What brings you to Blazing Swan?
For me, Blazing Swan provides a training ground for the future…every Easter, a temporary community is built in Jilakin Rock City, Kulin. This is Blazing Swan, an annual event of art and architecture that attracts some 3,000 participants. The people who come to Blazing Swan come from all walks of life. What I love about this is that they come together to construct an ephemeral village that lasts for six days. These folks assume the role of architects and construction workers and use WA’s Wheatbelt to build all sorts of shelters and structures. The location is remote and everything built in Jilakin Rock City is packed-in and packed-out again at the end of the event. Some of the art is burned on site. This poses a unique challenge. The people who have come to build these structures have to plan them way in advance to accommodate all the challenges of working in the Wheatbelt, but the result is worth it – a striking, unique village, democratically built, set against a unique Western Australian landscape, and for only one week.
As Blazing Swan’s visibility has grown, a number of folk are attending for the first time. New people are always coming into the community and we have to think about how to support them as they encounter these new cultural practices and behaviors. We need to help acclimatise them have the experience that they’re seeking.
Sometimes it’s a struggle. It’s a struggle because of the conditions, the lack of supplies or maybe just learning how to work collaboratively in a non-commercial environment. Whatever we have with us is what we have to work with…which can foster innovation and ingenuity.
So, folk that come to Jilakin Rock City have to quickly learn how to self-organize, how to maintain their stamina, how to take care of themselves while creating this experimental space. These challenges are ultimately rewarding because we learn about our own capability and become more resilient when we succeed.
I think that there is something triumphant that happens when you have the extreme nature of the environment working against you and you manage to succeed anyway. There is a feeling of being liberated from the limitations of one’s own possibility.
When we build our village and treat each other with kindness and encouragement…that is a success in itself. It ends up not being just the structures and infrastructure, but also the process that affects the experience. The challenges really come back to how we want to be committed to a cultural integrity while being careful not to confuse the objective with the experience.
Participation is important as culture is a lived experience. People come and they participate and they give and they express themselves. There needs to be a sense of being a part of the culture. If people start going to Blazing Swan just so they can get a taste of the Kool Aid instead of helping to make the Kool Aid, then all of a sudden it’s just like anything else that’s become commercial.
Every year we build a temporary village; we work with heavy equipment in difficult conditions, we learn how to make structures that can withstand 100kph winds, we learn how to build and organize without the corrupting force of commerce. And when the event is over, we come away with an extraordinary capability to reach out across a large social network of like-minded others.
Blazing Swan also helps to build a counter culture amongst many of it’s crews; be they Theme Camps, Artists or support crews such as DPW, the Effigy and Temple build crews, Greeters, Gate or Rangers etc. Over time, these individuals shift from looking at Blazing Swan to looking out into the world. For example, Rangers have 50 to 60 volunteers who function as community problem-solvers, gifting ‘sober time’ to act as non-confrontational intermediaries between each other when we experience conflicting needs. They’re not a force or an imposition. They’re a resource. In recent times, their ethos and training materials have been absorbed and adapted to support other events, festivals or Bush Doofs outside of Blazing Swan.
The skills, knowledge and understanding encountered when we make art or build temporary structures and community is really allowing someone who’s maybe never picked up a welding torch or a hammer to engage and to learn and to be a part of building and making something. I have seen this be helpful particularly for people who are living in difficult situations where they feel like they have no control over anything in their environment.
When we embrace the 11 principals and are prepared to experience for a short while life outside our usual comfort zone, we not only learn and grow as people, but are preparing ourselves for a time when a potentially catastrophic reorganization of society demands that we fall on our own inner and outer resources to survive…