The Clearing is a vision of the future in the grounds of Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park

Caretaker report

17 September 2017

Ravina and Zoe

Future Sounds

People think the future will sound like Kraftwerk. All synths, drum machines and robotic voices. But they’re wrong. The future will sound like chickens. And axes splitting wood. And people desperately fanning a dying fire with the lid of a biscuit tin.

At least that’s what our stay at The Clearing sounded like. That and A LOT of frantic chat about how you actually chop wood and start a fire in the first place. When we arrived on the Monday we had experience of neither.

Over the next six days we recorded the sounds around us. They were the sounds of the things that took over our life. We barely left The Clearing and so our universe was reduced to chickens, sawing wood and the dome itself. The smaller our world became the bigger these things became in our minds.

These are the sounds that will fill the world when the gas and oil dry up. Unless we get solar power. Then we can have synths.



Zoe says: The chickens welcomed us on the Monday by pecking at our bums and stealing food right off our plates. They really must work on their manners. But by Wednesday all was forgiven. Not least because they gave us fresh eggs, followed us around like loyal puppies, and their clucking each morning became a reassuring sound signalling that we had all lived to see another day.



Zoe says: Saw wood. Chop wood. Burn wood. Repeat. One of us was pretty much always doing at least one of these activities at any one time.Turns out sawing wood takes bloody ages. I sat under the yew tree for hours every day just pushing the saw back and forth until the blisters, backache and boredom became too much. Though that moment when you finally saw the log clean off the branch? That felt great.

In order to minimise the amount of time spent sawing wood, we used the minimum amount of logs for our fires. The idea of using the cob oven (for which you need to burn wood for HOURS) seemed like pure hedonism. We told visitors this. They thought we were strange. They didn’t understand why we didn’t just make a margarita pizza in it. We may have gone slightly mad by this point.



Ravina says: Fire. ‘The red flower’, the thing that is beyond human and beyond nature - yet relies on both to spark it into being. Fire sits at the crossroads of magic and science, and creation and destruction. Throughout time humans have variously worshipped fire, celebrating its life-giving and death-threatening properties. Arriving at the clearing, it took us about 10 minutes before the need for fire raised its burning head (in the form of “tea-pangs”). From there on, we too became preoccupied with fire - our days literally revolved around it.

After some demoralising attempts to keep the fire alight, we quickly learned the age-old techniques: start really small; make a pyramid; fan it really really hard until your arm goes dead; then feed it. As we finessed our new found skills we sharpened our eye for burnable materials. We even foraged for thistle fluff to use as tinder.

“Imagine if every time you wanted a cup of tea, instead of tapping the switch on your kettle you had to build a fire?” This is a question we asked to curious children who visited the dome during our wood chopping stints. The question sparked something in some of the young visitors. Others simply shrugged it off (perhaps they didn’t care for tea?). For us, that switch on the kettle was now symbolic of the human effort expelled in chopping, building, and making fire, as well as the energy produced by the fire itself. It really brought home the sheer power and availability of fuel that we mindlessly access throughout the day, and it made a simple cup of tea taste all the better.



Ravina says: We ate very well. We were lucky enough to arrive in the peak of summer to a brimming allotment, which included a potato plant so fecund that it harboured hundreds of potatoes in its bowels. The simplest things took on new levels of pleasure. A fire-roasted banana provided a heavenly reward after a hard day sawing logs, whilst a trip to pick blackberries became our (hour-long) holiday in search of nature’s sweets.

Zoe says: We wanted to pass on something to future caretakers of the dome, so we made “The Caretakers Cookbook: How to Eat Well After the Apocalypse”. It was a collection of dishes made with the food we harvested and foraged, plus a little looted soy sauce. It was our way of living on in the dome.



Ravina says: At night-time, after the last candle was blown out, The Clearing became the setting for a wild cacophonous concert performed by nature. Amplified by the curves of the dome, the sounds became our 'Symphony of Fear'. Fear goes hand-in-hand with imagination, and sound triggers the imagination like nothing else. The tap of an acorn became the thud of a primate, the rustling of a mouse became the goading of a vicious badger, whilst branches scraping the metal dome became the deliberate strides of Freddie Krueger.

We invented myths about The Rat, assigning a creature to symbolise the unknown but terrifying threats to our human existence that became acute by the onset of darkness. Nature is louder and therefore more powerful when it’s dark, and we humans knew our place (tucked away at the top of a wooden dome, with a torch-light close to hand). Thus, fear kept us out of danger.



Zoe says: No synths, no phones ringing, no TVs in the background. Just the sounds of nature. Lovely you may think. And lovely it was on sunny evenings sitting by the lake, listening to birds calling and watching swans glide across the lake. But nature is a fickle friend. As soon as the sun went down, the sounds of nature became terrifying (see FEAR above).


Ravina says: During the week, hundreds of visitors descended through the gate. Although we don’t have any recordings of them, their presence permeated our experience adding an extra dimension of challenge and reflection. We often felt a sense of conflict between welcoming people and talking about our experience, and actually trying to live out that experience. Like an unlikely Gilbert & George, we had become part of a living artwork, and the visitors to the dome were our co-authors, injecting the experience with their thoughts and reactions:

“It’s about Trump and North Korea.”
“The future looks a lot like the past. It’s quite lovely.”
“I think this is a comment on the younger generation losing the skills to survive. I think all young people should come and live here.”
“I’ve got two of these domes in my back garden.”

We displayed books from The Clearing’s library showing spreads of Buckminster Fuller’s stunning geodesic dome designs, as well as examples of self-sufficient leaderless communities like Colorado’s Drop City, highlighting alternative models of living. For many visitors, these were not new ideas. These visitors were part of a generation that had extolled the big ideas of 60’s counterculturalism. Many took nostalgic delight upon finding a battered edition of The Whole Earth Catalog, a countercultural magazine active between 1968-72 that highlighted products that aided self-sufficient living. Described by Steve Jobs as ‘one of the bibles of my Google in paperback form”, its purpose was to provide “access to tools” to people looking for a different way of living.

As our week drew to a close, we realised that that was what The Clearing had offered to us - access to test out practical skills, to thought, to other people’s reactions, to nature, a space away from our normal lives where we’d receive a short assessment of our own resilience and adaptability.

Somewhere in a field between Stratford-upon-Avon and Leamington Spa, the dome had been planted like a seed pointing to a different way of life, offering sharper tools for living, whilst acting as a warning for us all.