The third in a series of conversations about the transiency of FoAM bxl. This time we asked ourselves what if FoAM bxl would consider rituals as a focus of our work in the coming years? The conversation developed from the Macrotransiency of Barbara Raes, looking at a possible follow-up of her research into rituals related to death and dying as a FoAM project or a structurally funded lab.

FoAM ∩ ritual

Ritual

What do we associate with a ritual?

  • Connection, social cohesion, inclusion, enriching, giving, “Every man and woman is a star”
  • Peak experiences, contact with the supra-human, divination & invocation, rapture, conversion, honouring
  • Focusing of purpose, clarity
  • Tradition (een verhaal onderschrijven dat uit een traditie komt)
  • Transition, transformation, change of status, giving meaning
  • Time marker, a moment to remember, life & death
  • Emotional conduit, tears and smiles, sharing emotion, energy, rapture, crunchy delirium
  • Energy, fire, smell of smoke, river water, rain drops, beauty, colours, dressed-up, decorated
  • Silence, space to breathe
  • ▢,△,◯

FoAM

What do we associate with FoAM?

  • Grow your own worlds, bubbles (many), tangles, 'groeigrond', a temporary autonomous zone
  • Healthy environment, home, food, a place to be yourself, individual togetherness, generosity, responsibility
  • Total experience, a caress for the senses
  • Taste of brilliance, hidden treasures, supernatural, deadly mushroom ballet
  • Interstices, open ended (processes, effects…), unfinished experiments
  • Silence in the storm, motionless fireworks, space to think, do, breathe, meet…
  • Playful, nuclear proactor, childish adults, swings, characters, voodoo quaker bellydance, ping-pong
  • Constant flux, polyrhythmic, different rhythms
  • Sustainable environment, green, green, green
  • Saving the world, scale vs scope, perpendicular heavenly instruction

FoAM & Rituals

What lives in the cross-section between FoAM and rituals?

Most things mentioned above can be relevant for both FoAM and rituals, so we can draw a larger circle around the two, in which the characteristics of FoAM as a lab for rituals are already described. However, there are a few specific words that appeared in both discussions, which could be seen as a foundation of FoAM as a lab for rituals:

  • Celebration
  • Process
  • Participation, care
  • Alternatives, reframing, recodification
  • Aesthetics
  • Connections, “ontmoeting”
  • Transition and transformation

FoAM lab for rituals

What does it mean for you (FoAM members present at the conversation)?

  • Study and appreciation of the existing history and context of rituals. Understanding and uncovering rituals that are already out there, both rarified and non-rarified, including things that aren’t yet considered rituals and border on (unconscious) habits (e.g. employment, dress-codes, greetings, negotiations, etc.). Learning about the structures, codes and formalisms of traditional rituals
  • Participaning in out-of-the-ordinary experiences; partaking in non-conceptual, pre-linguistic and/or Dionisian celebrations
  • Developing our culture of hosting and hospitality, food and drinks in the framework of rituals
  • Becoming a place where magic can happen and lives are changing
  • Being a garage for rituals (construction, repair, maintenance…), customised rituals that are unique yet grounded in tradition (for individuals and communities)
  • Moments of deep seriousness punctuated with moments of lightness, silliness and humour
  • Developing FoAM’s specific aesthetics
  • Connecting to people from divergent fields (e.g. artists, technologists, druids, anthropologists…) and creating unholy alliances
  • Working with rituals in a secular context and working with appropriate technologies (e.g mobile phones aka tracking devices) to connect rituals to the contemporary zeitgeist (e.g. geomancy using GPS satellites)
  • Rituals related to our relationship to the future - contemporary invocation and divination practices
  • “The Method of science, the aim of religion” finding FoAM’s place in relation to the the post-enlightenment pantheism, occultism, avoiding the failings of fundamentalist religion and reductionist science.
  • Becoming aware of our own cultural traditions and contemporary realities in which we live (e.g. we can’t escape being embedded in our societies)
  • Collecting existing rituals from various traditions (ancient, syncretic, contemporary) around the world
  • Developing a fieldguide for ritual techniques, flows, processes and methods
  • Looking at different ways to document, reflect and analyse rituals (e.g. State specific science and irrational, irreal methods)
  • Connecting the world outside to the 'hidden treasures' in FoAM
  • Engaging in 'soul midwifery' - deep listening during dying and other transformational processes
  • Finding a multifaceted language and different ways to talk about rituals in different contexts (e.g. young people, scientists, businesses, paliative care units, cultural critics, school children, etc.)
  • Conducting Learning journeys, immersive experiences and training expeditions in traditional communities (e.g. monasteries)
  • “To foam” as a verb that needs no explanation
  • Be very careful and aware of unintentional (yet inevitable) branding as a ’sect’

What does it mean for the ritual as an art form, with a place in the art world/sector?

