Alt Prepping

Hamish MacPherson

Alt Prepping is feminist, communal prepping.

Alt Prepping is a monthly, day-long practice in which participants structure the day in response to the idea of Alt Prepping – thinking about what kind of dance, choreographic, movement or aesthetic practices can we share, learn or devise to prepare for unknown futures. Whether preparing for the end times or for good times let’s just make sure we warm up properly first.

It is a way to think about political models, resources and repertoires beyond traditional economic or philosophical paradigms.

Perhaps we are survivors assembling after the apocalypse. Perhaps we are an underground movement readying itself. Perhaps we are some privileged dancers.

The practice is rooted in dance but is open to anyone.

17 Feb 2016. Open School East
17 Mar 2016. Open School East
20 Apr 2016. The Rebel Man Standard, Guest Projects
25 May 2016. Open School East
18 Jun 2016. Summer Dancing, DeCoda
20 Jul 2016. Open School East
5 Nov 2016. Glasgow Open Dance School, Tramway


1. Alt Prepping

Since 2012 I have been developing workshops that explore broadly political themes through embodied and collective activities.

It started with some short workshops with specific themes (like borders, power and time) and then progressed onto longer events with less specific themes. I tried to turn the latter events into something self generating where the participants could collectively decide the structure and content of the final event. This had limited success but I think it’s something that needs a lot of time because it’s not following the usual hierarchies or economies of dance making. Not that the usual structures are necessarily bad. So now with some small seed funding from Chisenhale Dance Space and space from Open School East I’m hoping to carry this on with monthly sessions called Alt Prepping (starting 17 February 2016). Prepping is the practice of making active preparations for a possible disaster or emergency, typically by stockpiling food, ammunition, and other supplies.

It’s something that I’ve been thinking about in relation to post apocalyptic fiction and political philosophy. Things like Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. Things like The Walking Dead and what that kind of fantasy about the future says and does about present fears, priorities and limitations.

But I was wondering if could we think of a kind of ‘Alt Prepping’ that stockpiles aesthetics, movements, relationships and other resources for some unimagined future? Something inspired by Octavia Butler’s postapocalyptic Parable series which describes a social contract based on human dependence and vulnerability. Or maybe even something more pessimistic and hopeless. In concrete terms we will spend a day trying out different scores that might involve dancing, moving, talking etc. finding different ways to be together and maybe think about what is important and interesting to us. But I want try to nurture something where anyone can propose things, but you don’t have to and we can always come up with new things amongst ourselves. A practice of democratic collective leaning and teaching where over time we can develop a repertoire of scores. It’s not a rehearsal, it’s not a reading group. It is rooted in dance practices but is open to anyone.

“With food, there have long been seed savers and farmers who reject the standardization of our diet. They grow things that don’t fit with industrial agriculture. They preserve the seeds for plants we may need someday.
This is what artists do culturally. We provide the wide spectrum nutrition that the soul needs and the Entertainment Industry ignores. We save cultural seeds, the DNA of ideas and ways of seeing that we may need tomorrow.
Or in 20 years.
Or 2,000 years.
Making art demands a faith beyond each particular project. We don’t know exactly how the cultural DNA we are preserving and recombining might be useful in the future.
But we do know that diverse ecosystems are more resilient, more able to respond to disturbance. The same is true of culture. Diversity of thought and imagination makes us more culturally resilient, more able to thrive in times of great change.
We live in a time of enormous and rapid change, a time that needs the wild thinking and making of artists.”
Andrew Simonet (2014) Making Your Life as an Artist

2. Cultural Survivalism

Since the previous post about Alt Prepping – my proposal for a different kind of dance exchange – three things have happened to throw light onto what this might be. The first is that we had the first session of Alt Prepping at Open School East where we arranged the space, talked, had lunch, showed books we were reading and danced a little.

While we were talking, Mary mentioned Open Space Technology which is something  I was aware of but haven’t had direct experience of.

Basically it’s a format for meetings where the participants create the agenda within the event. It’s often used in a business context but is possibly best know in an art context through Devoted and Disgruntled events about the future of theatre. But also last summer Rob Vesty and Antonio de la Fe organised an Open Space Technology event at Chisenhale about What skills are required of the dancer and poet to produce poetry and dance in performance?

Although Alt Prepping isn’t using Open Space Technology and is not primarily about discussion, I do want participants to generate their own agenda it offers a helpful reference point that other people will be aware of already. And maybe the sessions could be a bit more structured than I was originally thinking.

