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Gemma Copeland

Writing

 — Alive in the sunshine

I recently read Our Shared Storm by Andrew Dana Hudson, a speculative fiction novel based on each of the five climate-modelling scenarios in the latest IPCC report. It’s got me thinking obsessing a little about solarpunk!

Solarpunk is an optimistic vision of the future where we’re in dynamic balance with environmental systems. It’s polyphonic, abundant, collective, anti-capitalist and decolonial. What I like about it is that it’s not just an aesthetic or genre or utopian vision for the future, it’s something you can do and be in the present. In Jay Springett’s words:

Solarpunk as a movement is building new futures in the minds of individuals but also creating and inspiring communities to DIY their own better futures into existence from the bottom up.

Still from Howl's Moving Castle.

Solarpunk fiction

I think most of the science fiction I read these days could be defined as solarpunk. This list of solarpunk canon by Paul Fletcher Hill reads like a list of my favourite books:

(I’d add Station Eleven and Half Earth Socialism as well.)

Solarpunk societies

In Our Greatest Political Novelist, Tim Kreider outlines Kim Stanley Robinson’s usual ingredients for his [solarpunk] utopias:

He scavenges ideas from the American Constitution, the Swiss confederacy, “the guild socialism of Great Britain, Yugoslavian worker management, Mondragon ownership, Kerala land tenure, and so on” to construct his utopias.

Most of these utopias include:

  • common stewardship—not ownership—of the land, water, and air
  • an economic system based on ecological reality
  • divesting central governments of most of their power and diffusing it among local communities
  • the basics of existence, like health care, removed from the cruelties of the free market
  • the application of democratic principles like self-determination and equality in the workplace—which, in practice, means small co-ops instead of vast, hierarchical, exploitative corporations—and,
  • a reverence for the natural world codified into law.

While in Berlin earlier this year I saw Adam Greenfield’s lecture at the Weizenbaum Conference. I missed the first bit of it, which apparently was very doomy, but made it for the second half where he talked through his vision for the future, which I would argue is a solarpunk one:

  • Local community infrastructure, made/adapted/reused from available materials
  • Short supply chains
  • Independence from the grid
  • Lightweight, convivial technologies
  • Local knowledge of how to build and maintain systems
  • An ethos of maintenance, repair and mutual care

Solarpunk now!

A few places I’ve visited this year that have tangibly felt solarpunk:

The Future Food System house in Melbourne

A self sustaining, zero waste, productive house that demonstrates the potential of our homes to provide shelter, produce food and generate energy.

A 3D model of the Future Food System house.

The Floating University in Berlin

A series of DIY structures floating in a rainwater retention basin next to the former Tempelhof airfield.

An inner city laboratory for collective, experimental learning, knowledge transfer and the formation of trans-disciplinary networks to challenge routines and habits of urban practices.

A photo of the Floating University auditorium and kitchen. The structures are made of reclaimed wood and white fabric, perched over the water.

documenta 15

This year’s documenta was directed by a collective from Indonesia called ruangrupa and centred around the values of lumbung.

lumbung, which directly translates as “rice barn”, refers to a communal building in rural Indonesia where a community’s harvest is gathered, stored and distributed according to jointly determined criteria as a pooled resource for the future.

The lumbung practice enables an alternative economy of collectivity, shared resource building, and equitable distribution. lumbung is anchored in the local and based on values such as humor, generosity, independence, transparency, sufficiency, and regeneration.

Further reading


 — The path to the Acropolis

We were in Athens last week, so naturally we visited the Acropolis. What surprised me was that the pathway to the Acropolis is a masterpiece in its own right. (Thanks to my dad for sharing this.)

One of Pikionis' sketches of the pathway, in plan view.

Designed in the mid-50s by Dimitris Pikionis, it’s a collage of historical references, regionalism and modernism. They build it with reclaimed stones from demolished buildings nearby, celebrating their imperfections and making a direction connection to the local history.

Throughout the path, there are bold, gestural forms made from concrete, inspired by the artwork of Paul Klee. By choosing a modernist material like concrete, Pikionis created a dialogue with the International Style of architecture that was spreading throughout Athens at the time.

A photo of the gestural concrete forms amongst the stone pathway.

What I loved most was that he worked with local craftsmen and let the design emerge from the bottom up:

Pikionis enlisted a crew of skilled local Greek artisans and craftsmen to work the stones and materials. At the outset of the construction, Pikionis eschewed typical dogmatic plans and chose to set the tone for the design through few drawings. He encouraged the local workers to the find the path within the landscape and imbue the materials with their own particular spirit and design through shapes, textures, and patterns. Pikionis was employing the traditional method of the master builder, constructing the site through the hands of the craftsmen and generating a pluralistic design.

Detail sketches by Pikionis showing permutations of the stone patterns.

Lisbon

My wonderful friend Linsey made us a guide to Lisbon, filled with natural wine spots and local, seasonal food. Particular favourites were Senhor Uva and Comida Independente. We also stumbled on Bar Boca one night, a tiny natural wine bar in Alfama that does vegan tapas.

A corner in Lisbon's Anjos area. One wall is covered in the classic blue and white tiles, in dappled sunlight.

One of the highlights was the Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar. I love his work, so colourful and joyful. The exhibition we saw was all about how he explored narrative and classic mythology in his work.

A banner outside the gallery. On one side is a vine-covered wall and on the other are some more tiles.

A close-up of one of Pomar's paintings – abstract and gestural, in warm colours.

I’ve been really enjoying Panda Bear and Sonic Boom’s new album Reset. When we were in Lisbon I discovered that Panda Bear has been living there since 2004!

