This is the introduction to Milestones written in 2001
Milestones is the overall title for WSI's programme of work for the next few years: research and development into the life markers on the journey from birth to maturity.
This gives the company a very broad canvas. With its ongoing work in rites of passage and new ceremonies at the centre, and a wide range of associated work around it.
Milestones is the container for all the company's ambitions regarding programme development.
Rites of Passage: Starting with our current work on funerals, memorials, naming, baby welcoming, and partnership ceremonies, this programme has already begun to move into new areas such as: reconciliation, adulthood, new beginnings, anniversaries, and forms of public requiem. The creative devices available are limitless: painted or sculptural coffins, handmade ceramic urns, new songs, processional music, paper cuts, banners and prayer flags, crystal goblets, bowls and medallions, words of declaration, portable wayside shrines or markers, ceremonial kit such as lanterns, flags, bunting, canopies, braziers and so on. Above all, the work is practical, it is actual, it is necessary. These are real ceremonies for real people, in joy or grief, with no margin for error.
Dissemination of Ideas: WSI will continue to publish and disseminate its ideas and prototypes by all means available, including books, videos, and the website, talks, performance lectures etc. Engineers of the Imagination: the Welfare State Handbook provided a generation of artists with ideas and inspiration. More recently the Dead Good Guides (Funerals in '96 and Namings in '98) have continued the tradition of practical handbooks. John Fox's blitz through the last thirty years 'Eyes on Stalks' published by Methuen in 2002. Ideas in development include: 'Rituals for Artists' examining the reasons why artists should get involved in rites of passage work, 'Occasional Remedies' functional poems for points of change, and a book on 'Life Partnerships', (with the emphasis on avoiding hypocrisy) to complete the Dead Good trilogy. There will also be the texts of performance lectures such as 'Longline' in the form of epic poetic documentary, and books for children.
Art with the Community: With the premium always on the creation of high quality, beautiful and accessible art, WSI will continue to offer opportunities for the local community to come together and to celebrate. The lantern parade can develop further maypole-like ritual sculptures from a mass of individual lanterns, and a creative context can be established with artists working together with the community to contribute major sculptural lanterns to the finale. The Ulverston Flag Festival could extend to personal home made family flags and permanent metal arches at the entrances and exits to Ulverston decorated for the festival with bunting, lights and lanterns. New forms of community celebration could evolve, using WSI's warehouse arena, in response to local ecological concerns, in the form of seasonal mythological dances and parades. As well as making a contribution to the creative life of Ulverston, this work will generate prototypes and models of good practice to take WSI's work into the wider world.
Installations: A new model for rich creative collaboration has emerged from early work such as Lantern Arcade and Candleriggs in Glasgow, through Satellite House in Ulverston, to more recent work such as SAND, FORD, Nativity of the Beasts, A Child's Eye View and 'One Rock' our first installation of Longline, where Lanternhouse comes into its own as a great space to work and to show work. At their best these are contemporary meditations or altarpieces that demonstrate a multi-layered and often complex poetic vision, made manifest through a process of intense collective activity. The ambition is always to create a work out of the zeitgeist, hugely enjoyable to a seven-year old, which wouldn't look out of place at Tate Modern.
Architecture and Landscaping: The work in Rites of Passage often requires the transformation of spaces for specific ceremonies. . New ceremonies may require a new architecture. WSI has a role in the creation of ceremonial architecture, and gardens of remembrance, and in advising on ways to transform registry office weddings and crematoria. Wishbone House provided such an opportunity for WSI to create a new, portable, contemporary ceremonial space. Meanwhile we continue to adapt and change our local environment - the WSI warehouse amphitheatre, and the Lanternhouse garden.
Reconciliation: From the events of September 11 to the Alder Hey body parts scandal, the need to find ways of bringing together people from every kind of aesthetic and religious perspective is the most pressing issue of our times. Artists have a role to play in examining the seeds of violence, and bringing about change and reconciliation. We have worked with international artists such as The Nutcracker (Tanzania) and Season of Shadows (Cambodia) offering a gesture of support. The DEAD exhibition offered 17 national and international artists an opportunity to create funeral objects, both practical and celebratory. Our engagement with Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital offered a ceremony for many hundreds of grieving parents and gives a glimpse of the importance and potential of this area of work in the national arena.
Creative Collaborations: In our culture artists tend to work alone, and are encouraged to develop a personal iconography - distinctive but limited by a self-imposed regime of self-reference. WSI has always worked collaboratively, respecting our artists' individuality, but looking for an intuitive sharing of values and assumptions. Research can be quite specific - a glass goblet for a newborn child - or not, looking for that wild element that changes all our perceptions. At best, the resulting work contains the paradoxes and contradictions of life experience within a shared aesthetic frame, creating something more powerful than a series of separate contributions. The opportunity we offer artists to work voluntarily on projects such as the Lantern Festival Finale is a unique training ground in the principles of collective working - it's rare. The experience of the kinds of artist attracted to Lanternhouse by adverts in Artists Newsletter, for example, has led us to be much clearer about our expectations of artists in residence. We should offer opportunities (summer schools) for artists to come specifically to work together without the pressure of a public event, and to develop the techniques and sensibilities of creative collaboration within the context of WSI's current research.
Gatherings around Ideas: This is the principle of bringing people with ideas and imagination together from different peer groups - health, ecology, science, education - in a special form of creative collaboration at the interface of art and other work - residencies, themed events, and ideas exchanges.
The International Perspective: This concentration of energy in Ulverston will enable the company to take the next step, which is to bring artists and fellow-travellers of all kinds from around the world together to work from a multicultural perspective, to share concerns, prototypes and models of development - international residencies, commissions, installations, festivals, seminars and publications. This ambition has been constant since Lanternhouse opened, but will now be given more priority.
All these strands will continue to use whatever artform or method seems most appropriate, including music (choirs with song cycles and street bands with specific roles in the context of ceremonies and installations, new songs written by local people) and performance (new secular 'nativity' plays, original storytelling attempting to define a specific moral code, a burlesque, visual style of performance).