Friction Talks are a new collective in Oxford, offering small and intimate talks with artists and academics. Their most recent (and sold out) event saw Guardian writer and environmental activist George Monbiot speaking at the Ultimate Picture Palace on Cowley Road, alongside a viewing of George Tomlinson's short film 'Rewilding Scotland'.
Tomlinson's film is a compilation of gorgeous pastoral shots of Scotland, footage of animals they are hoping to reintroduce into the countryside (such as lynx), and interviews with advocates of the Scottish Rewilding movement, such as Alan Watson-Featherstone and the late Dick Balharry. Tomlinson offered her own commentary, mainly exposition and stark facts concerning the bleak remainder of Scotland's past wilderness (such as that after centuries of deforestation, only 1% of the original forest in Scotland remains). The message is clear; we need to work for people and nature, not or/against.
Monbiot's talk followed a similar vein. Rewilding doesn't mean a removal from the urban, he pressed, but simply co-existing with nature, leading to a richer and more flourishing Britain. The discussion took a more amusing turn with a tirade on sheep (the 'white plague'), the moral of which I lost for a while amidst the intense grazing and heather measurement discussion. The main gist follows that sheep are responsible for a whole cohort of wrongdoings, including but not limited to the destabilization of soil, deprivation of water in fertile ground, and almost total wreckage of certain landscapes. And we - as sheep enablers - are facilitating this carnage.
The speech lasts for about forty or so minutes. Monbiot managed to maintain the audience's interest with a characteristic mix of jokes, sentiment and utter sincerity (sometimes bridging on incredulity) for the cause. And it works; the constant stream of questions post-spiel reveals the actual impact and current draw the subject holds. Indeed at a time in which, for example, reconstruction of the England's coast is in dire straits (recent statistics suggest that as many as 700 properties in high-risk areas could be lost by 2030, and yet plans to continue building in such areas continues to rise), the need for a relationship between nature and the urban - as opposed to subjugation - seems especially pressing. The message drawn from both Tomlinson's film and Monbiot's talk is a matter of symbiosis with the city and the country; aligning rewilding with, lets say, rebuilding. The aim is not to turn back the clock to a pastiche of the pastoral, but to use the methods of modernity to help this restoration, which is necessary for both local communities and the lost wilderness.
Friction Talks are providing something novel in the Oxford literary scene; small scale discussions in which one genuinely feels that they can have an encounter with the speaker. Even though 'Rewilding Scotland' is definitely the largest event yet (previous talks taking place at the much smaller venue, Quarterhorse), there is no sense of the esoteric or hierarchical. Indeed, after each talk, all are invited to the Star pub on Cowley Road to continue discussions over drinks and book-signings.
For more information on Rewilding and George Monbiot:
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