Yearly Archives: 2017

The Visual Magic of Phantom Limb

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Phantom Limb Company produces visually stunning work for the stage that combines dance and puppetry. Co-founded in 2007 by artist, director, and set designer Jessica Grindstaff, and composer and puppet maker Erik Sanko, Phantom Limb has been developing a trilogy of shows that grapples with humans’ relationship to nature and climate change. The first show, 69˚S., inspired by Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition, opened in 2011 and toured extensively. The second show, Memory Rings, played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in November 2016. Memory Rings refers to both the resonance and impact of 4784 years of a living being, and the poetry of age shown through dendrochronology – the science of dating events by using the characteristic patterns of annual growth rings in trees. The final piece, Falling Out, a cross-cultural collaboration with Japan, is currently in development.

Jessica answered a few questions for Artists & Climate Change about the company’s process of researching and creating these pieces.

The icebergs melt, nature is defeated in 69˚S. Brooklyn Academy of Music, 2011. Photo by Pavel Antonov.

You are working on a trilogy of shows that engage with the environment. Can you talk about how and why you conceived these shows?

In 2009, we started with a concept that involved putting performers on stilts in a white expanse. When we imagined this, the Frank Hurley photographs of the Endurance expedition (Ernest Shackleton’s attempt to traverse the continent of Antarctica) came to mind. We began to develop ideas for a retelling of this story when I discovered there was a grant that would support artists to travel to Antarctica. One of the questions in the grant was about broader impacts. I started to think deeply about the idea of retelling a story that many people already knew and what difference it could make in a contemporary context. Shackleton’s leadership skills are what make that story so profound today. In fact, people have written books on his leadership style – how it saved the lives of every single person on the expedition. Historically, polar explorers would pre-sell press rights to their journeys and have the queen or prime minister prompt them to do anything to follow through with their initial intentions. You see it over and over again in these early exploration stories. Shackleton stood out because in a moment of crisis, he stopped, took a new look at his situation, and changed his objectives and the values of the mission for the greater good of the group. We started to look at this as an example for leadership in our own country and in our communities, specifically around the topic of climate. As leaders, will we continue to forge ahead with our original objectives regardless of what happens around us, or can we remain fluid and adaptable?

In the end, we got the grant to go to Antarctica and we spent about a month there, collecting visual and aural data, visiting Shackleton and Scott’s historic huts, and having extensive meetings with scientists. This was a life changing trip on many levels. We were awestruck by the continent itself, like a trip to Mars, unlike anything you have ever experienced before. But more importantly, we developed a new passion for working with science, scientists, and environmental issues.

It was at this time that we made a decision to dedicate the next decade of our life to making a trilogy about humans’ connection to nature, and our uncertain future.

         The seven dwarves in Memory Rings, OZ Arts Nashville, 2015. Photo by Sierra Urich.

What qualities do puppets possess that make them good spokespersons for the environment?

They don’t actually speak. They leave space. A puppet works through empathy. Erik’s puppets have an uncanny ability to draw people in in a way that they often can’t explain. People leave with images that stay with them for a long time, and they keep thinking about the narrative and topics well after the performance is over. Direct, instructive, didactic information about climate seems to slide right off of most people’s back. The puppets somehow manage to creep into our most vulnerable parts, and resonate.

What do you look for when you do research? For example, did you have an idea before you went to Antarctica?

We’re both visual artists and Erik is a composer so we attach ourselves to image and sound first. We find sources that inspire us and then dig deeper.

I was immediately attracted to satellite images showing changes to sea ice around Antarctica so I knew I wanted to have our video artists play with animating that and making it a part of the landscape.

Erik and I found out that there was an active volcano near the base where we were staying, and a glacier slowly traveling across it. That was immediately inspiring – the idea of a raging volcanic source surrounded by ice. We sought out scientists who were working with that particular volcano and found a bank of sounds that had been recorded over a long period and then sped up 100 times to be audible. This became the sound of the impending breakup of the ship in our narrative.

We also knew we’d have access to the men’s original clothes. The huts have been preserved as if the men had left yesterday so we carefully documented the garments for historic re-creation.

We had access to the journals of the log keeper from the Endurance expedition and poured over those for days on end. For our show Memory Rings, we went through extreme measures to locate the world’s oldest living tree, found it, and documented it in ways that are integral to the tapestry of the final piece.