Water and its memory

At the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, I was pleasantly surprised by a map of the Brisbane River at the beginning of their Reclaim the Earth exhibition. It was part of a series of works by Judy Watson, an Indigenous Australian artist.

One of Judy Watson's pieces.

The works all centred around water and its memory, responding to both the history of the Seine and in Queensland. She sources artificial and organic materials to make natural dyes, then lets the pieces evolve in open air and on the ground.

Her creative process leaves room for the accidental and the random, and for the effects of time, environment, and natural material on her work in a context of deep climate change. The artist’s method evolves by working from site and memory, revealing Indigenous histories, following lines of emotional and physical topography.

Practicing

In Rotterdam, I visited my friend Ben at Extra Practice, a studio space he shares with four of his friends. It’s a wonderful converted shopfront on a corner, glass windows open to the world. Same energy as Evening Class, except it’s amazing how much further you can take it if you do it outside of London.

While I was there, we did a show for their radio station Good Times Bad Times. It was a lot of fun! They’ve just started a new “season” centred on refusal, which linked in really nicely with some of the themes I’ve been thinking about too.

We also visited Varia during their open hours. We were just planning to drop by briefly but ended up staying for many hours – they even cooked us lunch. Really enjoyed hearing about their projects, how they got started, what they’ve been thinking about.

Nightjet

So excited to see the new Nightjet trains from OBB. They look so cozy! I would be happy to never set foot on a plane again if I could just travel around on one of these.

Nature?

Love this quote from a recent Kim Stanley Robinson interview:

Nature and natural are words with particular weights that are perhaps not relevant now. We are part of a biosphere that sustains us. Half the DNA in your body is not human DNA, you are a biome like a swamp, with a particular balance or ecology that is hard to keep going – and indeed it will only go for a while after which it falls apart and you die. The world is your body, you breathe it, drink it, eat it, it lives inside you, and you only live and think because this community is doing well. So: nature? You are nature, nature is you. Natural is what happens. The word is useless as a divide, there is no Human apart from Nature, you have no thoughts or feelings without your body, and the Earth is your body, so please dispense with that dichotomy of human/nature, and attend to your own health, which is to say your biosphere’s health.

Walkaway

I just read Walkaway by Cory Doctorow and really liked it. It felt clunky in parts (often this kind of idealistic sci-fi does) but I enjoyed a lot of the themes: post-scarcity, anarchism, refusal of bullshit jobs, open source everything, mutual aid.

He wrote a short article in Wired about it: Disaster Doesn’t Have to End in Dystopia.

One of the phrases that has been rattling around in my head after reading it is “slicing time thick”:

Even after years of walkaway, she was used to slicing time into rice-paper slices thin enough for one discrete thing, before moving onto the next. Most of the time, she rushed to complete this current moment before the next thumped the door. Every adult she’d known matched that rhythm, the next thing almost upon them, the current one had best be taken care of in haste. Etcetera sliced his time thick.

It’s something I’ve been trying to focus on over the last few weeks. I’m thankfully on holidays now, but in the lead up to my break I was feeling so burnt out and overwhelmed. The more exhausted I got, the more I would scramble around rushing through tasks and not doing a good job of anything.

I’m trying to focus on moving very slowly, not planning too much, not expecting too much of myself. Easier to do on holidays, of course, but I want to find ways to bring this slowness with me once I go back to work.

I learn more with each weaving I make.

A close up of a handwoven composition. It's quite freeform and the angle shows all the different textures.

This one is particular favourite of mine, made last month for H’s mum. It’s inspired by the colours and textures of the Welsh landscape: green hills, purple and red heather, mountains, lichen. I bought some roving from a local shop in Dolgellau – it’s incredibly soft, hand-dyed in purple, green and yellow. I also found some wool on our hike and added that in as clouds.

The same weaving, front on. It's made of green, purple, yellow, grey-brown and white wool.

Read more

 — No!

History is full of people who just didn’t. They said no thank you, turned away, ran away to the desert, stood on the streets in rags, lived in barrels, burned down their own houses, walked barefoot through town, killed their rapists, pushed away dinner, meditated into the light. Even babies refuse, and the elderly, too. All types of animals refuse: at the zoo they gaze dead-eyed through plexiglass, fling feces at the human faces, stop having babies. Classes refuse. The poor throw their lives onto barricades. Workers slow the line. Enslaved people have always refused, poisoning the feasts, aborting the embryos. And the diligent, flamboyant jaywalkers assert themselves against traffic as the first and foremost visible, daily lesson in just not.
No by Anne Boyer

Strike!

It’s a hot strike summer in the UK. Last week’s edition of The Week in Work was the longest ever. Transport workers, postal workers, barristers, lawyers, gravediggers, journalists – all on strike. Withdrawing our labour is the most powerful way for workers to say NO to exploitation.

Don’t!

Meanwhile, the energy crisis keeps getting worse. Now they’re predicting that energy bills will pass £5000 in January, while energy companies are reporting record profits. Two movements based on mass refusal have emerged in response – Don’t Pay and Enough is Enough.

The theory of change for Don’t Pay takes its inspiration from the Poll Tax protests in early 1990. They’re aiming to get a million people to pledge that they won’t pay their energy bills on 1 October, then use this bargaining power to get the government to intervene and reduce the bills to an affordable level.

Enough is Enough is led by MPs like Zarah Sultana and trade unionists like Mick Lynch. They’re planning to hold rallies, support picket lines and form community groups to deal with the crisis.

A pamplet from the Poll Tax protests. The headline says PAY NO POLL TAX.

No!

