Yearly Archives: 2020

Wild Authors: Deon Meyer

By Mary Woodbury

For this post, we travel to South Africa to explore the beautiful country and environmental themes found within Deon Meyer’s crime novels (Meyer writes in his native Afrikaans, and his books have been translated in many languages). The Lemmer series, which includes Blood Safari and Trackers, are well-reviewed thrillers filled with what one reviewer calls:

A cast of characters in situations and relationships that are evident of the ‘new’ South Africa: whites, blacks, men, and women in different power struggles…different racial and political tensions, selfsame greed and corruption.

In this series are conflicts central to wildlife poaching, including the white-backed vulture and black rhinoceros. Lemmer is an “invisible” professional bodyguard who is hired to get involved with situations he would rather not, but he does so for the money. “I don’t go looking for trouble, it comes looking for me.”

Black rhinoceros at Halali waterhole. Photo by Olga Ernst.

The Lemmer series isn’t Meyer’s only work dealing with plots and issues centered around environmental subjects. According to Livers Hebdo, Deon Meyer “excels in his descriptions of the urban and natural landscapes.” 

I talked briefly with the author and asked him what sorts of environmental issues made their way into his novels. He replied:

I tend to write about the issues that concern me most: the destruction of natural habitats, ecosystems and species extinction in (Southern) Africa, and global warming in general.

When I asked about unique situations regarding climate change and other ecological crises in South Africa, compared to the rest of the world, he said: 

Of course, the endangered species (rhinos, elephants, vultures and hundreds of others) are unique to the continent. But perhaps the major difference is that in the northern hemisphere, the damage being done is driven mostly by greed, and in Africa it is driven mostly by poverty.

BLOOD SAFARI

Blood Safari is a harrowing novel from an expert storyteller whose wickedly fast-moving narratives reveal the heart of his enthralling country. Emma Le Roux, a beautiful young woman in Cape Town, sees her brother named on the television news as the prime suspect in the killing of four poachers and a witch doctor. But it can’t be possible: Emma’s brother is supposed to be dead, having disappeared twenty years ago in Kruger National Park. Emma tries to find out more, but is attacked and barely escapes. So she hires Lemmer, a personal security expert, and sets out into the country in search of the truth.

I was pleased to see the author photographed with a white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus) at the Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre. He is trying to hold on to the meat (just like Emma in the book), but the vulture is much too strong. Gyps africanus is the most widespread and common vulture in Africa, although it is now undergoing rapid decline. I once worked with a Harris hawk, in a similar situation, but it was much smaller and easier to deal with. According to the IUCN Red List:

Its [Gyps africanus] global population has been estimated at 270,000 individuals. Consistent with other vulture species, it has declined by over 90% in West Africa, and it has largely disappeared from Ghana apart from Mole National Park. The species has also declined in Sudan and South Sudan, Somalia and Kenya, but is apparently more stable in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and across southern Africa where an estimated 40,000 individuals remain.

TRACKERS

In Trackers, Meyer expertly weaves together Lemmer’s story with a missing person investigation and the machinations of a top intelligence agency. Wielding a phenomenal cast of characters, Meyer delves deep into the people, the breathtaking landscapes, and the politics and problems of this fascinating country. A #1 Best-Seller in South Africa, Trackers is an insightful novel that will take your breath away.

According to Deon’s website and WWF:

In Trackers, Lemmer rides shotgun on a truck transporting two of these – the black rhino.

Today, black rhinos remain Critically Endangered because of rising demand for rhino horn, which has driven poaching to record levels. A recent increase in poaching in South Africa threatens to erase our conservation success. The increase is driven by a growing demand from some Asian consumers, particularly in Vietnam, for folk remedies containing rhino horn. In 2014, a total of 1,215 rhinos were poached in South Africa – a 21% increase from the previous year. (Reference: WWF.)

When Deon does research for a book, he often travels to the actual settings, and takes lots of photographs. We’ve posted them here – just scroll down – to give you a glimpse of the world of the novel.

FEVER

He’s just really good, and Stephen King agrees, comparing Fever to his own novel The Stand.

Post Magazine

In Fever, a coming-of-age story, the narrator, Nico, tells the story of his father, Willem Stormwho died in the Year of the Lion. His father had built an oasis away from the rest of the world suffering from a deadly virus resulting from genetically modified foods. This post-apocalyptic tale rivals others, such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, when looking at the future of humanity and how people would react knowing that the world might be coming to an end.

