Burning The Books

Alinah Azadeh

Tag Archive: debt

  1. Images of Book of Debts, Brixton finale

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    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

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    ‘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 Brixton – Invitation to contribute to The Book of Debts (IX)

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    What do you think about when you think about debt? 

    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 entries, recited aloud and burned in symbolic acts of imaginary debt relief, as it travels the UK. To date over 1000 people have contributed to this project. The Book of Debts (IX) is currently open online, and will be launched in person at 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning on March 12th 6.30pm – 9pm, where it will be for a week, then tour around Brixton until the finale on 29th.March.

    I invite you to contribute to this Volume IX – whether you’re a borrower or lender, past or present. What is in your/our collective book of human accounts? Money, rights, time, love, attention? Shame, regret, anger, injustice, gratitude? Who owes what to whom? Do all debts have to be repaid? How do you repay a debt that is not financial? What would you have written off, call to account or want to draw attention to?

    The project has been related to in different ways: as a provocation – an imaginary form of Jubilee (found in many Holy Books and the basis of debt cancellation activism) – or as a source of comfort and healing for past hurts, bordering on the therapeutic. Whatever you think it is, I offer it to you as a way of opening up what this poorly understood yet powerful construct can mean, a playful way of examining your beliefs, at a personal and societal level.

    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 contribute as many debts as you like. We are inviting up to 10 local people to co –recite The Book with me on Sunday 29th March before it is committed to the flames, followed by a celebratory wake!

     

    To contribute to The Book of Debts, IX, contribute online here or write in The Book in Brixton until the afternoon, Sunday 29th March, when it will be recited and burned in Central Brixton, full details of where The Book can be found and the finale location will be out by the end of February.

  4. Lewes, East Sussex

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    The Book of Debts VI (Lewes – the artists hometown)

    On Friday May 30th, at 7.30pm, Alinah  introduced and opened The Book itself at the preview (7-9pm) of Future Dreaming,  at the Foundry Gallery, Phoenix Estate, Lewes. A touring group exhibition initiated by artist Guyan Porter, it explores systems for imagining and creating the future. The project features work by Guyan, Hollington and Kyprianou, Mark C Hewitt and Xelis de Toro.

    Contributions came in thick and fast, and The Book began its life  at a Death Cafe run  by Living Well, Dying Well and three writers groups run by Bourne to Write 

    The Book of Debts VI, was recited and burned on Sunday June 8th 2014 at the back of the Foundry Gallery on the site of the former Lewes Phoenix Theatre, including the studios of many local artists, which was recently completely destroyed by fire.

    I was joined  for the first time by 10 co-reciters from the community, whose powerful and moving entries to The Book brought a whole new dimension to the project. Around 120 people stood on the land to listen to the 92 stories contained in The Book, which is at the centre of a conflicted vision for its future, between corporate and sanitised development plans and the preservation of its existing cultural capital , built up over 7 years by cultural, educational and community workers and groups of all kinds.

  5. Debt: a creature of reciprocity

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    Reposted from my Interhuman blog, as part of my residency at Fabrica Gallery, Brighton, where the The Book of Debts V currently resides.

    The very fact that we don’t know what debt is, the very flexibility of the concept, is the basis of its power’ David Graeber -‘ Debt, The first 5000 Years’

    This week I updated the online version of The Book of Debts, from the physical version in the gallery.(Read or add to it here). There were around 30 new entries from the last time I was in, and it was moving to read and transcribe a whole batch in one go like that, quite a rollercoaster!
    From ‘I owe everything to everyone‘ to ‘I expect nothing and I promise nothing’ shows me once again that our relationship to debt is perceptual. There are debts of labour, love, time, lives lost and saved, relationships broken and redeemed. Debts to unions, banks, thinkers, do-ers, teachers, lovers, rock stars, mothers, the earth .. and the contributors themselves. With the odd heckle in between. Brighton is of course surfacing a beautiful eclectism which I am familiar with as a former resident, and now the Festival has begun I’m wondering what else will cover its pages up to May 22nd, when we recite and burn it (meet at Fabrica, 6.30pm if you want to hear /watch it)

