Teaching, Talks and Courses

Teaching, Talks and Courses

‘The Sum of All Knowledge’ by Warren Draper (Issue 8: Techne)

From large-scale gatherings like the Uncivilisation festival, the focus of our gatherings has shifted over time towards more intimate events where we can go deeper into the territory of culture-making in a time of unravelling, digging beneath the assumptions of our culture. One form this takes is courses and retreats with members of the Dark Mountain team.

These events have ranged in style and content over the years: from year-long programmes run by co-founders Paul Kingnorth and Dougald Hine to weekend workshops led by poets Em Strang and Susan Richardson. They may be created in collaboration with other organisations or embedded within larger events like the CultureLab at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales or the Wilderness festival in Oxfordshire.

Such events combine a chance to frame a creative inquiry, share uncivilised stories, focus on art, connect with nature and take part in solo journeys, group discussions and map-making. Whether a ‘class’ on poetry at the Urban Orchard or a performance and discussion at Breakdown Breakdown at ArtsAdmin, what they have in common is that they invite diverse groups of people to engage with each other and the craft of writing in ways that are not always possible in ‘ordinary’ time.

A different conversation

In an age of unravelling certainties – social, political, ecological – how do we chart a path between the extremes offered us: a gleaming technological utopia on one hand, and an apocalyptic collapse on the other? How do we de-story ourselves from the myths of Empire, and provide the breathing space for more honest ones to grow?

For The Hidden Civil War season of exhibitions and sessions in Newcastle upon Tyne, Charlotte Du Cann and Nick Hunt invited participants to create the cultural road maps we might need to sustain us in the times ahead. This was followed by storytelling and discussions around a fire in the Summerhill community gardens.

At Fire in the Mountain festival in Wales in 2017, five members of the Dark Mountain collective held a pair of immersive sessions: ‘Cafe Apocalypse – The Conversation at the End of the World’ and ‘Testaments of Deep Time’ explored the slower rhythms which underlie our moment-to-moment existence in industrial civilisation. In 2018, we returned to host readings and conversations around our latest book, ‘Being Human in the Thick Now of the Present’, and an experiential workshop on the nature of belonging,’The Entanglement of Self and Place’.

An early outing for Dark Mountain saw Paul and Dougald presenting the project several metres above the ground in Regents Park, London as guests of the Treehouse Gallery, August 2009.

(Photo: Andy Broomfield)

With Schumacher College, Devon

Five-day courses led by Dougald Hine and Paul Kingsnorth.

New Stories At The Cliff Edge – June 2015

In the beautiful surroundings of Schumacher College, the co-founders of Dark Mountain offered a residential course in which to prise apart the stories we grew up taking for granted – stories of inevitable ‘progress’, human centrality, technological and economic inevitability – and begin the work of assembling new ones, capable of making sense of the world in which we find ourselves.

New Stories was a course for writers, artists, thinkers, doers seeking to rekindle their own creative relationship with a rapidly-changing world, and draw on radical ways of understanding our current situation.

During the course, Paul and Dougald held a public talk in which they shared their reflections on the first five years of Dark Mountain.

Art At The End Of The World (As We Know It) – March 2017

At the heart of the Dark Mountain Project is the claim that the global crisis we are facing is not a crisis of politics, economics or technology, but a crisis of stories. The stories which our culture likes to tell itself about humanity’s place on Earth and its relationship to the rest of nature are like bad maps, leading us towards unmarked hazards.

Participants were asked to bring a notebook, a clear head, and a sense of excitement – and to leave false hopes and all-encompassing solutions at home. For this course, we were joined by Dark Mountain collaborators Mat Osmond and Martin Shaw.

We will look to the creation of stories, poems, narratives and worldviews by walking beyond the usual dustbowls of the civilised world. Weather patterns, badger trails, and deep pools of water will serve as teachers.

With Westcountry School of Myth and Story

Prophets of Rock and Wave – Dartmoor, 2011-17

In the wilds of Dartmoor, in the depths of winter, Paul Kingsnorth worked with mythologist Martin Shaw to create a weekend of mythology, story and moorland experience for writers who wanted to deepen their craft.

Over weekends spent in remote buildings, around fires and on the moors, these three-day immersions were an exploration of what it means to un-civilise our writing and our selves. Whilst promising the Earth, civilisation divorces us from it. But the stories our civilisation tells about itself are now unravelling. The intensity of that unravelling propels us into even greater disconnection from the wild.

Built around a traditional mythological tale told by Martin, these weekends were a combination of storytelling, teaching sessions, conversations and walks in wild places and served to break open participants in the service of their creative work.

Martin and Paul also teamed up in the summer of 2017 to present writing workshops based on ‘The Myth of the Serpent’ in California and New York.

You can see a mountain being exploited for its forests or minerals or tourism. But the mountain also exists in and of itself. It is Mountain in the way you are Human and that's an uncivilised relationship Dark Mountain explores.
— Two Degrees Festival 2014

Camp Breakdown Break Down, Aberdeenshire, Scotland 2014

Dark Mountain editors Nick Hunt and Charlotte Du Cann told the tale of Dark Mountain around the Camp fire and later held a collaborative storymaking workshop around the Eight Principles of Uncivilisation in a (rather rainy!) field.

Natural materials gathered for a workshop by Caroline Ross at Fire and Shadow, Scotland 2017 (photo: Caroline Ross)

Can we stand outside the wires and lights of modern living and, however briefly, re-forge a visceral engagement with the intelligence of the wild? Can we look at the human story, as it were, from outside?

Participants at The Shadows of the Wild, Spain 2015

With Way of Nature

Shadows in the Wild – Spain, 2016

A week’s course for 20 explorers held in the mountains of the Spanish Pyrenees to escape from the pressures of modern life and spend time considering the world as a whole, our place in it, and where we are all going now.

The course was a guided journey into wilderness of many kinds: hiking to a high mountain base and from there to go out on adventures that look to truth, to grief and to hope within our souls. The aim of the week was to consider, and seek to address, the challenges of living in an age of mass extinction and climate change.

Way of Nature supported this intellectual journey by providing tools to reconnect with ourselves and with nature and to open up to all of our senses and to travel out on a 24 hour ‘solo’ – a personal expedition to a special place in the wild.

Read Brian Calvert’s reflections on this course in his essay, ‘Confronting Despair in the Age of Ecocide‘.

Fire and Shadow – Scotland and Romania, 2017

A experimental eight-month programme with Paul Kingsnorth and Way of Nature that took people out into wild areas and focused on the big questions in our lives and in the world.

A group of people were asked: how might we take the first steps in that 5000 year journey to reverse the effects of war? What values do we need? How should we live? How do we step back from the battle and still remain engaged in the world? What do we see when we look into the darkness?

In the course of two week-long retreats in wild parts of Scotland and Romania, connected by online and ongoing conversations over eight months, the aim was to  come up with the answers to these questions and others.

For more on the background to Fire and Shadow, read ‘What If It’s Not a War?’ by Paul Kingsnorth.

I stood transfixed in the darkness, watching the storm and grinning like a lunatic, a tiny living part of a beautiful, heartbreaking world.
— Brian Calvert (Shadows in the Wild)

Dark Mountain: Issue 14 TERRA

The Autumn 2018 issue is a collection of prose, photography and printwork about journeys, place and belonging