7 Conversations Before The End Of Time: Re-enactments and New Dialogues

Over the course of one week at Small World, Artist in Residence and 2017 Creative Wales Award Recipient, Fern Smith re-enacted a series of ‘Dialogues on Art, Life & Spiritual Renewal’. These dialogues originally published 25 years ago in the ground-breaking book ‘Conversations Before the End of Time’ by American author Suzi Gablik are as relevant today as ever. These profound and intimate dialogues with artists, writers and philosophers address the central questions of the meaning and purpose of art in an age of accelerating social change, environmental crisis and spiritual uncertainty.

Over the past five years Fern has been in correspondence with the book’s author, this was one of the catalysts for inspiring the development of ‘Emergence.’ Fern’s developing relationship with Gablik, now in her 80’s, culminated in a recent invitation to visit her at her home in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Over two days in July 2017, Fern sat with Suzi speaking with her about her work and fascination with the ‘art of dialogue’. This lead to an idea, with the author’s permission to ‘restage’ some of the original published dialogues with invited artists local to Cardigan whose work connects with environmental, social and spiritual ideas.

7 dialogues were re-staged over 7 days. This was a creative collaboration with ‘the art of dialogue’ at its very heart. Members of the public were invited to witness, participate in their own dialogues and share their own insights and reflections.

“How do we live at a time of decline, maybe even collapse and what role does art have?”

Date of project: 8th – 14th October 2017
Venue: Small World Theatre, Bath House Road, Cardigan.

‘7 Conversations Before the End of Time’ formed part of Fern Smith’s Creative Wales Explorations and Interventions. A recording of the conversations and reflections upon them can be found in the document:

Daily Schedule
Sunday 8thOctober 2pm

Guest Artist: Sean Vicary, Artist and 2017 Creative Wales Award Recipient
Venue: Small World’s Dance Studio
Conversation: ‘Creating The Space For A Miracle’.
Sean Vicary is Suzi Gablik
Fern Smith is David Plante

Monday 9thOctober 7.30pm

Guest Artist: Debbie Rees of Vegetable Agenda
Venue: Small World’s Kitchen
Conversation: ‘Viewing The World As Process’.
Debbie Rees is Suzi Gablik
Fern Smith is Carolyn Merchant

Tuesday 10thOctober 7.30pm

Guest Artist: Jess Allen, dancer and Ecological performance maker
Venue: Small World’s Dance Studio
Conversation: ‘Adrift On The Fickle Seas Of The Art World’.
Jess Allen plays Suzi Gablik
Fern Smith is Laurie Zuckerman

Thursday 12thOctober 12pm

Guest Artist: Avi Allen of Capel Y Graig
Venue: Small World’s Kitchen
Conversation: ‘Making Art About Centipedes’.
Avi Allen is Suzi Gablik
Fern Smith is Christopher Manes

Friday 13thOctober 7.30pm

Guest Artist: Simon Whitehead, Movement Artist
Venue: Small World’s Dance Studio
Conversation: ‘What Is Art For?’
Simon Whitehead is Suzi Gablik
Fern Smith is Ellen Dissanayake

Saturday 14thOctober 7.30pm

Guest Artist: Ruth Jones of Holy Haitus
Venue: Small World’s Dance Studio
Conversation: ‘The Liminal Zones Of The Soul’
Ruth Jones is Suzi Gablik
Fern Smith is Thomas Moore

Sunday 15thOctober 2pm

Guest Artist: Ann Shrosbree of Small World Theatre
Venue: Small World’s Dance Studio
Conversation: ‘Ten Thousand Artists Not One Master’.
Ann Shrosbree is Suzi Gablik
Fern Smith is Satish Kumar

6pm Screening of episode of ‘Being An Earth Pilgrim’ the landmark documentary series about Satish Kumar produced by Emergence.


COParty (22) Swansea

The world leaders came together in October 2017 at COP 22 in Marakech. To show our support for the process and keep the engagement with climate issues going on at a local level we organised COParty (22) Swansea.

The event followed on from the three COP (21) Swansea gatherings we ran in 2016 during the key Climate Talks in Paris. To keep the momentum up, and to share some of the incredible energy, food and community projects going on locally we organised COParty (22) Swansea to coincide with the final day of COP 22, the world Climate Negotiations.