Research and expedition are key elements to our developmental process. I am in the process now of creating an itinerary in Japan that involves the Fukushima region, Butoh, and Japanese puppetry.

Memory Rings at Center for the Art of Performance, University of California Los Angeles, 2016. Photo by Phinn Sriployrung.

With a radically changed political climate in the US, many government agencies silenced, and information about climate change removed from websites, what do you hope your work can accomplish?

The same thing I wanted it to accomplish before. I’m not a radical protestor; I’m an artist who creates visual poetry. The only tool I have is the work that I do together with Erik. It moves people, it makes them lean in and listen a little more closely, and it inspires them to do their own important work within their communities.

The one goal that I have for the final piece is to get it outside of New York and Los Angeles so that we can expand the conversation and engage people who aren’t already aware of humans’ impact on climate change. We always have seminars, panel discussions with climate scientists, workshops, and other types of outreach when we present our work. We are committed to keeping the dialogue going outside of the theatre as a vital part of our work.  We’ve also begun to teach a bit and I think teaching students how to make work that has social implications while still speaking to them as artists is crucial.

What is the single most important thing that artists can do to address climate change?

Address it. When we started creating work that was about climate, it wasn’t very au courant. The topic has since had its rise and fall, and now the hot topic is you-know-who and immigration and diversity… Everything is important always, but nothing else will matter when all of our coastal cities and settlements are underwater. No other issue is as time sensitive.

Additionally, all artists have a responsibility to evaluate their development process and look for ways to be more efficient and produce less waste.

Erik, Jessica and Freya in the Eastern Sierras in front of the Methuseleh tree, 2014. Photo by by Daniel Leeb.

What gives you hope?

Small things. My 4 year-old daughter. A visit to my grandparent’s home, which was built the year I was born. There is a weeping birch tree at the top of the rolling hill of wildflowers that sweeps down to a little shaded valley of ferns and a stand of pines on the edge of a lake. It is amazing to watch a tiny piece of the planet that has brought so much joy grow and change and stay the same. My daughter sits under the branches of the same birch – “the story tree” – and tells stories with her great-grandmother.

(Top image: Shackleton and his men in 69˚S. Brooklyn Academy of Music, 2011. Photo by by Pavel Antonov.)

About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Minty Donald Reviews A Caledonian Decoy

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Caledonian Decoy: Exhibition overview, 2017 from Collins & Goto Studio on Vimeo.

Tim Collins and Reiko Goto’s dense and thought-provoking exhibition brings together a number of recent works developed as part of what they describe in the accompanying catalogue as ‘A Critical Forest Art Practice’.* This body of works, made ‘with rather than in’ forests in Scotland is intended to ‘explore […] new relationships between humanity and nature’.

Key to Collins and Goto’s approach, and at the core of the exhibition, is the concept of the ‘cultural decoy’, a term which they use to describe several of the works. As I understand this provocative and generative concept, a cultural decoy is an artefact that is intended to lure the audience/spectator into a relationship with the entanglement of nature and culture that comprises what is commonly referred to as ‘the environment’, and in the particular case of this exhibition, with the natural-cultural environments of Scotland’s forests. The word ‘decoy’, particularly employed in this context, is loaded and complex. It has clear associations with hunting, leading me to reflect on the implications of identifying art objects as decoys in this gallery-based, ecologically inflected exhibition. A decoy may be set by the hunter to trap prey, but also deployed by those pursued to distract or mislead the hunter.

A further frame which seems pertinent to Goto and Collins’ exhibition, though not one overtly referenced by the artists, is Robert Smithson’s notion of site/non-site. Smithson’s grappling with the productive paradoxes of exhibiting work with site-responsive origins in a gallery distant from the originary location has, for me, useful resonances. Goto and Collins appear to share Smithson’s approach, complexifying the relationship between the ‘cultural’ space of the gallery and the ‘natural’ forest environments from which their work emanates.

The exhibition includes six photographic and sculptural works that Collins and Goto consider to be cultural decoys and a video work titled Decoy, installed in the tight confines of the Intermedia Gallery at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow.