Shots Mag has a wonderful interview with Meyer and states:

It is the vignettes scattered throughout Fever that make you pause, make you reflect and ponder what it is about us that makes us human, as well as the thinness of the line that separates us from all that is feral, wild and dangerous – both within humanity as well as outside – the inhumanity of our situation. The story of a survivor, who used to own an “all you can eat buffet” before the fever came, and why he closed it down becomes the novel in microcosm. Deon smiled and told me that the story of the guy who shut down his “all you can eat buffet” [before the virus hits] despite the success of the restaurant – was based on a true story, that he heard at a dinner party.

THIRTEEN HOURS 

Bennie Griessel is the detective on the case of two crimes that unfold over thirteen hours. A book review on IOL describes how one character in the novel sees the other:

He’s realistic: “Political global warming and racial climate change should have taken their toll long ago, but here they were still, two old carnivores in the jungle, limbs stiff, teeth blunt, but still not completely ineffective.”

MORE

Please see Meyer’s website for his other novels, all of which bring in the natural beauty of South Africa’s physical landscape and fuse it with great storytelling, sure to grip the reader. A review for Cobra in the Wall Street Journal says:

Mr. Meyer, the leading thriller writer in his native country, traffics in crime-novel situations familiar the world over: drunken cops, charming robbers, dangerous murderers, sudden violence – and sometimes, issues of race. Mr. Meyer’s South Africa, however, is unique. His books, translated from Afrikaans, are usually set in the Cape Town region, where mountains spectacularly meet the sea on the Horn of Africa. Amid these vistas his detective confronts his own – and his country’s – tortured past and the legacy of Apartheid.

While the author is a renowned crime-thriller novelist, he stated in a Guardian interview: “For me, the most important thing is to try to tell an entertaining story – let other people worry about what genre it is.” He recognizes fiction as having a restricted window view of society but also states, about representing all sectors of South Africa:

Everything is in service of the story and there are certain realities – in the police force, they have people of all ethnicities working together, so just to have black or white cops would not be credible. It’s all about verisimilitude. You have to create a world that’s believable, that’s close enough to the truth to be believed.

This article is part of our Wild Authors series. It was originally published on Dragonfly.eco.

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Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs Dragonfly.eco, a site that explores ecology in literature, including works about climate change. She writes fiction under pen name Clara Hume. Her novel Back to the Garden has been discussed in Dissent Magazine, Ethnobiology for the Future: Linking Cultural and Ecological Diversity (University of Arizona Press), and Uncertainty and the Philosophy of Climate Change(Routledge). Mary lives in the lower mainland of British Columbia and enjoys hiking, writing, and reading.

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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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Job: Sniffer seeks an experienced project manager

In collaboration with Creative Carbon Scotland and supported by EIT Climate-KIC, Sniffer/Climate Ready Clyde wishes to appoint an experienced project manager. 

The project manager will support us in the development of Clyde Re:built, a transformative adaptation strategy and plan for the Glasgow City Region, home to one third of the Scottish population. 

This is a high-profile, collaborative project with a focus on climate resilience requiring an appropriately qualified and experienced project manager to deftly support an on-time, on-budget and impactful delivery. The postholder will be based from home initially (until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted) and then co-located in Glasgow and Edinburgh with frequent travel between the two.

This project is funded by EIT Climate-KIC, a European Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC), supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, working to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy.

Deadline for applications: midnight, Friday 24th April

Online interviews for shortlisted aplicants will be held on Thursday 30th April.

For more information and details of how to apply, please visit the vacancy page on Sniffer.

The post Job: Sniffer seeks an experienced project manager appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.

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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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#arts4cop26 meet up

By Chrisfremantle

Date: 29 April, 18.00-20.00 GMT

Venue: Online – sign up below

How can the arts and artists work with environmental and civil society campaigners to address the multiple dimensions of the climate crisis, particularly in light of the covid-19 pandemic and COP26 postponement?

Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, the culture working group of the COP26 Civil Society CoalitionCreative Carbon Scotland, and ecoartscotland are continuing to support networking and planning for COP26 and will be holding a discussion by video conferencing on 29 April (18.00-20.00 GMT). The meeting is open to artists, arts organisations, campaigners, environmental NGOs, and anyone who has been developing plans for COP26.

