enter change Performance and Nature connect unsettle bridge
Bird Brain Critical Art Ensemble Welfare State International
Simon Whitehead
Shelley Sacks
green museum.org Fern Shaffer and Othello Anderson
David Haley
John Lyall
Ballet Atlantique-Regine Chopinot
Opening Essay Introducing the Artists Links and Readings
Hester Reeve Basia Irland


Remembering, Rethinking, Re-envisioning


Thought Bank 2: A social healing arena


Exchange Values


Landing Strip for Souls


Landing Strip for Souls


Landing Strip for Souls

Performing an Aesthetics of Interconnectedness

Since my childhood in South Africa and later in Germany, I have been privileged to work with many visionary teachers who ‘performed’ their values. Amongst these were Joseph Beuys and Nisreyasanda. But the people in the backyards with whom I secretly exchanged dreams, my meetings with traditional women healers, the land itself and the multitude of creatures – they, too, were my teachers.

Now in the UK as a Reader at Oxford Brookes University, I coordinate the Social Sculpture Research Unit and the new Masters programme in Social Sculpture, alongside my involvement in a range of social sculpture projects, including the Sustaining Life Project. Recent works focus on civil society processes, interdisciplinary pedagogies and methodologies of engagement.

All these works are instruments that involve ‘trans-actions’ between people, issues and places. They are arenas for negotiation, creating shared currency and new forms of dialogue. They all create spaces where the functional and symbolic coincide.

Redefining the ‘aesthetic’ as ‘enlivened being’ reveals the aesthetic as an ecological life process, and ‘art’ to be an expanded practice that includes non-material processes and relates to all spheres of activity. Such works are, therefore, as much to do with consciousness work, soul-making and personal transformative work as they are to do with social process and natural environmental concerns.

The works offer model processes for re-immersing ourselves in the living being of the world. Centring around the idea that ‘responsibility’ actually arises from an ability to respond, these works offer approaches to becoming internally active and in turn, to active citizenship: an ethical space where love and imagination of ‘the other’ as oneself are at the heart of experience. This is social sculpture as both process and goal, as projects which are moments in an enormous spiritual, political, creative formative-process towards an ecologically sustainable future.


Works exploring Aesthetics of Interconnectedness

Remembering, Rethinking, Re-Envisioning

A parallel- process lecture/action emphasising the need to listen to the ‘world soul’ calling and develop new organs of perception to ‘hear’ the suffering of trees. The action included written text, strips of bacon, potentised water, tree cuttings, vowel sounds and a lecture about disconnectedness and reconstructive postmodernism.

Thought Bank 2: A Social Healing Arena

In this social healing arena, local water from a river, lake or spring provides the medium for the remembering, rethinking and renewal processes that enable us to access our perceptions about the world and transmute and re-enliven what is difficult and contaminated.

Thought Bank 2 is installed in three small, dark cellars under city streets. In the room of remembering, each person is invited to work with an image that insists itself and ‘live into it’ and explore it. Participants are asked to place a bandage on the wall at the end of this process. In the room of rethinking, participants formulate, either on their own or in discussion with others, how things might be different. These thoughts and images are then transmitted into water in a large flask by means of copper head pads. Ancient knowledge and recent discoveries have found that water can carry non-material information. This potent water, filled with images and thoughts is then decanted into smaller flasks that are hung on racks in the third room of renewing. Each flask has a copper capillary extending out of it, allowing the transformed thoughts to be released into the atmosphere. The small flasks in this room create the thought bank.

Working with our thoughts is a necessary form of contemporary alchemy, in which we become conscious of the power of our thought to shape things differently.

Exchange Values

Developed in collaboration with banana growers of the Windward Islands and representative organisations, the project works with an 'expanded concept of art' exploring the relationship of imagination to transformative social process.

The installation consists of 20 stitched sheets of skin from 20 randomly selected boxes of Windward Island bananas. Each sheet of skin is accompanied by a voice recording of the person or family that grew that particular box of bananas. Consumers listen to the voice of a producer whilst standing face to face with his or her sheet of ‘skin’. In contrast to these skins, there are thousands of unknown and unnumbered dried skins on the floor.

A social sculptural ‘model process,’ this project integrates the aesthetic and the political, and has brought together activists, farmers, economists, government ministers, officials, ecological campaigners, artists, psychotherapists, engineers, cultural geographers, writers and of course, consumers.

In 2002, Exchange Values was presented at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.


Landing Strip for Souls

A parallel-process lecture/performance on 'social sculpture and democracy,’
this event links questions about steps toward a sustainable and democratic future with an expanded view of the senses. It highlights the need for every human being to understand the sense in which they are an artist, and the need to become a contemporary shaman.

On entering the space, which is framed by the remains of the five stretched deerskins from which the ‘landing strip’ has been created, each person receives a hand-size potato and stone. From behind the skins, I intone very low sounds, connecting with the earth’s suffering. Coming out in front of the skins, and slowly returning to the 'world of the rational', I welcome everyone to 'the place of questions', outlining some of the choices we are faced with and the need to choose.

What follows is a lecture/action moving between rational discourse and the intuitive. After retelling a dream in which Joseph Beuys describes this 'landing strip for souls' and its use as an instrument that will help us discover when to say 'yes' or 'no', I attempt to locate the 'space opening sound' indicated in the dream, whilst four people support the 'landing strip'.

Mirroring the blueness above us, the landing strip is used to welcome souls into the 'imaginative space' of the gathered participants. After a period of silence I open the space for discussion, which is part of the process of reconnecting with the world.


websites under development :

e : ssacks at brookes.ac.uk
sustaining-life at yahoo.com

Production details

Remembering, Rethinking, Re-Envisioning 1996
for the conference ‘Public Art, Public Needs’, University of the West of England.

Thought Bank 2
1994, commissioned by Richard Demarco for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
1995, installed underground in the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens

Exchange Values
Commissioned in 1996, for the NOW Festival, Nottingham
1998 – Exhibited in London as part of the UK Presidency Project.
2000 – Presented as part of the conference – Globalisation and Gender, Warwick University
2002, presented at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.
April-May 2004 - presented for the eleventh time in Birmingham, UK
IPS Bournville, University of Central England, with Public Symposium

Landing Strip for Souls
2000, for 'Between Nature: explorations in ecology and performance' conference/event, Lancaster University, UK

The Landing Strip has since been used in several other contexts: as part of the Civil Arts Inquiry in Dublin, with the Jupiter Trust in Oxford and alongside the first UK exhibition of Rudolf Steiner’s blackboards.

Photo Credits

Photographs provided by and copyright of Shelley Sacks

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