COParty (22) offered a space to network, support one another and celebrate! It gave people a chance to get together, share information, and hear about pioneering local ecological and social justice projects. We wanted as many people who support and resonate with the issues being discussed at COP 22 in Marakech to be gathered together in one place. We had around 200 guests and contributors attending who enjoyed live music, talks, films, dancing, performance, ‘pop-up’ participatory activities and vegetarian food.

This was a chance also for representatives from the many amazing local low impact living and social and environmental justice projects to talk about their projects.

All profits from the event went to Swansea Foodbanks. We wrote a BLOG about COParty(22) Swansea. You can read it here.

Projects represented at COParty (22) Swansea included:

Awel Aman Tawe

Award-winning Community Energy fund which established two gigantic wind turbines in the Swansea Valley.

Cae Tan

A community supported agriculture project, growing food for over 90 Swansea and Gower households & also providing training, volunteering & learning in sustainable farming to schools, colleges & the public.

Down To Earth

Renewable building and sustainable education.


Citizen engagement and grassroots democracy, helping people turn good ideas into meaningful actions.

Swansea News Network

A start up, not for profit, community journalism project.

Gaian Ecovillage Community

A vision for community living.

Gower Power/SCEES

Renewable energy specialists and community energy company.

Environment Centre


Being an Earth Pilgrim

Being an Earth Pilgrim is a landmark documentary series of six, hour-long conversations that chronicle and celebrate the life and work of teacher, peace activist and leader, Satish Kumar.

Image: Ruth Davey

The message at the heart of Satish’s teaching is that individuals can and do change the world for the better. Satish’s words and teachings offer rich inspiration and guidance to help us meet the seemingly insurmountable challenges we currently face.

In conversation with Jane Davidson, Satish speaks candidly and in depth about his philosophy, influences and inspirations. From his incredible peace walk of 8,000 miles without a penny in his pocket; to setting up the world renowned Schumacher College; to his latest book Soil, Soul, Society; Satish leads us through the journey of his life and his own inspirations stretching back to Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Vinoba Bhave.

This series is a unique legacy of his lifetime of learning and an invaluable tool-kit for practical action. Filmed at Satish’s home and Schumacher College in the summer of 2015, these six hours of rich, deep, engrossing conversations will change the way you see the world and your place in it as you return to them again and again.

The money raised to make this project which from its original conception to it’s launch took almost two years, came primarily from crowd-funding. Over £25,000 was raised from over 400 people in more than 30 countries worldwide.

Being an Earth Pilgrim was made by Emergence in association with CULTURE COLONY, RESURGENCE & ECOLOGIST, SCHUMACHER COLLEGE and VOLCANO THEATRE

– presents –


executive producers THE CHILDREN OF PEARL
associate producer MALINIBINDU PATEL
director of photography SIMON MAGGS
directed and produced by PHILIP RALPH & FERN SMITH

A download of the six programmes is available, and also a beautifully packaged limited edition box-set is available from or call 01208 841824.


Talking About Emergence

Key contributors to Emergence discuss the ideas and inspiration which led to their involvement with the project.

After two years of going from one Emergence project immediately to the next we decided that it would be a useful exercise to take stock, look at the impact of the project so far and speak to a number of key people who have been instrumental in making Emergence happen.

In the spirit of action research and creative enquiry we decided to open up the conversation and see where it wanted to go. In the Summer of 2013 nine in-depth interviews were conducted with key artists and creative practitioners who had been involved in organizing and supporting the CardiffSwansea or Caernarfon conferences, the document launch, the Emergence Summit or Creu Cymru Emergence.

Fern Smith from Emergence and Pete Telfer of Culture Colony conducted and filmed the interviews. Each lasted between and sixty and ninety minutes and together give a rich sense of the origins, context, challenges, opportunities and aspirations of the project. The interviews appear here in their full length and speak about the project from the many different viewpoints of those involved. Some of the interviews focus more on emergence and systems theory, others on leadership and activism or on what a sustainable future might look like and what role artists have in making this happen. Interviewees include; Rhodri Thomas, Lucy Neal, Paul Allen, Jenny Mackewn, Fern Smith, David Alston, Nick Capaldi, Deborah Keyser and Nicolas Young.

The interviews serve as a rich resource for those interested in organizing similar projects, researching arts and sustainability initiatives, marrying inspiration, strategy and outcomes and of course for us at Emergence to look back in order to travel forward.



“Is there a sector or group of people you perceive are ‘leading the change’? How important are the arts in all this?”

