Yearly Archives: 2016

The Carbon Lab – An Anthropocene Conversation Between Artists

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

by Guest Blogger Dr Carol Birrell

She was a tiny clot of earth, a nano particle of something finer than clay, finer than silt, but soil nonetheless. She was ancient with memory rushing though gills, feather, bone and gullet. She rubbed against scales, swallowed spore of dinosaur plants, arctic tundra and Devonian rocks. The ingestion of millions of earth years all held in one big watery sponge of memory. It adhered to her, refused to let go, to be absorbed by some other fleeting jolt of reality. It would not dissolve in those acidic depths, nor would it break up or break down. It just remained. It was the taste of infinity that knew no definitions between plant or animal, organic and inorganic, human or non-human. Her hair turned copper red, her skin became dark brown leather, creased at the edges of dreams, slipping in and out of viruses, bacteria and the DNA of a million frozen glaciers. She had become that, and all, a cosmic conflagration.

I am an artist, writer, and researcher who has always held a deep fascination with bogs: peat bogs. In Alaska in 2015, on a Writers Fellowship through the Island Institute, I was in a thick boreal forest late afternoon when the sun’s rays hit spots on stumps, branches, trunks, and leaves. The light was riveting as it seemed to illuminate those spaces from within. That moment encapsulated for me the moment of carbon capture and I was hooked into something.


Since then, I have pursued my interest and lack of knowledge about the carbon cycle. I want to understand how/why carbon is captured, stored, and released in a story of transformation from organic matter to inorganic mineral (peat, lignite, coal, graphite, diamond, and many in-between). In these Anthropocene times where concrete evidence of indelible human impact on the planet’s life systems has been acknowledged, carbon, the element, has become demonised. It is one of the major greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. I am keen to develop my own relationship and insight into this crucial life force. I look to the intersection of the arts and ecology as a way of deepening into my embeddedness with the earth, and as a means to make sense of these times. I trust the arts and creativity as a way of knowing, and I wanted to work with a group of artists to open new possibilities.

The project began with an invite for a gathering of an open group of artists, working across various arts modalities, such as writers, visual artists, poets, printers, photographers, story tellers, dancers, musicians, performance artists, all interested in the story of carbon, and working on one particular place: a peat bog on mainland Australia. This peat bog, a glacial relic, is estimated to be at least 20,000 years old and has been strongly disrupted from its trajectory by humans and domesticated animals, yet still survives, albeit in tattered form.


The type of questions I was hoping to explore were: What can this peat bog teach us? How can our own arts practice speak of the bog? What are the stories that emerge from this place? What might it mean to share the stories of this place and our art work in a series of conversations both private and public? How does our relationship with and our understanding of carbon and the earth itself develop through this process? Is it possible for humans to develop an understanding of Deep Time through the process of engaging with an ancient bog?

The idea was for people to go to the bog independently and develop their own arts response to it, then come together on a regular basis to share those responses, tease out ideas, see the art work in progress, and create a dialogue between artists, known collectively and fondly, as Bog Rats. A Secret Facebook page was established as a platform for people to share their work and ideas. ‘Secret’ because the bog is not legally accessible, hence this artistic work requires boldness and risk, just as we humans living in the Anthropocene need to think and act in a disruptive fashion in order to forge new relationship with the earth. The possibility has been raised of a podcast, or documentary and presentations at conferences, or an art exhibition. We were also hoping to grow the project so people living in other countries could be part of their own carbon lab and share ideas across the globe.


So far, we have had 30 or so artists express interest and embark on their own art work, as well as a public performance story telling group offering to be part of this work in re-telling and re-enacting our stories. We have had several meetings full of showing, sharing and asking questions. The dialogue is always rich and alive. When an artist speaks from her/his voice, I am exposed to a different way of knowing expressed through their particular arts modality, and it makes me see and understand things differently. Like the bog, I ingest new layers of sediment, swirl them around together, then something settles in me for a time of waiting, to emerge, who knows when, as a new articulation.

I want to speak to some of the work that has emerged so far through my art: I have written four short pieces, a few poems, taken photos of the bog in golden light, of human presence insinuating itself into bog life, played with bog art using bog mud on paper, and tasted bog mud, bog plants. Finally, I have smeared my body with bog mud in an echo of ‘Bog Man’ stories of preservation. I have dreamt about the bog…


The ideas that are coming to me for further work concern the seeming surface stillness versus the seething mass of movement of sediment in water throughout the under layers of the bog; how my concept of time alters in dialogue with bog time/carbon time; the notion of a state of equipoise or suspended animation as regards the ‘hold’ on life the bog has – it reminds me of hibernation – when the normal process of life has been intercepted, so that decay, the natural process we associate with death, is held at bay or deferred; and the curious transition from organic to inorganic states.