No, the 2012 film by Pablo Larrain, is based on the story of the plebescite in Chile that ended 15 years of Pinochet’s authoritarian rule. In it, an advertising professional and many other creatives support the campaign by creating joyful propaganda focused on how liberating and positive it would be to vote NO.

Poster from the film. It says NO in huge letters, with a rainbox behind.

Smash!

The Luddites were early nineteenth-century weavers who smashed the machines that were ruining their working conditions. Luddism is not about being scared of new technology (in the sense that the term is used today), it’s about being critical of any progress that makes life worse for people.

Though the Luddites are often only glibly referenced in modern debates, the truth is that they were directly concerned with conditions of labour, rather than mindless machine-breaking or some reactionary desire to turn back time. They sought to redefine their relationship with technology in a way that resisted dehumanisation.
— Lizzie O’Shea, Future Histories

A black and white print of two Luddites smashing machines.

Degrow!

Luddism might also link with the politics of degrowth, a movement that originated in the Global South and shares with Luddism an acknowledgement that liberation is not tied up with the endless accumulation of capital, and further, that well-being cannot be reduced to economic statistics.
— Gavin Mueller, Decelerate Now!

In Degrowth: No, let’s not call it something else, the authors argue again a common criticism of degrowth: that it’s too negative. That’s the point! Unlike net zero or green capitalism, degrowth doesn’t pretend that we can continue our current way of life with a few added solar panels.

It’s not going to be easy, but we must rapidly downscale our consumption in order to wrench ourselves away from our current trajectory. The potential, however, is that in leaping from this runaway train of constant growth and exploitation, we land somewhere much more abundant.

As adrienne maree brown says in Pleasure Activism:

Your no makes way for your yes.

How and I went for a hike in Snowdonia last weekend. Almost 40km of walking over two days. Over the last few months we’ve gradually been collecting all the basic kit you need for multiday hikes: tent, sleeping mats and bags, backpacks, this incredibly compact wood stove.

It was such an incredible hike. The weather was unusually warm and sunny – I just read that Snowdonia is one of the wettest parts of the UK, so it really was unusual. On the first day, we could see out to the ocean for most of the hike. We swam in a pool fed by a waterfall, walked through ferns and forests and across heather-covered hills. There was a tough bit when Komoot decided to take us across a difficult field without a real path, but we managed to find our way back again.

We camped by a lake (Llyn Du) on Rhinog Fawr. I took these three photos about an hour apart around sunset. Entranced by the changes in light over such a short time.

A small lake nestled into the side of a mountain, reflecting the sky. The sky is very blue with some clouds, and there are more mountains in the distance.
19:50:25

The same lake, closer. It's a bit darker now and the lake is reflecting the orange of the sunset and rocks above.
20:42:50

Now you can barely see the lake. The sky is soft blue and pink, which makes the heather in the foreground seem even more purple.
21:04:09

Tracing the history of enclosure with Eula Biss, collecting modern stories of commoning with Future Natures, dreaming and planning for a Half Earth Socialist future, and a little bit of solarpunk.

The Theft of the Commons

I immediately devour anything written by Eula Biss, so was very excited to see this article by her in the Sentiers newsletter a few weeks ago.

In the essay, she traces the history of the commons and enclosure, which began here in the UK.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common,
But lets the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

She debunks that awful essay “The Tragedy of the Commons” by the white nationalist Garrett Hardin. It’s so unfortunately that this idea / phrase has somehow wormed itself into popular consciousness when talking about the commons. It’s been decisively disproven by Elinor Ostrom, who became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for her work.

One of the things I love about Biss’ work is her ability to weave together so many different strands, wandering across topics like capitalism, feudalism, luddites, gleaners, nostalgia, art, myths, symbols, language, class.

I loved this quote:

The history of the distant past is often speculative. Like science fiction, it gives us a way of thinking about what might be possible, as much as what might have been. In this sense, both the past and the future are imaginary, but real, too, as ideas.

It ties in with the ideas from The Dawn of Everything, which we’re currently reading in Re-re-re-reading Group. In it, the Davids retell history to open up our imaginations, challenge commonly held beliefs and suggest that we might have done life and politics and society very differently in the past (and therefore, we might be able to do it differently again.)

“Would you go back?” strikes me as the wrong question to ask of nostalgia. The question, as Zadie Smith puts it, is how to “restate the things you find valuable in the past… in a way that’s livable in this contemporary moment.” How to locate the commons in a world that is mostly enclosed. How to recover a tradition of rebellion against monied claims to property. How to use machines rather than be used by them. How to be canny, like the workers of the past, and how to be conservationists, like commoners. We can learn from the time before enclosure, but we can’t go back there.

Eula Biss’ other books include Having and Being Had, about money, ownership, capitalism and class and On Immunity, about pandemics, vaccinations, individualism and community. Cannot recommend them enough.

Future Natures

Speaking of the commons, we just launched a new website for Future Natures, which explores the “emergent ecologies of commoning and enclosure through stories, arts and research.” It was such a great project to work on – the team was so easy to collaborate with and their research is so interesting. They have big plans for building up an international network of commoners so I’m really excited to see where it goes.

An image I designed for Future Natures with an comic by Tim Zocco. It shows an elf-like person on a flying scooter looking at an organic structure of entangled tentacles and mushrooms. The text says "Better futures are not only possible — they already exist in the making." The Future Natures logo is in the bottom left corner.

They’ve created this incredible comic that also explores the history of enclosure, the intersecting crises we’re living through and what commoning is and can be.

An excerpt from the comic. It has three panels showing people building solar panels, doing scientific stuff, farming, gardening and forestry.

Half Earth Socialism

I’ve just finished reading Half Earth Socialism by Drew Pendergrass and Troy Vettese.

