Two weeks to listen and suspend time to tap deeper into the resources that Ponderosa offers especially for those who come from the crazy city life (London). Slow time. Nonlinear time in non-linear spaces. Phone off time, listening to people and space time. Feeling time. Being present.
The questions I brought rest in these simple answers that otherwise seem to have become so complicated. How can a mindful embodied presence, the wisdom of somatic literacy and creativity that a generation over the past 50 years or so established, be brought (back) into the fabric of the everyday, to inform our actions and further our organization in resourceful and regenerative ways?
Can it be one precise key to cultivate an interoception that makes sense of interconnected- ness, ecologies, society and complexities towards a collectivity where individual perceptions include all that we are affected by and influence ourselves?
It seems to have become a privilege to be present. To see what we feel, resonate with one moment at a time, allowing our body and mind to sync, providing a support to feel and be well - able to engage. To me, that is life - when I feel alive where all of me meets all that is with me. To experience how widespread this chasm and disconnect really is, baffles me. Again and again. How did that happen? How can we return or rather move onwards towards to what utopia exactly?
Bringing these questions to Ponderosa is because Ponderosa inspired them in the first place. Many years ago when I first came in 2005/6 I explored contact improvisation which was spontaneous and improvised. Built on the San Francisco CounterCulture it made space for the socially sidelined, the misfits that needed to find a voice and acceptance of their otherness. I found a place that sought a way of life, not cultural products. Something that dared to be free, to feel needs and respond to desires and invoke change - something that society abandoned the more control it established. A listening space.
In Ponderosa one lived from moment to moment, a changing environment that adapted to the people who came and went and to the new identities that somehow manifested and came to life. It was challenging on personal and organizational levels and deeply exhilarating; a state made for paradise and disaster but somehow through it all, the changes had a logic: it was like a growing organism where the various parts and people merged by the force of being allowed to be as one liked. Things happened that way. It was breathing. An alive space where people found support in each other to manage the unknown. Today, it is breathing still but somewhat unsure how to.
Over the past years I came back to make sense of how this happened. What does it bring to those who live and work elsewhere and what have we lost? Elsewhere and here in Ponderosa. And what remains. How it might situate a new becoming as leadership at Ponderosa is changing, societal and environmental disasters loom and my own questions of leadership are forming for my own non-profit Exit Map, my students, my community and my role in the wider context. My research goes alongside many other residencies that are ongoing to make sense of the past and future and retreat into a space that allows presence to do its magic.
In the two weeks I was there I spoke to many, listened to places, explored imaginations.
I pursued a nonlinear sense making, letting information enter in any shape and form and didn’t capture it much but letting it shape me. That is why this reflection comes later than anticipated but perhaps it is the right time still.
What I am reflecting on now prepares more encounters. It is for me and the Ponderosa Two as well as Steph who continues to stay with the trouble and invites reflections. Many thanks already to Steph, Uli, Annika and Doreen for giving me their time to speak and listen. The small writings around each person and our conversation reflect a resonating experience. Also thanks for Keira’s words.
Let’s begin with Annika.
Annika is my hot wire. Burning with desire to be part of artistic endeavors that make your soul grow wings. She is a producer, an artist, a lost soul that wanders on and on, a funny and quirky WTF and intimidatingly bright. That in fact goes for all of the people I talked to but with Annika it’s spiced with a sharp humor, a slight twist and a fearlessness of hangovers. She wrestles with uncertainty of belonging as the changing landscape of leadership and relationships resonate regularly, holding intricate problems that claw and dig deeper with time passing. My shout to her of wanting to research how collective organization can yet again be inspiring, resourceful and magical as too often our work raises stress levels that seem overwhelming, she said yes. She knows what that means. She is at the forefront of production, management, contracts and the in’s and out’s of everything really. She is everywhere at once which includes the actual artistic practice when she has the opportunity to. It brought me to reflect how all the people who are there came because something called them and I wondered how that something was still present and integrated. How much it mattered to connect to that something to find the drive to make all the tedious practicalities worthwhile.
It clarified that in fact the Ponderosa Two team share a position. Meaning their income is low but there is time. At least in theory as it takes a wider and deeper investigation how to take that time (out), reinvest it there and then (i.e. personal projects), express boundaries when everyone sees you as the almighty on site google on how things work. But there is time. Liquid time, uncontrollable time. It flows with the space. It is often unaccounted for which is both the glitch and the blessing. It’s time doing it’s thing not us doing time. Living and working collectively as I do and as Ponderosa does, you see, feel and embrace this power to let things happen. Creativity and any kind of engagement is fundamentally different. Life is somehow more alive. Wild.
