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Liz and Miekal's house in Madison was known as the Church of Anarchy. It was also called the Avant-Garde Museum of Temporary Art, depending on which door you used. It seems as if Liz and Miekal were the most interesting thing happening in the city for a long time, and a scene accreted around them and their house. They collaborated on poetry, mail art and copy art, performances, music, and eventually a child and an experimental hypermedia village.

To understand something about Dreamtime Village, you must understand something about Liz and Miekal. They refer to their conception of the goals of Dreamtime as "The Vision," pronounced as if capitalized, which others have been known to do with a touch of sarcasm. Even though its residents have a universe of histories, personalities, goals and opinions, the village bears the watermark of the two artists who conceived it and made it happen.

Liz:

The place to begin the story would be when I met Miekal. Our collaborations stem from who and what I was at the time that I met him. The astounding and beautiful thing the very night I met him was that here was someone who was excited about so many different things and was not irked by that adage "jack of all trades and master of none." I always thought I was different, an anarchist in a way (though I wouldn't have used the word). At the time that I met him, I had made the decision to be a jazz musician. And here was someone turning me on again to painting and poetry and yoga and dance and spirituality and ideas and books. Within the first few months of being with him, parts of myself I'd left behind started flooding back.

From the very start our relationship was based on things we created and did together. And we had a name for ourselves, from a painting Miekal was working on when he met me, called "Two Dogs in Paris."

Some of the ideas we were working on then were polyartistry, which you might call intermedia or hypermedia now. Which is the idea that all forms of art and expression follow the same principles„that the distinction between them is not as great as it might appear. It's the interest in artistry not as virtuosity, but as life. We did installations in galleries and coffeeshops and other places, and created our own visual/verbal literature. And by way of getting that out„way back in '81 and '82„we made one-of-a-kind books, and started a little press, using a photo-copier to reproduce these things. Through mail art we made contact with more and more other people who were independently doing their own art and literature apart from the art world and English departments. People started sending us manuscripts to publish. One thing led to another and we were publishing other people more often than ourselves. Originally we called that work Xerox Sutra Editions. We changed the name to Xexoxial Editions and incorporated it in '86 as a non-profit arts organization.

In '86 we also started a street festival called the Festival of the Swamps. We did this in response to an obnoxious slick and empty arts festival in Madison called the Festival of the Lakes, which was way over-budgeted, way over-promo-ed and really nothing new at all. Ours was a protest of highbrow culture. The Festival of the Lakes folded and the Festival of the Swamps continued on. They had something like a million dollar budget and we were six people, paying out of our pockets. We had a parade, an anti-fashion show and a media exhibition, five years in a row. It grew and grew and grew, and it became a gathering for the people we knew through mail art, publishing and cassette networks. All these people would gather at our house. Our house was always a node in the network.

One thing that was problematic about our performances was that we always wanted to involve other people. Miekal and I were such a close unit, that it never went very far with other people unless they were intimate with us, and those other collaborations ended as emotional breakups. As time went on we began to create structures for improvisation, loose frameworks that other people could interact with as they wanted. We would provide the skeleton of the idea and everyone else would fit in without any ego-battles, without us telling them what to do. The Festival of the Swamps was a culmination of that kind of project.

'87 was another major year for us because of three things. One was having Zon. The minute I got pregnant, I cared about the state of the world in a way I never had before; I would watch the news and cry. Environmental issues suddenly became important to both of us. Another thing was that we got our first computer in '87, whereas we had been fairly anti-technology beforehand. This helped us to become aware that art and culture could flourish and thrive outside of the major cities. The third thing was that we were getting into gourds. Gourds and computers both presented themselves as the perfect intermedia tools, or materials. Gourds are so diverse and multifunctional.

At that time we were growing gourds in our backyard in Madison, and we knew we wanted to get land. We didn't have the sense that "we want to get the fuck out of the city„" we really enjoyed Madison in a lot of ways. We thought that we would get land, grow gourds and live in the city half the time. Then we met Stephen Freer and ended up here. After just three weeks in the country, we realized that we wanted to be out here full time. It's funny how just three weeks shattered the vision that we had had for years.