The cover of Half Earth Socialism. It has a grey background and is covered in bright green cut-outs of fungi, plants and animals.

I was really impressed. It’s a short but dense book that covers a lot of ground, like a non-fiction chaser to The Ministry for the Future. They criticise mainstream environmental solutions, paint a picture of what a socialist utopia might look like (including a speculative fiction chapter inspired by William Morris’ News From Nowhere, which is clunky but quite sweet) and outline a clear plan on how to get there.

Enough should be a human right, a floor below which no one can fall; also a ceiling above which no one can rise. Enough is as good as a feast—or better.
— Kim Stanley Robinson, Ministry for the Future

They also worked with Francis Tseng and Son La Pham to create a Half Earth Socialism game. I played it straight after finishing the book. It was really fun and helped drill home some of their ideas. It felt very moving to be able to pass policies and take action to address climate change, and then to watch as these played out and some of our worst possible futures be avoided.

On the other hand, it felt overwhelming to think on a global scale and 80 years into the future. While I agree with most of the ideas that the book proposes, just the thought of us actually succeeding to implement them at the speed and scale we need feels almost impossible. Still, I think it’s so useful to have these ideas laid out so clearly, as a discussions point or north star.

Your lifetime bridges centuries of harm that set the stage for climate change and centuries of healing that need to start now. Just be a bridge.
– Elizabeth Sawin

Refuge for Resurgence

We went to the Barbican’s Our Time on Earth exhibition a few weeks ago. It was pretty disappointing. It’s probably partially because I spend a lot of time thinking and reading about these topics already, but the ideas they proposed just seems so cliched/unambitious/self-indulgent. Eirini Malliaraki summarises it well in this thread.

However, I did enjoy the window view designed by Superflux and Sebastian Tiew – love a bit of post-capitalist solarpunk ambiguous utopia!

Still from an ambient video. It shows a future city that is clearly in a world of increased temperatures and sea level rise. Although the buildings are a bit run-down and patchily repaired, there are high tech elements like solar panels and wind turbines. It looks like nature has taken back the city somewhat, with lush green plants growing on every surface and birds in the distance.

A couple of super nice interviews and essays by women I admire:

Alice Grandoit-Sutka, co-founder of DEEM Journal, on how to generate new possibilities:

I want a practice that is both critical and generative. Sometimes we can invest a lot of energy critiquing what was, which can block or limit the potential to cultivate possibilities of what could be.

Sunrise Movement’s Varshini Prakash on how she deals with climate grief:

I find that the key to staying optimistic or having hope is – well, not spending too much time on Twitter – but also really allowing yourself and honoring the feeling grief, pain and fury and whatever is moving through you. In the climate movement, people can lose themselves in the gloom and doom or pretend everything is OK and not process the grief. So, a big thing for me is creating strategies to feel the full scope of the emotional intensity of work — journaling, meditation. We have a strong storytelling culture in our organization and ensuring that I am not letting myself numb or get subsumed by the emotional intensity of what I’m feeling. And having a strong spiritual practice of gratitude. There is something about being really intimate with the potential demise of the world that makes you almost ironically really intimate with the beauty of it and the immense gratitude we should feel to be here. Being able to hold both of those things at once is key to my ability to persevere.

Food writer Alicia Kennedy on abundance:

The flexibility provided by a specific kind of abundance—extra pumpkin, banana blossoms blooming, an excess of food, period, growing in the garden to give away—rather than the idea of abundance we’ve been sold, quite literally, being access to anything at any time to buy is what fuels creativity, excitement, a feeling of safety in the midst of an uncertain future. Abundance doesn’t have to be gifted to us; it can be cultivated. It can be a choice we make, in order to take care of each other and the earth. The world is abundant, I remind myself again in a dark time. I pray it. We just have to be sure to see it that way, to share it that way.

The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.
— David Graeber

Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative

Last weekend we visited How We Live Now at the Barbican, an installation exploring the work of the Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative.

Matrix was a women-led worker co-op that existed in London from 1980–1994. They challenged patriarchal norms and worked in a way that would still be seen as radical today.

They worked in collaboration with people who were usually excluded from the design process, on buildings that were usually ignored by male architects: women’s centres, childcare groups, housing co-ops. They also conducted research, ran a book group and a support group, and educated women in skills like technical drawing, building law and construction practices.

All this while Thatcher was prime minister! So impressive.

A promotional poster for Matrix, printed in black and red ink. It's composed of a grid of hexagons, some containing images, some with handwritten text and some with illustrations.

— Poster (1979), from the online archive of Matrix’s work

We Are ‘Nature’ Defending Itself

We also went to the launch of a new book called We Are ‘Nature’ Defending Itself: Entangling Art, Activism and Autonomous Zones. The two authors, Isabelle and Jay, coordinate the art activism group The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination (among many other things) and live within the ZAD de Notre Dame des Landes.

A black and white illustration from the inside cover of the book. It looks almost like a tarot card. There are stars in the sky and a foreboding owl infront. In the foreground, a woman with a gas mask on is emptying a bucket of water into a stream while she looks up into the distance. There are two figures in the background passing another bucket between each other.

— Illustration by Amanda Priebe

The ZAD NDDL is an autonomous zone that begun to protest a new airport that the government planned to build on agricultural land. Activists and environmentalists started to squat in the area, alongside local farmers, and gradually built an entire self-organised community.

Over the years there have been several attempts by the state to evict the people living there and destroy their buildings, but this has been met with lots of resistance and solidarity from all over France. The airport plans have now been cancelled: a huge victory, although very hard won. They seem to now have reached an uneasy truce with the state – they’re negotiating for legalisation so they can stay on the land in perpetuity.

