How to start a movement

  • commissioning and public space

"Want to get moving for the climate but don't know how? You don't have to come up with it all by yourself! We help you on your way through How to start a movement: an adventurous post project by artist Merel Smitt, in collaboration with collective the Weeds & Humanistisch Verbond." When Esther Didden read this in the Humanistisch Verbond newsletter, her curiosity was piqued and she invited Merel Smitt for a conversation.

Merel Smitt studied directing at the Toneelacademie Maastricht and a few years later took a master's degree at DAS Theater (formerly DasArts) in Amsterdam. There she explored the boundaries of theater making and found that she would rather make something in a nearby monastery than in the theater.

Smitt now has an interdisciplinary practice. She makes art in which she disrupts the thinking of our daily lives. She is attached to Productiehuis Theater Rotterdam, where she is given every freedom to develop work beyond the theater walls. In this role in 2021, she made an earlier version of How to start a movement. Indeed, as a format, the project is well suited to making all kinds of social issues discussable.

Her new project, with the Humanist Alliance, is about restoring our relationship with the earth. An earlier project in Rotterdam was about how to relate to your daily life in a different way. That project took place in corona time, which made the question urgent.

Indeed, as a format, the project is well suited to discussing a variety of social issues

Over a three-week period, each participant received fourteen envelopes in the mailbox. In them were instructions, (reading) materials, messages and traces of the movement that were to be watched, followed or enforced. For three weeks they examined and questioned the dynamics of Rotterdam and the rules followed and enforced in society. An exploration that was at once intimate and collective. The contents of the envelopes were different each time. The assignments always fitted into everyday life, on the way to school, work, the supermarket or during a walk.

So while the theme may change, the approach is the same. Also in the current edition of How to start a movement a participant receives mail almost daily for three weeks. Participants are sent mail by Smitt movers called, and while participation is free, it is not optional. It starts with a central digital meeting, where you get to know her and the other movers. And at the end come all the movers live together. If you want to participate, you are required to attend both meetings. Smitt values the collective reflection on the process and what the post assignments set in motion.

A personal quest through experimentation and by stepping outside your comfort zone

About the post and the assignments themselves, she doesn't want to say much. That must remain mysterious. Participants surrender to the unknown. They receive assignments (missions) and one must work with them. For this edition, Smitt developed two missions in collaboration with artist collective De Onkruidenier. She also sends examples to participants of artwork related to climate. She believes it is important that people feel they are participating in a work of art. That as a participant you can and may explore. Especially if you are searching in what you can and want to do for the climate and how you want to relate to those (huge) issues, this project is suitable. It helps you literally and figuratively begin a personal quest through experimentation and by stepping outside your comfort zone.

The participant is in charge

The Humanist Alliance asked Smitt to produce an edition of How to start a movement to develop within their national pro-gram component Ecohumanism. They provided their network and a working budget. As clients, they want to get people thinking; they are not concerned with the return on the project. It's a way of working that Smitt appreciates. She explains that everything in the project is handiwork. For example, if someone is on vacation for a few days, she sends the mail to the vacation address. That makes the project intensive in terms of time and planning, but it's really the only way she wants to do it: moving with the participants.

Finally, she emphasizes that a participant's turn is her own. Nothing needs to be returned to her "for verification. "If one wants to participate, they do it for themselves and not for me." Her role is to engage and facilitate the setting in motion as best she can.

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