Non-human care duties: diaries from a rural co-living project


Sean Roy Parker - Eco-anxious artist, environmentalist and cook.
Forever-amateur, post-capitalist, skill-sharer, Subscribe to Sean's writing newsletter here Follow on Instagram or check out his website.

All images courtesy of Sean Roy Parker from their time at Derbyshire Artist Residency Project - 2021-22

In March 2021, I relocated from south London, my home of thirteen years, to Derbyshire Artist Residency Project DARP), a building guardianship disguised as a creative co-habitation experiment. Situated in an old Steiner School (a non-mainstream educational system based in child development theory of Rudolf Steiner: more) on the edge of a country park near Nottingham, DARP is a self-determined and horizontally-organised project, describing itself as "an open system for living and practicing together... To nurture a place for (co)creation, autonomy and experimentation". Its shape and purpose shift with, react to and accommodate for the ever-changing formation of occupants, ranging from long-term residents to week-long international guests and everything in between. With no plans to institutionalise –and the threat of being removed at any time– participants must embrace the temporary idyll, and accept permanent precarity. This has created fertile ground for daily slow, collective practices like walking, talking, cooking, cleaning and crafting.

I had decided to leave the city, a constant source of anguish and financial burden for many, and insert myself into a rural setting. The decision has allowed me not only more time and space, but also the opportunity to work towards constructing alternative methods of existence that have been so prevalent in my art practice. I want to move from ingrained individualism to radical collectivism. It is my first experience of living in relative isolation and within an alternative community, and certainly won't be my last.

These journal excerpts are from my Fermental Health newsletter which I publish online (here) and send directly to subscribers. I describe it as "half-baked, gelatinous, send-it-back writing on environmentalism, food justice, and class dynamics" and it goes some way to illustrate some of the teething problems, social food tactics and slow unfolding joy I found during my first few months at DARP. I like to write last thing at night as I feel most creative and tend to roughly weave together simplified recollections with particular visual or sensory details of events, and deep introspective decoding of my mental health experiences.

While trying to dematerialise certain aspects of my artistic practice to move in line with my ethical framework, writing has become a significant tool for processing, digesting and remodelling my own life within the wider themes of community sovereignty and creative autonomy. I think about using this medium to document experimental food decommodification, communal living, and writing-through to our postcapitalist future.

Mon 5th April
Still layered up against the chill, slowly removing sheaths and bandages that were wrapped tightly for many years ~ although my first month in Derbyshire has been hectic, constantly busying and unpacking and renovating, I'm beginning to slow ~ monitor my breath, check in with myself, feel rather than think.
The elation I felt in the van on the way here has barely dissipated, my cold city bones have been thawed by the embrace of my rural cohabitors ~ human and non-human bodies entwined in clockless space where the axles of ownership & authorship are spinning while stable like a gimbal made of old wood.

Thur 8th April
Ad hoc common meals are breathing life into the dead systems shaped by individualistic food culture.
Relinquishing personal ownership over ingredients, recipes and equipment engenders the spirit of co-creation and builds trust and kinship with plants, spaces and each other.
We are working on commoning our pantry, gleaning surplus from local farms, foraging abundant flora and scavenging from bins in order to diversify our diets and support alternative flows of materials.
Bin quiche, surplus parsnip chips, garden nettles, shop pickles, combo salad.

Sun 18 April
Woke up incredibly sad today, could easily have been a number of things but at the moment I’m still having trouble identifying triggers. I know this will come with time and I look forward to it muchly. I tend to assume that my eco-anxiety is a constant threat, which I combat with any sort of creative task, so it probably wasn’t that alone. Low-lying depression hits me in the most annoying way; it’s like a mixture of being winded, empty, frenetic and restless. I’m storming around in silence starting multiple tasks that I won’t finish. Things moved on. I put my seedlings out for a drink and sunbathe, then spoke to nan so mum could have a quiet time pushing her around the common in her chair. I asked her loads of questions about what she could see and we reminisced about playing football in the garden over twenty years ago. My friend Hugh generously reminded me that my family is my life crew, the bottomless tonic to my despair.

Mon 19 April
Team meeting first thing, really appreciate an early start and sorting plans for the week. Cleaned the communal areas then I fixed the house bikes using my basic knowledge and rudimentary tools; tightened brakes, oiled gears, straightened handlebars, attached baskets. Love working things out with no time pressure and a bit of perseverance. Ate leftovers from last night’s dinner with a poached egg and some pickles. Cycled to the shop to get sugar and oats.
We had a glut of satsumas from a local supermarket surplus pick-up last week (probably about 50), so I went about processing them five ways:

- Clementine, rosemary blossom and black pepper marmalade
- Simple sorbet which I’ll blitz and refreeze tomorrow
- Dehydrated pulp leather
- Dried peels for firelighters
- Dried rounds for bathroom potpourri

Made a flask of hot toddy and set myself up in the basketball court with a dictaphone and head torch to record an audio version of an essay for a radio show on NARR. Although I had a nice time, on reflection it might be pretty dull to listen to. Topped up the hot toddy and edited the recording.

