Yearly Archives: 2016

The Nature of Man

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

by Guest Blogger Mark A. Durstewitz

Featured Image: The Nature of Man poster

Madmen and Dreamers is a progressive rock band who writes, records, and performs original rock operas. Our first project, The Children of Children, enjoyed a limited run at the Bleecker Street Theater in New York City following its regional tour. The band, founded by Christine Hull and me, is raising funds for the tour of its new project, a climate change rock opera called The Nature of Man, written by Mario Renes, Christine, and me.

While we were touring The Children of Children, Mario, Chris and I began to talk about the next project. The environment was the obvious choice, but which aspect of climate change should we focus on? As writers are universally cruel to their characters we started tossing around worst case scenarios.

It didn’t take long to settle on water: the lynchpin of climate change and flash point of fracking and pollution. But… how to make this huge issue accessible to the audience?

While pondering that, Chris and I were invited to a WhyHunger fundraiser in New York City. We accepted to help a good cause. At the event, we found ourselves sitting with WhyHunger’s International Coordinator, Peter Mann and Aldous Huxley’s granddaughter, Tessa. I was seated at the right of Peter next to Ms. Huxley, and Chris was seated on Peter’s left.

While Ms. Huxley and I were talking, Chris told Peter about the project. He tapped me for the when of the story. I told him we’d set it 25 or so years in the future. He shook his head and said no, these problems were already underway. He invited us to meet in his office one night.

Mario and I met with Peter and a hydrological engineer named Greg. They laid out how much trouble we were in and supported it with a stack of data.

Basically, we’ve upset the planet’s hydrological cycle. Freshwater is evaporating as we raise the air temperature, leaving little for agriculture, animals, and humans. This causes conflicts and failed states. It’s a real mess.

And a number of large corporations are taking advantage of it. 

After the meeting we drove in silence, trying to take it in. The horror of the situation preempted any discussion of our story.

Being the one with some scientific training, I took the data and spread it out on the coffee table, highlighter in hand, and started to read. When Chris got up in the morning I was still there. She looked at the pile of data and asked how bad it was. I told her it was very bad and refused to comment further. I secreted the data in my office and began to ponder.

Any reasonable human being, carrying such knowledge about the survival of his species, is morally compelled to act. It would be monstrous to trash it all and party while waiting for the inevitable collapse. We all deserve a better fate than that meted out by the world’s industrial elite. This story must be told and it must be successful.

Our first attempt was released as the concept album Remembrance while we were running The Children of Children in NYC. We weren’t happy with it and we were torn between reworking it and moving on. Reworking it was a mammoth undertaking. The only way to get it right would be a series of readings with actors reading the lyrics (libretto) as characters. The reading isn’t the hard part, it’s the rewriting . . .

We talked seriously about dropping it, but . . . I have this friend with a lofty title at the United Nations and he would give me no peace. Every time we saw each other, he subjected me to an excruciatingly polite harangue about the importance of the story. He was seeing it play out on a global scale.

Then, on a certain night, I got home and Chris recounted a conversation she’d had with her acting coach. She’d brought her songs into class so they could work on the necessary emotions for each recording session. Maggie was of the same opinion as my friend at the UN. We both sighed and agreed that it was a story that desperately wanted to be told.

It’s about the last, clean freshwater aquifer in North America lying deep beneath the ground of Woodstock, NY., the farms that sit on top of it and use its water for agriculture, and the company who wants the water.

Could be happening anywhere in the world right now and, according to my friend at the UN, it is. But we added a few twists to the story (sorry, no spoilers). For starters, the woman who runs the farms (Sophia) and the man who owns the company (Geier) have history and it gets ugly quick.

When Sophia’s daughter, Demi, and her husband, Will, return from the desert west after The Great Los Angeles Fire, Sophia’s farm is a beautiful refuge from their dangerous and painful journey east. Green hills and rolling fields of crops greet them as Sophia tells them that her home is now their home.

What she doesn’t tell them however, is that Geier has his sights set on her land and the water beneath it. And he’ll stop at nothing to get it.

We are raising funds for the first leg of a college tour of The Nature of Man. Our aim is to involve the students in the production and bring in environmental groups to help get them organized and moving in defense of their future. If we leave every school with a dedicated group working on local problems, we can change our trajectory and move toward a future filled with hope.

Mark & ChrisMark & Chris


Mark A. Durstewitz lives in both the creative and technological worlds; the digital studio is his domain. He’s played keyboards for southern and progressive rock bands and has collaborated with fellow musicians, writing keyboard parts and lyrics during studio sessions. A published novelist who has also won awards for short stories, the nexus of music and storytelling is his home. His first rock opera; The Children of Children, garnered rave reviews and world-wide radio play.

Madmen and Dreamers’ blog can be found here.




