Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Some thoughts on the train to Heerenveen, about this project as research.

In doing this project the research model I am pursuing is one that is both empirical and experiential.

During the (what now looks to be less than three weeks) I will be continuing interviewing people that I met on my last trip through the Sticting Tijn. These people have diverse interests in the Ecocathedral and form part of a social network that is the society. The society seeks to continue LeRoys ideas and projects, at the sites in Heerenveen and Mildam. However when one examines the range of people involved in the society and their own individual interests and backgrounds, patterns that one might not expect emerge. My main contact is Peter Wouda, who seems to be the main organizer and is based out of Heerenveen. He has an interest in photography and works in computers. As well as working at the Kennedylaan (the Kennedylaan is an urban project that has recommenced that Le Roy did before his own project at Mildam) he runs the website that now operates in a number of languages promoting Le Roy and the concepts of the work. For Wouda there is no stretch between the practical ecological principles of the Ecocathedral and the past and future development of the web through public and organic processes, such as open source. His personal connection to the project is through his father who knew Le Roy and growing up Wouda has spent a lot of time talking to Le Roy ar his house. I will talk more to Wouda while I work on the project, but I am very interested in how a practical series of principles from one domain, such as ecology, or art, can move into another, such as the digital. I will be using oral history or rather video interviews to document these different views in the interviews.

It is also the personal that I am interested in. I discovered Le Roy on the way to the dentist, but how did others? Remembering my conversation with Peter W. last time I was struck by the fact that there was a pastoral element to Wouda’s interest in Le Roy. Louis is an old man now while Peter is a young(er) man. There is a strong element to this project that is community focused, because the projects occur in a relatively remote area, with a small community, so they are centred around that community. I and another guy Thomas Richard from Germany are exceptions – most people doing the project are from Heerenveen or parts nearby. Woudas cares for the welfare of Le Roy and values him for his long experience and his seniority in age.

In the interviews I am going to conduct my emphasis will be on this personal connection between people and the Le Roy idea because I think that this will give a clue to the viral expansion of the idea. Another important empirical aspect to my research will be to tie down a reasonable biography of Le Roy as well as a chronology of projects and collaborators. I will get as much of this from Le Roy as I can, though he is a little tired at the moment and his health is not great. That said I am going to push because a significant part of my mission is to get as much about his into English as possible and now is the time that will have to happen. Le Roy collaborated with Lucien Kroll and I would like to see if I can talk to him about Le Roy but also how Le Roy’s ideas affected his model of community participation.

I call the expansion of the idea viral because it is not directly transmitted, that is, everyone is not just copying what Le Roy did, or how he did it. Each is continuing the idea by mutating it to suit his or her own agenda (though there seem few women involved). Interestingly the idea itself is like telepathy. You either get it straight away, in its entirety, or you don’t. I got it as soon as I opened the tall thin book of Culture/Nature/Fusion, as soon as I saw his glass, before I had ever even read a word. Its interesting to me that one of my own personal connections to this work of Le Roy’s is that I understand it from my practice as a gardener, and from one particular garden that I designed and built with my then business partner Robert Parkinson in Darling Point, in Sydney for Gleebooks owner Roger Mackell. I understood Le Roys idea about time because I had had the chance to work on that garden for 10 plus years and also to return and make amendments. In the Darling point garden we planted tress one year at a uniform density and then returned later to make a path, responding to what the plants had done since we were last there.
This aspect of responding to what has happened since your last visit is very important. The idea of the Ecocathedral building is about the labor of building something, learning through practice. Most people working on the projects have done some kind of apprenticeship with someone, worked in the Eco-cathedral themselves, doing the work. From the experience of this work process emerges a kind of logic that is then applicable for ecological concepts more broadly. A program seems to be in place where most people who work on the project do so for one morning a week. Participating in this building process, and also working with others is something I am interested in to understand the system. Louis is absolutely definite that the project is about working and phenomena, not drawings or representations or theories (that said he did give me a drawing today). He says its about the time that passes while building the damn thing. One learns through experience and iteration over time, returning again and again. In ways that I am not sure I fully understand yet Louis’ work is about human labour and energy expenditure. It’s about how much comes from what labour you put in, proportionately, from nature. His contention is that he gets huge returns from his labour. The forces are economic: a certain amount of expenditure and a greater return than expenditure is achieved. As important as the original work then is the process of return because without it one cannot measure that has been produced, and how effective the last lot of work has been. One gets the sense that there is some Zen aspect to this process because the solitary aspect of the labour is about timing, about spacing, about thinking. Or this is my expectation.. better start building. I arrive tomorrow and we will take it from there, though there have been some hassles, I am sure it will all be fine.

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