    I asked once again the leading question ‘What do you think about when you think about debt?’ at a talk/writing session I gave to gallery volunteers (who are at the frontline of the project at the moment at Fabrica, as the interface between it and the public) and a whole spectrum of responses came up – many of which, as I note-take at each such encounter, are being absorbed into the Ode to Debt / provocation that acts as my intro at live events. I am collecting definitions, responses, metaphors, like so many brushstrokes of a painting that I cannot yet clearly see from frame to frame. From fear, guilt and powerlessness to generosity and gratitude, there is always a growing sense when bringing the subject to the table that debt is something that is elusive and hard to understand, a threat, a stalking beast, or at the very least a subject requiring a degree of self-honesty or transparency that can be threatening to even contemplate.
    Except when talking of debts of gratitude. Gratitude and indebtedness seem to often eclipse each other or even wear each other’s clothes. My understanding is that gratitude, like gift, does not come at a price, but indebtedness can easily follow in its wake, depending on the relationship of the recipient to the giver or even to the act of being given something – which may be culturally dependent. Within indebtedness lies the idea that there is something the recipient wants to repay to the other party, hence the word debt in its midst. At the heart of this is exchange, equality and power – and most of the entries in the The Book so far speak of this, if they don’t speak of gratitude/indebtedness.

    David Graeber writes in his ‘Debt, The first 5000 Years’  (the first ever history of debt) that debt ‘is strictly a creature of reciprocity‘ but that ‘All human interactions are not forms of exchange, Only some are. Exchange encourages a particular way of conceiving human relations. This is because exchange implies equality, but it also implies separation. It’s precisely when the money changes hands, when the debt is cancelled, that equality is restored and both parties can walk away and have nothing further to do with each other.
    Debt is what happens in between; when the two parties cannot yet walk away from each other, because they are not yet equal. But it is carried out in the shadow of eventual equality. Because achieving that equality , however, destroys the very reason for having a relationship , just about everything human happens in between – even if this means that all such human relations bear with them at least a tiny element of criminality, guilt or shame.’

    Hence, the presence of debt in almost every great literary drama, the depiction of that ‘space in between’ where everything human – read interesting – happens! For a brilliant ride through that, read “Payback:Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth’ by Margaret Atwood, which also inspired an excellent recent documentary featuring the writer herself – and ‘arch villain’ Conrad Black – made by Jennifer Bachwal.
    So, debt is inherently relational and so in shifting ones relationship to it, the debt itself can change shape. I found this with our financial situation of debt, which I have disclosed on the earlier pages of this blog, and which prompted my interest in the subject. It used to be a symbol of literal terror, shaking the very foundations of my being, until I got clear on my rights, the outer limits of own my moral compass, opened up to support and got clear on what I was and was not responsible for. With clarity and information, the terror turned to curiosity, and an ongoing project was born…
     

    I’m next out with The Book of Debts (which is filling steadily, check some of the entries online here) at Hove Museum on Thurs May 8th 2-4pm. If you come and see me, I will offer you a free cup of tea, in return for your attention to the subject of debt, the shadow side of gift, in all its dark glory and transformative potential.

    I’ll also be in conversation with French artist Samuel Rousseau 7-8pm on the same day, May 8th,  at Fabrica, on the subject of artist as agent of social change (question mark) details here.. Please come and join in the conversation. It’s free, nothing will be left owing…

  6. Letter to the People of Brighton and Hove

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    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

  7. Brighton and Hove

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    The Book of Debts (V), launched at Fabrica Gallery in Brighton on Sunday April 6th 2014.  The Book already contained a number of entries from Alinah’s recent participation in Life Before Debt at SOAS, London and is filling steadily with contributions from Brighton and Hove  – read them here, and contribute anytime before May 22nd to be part of the final recital either via this site (and your entry will be transcribed by Alinah into The Book) or by visiting Fabrica.

    On Sunday May 18th, Alinah and her firekeeper will do a promenade around central Brighton with The Book of Debts, reading and gathering stories from anyone who wishes to contribute. Follow on facebook or twitter (@burningthebooks) to find out their location and the timings.

    The Book of Debts, Brighton and Hove will be recited and burned on Thursday May 22nd. Meet at 6.30pm at Fabrica to be led to the burning site. Followed by a celebratory wake, ends approx 7.45pm.