Isabelle and Jay told us about their practice and how they ended up at the ZAD. They were working in London (as academics, I think) and doing their art and activism on the side. They don’t see art and activism as two separate things. In their practice, they worked with both, in a participatory and pedagogical way.

At some point, they realised that they couldn’t live in the city any longer. They felt that cities are designed to keep us all divided from each other. They quit their jobs and travelled around Europe for a while, visiting communities and co-living projects throughout.

They settled in northern France for a while and began a housing co-op, but later realised that they still had a mindset of always travelling and moving around for their art practice. They needed to become more grounded into one place, and wanted to find a way to connect art, activism and everyday life. “Why can’t life be art?”

A hand-drawn map showing the various collectives, buildings and animals within the ZAD
Map of the ZAD

They ended up at the ZAD. They shared stories of the repeated attacks on the ZAD by the state, and the messy, complex, everyday reality of building a commons. You can watch two short documentaries that they made about the history and one about the how people there live now.

They see creation and resistance (yes and no) as two interlocking strands, like DNA. You can’t have one without the other. The counterculture of the 60’s was just about “dropping out” of society and alternative living, which made it easy for Silicon Valley to appropriate its ideals to capitalist ends. This made me think of my post about community gardens. They even said something like “if we don’t resist the extractivist death drive of capitalism, your community garden is going to be underwater.”

Excited to read the book!

Edgeryders

Finally, the other day I came across The Reef, a communal living project in Brussels initiated by Edgeryders. I really hope they succeed! I want to live somewhere like this so much.

 — Warp, weft

I did a weaving workshop last week and really loved it. I’ve been on the lookout for a new tactile hobby for a while. Tried pottery a few times but just didn’t enjoy it that much – just couldn’t get the hang of the wheel and never enjoyed the process very much. I think weaving could be the one. I’m recording some of what I learned here so I don’t forget them, but this is by no means a how-to guide. I have no idea what I’m doing!


The warp is the strong vertical threads that provide a structure for the weaving. The weft is the threads that you weave through the warp horizontally. We were using lap looms in this workshop, which seem to be the easiest type of loom to learn.

A black and white diagram illustrating warp and weft threads.

Begin by warping the loom: wind strong, plain cotton thread around the notches at the top and bottom. We added a folded piece of cardboard across the bottom of the warp, to keep from going too close to the edge of the loom.

If you want a fringe at the bottom, start by adding that. Cut some even lengths of thread and lie them on top of two warp threads, then loop them under so they’re hanging off the bottom of the warp. Repeat along the whole row.

In the workshop, we just did a tabby weave, which is the most simple weaving technique. Pull the weft thread over the first warp thread, under the second, over the third, and so on. Once you’ve reached the other side, go back in the opposite direction.

I hadn’t realised how grid-based weaving is – the warp provides a regular but invisible grid of columns. Build up shapes vertically with the weft, beginning at the bottom and working upwards. Add variation by changing how far along the columns you weave the thread.

Change threads to switch up the colours and textures. You can even alternate and blend colours within the same row. I love how this looks! You can use a photo for reference, or else just create an abstract composition. I find the abstract compositions much more appealing and really want to try to make something as freeform as this.

Make sure to tuck the ends of the threads back into the weaving. Otherwise, they’ll hang out the sides of the finished piece. Don’t pull the thread too tight at the edges or else it will start to become an hourglass shape.

Once you’ve finished your composition, cut your warp from the loom and double-knot the thread at the top and bottom. Attach a dowel to the top so you can hang it.


Afterward I immediately went and found a bunch of amazing textile artists, of course. I really like weaving as a concept and a metaphor as well. It feels like a feminist practice in more ways than one! 🕷


I’m going through all my Pocket articles that I’ve favourited by not archived, which means that Past Gem thought they were important enough to revisit. Let’s see what I find…

Statements Towards the Establishment of a Proof-of-Rest Protocol

A response to the senseless wastefulness of proof-of-work cryptocurrencies, which use up energy to generate artificial scarcity and profit.

Rather than burning ourselves out in bullshit jobs, why don’t we rest and do nothing? If anything, we need to be saving our capacity for transitioning to a post-capitalist society.

A sustainable way of life will necessarily require us to be more in balance with the natural rhythms of our bodies and the world around us, leaving time for rest, repair and regeneration.

An animated gif of a tiny white cat. It runs across the screen and then curls up and falls asleep.

Who Taught Me

I found Aimi Hamraie’s work via Futuress and really liked their take on an “About” page. It’s an incomplete list of all the people, stories, lessons and situations that have shaped them and their world view. It made me wonder what I’d put on my own list.

Indigenous World Views

Super interesting critique of permaculture and regenerative agriculture from an indigenous perspective.

Indigenous cultures often share the view that there is no good, bad, or ideal—it is not our role to judge. Our role is to tend, care, and weave to maintain relationships of balance.

The Strategic Independent

I’ve been gradually working my way through all of Tom Critchlow’s essays. To the point where it has become a joke within the co-op.

He’s writing a book (also available online) about how independent consultants can work in more strategic and effective ways. Basically: working smarter, not harder – being curious and spending more time understanding the broader context of one’s work.

Developing our new Systemic Design Framework

An evolution of the divergent and convergent thinking Double Diamond. It recognises the non-linearity of complex problems and the invisible activities that support and interact with the design process. Really interesting explanation by Cat Drew of how the framework emerged and the thinking behind it.