Miekal had always said, "someday we'll take over an unincorporated town."

Eric:

I can remember sitting around with Miekal, talking about moving to the country; somehow, I always knew I wanted a place in the country... And one day, I was on this bus and I told this woman what I was into and that we wanted free land, and she said, "You should meet this guy Stephen Freer." So I told Liz and Miekal and they pursued it.

Miekal:

I found myself having lived in a city for a good twelve or fourteen years. Between computers and music and making art objects, my life never took me outdoors. We felt like living in Madison was too easy. We started looking for property in southwest Wisconsin, and we did the traditional thing where we were looking at 100 acres with barn and so on. Most of them were way more expensive than we could think about.

Stephen Freer had been placing ads in Isthmus [a free weekly in Madison] looking for people to occupy spaces in exchange for sweat equity. We had heard lots of funny things about him. We tracked him down and hung out with him for a month. Originally he gave us access to a different property, but that was taken away, and he said, "Well what about all that stuff in West Lima?" And after we had hung out with him for a month, Stephen basically handed over the titles to all these different properties he owned. The whole visioning came about when we were confident that he'd give us the properties. He wasn't that involved in it, but made it clear that he would like to be at some later time. So for twenty-four hours a day for several months Liz and I thought about how to best use the properties. We applied the same principles that we had used in our art projects and performances. And the way we work is that we get the name and then build from there. The idea was that this would be a place where people would live, that would also be a school, a demonstration and resource center.

Liz:

Part of the idea was to come out here for ourselves, and part of it was because the Festival of the Swamps was growing and growing. It was a ritual for ourselves and the other participants, and not the shoppers who were gawking as they walked by. We had to deal with police every time. By the last Festival, we had 30 or 40 visitors all staying in our house. There wasn't room for people to sleep and gather and meet„it was really a hassle. So we began to think that we would take the Festival of the Swamps out to the country.

Miekal:

We wanted to model this place in such a way that people wouldn't be in each others' faces all the time, and we started using the model of a village rather than a model of a commune or an intentional community. There's a personal space along with these shared spaces.

Liz:

The vision all along was not to have an intentional community. It's a village. The idea of the village is that there's a hub with shared resources around a central building or land. After that, people are autonomous and have their own homesteads. If they want to live communally they can have a communal house. The idea of Dreamtime is that it should be the center, the hub, the common ground.

Dreamtime is also a common ground in the realm of ideas. From "Dreamtime Talkingmail" #6, page 28:

One of the main images/ideas we've been working with for several years is endarchy, creating something (be it book, performance, information, festival,etc.) & having it spread from the center outward. We believe that every object/action has an energy of its own which allows it to move to places and people well beyond prediction, & well beyond the elite realm called "art".

A nexus of themes unites the different underground currents that influenced the conception of Dreamtime Village. Spontaneity, variety, decentralization and networking make up Dreamtime's utopian aesthetic. These themes are found in avant-garde art (especially fluxus and mail art), anarchism, and ecology (especially permaculture).

Mail art is a unique movement that involves artists from around the globe, collaborating and exchanging works with each other by post. It can largely be traced to the activities of particular artists„especially Ray Johnson, who founded the "New York Correspondance School"„and more generally to the sensibilities of Fluxus artists in 60's and 70's. As John Held, Jr. tells it, "Fluxus strove for the unity of artists in many areas: joint performances, collective publications and multiples, as well as cooperative housing arrangements" (Welch, 20).

The most striking feature of mail art is how organic and rampant its growth has been. As with most mushrooms, the true body of mail art consists of a vast, delicate and complex network that exists entirely underground. Mail art focuses more on cooperation and exchange, and less on virtuosity than most artforms; its very nature has shaped its repertoire of forms: postcards, home-made stamps, odd packages and exotic envelopes. From the perspective of the "art world," most mail art is trash„junk mail. While it's true that not every piece of mail art is beautiful or original, the real focus and the real work of art is the fostering of the network of mail artists.

