The Trashcatchers’ Carnival was a grand artistic experiment.
Commissioned by Tipping Point to look at the challenge of climate change, it explored how artists working from the ‘ground up’ in the diverse and lively community of Tooting, in South London, could create a positive vision for practical change. The July-2010 event marked a celebratory end to an entire year’s work and the start of more radical changes to follow.
A collaboration between Project Phakama UK, Emergency Exit Arts and one of London's first Transition Towns, the Carnival engaged 1000+ Tooting ‘Carnivalistas’ to explore our relationship to the earth. Creating beauty from rubbish, the Carnival used recycling as a metaphor for change.
The entire Carnival was made from Trash: sculptures, musical instruments, costumes and floats were created from discarded materials (100s of 1000s of plastic bags, cans and bottles!). Workshops included awareness raising around issues of climate change and peak oil alongside creative carnival making - sewing, stitching, designing, singing, dancing and story telling. Carnivalistas came from every part of the community - young and old and from all cultural backgrounds.
The idea was simple if ambitious: environmental challenges would be faced in the eye. Story, art, science and celebration would tap into the collective ingenuity of local residents to imagine a collective positive story of the future - something that could be passed onto children, grandchildren and great grandchildren about what it was like to be alive in 2010.
On July 4th the sun shone beautifully with a light breeze. 1000 Carnivalistas turned up - double the number expected. The busy A24 was to be reclaimed as a community space.
As the mythic Sankofa Bird (carrying an egg as a seed of the future) led the parade, the sheer enormity of what had been achieved became apparent. The ingenuity of the designs; detail of the costumes; scale of the structures; humor of participants; delight of elderly carnivalistas pedaled by young people on rickshaws; big elephants; baby elephants; the tall ‘Lady of Tooting’; the centrality of children and families; allotment wheelbarrows full of vegetables; a 7 seater ‘octoped’ bicycle; the surprise and delight of passersby; the commentary of a 6 meter high Green Giant; the sense of joyful purpose and play all merged into a happy burst of magical celebration along the Upper Tooting Road. Policemen took pictures and shops emptied to watch the Carnival pass by. The Trashcatchers’ Carnival had come to town and was welcomed by all.
A final triumphant circle was created on Fishponds Playing Field where everyone could admire the carnival as a whole for the first time. A child sang from the top of the Giant Turtle; flags fluttered in a breeze. A sharing picnic got under way with a miraculous 1000 + meals served by generous Tooting restaurants. A new carnival community was created: peaceful and playful. The police had a go on the rickshaws and children danced around the green welly boots of the giant. Carnivalistas felt they were part of something profound, transformative and important to their lives: a practical way of dedicating their lives to the future of the earth.
"And what was it all for? Bringing different parts of Tooting together, illustrating how supposed rubbish can be re-used to make things of beauty and that high streets don't always have to be highways: they can be community spaces too. By doing something out of the ordinary the Lido crew have helped show that people and places can change, that there are other ways of living in a low carbon future."
Sue Rentoul, South London Swimming Club
IMPACT OF THE CARNIVAL
Transition Town Tooting ‘unleashed’ its 20 year vision for a sustainable future a week later looking at energy use, education, well- being, arts, food growing, transport, health and land-use following a pattern of work engaged in by transition towns around the world. Local communities (and artists!) were recognised as having a key role to play in the shaping of our world.
The carnival featured on London ITN 6‘oclock news, was covered on Transition Culture's blog and had excellent coverage in the local paper, quoting local MP Sadiq Khan saying the carnival had "brought together our schools, community groups, business and wider community in an awe inspiring way".
The Trashcatchers Carnival lives on! A wealth of arts projects has now bubbled to the surface in Tooting. A rubicon was crossed on July 4th. Things are possible in Tooting!