common land. There is a lot more talk about the ethics of lending these days, and legislation to slowly counteract it – but a mainstream debate about the ethics of land development and what this actually means gets very little exposure, because so much is at stake – both on the level of peoples livelihoods on one side, and the level of profit and ‘accountabilty’ on the other. Let us see what lands in the Book!
I’m reminded once again at the moment that the key to making relational art – responsive to place and community – is to be open to fail, to put oneself and ones work publicly ‘at risk’ and to embrace the uncertainty that a work based on sometimes random encounters, mixed agendas and evolving relationships can necessitate. This can induce great fear as well as great excitement (apparently they are hormonally identical). Only experience mitigates the intensity of the fear, or maybe a kind of faith in the power of the unknown as well as the power of an idea to carry itself beyond what might initially be imagined.
This week what happens is very much beyond my control, we can only create a context for the request to the public to contribute, we cannot make them! Having been part of last weekends Readers and Writers workshop at 198 (also run with Susan Steed from the Brixton Pound and brilliant Malikas Poetry Kitchen), I once again witnessed the magical process of provoking new collective thought together in a group by simply bringing a different, broader, reading to the idea of debt through quoting the writers who have inspired me along the way and the experiences The Book has brought me, as well as reflections on alternatives at work from Susan.
The Book of Debts itself is a neutral space, an imaginary space, a series of blank pages – open to debtors, creditors alike and to any form of debt – but I find it increasingly difficult, as an individual, not to make judgments or adopt a position re the system, this house of cards, we are supposed to be trying to exist within and how it is exacerbating this gap at high speed – an the impact that the monetisation of absolutely everything is having on communities and our internal sense of that means on a collective, psychological level.
However am so heartened to see the level of community activism in Brixton (and Lewes) to address these issues – on all sides – and to keep in hand what has been earned and built up over decades, to preserve social and cultural capital above the financial. If any community can disrupt existing Stories around the process of change and rewrite them to make them work for the common good, then both Brixton and Lewes (who both have their own Pound) – can.
It feel like this is a crux point of the project, and our desire to have to Book travel properly around a community in a process of change , so with a lot to say – is being fulfilled. One of the Queen gatekeepers of the community is on the case – Barby has managed to get the support of 198 CAL, Brixton Blog, Brixton Pound, Lambeth Events (for giving us use of the Peace Garden for the burning) and all the venues who are hosting it this week – among them the Karibu Centre, Brixton Foodbank, (sadly not the Library -tho Libraries normally like this project..). Circus, Lounge and the A+C Deli in the Arches community – where we will also be on Saturday with our stall on Brixton Street Market, taking in entries and offering up our ‘free public service’ as one contributor described it .
I’ll be landing in Brixton myself again this Saturday with a stall at the Market so come and see what’s been put into the Book and whether you would like to spill some of my ink on its pages before we burn it on Sunday.
And – you can add your own contribution online in your own space. Please join us this Sunday March 29th at 2pm at St Mathews Peace Garden (in front of the Brix), Brixton Hill for the recital and burning, followed by a small ‘wake’ afterwards…
Follow on twitter for ore detail re this weekend : @burningthebooks @barbyasante