Tag Archives: book events

Keynote lecture, Iberian Association for Cultural Studies, University of Murcia, 2 October

IBACS_logoI’m very much looking forward to giving a keynote lecture this week, at the 16th International Culture and Power Conference, which is being held from October 2-4, hosted by IBACS (the Iberian Association for Cultural Studies) and the English Department at the University of Murcia, Spain. Here is a little information about the conference (the full programme’s here):

The conference’s special topic will be SPACE. The 16th Culture and Power conference seeks to respond to the growing importance of space, spatial analysis, and localization in cultural studies. While locating cultural practice in concrete geographical and social coordinates has been a constant in the field, the last two decades have witnessed an extraordinary expansion in the ways space has been explored and made to signify in relation to such different social categories as: gender and sexuality; race and ethnicity; region, nation, and globalisation; the real and the virtual. Likewise, location and ground, as well as notions of public and private memory, history, deep and slow time, cultural and media archaeologies, and storytelling have all become essential to more traditional temporal concerns.

Resistance is Fertile / COMPOST CAPITALISM banner, OCCUPY, Oakland Port USA shutdown 2011

Resistance is Fertile / COMPOST CAPITALISM banner, OCCUPY, Oakland Port USA shutdown 2011

I’m giving the opening plenary on Wednesday, and my title is ‘Polemic space, protest, and the garden’. From my introduction (though I don’t like the inelegantly contradictory ‘larger … sub-project’ phrase and may change it): ‘In the terms of this conference, it’s a matter of looking at an uncool, apparently apolitical social-cultural space and practice—the public or private garden, the dirty seasonal act of gardening—and asking questions about where aspects of power manifest themselves in there, and / or are hidden, challenged, subverted. It’s also to acknowledge that this particular book [Radical Gardening] is a very small part of the larger cultural studies sub-project to disseminate our hard-earned, threatened (it feels, from a British university perspective, at least) knowledge about, say, the operations, achievements, history of culture as critique and as engine of social justice to as wide an audience as we can.’

Share Button

Shakin’ All Over, proofs

It is always an exciting and affirming moment for an author when the proofs of the next book arrive. This is the first time you actually see what the book more or less will look like on publication, page by page. In the old days, proofs used to arrive as a thick wedge of sheets, two pages on each, to be marked up for corrections and minor alterations, and then sent to the indexer for her work. Nowadays the proofs come as a PDF attachment to an email, but the excitement remains. This book, AHRC-funded, five years in the research and writing, drawing on a special issue of the journal Popular Music I edited on disability in 2009, appearing in the Corporealities: Discourses of Disability series, and with over thirty images, will be published in a very few months time…

Shakin' All Over proofs

Share Button

AHRC Connected Communities showcase at Spitalfields City Farm, March 12 2013

AHRC showcase 12 March 2013As part of the Connected Communities Programme showcase in London this week, there was a community gardening event, the key contribution of the Community Gardening, Creativity and Everyday Culture project. Yes in snowy March, outdoors, with a bonfire and a barbecue, and (fortunately) a (heated) marquee. It was after the main events of the day, which itself involved a large number of the projects funded by the programme talking or showing films or performing about their work, panels and posters and discussions about the future of universities and communities, how we work more closely together, how we learn from and energise each other, how we create and understand culture. It was a terrific day, really, that captured some of the wonderfully imaginative and inspiring work happening across the programme as a whole. We had artists, community workers, professors, senior folk from funding bodies, even the Minister for Universities and Science in attendance. (David Willetts: ‘Radical Gardening? Ha! Marvellous idea!’)

Half way through the early evening post-showcase wine reception in central London, small groups began to peel away to make their way to Spitalfields City Farm in the east end. For, ahem, what was billed as An Evening with George McKay. (No, that was not my idea.) It was pitch dark and bitterly cold when I arrived there, but my heart was immediately lifted by coloured lights in a tree, and the sparks and flames of the bonfire with some people sitting around, bending close. Nearer I could see the barbecue, offering ‘biodynamic burgers’ from one of the project partner’s farm in Sussex. In the marquee there was a folk trio playing fiddle and acoustic guitars, a fabulous set of steaming pots filled with curry, dahl, rice—the women cooks said I must come back for seconds—and popadoms, chai, someone’s farm-made cider. We sat at wooden tables eating and talking. The tent filled up slowly, and then it was time for the discussion.

in the marquee at Spitalfields City Farm talking about the politics of gardening Orla introduced me, and I talked for 25 minutes or so, about the ideas in my 2011 book Radical Gardening. There was intent listening, punctuated by chuckles and bursts of laughter. I heard someone lean over to her companion and say ‘Ooh, interesting, I didn’t know that’, so thought I was doing something right. Then what followed was an hour or so of really engaged discussion, comments and conversation between people there, to each other, as well as some questions directed specifically at me about what I’d said.