What I thought to be a relatively short-term project (six months) is now looking like a few years. If you would like to be part of this project, begin your own or converse with other ‘Bog Rats’, contact me via


Dr Carol Birrell is an artist, researcher, and writer. She has taught in universities and schools, is passionate about the intersection between ecology and the arts, and Indigenous knowledge systems. Her land-based art practice, developed over 20 years, called Touching the Earth, is a dialogue with the earth. Carol knows, as part of her Climate Change work, she needs to urgently spend time in Greenland listening to glaciers melt, and in the Arctic Circle responding to permafrost thawing. You can FB Friend her at Carol Birrell where she may allow you to join the Secret Group of Carbon Laboratory.


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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Artists announced for annual Arts & Sustainability Residency 2016

This post comes from Creative Carbon Scotland

Creative Carbon Scotland is pleased to announce the selected artists forThinking through the Anthropocene: Arts & Sustainability Residency. 

Running for its third consecutive year, the residency provides eight Scotland-based artists and creative practitioners with the time, space and interdisciplinary input to explore how their work relates to the Anthropocene and environmental sustainability.

In alphabetical order, those selected to participate in this year’s residency are:

Reem Alkayyem

Reem Alkayyem is a Syrian born and educated architect. She has practiced architecture for 15 years in her home country and has MScs from the University of Edinburgh in Architectural Project Management (2012) and Advanced Sustainable Design (2016). She aims to enhance and disseminate the knowledge of sustainability to include the social and cultural aspects in addition to environmental. She is additionally keen to contribute to the reconstruction of her country and to educate future architects on sound and sustainable bases.

Kathy Beckett

Kathy describes her creative practice as ‘in exploration of ecocentric approaches’, seeing that her responsibility and passion as an artist is to help serve a more beautiful life sustaining world. She works across a range of mediums, with people and nature at the core of her activity and public engagement as a vehicle of expression. She has been contracted as a project artist concerned with environmental sustainability for a range of organisations, including the Glasgow School of Art, Creative Carbon Scotland and North Light Arts.

Simon Gall

Simon Gall is a musician, composer and educator based in Aberdeenshire. He has toured (and continues to tour) internationally, recording with a number of artists including well-known world music band Salsa Celtica, Cuban band Son al Son and more recently contemporary Scottish folk duo Clype.

Alex Mackay

Alex Mackay is a sound artist, composer and performer based in Glasgow, making work across media including sound/music, image and performance for a wide range of contexts, including recorded media, installation, live performance as well as collaborative work in the fields of visual art, dance and film.  

Victoria MacKenzie

Victoria MacKenzie is a fiction writer working on her first novel, Brantwood, about the life of art critic and social reformer John Ruskin, as well as a short fiction collection, Creaturely, which explores our connections with other species.

Michael Stumpf

Michael Stumpf (born in Mannheim, Germany) is a visual artist that works primarily in sculpture. In addition to his own practice he is currently a member of the artist group Poster Club. Recent exhibitions include: New Wheat New Mud New Machine (with Poster Club) Cooper Gallery, Dundee; Objects Converse on a Matter of Mutual Concern, Art Across the City, Swansea; This Song Belongs to those Who Sing It, Mackintosh Gallery, Glasgow School of Art; In Other Words, Lewis Glucksmann Gallery, Cork; New Alchemy /Contemporary Art after Beuys, Landesmuseum, Münster.

Samuel Tongue

A hybrid of lyric and language poetry, Samuel’s practice is inter-medial and parasitic, living within, feeding from, and provoking a variety of artistic forms. Poems are search patterns, part of a meshwork of ideas and concepts, rooted in an incorrigibly plural world.

Jenna Watt

Jenna Watt is a multi-award winning Scottish theatre maker, her latest work; Faslane, written in part at Cove Park, received a 2016 Scotsman Fringe First Award at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

This year’s arts and sustainability residency run in partnership with Cove Park and is funded by Creative Scotland and kindly supported by the Dr David Summers Charitable Trust.

Keep an eye on our News section for further details on the residency.


The post Artists announced for annual Arts & Sustainability Residency 2016 appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.


Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

Go to Creative Carbon Scotland

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