The central and most imposing of the cultural decoys, Fiadh, is a group of cage-like structures constructed from metal fencing and wooden posts, which stand at approximately human head height. The cages, if viewed from above, spell out the word fiadh which, exhibition notes tell me, is ‘Scottish Gaelic for deer, but also references wildness’. One of the cages contains cowberry, bilberry, heather and bracken growths. The work is intended as a maquette for a much larger scale sculpture, which the artists intend to function as a deer fence, protecting recently harvested forest plantation from deer herds. The full-scale work would evolve over time, as the metal fencing is engulfed by maturing trees. It’s a work that invites me to contemplate the inextricable intertwining of nature and culture in Scotland’s forests (and wider ecology) and to consider multiple, opposing and overlapping, perspectives on land stewardship and re-wilding. For me, it functions effectively as a cultural decoy — a gallery-based proposition, luring the spectator into a conceptual engagement with the natural-cultural entanglements of Scotland’s forests. It doesn’t reference or evoke a specific forest location, but functions as a speculative work that points towards conditions common to Scotland’s woodlands and brought about through competing demands of deer preservation and timber cultivation.

Decoy, a split-screen projection showing video footage of movement advancing into and retreating from a dense, ancient forest environment (the forward movement in colour and the retreat in black and white) fills another gallery wall. The footage has the shaky appearance and point-of-view of hand-held camera work. I watch the video while standing among the fence structures of Fiadh. Other visitors stand in front of the wire mesh, in close proximity to the projection/gallery wall. I note my sense of enclosure and my fragmented view of the video, which to me mimics the physical and visual experience of being in a dense woodland. I contemplate the gallery as natural-cultural space, a forest-within-gallery, or gallery-within-forest. The camera movement and my position within the fencing structures evokes for me the somatic experience of moving through a forest environment. Decoy’s sound-track (a commentary reflecting on the Caledonian forests of Scotland and key terms used by the artists, followed by field recordings of rutting deer) and the more formal aspects of the editing (spilt screen projection in colour and monochrome), however, pull me back from this more affective, sensory interaction with the work. You can see Decoy here.

I experience a similar withdrawal from the somatic and immersive dimensions of the five wall-based pieces, also described as cultural decoys. Lanolin, Can You See the Forest of Scotland? is a sheep’s fleece, manipulated to pick out a saltire in washed white wool against a greyer background of untreated fleece. The Ladder in the Wood is a photograph of a deerstalker’s ladder, once used to access a treetop platform from which the stalker could observe and shoot deer. The ladder is rotting and becoming indistinguishable from the fabric of the tree against which it stands, no longer fulfilling its human-determined function. Fearna/Co2 is a piece of Alder tree bark into which a carbon dioxide monitor, linked to a noise generator, has been inserted. As human spectators approach, the noise level increases in response to their Co2 exhalations. One of two linked pieces, Taod Gaoisdei, is a bit-less horse bridle, woven from twisted birch twigs and horse hair. Exhibition notes inform me that in Scottish folklore a birch bridle could be used to harness a kelpie, the mythical Scottish horse-sprite. A photograph of Goto’s other-than-human collaborator, native-breed horse An Dorchadas, wearing the bridle, accompanies the sculptural piece. These five works operate, for me, as cultural decoys at a conceptual level, pointing to complex entanglements of the natural and the cultivated, human and other-than-human. However, compacted into Intermedia’s small exhibition space, and with prominent explanatory text, my interaction with the wall works feels slightly skewed towards the ocular and intellectual. I feel constrained, for instance, from taking up the invitation to interact with the carbon monoxide monitor in Fearna/Co2, or from touching the fleece in Lanolin, Can You See the Forest of Scotland?

FEÀRNA / CO2, 2017 from Collins & Goto Studio on Vimeo.

While I may have welcomed a little more space (both physical and interpretive) for open-ended, sensory and affective interactions with the works, A Caledonian Decoy is a rich and thoughtful exhibition that makes a sophisticated and valuable contribution to debates about the natural and the cultural, art and the environment. Goto and Collins’ decoys remain ambivalent — are they set by hunter or prey, poacher or gamekeeper? — suggesting the impossibility of untangling the competing and shared impulses and intentions that play out in the natural-cultural environments of Scotland’s forests.

* All quotations are from the exhibition catalogue or signage. You can download a pdf of the catalogue CollinsandGoto_CALEDONIANDECOY

All photographs and videos courtesy of the artists.

