Skip to main content

Skip to contrast setting

Gemma Copeland

Tag “photolog”

A steep, mossy slope leading down to a clear, still lake

A very misty Llyn Cau, halfway up Cadair Idris in Wales.

We hiked most of this trail through low clouds. We noticed it getting warmer as we got closer to the peak, and then suddenly we were above the clouds and in brilliant sunshine.

We made a last minute decision to spend a month on La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands. After six months of rarely travelling outside north London, it feels surreal to be in such a different environment*.

The island is small, roughly circular and very mountainous. This weekend we went for a hike in Garajonay National Park, which was such a contrast to the valley where we’re staying.

The mountains catch the clouds blown in by the trade winds, which means the centre is covered in subtropical forest, called laurisilva. This is the largest remnant of the type of forest that once covered much of Europe and North Africa. It’s quite amazing to wander through… the trees are dripping with lichen and water droplets.

Clouds moving across a forest-covered mountain

*This is also the closest you can get to the antipodes of Queensland, so I feel right at home.

We got some film from last year developed and I love the photos so much. Friendship ended with iPhone camera!

A snow-topped mountain in Wales with wispy clouds just above its peak and a tree in the foreground

A rocky ridgeline silhouetted against a pink and blue evening sky featuring a gibbous moon

A green and blue lake with reeds in the foreground

A tree with puffs of light pink flowers

A woman smiling and picking raspberries after a swim in the river

A cloud-forest in La Gomera, with sunlight streaming through the trees and hanging moss

A wave breaking around a rock on a black sand beach

The top of a mountain in Wales, with low clouds wafting over the grass

A misty road in La Gomera, with forest on either side

Ice crystals on some moss

Most of these are probably taken by HM.

 — Summer to spring

How and I went back to Australia for about three months during Southern Hemisphere summer. Now we’re back in the UK, enjoying the spring, seeing friends and family and cooperators, discussing lots of books and dreaming about what to do next.

A collage of three textures found in Australia.

Trip to Australia

This was by far the longest I’ve spent back there since I left ten years ago. I feel so grateful to have a place like that to go back to, to have the freedom to move, and to see friends and family for the first time in two very strange years.

We mainly stayed in Melbourne and worked remotely, which was a whole new challenge with an 11-hour time difference. We did also go to Queensland to see family, Minjerribah (our usual holiday spot when I was growing up and one of my favourite places in the world), Lennox Head and Brunswick Heads in northern NSW, and Tasmania.

A brilliant red and yellow sunset in rural Victoria. There is a farmhouse on the left. The grass looks quite dry and there are some eucalypts along the horizon.

A kangaroo standing in a field of grass, overlooking the sea, on Minjerribah. The sky looks quite overcast.

Visiting Tasmania was one of the highlights. It was my first time there and I was so in love with the natural beauty. It’s one of the first places in the world that’s gone carbon negative as they’ve shut down one of their big logging mills, so now their native forests absorb more carbon than the whole state emits. We saw so many animals there that don’t exist anywhere else.

A beach on Maria Island, Tasmania, with white sand and incredible turquoise sea.

A wombat on Maria Island, Tasmania.

We stayed for a week in a tiny house outside of Hobart. It was so dreamy: a huge window at the front looking out to the bay. They had an outdoor bath where you could look up into the eucalypts filled with birds.

The view from our tiny house.

One of our favourite parts of this trip was visiting Paprika and Benjamin in Launceston. They and their house full of books and garden full of veg really inspired us when thinking about how we want to live and where we want to go next.

The worst part of the trip was getting caught in the terrible East Coast floods and having to spend a week in an evacuation centre. More on that in another post, but it was a really intense, visceral reminder of the kind of world that we’re heading towards (that we’re already living in). The depressing thing is that the area flooded again about two weeks after we were there, and now Queensland is flooding yet again.

Right now

Now I’m back in London staying with friends while we work out what to do next. It is a joy to be here again, to spend time with people that I’ve barely been able to see for so long.

How and I spent last weekend in a place called Praktyka in Devon and came back very inspired. They spent 18 months travelling the world and visiting other places like retreats and cooperatives to define what kind of space they wanted to build together. I’m really excited to see how it develops.

Praktyka's geodesic dome in North Devon.

House dream

We’re definitely still in dreaming/planning mode, but How and I are hoping to find somewhere like this that we can make our own, to build a space where we can have friends visit, grow a garden, run a residency and maybe some type of event/community space.

Realistically we’re going to have to move out of south-east England to do this, so it’s been fun to explore the different options of where we could live. We’re hoping to spend some time over summer visiting a few places that are doing similar things in Italy and Spain.