The second thing is that Charlie Ashwell wrote a great post (her blog is definitely worth following) titled about  ‘Basic Income, desire and dance training’. In it she writes some really interesting things about about dance training: “A radical approach to the future of dance would not be about rejecting or throwing out entire techniques or manifestos. In that a dance class is something that we do together, any instance of this coming together already holds the potential to create a new politics of dancing. We need to add to that, however, the question of how dance training might refuse to accept neoliberal capitalist conditions/ limitations and thereby transform them. Dance training is not just about individual preference, canny business strategy, survival technique, self-improvement or most-relevant skill acquisition. Training is always also collective, creative, political and choreographic. And we must make it so. As dance artists, we both produce and reproduce the contexts in which we work. Exactly who has the knowledge and authority (as well as incentive, perhaps!) to teach and what form that knowledge takes is becoming dismantled and put together in new ways. Now, potentially: everyone a teacher, everyone a student. In light of this unavoidable merging and expansion of teaching and studying, training and choreography, work and life, what kind of dancing do we want to do together? “

Her words are some kind of reminder that I think of Alt Prepping as being at its heart a way to create ways of dancing. I think I’ve also been inspired by things like immigrants and animal’s Unprofessional Class,  Antonio de la Fe’s Openlab and Shared Practice with Anne-Gaelle Thiriot, Tania Soubry, Fernanda Munoz-Newsome and Laura Doehler. Although maybe I’ve been mostly focussed on the recontextualisng of dance (as something social and political) and not given enough thought to what kind of structures I wish I was actually dancing within. I miss dancing and I am trying to find places where we can take turns to stimulate and provoke each other and let our specific interest sit alongside and overlap. The final thing is that I found an article about Lisa Bedford

‘The Survival Mom’ who writes about prepping from a female, family perspective, distinct from the traditional militaristic approach of many male preppers. For example describing a survival kit: “A travel Bible, a duct tape wallet, aluminum foil, a pink loofah. ‘Part of this kit is from this woman who wanted to develop a kit specifically for women,’ Bedford pipes in. ‘She went through so many products to find the best ones, and ones suited to the size of women’s hands, but she also has this quirky idea: She wanted something in the pack that was brightly colored, because all the emergency stuff is gray or camo, and she said, you know, you’re out and you’re stranded with your kids, but you can pull out this little pink loofah and give your kids a sponge bath, and it’ll just feel, well, like something.”

But she also seems to focus on skills, like sewing and engine work, as things to exchange and engender cooperation rather than on things to barter. She balks at how other so-called Christian preppers gleefully anticipate a time where they kill other people to protect the resources they have amassed. Instead she gives time to think about the elderly, children and people with disabilities. “What do you do when you’re well-prepared, but you see the neighbor kids out there and they’re scrounging through trash? In some scenarios, I think it’s actually the moral dilemmas that’ll eventually become more emotionally draining than ‘What are we going to eat tonight?’”

I wonder though what Lisa Bedford would make of dancing. Not much I reckon. On her website she makes the point that “prepping isn’t a hobby but a lifestyle” so that “Vacations aren’t always centered on fine food and dancing but getting outside and seeing Mother Nature in all her splendor, learning some fun wilderness and camping skills, and even checking out possible evacuation routes.” Maybe she’s got a point but maybe dance is something that flows through all these other skills – physically, emotionally, intellectually. It’s the grease.

But I’m not sure yet how literally I am taking prepping as an idea. Maybe I don’t need to know yet. And then I think I think of the book people in Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. Perhaps there is room for some cultural survivalists after all.


3. Nine meals to Anarchy

The Prepping movement is often largely concerned with being able to survive without the technological or social infrastructure that we currently rely on. In the extreme, it anticipates something like an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP), a weapon which would disrupt electronics without damaging other infrastructure.

Well perhaps not the extreme. An extreme might be decimation or total annihilation of the human species.

The EMP is kind of as bad as it gets without having to imagine an immediate pain or loss of capacity because somehow that is the worst thing we want to think about. So the fantasy dwells on an EMP, or perhaps a zombie outbreak which also leaves the survivors and solid infrastructure intact, at first.

Either way it would mean no more money, shops, public transport, hospitals.

No more MacBooks.

How do we stay safe, fed and warm in such circumstances?

But prepping is more often about more every day dangers and disasters like storms and riots. Or even just how could we survive with even a little less of the things that we rely on for security. At coffee morning in May, I’m reminded by F that Andrew Simonet makes the point in Making Your Life as an Artist about how artists need financial stability and security for emergencies and longer term changes.

But it’s not just preparing with savings or things. At the same coffee morning, Z makes a point about community preparedness. Which is what Alt Prepping is about – looking at relationships that can respond to future disaster or change.

I’ve been feeling genuinely anxious about this as I have no savings (apart from small pension that I had from when I worked as a civil servant), almost never cook for myself, spend most of my waking time using a computer, and I am moderately isolated. I feel that even for a Londoner I am dangerously reliant on fragile things. I have parents that would take me in or help me out though. And yeah, I’m aware that I totally chose to do something low paid and precarious and I have only managed to do this through a whole heap of privilege. So arguably I am privileged and stupid because I haven’t used my privilege to invest in my future. FML.

Anyway how dependent are you? Could you make work as an artist (or whatever it is your work is) the way you do without:
  • Facebook;
  • Arts Council funding;
  • the internet;
  • electricity;
  • your current level of health;
  • a home;
  • friends;
  • family;
  • Working Tax Credits;
  • a free at point of use health service;
  • civil rights; or
  • a function judicial system?