Fern Smith

“What is the connection between inspiration and practical action for change and how do we move from one to the other?”

Fern Smith

Doin’ Dirt Time

Emergence presents a provocative performance questioning the role of arts in society. Written by Suzi Gablik this piece asks the question ‘what role does art have in a time of great change?’ as two sculptors reject the art world in favour of learning how to live life as a prayer, developing new skills for life on earth.

An Emergence collaborative project performed by Philip Ralph, Fern Smith and Guest Artist.
Based on a transcript of an astonishing interview by internationally renowned arts commentator Suzi Gablik in her book Conversations Before the End Of Time.

In “Doin’ Dirt Time” Gablik speaks to Rachel Dutton and Rob Olds, two celebrated American artists who have made the decision to give away all their artworks and possessions.
Following the interview they disappeared into the American wilderness, after an intensive study of tracking and survival skills. This powerful piece questions the role of the arts in society as the two protagonists explain their reasons for not only stepping out of the art world but also stepping out of society itself. They fundamentally question the traditional role of the artist in society, articulating their desire to live life as a sacred act rather than to simply document it.
Fern Smith & Philip Ralph play Dutton and Olds. Fern Smith is founder member of Volcano Theatre and co-initiator and collaborator on Emergence. Philip Ralph trained as an actor before turning to writing. His first play Deep Cut won the Amnesty Freedom of Expression Award in 2009. Smith & Ralph are real life partners finding their way and deeply inspired by Dutton and Olds themselves.

Each time the piece is performed it is done with a different guest artist – someone who has taken steps to bring their life, work and commitment to sustainability more in alignment.
Jason Benson, Sarah Woods, Emily Hinshelwood, Rhodri Thomas, Tom Payne, Carys Shannon and Lucy Neal have all taken the role of Suzie Gablik in past performances. Doin’ Dirt Time offers the unique opportunity of a collaboration between an invited performance and resident or local artists.

Doin’ Dirt Time is performed with the blessing of Suzi Gablik and in some way is intended to bring new audiences to Gablik’s inspirational body of work – essential reading for artists, activists and anyone interested in the role of the arts in co-creating the future. Doin’ Dirt Time is itself an experiment in simplicity, a stripped-back theatre which dispenses with the smoke and mirrors of performance in order to focus on the essentials… It uses a fascinating technique pioneered by Alecky Blythe of Recorded Delivery Theatre, in which actors interpret verbatim recordings in real time. Following the performance which lasts roughly 30 minutes there is an opportunity to engage in a discussion regarding the themes arising from the interview…

Past tour of Doin Dirt Time
February/March 2013
Volcano Theatre, Swansea, Wales

April 2013
Tyn yr Helyg Theatre Barn, Llanrhystud, Ceredigion, Wales

July 7th
Woodland Pavilion Machynnleth

August 17th
Dark Mountain Festival, Hampshire

September 13th
World Stage Design Festival, Cardiff

Forthcoming Dates 2013
October 2nd
Coastal Currents Arts Festival, Hastings

Interested in hosting Doin’ Dirt Time?
If you are interested in presenting Doin’ Dirt Time contact Fern Smith on


“What do we want to have learned by the time we die?”

Rachel Dutton

“How do we live then in a time of decline, or maybe even collapse and what role does art have?”

Suzi Gablik



The Summit 2012 – Artist Commissions

Emergence commissioned artists thanks to Arts Council Wales: Sarah Woods & Richard Gott, Ansuman Biswas, Fern Thomas & Owen Griffiths, Ben Stammers, Culture Colony, Simon Whitehead and Touchstone Collaborations.

Simon Whitehead
Sarah Woods & Richard Gott
Fern Thomas & Owen Griffiths
Touchstone Collaborations
Ben Stammers
Ansuman Biswas
Pete Telfer

Simon Whitehead

Simon Whitehead was invited to design and curate the Emergence Land Journey.

The original brief:
To design 2 practical walking routes for the delegates to be agreed with the mountain leaders and Emergence team. Simon will also agree the ‘shape and content’ for each walking day with the Emergence team. He will also make contact with a ‘visitor’ for each day of the walk for both routes and agree an ‘intervention / offering’ with each of them. Simon will also produce documentation relating to this for the Emergence website, printed matter etc. Simon was also asked to design and produce literature for 2 walks which can be walked by others in future. The walks could be publicized in leaflets or other literature for to complement other forthcoming events or as a ‘stand alone’ experience.