  • Participatory events of different durations, where the process and performance inform each other
  • Guided tours the gardens of Earthly Delights / Eden
  • A combination of music and architecture, sonic spaces
  • Direct experiences: singing, breathing, listening, dancing, sleep deprivation…
  • Nature walks and storytelling, slowing time, “time unbinding” (see Human Plant Interaction)
  • Rediscovering (cultural/environmental) pilgrimage and old routes as an alternative to 'consumerist tourism’
  • Ritual architecture
  • Experience and event design: small everyday rituals and extraordinary total experiences
  • The art field can become a neutral space, an entry point to (re)introduce rituals (to atheists, good communicators, potential art donors, etc.) as participatory events. The danger is that if we frame rituals as art they might not be taken seriously.
  • Reframing and reclaiming art as part of (daily) life
  • Licensing requirements: a ritual commons
  • Revaluing of collective, anonymous creations, acknowledgement of horizontal and vertical lineage (transdisciplinary and historical)
  • Artisanal ritualcraft

What does it mean for society and ‘the world’?

  • Small, mundane, prozaic rituals AND non-ordinary peak experiences
  • Social cohesion, family in the broadest sense of the word
  • Life-changing experiences
  • Safe and supervised spaces for non-ordinary experiences and alternative states of consciousness (including a political and/or pragmatic approach to end prohibition of psychedelics (in rituals; possible collaboration with MAPS))
  • Raising awareness of the need for secular rituals to fill the void left in the wake of grand (religious) narratives (see Religion for Atheists); reclaiming and reframing christian rituals in secular contexts (e.g. baptism, communion, marriage, etc.)
  • Transdisciplinary and transgenerational, building bridges between cultures, creating space for next generations
  • Reframing traditions as well as creating rituals for situations in which they could exist but don’t exist yet (e.g. rituals for miscarried children)
  • Reframing what 'spirituality' might mean in a materialist society
  • Finding a more mutually beneficial relationship between humans and the rest of the world (ref. McKenna’s “Planetary Other”)
  • From a culture of fear to a culture of trust

In the conversation on the 1st of June we continued looking at the societal relevance of rituals in general and FoAM's take on rituals in particular. We also discussed what kind of organisational structure would make most sense for continuing this work. The most important decision was that we decided NOT to apply for structural funding in 2015, to give ourselves the time needed to explore the subject through (university) research and as a project.

Present: Barbara, Rasa, Alkan, Angelo, Bart, Nik, Maja, Stevie

Why rituals today?

Rituals used to be a more significant part of (social) life up to the last 50 years or so. Since then there seems to have been a need (which isn't new) to fill the social and spiritual gaps that were left in the wake of the collapse of the grand narratives of the 20th century (religious, ideological, political, etc.) and further eroded by the hey-day of individualism, late capitalism and neo-liberal politics (see The Only Way is Down by Dougald Hine).

Whether the need for rituals is increasing as we move into the 21st century (e.g. due to increased environmental and economic uncertainty that is added to the 'nuclear' uncertainty) is debatable, but what is certain is that the 'ritual gap' hasn't been successfully filled for many people. Who these people are, and how and why rituals might need to be reframed in the contemporary context, is the topic of Barbara's research project, commencing from September. This project focuses specifically on rituals of death and dying, but at FoAM we could complement this dimension by casting a wider net to look at an ecology/typology of rituals. We could map different traditional ritual approaches and strategies without attaching metanarratives or our particular description of reality to them. It would be interesting to pull apart different functions of rituals as used in religious contexts (e.g. social, spiritual, transitional, etc.), and look at whether this can exist beyond whole culture in which religion exists (c.f Alain de Botton's Religion for Atheists and Phil Torres' Atheism, Emerging Technologies and the Future of Humanity, Ulrich Libbrecht's Is God dood?). Social aspects such as friendship and community-building would likely become quite relevant in FoAM's approach to rituals (e.g. our hosting culture). In general it might be worth looking further at friendship as an often overlooked aspect in collaboration and other collective endeavours (cf. Affective Communities). What might be some of the contemporary friendship rituals worth exploring – beyond the ones co-opted by social media?