The Collins & Goto Studio’s The Centre for Nature in Cities presents: A Caledonian Decoy
Intermedia Gallery, Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow, 2-23 February 2017

Minty Donald is an artist and senior lecturer in contemporary performance practices at the University of Glasgow. She is interested in the idea of more-than-human performance, where performing is understood as not just a human activity. Minty works regularly with (human) collaborator Nick Millar. Recent work includes THEN/NOW, a public art project with/for the Forth and Clyde Canal and Guddling About, an ongoing project with rivers and other watercourses, which has been performed in Canada, Spain, Germany, Australia and the UK.


About EcoArtScotland:

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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Reimagined Conversations, Empowered Narratives

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Since November, I’ve been engaging in more and more conversations around climate. Some formal, like the series of Environmental Justice Roundtables at The Lark, and the formation of Climate Lens (a collective of theatre-makers connecting on climate issues); others informal, like brainstorming with my collaborators about addressing climate issues through our theatre practices. These conversations, in their various forms, are inspiring in the sense of like-minded individuals sharing experiences and support toward bettering our collective future as humans on Earth. More than the “echo chambers” of social media, these in-person discussions make manifest a harness-able positive energy. It is increasingly easy to succumb to fear and discouragement, but I remain steadfast in the power of narrative to buoy us through these dark times, and want to reclaim narrative around issues of power itself to persist in the path to justice.

majority of Americans are in support of governmental regulations on climate issues, yet the current administration wants to draw back what measures have already been put in place, because why listen to science anyway?! There are also climate denial conferences, like this month’s Conservative Political Action Conference, focused on diminishing the negative impacts of increased carbon in the atmosphere, in turn misrepresenting scientific consensus on what more carbon dioxide means for various life forms on Earth. What can be done to elevate our daily conversations to overcome the will of the powers-that-be? This month, I was inspired by Nicholas Kristof’s Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, And Jesus Said Unto Paul of Ryan, a commentary on the U.S. health care battle. I wanted to take a stab at a mythical conversation between a couple of the men in power, and my ideal of a positive shift in their positions on an issue for which they have such sway.

Rex Tillerson and Scott Pruitt are seated at a bar, unwinding with tall cocktails after a long, hard day at the office. Raising their glasses, they toast each other on their current positions: Tillerson – former ExxonMobil CEO – as Secretary of State for Trump’s USA, and Pruitt – former Oklahoma Attorney General – as Head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Rex indicates with his glass: “Cheers, Scotty, to another day of fossil-fueled success.” In return, Scott raises his: “To a future where the environment is ours!”

Upon the clinking of their glasses, a gust of wind rustles their salt-and-pepper hairs. Mother Nature bursts onto the scene, surrounded by a posse of interspecies collaborators. Discombobulated yet curious, Tillerson and Pruitt trail Mother Nature, observing her various encounters.

“What is she doing? What could she be thinking?” Tillerson and Pruitt mutter to themselves, as Mother Nature becomes the life of the party among a group of climate scientists.

“They say they are carbon-based life forms, that if they control carbon, they control life,” Mother Nature starts. “Well, they are right about carbon as necessary for life, but controlling life? It’s a misrepresentation, an alternative perspective with no testable evidence.” The climate scientists join her in flabbergasted chatter about “global greening” as an excuse to continue business-as-usual, blinded to human impact on the environment.

“We’ll tax the carbon, we’ve already got that plan in the works,” says Scott, leaning into Rex. Rex nods, adding “Taxes will get the job done! We don’t need any of those pesky regulations; they crush American businesses.”

Mother Nature turns on the punitive men: “Rex, your former position at the top seat of one of the world’s largest oil organizations illuminated the threat of mounting carbon dioxide levels. You now occupy a top seat in the executive branch. Speak out against Trump’s gutting of the Clean Power Plan!” Mother Nature whirls him around, unveiling images of devastation across the globe.

“And you!” Mother Nature gusts to Scott: “You’ve initiated, signed onto, or filed briefs in fourteen different lawsuits challenging the EPA’s climate regulations. And you think you’re apt to head the agency yourself? We are watching.” Again, she leaves the men whirling, finally able to see for themselves that they have a stake in the threat of large-scale inaction.