I’m a little nervous of moving out of a city for the first time, particularly one where I have so many connections and there are so many opportunities. But we just feel so excited about the potential of a project like this. When I think about the times that I have been the absolute happiest, it would be summer 2019 when I stayed at Casa Sasso in Gambarogno and with Brave New Alps / La Foresta in Roverto. I just want that but… all the time.

Capital moves people around and draws them to the center: to find your luck you are urged to move from the village to the town, from the town to the regional capital, and from there to the metropolis. […] Resisting capital’s demand for constant movement is for some designers a strategy against precarisation.
Being exposed to precarity implies a constant temporariness, a constant flux of building and abandoning social and material structures, thus missing out on the possibility of creating interlinking infrastructures that can take us and others beyond precarity, infrastructures that can support critical practice through dire times.

– from Design(ers) Beyond Precarity: Proposals for Everyday Action by Brave New Alps

Reading groups

I’ve joined two remote reading groups. Both are open to join if you’re interested, dear reader.

One of them is Rererereading Group, which Paprika and Benjamin invited us to. So far we’ve read Blockchain Chicken Farm, which I enjoyed a lot, and The Question Concerning Technology in China, which I found too complex and philosophical so have dropped out for the time being. I have really enjoyed the calls that I have joined though – it’s just so fun to discuss a text so deeply with a small group and to deepen our understand together.

The other is a feminist sci fi reading group organised by Yuli. In our first session, 🌿 Entangling the Forest 🪱, we discussed Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest, Adam Curtis’ All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace and The Daoist Yin Principle in Ecofeminist Novels by Amy Chan Kit-Sze.

A screenshot from our first session of the sci-fi reading group.

I usually hate after hours Zoom calls as it feels too much like work and even during remote lectures I end up zoning out. But I just found this session so engaging and fun. More exciting than a lecture because there wasn’t any hierarchy – just a group of people exploring ideas together. Yuli did a really great job curating the readings so there was so many interlinked topics to dive into which made for a very rich discussion.

Lots of Taoist/Daoist themes running through both reading groups. Next I’d quite like to read Le Guin’s translation of the Tao Te Ching.

I just finished reading a book called The Feeling Buddha, so I’m thinking a lot about mindfulness and spirituality. I also started therapy, and all of these things feel like they’re combining in really generative and healthy ways.

The co-op

One of the nice things about being in London again is being able to spend time IRL with the rest of the co-op. We’re working from a space called Pelican House now, which is full of other left organisations like The World Transformed, Green New Deal Rising, Autonomy and London Renters Union.

The space got off to a bit of a slow start due to the pandemic, but it’s feeling more convivial now as people settle in. The hope is that the building will become a bit of a hub for the left in London.

At the moment, our co-op is trying to work out how to move into a calmer, slower, more abundant mindset. We’ve always had this as an intention, but the sheer amount of projects we’ve been working on and other pressures outside of our control have meant that we’ve slipped into frantic, scarcity thinking.

I feel really lucky (as ever) to have colleagues that are equally committed to thinking about collective care and addressing burnout. It does feel like things are gradually getting better in terms of our work-life balance.

The Beatles

Quite random, but it seems I’ve temporarily slipped into Beatlesmania after watching the Get Back documentary. I’ve never paid much attention to them before, but the film is a fascinating look into their creative process and their group dynamics. Now I can’t stop reading about them or listening to them. (Hopefully it’s just a phase.)

In general

At the moment I do feel a deep despair at climate inaction and the invasion of Ukraine and the (waves hands) state of the world. But then I’m oscillating between that and an intense gratitude for my present and excitement for our future plans. Trying to just ride the waves and direct these feelings towards doing something meaningful and generative with my time.

Bright purple flowers in Tasmania.

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

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.

 — Mushroom season

October is mushroom season! Last Saturday was particularly bright and sunny after a few days of rain, which is perfect for mushrooms. We went to Hampstead Heath with a few friends who forage mushrooms regularly.

A close-up of many tiny mushrooms growing out of a log.

We were lucky and found so many different varieties including honey fungus, black-staining polypores, laughing gym, curry-scented milkcap, fruity brittlegill, porcelain fungus, shaggy scalycap and the iconic fly agaric. Most of these were either inedible or poisonous, so we left them alone after identifying them. Some, like the honey fungus, are edible but we didn’t pick them because we found so many other “choice” mushrooms.

Maria holding the hen of the woods fungus that we found in one hand and a small knife in the other.

The tastiest find of the day was this hen of the woods. We also found some charcoal burners, parasols, cauliflower fungus and red cracked bolete, which we cooked and ate the next day (after extensive rounds of verification and double-checking.)

