2020 marks the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, one of Scotland’s most important historic documents. The document seeds the first ideas of democracy by declaring the desire to be disentangled from hereditary rule which was dominated by the relationship with English monarchy.
Near Arbroath, in the Forfar museum is a ‘ scold’s bridle’; a torture device that was used until the early 1800s. It is an iron mask with a bit that would tear a person’s tongue if they attempted to talk. These were intended to be used on non-conforming people, most often, women, who were then cast to be witches. The act of ‘making mute’ or not having voice in society has been written about by feminist activist and political theorist Silvia Federici specifically in relationship to women: “In many parts of the world, women have historically been seen as the weavers of memory—those who keep alive the voices of the past and the histories of the communities, transmit them to the future generations and, in so doing, create a collective identity and profound sense of cohesion […] They are also those who hand down acquired knowledges and wisdoms. […] It is in this way that women have been silenced and to this day excluded from many places where decisions are taken.” ( Witches, Witch-hunting and Women, PM Press, 2018).
To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.
To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.
To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies.
To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”
From: Parable of the Talents, 1998, Octavia E. Butler
Departing from these premises, participants are invited engage in a collective dialogue, to understand place and bodies as carriers of experience, as archive and scene. What are possible consequences of making mute, of silencing, of suspension, for people, species and the earth? How can we, in times of crises, take advantage of collective silence, and actively listen and take care of the world we share and pass on? What would we like to see not coming back, and what would we like to see develop?
After this first iteration, a series of [Living Newspaper Online Study Groups from March – April 2021 lead up to a three day summer school on site at Hospitalfield in 2021. A participatory programme of workshops, talks and performances invited participants to join this experimental programme of collective learning, taking The Living Newspaper as a model to imagine and rehearse for the possible futures that lie ahead. The programme focussed on all the parts of the Living Newspaper production process; writing, costume and prop making, performance, videography and reflection.