A diagram of the systemic design framework. It's a circle divided diagonally into quarters, to represent the invisible activities that underpin design: Orientation & Vision Setting, Connections & Relationships, Leadership and Storytelling, Continuing the Journey. In the centre of the circle is a double diamond, illustrating the four stages of the design process: Explore, Reframe, Create, Catalyse.

Community Tech in Action

Rachel Coldicutt and the team at Promising Trouble / Careful Industries have been producing some really interesting work. In this series, they explain the research they’ve done into the motivations behind and potential for community tech projects. Tools that are custom-built, rather than just stringing together off-the-shelf consumer tech that aren’t fit for purpose. Basically Common Knowledge’s reason for existence!

What does Community Even Mean?

Short essay on how we need to update our conception of community. They suggest this a new definition, in which care, belonging and shared identity is key:

Community = a group of people that care about each other and feel they belong together.

They argue that only sharing a common goal does not a community make:

I believe that every community needs to have an internal purpose first to truly function as a community. Without trust and relationships, it becomes a project, an initiative, a movement.

I liked the look of the open source Community Canvas linked at the end.

The Intelligent Forest

An excerpt from Suzanne Simard’s book Finding The Mother Tree. Forests are complex, emergent, ever-changing, self-organising systems – somewhat like a society, an orchestra, a family or a brain.

Recognizing that forest ecosystems, like societies, have these elements of intelligence helps us leave behind old notions that they are inert, simple, linear and predictable — notions that have helped fuel the justification for rapid exploitation that has risked the future existence of creatures in the forest systems, like us.

Mind in the Forest

More forests! A lyrical essay on meditation, animism, impermanence and meaning.

Only cosmic arrogance tempts us to claim that all this reaching for sunlight, nutrients, and water means nothing except what we say it means. But if it bears a grander significance, what might that be, and what gives rise to such meaning? What power draws the elements together and binds them into a spider or a person, a fern or a forest? If we answer, “Life,” we give only a name, not an explanation.

A LIDAR scan of a forest.

Conversation is Not a Master’s Tool

An interview between Scalability Project and adrienne maree brown. I was drawn to the question about citations, relations and conversation:

SCALABILITY PROJECT: Reading through your texts, we were inspired by how generously you use citations. What you describe above reminds me of your adoption of the Mervyn Marcano quote “Move at the speed of trust.” You also quote Farhad Ebrahimi: “An ecosystem is not just a list of living things … It’s the set of relationships between those living things.” Could you expand more on this nonlinear process of relations, especially in connection to conversation?
BROWN: I love this question because that quote and the practice of citation are the same. I am not a solitary thinker, solitary learner, or solitary channel of these universal wisdoms and universal truths. I’m constantly learning from other people. And I weave. We all weave in different ways. What is the tapestry of lessons and wisdom that is unique for me? Each person ends up with a different tapestry, but you start to see patterns amongst them. And the pattern for me is something infinite.

A couple of months ago, we decided that all co-op members should move to a four-day week at no loss of pay. We think it’s a really important demand, an idea whose time has come, and we wanted to try it out for ourselves. So far, it’s been super successful. We all feel happier and like we have a better work-life balance, yet we’re just as—if not more—productive. I’ve written a bit more about why we did this over on the Common Knowledge blog.

For myself, I wanted to have a day off for my own practice, to write and to relax. I also thought that I could use the time to get more involved in the climate justice movement. I immediately went along to a few different remote organising meetings, but they just made me feel even more burnt out. It was too close to my day-to-day work, and I just didn’t have the energy to spend my free time sitting on the dreaded Zoom.

I started looking for an alternative way to spend my day off. I’ve always loved growing plants, and for a while I’ve been trying to learn more about regenerative farming, foraging and food sovereignty. I looked for a community garden near me and found the Golden Hill Community Garden. Luckily, their volunteer day falls on a Wednesday, which I’d already decided would be my day off.

The Golden Hill community garden, with a polytunnel on the left. The photo has been highly edited to make it teal and pink, but you can make out some people standing around and some leafy trees.

Spending some time helping in the garden has been so restorative for me. I joined in late summer so I got to share in the abundant harvest: each week we harvest some of the veggies and take them home afterwards. They taste so much better than anything you can buy. I (really) love weeding, I love being outside all day, I love learning about all the different plants and how to care for them.

One day Lucy, the community project worker, was talking about how much she likes to flip through the daily log from the previous decade, because she can read about her and the volunteers doing the same activities they do every year: harvesting this plant, maintaining this part of the garden. There’s something reassuring and beautiful about having deep roots in one place, knowing that the same cycle will repeat year after year. It probably seems obvious, but as someone who moves around a lot, I’m really starting to see the appeal in this.

There was actually an article about Golden Hill in The Guardian the other day, about the rise of community gardens. Lucy describes community gardens as “revolutionary in a quiet way”. Lately I’ve been thinking about this a lot — how important it is to find the right type of activism.

I spend everyday at work thinking about grassroots activism (or organising or social change or whatever you want to call it) in some form. Yet for some reason, I always feel guilty, I worry that I’m not doing enough or that I’m a fraud… all that good stuff. I have a lot of eco-anxiety. And I’ve read about how eco-anxiety is problematic and white, so now I have guilt about my my anxiety too. Unsurprisingly, this is exhausting and completely unsustainable. At best, it’s silly, and at worst, it’s counterproductive. You can’t contribute to a movement if you’re burnt out.

A bucket of sea buckthorn, sitting on a wooden table.

Helping out a community garden helps me recalibrate, slow down, spend time away from my computer and see things from a different perspective. In some ways, it feels like an antidote to thinking and reading and talking and worrying about climate change on a daily basis. Rather than thinking about global crises, economic levers, parts per million, I’m thinking on a hyperlocal scale, about the soil and plants right in front of me.