I enjoy the process of finding mushrooms in itself, even if we didn’t eat them afterwards. It’s all about paying careful attention. It requires a different way of looking: soft, out of the corners of your eyes. There are certain trees, like beech and oak, where they’re more likely to grow around. Once you learn how to see them, it’s like unlocking a hidden visual layer on the world. Suddenly, there are mushrooms everywhere.

My hand holding a bolete, flipped upside down. The stem is red and the underside of the mushroom cap is very porous.

To identify the species, you need to pay even closer attention, examining the mushroom’s structure, shape, texture, gills and smell. I’m following Emergence Magazine’s Writing From the Roots course at the moment and identifying mushrooms reminds me of some of the writing exercises we’ve done: gradually zooming in on something and describing it in closer and closer detail each time.

It takes loads of practice to safely forage mushrooms and I’m not sure we would have eaten any without the guidance of our friends. They recommended two apps for identifying mushrooms: Picture Mushroom and Shroomify. I’ve heard that Mushrooming with Confidence is a really useful identification guide that only includes mushrooms that aren’t easy to mix up with a poisonous doppelgänger. There are also good videos online by Wild Food UK.

🍄

 — Centre for Alternative Technology

Wales is absolutely beautiful at the moment (and always). The autumn leaves and soft sunlight turn the whole landscape golden and warm.

A photo of the Centre for Alternative Technology taken from the hill above. There are a number of usual building structures poking out from amongst the trees, as well as a windmill and a large wind turbine blade on its side. In the background there are hills covered in forest.

We visited the Centre for Alternative Technology last weekend. It’s an amazing place, built on top of a mountain of waste slate from a nearby disused quarry. The Centre was started by a group of people who moved there in the mid-70s. Their goal was to provide a space where people could test things out and learn how to live more lightly on the earth.

The conservatory of the "Whole House" building. It was constructed in the mid-70s to demonstrate insulation techniques like super thick walls and small windows, which are a bit outdated now.

It has examples of different renewable energy technologies, a collection of buildings demonstrating innovative architectural/construction techniques and a few different gardens. It’s all completely off grid, including running its own water and sewage systems.

It was so inspiring to spend time somewhere like this. You can feel how many different people will have contributed towards building the centre and its vision over the years. It really gave us the sense that most of the ideas we need to transition to a zero carbon economy are already there, tried and tested…

A geodesic dome greenhouse next to a tree-lined pathway. In the background is another windmill.

 — Reflections on 2022

This year has been a bit of a weird one because How and I still don’t have a permanent home. We spent the first three months with friends and family in Australia, three months living with friends in Camberwell, six weeks subletting a friends’ place in Hackney, six weeks of visiting friends and holidaying in Europe (Portugal, France, The Netherlands, Germany and Greece), some time at H’s parents place and a few months living in Wales.

A mural of a maroon, blue and gold butterfly that says "Camberwell Beauty".
▴ Camberwell Beauty

A volunteer day at a community garden. People are tending to the garden beds.
▴ Glengall Wharf Gardens in Camberwell

A moored canal boat. The sun is shining and it's mid-summer.
▴ Visiting Leila & Stu and their boat Dirty Penny in Oxford

Parisian apartment blocks at twilight. The lights are on and they look warm and cozy against the evening sky.
▴ The view from Luke & Reba’s place in Paris

This year we did a few more multiday hikes and I hope next year we’ll do many more. I find hiking to be so meditative. I love walking through different landscapes, being completely connected to my body, seeing the stars, waking up again in the middle of it.

Me standing in a field of heather with a hiking pack on. The sky is blue with some scattered clouds.
▴ Hiking near Coed y Brenin

Early evening by a beautiful lake. How is sitting in front of our tent. It looks peaceful and quiet.
▴ Camping next to Llyn Du

How swimming in a bright blue lake beneath a mountain.
▴ Swimming in Llyn y Gader

We also did a lot of camping with friends as it seemed to be everyone’s birthday celebration of choice this year. So much fun. I never did it much as a kid so it’s a bit unfamiliar to me but I’ve found I really love it.

A group of tents at the bottom of a lush green valley at sunset.

A group of people laughing by a campfire. It's a bit blurry.

I’ve really enjoying doing more weaving this year — I’ve made a few of them as gifts for friends and family.

Another big change was beginning therapy. I’ve been finding it transformative to have regular sessions. It’s helped me to reflect on big patterns in my life, pay attention to my body and learn frameworks for dealing with future situations, having difficult conversations and giving clean feedback.