On the structure of mail art, John Held, Jr. says:

Participants in the medium make their own contribution and write their own history. There is no central leadership or centralized publication. There are only people gathering together through the international postal service in concentric circles for fellowship and the desire to share art and information. (Welch, 20).

Oddly enough, then, mail art appears as an ideal model for decentralization, one of the major themes of anarchist and ecological political thought. One of the only criticisms that could be aimed at this reading of mail art is that the artists, separated from each other by hundreds and thousands of miles, using pseudonyms like "The Crackerjack Kid," can have no meaningful contact with one another. This is not necessarily the case; many mail artists engage in "tourism" as they call it, visiting and hosting other artists, sometimes from distant parts of the world.

The "places" of cultural exchange are the many undermedia publications, & the community exists simultaneously... worldwide. But true eye to eye, person to person exchange is lacking. The community is still based in the urban areas, where the majority of undermediasts reside, & the people out in the country are still left out of most cultural exchange events. As Swiss artist R.H. Fricker has been pointing out for a number of years, "After Mail Art Comes Tourism". This refers to touring in all directions: overseas mail artists flying to visit mail artists in other countries, small town publishers driving to visit their urban peers & vice versa, "mail art congresses" & other gatherings. (And and Was, 13).

Another possible criticism of mail art is that it lacks any kind of program, whether cultural or political. It is more likely that its program is implicit in the form of mail art, instead of being revealed in didactic slogans and so forth. However, when the concepts behind mail art are introduced to the other elements that went into the conception of Dreamtime Village, they begin to take on the form of an integral world-view. They also set down roots in an actual (as opposed to virtual) place, their expression and development no longer limited to relatively impersonal postal interactions.

While not explicitly conceived as an experiment in anarchism or any other political ideal, Dreamtime Village could fairly be called anarchist, anti-authoritarian and decentralist. Liz and Miekal themselves had no love of politics (it was their friends and associates Drake and Eric who brought that current to West Lima). It is clear, though, that they had adopted a position in arts and culture that was parallel to anarchism's position in politics: after all, their house had been called the Church of Anarchy, and they took to calling themselves "anartists" for a while. People who were explicitly involved in politics found their way into Liz and Miekal's lives, though.

Liz:

We had these open meetings about the Festival of the Swamps. One of the people who came to our first meeting was Eric Hiltner, who was a friend of Drake, who we had known since '83. Drake and Eric were anarchists within the political scene. They were into politics, while Miekal and I were totally anti-political. Eric and Drake were sick of the formats„the marches, the pamphlets and writing your congressman„and felt that people needed to approach things from a different perspective. They were into guerrilla theater and graffiti. It was a fated meeting between them and us. They brought people from the anarchist scene into our lives, which continues to this day. It fit really well, because they wanted to get into creative expression and we wanted to get out into the world .

Anarchism originated in the mid-nineteenth century with the philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who coined the phrase "property is theft." Proudhon and other anarchists to follow were part of a wave of European social critics that included Karl Marx and other early socialists. Anarchist and socialist alike were appalled by the increasing misery and alienation of European society, and were particularly concerned with the plight of industrial and agricultural workers. The differences between the groups were made sharply distinct during and after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia: despite Marx's anarchist ideal of the "withering away of the state," the socialists wanted to seize power, the anarchists wanted to abolish it.

One of the principal characteristics of anarchism is its resilience and mutability, distinguishing it from most isms. Dogma was stridently avoided by anarchists past, resulting today in an anarchism of an incredibly varied nature. Some of its many facets embrace the liberation of all oppressed groups, sexual freedom, various forms of spirituality, ecology, and certain opposing extremes such as pro- and anti-technology tendencies.

The brand of anarchism that carries the most heft at Dreamtime is one that asserts the primacy of direct, personal experience over intellectual abstractions. This current is best represented by Hakim Bey, especially in his book T.A.Z. He admonishes, "Experiment with new tactics to replace the outdated baggage of Leftism. Emphasize practical, material & personal benefits of radical networking... Plot & conspire, don't bitch & moan" (Bey, 63).

