There Are No Firm Rules
Captured in the title of Anna Chrystal Stephens and Glen Stoker’s Platform Residency There Are No Firm Rules (2016) is the sense that an immediate lived experience of time, while significantly affective at a personal level, provides a limited body of knowledge to think through the complexities of massive change. Firm rules are the temporary creations of finite institutions. While some have sustained for a considerable time, our rules, ideas and beliefs are short-lived in comparison to the incomprehensible expanse of Earth's history. While they help us make sense of the world in the here and now, they don’t provide guidelines for how to prepare for the strange and the unknown that we see emerging on the horizon.
Contemplating our own destruction, or the radical altering of the frameworks in which we live (our environment, our economic infrastructure or our political systems), is part of the history of the human condition. Historian researching the rise of humans, and author of Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari has argued in line with the wider community, that despite our ability to innovate within our immediate surroundings, Homo sapiens struggle to imagine the wider associated impacts of change. So, we became accidental farmers because this was an easier way of feeding our families than hunter-gathering, but while this led to more stability it also meant more mouths to feed. Success creates demand. The rest is history.
How then to think about where we are, and what it means to be here? How to have any personal agency inside systems which are so complex and held together by invisible international threads of power? How do we even begin to have a conversation about the gargantuan problems of finite resources, personal ethics and social change in a frame that renders an individual life seemingly powerless? In an exploration of these concepts, this project has developed with creative vision, deep thinking, provocation and a huge sense of humour and humanity.
Operating precariously on many levels, not least in their treading across the liminal spaces between authorised bodies of thinking enshrined in the establishment, artists synthesise and connect ideas. In exploring micro-actions that could take place in our day-to-day lives (such as collecting edible plants, using plant dyes or learning new DIY skills) the authors connect us to alternate realities. Ideas of human agency, environmental change and expanded complexity are threaded throughout the book; a carefully woven document of the creative leaps between ideas, people and places that have produced a unique body of knowledge. The content collected here is not a linear argument, but rather a set of propositions and experiments drawn together from a range of worlds and disciplines that provoke curiosity and challenge us to think with new patterns.
Thank you to Anna and Glen and to their mentors and writers, to the team at Site Gallery and communities in Sheffield and Stoke and London who supported them and to the visionary funders – Esmee Fairbairn, Arts Council and AHRC who continue to invest in experimentation.
Laura Sillars - Artistic Director, Site Gallery