Being on site where the ebb and flow of work and life create their own dynamics that one has to go with and often you wonder, how does one get things done? When relationships are both personal and professional, what needs attending to, can this be a practice and care to ensure difficulties can be resolved, grudges aired? How inspiring and impactful can this be?
There is certainly a sense of strong relationships but also severe challenges and looking at how somatic practices could inform resolutions, many different formats spring to mind that would allow existing relationships to grow and heal. Speaking to the different members reveals the complexity of negotiating the politics of work and personal life and the need to create a shared space where space is given for the extra layers to be acknowledged and respected such as emotional states, triggers as well as questions and research that can unpack tangents let it be personal concerns or say each others expectation on availability and responsiveness or responsibility. Solving these questions in ways that allow our physical bodily processing to be involved, that may use touch to remind us of our humanity or scores where answers can be found by moving with the trouble, moving with trust and empathy rather than brain powering through it with judgments as indistinguishable side products.
Coming back to Annika, for whom the trouble and the joy of the work are visceral experiences that emerge through both work and play. With somatic practices that bring you back to the studio or outside natural common ground, then the trouble itself might turn inspiring and energize. It may well throw up exciting questions, findings, more research and snowball into projects; I can see Annika rolling in the deep of such exciting and intense unpacking.
At this point an interlude of Secular Rituals. A research I offered during the residency as part of the Changing Climate program which was an invitation to enter conversations around a subject (climate change) that is traumatic by creating a ‘’climate’ of trust and joy alongside conversations and exchanges.
It is a research on how we can cultivate practices that allow us to connect and communicate differently. Some are physically challenging puzzles and require time to practice whereas other formats are integrated sooner yet deeply felt when given time to be with. Other structures invite you to move while you talk and listen to be able to mobilize according to attention and emotional responses, allowing shifts to alleviate the pressure of being tied into talks. It asks how our attention moves, when does stillness serve us, when does mobility empower a regulation of participation and so on. During the weekend I shared how folk dances, in this instance a cèilidh (Irish, Scottish) can be considered a secular ritual as we give time and space on ceremonial occasions to connect through joy and everyone in the room regardless of their believes, color or gender by jumping around every single person laughing uncontrollably. A welcomed relief to balance gloomy but necessary conversations.
Being involved with Ponderosa because it inspires a way of life, is underlying each and everyone’s journey on how they got there; but often in surprising ways. For Doreen the magic is found and furthered in the garden. Also being part of a vibrant and artistic culture that she impacts and furthers but her personal happy space appears to be the garden, her home and her cat. I observed her from the Kuhstall in the morning, sitting in the garden while reading, which from above is visible as a head above a table top whereas the rest of the space is a lush sea of green. A sea of green with a small heap of brown hair where the top of a table sticks out, like a boat bobbing as the wind passes through. When speaking to her I wondered about our needs to be either visible or invisible because her visibility exists beyond her with what she grows. I wondered how performance projects do the same; a kind of echoing into space, transcending one’s personal body. Imprinting echoes.
It reminded me of the many somatic practices that are outdoors in gardens, nature or park practices where the environment itself initiates states of belonging, trust, slow time and sensorial immersive spaciousness. How Ponderosa itself offers regularly somatic garden endeavors to the local community and residents. Listening to her brought up an appreciation and desire to hear her more, this quiet voice that doesn’t fight for attention but has much to share. We spoke how studio spaces wouldn’t be her desire to enter and participation is potentially daunting but her joy of passing the studio every morning, hearing the singing and witnessing the moving, feels right and important.
I know that for many people physical somatic practices appear somewhat tricky to join and entering a studio may not feel inviting to all. Interestingly enough however these practices already exist or have begun in ways we might not be aware of. Gardening is likely a somatic practice and certainly has been in Ponderosa for many people and years. Speaking to Doreen I shared the idea that I could invite participants (that came to the changing climate weekend) to tie up some tomato plants as an extended secular ritual where we say thanks to what we have been given. We didn’t have the time in the end but the idea itself connected the dots how Doreen is deeply intertwined with somatics by getting entangled in plants. For herself this is an established practice that quietly harbors plant knowledge. Since my research concerns collective forms of interoception, I imagined what it would be like to have the Ponderosa Two team meet in the greenhouse and tie knots together. What future projects may emerge in this climate? Can disputes become humble as we viscerally understand how we are participants in something that holds all of us and everything?
In many ways Ponderosa already does that which is why I think it is such a smart place. And yes it is smart because it hasn’t been done arbitrarily but through many years of guidance by Steph who planted and nurtured the culture of improvisation as lifestyle for connectivity and healing where confidence grows and becomes the ground for a healthy shared consciousness. Fed by trust and belonging alongside organic garden veggies.