Covid-19 is affecting all of our communities – whether in the arts or in wider society – as well as planning for COP26. Acknowledging the current situation, while also recognising all the pre-existing work to bring together a broad and diverse climate movement to prepare for COP26, we are shifting the focus of this planned event. We realise that many of our colleagues will be badly affected by the current situation and so will make this a space for sharing and connection, as well as a place to think about the collaboration and creativity that will be needed, as we emerge from Covid-19 to plan for and respond to COP26 in 2021.

The arts have a specific role in addressing meaning, value and subjectivity – “What does this mean to us as individuals and communities?” “What do we value and how can we imagine acting?” – that is especially relevant to the climate crisis and the current context with Covid-19. We want to make sure that we can all sustain this role across the months ahead by continuing to work together.

The aims of the meeting are to:

  • promote new partnerships between arts, activism, and climate crisis policy and practice
  • discuss tactics which are inclusive and engage people ‘where they are’
  • understanding how our methods will have to change in light of the coronavirus pandemic
  • provide updates on developing plans in light of the COP26 postponement as well as information and useful resources

We understand that the current situation is difficult and unpredictable for many, so this event will be informal in character and we will ensure to share as much of the content of the meeting as possible afterwards with anyone unable to attend at the time. This discussion will also provide a chance to keep in touch with other members of the community during isolation.

Sign up here. Instructions will follow nearer the time on joining the meeting.

Looking forward to catching up on the 29th.

(Top image courtesy of UNFCCC)

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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Tiny Coronavirus Stories: ‘The subtle encroachment of a new age’

By Alexis BobrikAngela DyerGwendolyn MeyerNathalia Favaro

Reader-submitted stories of the COVID-19 pandemic, in no more than 100 words. Read past stories hereSubmit your own here.

JUST BEING

Self-isolation? It’s my natural state, so I smile as people emerge, groping like moles, from their action-packed, noise-filled lives and discover a new world: a world of birdsong and the songs of neighbors, a book on the balcony, recipes concocted from the store cupboard, old clothes worn again. It’s a world of today not tomorrow, of talking less and listening more, of wondering and pondering. Not out there, but in here. Not doing, but being. Join me; it’s not so scary after all. You might even come to prefer it.

— Angela Dyer (Limousin, France)

(Top photo: Finding new patterns.)

* * *

OUT FROM INSIDE

Suddenly it is silent in the biggest city in South America. São Paulo used to be an orchestra of cars, buses, motorbikes, and horns all through the day. Birds adapted their communication, singing later at night, around 11 PM. People used to go to bars from Monday to Monday. Now, we hear a hope of silence and we meet every day at 8:30 PM. Everybody goes to the window to shout “Fora!” (“Out!”). We are screaming our deepest wish from inside: that our president leave the government. In silence, maybe our voices will be heard.

— Nathalia Favaro (São Paulo, Brazil)

8:30 PM in São Paulo.

* * *

NOTICE

On Saturday, locals hung a sign on the light post: “go the fuck home.” This weekend, an electronic sign at the turn reads “parks closed by health order.” I look over to the east hills. They look bigger, brighter than I recall. The duck’s cry echoes across the water in a way that I have not heard before. Every three minutes a car drives north or south. I time it. The planes fly only in the evening. The store has taped red tape to the floor at six foot intervals. A white-gloved man opens the door.

— Gwendolyn Meyer (California)

Deep woods.

* * *

SHOPPING TRIP

At the store, I replenish food supplies and check, again, for cleaning products. I’m struck by the boundaries that have been placed, the subtle encroachment of a new age, an air of sci-fi dystopia. Tall robots clean the aisles. “We’re stronger together,” a soft, feminine voice says over the loudspeaker. There are acrylic shields between guests and clerks, tape on the floor designating six feet between each patron like marks on the stage of a surreal, somber play. I pick up a jar absentmindedly, put it back, feel guilty; I never realized how frequently we touch each other.

— Alexis Bobrik (Berryville, Virginia)

Please buy only what you really need.

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This series is edited by Thomas Peterson. One of the editors of Artists & Climate Change, he is also a theatre director and researcher whose work focuses on the climate crisis. 