Is the allotment movement ‘radical’ or do the individual plots really function to maintain a slightly private form of public gardening? What’s the place of nostalgia in the appeal of gardening? How does guerrilla gardening fit in, and if the site is destroyed or dug up has it been a waste of time? Is it the garden that makes things critical—the land space itself—or the practice of gardening, and especially the social side of it, that we come together to make and grow in a communal space? Is there something rewarding in life, even spiritual, about the annual thrill of seeing those first seedlings appear from the soil, life and renewal and hope? Aren’t we really talking here about some middle class people having their propertied enthusiasm and just calling it ‘political’? But in the east end there aren’t enough gardens and spaces for growing, and that’s the vital thing about the city farm, and its community garden. What about the lovely landscape design of the Olympic site, but that took away our allotments to make it? People have forgotten how to forage—as kids we used to pick hawthorn leaves from a hedge and put them in our cheese sandwiches, that tasted good. And someone told a brief history of Spitalfields City Farm itself, founded 33 years ago, originally squatted and then agreed and formalised on a long lease.

I didn’t know that. In Radical Gardening I wrote of Meanwhile Gardens from 45 years ago, in west London, originally squatted and subsequently formalised on a long lease. (Though not without its struggles.) I did that because there is a book account of the establishment of Meanwhile Gardens, written by the people who got it going. I didn’t know Spitalfields City Farm started as a squat—I would certainly have included it in my book had I. Because that is radical gardening. I immediately wondered if there exists a written history of Spitalfields City Farm, which is carefully-researched, well told from a range of voices and collaborators, and including archive photos someone must have somewhere. That I want to read. If it doesn’t exist, perhaps we could co-produce it as an output from the Community Gardening, Creativity and Everyday Culture project? What do you think?


Share Button

Film of dOCUMENTA (13) lecture, Radical Gardening

Now accessible is the film (60 mins.) of the my lecture on ‘Horti-countercultural politics’ at dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel last month, at the Seeds conference organised by the fabulous And And And. (That’s  a quotation from Deleuze, signalling, as they explained to me over a lovely vegetarian dinner at a long table in a post-industrial ex-railway building claimed for 100 days by dOCUMENTA, not a binary and/or but an inclusive, developing and transformative—come on, they would say, revolutionary—and … and … and ….) The film of the lecture is here. The website Permanent Culture Now calls it ‘essential listening’.

In this lecture, George McKay will explore the recent history of the garden and the polemic landscape of plants in alternative cultures and social movements. Rather than simply a retreat of rest and repose, the garden has been also a site of ideological contestation, social confrontation, and critical utopian experimentation.

Disowning Life is a two-day public conference that takes as its starting point dOCUMENTA (13)’s ecological perspective, building on a global alliance between different forms of research and knowledges that is actively being developed in a variety of fields. On September 10, the first part of this conference discusses humans as only one form of animal life amongst many others. On September 15, the second part focuses on questions around food and seeds, water and land, energy and de-growth. At a time when the models of production on which our world is based have been proved insufficient, and the arbitrary division of roles largely unjust, thinking about the way in which we sustain life on the planet is not just an interesting field of research but a crucial necessity.

Documenta seeds word cloud

The development of a collective consciousness that allows us to think and feel in sympathy with all types of mineral, vegetal, and animal life is allowing a new narrative to emerge—one that shifts the position of humans in the constellation of the natural world, placing us in a more balanced  scenario in relation to other beings. Notions revolving around seeding and the idea of multispecies intra-action are introducing new perspectives in eco-feminism that place the problem of difference or “othering” beyond gender. Inspired by and hoping to elaborate on the interrelated horizons of two main thinkers in these fields— multispecies biologist and cultural theorist Donna Haraway and seeds activist Vandana Shiva—this final conference of dOCUMENTA (13) gathers some of the most rigorous scholars, artists, and activists in these fields together with a range of committed new voices.

Share Button