A preamble…
The shape of the routes came whilst walking in a small studio and thinking about the land north and south of the Dovey. I was walking the form of an ellipse. It had a certain momentum and offered openings and uncertainties, whilst keeping its integrity…I kept walking.

The approach to this brief therefore became more choreographic in its intentions than it was cartographic. The Land Journey for me began as a dance and continued so throughout the physical project.

Whilst using the template of the ellipse with which to navigate and devise the routes it became obvious to me that whilst the form was changed in its exchange with the nature of the terrain and available pathways, it still offered a circularity of experience, retaining these uncertainties and openings. The openings were used as themes to introduce new and sometimes surprising elements, including the arrival and disappearance of ‘visitors’, who offered different narratives of the places the walkers passed through.

The elliptical designs therefore offered up gaps to let people and chaos in, and a commitment to offer something incomplete, an open-endedness. There was also a built in ambivalence in these designs, which enabled me to avoid a process of choice based on any preconceived subjective or aesthetic notion of ‘beauty’, guide- book convention or former experience of the places these routes passed through. The designs anticipated that the walking and navigation of the routes on the ground would involve a process of improvisation and the inevitability of contingencies. It invited walkers to collaborate on finding solutions, best routes and to make decisions on ‘the hoof’.

‘The ellipses are imperfect and in places incomplete, they now resemble the shape of a pair of kidneys in this body of mid Wales, the larger one to the South. The routes as they stand therefore invite the walkers to improvise their own completions and become involved in a process of collective decision- making. This will happen each day, with the intention to provoke a collaborative process within each group and the landscape itself. I imagine the decisions will be based on identifying options of terrain and duration and consensus by which the group share their desires and indicators of their physical capacities and orientations at that time.’ Diary, July.

As it was, I walked each route before the Land journey began for real. Sometimes I walked just the beginning and end, sometimes the whole route…usually alone, sometimes with a friend.
Each time I got lost, had to find the path on the ground again, most times I had to adjust my route in the face of closed paths, pipelines, road building, ambiguity of the map etc. I also experienced certain places that I knew differently, because I was not walking the obvious route, I liked how the ellipse was revealing the landscape to me in different, non-linear ways. Like the grammatical form, the ways occasionally seemed to trail off into silence and uncertainty.
The routes through the land, like the walkers themselves were dynamic entities…they embodied change and the uncertainty of the future. I guess the mountain guides are trained to face uncertainty and to decode the uncertain into meaningful routes…

Sarah Woods and Richard Gott

The Roadless Trip

An urgent and irresistible invitation to imagine and create a positive future, The Roadless Trip is a very human and often hilarious journey through time. Mixing performance, film, audience interaction and the frenzy of the popular gameshow, this moving and funny production received a standing ovation on its first outing at the Emergence Summit at the Centre for Alternative Technology in 2012.

To watch a short film about The Roadless Trip see our Video page in Resources.

Owen Griffiths and Fern Thomas

Store (for future)

For their work for the Emergence Summit Owen and Fern participated in the Land Journey, capturing images and sounds as the walkers move through the changing (outer and inner) landscapes and terrain. When they reached CAT and for the duration of the conference the artists created a base in the darkened subterranean Food Store where participants were invited to enter into a process where they were able to share thoughts and reflections on their experiences and responses to Emergence, and to the wider context in which we all gathered.

The recorded exchanges in the Food Store were woven together with the filmed images and captured sounds from the Land Journey to create an alternative document of the Emergence Summit which exists as an artwork in itself, offering an imaginative space for entering into the thoughts and images shared and highlighting the important questions to carry forward.

The video work is available to view online on our Resources Video page.

Touchstone Collaborations

Food of the Land Journey

Food of the Land is a socially-engaged culinary arts practice, regenerating a multi-cultural and artisan gastronomy of the United Kingdom.

Ecological artists Miche Fabre Lewin and Flora Gathorne-Hardy of Touchstone Collaborations were commissioned to curate the food for the five day Land Journey. Food of the Land integrates the land journey with the food, and brought alive, every day and every mouthful, Emergence’s practical commitment to a low carbon future and life in balance with nature.

