Upper Space joins Eroles at Frackanpada international anti-fracking camp (13 – 19 July 2015)

Frackanapada’: an international anti-fracking camp set in the foothills of the Basque country attracted around 600 people for seven days of workshops, discussions, food, music, strategy and protest against the extreme energy industry. Activists from Spain, Algeria, France, Brazil, Germany, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Romania and Kurdistan united with Basque activists to build face-to-face connections. The Eroles project were glad to contribute an arts activism space to this busy and inspirational week, and Upper Space artists joined the action.

Victory from the start

The camp took place on land donated by the local village, at a site adjacent to where the fracking industry had plans to begin exploratory drilling. However, on 30 June 2015 after years of campaigning by the ‘Fracking Ez’ network, the Basque government announced a ban on fracking near any sites that could affect the aquifiers – in effect a de facto ban.

Eroles co-organsied an arts activism space that ran throughout the camp together with Kevin Buckland (Creative Activism Coordinator at 350.org). We prepared visual inspirations including a map of campaigns and victories from around the world and a postcard space for participants to write about why they’re fighting fracking. Paint, cardboard, stencils, fabric and other materials were provided for people to make props, placards and banners for the protest march on 18 July, now re-conceived as a victory march in light the recent fracking ban.

Bringing together play and improvisational tools honed at the Eroles house in the previous weeks, we coordinated two workshops for creating visual art elements for the march on Saturday.

Let’s take a look at some of the components:

1. The importance of play and movement.

Beginning a workshop with physical activity is more than just providing an ice-breaker for workshop participants. Moving around is important for stimulating the senses and allowing us to see an issue or a task from a different perspective.

2. Creativity is built on collaboration

The workshops built on the idea that creative practice is often far richer when done together rather than as individuals. Sparking off each other, ideas were quickly generated, modified, dropped and evolved.

3. ‘Yes and….’ The importance of flow

All too often we can apply our rational, logistical thought processes to new ideas before they’ve had a chance to emerge and bloom. Applying rational statements too early in the process such as ‘that won’t work’ or ‘we don’t have time’ or ‘people won’t understand it’ can kill off new ideas.

Instead, our workshops used an improvisational theatre technique called ‘Yes and…’. It works like this: in pairs or a group, one person suggests an idea (such as “What if we ran around like geese”) which the group then literally acts out. Quickly a second person suggests another idea that follows on from the first such as “Yes and…we could chew through the padlocks on the gate over there” – which is also acted out. More ideas are added and acted out – but the central point is that the group has to respond with “Yes and….” and immediately act out the suggestion. The combination of saying ‘yes’ (as compared to a blocking statement such as ‘Nah, that sounds a bit daft’) coupled with the physical enactment of the idea quickly loosens the mind and new ideas start to flow. Whilst a lot of these ideas may well be daft, out of the multitude of concepts that emerge, one or two of them might form the basis of something that could actually work. It’s important to provide a space where these can ideas can emerge.

4. The action generator grid

Sometimes, working with some constraints can usefully channel our creative process. During our workshops, we used a ‘action generator’ table with four headings: form, location, activity and feel with some suggested words (only some of which we managed to translate into castellean and basque – our bad). Groups threw stones randomly into each column to generate some constraints such as ‘Mask, Crowd, Transformation, Victory’ and then given a 15 minutes to create a prop and a performance along these lines.

Some of the ideas that emerged out of this process included a ‘Kisses Not Capitalism’ puppet show, some recycled buckets to be used for both drumming and a water performance, a face mask play of a fracking rig being pulled down in victory and a larger mock fracking rig. The ideas were performed back to the other groups – and some of the group decided to develop the mock fracking rig further.

5. “Don’t think, do.”

This is contentious, but when it comes to improvising using cheap or recycled materials, there’s a lot to be said for cracking on and making stuff with your hands to get a creative flow going. Many people find this more productive than spending a lot of thinking time trying to come up with a perfectly conceived plan in advance. The emphasis is on flow, improvisation, adaptability. A time constraint can help this.

6. You don’t have to finish an idea yourself

Whilst finishing projects can give a sense of completion and satisfaction, allowing someone else to pick up where you’ve left off can also boost a creative project. The new collaborator can bring fresh energy, new ideas and skills to the task. I left the mock fracking rig for an afternoon and came back to find someone had massively improved the structure and was working on a skull head to crown the top. This was a big improvement on my intentions for the rig and imbued the whole sculpture with a demonic and toxic personality – good connotations when protesting against the fracking industry.

Meanwhile, other campers used the arts space to create ‘eguzkilore’ flowers: a Basque thistle traditionally used to ward off unwelcome and evil spirits since pre-Christian times. Frackanpada activists took this up for the anti-fracking campaign, with many of these sunflower-type props being made for the march. Land artists also made a huge version out of stone and wood.

March to Vitoria-Gasteiz

As the weekend victory march approached, the art space became busier as people finished off their props and banners. The march itself was colourful and vibrant, boosted by some DJs on the back of tractor as we weaved through the streets. Our fracking rig was loaded into a small rucksack and paraded along the route, it’s black hair jostling with the music. At the finish point, we acted out a quick piece of participatory theatre, with the crowd chasing the rig as it tried to establish itself against their wishes, eventually being pulled down to the ground, breaking as it hit the floor.

After that it was back to the camp for some dancing on a huge stage to some great bands. Esne Beltza ska-folk-punk-turntablist mash up was particularly enjoyable. Congratulations to everyone at Fracking Ez, EYFA and the international organising team who pulled together a fantastic and inspirational week. No frackaran!

Further reading:

The anti-fracking movement unites in the Basque Country by Claire Fauset, 24 July 2015

Do/Improvise – by Robert Poynton (Do Book Company, 2013)