Burning The Books

Alinah Azadeh

Tag Archive: book of debts

  1. Images of Book of Debts, Brixton finale

    Leave a Comment

    Images from the recital and burning of The Book of Debts IX, Brixton on Sunday 29th March at St Mathews Peace Garden, Brixton Hill, amid stormy weather !  It was a very powerful ending to an intense residency for the book – thankyou to all those who contributed, recited, and supported us in Brixton. More to come on what happened soon. Read below Barby Asante’s moving debt of gratitude to the people of Brixton which she recited at the event.

    ‘Brixton is now a desired place to live. In fact people are so desperate to buy into Brixton that you will sometimes get notes through your letterbox from people looking for properties and it seems that the powers that be/ the local authority are happy to sell it off to fill the pot with the pennies that will be given in return for allowing property developers and big business to own pieces of Brixton –  displacing the people who stayed here when it was consider an off limits dangerous part of London.

    So this debt is owed to the music hall players and entertainers, the market traders, the Caribbean and Irish people who were not welcomed to live in other parts of London & those Caribbean people who bought the run down properties through pardoner systems of saving and worked hard to make those properties homes,  the working class men and women who grew up playing on the bomb sites that are now the sites of contested social housing. To the squatters and housing activists especially Olive Morris. To the Brixton Faeries, to those who took to the streets because they were fed up of racism and police brutality.  To the kids condemned as rubbish because they grew up in Brixton & the single mums who brought some of those kids up.

    The artists, musicians, writers, nightclub owners, London transport workers, teachers, shop keepers, social workers, keepers of local history,  street preachers and every day Brixton Characters, the different groups of people from around the world attracted to the place because it’s welcoming to others/ to outsiders and you can shop for food in a market instead of a bland supermarket.

    There’s so much more to say so many people that could be listed or credited that make up a really brilliant and truly diverse community, that has its conflicts and comings together.  That recognises and appreciates difference.  These are people who stuck with it and stood by their neighbourhood and it’s people when others condemned and spoke negatively about Brixton. They were/ are resilient and fiercely defend the social and cultural fabric of their community.  Many of these people have had to – or if things continue in the direction that it’s going-  will have to move on. Pushed out and priced out as profit is put before people!’

  2. Disrupting the Story of Debt and The Land : Brixton

    Leave a Comment

    ‘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


  3. Letter to the People of Brighton and Hove

    Leave a Comment

    Invitation to contribute to The Book of Debts (V), from now until May 22, 2014

     Dear Strangers,

    We may meet, or we may never meet. I am an artist, debtor and keeper of The Book of Debts, which – one Volume per location – is being filled with stories of debt, recited aloud and burned, as it travels the UK. We are now being hosted by Fabrica Gallery in Brighton, until May 22nd as part of my artist residency there.

    What do you think about when you think about debt?  Money, time, love, attention? Shame, denial, regret, anger, injustice? Family, obligation, gratitude? Who owes what to whom? Do all debts have to be repaid? When is it ok not to pay?  How responsible are we for what we, our family, community or nation owe? I invite you read, reflect and add to the pages of this current Book of Debts, which now sits in Fabrica and is open to anyone who finds it – whether borrower or lender, past or present. The debt entered can be owed by you – or to you. Or it may be owed to or by a third party. It may be financial, social, emotional, political, ecological or spiritual – or a combination of the above. All contributions are anonymous,  – unless you choose to identify yourself –  and you can enter  as many debts as you like.

    The project offers you a conversation about debt you might not expect to have. Here is a moment to reflect on a subject which has a huge power over individuals and society and yet is only a construct, an idea, an agreement, subject to change and circumstance. Read and add to the shared stories of those who inhabit the same city as you, online or in the gallery.  All contributions will form part of the final recital. To witness the recital and burning of this volume of The Book of Debts, meet at Fabrica Gallery at 6.30pm on Thursday May 22nd and be led to an outdoor site.  Before that, visit me for a free cup of tea and listen to me read you The Book at Hove Museum 2-4pm on Thursday May 8th. I will also be on the streets of central Brighton with it and my firekeeper on the afternoon of Sunday 18th May , as well as unannounced in other parts of the city through the month. Watch me talking about my Fabrica activity in their gallery film here (8 mins in)

    The content of The Book is dependent on those who fill its pages, and is unique to the place in which it resides. As a previous resident of this City, I am curious to see what else will cover its pages over the coming weeks.

    Yours indebtedly,

    Alinah Azadeh