She makes her way to a throng of renewable energy workers. Rex and Scott are fixated. “Solar panel installers? Wind turbine salesmen? What’s American about that?” Pruitt whines. “The real American jobs come from real American pipelines!” Tillerson adds. Mother Nature guides them by the shoulders, “It’s not just about America. Pipelines run through Canada, using steel from across the world. Consider the images I have laid out for you. To recuse yourself from a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline, Rex, is irresponsible, given what you know of the potential dangers from your time at Exxon. Renewable energy projects harness what is already coming straight to America. They work with Americans and for Americans.” And just as quickly as she arrived, Mother Nature is gone in a gust. Rex and Scott take in a breath, for the first time savoring the clean air afforded to them, their heads still spinning with the images, and their roles – our role as privileged Americans – in a broader context.

As Spring tentatively approaches in the Northeastern United States, I’m looking forward to conversation, with the environment, about the environment, and concerning the stories we tell about ourselves. My practice as a theatre maker revolves around narrative, and I am seeking now more than ever narratives that empower the vulnerable (human and non-human), that imagine a world where power is distributed equitably. I’m also looking forward to engaging with Mother Nature and her cohort at some upcoming Marches, including the March for Science on April 22 and the People’s Climate March on April 29. Physical displays of community, solidarity, joy, and persistence towards justice. My collaborators and I are sketching out creative elements to offer to these gatherings, ways to use our practice in narrative to target specific climate-justice concerns in support of these marches’ broader message. I look forward to sharing these creative actions as they come together next month. And persisting all the while!

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About Artists and Climate Change:

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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ART+CLIMATE= CHANGE 2017 program launched

CLIMARTE’s highly anticipated festival of provocative climate change related arts and ideas, ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE, has now launched the 2017 program. View the Program Here!

Running from 19 April – 14 May across venues in Melbourne and regional Victoria, ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2017 provides a platform for the discussion of the challenges, opportunities, impacts, and solutions associated with climate change. Printed copies of the program are available in their media partner Assemble Papers’ current issue and at participating galleries and museums.

These six exhibitions have already commenced.

Yhonnie Scarce, Hollowing Earth, 2016-17 (detail)
blown and hot formed Uranium glass

dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery

TarraWarra Museum of Art in Healesville is currently hosting an exhibition titled Hollowing Earth by Yhonnie Scarce. Scarce was born in Woomera, South Australia, and she belongs to the Kokatha and Nukunu peoples. She is one of the first contemporary Australian artists to explore the political and aesthetic power of glass, describing her work as “politically motivated and emotionally driven.” Scarce’s new work Hollowing Earth examines the issues related to the mining of uranium on Aboriginal land.

18 February – 14 May
TarraWarra Museum of Art
311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Road, Healesville

Rebecca Mayo, Porous Borders, Impermeable Boundaries, 2017 (detail), hemp, wool, natural dyes, sand

In her installation Habitus at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Rebecca Mayo reflects on the history of the Heide site to create imagery for a series of cloth sandbags. Printed with dyes made from indigenous and introduced plants gathered locally by the artist, they are stacked to form a wall in the exhibition space, symbolising the crisis point of climate change and highlighting the cumulative impact of everyday and habitual activities.

4 March – 18 June
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Kerry Gardner & Andrew Myer Project Gallery Templestowe Road, Bulleen

Ted Barraclough, Super Fruit Dove  2014, Acrylic on Pine

Over 250 of Ted Barraclough’s hand-carved Native Australian birds are currently exhibited at Chapter House Lane’s exhibition space in Melbourne’s CBD for the exhibition Birdman. Wrens, honeyeaters, magpies to the critically endangered Swift Parrot will take over the laneway windows, and offer the opportunity to critically reflect on the role of birdlife in the environment around us.

2 March – 29 April
Chapter House Lane
entry via Flinders Lane,

 Wesley Stacey, Burning forest remnant on the Monaro, 1981 chromogenic print

Monash Gallery of Art presents Wesley Stacey: the wild thing. Stacey is a living legend of environmental photography. In the 1970s he dropped out of city life and set up camp in the wilderness of the NSW south coast. Living close to the land for over 40 years, Stacey’s photographs offer a unique, immersive perspective on Australia’s complex ecology. The wild thing, curated entirely from the MGA’s own photography collection, surveys four decades of Stacey’s work. From his lively colour snapshots to his epic black-and-white panoramas, Stacey pays tribute to the wildness at the heart of our existence on Earth.

4 March – 28 April
Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill

Anne Noble, Dead Bee Portrait #1, 2016

Internationally renowned New Zealand artist, Anne Noble, has developed a number of projects in recent years concerned with bees, global species loss and the revitalization of human relationships to complex living systems. No Vertical Song is a series of portraits of dead bees, installed as if populating an imaginary museum of the future from a time when the bee no longer exists.

