The Dark Mountain Ranges, Part 1: Looking Ahead to Uncivilization 2011

Today there’s one month to go until the second Dark Mountain Festival, Uncivilization 2011, gets underway at the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire, over the weekend of 19-21 August. My ticket is booked; I’m getting excited and looking forward, at the same time reminding myself to keep an open mind and heart for whatever might unfold.

This year’s curated programme strand is taking a ‘less-is-more’ approach: a mix of talks, conversations, workshops, readings, music- and performance-making weave together, and around each other, the cultural and practical dimensions of the Dark Mountain Project. What other festival, indeed – as Dougald Hine writes in his guest piece on the Festival for the Transition Network – features a scythe-wielding poet, an ex-banker proposing the idea of a mortgage strike, and talks on the future of universities and publishing alongside workshops on foraging and wild poetry? There’s also plenty of free spacetime designed into the weekend, for the incidental meetings and nourishing conversations that are so vital to the Project’s ethos, as well as a dedicated space for on-the-spot offerings by festival-goers.

Some of the items on my personal not-to-miss list are Tom Hirons’ storytelling on Friday night, the Collapsonomics panel, and the opportunity to grow my foraging skills; my one firm commitment is having volunteered to dive headfirst out of my comfort zone and join the chorus – which mercifully (for you) doesn’t involve me singing 😉 – for the performance of Liminal, curated by Dougie Strang, on the Saturday night. And most of all, I’m looking forward to encounters and conversations with fellow Mountaineers, to reconnecting with some of the folks I met last year; and most especially to getting to know as flesh-and-blood people all those whom I’ve come to know through social media in the meantime. Woven into the Festival’s spirit this year is this timely and welcome call from Eleanor Saitta, to play with the social rules of how we meet and converse with others, to consider how we might dismantle the invisible walls that create inclusion and exclusion, feelings of ownership shadowed by those who feel left out.

Attending the Dark Mountain Festival in Llangollen last year was a transformative experience for me; which I wrote about here and here. Re-reading these posts now, I’m honoured and touched that they’ve reached a wider audience and connected to others’ experiences of encountering the Dark Mountain, in Wales and elsewhere; I’m also genuinely startled (even a bit unnerved) by the level of heartfelt candour and self-exposure in those posts – startled by the extent to which the experience of last year’s Festival took me out of myself, pushed me to express things and write in ways that normally I don’t.

Approaching this year’s festival, which I’m doing while slowly reading and savouring the second Dark Mountain Book – a longer response to which I’m hoping to offer as a Part 2 to this post – I come back again, as others also are doing, to what Dark Mountain means to me. Why it’s become so important and feels so essential; even though, like Rima Staines, whose enchanting artwork graces the cover of Dark Mountain 2, I’m hard pushed to put it succinctly into words. There are the clear questions and preoccupations: ‘what do we do after we stop pretending?’, ‘what are the new or old stories that might help us live well and navigate through a coming collapse?’; but embracing those and other questions, and all the ways in which they might be answered (or simply lived with), is the sense of Dark Mountain as a place. A place, and a journey. Rima’s words describe so well the tangle and irresistible call of that journey – ‘a kind of steep brambly path towards some sort of wild and old truth which we are invited to head for as the citadels of civilisation crumble around us’ – while bloggers cricket7642 and eladise are among those who catch the hearthlike character of the place – the former calls it ‘an inviting, relaxed version of being in limbo’ – where people are drawn to gather and connect with like-minded others, sensing that there are other stories to hear and tell. A place – in a world still hooked on speed and false certainty – where it’s okay to slow down, to ask questions that don’t have easy answers, to admit that you haven’t a clue and that it’s fine to start from there.

This year’s Uncivilization Festival will be rooting this metaphorical place in much wilder, woodier  and more intimate surroundings than Llangollen – here’s a little video taster from the organisers of what the Sustainability Centre looks like and offers (there will be locally-sourced vegetarian food and proper beer into the bargain).

It’s a venue that seems ideally suited to host the Dark Mountain, and I’m sure many of us are excited and intrigued to see what the guiding spirits of that place might bring to the proceedings. Out of the chaotic crucible of last year’s festival, and everything that was both magical and exasperating about it, Uncivilization 2011 will change and grow, shapeshift and unfold. I can’t wait to be there and see what will happen.

Tickets for Uncivilization 2011 are available here – snap yours up quickly because they’re selling fast!

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