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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CIWEM Award for LAGI Glasgow Project

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

ecoartscotland is thrilled that the Land Art Generator Glasgow project has been awarded the 2016 Chartered Institution of Water and Environment Management (CIWEM) Arts, Water and Environment Award.

This award acknowledges the major commitment of all the partners, including Glasgow City Council, Scottish Canals and igloo Regeneration whose effective collaboration has made the project possible. And it celebrates the innovative work of the multidisciplinary design teams who participated, including the winning team (Dalziel + Scullion, Qmulus Ltd., Yeadon Space Agency, and ZM Architecture).

The combination of a Council committed to strategic planning and innovation with a land owner and a developer both committed to sustainability at the heart of regeneration has been crucial for the development of LAGI Glasgow.

CIWEM’s Arts and the Environment Network citation highlights the collaboration on the LAGI Glasgow project. The citation says,

The Nick Reeves AWEinspiring Award is presented annually by CIWEM’s Arts and the Environment Network in association with the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World (CCANW). The award celebrates projects or practitioners who have contributed innovatively to CIWEM’s vision of “putting creativity at the heart of environmental policy and action”.

Dave Pritchard, Chair of CIWEM’s Arts and Environment Network, said: “The quality of nominations for this year’s Award was wonderful. LAGI and ecoartscotland’s work is a superb example of our belief that arts-based approaches offer massive potential for more intelligent ways of responding to environmental challenges”.

Clive Adams, Director of CCANW, said: “Such new forms of collaboration across disciplines are increasingly needed if we are to reach a more harmonious relationship with the rest of nature”.

CIWEM’s Press Release is here.


ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.

Go to EcoArtScotland

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Extending Practice: Choreography & Sustainability Workshop Reflections

This post comes from Creative Carbon Scotland

In September CCS co-hosted a one day workshop with choreographers, Claire Pencak and Saffy Setohy, and writer/researcher Wallace Heim. One month on, we collectively reflect on learning points for further development.

The initial aim of the workshop was to explore how choreographic practices might contribute to environmental movements and sustainability. We organised the day through a series of exercises, creating a number of in-roads into the subject:

  • Initial discussion of the terms sustainability and choreography
  • A movement session led by Saffy and Claire in the North Kelvin Meadow: a contested community green space in North/West Glasgow
  • Group discussion shaped by propositions by Wallace
  • A short choreographic score-writing exercise

Movement Session

Claire described how the use of the session outside in the North Kelvin Meadow brought the group into more familiar territory as movement practitioners.


Group discussions

We held short group discussions in response to four key propositions set by Wallace to consider the ways in which choreographic practices specifically operate and how they intersect with questions of sustainability.


Questions about the body: how do ideas about sustainability affect or change perceptions and ideas about the human body, the body in motion, and the body as inter-related with the living and non-living others, inter-related with ideas, technologies, and human social systems. How do practices do this, without proposing a pre-cultural, isolated or essential view of the human body.

Questions about sense: how do we ‘sense’ sustainability, sense being both with the senses, and to make sense of something, to make it make sense collectively. What is touched, what are the surfaces of our relations? How can we make sense of that experience? How does this relate to choreographic practice?

Questions about friction: sustainability isn’t a smoothly managed plan, or something that only exists for the comfort and endurance of humans. There are fragmentations, gaps, frustrations, imbalances of power and justice, conflicts. How can choreographic practices work with these tensions? Or hold the tensions that arise?

Questions about how to ‘place’ the human in relation to a world of other beings and entities which are not simply there to be perceived, but themselves have agencies, motivations and force? How might these placings relate to sustainability?

Initial responses to Wallace’s provocations included:

  • The body can be used as a proxy for sustainability, as a system with finite capacities. Conversely, dance offers plenty of examples of non-sustainable practice, it can be about ‘pushing the body to its limit’ which creates a particular aesthetic.
  • The employment of multiple senses within choreographic practices have the potential to ‘embody’ and bring to the fore of our perception the often abstract or distant seeming realities of sustainability and climate change;
  • The forms of cooperative leadership that are used within choreographic work could be applied to and explored within other, non-arts contexts.


Wallace provided some further reflections on the movement session and following group discussions:

As a side note, see Chris Fremantle’s recent blog on Tim Ingold’s lecture ‘The Sustainability of Everything’ for further consideration of how the arts are ideally placed to work with the complexity of questions concerning sustainability.

Score-writing exercise

We gave the last part of the day over to making individual scores that in some way reflected on some of the themes and thinking over the day. Claire highlighted the value of the score in the way it suggests ways to proceed:

Sadly there wasn’t time to try out the scores, that will be for future development.






Saffy provided some final reflections on the day:

Thank you to everyone who participated in the workshop and to the Work Room for supporting the event. If you would like to get involved in our continued work in this area please email

Find out more about our regular events connecting arts and sustainability on our Green Tease page.

The post Extending Practice: Choreography & Sustainability Workshop Reflections 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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