Mon 26 April
Occasionally days go scarily quickly and recently it keeps suddenly being 9 pm without explanation. My depression can sometimes get triggered by time anxiety: forgetting the day or date; missing deadlines; procrastinating over basic tasks; faffing or doomscrolling. Procrastination is a sign of low self-confidence, my therapist says, so I blame myself for this behaviour and display a distinct lack of empathy too. I’m learning my way out of this, and it’s becoming less frequent since leaving London. I’ve found that putting names to feelings has been the most difficult lesson (expanding my emotional vocabulary has been among my main aims since starting therapy) and writing has been a fulfilling way to process, document and illustrate the shift.
After dinner (DIY white pizza w potato, cauliflower, blue cheese on wholewheat base) Amy and I make pinhole cameras from empty bouillon tins but the moon was hidden until the small hours.

Tues 27 April
We had rain for the first time in three weeks, all the greenery became incredibly lush and voluminous.

Sat 1 May
Joyous Beltane / MayDay / International Workers' Day.

While grating swedes for rosti I sent solidarity to landworkers who look after the soil and produce our food with love. While cracking eggs, I thought of all my friends in the hospitality industry, and those putting themselves at risk labouring in supermarkets. While sorting through salads, I thanked the more-than-human pollinators for ensuring we have abundant wild and domesticated crops to sustain us. While chopping cabbage and apple, I gave gratitude to those who have invented, rewritten and spoken recipes. While pickling surplus beetroots, I considered how lucky we are to have far more than we need. While mixing herbs into yoghurt I appreciated the unique collaboration between bacteria and human to ferment and preserve our foods.
After food prep, I felt myself getting cranky (sunlight deficient?) so I took a long walk under Bennerley Viaduct and followed a small stream to a lush patch of ground ivy. Caught up with Jack over the phone and sufficiently de-stressed my body. After dinner we did some shonky Maypole dancing under disco lights in the playground (which I firmly pushed against collective will), and I had a few glasses of wine in the kitchen.

Mon 3 May
Team meeting was short and sweet, a few housemates leaving and some new arrivals means a period of change.

The weather was bleak so everyone stayed in; I processed some herbs I picked over the weekend – loaded the dehydrator and bottled my marmalade tepache so it would carbonate by the evening. Made myself pancakes for lunch and loaded them with garlic mustard stems and mangetout cooked in pickled beet liquor. Huge dollop of my plain hummus, dillisk gomashio and some nice oil.
Later on, a massive double rainbow and the tops of the trees became illuminated in a strange way. It was a late burst of the sun which was sliding down behind the hill so the branches looked like they’d been dipped in gold paint. Shared a v cheesy, v tasty veggie & gluten free lasagne, then Andy opened prosecco with a swing of a knife and we listened to a lot of Britney. Drank my weird tepache, (mixed reviews) then nibbled on the remaining shards of my clementine sorbet (unanimously delicious!)

Tues 4th May
This afternoon I led an online study group. I’m well-prepped and feeling confident, after all it’s my favourite subject; wild food as post-capitalist nourishment praxis. I share a video essay (here) about foraging and invite a discussion around decarbonisation of foods, diversification of diet, and decolonisation of language. It feels healing to share how I process my eco-trauma as an environmental illness. Feeling buoyant after this, so I listen to this (here) and make foul madammas (here) with air-fried chips and curried pickles. Weekly chat with Hugh is boss, we crack a beer to some good news and lay down plans for a visit. I do a heck load of washing up and catch up with Novara Media before bed.

Thurs 6 May
The weather has truly been wild – slutty sunrises then hailstones the size of pebbles, double rainbows, 2 minute-long downpours, dense grey, and still only 1°C at night. Very scary stuff, unprecedented, apocalyptic. My gardening plans were put on hold.

Ella Y, Ilana and I cooked dinner together: iron-rich pasta bakes with a chunky sauce made from surplus broccoli and a medley of new-growth greens from the veg patch, with a hard cheese, pumpkin seed and breadcrumb crispy lid. Harvesting and eating volunteer plants is quite simply the most effective weed control.