A question was raised whether this pulling apart of technique, narrative and cultural context is too much of an arguably problematic intellectual exercise in deconstruction. We agreed that our approach to rituals should be (embedded in) an applied philosophy, with links to Object Oriented Ontology, Speculative Realism, Pataphysics, etc. A good person to talk to this about would be Antoon van den Braembussche, currently working on a book on silence/stillness. The question remains whether adding a philosophical framework can be done without it turning into another description of reality (which can then be turned into a dogma etc.), or without it being mere methodology (which might be a problem as well)?

The term ritual (lat. ritus – ceremony, religious usage) carries weighty cultural baggage that varies for different people: for some it evokes 'mumbo-jumbo' feelings, for others it's the domain of sects, and for yet others it's related to transition, or the small and mundane. We might need more clarity in what we mean by rituals at FoAM. It seems to be a kaleidoscopic word evoking multiple interpretations, though also with strong connotations of the traditional and the conservative.

While running through the group's various understandings of the term, we found that an interesting avenue to explore was to think about what would constitute FoAM's ecosystem of rituals (an exercise which would be related to the mapping of traditional rituals). The typology could include rites of passage, guides for peak/extreme experiences, thresholds, everyday rituals, seasonal rituals, rituals nested in different time cycles, celebrations, trance states (through repetitive tasks), etc. By looking at a collection of rituals as an ecosystem we would be able to explore the issue of resources, energy flows, life-cycles, etc., which might help explain why some of the current 'plastic' rituals in religious institutions (e.g. Communion, Easter, etc.) are so devoid of deeper social meaning, and disconnected from people's personal lives.

There is a productive tension between rituals and openness; rituals as a point in time and continuous processes of transformation; conservatism and inciting change; repetition and freedom, etc. Related to the juxtaposition of rigidity and openness is the relationship between ritual rules/structures and improvisation, which we associated with similar relationships in cooking, programming, gaming, or ceremonial magic, including rules, heuristics, recipes, code, spells, etc. For example the usual structure of 'separation-transformation-reintegration' found in rites of passage that still allow for immense diversity of ritual forms, adapted to different cultural contexts. How can we design rituals that don't become stale and dogmatic but change over time, while simultaneously providing a grounding for a person or a community? Are rituals facilitators of transformation, or can rituals themselves be in constant transition? One way to approach this question is to think about whether we offer pre-designed rituals to people, or facilitate their design – empower people to create their own rituals?

We briefly talked about Maja's intuition (which arose after the first conversation) about the connection between rituals and two other intertwined directions that Nik & Maja are exploring: speculative culture (c.f Resilients, Future Fabulators, PARN, etc) and techno-ecological pantheism (c.f Dark Ecology, Machine Wilderness, Thalience, Romantic Machine, Silent Dialogues, etc). One of the links between these three themes is design, focused on building experiences through (new) connections and relationships. This is a much broader topic of discussion which we'll hope to continue at the FoAM retreat in autumn, with people from other FoAM studios as well.

Funding and governance

The deadline for the next structural funding round from the Flemish Authorities is 1 October 2015. After that, the next one will only be in 2020. We decided not to apply for structural funding, for several reasons: problems with authenticity, the process needing more time, non-existent human resources, etc. This follows our recent line of thinking related to de-institutionalisation of FoAM and working more as a network. There are still infrastructure concerns we'll have to address: the reason why we began applying for structural funding was to fund all the things that usually fall in the gaps between projects (continuous technological and physical infrastructure, informal community building, development and support for our primary and secondary audiences, etc. So the question to resolve now will be: what do we do with the things that aren't explicitly fundable through projects (e.g. overheads, tech and communication infrastructure, etc.) – do we try to find ways to include them in project funding or minimise non-project infrastructure?

Project funding of the Flemish Authorities has been extended and can now support projects from 1-3 years. The deadlines for applying are the 15th of January, May and September each year. So if we'd apply in September 2016 and are successful we could have funding from January 2017. This gives us more than a year to formulate a coherent project. The Flemish funding could be supplemented with an EC project (e.g. the Future Fabulators follow-up with Time's Up) for up to 75%.

In addition to the familiar non-profit strategies, Barbara is exploring a possibility to form a co-operative with FoAM as one of the founders and associates. This would allow us to explore alternative (for profit) financing models and different types of collaboration and ownership.

Barbara's university research will fund some of her time which can feed the preparatory stages of the more practice based-projects. It might be relevant to explore other people's connections to academia to expand the research aspects of the work.

For now we will continue exploring this three-pronged axis of a VZW (with project funding), a co-operative, and a partnership with university, but are open to discussions about other models as well.

Next steps

The next conversation will happen at the FoAM Network retreat in autumn 2015. By then Barbara will have one or two mentoring sessions on co-operatives (which others can join if interested). All interested members are invited to continue informal conversations and occasional messages on tangle.