A Call to Farms: Continental Drift through the Midwest Radical Culture Corridor available from Heavy Duty Press. Documenting a dérive, or drift, in search of the radical culture of the Mid-West, this small publication, the work of many and distributed by Temporary Services/Half Letter Press in Chicago, is inspirational.
It starts with a sort of manifesto:
If you attend potlucks
If you live in a co-op
If you grow your own greens
If you conceive of art practice
as a form of social justice
If you speak against the settled history
of a place and work to expose its hidden
and haunted histories
If you have lost your house to
neighbourhood speculation run amok
If you farm food not fuel
If you attend letter-writing
If you want to shut down prisons
If you oppose the military industrial
complex in all forms
If you seek to create and sustain
If you live in an area that has been
written off as a cultural backwater
If you actively seek to gain and grow
knowledge from the people and places
the you are already part of the Cultural
Corridor of Midwest Radicals
The project resonates with my interests and experiences over many years. Tim Collins said during an email conversation about A Call to Farms,
“The dérive can be a good way of first mapping if you can take the time to wander, I am sure it would turn up something interesting in your corner. … Those involved in the dérive create a network of interest and purpose that may lead to other things. Once you can see the network you can of course assemble and develop things further.”
The manifesto focuses aspects of the rest of A Call to Farms and also triggered thoughts and connections in my mind:
- If you seek to create and sustain alternative economies
Comprising a series of short texts by participants (both those drifting and those providing stopping points for the drifters) in this exploration of the Mid-West (Illinois and Wisconsin), not an area normally thought of as radical, the reader is introduced to co-operative farmers, environmental activists as well as critical theorists. It grew off the back of Brian Holmes’ Continental Drift seminars and he was one of the participants.
- If you conceive of art practice as a form of social justice
This is a complementary project to INTHROW, the adventures of re-imagining a sculpture workshop as a cultural organisation with a specialisation in making stuff, interested in human inhabitation in Strathbogie. INTHROW (2002-04) was ‘live’ project within a practice-led research programme initiated by Prof Anne Douglas at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen. She invited a number of cultural organisations in the North of Scotland to focus on their deep concerns and desires. At the Scottish Sculpture Workshop we worked with Gavin Renwick to develop a Summary of Human Settlement as a starting point for thinking about inhabitation. We then worked with other artists to explore the everyday cultural life of the locality. This involved working with young people in a series of DJing workshops and with Pat Dunne, a farmer, to document his ‘roup’ where he sold off all his farm equipment as part of the process of his retirement. Whilst our exploration was of what was immediately around us, we also used a series of improvised tactics to reveal change. A Call to Farms is an improvised exploration of cultural radicalism, made by going out and looking around.
One of the later essays is an exercise in listing the radicalism of a territory. We might do the same for the South West of Scotland, A list might go like this:
Start with Robert Burns’ A Man’s a Man for A’That,
What more radical humanitarian statement is there?
- If you grow your own greens:
One of the key themes of A Call to Farms is organic and co-operative agriculture. Around Ayr there are several farms supplying organic products, and a farm shop at Auchincruive. Dowhill, Stair Organic Growers and Dalduff, amongst others, offer an alternative whilst more and more supermarkets open in Ayr (last month Sainsbury opened in Prestwick, as if we needed them alongside Tesco, Tesco Extra, Tesco Metro and Tesco Generic, Asda, Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl and the rest).
- If you live in an area that has been written off as a cultural backwater
I’ve sat with a community engagement professional and the head of a spiritual care service and heard the South West of Scotland described as a backwater, characterised as in-bred and parochial, obsessed by Burns to the exclusion of any other cultural life.
- If you speak against the settled history of a place and work to expose its hidden and haunted histories
The wealth in this landscape is epitomised by Culzean, perhaps Robert Adam’s finest creations. Now managed by the National Trust for Scotland, it is a country house and park for weekend walks and cream teas.
But around Ayr are the estates (in particular Oswald Hall at Auchincruive, and Rozelle House) of families who made their money from slavery in the West Indies.
The complex history of Scotland’s relations with other parts of the world might now represented by Dungavel, the detention camp for asylum seekers in Lanarkshire.
The Clyde (Greenock, Port Glasgow, etc) is known for shipbuilding, but inland from the coast is shaped by the history is of a particular form of rural industrialisation which had a short life from the late eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century: Auchinleck, Kilbirnie/Glengarnock, Muirkirk, Lugar, Cumnock, Galston, Ardeer, Dalry, Drongen, Waterside and Dalmellington, Littlemill and Dailly all had iron, steel, coal, weaving and other works. What you seen now are deprived settlements surrounded by bings and slag heaps. (Two lists of works sites relevant to the industrial history of Ayrshire, Hume and Butt, are far more comprehensive than my notes here.)
This industrial history is interwoven with the names of individuals who led campaigns for workers’ rights. In a cemetery in Newton on the north side of the river from Ayr you’ll find a monument to John Taylor, a radical Chartist. In Cumnock in the Baird Institute you’ll find a room dedicated to Keir Hardie, another radical.
Slavery, industrialisation, campaigning needs to be complemented with an understanding of internal migration and religious conflict.
So these are locations also written in the history of the Clearances, places to which Highlanders were pulled as they were pushed off the land to make space for sheep. These communities became in their turn sites of cultural clearance when the industries were killed off, as Lorna Waite has been exploring.
And before that South West Scotland was a key stronghold of the Covenanters, adhering to the reformed church through and after the English Civil War. Highlanders were used to put down at least one Covenanter uprising. Religion in the broad sense has played a key role in this landscape for the duration of human habitation. Where now we look at roads, railways and airports to map routes of movement through landscapes, for a much longer period the Clyde was a sheltered part of the routes that extended all along the Atlantic seaboard. The Clyde was part of the network that connected South West Scotland to the whole Celtic fringe, along which Christianity first arrived in Scotland.
There is still an industrial economy. Beith has the Defence Munitions facility. Hunterston has the nuclear power station and a planned huge new coal-fired electricity generating plant. Faslane, home of the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet as well as a long established peace camp, is nearer the top of the Clyde. Hollybush House provides one of Combat Stress‘ facilities for service personnel. Prestwick Airport is accused of being a stopping point on the flight paths of extraordinary rendition.
So this is the start of mapping a radical culture history of the South West, of power and opposition.
A Summary of Human Settlement for this area might be:
- The ancient sites on Arran – perhaps the Holy Island
- The villages with Norse names – perhaps Kirkoswald
- The market towns and merchant houses – Perhaps Loudoun Hall in Ayr
- The Estates and their connections to other parts of the world – Rozelle or Oswald Hall
- The industrial villages – Dalmellington because of the bing and Dunaskin, or Kilbirnie/Glengarnock
- The modern suburbanisation – maybe Beith or Prestwick