     

     

     

  8. The Book of Debts (V) opens its pages – in prologue, at Life Before Debt..

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     ‘It is not without reason that our financial elites have been called a priesthood. Donning ceremonial garb, speaking an arcane language, wielding mysterious inscriptions, they can with a mere word or a mere stroke of a pen, cause fortunes and nations to rise and fall’ Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein

    So, it is impossible as an artist and human being, having experienced and recounted what I have around the subject of debt (in both financial, socio-political and psychological, interpersonal terms, for they are almost always related), and seeing the same happening all around me – to be neutral in the face of the growing imbalance and inequality, both in this country and globally.

    The Book of Debts itself is a neutral 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 all trying to exist within and how it is exacerbating this gap at high speed. I have spoken before about the dimension of illusion and absurdity that characterises debt creation , especially at the level of global capital and developing countries, but also here in the UK. David Graeber wrote an article this week ‘The truth is out: money is just an IOU, and the banks are rolling in it’ on how even the banks have admitted that they are making the whole thing up, ‘throwing out the window the theoretical case for austerity’, as well as the exemption of financial elites from cuts and proper taxes. I am excited that he will be one of the speakers at this Saturdays Life Before Debt conference at SOAS, where we were originally invited to do a full cycle of Burning the Books, but now – ironically, due to lack of permission re the fire – will open the Book of Debts (V), present at the opening session, gather entries and reflect briefly on the day at the closing plenary.

    Although I do not consider myself a campaigner, social justice has become an inherent part of this project since there are so many stories that call apon the book to voice this. It is a holistic project but it is increasingly clear that there IS no debt without a story, and every sum of money owed carries a tale of some kind- whether this is an injustice, an act of generosity, a highlighting of inequality or a reminder of the capacity of human beings to work together to resist and /or to forgive. I am looking forward to what I will learn from activists, academics and other practitioners from around the world this weekend, and how it will feed into this project and my thinking on the residency.

    I will share a few of the stories I will gather on Saturday here next week in the build up to the launch of the Brighton Book of Debts at Fabrica on Sunday April 65-6pm (please come along and be one of the early contributors to what will be an extremely diverse and enriching volume).

    (Reposted from my Interhuman blog documenting my residency at Fabrica til May, where the next Book of Debts will be taking up residence from April 6th.. So there will be a cross-over between these two blogs for a while…)

     
  9. Burning The Book of Debt, Birmingham – photos.

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  10. Life Before Debt, SOAS, London

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    The Book of Debts Vol V, took up a one day residency at the Life Before Debt conference, at The School for Oriental  and African Studies,  invited and hosted by the Jubilee Debt Campaign on Saturday 29th March 2014. 

    This volume (V) of The Book was open  for delegates – and anyone – to add to online, and all entries made that day are now in The Brighton and Hove Book of Debts, to be burned on May 22nd.  

    I offered up a short  provocation at the opening of the conference, containing an invitation to add to The Book of Debts throughout the day , which was due to be burnt in the grounds of SOAS at 1.40pm. However, permission to burn was refused by SOAS and so all debts were rolled over to the Brighton and Hove Volume of The Book, hosted by Fabrica Gallery and burning on May 22nd, the final week of the Brighton Festival . 

    Alinah@Lifeb4debt

    Life Before Debt, March 29th 2014. Photo by Emma Marshall

    Although there may well be a strong emphasis on unjust and unpayable debt of a financial nature, The Book accepts debts of all kinds, containing and contrasting the financial,  the social, the emotional, the political, the ecological and the spiritual dimensions and narratives of  this powerful human construct. It is a holistic project and no debt is too small – or too big – to be included.

    This event will be an unusual one, as we are used to audiences who may not be used to thinking about debt – at least not beyond the financial – in any great depth!. Here we will be facing 400 delegates, may of whom are experts in their fields, have written or are talking on the subject in great depth and detail. It brings together those across disciplines – academics, activists, anthropologists, faith practitioners, economists – all in the same room. Check out the extraordinary range of speakers exploring the moral, social, economic and political issues involved in a series of sessions throughout the day.

    This invitation came about through encountering John Nightingale, the Birmingham head of the JDC, as I sat with The Book of Debts at  The Library of Birmingham in October – which then led to us being hosted by the Cathedral. To John I owe a debt of gratitude.

    There will be a film about the conference and the full programme is here .

    Here is the programme of what was a very enriching day.