Many of the main themes in anarchism today were either introduced or anticipated by Murray Bookchin, most notably in his book Post-Scarcity Anarchism. Bookchin's outlook combines ecology, anti-authoritarianism, decentralism, and places emphasis on the experience and agency of the individual.

In saying that "it is plain that the goal of revolution today must be the liberation of daily life" (44), Bookchin anticipated the focus of the Situationist International, a movement that came to life around the events of the '68 student uprising in Paris, especially Raoul Vaneigem's ideas as presented in The Revolution of Everyday Life. Situationism, though officially dead as a movement, still exerts a powerful influence on anarchist thought, and familiarity with the Situationist project (the word "canon" would not be too extreme) garners acceptance from closet-elitist anarchists.

In Bookchin's writing, it is axiomatic that "every development must be free to find its own equilibrium" (21). This almost Taoist love of spontaneity has been the hallmark of much anarchist thought over the past three hundred years„compare it to the definition of "endarchy" given above. It stems from a profound faith in human nature and the ability of people to cooperate. Recently, as in Bookchin's writing, this vision of spontaneity has embraced the natural world, and taken from it the model and metaphor of the ecosystem in balance, with different organisms living in mutual interdependence.

Bookchin suggests the adoption of ecology as both a critique of late capitalism and as a source of models for life "after the revolution."

Miekal:

In '89 or '90, Eric was living with us, and had gone to a permaculture course. The permaculture book and ideas from that had been in our house in Madison. We were already into growing gourds and houseplants. In '92, it turned out that Michael Pilarski, a major permaculture teacher, contacted us looking for a place to hold a permaculture course. So we had it out here, and twenty of the most intense permaculture people in the world. It was a fourteen-day intensive course, and it totally infused the place with the notion of permaculture. That's when the Vision became complete, because whereas we had been thinking about gardens, we hadn't really been thinking about modeling towards self-sufficiency and biodiversity. Permaculture tied up all the loose ends.

Permaculture, an agricultural design philosophy, is the last main ingredient that has gone into Dreamtime Village's unique brew. It is essentially made up of a series of ethics and principles„compiled from research and life experience by Australian Bill Mollison„about humanity's role in the natural world.

According to Mollison,

Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way. Without permanent agriculture there is no possibility of a stable social order.

Permaculture design is a system of assembling conceptual, material, and strategic components in a pattern which functions to benefit life in all its forms.

The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against, nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions" (ix-x).

While it claims no political alignment in the traditional sense, permaculture obviously implies, as Bookchin does, the inseparability of decentralization and ecological sustainability. "To empower the powerless and create 'a million villages' to replace nation-states is the only safe future for the preservation of the biosphere. Let interdependence and personal responsibility be our aims" (ix). Permaculture's program is broader than any existing politics because it assumes a personal and local scale, and because (again quite like Taoism) it is a way of looking at the world, a flexible system of metaphor that unites rather than divides different aspects of life. Permaculture is a "whole systems" theory, the likes of which Buckminster Fuller and others have suggested is the key to human survival and happiness.

Mollison challenges the authority of the state when he says that "...to let people arrange their own food, energy, and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves" (506). As with the best anarchist writing, Mollison does not simply supply us with a negative critique, but also suggests positive steps to be taken.

Mollison articulates a strategy for the formation of global affinity groups which would, together with regional councils, gradually replace nations and national politics as we know them. This program does not emerge from political abstraction, but rather from concern for sustainability and survival. While it overlaps with most of anarchism, it is even freer of intellectual dogmatism. It also bears some resemblance to utopianism in its concern for the future. But utopians have sought to install radical social forms which emerged from the realm of the intellect. The politics of sustainability wants to see the spontaneous blooming of a thousand flowers, all of different species.

Together, the ideas glossed in this chapter could either become a working ethic (a set of principles of conduct), or simply another array of fashionable shibboleths. When I lived there, Dreamtime was caught between these two conditions. Some people spoke from their hearts, others out of a sense of the fashionable. Time will tell if endarchy can put down roots.


On to Chapter 3.
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