Only now am I slowly finding words to talk about this. There can and should be a lot written about the conditions that motivate projects like ours. However, in my blog post, I want to write about what it means to come back.
In a way, about what one is up against personally. Because one doesn't only navigate the very complicated ethics of social practice projects, the practical difficulties, problems of team-work, or navigating oppress systems. Doing such a project right also means opening yourself, listening in the first place and being vulnerable. And it changes you.
As I believe many of you do, I'm following the actions of the Standing Rock in opposition to Dakota Access Pipeline. I'm actually hoping to somehow come to the resources that would allow our team to help a little bit. Maybe even be able to go and see like one of our volunteers, Sarah, did.
My heart is overflowing with sadness and awe towards the people in the camp. I see the strength their fight requires. I know it is not just the money and time it costs them. Not just all that the desperation of having to fight for their life, being oppressed by those who promised to take care of them, having these people continue to take from them. There is a day-to-day struggle for meaning. And there will be scars left on each one of them that will cost them so much more than they already have to pay. Even if there was an immediate happy ending, there has been so much trauma inflicted and re-opened.
When I went back home to Prague from Navajo Mountain, I expected the shock. I also came to terms with the fact that there is very little of that life-changing experience, that others will be able to understand and so I'll have to be alone with it. We talked about all of this before I left. It didn't make it easier but it helped. However, those were not the epicenters of most of our struggle, or, to put it bluntly, the depression we faced upon our return from the project.
It was hard to go back to the studios, to lectures, to writing papers and talking about theory, when suddenly it felt somehow artificial, not real enough and at points meaningless. There were times when I felt like Ella and Ryan are the only ones that I could talk to. Even about my every-day life. Not because my other friends, peers, and teachers wouldn't want to or couldn't understand but because I had no words. Because I didn't know what was happening to me. I reached some very low points.
Slowly, I realized that throughout the project I soaked in so many stories. Allowing myself to have a very tender heart throughout and after the project meant the stories of injustice, Ryan's, Ella's and Graeme's stories, the buildings' history, the indescribable beauty of the land and Ryan's family, all lived inside me now. The spirit of the Mountain is with me always. And sometimes it helps me through the day. Sometimes, all the stories feel too much to bear. Now, I don't claim to know anything of the weight that is being Native American in present United States. I have just the barest touch with a surface of very few local experiences. I still had all my privileges, all my securities. But there are no instructions on how to come to terms with your failures, or the scale of the change that happens to you.
I felt like I’d be a failure if I don't make sense of what happened. Yet it seemed entirely impossible to make sense of it. I’m starting to think it actually is.
When I felt like I was hitting the bottom, I asked a teacher and friend of mine, Brian Conley, a brilliant artist and thinker, for help. We have continued to talk. And I'm not in any way done with coming to terms. But I want to share with you a bit of what he told me. There is only one thing to do when you don't want to hide, push the stories away, or deny them or your experience. You have to make yourself big enough, big enough so it can all live in you. All the contradictions, the reality that is always ambiguous, complicated, unsolvable, rarely makes any sense, your helplessness, your actions, your failure together with the small victories, the people you love in their complexity, the complications of social practice, your team. The way out, to me at least, isn't summarizing or choosing a filter to see through, it is thinking critically, in entangled relations, in complexities and specificities, all at once, personally.