24 March – 7 May
Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy

The Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, in partnership with the Melbourne Friends, is hosting an exhibition of the astounding artwork featured in award winning children’s author and artist Jeannie Baker’s new book Circle. This beautifully illustrated story follows the 11,000km migration of the Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica baueri), the longest unbroken migration of any animal – traveling from Australia through Southeast Asia to its Alaskan breeding grounds and then back to Australia.

16 March – 14 May
Domain House, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria
Dallas Brooks Drive, South Yarra

Holly Keasey and Anna Macleod: An Atomic Journey

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

“We tour the disparate surfaces of everyday life as a way of involving ourselves in them, as a way of reintegrating a fragmented world” – Alexander Wilson (1991)


As international residents at SFAI, Holly and fellow resident Anna Macleod, have conducted their ‘Atomic Journey’ together through New Mexico including trips to The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, the Red Water Pond Road Community Association (RWPRCA), the roundhouse for Uranium Workers Day and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. A journey which has drawn out questions around activation within the act of witnessing, and whether visiting artists are complicit in a contemporary act of exploitation – extracting what they need and then leaving.

Anna’s initial proposal to SFAI was to research community resilience in the face of climate change uncertainty as the next addition to her series of projects known as Water Conversations. These projects explore the complex interstices between landscape, technology, science, culture and geopolitics through the emotive global context of water. In recent years, these projects have included an investigation into the legacy of mining and wastewater in a variety of global contexts. The scarred and poisoned landscapes that Anna has journeyed through are often admired as places of pristine wilderness. Yet hidden deep within these landscapes are many unresolved negative emotions stirred by the socio-economic traumas these landscapes have endured. Typically, ‘Water Conversations’ accumulate into the production of portable sculptures that then act as focal points for community gatherings, where thoughts and emotions can be expressed in the safety of a shared collective action.

During the SFAI Water Right’s Round Table, Susan Gordon of the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment presented an oil and gas map which initiated an urgency to dig deeper into the history of uranium mining and nuclear exploration within New Mexico.

The majority of uranium mined in New Mexico is found in the Grants mineral belt, the second largest uranium deposit in the United States. Looking at a map of New Mexico, layered with information on the extractive industries dotted throughout the territory, one can draw a triangle from the North Western uranium mining area of the Grants mineral belt at Gallup, to Los Alamos, and then south-west to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) at Carlsbad.*

As was mentioned in the previous post, Policy, Possession and Place, the reality of lives lived on land that was contaminated continuously for twenty year by uranium mine discharge before the 1979 Church Rock Uranium tailings pond spill, were shared with us through conversations with members of RWPRCA. Situated in amongst geological stacks, recognisable to a European as backdrop landscapes for the Hollywood Westerns, this landscape is entirely barren apart from the over-looked brown-ish hills constructed from contaminated scrape-off pointed out to us by the community, the dry-board constructed homes of this ‘forgotten’ community and the intentional plantings of non-regional salt bushes by the EPA.

In stark contrast, 230 miles North of Red Water Pond Road is Los Alamos, a self proclaimed ‘Atomic City’ complete with promotional tee shirts, shot glasses and coffee cups. It is a prosperous well-mannered place. Originally constructed in secret to house the scientist of the National Laboratories, this small city continues to be primarily for current and retired laboratory workers and their families. The centre of the city, where the first nuclear bombs were designed and produced, is now one section of the three-part Manhattan Project National Park, where visitors can join the Park Ranger for a free tour of the central pond area and collect a stamp for their National Park Passport. Los Alamos boasts of an intelligent and healthy population, with the highest per capita of residents with PhDs and the 7th most affluent per capita city in the USA. The location of the city within the forty-three mile site is surrounded by mountains, ski slopes and a well serviced recreational culture. The hyper-reality of middle-class affluence at Los Alamos, a realised model of the American Dream ideals, is magnified by the automated countdown at pedestrian traffic crossing points. Ten seconds to safely cross a road. Ten seconds to experience the anxious anticipation of an explosion.

Countdown at Los Alamos from Chris Fremantle on Vimeo.

