Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Lying Fallow: a new project

Lying Fallow is a project for Rajni Shah Projects, led by  Mary Paterson, Rajni Shah, Susan Sheddan, Tiffany Charrington, and Mark Trezona (facilitator). It will take place over seven months, over three meetings.

For more information and to take part (deadline for expressions of interest Sunday 14th September 2014 at nightfall), please visit this page:


Following is a personal statement on why the project matters to me.


My favourite way to describe Lying Fallow right now is this:

                     an invitation to experience the changing light together

It’s the simplest collection of words I can find to describe the project that doesn’t involve loads of backstory. It’s an invitation that doesn’t make assumptions about who will be there or what they will choose to bring with them. And in that invitation to experience lie a myriad possibilities of ‘how’ Lying Fallow might happen.

But there’s a whole lot of thinking behind that invitation. And maybe it’s useful to hear something about that too.

So, if you want it, here’s some backstory:

A few years ago, for a whole number of reasons, I decided that I needed to step away from directing performance and to see what else might emerge as a way of being in the world. Figuring out how to do this has been a long process. In fact, it continues to be a long process; years and years of a kind of waiting, a kind of widening of the gaze, slowly attuning to what might be next, loosening my grip on to the way things have been and even the way things are.

This decision has prompted a series of discussions within my company, currently called Rajni Shah Projects, about what that means for us, since for fifteen years the company has supported projects initiated and directed by me. In the past three years we held three company Away Days, sent out a questionnaire to all the different people we’ve worked with, formed a working group which met regularly for a year or so – in short, we’ve initiated a whole number of conversations about the future with all kinds of people. And yet ‘nothing’ emerged as a clear way forward for the company.

When I say nothing, of course I don’t mean nothing. In a way, this series of activities was its own project: a thinking process for a group of people who had gathered around a particular way of working. We collected beautiful texts and testaments, we feasted and walked together, and other projects and writings spun out from our time together. But I think I now understand that what was preventing ‘something’ from ‘happening’ (and that something always included the option of closing the company) was simply an attachment to the idea of ‘something happening’.

The term ‘lying fallow’ has come up several times during this long thinking process, and I’ve always been drawn to it. But I realise now that I associated its connotations of unproductiveness with the idea that it only held value in the context of what came next. And in the case of the company, this prevented me from seeing what was obvious: that we were already engaged in a kind of fallowing, but that in order for it to have any value, I simply needed to stop observing it through the lens of ‘what’s next’.

At the end of 2013, I invited Mary, Susan, and Tiffany to work alongside me for a year, in an attempt to find our way towards a more collaborative company structure. Lying Fallow is the project that we have created.

It is, above all, a way of providing a frame within which a group of people might work through some of these ideas together. It’s a simple premise but feels urgent and exciting to me, because it invites the possibility of great change without determining how that change might happen, where it might come from, or what it might be. It feels important to be clear that Lying Fallow isn’t about Rajni Shah Projects any more than it is about any one of the people who might attend. But I hope that this rather long backstory helps explain the context within which I have come to be a part of the project.

There’s one more thing I feel I should mention here. Whilst Lying Fallow is a collaborative project that is being led by all four of us, I’ll also be submitting it as part of a practice-based PhD I’m undertaking at Lancaster University. This doesn’t affect the project in any way, but it would feel strange not to mention it to you up front.

To close, I’d like to offer a few words that describe ‘lying fallow’ for me.

A clear space.

A state that is neither active nor passive.

A frame that can embrace the exhausted and the silent and the passionate and the engaged in an act of listening.

Maybe see you there.