Some ethno-national identities are driven by logics of ‘blood, soil and belonging’. This exercise offers a different relationship to the land in the hope of ‘distancing’ from familiar narratives and opening up new and more intimate stories. It takes up the image of the ‘parliament of things’ (Dingpolitik) of Iceland as imagined by Latour and Schneibel (2005).

Step 1: The Political and Ethical Imagination 
Each person brings 2 things: A handful of soil from their place and a material object, or image or idea that in some way helps them to remember a significant moment in his or her past, collective or individual – however the person chooses.

Step 2: Dreaming: This Land as Witness: 
a. If this land/island could speak what would it say about the myths and stories told about her? What stories have been occluded? How would it bear witness? Would its concerns be those of humans? Perhaps there would be no words, only images or poetic gestures. Map this as a small group activity.

  1. Bags of soil – ask each participant to bring a small plastic bag, and mix them up. Each participant uses the smell, texture, look and feel of the soil – the sensuous experience, and makes a gestural response that captures the subjective, material encounter? No speaking only gestures OR use the soil spread on sheets of paper to make an image.

A Walking Exercise: Experience the materiality and memory of this land, this place, thinking from the perspective of geological time and from the perspective of the entangled histories and stories of this island and one’s place in it and on it.

Enquiry: Why do we humans tell stories?

  1. Object as Witness: Provision of material objects: Each person tells the autobiography of the object as it exists in the future on this land/island in the first person: the life it has led and the life it will have led, its dreams, hopes and fears and how it will co-exist with others.
  2. Using the objects is a way of stepping back from the known and the personal, this provides a way of addressing the questions below:
  • What stories do we privilege? What does this say about our values and sense of self?
  • What is the relation between stories, memory and history?
  • Can we be together without telling our own stories? How might others tell our stories?
  • What stories are silenced, excluded, ignored?

Crane Bag: Tell the myth of the Crane Bag. If you put your hand in the bag, and found what it is you need right now, what would that be?  Crane Bag is another way of rethinking and retelling stories: identifying what we subjectively need – for protection, to be heard, to get a measure of power over things that cannot be controlled – it is very useful used with the idea of Storytelling as a way of saying what cannot be said directly.


Strange Futures: Museum on a Table/in a Rucksack

  • How might these objects/strange creatures co-exist, without agreeing on a future together?
    What would make this possible? How could we place them?
  • Enact/draw/make a storyboard for a film with the characters/material objects.
  • Use these to image the State as a Political Concept: What is the relationship between the State and the people? Include and re-imagine the institutions of the State.

Gatherings: Thinking of democracy as a way of finding arrangements and institutions to help us to be able to bear to listen to the other, how can we create spaces where we can bear to listen to one another in which we also are open to changing our own stories and understandings? What are the limits of mutual understanding? What difference do they make? Discuss. Map. Draw.

Exercise 1. Stories of Political Shame and Surprising Solidarity.

Creating the Space: Place your chairs in a triangle facing one way, perhaps out a window.

Begin with an invitation to a story of Political Shame (not personal shame) and then half-way through turn to a story of Surprising Solidarity.

  • Each person speaks only when and if they are moved to do so.
  • Silence is welcome.
  • Be aware of and supportive of the presence of others but keep your gaze looking ahead.

Exercise 2: Counter-Memorialisation

1.Think of a story that has been silenced or forgotten, be it one of political shame or one of surprising solidarity.

2.How might it be memorialised in a way that would do justice to it? Where and when do we memorialise? For whom do we memorialise? Perhaps it would imagine another story, a fiction or utopia. Perhaps it would involve a silent monument or a statement. Perhaps an event like Hirschhorn’s Gramsci Monument. Or a sound.

3.Draw a diagrammatic proposal stating the issue/problem and then imagining a form of memorialisation.Describe in as much detail as possible. (Pencil, black pen, and Brown Card)

– Share provisional thoughts and proposals.

– Silent Writing for 10 minutes

– Listen to Lubaina Himid’s Lecture “What are Monuments For?”

i. Sensing

  • Leave the room that you are in if you can,
  • Note the colour of the sky and the temperature
  • Note the time and date.
  • Note the shapes of the buildings and any decorations or accessories that they are wearing? Imagine them as ancient (or modern) humans. What are their characters?
  • Imagine the many feet that have walked along this stretch of earth for centuries and millenia. Stop and contemplate for one minute.
  • Imagine yourself as a small child between two and a half to seven. How would you move through the street? As a scientific experiment, try a little movement that you might have done then, and see how you feel.

 ii.Categorising and Classify

  • Then, categorise and group the clothes-wearing-bodies that you see.
  • Which ones belong together, and which ones don’t.
  • Try different ways of categorising.
  • Do little drawings to help the reader understand.
  • Move through different spaces of the hotel grounds.
  • Observe your responses. Think about your classifications.

iii. Attending

  • Then simply watch for five minutes.
  • Note the movements and gestures as people and objects move through the spaces, as a choreographer might. On a small postcard.
  • Draw the lines of their movement (intuitively). Are they tight, broad, loose, zig-zaggy, compressed, flowing, open..?
  • Write the adjectives and verbs that come to mind.
  • Collect gestures and movements by again noting them in words or image.

iv.Educating the Gaze

  • Create two columns on a white notecard.
  • Now, as you look at the people around you, ask yourself What do I see? Write down exactly what you see.
  • Each time an assumption, cliché, stereotype, fantasy or imagining comes to mind, jot it down with a brief description of the body in question in a column entitled, What do I think I see?, then ask yourself again What do I see?
  • Note how many times you look away because you don’t want to see something. 
  • Note which bodies your body thinks it has an affinity with and reasons for this

Think of Boal’s concept of the “Difficultator” (rather than Facilitator) or Dostoevsky’s Idiot.

  • Reflect and choose one aspect of your ‘culture’ that you embody in some way (whatever that is) that you find very familiar, common sense, and obvious and feel infringed when others transgress it (think about the body, space, noise, civility.. Everyday things)
  • Imagine trying to explain it to someone who is completely unfamiliar with that practice. Provide the best argument, justification and rationale that you can give. If that fails, be dogmatic. (6 minutes – try it out in pairs)
  • Remember encounters with other ‘cultures’ that you have had. [And reflect on what comes up and why you see it as another culture.] What practices did you find so beautiful or wonderful so much that you would like to bring into your life? Describe one or two in detail and explain why. (6 minutes – pairs)
  • Discuss what is ‘culture’ and how does it relate to ‘values’?
  • Ask, is another ‘culture’ just someone who does things differently from me? Relate to tradition, expression, embodiment, space, sensibility, voice, loudness/softness, movement, and so on. What is the relationship between culture and values. Discuss. (Group 8 minutes)