It’s the eve of performance day 1. Tomorrow I’ll be dropped off at Bontgoch – a village in the hills between Aber and Talybont – outside the water treatment works at about 8.30 am. There, I have to find somewhere and someone – with a mains water tap – to fill up my bottle of water to allow me to begin the walk. I was half-thinking a few weeks ago that I’d arrange with Dŵr Cymru to see if someone there would give me access to the works and perform a ceremonial filling-of-bottle from the ‘source’.That hasn’t happened. And as usual, I’ll just have to blag it instead. But it’s a good excuse to start ‘engaging’ from the very first step. In at the deep end.
As always I’m ready (I know where I’m going) and not-ready (I don’t know what i’m doing) at the same time. I’m nervous. I’m plagued by the usual anxiety: will people talk to me? And if they don’t, how do i talk to them?
For once though, I’m feeling emboldened and inspired by an incredible day at WMC in Cardiff yesterday with the mind-blowingly brave and talented young recruits of Bryony Kimmings’s The Boys Project. This is an ambitious long-term art-activism project making ‘peace warrior artists for positive social, political and media change’ from an ‘army’ of young men (18-25) recruited from council estates across the UK. Currently the lads are ‘tooling up’,at a number of training days addressing politics, media, art and activism. I was asked to offer a short provocation based on my practice – about finding creative ways to invite conversational encounters with strangers on foot (which is a slow activism of sorts), that could give rise to a meaningful conversation that shifts perception and challenges stereotypes. I was worried that my rural, low-fi, fluffy, eco-art practice would seem totally alien and irrelevant to this strongly urban, passionately political group. But they listened with such courteous attention and I was totally impressed with their willingness to embrace this whole idea so open-mindedly, so many of them going out into the streets of Cardiff for the afternoon ‘task’ and finding ways – more or less radical, creative, unsettling, funny, beautiful – to engage in conversation with strangers about issues as diverse as climate change, race, benefits, voting and homelessness. Their willingness to embrace a ‘softer’ form of activism – when they are truly passionate-to-the-point-of-(sometimes)anger about the issues they hold dear (and are well-informed about) – has made me feel braver about being bolder and more direct with this work. Their passion translated through these creative, convivial acts into what felt like a sort of ‘radical tenderness’; something I’m going to try to cultivate and practice.