There is such urgency in the multitude of crises we face, it can make it hard to remember that in fact it is urgency thinking (urgent constant unsustainable growth) that got us to this point, and that our potential success lies in doing deep, slow, intentional work.

— adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy

Freshly picked flowers from the garden.

With something as unimaginably huge as climate change, the only viable response is through collective action. However, this can take so many different forms, not just direct action or lobbying. This isn’t to say those things aren’t vital – they are. But everyone can find a role that suits their own particular skills, interests, capacity and strengths. Each role is just as important as the next.

Lots of people have made different attempts at categorising these different roles. In The Shock Doctrine of the Left, Graham Jones describes a four-part framework of mutually reinforcing organising strategies: Smashing, Building, Healing and Taming. Similarly, Bill Moyer identifies four roles in his Movement Action Plan: Helper, Organiser, Rebel, Advocate. I think I’ve always been most interested in contributing by “building” viable alternatives like cooperatives and community groups.

We can do, be, and create whatever we want to see, knowing ours is one effort in the midst of many, and the multitude is where our power lies.

— adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy

A few recent contributions to various publications:

Caps Lock

I spoke to Ruben Pater about Common Knowledge for Caps Lock, his new book about graphic design and capitalism. The interview was mainly centred on how Common Knowledge works on a practical level, both internally and in collaboration with others. Ruben’s done such a great job with the book, I’m really proud to be involved and glad that a book like this exists! It’s so important to demonstrate alternatives to traditional design practice, and I think he does a good job of making it super accessible.

A animated GIF showing a person's hands picking up the Caps Lock book and flicking through the pages

There’s More Than One Way to Share Your Design Work

I wrote a short explanation of the design of this very website (meta!) for an AIGA article about alternative approaches to design portfolios.

How to Run a Design Sprint

I gave a very brief explanation of the Google design sprint methodology for Stir To Action’s summer issue, with examples of how we used it in collaboration with Cooperation Town.

 — Unravel from toxic individualism

A few months ago I spoke at a panel discussion for CSM students. It was a partnership with Thames & Hudson and Design Observer to accompany their new edition of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1841 essay, Self-reliance. The event aimed to explore what it means to graduate during a crisis after 1+ years of disrupted education.

While I totally agreed with this premise and wanted to contribute, the essay itself and the choice to republish it really grated on me. Of course, it was written in the 19th century, so I can’t really blame Emerson for being a few centuries behind the intersectional feminist, post-colonial and post-humanist thinking. Still, it feels strange to me that the publishers are pointing to the power of individualism as a way to deal with social, political, economical and environmental upheaval. This idea that we’re all individuals and that there’s no such thing as society has been one of neoliberalism’s greatest triumphs.

I wrote a somewhat ranty post about the essay to sort through why I had such a problem with it. I didn’t publish it at the time, but I find myself still thinking about this question of individualism a few months later, so figured I may as well.

Read more

I’ve recently started using Storygraph (thanks Sonia) to track the books I’m reading. It’s a not-Amazon alternative to Goodreads.

When you sign up, you’re asked you a series of questions about the kinds of books you like. It also analyses the mood, pace and genre of the books you read, and then recommends more books based on this. I never actually used Goodreads (I had some low-fi Arena channels for tracking books instead), so I’m really enjoying these kind of features. Apparently I mainly read “slow-paced fiction books that are reflective, informative, and adventurous”.

It seems quite hard to find people you know on the platform, so follow me if you have it (@gemcopeland)!

 — Exploring maps

A collage made from LiDAR imagery of the Amazon rainforest, a map of the video game Subnautica and a Micronesian navigational chart

Maps seem to be the most consistent thing that people ask us to do at Common Knowledge. We don’t know entirely what it is, but people love maps. Not only do organisations love them, they seem to test really well when we do usability testing as well.

We have a couple of particularly interesting mapping projects on at the moment, so while I’ve been ambiently researching interesting maps on Arena for a while, I’ve recently started doing more reading about cartography as well.



Shannon Mattern’s wonderful article How to Map Nothing seeks out the gaps in the map: cartographies of erasure, absence, refusal and exclusion. For something about nothing, it is overflowing with references, projects and ideas. Lots to explore!

We have plenty of maps and data visualizations that trace the macro-scale public health and political-economic forces that precipitated the “Great Pause”; but we have relatively few that show all those under-appreciated agents that are making it possible — all the something anchoring and abetting that nothing, all the pulsing activity powering the pause. So it’s worth exploring the ways in which maps and other forms of indexical spatial data are registering the ambiguities, contradictions, and inequalities inherent in this geography of suspension — an ostensible pause that instead merely extends, and in many ways exacerbates, the injustices of our society and the inadequacies of our ways of conceptualizing and modeling city life.

Mapping’s Intelligent Agents is another great essay, this time focusing on Other approaches to cartography:

Ideally, we should balance or juxtapose different modes of knowledge and production: Western scientific and indigenous epistemologies, human and other-species ontologies, mechanical and organic means of experiencing and representing place, cartographic rationalism and empiricism, projection and retrospection. No single über-map can encompass all such subjectivities and sensibilities. Instead, we can aim for an atlas, a prismatic collection of mappings, that invites comparison and appreciation of the ways in which our world is both known and unknown.

Mattern is currently teaching a class called Mapping the Field, which I wish I could take. Luckily, she’s put the entire syllabus, presentations and reading list online.

In Here Be Dragons, Lois Parshley explores the unknown places that we’re still trying to map: the Arctic, black holes, the ocean floor. She also considers how mapping intersects with health, deprivation and natural disasters. She references Missing Maps, an open, collaborative project where anyone can volunteer to help map areas that are at risk of disaster or crisis.