For Emergence’s Land Journey, the ‘deepened dialogue with our environment’ was nurtured by feeding walkers with energy sustaining and nourishing, seasonal foods which were sourced as locally as possible – from CAT‘s food garden, within Wales, and where necessary from small-scale, pioneering growers and artisan producers in the United Kingdom. As well as being a living connection to the land, the food revitalised our bodies, enlivened our thinking, and was sustainable for the planet. For Food of the Land we worked with Daphne Lambert, nutritionist-chef, who has trained marathon runners, and pioneered Living Nutrition – a seasonal course in sustainable nutrition. Food of the Land was a convivial intervention through awakening food. It contributed to envisioning and nurturing an embodied food experience that inspired radical change. In this way it formed an integral part the living artwork of Emergence Summit.

Ben Stammers

Land Journey Intervention

Ben appeared a number of times to the walkers on the land journey (North and South). His appearances were glimpsed ‘at the edge’ rather than at the centre of vision. His appearances were mostly in and around eater – the sea or the river as close-up or at a distance encounters. he has created a series of images and words which are the legacy of his appearances.

He speaks here about his intention….

I was asked by Simon Whitehead and Fern Smith to be one of the commissioned artists for the event, and specifically to respond to the Land Journey element of Emergence 2012.

Since taking on the commission I’ve been thinking about the concept of hope – what it could mean, and if and how it could be embodied. I’ve been thinking about it in relation to the image of the human figure and the landscape, and in terms of my own practice as a live artist.

Firstly in an abstract way, I’ve been trying to think about hope as distinct from expectation, or blind faith, or irrational courage… and about how it seems to only acquire meaning in really adverse circumstances, when it could be taken for foolishness. When evidence about people’s capacity to act cooperatively for a better future (on global issues such as climate change – see 2012 Rio Summit for example) suggests that acceptance of defeat is the rational response, is hope a noble stand, or just a stubborn denial of an unpalatable truth? Can an action be both hopeful and forlorn?

Taking inspiration from unexpected wildlife encounters, when you suddenly glimpse part of another world, another way of living, I’ve been imagining actions to be seen by the walkers on the Land Journey that are unannounced, and either fleeting, or distant, or in some way not fully explained. Could there be an action that will be in relation to the walkers’ own purposeful journey but different from / tangential to it, suggesting the possibility of other ways of inhabiting the terrain, other journeys happening alongside their own?

The flooding in Wales this summer, combined with general awareness of sea-level rise, have made me think about water as an elemental force that confronts people… Does hope consist in a courageous but forlorn resistance to the flow, or could it be in acceptance of change – a kind of abandonment or acquiescence to nature? Can hope on a species level lie in embracing a capacity to improvise within changing environments – in being adaptive, flexible, amphibious? What might that mean in terms of the body?

With some of these questions in mind, Simon Whitehead and I visited parts of the routes that both the North and South Land Journeyers will be taking around the river Dyfi. We talked about the logistical possibilities of particular settings, as well as how particular actions might fit within the daily / weekly schedule of the walk, and what resonance there might be with other interventions planned as part of the journey. We agreed that it might make an interesting connection for the 2 groups to have had an encounter in or around the Dyfi – one on the first day (North route), and one on the last day (South route) of their walks. We also discussed the possibility of other actions that might be glimpsed on other parts of the routes, specifically in the contested inter-tidal zone along the coast, and / or lake margins.

Ansuman Biswas

Creating the Future Guest Artist

Ansuman was an integral part of the entire Emergence Summit and was involved as walker on the North route of the Land Journey and as contributor to the conference weaving his way through the entire score of the event. He is also composer/musician for the score of the film ‘Walking to the Summit’. The final part of his commission was presented one year after the end of the Summit, in Summer 2013 and relates to the impact and echo of the whole event. He has created an audible art piece which can be downloaded below. It is in the spirit of the Land Journey, an invitation to walk and to listen, to connect the inner and outer worlds through which one travels…

Pete Telfer

Walking to the Summit

Pete Telfer was commissioned to make a documentary film for the Emergence Summit. Two versions were finally delivered, one feature-length version of ‘Walking to the Summit’ shot in HD for Emergence and a slightly shorter version to represent Wales on the BBC digital arts platform ‘The Space’.


“What will my mortgage payment be?

What will my baby look like?

What will the iphone6 have?

What will we do in heaven?

What will be will be”

Sarah Woods & Richard Gott

“Hope was the thing – that was what got tested through the week for me I think. I’d started out by trying to think about hope – how or if you can distinguish it from blind faith, or stubborn, irrational courage, or pie-in-the-sky. And where the line is


“A Taste for the Sea” – A guided tour of Anywhere You Like