In my conversation with Steph I asked what it meant during the beginnings, the 1st 10, then 20 years and so on to navigate such a space and people? While asking and now while writing, there is a knowing that the answer is an embodied consciousness itself. Words wouldn’t suffice which does however highlight why throughout the years, expression was always a matter of moving and performances that enabled the being seen; a dance that lives as much inside studios as it does in the kitchen and gardens, when you swim, when you engage ritualistic practices, when you sing, make potions, give massages, undress for sauna, slide into mud puddles, run with dogs, fix the roof or bicycles and and and. Movement and aliveness. Others might call it vibrations perhaps or creative sparkles. Language gets muddled up but something that sits in between the lines gets clearer the longer you do it and the longer you stay. That’s the magic. The shamanic. Simple ancient traditions. A listening and response state and a deep trust that everything can live within that and that everyone has a space within it. To me, Steph owns that clarity and with it the confidence to lead. It grew over time and sometime later, it got tired and exhausted and I wonder why. As I listen I am mindful that these were different times - the past. And that sometimes opportunities open up and unravel without a plan but that in looking back we keep wanting to discern new plans - did we lose trust that we can simply be with the trouble? Did the trouble overwhelm? Did we get too tied in with a culture where systems and plans are all defining? Is it a personal thing of status, roles and one’s need to be visible or not? Well, it’s all of them but also an infinite amount of ‘more’. How can we know and what is it we really want to know …
To touch on a couple of things we shared. I remember Steph said that from the beginning Ponderosa was a process culture. Of course that concerns the site developments but also the work they supported. They didn’t have the capacity in terms of studios and resources to fund productions only explorations which initiated work in progress sharings, scores and open improvisations. A culture of development and practice. It engaged therefore conversations and exchanges, feedback and listening rather than emphasizing the product. Judgment and expectation shape shift when we focus on process rather than product as there is space to negotiate. To ask, to amend, to adapt. An incredible fluidity is fostered and a drive to develop shapes the people themselves as well as their environment. It creates social super glue, and awesome parties.
That already was good for me to understand. In London people seem to be very scared of sharing processes. The product thinking and the fragility to not be as your image or what your status depicts, are hard to pass by. I would like to celebrate processes but while initiating comes naturally it is hard to maintain. There is a paradoxical puzzle in there: how effortless openness is (unlocking product into process) yet how hard it can be for some to open, how far we cultivated the opposite and how a reverse implies lengthy processes. We need to give time to that. I also want to understand in greater depth the link with audience participation. The preparation it takes for this trust and empathy that is shared amongst participating artists to be shared with an audience so that we can democratically engage rather than present or divide. And how would that cultivate a way of life? When we trust to share processes, imperfections, co-authoring and what does it take for novices or outsiders to be stepping into vulnerability …
Another aspect of our conversation was how currently Ponderosa Two is an awkward compromise for her that has many facets and a shortcomings such as attending events as to experience them affirms a space of reflection, participation, witnessing, development and is an affirmation in of itself where the sharing of processes matters deeply.
What strikes me, is that Ponderosa Two in its collective character and structure will deal with tasks differently than if there was a one person lead which also affects, say, the participation of events. Yes, I agree with Steph that events need to be attended but I also see that they may not attend events because they are not interested but because as a collective their structure implies that potentially there’s more time to attend but also time to go away and practice personal care that too seems important. In some ways it throws the question back to Steph how she managed that for herself as artistic director but also what possible resolutions might look like. Who cares for what - who holds space for whom, what is a collective that holds space together and can this collective nurture a wider democratic holding and support ethos so that whoever is holding space also has a space held for them?
Coming back to spare or extra time, I mentioned that time is wild and takes attention to develop a symbiotic relationship. Personally and collectively. I wonder how a collective can negotiate their roles (producer, manager, volunteer organizer, reflector, peer supporter etc etc) which includes that of participant and witness - how a group manages the dissemination of information and what does it mean if some people hold some information and other people other information? How, if we approach a sense of shared identity, can this be a fluid space?
In parts I want to propose an answer but it’s a big question.
The time we fix for tasks only ever concerns the tasks we know of. We don’t give space however to the deeper layers that do not directly address the ‘product’ or ‘production’. Generally speaking. For instance how phones and technologies create temporal pulls and expectations, affect internal communication and tighten stress levels. Or what needs arise to deal with instant occurrences such as period pain, coffee overload or sleeplessness? And then the many things we don’t even quite know how to describe or even feel let it be for reasons of shame, youth, being neurodivergent, affected by trauma and so on. Again, Ponderosa quite naturally offers this space as there is room to hang out where conversations can spill into the night or where studio spaces encourage body work allowing us to connect beyond words. And to heal. Let’s not forget that with every passing day we live in ways that we experience as compromising, stressful or even traumatic, the load to heal increases. And we ourselves both are and carry the load.