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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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Q18 DESCRIBED: Skinny

Lead Editor’s note: We will be publishing excerpts from Q18: dis/sustain/ability, guest edited by Bronwyn Preece, in order to make the content accessible to blind readers with audio screen readers. We’ll also be including audio descriptions of the Quarterly’s original layout designed by Stephanie Plenner. Please stay tuned for future posts and share widely. In this chapter, Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi describes the process for the work “Skinny.”

“Skinny” Layout designed by Stephanie Plenner,
described by Katie Murphy, Photos by Cheng-Chang Kuo


Making art about Crip bodies has always been an urge to not only explore the meanings of our existence — and the social relationships with others — but also as a deliberate choice for constructing visual and tactile languages to document disability as a cultural phenomenon and familial history.

Rahnee (named used with permission) and I are sisters, not by blood, but by our connections to disability. Our contractured fingers and toes, and our Asian blood, made us sisters. Rahnee is half Thai and half white; I am a Taiwanese. Rahnee has psoriasis and I was born with two fingers and toes.

As a personal assistant, I help Rahnee with personal hygiene, including showering, applying lotions, massaging her skin and dressing. Sometimes I use my finger tips to peel off the excessive skin to relieve Rahnee from her swollen and inflamed skin. I would feel the body fluid rushing out of her skin between my nails and finger tips, then I would massage her skin with a thick layer of lotion. We often talk throughout this process as peer support time: sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry, and sometimes we are just exhausted together.

It always felt like I was making sculptural art with Rahnee’s body: our conversations — languaged through strokes of hand — became a part of the stories woven and shared by each other. At the end of each “hygiene-care art” sessions, I would sweep the skin flakes off the bed sheet and on the floor, and form mounds of them before tossing to the bin.

Most of us have taught to see disability as something negative, debilitating, weak, incapable or vulnerable. it is something that people try to get rid of. Peeling and tossing away Rahnee’s skin are actions of relieving her from pain and itch, but are they also metaphors of getting rid of her disability? What does it mean to remove traces of her disabled body? If her skin flakes were evidence of her existence, what does it say about the gesture of throwing piece of her away?

While I contemplated on the questions above, I decided to turn to sewing and made pods to hold pieces of Rahnee’s skin. Disability shapes the way we interact with one another, it reformulates the way people relate and access to another human being which otherwise is absent in the non-disabled world. As a Crip artist of color, having disability and providing care to and making art about another disabled sister is about creating intimacy and Crip sisterhood. Most importantly, it is about preserving and sustaining the existence of my own kind.

Title: “Skinny”
Artist: Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi
Material: Human skin flakes, silk organza, sewing thread, embroidery thread and lotion.
Date: 2014 ~ On-going

Photos by Cheng-Chang Kuo


Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi makes small-scale body adornments
exploring the meanings of disabled women’s bodies by remapping the narratives of skin, scars, and medical and surgical interventions on the disabled bodies. Her work examines the potential of art to address the relationship between the body and social standards pertaining to beauty and disability. Her latest project focuses on body reconfiguration through delineating memories of medical and surgical Unexpected Anatomies intervention. Yi received a BFA, and MA in art therapy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA from the University of California Berkeley. Currently, she is a PhD candidate in Disability Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research interests include, Disability Art and Culture, social justice based art therapy, museum studies and disability fashion.

Tiny Coronavirus Stories: ‘To survive the storm’

By Andrea KruppCamille HansonDavid VejarDeviNathaniel Cayanan

Reader-submitted stories of the COVID-19 pandemic, in no more than 100 words. Read past stories hereSubmit your own here.

A FOREIGN VIRUS

In these days of solitude, I remember why I no longer play my Baby Taylor and sing Psalms to the Lord, why I no longer sit in pews on Sundays and absorb the proclamations of charismatic men, why, now, I stare at my phone, at a Facebook post from a pastor I once admired, and war with myself. Should I say my Chinese wife owes him no apologies? Is it enough that people’s hearts have broken for those of his ilk to choose another adjective? “The virus is from there!” they’d say. And where it’s from is not here.

— Nathaniel Cayanan (West Covina, California)

(Top photo: Our wedding, on top of today’s news.)