The unholy uranium trinity is completed at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. WIPP is located in the Delaware Basin of New Mexico. This 600m-deep salt basin was formed during the Permian Period approximately 250 million years ago. In 1957, the National Academy of Sciences recommended salt for radioactive waste disposal because at over 600m below the earth’s surface, salt would plastically deform, a motion called “salt creep” in the salt-mining industry, to close and seal any openings created by the mining, and in and around the waste. It is here that the mined uranium, and all radioactive waste produced in the US, returns to the ground having been through a series of processes, a journey, in which its original state has changed.**

Similarly, our journey to these sites of nuclear relevance has, most likely, changed something within us. There is an activation through the act of witnessing that shifts something within the witness. Their witnessing also enacts a reintegration of occurrences that have otherwise become fragmented from each other – in this case the intentional disjointedness between the mining of uranium, weapons development, nuclear energy and radioactive disposal. However, as international artists-in-residence, this comparison to the nuclear fuel cycle and our journey draws out critical questions about the responsibility of the visiting artist to ensure we do not ‘mine’ communities to the point of exhaustion, especially whilst attending a thematic residency in which sixty artists with over-lapping areas of interest pass through a single institution and therefore small grouping of communities. How do we also ensure, as socially-engaged artists, that our methods of practice whilst working within short-time frames is beneficial to a community rather than detrimental?

Upon hearing about Anna’s artistic practice and through engagement with the RWPRCA community, a suggestion was made to produce a new banner with a water focus that could be used during the community’s Uranium Legacy, Remembrance and Action Day, a day of protest, awareness raising and memorial that takes place annually on the 16th July, the anniversary of The Church Rock Uranium Spill. Focusing on how to create a water banner that incorporated these three purposes, we hosted a co-design workshop at a community member’s home. Using mono-printing, we worked with the community to discuss their differing ideas about what such a banner should include. It was also a time to share methods for using visual attributes such as colour, language and symbolism to produce strong statements that reflect the Navajo relation to place.

The final banner will be realised by Anna over the course of April before being gifted back to the community. It is hoped that this hand sewn banner will hold within it care, solidarity and gratitude that will continue beyond our stay in New Mexico. Whilst we will take away the experienced knowledge from our ’Atomic Journey’, having temporarily been active in the everyday fabric of this place through loosely stitching fragments together.


* The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, is the world’s third deep geological repository licensed to permanently dispose of transuranic radioactive waste for 10,000 years that is left from the research and production of nuclear weapons and energy.

** It is assumed that at this depth the radioactive material is encased away from interference but with the drastic increase in fracking within New Mexico especially in the Carlsbad area, questions can be asked if these two processes really co-exist in the same landscape?


Wilson, Alexander. 1991. The Culture of Nature: North American Landscape from Disney to the Exxon Valdez. Ontario: Between The Lines Press.

About Anna Macleod:

Edinburgh Scotland, lives and works in Ireland

Anna Macleod is a visual artist based in Ireland. Her art work utilizes a variety of methods and processes to mediate complex ideas associated with contemporary, historical and cultural readings of place. She employs quasi-scientific methods, interdisciplinary collaboration, performance and socially engaged activism to critique contemporary landscapes and to build metaphoric spaces for re-imagining the future. Recent projects have focused on the socio-political and cultural issues surrounding water, looking at questions of access, management and ritual.

Anna Macleod has exhibited Nationally and Internationally. Recent residencies include: Food Water Life, themed residency with Jorge and Lucy Orta, Banff Art Centre, Alberta, Canada. 2015. Joya, Arte & Ecologia, Spain 2016. Leitrim Sculpture Centre, Co Leitrim, Ireland 2015 & Broken Hill Art Exchange, New South Wales, Australia, 2015. Recent solo exhibitions include: Water Conversations – A Survey of Works 2007 – 2015 at The Dock, Carrick on Shannon, Ireland. Staid na Talún – A State of Land, Leitrim Sculpture Centre, Co Leitrim, Ireland, Water Conversations – Broken Flow, Broken Hill Art Exchange, New South Wales, Australia.

Macleod is the recipient of the Firestation Artists’ Studios, Dublin, International Residency Award for ‘A Thousand Points of Light’ residency in Joshua Tree, California in March 2016. She was awarded an Individual Artists Bursary from Leitrim County Council Arts Office in 2015 / 2016 and Arts Council of Ireland Travel and Training Award towards the costs of residencies in Australia (2015) and USA (2016 & 2017) and the Jim Dinning and Evelyn Main Endowed Scholarship for Visual Arts for Banff Art Centre residency in 2015

.About EcoArtScotland:

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

Leverhulme Trust terminates Artist in Residence Grants

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

We recently discovered that the Leverhulme Trust has discontinued its Artist in Residence Grants Scheme.  This isn’t just sad, it’s frankly tragic.