Sunset on the estuary. The foreground is quite dark but you can vaguely see a car driving ahead of us.
▴ Driving along the coast in north Wales

Books

I read 40 books this year! The ones I enjoyed most were:

  • Ways of Being by James Bridle, which explores more-than-human intelligence through the lens of both technology and ecology.
  • Death by Landscape, Elvia Wilk’s collection of fan nonfiction essays on feminist sci-fi, solarpunk, larping, compost and ambiguous utopias.
  • The Actual Star by Monica Byrne, an epic sci-fi that jumps from an ancient Mayan civilisation to the present day to a far future post-apocalyptic utopia.
  • The Living Autobiography series by Deborah Levy.

I’ve also loved reading books together with Paprika, Benjamin, How and others in Rererererereading Group.

Work

To be honest, this was a tough year for Common Knowledge at times. Although we’ve had plenty of interesting and important work on, our finances at points over the year have been rocky. This has been due to a whole range of factors, some of which were out of our control and some which were just lessons we needed to learn the hard way.

Nevertheless, we’re ending it in a much healthier place than where we started and we’ve learned loads. I feel really optimistic about 2023 for us. We’ve made a lot of changes in how we run that I feel will protect us from future risk. In the meantime, if you think our work is important and want to support it, we have an Open Collective for donations.

Despite this turbulence, I think we’ve done some great work. The type of work we’re doing is evolving slightly. We did some much bigger projects (digital transformation projects rather than campaign websites) and more consultancy/coaching work (rather than delivery). I think both of these are a move in the right direction. The downside is that there’s a lot less to show for it at the end of the year, but I think that’s fine.

The good thing about these bigger projects is that we got to do more extensive research and discovery phases, which I deeply enjoyed. (Shout out to Dovetail for being the best research tool out there.) I feel like I learned a lot about interviewing people and I got over some of my insecurities around this. In particular, Will Myddelton’s framework for running discoveries provided us with a lot of useful guidance.

The biggest project we did was a complete redesign and replatform for Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, an international organisation focused on humanitarian action and community-led development through participatory mapping and open data. This was a huge undertaking but we all learned a lot and I’m proud of the result. HOT are still working on the content at the moment but hopefully the new site should be launching early next year.

I really enjoyed working with The Architecture Lobby. I interviewed a bunch of their organisers in the US, which was an interesting look at a different political landscape. We made recommendations for gradually streamlining their entire digital infrastructure alongside redesigning their website, which should also launch next year.

I coached participants of the UnFound Accelerator again this year, which is a program that helps founders turn their ideas into platform co-ops. I also got to (remotely) have a really interesting discussion with John Caserta and the Design & Politics students at Rhode Island School of Design. It was really nice to go back to doing some IRL talks/conversations this year too: at the Weizenbaum Conference in Berlin, with Good Times Bad Times in Rotterdam and at The Forest Multiple symposium in Cambridge.

We also had some internal changes within the team: we hired Anna T to help us manage our projects and the co-op in general, and Jamie joined us for a year-long placement from Kingston College of Art. We also did a lot more work with our associate members Everin and John. It’s so nice to have more people join the co-op and I really hope this continues next year. As ever, I feel so grateful that I get to do what I love with people who love it too.

Looking forward

Although it’s been wonderful to freely move around this year and see people that we haven’t seen in years, How and I are at the point where we really need to put down some roots and stay still for a while.

It’s taken quite a while to decide where we should live. I kept getting into endless cycles of rumination and indecision: weighing up options, worrying if they’re the right one.

One of the things that I’ve learned this year is that at a certain point, any decision is the right one. We just have to try it out and see. If we don’t like it, we can change our minds. It’s funny because this is one of the principles of sociocracy that is so foundational to our work at Common Knowledge: “is it good enough for now and safe enough to try?”

You can only ever choose to take the next most elegant step. The best decisions I’ve ever made have been full of uncertainty at the time: choosing to quit my job in Brisbane and spend six months in Europe (which has now become 10+ years); moving to London which led to getting involved with Evening Class and then Common Knowledge.

Anyway, what we’ve decided is to move to Lisbon early next year. If all goes well and it feels like a good fit, we’ll hopefully look for somewhere just outside one of the cities and start on our housing co-op dream. We’re inspired by people who are doing this already like re:gen, Casa Beatrix and Project Kamp in Portugal, as well as collectives like Robida and Brave New Alps in Italy. Who knows where this step will lead, but I’m very much looking forward to 2023.

A view of Alfama, with colourful houses dotted on the hillside and the river in the distance. It's sunset and the light is beautifully soft.
▲ Lisbon in late summer

Previous years