* * *

A JOYFUL, SELFISH RESPONSE

It’s pouring. I wander, watching the torrent soak boxes carrying student valuables. Puddles coalesce. Students hug each other. They butcher pop tunes. Music reverberates from several dorms. Beer cans and wine bottles clog trash bins. “A far cry from social distancing,” I tell myself.

After avoiding handshakes and giving virtual hugs or elbow-bumps to favorite professors and not-so-close friends, I find someone I’ve missed dearly. We hug and catch up over dinner. I briefly think to myself, “how many people can’t hug loved ones because of carelessness?” We hug again and say goodbye. Letting go is hard.

— David Vejar (Tustin, California)

Even the fog doesn’t adhere to social distancing as it suffocates the Pomona College clocktower.

* * *

IN FLORENCE, A NEW FRIEND

For two days we walk the empty streets. Only permitted to view David’s replica, not the museum he guards.
A late dinner.
The full moon behind her as she speaks in Italian.
“He will take us to Rome before the lockdown tomorrow.”
We pack the art history books. I read her tarot cards as we wait for our future.
Tuscany fades away as we are lulled to sleep by the car, our knees touching each other, burning and tingling.
In Rome, I look into her eyes, then she disappears behind a door, which David guards and I cannot enter.

— Devi (Cascade Mountains, Washington)

March 10, 2020. Florence, Italy.

* * *

CRISIS

“Crisis” in Chinese is written with not one, but two characters: danger, followed by opportunity

Danger is everywhere. But what about opportunity? Have you noticed that our leaders are now capable of making change overnight? Transportation in Spain has been reduced by fifty percent. China’s pollution has dropped by a quarter. People are buying local and consuming less. Are these not the very behaviors that must occur to mitigate the environmental crisis?

A month ago, we were struggling to discuss the changes needed to avoid two-degree warming. Today, we are witnessing just how quickly agreements can be made.

— Camille Hanson (Madrid, Spain)

Crisis.

* * *

RJÚPA

The wind-driven snow has piled up all month into towering drifts with knife-edge crests. There is a white bird, a Rjúpa, a ptarmigan in winter dress. She nestles down in the lee of the drift just below the crest to ride out the storm. Against the snow her eye and beak make tiny black marks. She stays there for hours. She is patient, calm, enduring, safe, well-equipped by nature to survive the storm. I bring this memory forth, and I feel calmer, more able. Nature is generous with her gifts.

— Andrea Krupp (Pennsylvania)

March 14, 2020. Siglufjörður, Iceland.

______________________________

This series is edited by Thomas Peterson. One of the editors of Artists & Climate Change, he is also a theatre director and researcher whose work focuses on the climate crisis.

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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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Review: ‘Dear Nature’ by John Newling

By Chrisfremantle

The formal beauty of John Newlings’s work belies his self-questioning and interrogation of our relationship with the more-than-human world.

Reviewed by Anne Douglas and Mark Hope, unfortunately Newling’s Dear Nature exhibition at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham is a victim of the current lockdown. This in-depth review is for the time being your guided tour. Anne and Mark are Board Members of The Barn, a multi-arts organisation in Aberdeenshire that focuses on the relationship between art and ecology. John Newling was artist in residence at The Barn (2015-17) and continues to actively engage with and support the development of the organisation.


In the corner of the gallery, the last work of John Newling’s exhibition is entitled ‘Reconciliation Steps’ (2019). It consists of a mirror and a rubber stamp on a small shelf. Looking into the mirror, a text reads “We have signed our names in your soil. So sorry”.  This work evokes John’s response to the reality of the Anthropocene.  As stated in the exhibition text, John is determined to understand “what it is to know that we have profoundly affected our environment… you can trace our evolution to a point where we have subdued nature, but to our own cost because we will make ourselves extinct.”  This is the sharp, critical end of a stunningly beautiful, formally aesthetic body of work, which moves between nature and culture, materiality and ideas, interwoven with different notions of time.

work entitled Reconciliation Steps (2019)
‘Reconciliation Steps’ (2019). Image courtesy of the authors.

What is it to know that we have profoundly affected our environment?

The Dear Nature exhibition is situated in three large rooms that open into each other on the second top floor of the Ikon Gallery. As the title implies the work addresses nature throughout, at times with a deep sense of awe, at others profound curiosity and at others of irony, “Can we ever truly be together (with nature)?” John asks (Newling 2018).

