Shelley Sacks

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‘PRIMAL WORD STONE’ is an early ‘listening place’ that I created in Cape Town in 1975, first as a personal listening space and later as a mobile public arena to halt people in their tracks and provoke thinking about interiority, listening, hearing and empathy. Together with large-scale processes like ‘The Crying Earth’ it was one of a number of ‘instruments of consciousness’ created in response to the brutal oppressions in South Africa, and to the tragedy of colonization, then and now. ‘Exchange Values’, which creates listening places that connect the voices of small monoculture farmers in the Caribbean to stretched sheets of banana skin, made from their produce, and ‘Earth Forum’ – a process enabling ‘agendas for transformation’ through connecting inner and outer work, are both examples of participatory ‘listening places’ that highlight the link between aesthetic mobilization, imagination, empathy and shifts in imagination. All my works, though concerned with overcoming unnecessary suffering in humans and nature, see the human being as the site of transformative struggle, and in this sense the solution to the Anthropocene.


Responsibility as Ability-to-Respond; Imagination and Transformation, Aesthetic Mobilization; Connective Practice; Social Sculpture; Listening; Colonisation


Fig 1. Shelley and Rock

In Primal Word Stone the midpoint in the incised outline of a human skull on the face of the rock, is struck repeatedly with a tuning fork. I sit before it, trying to ‘make sense’: to listen to the soul of the world speaking. Doing this in public space, created both an oasis for deep listening, and a provocation to recognise the ‘world soul’ in the audible resonance of the other-than-human world.


Fig 2. Shelley and Rock 2

Fig 3. Travelling Kit

Fig 4. Tuning Fork Wrapped
[Photographs: Dimitri Nicholas Fanourakis; Copyright: Shelley Sacks]



About the Author

Shelley Sacks is Professor Emerita in Social Sculpture and Connective Practice at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford UK. For four decades she has been working internationally in academia and the public sphere, writing, performing and creating listening places, transactional arenas, and ‘instruments of consciousness’ that connect inner work and outer action, individual and collective, and aesthetics and responsibility. All explore the relationship between deep listening, empathy, thinking-together and ‘connective planning’. Her ‘connective practice’ theory of change and methodology draws on her work with Joseph Beuys, as a student and later co-worker in his Free International University, and then in developing interdisciplinary research programmes and ‘creative strategies’ for working with his social sculpture proposals. Other streams informing her writings and ‘connective practice’ are Paulo Freire’s pedagogy, archetypal psychology, listening practices in Vedanta and Buddhism, her contact with traditional healers in Southern Africa and her interest in developing social healing arenas. Other ‘listening places’ include Earth Forum: Listening to Each Other, Listening to the World; Exchange Values [] for listening in the global economy, FRAMETALKS in which deep listening practices are the basis for ‘making social honey’, and Landing Strip for Souls in which participant initiatives emerge from ‘listening to the future’. All these projects and practices are part of the University of the Trees Lab

Shelley is currently artist-curator of the Kassel21-Social Sculpture Lab hosted by the Documenta Archiv and the Neue Galerie, Kassel for the Joseph Beuys 100 Birth Centenary Celebrations [].


To cite this creative work

Shelley Sacks. “PRIMAL WORD STONE.” Fusion Journal, no. 19, 2021, pp. 182-187. word stone/

First published online: March 2021

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