I also found this offline-first, open-source tool called Mapeo. It allows communities to document, monitor and map data, and was co-designed with indigenous partners in the Amazon.

For a completely different viewpoint, I really enjoyed reading about literary maps and the design of open world video games.

Next, I think I’m going to read Data Feminism by Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein, which I’ve been meaning to read for a while.

 — Hope in work & joy in leisure

Happy May Day!

An illustration from 1895, featuring a barefooted woman surrounded by a May Day garland with slogans woven amongst the flowers and grasses. Some of the slogans include "The cause of labour is the hope of the world" and "No people can be free while dependent for their bread". At the bottom, the text says "A Garland for May Day 1895, dedicated to the workers by Walter Crane".

It’s pretty wild to read about the origins of May Day. Workers had to fight so hard just to get an eight-hour day, which we now all take as given. Happy to see that it was Australian stonemasons who were the first to strike as part of the eight-hour day movement.

Eighteen Black Cats

A TV screen in a gallery space showing a live video feed of the sky above. The sky is mainly blue with some wispy clouds. The video is captioned with a sentence that begins with "As he found no way back…".
Last week How had an exhibition here at Rupert, to show three of the works he’s been developing over the last few months. My favourite was the piece called Wool-gather:

Raising questions about machine consciousness and non-human creativity, Wool-gather brings together aeromancy, day-dreaming and cloud watching through machine learning and image processing. Pointing an object detection algorithm at the sky above Vilnius, the work uses the shapes of the clouds to generate meandering anecdotes and make whimsical predictions about the future.

It was really meditative to watch, very easy to just lie there and have the stories wash over you.

Listening and reading and watching

I watched Crip Camp the other evening, which I found really moving. The amount of fighting that disability activists did (and still have to do) to win the most basic rights is inspiring but also infuriating.

Related: Sonia recommended the Understanding Disability series by Nim Ralph, which unpacks the different models we use to understand disability, how these have developed over time and the impact this has on the lives of disabled people. Highly recommended.

Also thanks to Sonia (who is my main source of reading material these days) is this super interesting reflection on remote work. They argue that working remotely (or, working in distributed teams) removes work as the centre of meaning and fulfilment, allows us to build stronger communities where we live and, ultimately, live fuller lives.

Where and how to live has come up in a lot of conversations lately. Tom has told us about this collective in Sicily that is currently building a community and artist residency, and Anna keeps talking about tiny houses. I guess it’s a combination of the pandemic, being around our early 30’s and not wanting to move around or rent or sublet anymore. How and I still haven’t decided where to move now that we’ve left London, as the second wave has been worse and visas harder to come by than we expected. I really want to find somewhere (in Europe) that is pretty warm, close to nature but well-connected by train to a city… does this place exist?!

A dreamy illustration of a garden, mainly teal, green and dark purple with highlights in pink and blue.
▲ Screenshot from the Arkadia Zoomquilt

I’ve started listening to a lot of super interesting podcasts lately, all circling the same kinds of themes:

New Constellations

Each episode focuses on one person, who talks about their practice, shares their visions for the future, tells stories about their own experiences and approach to life. It’s really well produced and quite relaxing to listen to, because it’s strongly focused on hope and imagination and mutual flourishing.

For All I Care

A series focused on care and healing, presented by Nwando Ebizie. Each episode features a really interesting mix of guests: artists, activists, scientists and care-workers.

Thank you Linsey for the recommendation 🌸

Serpentine

I discovered that the Serpentine gallery has a really good podcast, particularly the episodes created in collaboration with Future Ecologies. Lots of episodes featuring artists and activists who are responding to the climate crisis.

Anything with adrienne maree brown…

I really enjoy listening to her, so I’ve been following How to Survive the End of the World, Octavia’s Parables and the Emergent Strategy podcast.

 — Weaving webs of reciprocity

This week I’m thinking a lot about Braiding Sweetgrass, because the forest floor is now covered in purple and yellow flowers (ground ivy and yellow anenome, I think).

A forest in Lithuania with purple and yellow flowers everywhere. In the background is tree covered in moss and lichen.

That September pairing of purple and gold is lived reciprocity; its wisdom is that the beauty of one is illuminated by the radiance of the other. Science and art, matter and spirit, indigenous knowledge and Western science—can they be goldenrod and asters for each other? When I am in their presence, their beauty asks me for reciprocity, to be the complementary color, to make something beautiful in response.

I really liked the book’s focus on reciprocity as a core principle of nature and means of collaborative survival and much else besides.

How do we refill the empty bowl? Is gratitude alone enough? Berries teach us otherwise. […] They remind us that all flourishing is mutual. We need the berries and the berries need us. Their gifts multiply by our care for them, and dwindle from our neglect. We are bound in a covenant of reciprocity, a pact of mutual responsibility to sustain those who sustain us.

 — Beyond precarity

Just read Brave New Alps’ contribution to Design Struggles. The book is available online in full. Their chapter, Design(ers) Beyond Precarity: proposals for everyday action, explores how to create the social and material conditions that make critical, transformative design practice possible.

I’ve done a handful of talks about my work with Common Knowledge and UVW Designers + Cultural Workers, and this is (unsurprisingly) the question that comes up the most from students. It’s one thing to point out all the problems in the industry and outline alternative ways of working, but how does a new graduate with very little experience carve out a critical practice? Where do you even begin?

A 19th century oil painting of an iceberg. The sky is a mix of reds, pinks, and blues, which are reflected in the water. A wooden ship sails close to the iceberg and looks diminutive in comparison.

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