In 2018 the Art Earth Tech annual gathering became a tradition as, for the third time, people came from all around the world to La Cheraille, an intimate tuft of eccentric beauty that protrudes from vast flat expanse of wheat fields outside Rambouillet, France, an hour from Paris. Here Christophe Godefroy has over thirty years created an oasis of forested and flowering gardens on a property his family has been intertwined with over five generations.

After introductions, Sylvie and Rufus introduced participants to the Art Earth Tech philosophy, which includes devotion to a larger vision of life that accepts the primacy of being, of beauty, presence and our subjective quality of life. The A/E/T vision also includes the necessity of community to keep this priority in mind, and fulfilling life in general, the cheerful embrace of the realities of material sustenance, and intellectual engagement with issues of our day.

The gathering is curated with a view to balancing the intellectual and intuitive by interspersing talks and discussions with “embodiment activities” including morning meditation and yoga, blindfolded exploration and running, ecstatic dancing, meditation, sharing circles, and a workshop on healing touch. This record focuses on talks not because they are more important but because words can’t do justice to the rest.

The next presentation was by Ninon Godefroy who told the story of The LEAP (Life Education and Aspiration Project) a anti-cram summer school that she created in Taiwan. The cram school is an institution in many Asian countries, which emphasizes rote learning of facts, which pupils attend in order to outperform each other on the exams that are the gateway to admission to the best universities. The cram school mentality is all about total devotion to meeting goals set by others that are not rewarding to students themselves. The LEAP on the other hand uses pedagogical methods gleaned from a variety of sources — theater, steiner schools, art, and so on, all of which aim to put students in contact with their bodies, their senses and life itself. For many of students this short week was a revelation, opening up new avenues to expression and self-knowledge.

Naima Ritter Figures, Penny Clark, Tom Manwell and, Noah Walton, discussed conscious co-living which is both a concept and name of a venture that they have been working on. Living with greater consciousness of ourselves (which could for example, include a mindfulness practice), of other people, and also of our relationship with natural world are all aspects of conscious co-living. The “Coco” initiative as they call it, has the currents of wellbeing,  self-awareness, environmental consciousness at its back and at the same time addresses loneliness and social isolation. Examples of such communities and plans to create more were discussed.

Noah Walton discussed his project of creating the first eco-hostel in London: Eco Soul. The envisioned project would target people who are good co-livers and interested in ecological issues to create a hostel with a real sense of community, and an atmosphere that would attract regulars, of all ages who travel frequently to London.  Noah who is an experienced architect and co-liver, answered numerous questions from the audience about the funding, business plan and means of finding clientele, as well as discussing the success of similar projects in other European capitals.

In perhaps the most memorable presentation, the duo of Mark and Poppy, partners in life and aesthetic obsession, shared their struggle to inject their philosophy and artistic sensibility, into the interior of the AET London Hub. Their look, like that of La Cheraille, has much to do with the Japanese idea of Wabi Sabi — a beauty of “asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, economy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.” Their craft, developed over itinerant years, is reflected in buildings and interiors in Canada, the US, and Europe and their always just-running 1962 Triumph, and two contrapuntal dogs, Pixie and Boy.

Creating this feel in the recently purchased London hub, which serves as the permanent residence of three community members and an active meeting place in London, and which was, upon its recent purchase, a monument to bland cost efficiency, was hard. Mark and Poppy vulnerably shared the tension that developed between their artistic devotion and another core value of AET “shipping on time.” Their recounting of the ultimate resolution of this tension after deep and raw communication with the community drew laughs and warmed the hearts of all present.

Lucie Liu shared her journey in the making of Taipeilove, an exploration of the first legalisation of gay marriage in Asia (which came about via a high court decision.) Lucy, a Berlin resident, was drawn to the subject after realising that filmmakers were largely ignoring this historical event, and simply went to Taiwan. She documents the surprisingly small effect the decision has had on the day to day life for people who live in a culture that is just beginning to accept the reality of their love.

Cecile Embleton shared the story of the creation of her documentary short “the watchmaker” which captures private and beautifully precise world a of an Iranian watchmaker expatriated in London — “whatever you spend your time on, its all you have”, he says. The realities of the amount of work and negotiation required to make a ten minute movie.

Rufus shifted the focus to tech with a presentation of his recently published book “Open Revolution” which argues that ownership of information makes today’s digital economy “closed” in turn creating problems ranging from growing inequality, to unaffordable medicines, to the power of a handful of tech monopolies to control how we think and vote. He offered concrete steps to a more equitable, innovative and profitable future for all.  

In the same presentation Rufus and Iwe discussed the perils of “techno-solutionism” the tendency to believe that persistent problems in the world can be easily solved by clever new technologies. This belief in the blanket power of tech comes easily to a society that has a daily experience with technology that is so advanced that it seems magical (paraphrasing Arthur Clark.) We discussed how to think past this tendency.

Laurie Parma and I lead a discussion on the well being movement which aims to refocus on what really matters in life, but often seems confined helping workers to keep functioning. The  pursuit of well-being brings forces us discuss topics and practices that were historically religious matters, and not fit for open discussed. Along with Naima Ritter we asked audience members to reflect on how truly radical pursuit of well-being can be undertaken, and what role spirituality might play in this.

In addition to all these presentations, we had group discussions about a wiser relationship with wealth and with technology, education, and the in depth discussion of the realities of co-living as well Art Earth Tech’s specific efforts in these areas.

Liam Kavanagh

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