In collaboration with h-artlab

Since 2019

C.A.R (Cellule d’Actions Rituelles / Ritualistic Actions Cell) is an on-going collaboration with artist duo h-artlab. It was born on the first anniversary of the cancellation of the airport project of Notre-Dame-des-Landes in January 2019 and has since dedicated itself to introducing rituals of care, to celebrate commoning and the cycle of the year, mostly on the zad.

Our practice is rooted in magic (which like many others, we believe “works in practice but not in theory”) and involves the theatre of ritual, designed to shift us out of the mundane into common modes of intensity and attachment and to act as containers for intentions. Our rituals use what is at hand, it can be mud masks or gas masks, giant newt puppets or handfuls of glitter; what counts is that they “work”, that reality is bent, that community is solidified. We facilitate rituals of resistance but also workshops, including that which explores how to remain ungovernable even after death.

Selected media (in French)

From culture to rite. A radio chronicle on France Culture, on January 17th 2020, live from the zad library.

A short video about the protection ritual for the Planchettes in online magazine Reporterre

An interview with Alessandro Pignocchi, a dear friend of the CAR

An article by JJ about rites and commoning

More about the C.A.R

On January the 17th 2018, France’s prime minister went onto live TV, with the minister of interior on his right hand side and that of the environment on his left, and announced the abandonment of the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport project. In the same breath he also said that the “rule of law would return to the outlaw zone”, that if all expropriated farmers could get their land back, the “illegal” occupiers of the zad would have to leave before the 31st of March 2018, after which they would be evicted. Those who had saved this land from concrete had to leave.

France’s biggest public order mobilisation since May 68 began at 4am on the 8th of April,  when 4000 robo cops, Drones, helicopters and tanks began their attack. Within three days over 40 of our homes were buldozed,  11, 000 tear gas and explosive grenades thrown at us, three hundred of us were injured, some gravely. The zad was forced into legalising its squatted land and already explosive conflicts between inhabitants reached a crescendo.

Faced with a community in trauma, when plans were afoot to celebrate the first anniversary of the abandonement, the Cellule d’Actions Rituelles, C.A.R (the Ritual Actions  Cell) was set up to perform a healing ritual, inspired by the fact that the newts on this wetland have cells that can repair themselves.

This extract from our book “We Are ‘Nature’ Defending Itself: Entangling Art, Activism and Everyday Life” explains this experiment (and a few others) in more depth:

The C.A.R was launched with a ritual designed for the first anniversary of the abandonment, January 17, 2019, that the zad has declared a public holiday. The giant marbled newt puppet built for the party to celebrate the cancellation of the airport was brought out of storage and given a huge red velvet heart, broken in two. Ghostly 3m tall riot police with monstrous glowing red eyes were felled, a special song about the rebirth from the ashes sung. At the climax the newt’s heart was repaired by mud masked spirits together with hundreds of folk binding it with red rope. Newts have special cells that enable them to self-repair their hearts if damaged, it seemed a fitting metaphor for a rite of passage from one zad to the next, a ritual to come to terms with our loss together, to connect us to each other and our more than humans accomplices, who have taught us so much about how to live. The ritual ended with the lighthouse being switched on to the sound of Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart. The crowd danced inside the newt as it wound its way to a sumptuous banquet in a circus tent on the other side of the forest.

We believe the difference between art and ritual is that a ritual is not a reflection, expression or representation of a world, it is a tool to create and transform it. An important ritual for us is May Day, because it is as political as it is pagan. Its roots are in Beltane, celebrated on the eve of May 1, a fire festival honoring the explosive fecundity of life in springtime. In many parts of the world this is marked with the erection of maypoles, connecting earth and sky. Traditionally, folk danced around them and, often, orgies followed. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that, in 1887, revolutionaries used the next day to rage against death, organizing demon- strations to commemorate the execution of seven anarchists following the Haymarket bombings the year earlier. Within a generation, May Day had become international workers day.

It is our favorite holiday because it weaves together ecology, communism, and anarchism. On May Day 2000, JJ was busy with Reclaim the Streets, co-organizing a mass guerrilla gardening action where 8,000 people dug up the lawn in front of the British Parliament to plant vegetables and Winston Churchill’s statue was infamously given a grass mohawk. In the good old tradition of May Day, it ended in a riot. Exactly 20 years later, we found ourselves with a horse named Wings of Heaven, poaching a storm-felled tree out of the forest of Rohanne with which to make a maypole.