In our view the Leverhulme Artist in Residence scheme is one of the few on-going and established schemes that supports artists to work with other researchers across the natural and social sciences as well as humanities.

The scheme has enabled a wide range of interesting, challenging and provocative work to emerge and is perhaps one of the foremost mechanisms in the UK for interdisciplinary collaboration involving artists. It is one of the few opportunities which really understood that artists collaborating with other research disciplines should start not from an assumption of illustration and public communication, but from first principles of mutual interest. It provided time for genuine dialogue and for unexpected results.

As one recipient commented, the scheme is also important because it paid artists directly and at a rate that was commensurate with the investment of time in research. The importance of this point cannot be underestimated. No other schemes that involve artists with academics actually provide sensible funding for the artists.

And note it’s probably a scheme that invested £200,000 per annum out of a total annual grantmaking of something like £110 million annually.

We are familiar with a number of artists who have benefited significantly from receiving Leverhulme Awards and I believe that these awards have also opened up research teams to new experiences and understanding coming from the arts.

  • Alec Finlay‘s current work Gathering developed with the Anthropology Department at the University of Aberdeen is in part funded by a Leverhulme Artist in Residence Award.
  • Hannah Imlach’s immently opening show From the Dark Ocean Comes Light at Summerhall in Edinburgh developed in collaboration with The Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics & Bioengineering at Heriot-Watt University and the Changing Oceans Group at The University of Edinburgh.
  • The publication Gut Gardening just reviewed is the result of the Center for Genomic Gastronomy‘s Leverhulme Artist in Residence work with Dr Wendy Russell at the Rowett Institute for Nutrition and Health, University of Aberdeen.
  • Hanna Tuulikki has been working with Professor Simon Kirby, Chair of Language Evolution at the University of Edinburgh.
  • Rachel Duckhouse worked with Professor Maggie Cusack School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow, which resulted in an exhibition Shell Meets Bone, opening imminently at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.
  • Andrea Roe has been working with Dr Kenny Rutherford, Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Scotland’s Rural College.

And these are only recent examples in Scotland.

In response to a request for further explanation beyond the statement on the website, the following was received from the Trust,

The Trust Board periodically reviews all the Trust’s funding schemes and considers how best its funds might be used. This scheme had been running for a number of years, and last autumn, in view of the pressure of funds and low success rates for some other schemes, the Board took the decision to suspend the scheme and reallocate the funds. It is, of course possible, that the same or a similar scheme will be reinstated at some time in the future, but I’m afraid that there are no immediate plans to do so.

I realise that this decision is disappointing for you.


From this we can understand that a ‘land grab’ has been made, possibly on the basis of ‘greater impact’ and a vital support for artists and interdisciplinarity has been erased.

Should you feel strongly about this, you can also write to Mr N W A FitzGerald KBE FRSA, Chairman, The Leverhulme Trust, 1 Pemberton Row, London, EC4A 3BG.  Direct emails to the Chaiman via Assistant Director Jean Cater .


About EcoArtScotland:

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

Upcoming Events for The Chicago Green Theatre Alliance

Chicago Green Theatre Alliance Meeting

Thursday, April 13, 5:30-7PM
The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Join us for the next meeting of the Chicago Green Theatre Alliance and hear about some new CGTA initiatives. Actors, administrators, designers, technicians, stage managers, production managers and anyone that is interested in helping Chicago theatres adopt more evironmentally-friendly practices is welcome! We’ll gather to hear a guest speaker, continue work on current projects, discuss new ideas, and share bright spots.

Click here to RSVP
Review the 1/30/17 CGTA Meeting Notes

Save the Date!
3rd Annual E-Waste and Textile Drive/Costume Exchange
Monday, June 5
Steppenwolf Theatre’s Parking Lot, 1650 N. Halsted

E-Waste Drive: 10AM – 4PM in the Parking Lot

Textile Drive/Costume Exchange: 9AM – Noon (Drop off), Noon – 4PM (Costume Exchange)

download fliers to post at your theatre.