- Stinging nettle
- Dead nettle
- Cleavers
- Curly dock
- Garlic Mustard
- Hawthorn

Sun 9 May
Nothing much happened. Long walk, sniffed aaaaall the apple blossom, almost got stuck in a bog, found a rope swing and firepit that I’ll return to in better weather. Cheeseboard and wine by our very own fire. Appreciating the warmer eves and chaotic night-time bird activity. Listened to Robin Wall Kimmerer read The Serviceberry in my headphones trudging through wet alleyways and mud paths and bawling my eyes out. Her words resonate on a deep frequency with me and hit a channel of feeling that I don't reach regularly.

Fri 14 May Went over to Brian’s allotment to hang with Dudley. I took fancy snacks: homemade wild garlic pesto and pink pickles, surplus sourdough and avocados. They filled me in on Ilkeston history, including an artist called Hendrix Dead Boy who posts hundreds of slips of paper adorned with “Ken” through letterboxes of empty shops, and dropped a banner off a train bridge pleading “No Shagging”. It was also reported about 15 years ago on the front page of The Independent that Ilkeston was the “Crack Capital of UK”, claiming 17,000 of 35,000 inhabitants were addicted, which must be bullshit.
Cycled home in the dark along the canal path with hundreds of local bats. They were mostly babies – I saw their silhouettes against the luminescent blue-purple-orange sky– zipping alongside me, whipping around my head, pulling up in loop-the-loops. It was so magical, probably my favourite moment since I got here and one that will stick with me. Had a bowl of granola when I got in and a dollop of Banamel. Because I’m too tired to explain what it is or how it’s made, I can just promise it was so ridiculously tasty I want to make a cake with it. Those mad scientists at Social Pickle are doing bits!

Fri 28 May
Breakfast outside
Cycle 1h10, first covid jab
Cycle back
Picked pink hawthorn
Bbq leftovers & beer
Pink hawthorn syrup
Oat & pink hawthorn cookies
Pub, many pints

Thurs 3 June
Realising and accepting that I’m not going to journal every day has been a big relief. Holding myself to unrealistic standards adds to this feeling of performative art-making; pandering to an abstract and insatiable audience. I’m just pouring a small dribble of myself into the chasm. The reality is that I am using a plethora of methodologies and processes just to cope with daily life, as we all do: the diary, gardening, cooking, flower arranging, and the rest of the messy, crumbling, dusty aspects of survival in the late capitalism apocalypse.

Mon 7 June
This evening a chap called Dennis came round to introduce himself and tell us about a classic Yorkshire stick dance he wants to film in the playground. He offered to show us a few moves with his special 6ft covid-safe lances, so Ella, Atay and I tried to follow directions, and kept very poor rhythm, but had excellent fun.

Tue 8 June
Wanting to think a little deeper about the stinky funk I think I’m currently in. Part of the issue might be that I’m not used to things going well and feeling abundant (food, health, time, money), and so I sense the part of my brain that is naturalised with stress is so confused that it doesn’t know what to do. Instead of relaxing and embracing this newfound balance, I’m worried that I’m self-sabotaging. For instance, less time running around every hour of the day means more time to think, more time for rumination and what-iffing instead of enjoying it.

Unstructured days are a blessing and a bane
```` rest is radical, sleep to keep sane

Wed 9 June
Ella F led meditation in the garden this morn, blissful. I did some yoga, made a smoothie and toasted some potato waffles, booked train tickets for Bingle’s stag do in a few weeks, ran to the post office and a local coffee roaster, then chatted to an ancient ex on the phone. It was nice to reconnect without any of the bad feelings, expectations or awkwardness. We had a good laugh and shared new developments in our lives. She is a kind person and brightened my already sunny day.

Leftovers for lunch and an elderflower soda. Got busy in the garden in the afternoon:

- Added lime and fresh bedding to my wormery.
- Added a new stack with some fresh food for them including some nitrogen-rich goodies like comfrey leaves and coffee grounds.
- Cleaned the birdbath.
- Atay weeded my chard bed :)
- Thoroughly watered everything.
- Cleared a new half-bed and planted out some courgette and pumpkins sent to me by Al and Tig respectively.
- Mulched with eggshells and straw.
- Trod down paths through the wild garden.
- Pulled nettles and cleavers out of an old compost pile and laid them on the tarmac to hay.
- Chopped up a dead tree for firewood using my Bakuma pruning saw.
- Had a banging dinner of chargrilled peppers, Atay’s rice & lentils, garden chickweed, poached egg and Speck pickled ginger, and a bottle of generic ale.

Ephemeral Care focuses on ethics, practice and strategies in artist-led and self-organised projects.