Three huge bonfires lit up the night, a snare drum rattled, and, echoing an ancient tradition intended to protect livestock from pandemics, the zone’s oldest cow was led through the smoke. In the Ambazada’s hall, people were making a huge crown of flowers and preparing, stripping and painting the 20m long spruce, to be raised by hand the following day. Aphrodisiac cocktails were served, and a film played as backdrop: shots of sea coral squirting eggs, slugs twisting in their blue psyche- delic mating goo, microbes dividing and other forms of life’s flamboyant fertility, intermixed with footage from May Day riots across the world. The next morning a solo violin played in the prairie as we carefully lifted the maypole into position. Once vertical, Cam climbed up high to undo the pulley ropes. She was crowned May Queen. A few days later she was pregnant.

Last week we baptized Cam’s 3-month-old baby, Mady Hima Beltane, beside the maypole. There was confetti, a Disney song, pigs blood, and ale from the brewery poured from a magnum that was last used to celebrate the sending off of a comrade to fight alongside internationalist comrades defending the autonomous region of Rojava, Kurdistan. As the sun set, we walked through a giant glowing red vulva made from willow, tasted a symbolic ‘vaginal’ fluid that brings bacteria and immunity to a newborn, and began a themed costume party, whose invitation summoned decadence and a long list of themes: Sequins, Gorgon, David Lynch, Voguing, Josephine Baker, Pan, Frida Kahlo, and Kiddy Smile!

Ritual is the theater of magic: transformation through communication. It is the ancestor of all art and its future if we want to build worlds that reclaim the commons, rather than nourish extractivist culture. Like carnival, ritual erases the space between performer and public, life and art. It replaces extractivism with care, representation with reciprocity, and it gives back the force of a specific time, place, and community to art.

The shared values, emotions and purposes of commoning need to be cultivated. Scholars David Bollier and Silke Helfrich call this “ritualizing togetherness,” and it works best when dissolved into everyday life. Every Monday in many living collectives of the zad, cleaning and meetings mark the beginning of the week. At our collective, la Rolandière, we put on loud dance music and a dozen people get down with their mops, buckets, and brooms. Rather than a lonely chore, housework becomes a shared joy.

The primary characteristic of the commons is that there is no separation between users and objects, everything is bound together in relationships of reciprocity and mutual co-creation, it is an interconnected dance of life and death, giving and receiving. Commons are complex networks of mutual transformation, yet always aiming for a higher goal: to create the greatest possible fecundity for all, to make sure that life continues to give life.

This process of mutual transformation is also a primary characteristic of life itself. All bodies and beings, from the cells in your hands to a blue whale in the Indian ocean, become ‘self’ through reaching out, touching, inhaling, and transform- ing each other. There is no self without other. The breath you just took in was the exhalation of plants, who in turn breathe in broken down bits of the carbon building blocks of your body in the form of C02. When you breathe out, you are giving some of your body away to others.

This metabolic process is far from the deceptive image of life our biology teachers taught us, of engine-like bodies that ingest fuel and spit it out as exhaust. Machines remain the same, but bodies are always changing. Life only becomes possible because each body splits off a bit of itself to become the other’s body. Self-is-self-through- other, a deeply erotic process.

Commoning on the zad has taught us that to build a revolutionary force we must orchestrate all the dimensions of resistance (self-defense and disobedience), material means (places to meet, production of food, etc.) and affective work (through culture, songs, poems, etc.). With regard to this last dimension, rituals are key to galvanizing our collective affective strength. They are moments of connection where we can clarify common visions, mourn or celebrate victories together. In ritual, we recreate our ties to each other. We are reminded what true freedom is: a paradigm shift from the isolating, disconnected free electrons of the I, able to do what it wishes, promised by capitalism. Rather, ours is an embodied freedom, where communities of humans and more-than- humans are nested, entangled and tied up with each other. Without our relationships to our food and friends, air and water, land and lovers, we are not free to flourish at all. We are not only embedded in relationships; our very identities are created through relationships. Rituals help sustain these reciprocal relationships, they mark and enable change and yet frame the continuity of life, with its repetitions and cycles, they are balancing acts. Most importantly they give gratitude and remind us what it means to be part of a commons made up of so many other perspectives.

“To practice magic, we can’t simply honor nature’s cycles in the abstract,” Starhawk reminds us. “We need to know them intimately and understand them in the physical as well as the psychic world. A real relationship with nature is vital for our magical and spiritual development, and our psychic and spiritual health. It is also a vital base for any work we do to heal the earth and transform the social and political systems that are assaulting her daily.”