Sunday, June 19, 2011

Survival Postures: A Community Experiment in Learning How to Live

Survival Postures is the latest project from Cleveland-based organizer/visionary Kate Sopko. It is "about practicing a culture that can take care of itself, re-linking culture and survival deep within our own bodies." More info at:

This winter in Cleveland, Ohio, 17 people took part in a group experiment. Each chose a task essential to their survival or well-being that they didn't know how to do. Then, over the course of February, they learned how to do it. How to build a cook stove out of soup cans, how to process wool and weave with it, how to sew homemade menstrual pads... Their Survival Postures were exhibited at a community dinner held at SPACES Gallery on March 20.

This site documents their projects, and our larger experience of working together to re-learn a myriad of lost practical skills. We invite anyone who likes what you see here to consider doing a Survival Posture of your own, and to use this forum to share what you learn with others. Contact with your projects.


Survival Postures takes a cue from feminist performance artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, who, since the late 1960's has used her art to make visible a hidden, stigmatized world of maintenance work that shores up our whole society. She once said that her work is a conscious attempt to re-link cultural practice with how we practice our own survival, saying that "Art begins at the same level as basic survival systems."

Lately in Cleveland, we've seen a huge growth in interest in re-localizing the work that provides for our community's basic needs (for example, there's been an exponential increase in urban farming). Many of us are volunteering to do the hands-on work of growing, processing and distributing food; salvaging and reusing building materials; remediating soil on polluted urban lots; and supporting local production of things like clothing, energy and shelter.

In doing so, it's become pretty clear that as an overall culture, we are very much in infancy when it comes to being actors in our own survival. Many basic skills are no longer in our vocabulary, and we rarely flex the muscles that make us producers (rather than consumers) of what we need. At this moment of cultural atrophy, re-learning practical skills will take practice, and in that practice, we will have to allow ourselves to be tentative, uncomfortable and inexperienced.

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