Hedgespoken is a vehicle for the imagination: a travelling off-grid theatre, storytelling project and home created on the chassis of an old Bedford lorry by artist Rima Staines and poet Tom Hirons. It’s an ambitious and wondrous plan, from two amazing people who want to share a more authentic way of life with as many people as possible.
Hedgespoken is very much a partnership, when did you first meet and how did you chance across the idea so early in your relationship?
R: We met four and a half years ago in a Dartmoor wood, our paths having crossed via a Lithuanian folktale, a drawing, two poems and a very long journey. In that wood our creative selves immediately began the dance that they have continued to do these following years, and imagined into being a phantasmagoria of liminal story and otherness that has grown into Hedgespoken, which has at its heart our common deep love for the old magic that we are so drawn to, and a keen desire to reconjure and rewild it.
T: Rima lured me from South Wales with a gorgeous map, tucked into one of her paintings. Under the illusion that I was collaborating on a Lithuanian folktale about a hedgehog, I found myself drawn deeper and deeper into a spiralling Chinese-box-world of the imagination, a simulacrum of reality in which myth, reality and the tricky edge between them gyred and waved. I woke up in Devon. I’m still not sure what happened. Hedgespoken emerged as our best shared dream in the heady early days of our courtship.
When did a desire to live an authentic life first start to impact your choices? and in what way?
R: For me, there has always been a stubbornness to live a life that makes my heart sing, and to not let my soul die a slow grey death on the conveyor belt of mediocrity. I grew up with artist parents who always struggled to make a living but did what they loved to do, and so I learnt that it was OK to follow your creative desire in life, and that poverty wasn’t worth fearing for the sake of fulfillment. After I finished art college, I was spat out into the London world with no clue about how to make my living from my art, and have been trying to figure it out ever since. I did all sorts of supplementary jobs to pay the rent and feed myself but was adamant I couldn’t and wouldn’t work in an office or call centre or some similar scenario where my soul would have to wear a grey suit. I was pretty sure that would have sent me mad, and so, instead, I worked in a museum as a Victorian kitchen maid, I taught art lessons, I busked accordion, I was poor, and all the while I painted away and tried to sell my work, slowly building up a portfolio and a sense of the life I wanted to create for myself. This is the compass by which I have continued to navigate – the waymarker of the heart and the hand – and it hasn’t always been easy by any means, but I couldn’t do it any other way.
T: An authentic life? I learned to navigate towards it in the depths of chronic depression in my late teens. It seemed like the best shot at staying both physically and emotionally alive. I can still remember grappling with all those difficult questions like ‘what is a meaningful life?’ and ‘what is beauty?’ – I looked in all the wrong places, just like you’re meant to, and it took a very long time to learn the right soul-language to be able to hear the answers. I think I heard the words most clearly in a whale’s tail and a dewdrop on a Welsh leaf, and more often at the bottom of the well than on the mountain-top.
What is the most important thing that my readers should know about your indiegogo crowdfunding project?
R: This is our first foray into crowdfunding, and its a bold leap into a dream: “Hedgespoken is our best shot, our way of taking our skills and our love of story, of art and magic, and living in a way that means we’re using all of that, all the time. And, it’s our promise, to ourselves and to our children, that we will refuse to live half-lives…” Both of us are well used to living well below the breadline, and so this time, we wanted that poverty not to hold back the possibility of making something really well, and making it beautiful and making it soon! We love the idea of crowdfunding being a kind of People’s Arts Council when funding for the arts in mainstream society is being cut left right and centre. We love the fact that this way people can choose the kinds of art and wonder that they want to have in their lives by supporting projects like Hedgespoken with whatever pennies they can.
T: we are crafting a device for creating enchantment and for spreading wonder. This is what a portal into the soul – and spirit-worlds looks like – it’s proper magic. It’s a travelling off-grid theatre, but more than that, it’s a node of condensed conjury around which the miraculous can occur. Join us…
The Alchemist, watercolour & gold wax 2012, by Rima Staines.
What kind of rewards can backers pledge for?
R: We have a unique and generous array of wonderful artful things to be got in return for supporting us – they range from handwritten thank yous through print bundles of my work (rimastaines.com), illustrated books of Tom’s poetry (coyopa.net), handmade clocks, calendars, paintings, drawing lessons, storytelling workshops, golden tickets to the first ever Hedgespoken show in an unspecified woodland on an unspecified evening, to becoming a Hedgefather or Hedgemother – a patron of the liminal arts, with your name hand-carved into the travelling Hedgespoken stage!
T: not to forget Smickelgrim handmade carnival masks!
Baba Yaga, watercolour 2010, by Rima Staines.
Rima, where did you learn your art and what have been your influences over the years?
R: I think my first and foremost and most influential art school was my childhood. I grew up watching my sculptor parents making art around me all the time and learnt a lot about image-making that way. I have always drawn and painted; it seemed like I had no other choice. After A-levels I studied for a degree in Book Arts & Crafts at the London College of Printing, where I got to make my own illustrated books for three years, but I feel I’m still painting and learning, painting and learning…
I’m inspired by many visual artists – from medieval illuminators to women surrealists, to outsider and folk artists, to 19th century children’s book illustrators, to peasant craftspeople, to many East European illustrators and artists working today. But I also find inspiration in the roots and moors and trees and birdsong and in other people living their truths creatively and boldly, and music – that’s really important to me too.