At Ponderosa regular tuning practices concern the self and the other which is what I call Secular Rituals. There is the morning singing with Steph, the silent disco with Keira, The authentic movement on a Thursday (Stefan) and when I am around, I offer the Shared Practice in the same vein. What does it do? It cultivates a space and a time to let the unspoken things exist, give them space to be felt, connected to and shared. It is healing too and by connecting to others we can connect, be vulnerable in company, find strength and co-exist no matter what our roles; ideally. For that to be really fluid a few more considerations need addressing such as who leads these practices and who attends them. What would it be also to create spaces like this for the team? Or to encourage a participation for the team during existing practices for information of all kinds to flow in more expanded and complex ways yet that are more effortless to absorb and be with? How open are these practices and how do people own them?
With Uli, I spoke about economics, the functioning of an arts space that needs to meet challenging realities from money, organization to conceptualizing the future to safeguard it. There is something very practical and functional about Uli. The question of how his work sits with all the creative and artistic aspects doesn’t have a straightforward answer but nothing is straightforward even if Uli really wants it so. He can get impatient with philosophical questions on how fine tuning collaboration models may flourish into new emergencies and watching him seeing the bigger picture, his response makes sense. He has witnessed the changes, time(s) itself and knows too well how the everyday running of this organization can come delicately close to mirroring a service culture that offers retreat space for those who can pay. And that leaning too far towards investors that purchase land to reinvest and grow capital instead of living with the land, can destroy this spirit of togetherness that Ponderosa has uniquely enabled and that he too, is part of.
He knows Ponderosa and Ponderosa knows him as he built and shaped it. Artists, neighbors, children and the time they grew up in, the spaces that held them. Uli might not want to be overly sentimental or involved in how somatics further a way of life but he’s living it because he knows that the way people and land come together are not purely transactional. Still, he has to match the economist inside of him and the demands of survival. After realizing we are not talking on opposite sides but asking how the chasm of economics and being able to live freely and together, can be overcome, we glimpsed many exciting aspects.
We spoke about how an in-person contact meets the computer and phone space and quickly touched on the mutual desire and pleasure to move on the grounds of Ponderosa and to switch off. There is a flow of moving things about, building, fixing, pausing to check in, getting a few things from somewhere else to somewhere else that is different from the computer or even phone space. I explained how being in Ponderosa always felt like a unique opportunity to switch off and it reminded me how back in the day there was hardly any internet reception and that impacted the interactions we have. How fundamental it is to switch off. Yet how hard to do so. I am interested to talk about this question in particular because I feel that Ponderosa could, with some research, manifest ways of interlacing the switching off while implementing systems or posts that will bring to attention the information we need to have to continue to function.
Could there be ambassadors that inform us about technological advances and how to use them /protect us from them? Chatgpt for example is a tool as well as a threat and both tools and threats take time to make sense of which we all do on an individual everyday level with many more apps and developments streaming in the moment we are ‘on’. Can an organization be a guide? Can there be a collective addressing of ‘giving permission’ to switch off or information sharing projects where we can still feel connected but also empowered to exit the mainstream of social media for example or general news. I could list many more but the listing depends on how far Ponderosa and its community intend to switch off. What do we really need to know? And how do we make sense of our own visibility, our need to be out and seen?
“We shouldn’t know about the baby coral
And some baby coral die
We shouldn’t know about the baby coral
And some baby coral dies” by J Neve Harrington
What do we need to know?
And how do we know?
These are crazy but fundamental questions to return to. Wonderful too.
There are many places now that offer retreats but they are costly. A privilege. Ponderosa has reserved a way to be financially affordable, for people to arrive and stay for some time even if you are low on Kohle. But it is also uncertain and uncertainty and the unknown are real biggies one has to learn to live with and they grow bigger the more real fixed states such as image or product appear to us as they suggest permanence and safety.
Again, there are somatic practices like CI for example one can expand into to find ways to live with uncertainty and not freak out. A practice long present in Ponderosa. An ancient practice that may have brought forth many gods and that we could, by training to fall in love with the unknown, cultivate with tomato plants as goddesses. Ponderosa, a school of life?
Living in London I sometimes nearly laugh thinking that Ponderosa really does exist. Over here, in an environment where product rules and selling it is all that counts, Ponderosa is a glimpse of hope. An existing utopia. I understand it needs to generate income, survive for its people, the land, the future. But it is still learning what it is of itself that needs to survive and I am glad to share the journey. Yes, money matters and the line is finer than ever that we can walk on to balance it all.
lunch break at the Speicher, Ponderosa during Changing Climate weekend
Katja Weber on unresponsiveness in the face of adversity
Katja Weber, materials to situate our responsiveness