Perhaps some of these things are not available to you already. Income support or a free National Health Service for example.

One-third of UK residents only have enough money to pay rent one month at a time, meaning millions only have a paycheck-sized buffer between themselves and being homeless. Always at some point we will not be prepared, we will not be capable and we will be unable to continue. I have heard a dance artist talk seriously about euthanasia being their pension plan. And this does not seem unreasonable to me any more. But in the meantime do we need to simultaneously fight for the support structures that currently exist – structures that feel genuinely at risk as the UK (but not just the UK) moves steadily towards the political right. Prevention as well as preparation: work to avoid the worst while preparing ourselves for it at the same time. Or maybe things like welfare can be thought of as a sophisticated large sale form of prepping.

OK so even if I march for the NHS (I didn’t) do I also need to recalibrate my existence for a post-crisis Europe, experiencing increasing inequality, and facing environmental catastrophe? It feels trivial to think about how dance might operate in this context. But dance is something that we humans all do and have always done, so in its widest sense it is integral to our future. Perhaps even assured. But maybe its form needs to change or is changing. I keep thinking about it in terms of an exit from contemporary dance. That there is a current in western dance culture for which it is no longer enough to think about it in terms of a white western lineage – folk-ballet-modern-post modern-conceptual/ theatrical etc. Rather than trying to assimilate other forms (like breaking) into this tradition, an exit from this would mean that dance can be made sense of in multiple other contexts or histories. As a social, political or spiritual activity for example. Maybe community dance and participatory art are prophets of this exit (although of course the very idea of an exit requires or implies this western contemporary dance perspective so it might be the wrong metaphor), looked down upon for their inability to conform to the mainstream aesthetics or values of concert dance or visual art.

“It’s easy to feel a little left out of the prepper community if you live in New England and if you’re not fairly right wing and conservative politically. But I just don’t spend my time worrying about stockpiling guns and ammunition, because our security comes not from stockpiling weapons but from having a community that respects each other, supports each other, and we have each others’ backs.”

4. Alt Prepping at Guest Projects

Alt Prepping took place at Guest Projects on 20 April 2016 as part of The Rebel Man Standard. Alice MacKenzie wrote this about it:

We sat with the potential awkwardness of an open structure and an open group in the balance between talking and doing. And silence. For me it was a comfortable, live, curious kind of silence that felt as though it could happily stretch on into forever.

Words followed. Proposals were made, and then time and perhaps our group’s emerging structure meant that we then tried out the proposals for the rest of the day, one by one, with fairly minimal conversation about whether they were still the thing we wanted to do in that moment. Our talking and planning came all in one go in the beginning and then the rest of the day was enacting: trying, giving time and attention to each proposal in turn. Time, which had started as a long stretch into the entire, sunny day, begun to feel short and perhaps a little precious. Too precious to spend discussing? Had we decided to value lived experience over discussion perhaps? Or time as a structure for fairness?

Preparedness, readiness, and self-care. When the future is so uncertain, as it surely always is, perhaps the only possible way to prepare for it is to practice improvisation and self-care. Prepare for change, prepare to change. Self-care and the care of others, each other, to prepare not just the individual for the future, but practice support for each other.

We practiced relinquishing control of our bodies to others, whilst also asking for what we wanted. Trust and control and care and power. We practised Aikido and meditation, and this curious possibility of preparing for an unknown future through established, even ancient, disciplines.

London, we spoke of you. And the kind of cultures, value systems and ways of living built into the infrastructure of a city, into the size of a city. There are not enough places to nap in London. In Tokyo, the possibilities for napping away from home are numerous.

London how do I live in you? Work with you? Is being adept at making the best of any situation the kind of prepared we, or I,  want to be? What about being prepared to enact change? If it is also my resources and privileges that allow me to coast, to weather change and uncertain futures, what does that mean for others who do not have those same resources? Why does the idea of prepping in my mind assume a future of disaster, or at least something to be survived? Prepping for distopia rather than utopia? How would one prep for the possibility of a utopia? Mentally? Emotionally? Physically? “What if there is already enough for everyone”?

Conversations that happened inside my head and outside of it. How swiftly our group appeared and disappeared.

“I very strongly believe that, in the coming collapse, those who are able to build communities and work together - abandoning their childish, apocalyptic fantasies - will have a much better chance of survival than any Prepper I have come across. Besides, what is “survival” even worth if you are encased in a concrete bunker for years, eating MRE’s and drinking recycled piss water, living in a constant state of paranoia that someone will “take what’s yours?” Not me, I would much rather live my last days actively doing meaningful work with people I love, creating a more beautiful world than the one we left behind; a world that is based on egalitarianism for all species and types of humans, a world built on cooperation, sustainability, simplicity, and freedom. You can keep your bunkers.”

Jeriah Bowser