Wing Giver, oils on wood 2013, by Rima Staines.
You are also an accordionist and puppeteer, how do you juggle your various loves?
R: I don’t really see my various arts as very separate, I feel like my life is lived expressing these creative urges, which sometimes come out in paint, sometimes in music, sometimes in three dimensions… But on a more practical level, time-managing my work is something I really struggle with. There’s the ongoing niggle of needing to earn money and be an expert in accounting, self promotion, web design and marketing, when all I want to do is paint! Juggling is something you have to get really good at if you want to work as a self-employed artist in this digital age! I do love how the various strands of my work feed each other, though. There’s tunes in my paintings, and puppetry too… All the strands weave together to make my inner world a kind of minor-keyed folktale, and that is the old, melancholic, snow-blanketed, wonder-sung place from which I’m trying to express my truth.
Tom, how did you become a poet and storyteller? What path led you to this place?
T: I’m learning to be a poet – it’s going alright so far, but I think I’ll get good at it in about twenty years time. This word-apprenticeship to wild nature is a strange and wonderous process – learning to let the land speak more loudly than all the annoying cleverness in me is tricky. Currently, I’m working on writing very, very slowly. But, I began writing because I believed that I could – one Scottish May day in 1994, I thought I could write a novel, about a boy who becomes a falcon. By some grace or youthful bravado, I seized the moment, dropped out of university (for the second time) and began. That was some kind of strong commitment to the Word – I learned to storytell a few years later, embarrassed that I, as a word-worker, had nothing to offer in the way of poetry or song at an old-style ceilidh. Ashamed, I recollected Russian folk-tales I’d been told as a boy. Cue all kinds of trouble with Baba Yaga and firebirds and iron shoes and the thrice-nine lands… Storytelling began as the most terrifying thing I could imagine, me who was painfully shy and wracked with self-doubt – now, I can’t get away from it. I’m trapped. I surrender.
Dark Mountain, oils on wood 2011, by Rima Staines.
What led you to Dartmoor, and what is your favourite bit about that part of the world?
R: I arrived on Dartmoor when I was living on wheels the last time. I’d come to visit someone and only intended to stay for a week. Five years later I am still here! The grey-green singing land grabbed me straight away, and I fell in love with this place – with the granite and moss and gnarled oaks, with the wide, wild spaces and hidden nooks, with the artistic and supportive community we have here, and with the spirit of milk and honey I felt in the land. It has become beloved to me.
T: see above about being lured here! I had no idea what to expect – I was brought up in Suffolk and then lived for almost 20 years in Scotland. I never expected to live in England again – it’s too crowded and owned and full of No Trespassing signs. Having the good fortune to be lured here, I then found that this bit of Devonian land is extraordinary. It’s a great beast, brooding, singing, whispering. I’ve never loved an area like I love this one. I can’t begin to explain or understand it, but it’s the community around us here that’s the true gold. There’s amazing land all over – as Wendell Berry writes, ‘There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.’ But when you find a community that really, really works for you – that’s the grail, or one of them… Hold it preciously to your chest. Ask the right questions. Treasure it, serve it.
Despite your love of the natural world and a very grassroots way of living you are also both very good at connecting on the internet. What tension do you feel between the new and the old, and how do you manage do you manage such different modes of communication so well?
R: I’m glad you think we do this well! I actually feel a great ambivalence toward the internet because it is a soul-sucking addiction that is too big for our primitive brains and spirits to cope with, and which I feel takes the space of our necessary spirit-dreaming, though this causes much tension for me as without it I wouldn’t be able to live the life I’ve described! It has enabled me to reach other folks worldwide who connect with what I do, and buy my work, it has enabled me to make a creative living inspite of not having an agent, publisher or gallery representing me. The internet enables us to reach out directly to people, and to network with likeminded folks no matter where we or they are, it democratizes information and brings much inspiration and learning. But in the long run I dream of living in the woods far from any cables or wifi, where the only communications I have with people (of all species) are face to face, heart to heart, dream to dream…
T: We’re both communicators, like you – we love words, and speech and song and shaping letters of all sorts on all manner of media – and so we do well on the internet. And we’re massively grateful for that – and also very aware that we’re in a privileged position of being tech-savvy, articulate and possessed of the right equipment to do what we do. But, here at the tail-end of this age, it’s the medium that’s available to communicate with a large number of people – if we were in another era, it might be through pamphlets or posters or graffiti or murals on town hall walls… So, we’re using it to let people know about our dreams and aspirations for a life that’s less tied to a computer screen and a wireless connection – we are both, essentially, creatures of the woods and the hills and the river, and that’s what we’re trying to return to. If the internet collapsed and disappeared tomorrow, my mourning would last about as long as it took me to walk to the moor from here. We’d forget about facebook and news feeds and we’d congregate on village greens and wastelands to tell and hear stories, perhaps from a stage on the side of a beautiful vintage vehicle. We’d look at the stars more and diffuse ourselves less across the thousand worlds of the web. The hour is late, but we’re ready! See you there?
You can back the Hedgespoken dream here. I have, will you?
artist, Baba Yaga, Bedford lorry, Book Arts & Crafts, Crowdfunding, Dartmoor, Devon, Hedgespoken, Indiegogo, London College of Printing, People’s Arts Council, Poet, Smickelgrim, storytelling, theatre, Travelling theatre, Wendell Berry
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