AltRight, AltLeft – the world seems to be in turmoil. AltVisions is a collective aiming to highlight visions that break with convention to bring new hope for living well together in a divided world.
We challenge binaries originating in the West but now global, such as left/right, state/market, religious/secular, idealist/realist, theory/practice. We do this by bringing together diverse ideologies, diverse geographies, diverse disciplines and diverse sectors: academics studying new forms of solidarity; activists developing new forms of commoning; artists seeking to reconnect people with the earth.
Conventional ideas, conventional politics – nothing seems to resonate anymore. The old ways of thinking and acting no longer seem to work. AltVisions connects the establishment with the disaffected to begin rethinking what change means and how to bring it about.
We will place senior academics, politicians, policy makers and journalists alongside activists, artists, dramatists and musicians to explore new ways of understanding and making change.
Who we are
My artistic practice focuses around sculptural installation where the themes explored usually find their origins in current social and political events approached through a personal perspective. Borrowing from Carol Hanisch’s statement of the ‘Personal as Political’, my work is rooted in the thought that either directly or indirectly, politics affect our individual lives. A big source of inspiration for this interest was the witnessing of the economical collapse of my home country of Cyprus in 2012-13 and the subsequent rediscovery and transformation of values in Cypriot society. Later on, the conceptual focus of my work developed towards a global context, since today we are all, even involuntarily, active players within a global field in need of social change. Hence, currently I am investigating how politics can influence individuals to such an extent that it strikes a very personal chord, manifesting itself in a practical or psychological manner within the individual and thus the society at large. My point of departure is to encourage the idea of critique as proposition and thus through the element of dialogue and (in the future) citizens assemblies, attempt to counterbalance the effect of contemporary politics on us: individuals forming a collective.
I am a social anthropologist, turned development ethicist, turned peasant. Fascinated by the question of what drives people to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and what ‘the good life’ is, until April 2020 I explored the sources of ethics of religious people in, and the political economies of India and the Netherlands, at the London School of Economics and Institute of Social Studies (Erasmus University). I made insights from this available for the wider public in the Lived Religion Project. AltVisions began as an opportunity to explore those same questions in our own lives, and to collectively seek practical solutions. In May 2020 I finally plucked up the courage to put into practice what I’d learned and live ‘the art of life’ in a way that confronts, at once, excessive individualism, pointless consumptionism; exploitative capitalism; and ecological destruction: namely, small-scale, short-chain, community supported, permaculture farming. After a year of training, I hope to start my own community market garden, hopefully on new common land, while continuing to engage with policy and research in fields like the commons, degrowth, agro-ecology and the food revolution. Perhaps all is not for the best and this is not the best of all possible worlds, but the least we can do is cultivate our own garden.
My aim is to fight for a world with more love, more solidarity and more equality. There is currently a widespread perception that the world’s most pressing problems, from the ecological crisis, to nativism, to inequality, ultimately stem from an upsurge in irrationality. On the contrary, my work is devoted to explaining how, against what we might like to think as “enlightened”, “modern”, “rational” citizens, myths, rituals, magic and traditions shape our political attitudes and behaviours whether we like it or not. Rather than seeking to quash other’s myths with our facts then, we should be trying to harness myths for the common good.
Unsatisfied with discursive methods alone, I experiment with artists and activists. Inspired by collaborations with Iliada, I am learning how to value artistic thought at least equally to scientific knowledge and am exploring how art can transform behaviour. Inspired by my partner Fernande, I recently moved to a Community Supported Agriculture farm in Friesland, where I am exploring both firsthand and through research, how direct contact with the soil and plants can transform how we relate to the world and other people.
How it all started
AltVisions started as a small discussion group in our little fisherman’s house in Scheveningen in November 2018. The idea was that we would meet once a month to discuss the topics that mattered to us most, share food and share art.
We were, at the time, both migrating social scientists, with a passionate drive for creating community, unsettling conventional politics and economics, and upsetting the system. Creating AltVisions was meant to do all those things at once. As an end in itself, its aim was to create a space for community, for a sense of belonging, to thwart the individualism challenging our mental and societal health. But it was also a means of raising awareness and to discuss topics that challenged us.
Brimming with excitement about the little community we wanted to create, we went around inviting anyone we thought might be interested: because they shared our visions, or more interestingly perhaps, because they did not. We spoke to colleagues at work; to random people in pubs and cafes; and to anyone who seemed to have the spark of curiosity.
Once people had agreed to come to our home, we had to work out what to do with them.
Tim had a few tricks up his sleeve from his time working with community organisers. That would work for the discussion element.
As to the food, we asked everyone to contribute to a potluck dinner. Sharing food gave it the desired community feel.
And lastly, inspired by the spontaneous cultural and creative exchanges in Santiniketan (in West Bengal, where Fernande lived for two years), the after-dinner ‘programme’ was aimed at inspiring people to express themselves creatively without shame or threshold in a society where we have become used to being primarily consumers rather than producers of not only goods but also creativity.
After a year and a half of small homely gatherings, we felt an urge to grow AltVisions into a larger collective. Tim had already collaborated with Iliada on her art project, so the three of us thought we’d try to put something on. A few months later, we were awarded the NWO Matchmaking Grant, and we were talking with Stroom to organise a three day festival in their gallery.
Meanwhile, Fernande and Tim became farmers, trying to live out their vision in the real world. Sat in their caravan on a farm, Tim and Fernande chat with Iliada via Zoom on a weekly basis.
How did we get here? Over the years it became clear to Fernande, not least during AltVisions discussions, that her dissatisfaction with the way ‘normal’ life unfolds was not going to be resolved unless a radical change was made. She could no longer attempt to change the world by only telling about other people’s visions (the people she studied as an anthropologist), nor would it be enough to talk or write or find other ways to change the world unless a radically different life was lived. Tim for his part had always thought that it was better to stay in the city and try to make change happen there, where the majority of the world’s population live. What is more, he didn’t know the first thing about farming. But Tim also tends to think that following Fernande normally leads to something fun. And now here he is, with his wellies in the mud pushing a wheel hoe in between teaching students about global politics and writing a book about how urban community organisers can ‘save liberalism from itself’.
Our dream now is to start our own CSA, where all aspects would come together in a holistic answer to many of the world’s problems: alienation from the land, dispossession, social breakdown, inequality. Here, we would want to continue bringing the community together during AltVisions events.
Iliada remains in the city, where alongside her artistic work, she is teaching art to refugees.