“It is learning that deepens our love.” (Newling 2018 ‘3rd February, 2018’)

In the first room ‘365 days and 50 million year old leaves’ (2019) consists of a row of carefully constructed stacks of sticks that are as identical in size and shape to the extent that the material allows. John picked up a stick every day for a year, cut each one to the same length and blackened each of them with charcoal, then painted each end white.

365 detail
‘365 days and 50 million year old leaves’ (2019), detail.
365, John Newling Dear Nature at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham UK, 2020 © Ikon Gallery (4) (Large) (1)
Installation view
Courtesy the artist and the Ikon Gallery.

In this way John joins the cycle of growth and decay in nature, interrupting it by transforming abandoned branches into ‘stick wands’, then into formal sculpture. The similarity yet difference between one stack and another exposes the singular, wilful character of each stick. We come to realise that they are each unique forms of energy that are particular to the time and place in which they have grown, then fallen. It is as if by interrupting the trajectory that nature has set from growth to decay, by collecting and transforming what nature has given, a new element is introduced. The three stacks feature other objects including soil balls, feather quills and an ink well that extend the play and tension between nature and culture. The reference to magic in this relationship is strongly present.

John’s artistic process involves a deep paradox. His way of making art is rigorous, painstaking, structured and controlled and yet the outcome also feels improvisatory, as if somewhere along the way chance and serendipity had played their part.

John Cage, the experimental composer and visual artist, once criticised improvisation: “Most people who improvise slip back into their likes and dislikes and their memory, and don’t arrive at any revelation that they’re aware of” (Fiesst, 2009). Cage wanted to free sound from personal taste, to let sounds be themselves. It is this quality of letting things ‘be themselves’ that John evokes again and again in this exhibition; the sense that the work we are looking at ‘happened’ or ‘occurred’ in ways that were unpredictable and unforeseeable, even to John himself. He attends to the work in progress, continually responding to its emergent life.

1. From my garden
‘From my garden’ (2018)
From my garden detail
detail.
Images courtesy of the artist.

In the second room of the three rooms we encounter ‘From my garden’ (2018), a large work in copper leaf and paint which creates a different record of John’s practice of collecting. This time it is a leaf from every tree within his garden. The leaves are formally organised in a grid and once again it is John’s particular approach to form building that frees the singular shapes of each species and reveals the immense variability across species. This play between determinacy and indeterminacy, between degrees of control and openness to serendipity and chance, is a distinct quality of both Newling and Cage’s work. It is a particular quality of freedom that is does not stand in opposition to constraint. Both artists evoke the way energy moves through material in nature, the blood through arteries, the wind through water, movement that is made possible by being contained, constrained but, free not just from personal taste, but also individual, human control.

'Design for the duvet cover of a farmer' (regrown 2019)
‘Design for the duvet cover of a farmer’ (regrown 2019), Courtesy the artist and the Ikon Gallery
Dear Nature (2018), Courtesy the artist and the Ikon Gallery
Dear Nature (2018), Courtesy the artist and the Ikon Gallery

In the third room ‘Design for a farmer’s duvet’ (regrown 2019) follows from an invitation to make work with a co-operative of flax farmers in Dieppe, Northern France. John created compost into which he planted flax seeds given to him by one of the farmers, Franck Sagaert. When the seedlings were a few inches high, John plucked each one out of the soil, wound each plant and root into a circle and pressed them, generating the motif for a ‘design’. The completed piece was created by gluing each pressed plant in rows onto a large sheet of flax woven in France. The structure evokes the linear form of a script. It is also repetitive in the time-honoured way that designs repeat but it is anything but ‘designed ‘ in any determinate sense. A seed becomes a seedling and then becomes material for new life as an artwork. The pattern is cyclical and rhythmic as well as linear and developmental, unfolding like a story that we are invited to explore, but not literally read.

“Love John” – a detail from a Dear Nature Letter printed in Nymans Language (2020)
“Love John” – a detail from a Dear Nature Letter printed in Nymans Language (2020)
Nymans language (2018)
Nymans language (2018)

Script appears as a leitmotif in this work. In ‘A Language from the garden (Nymans language)’ (2017), exhibited in the second room, John invents an alphabet drawn from different species of trees in the gardens of Nymans, West Sussex. The National Trust, who now own and run this historic property, commissioned the work. The leaf of each species forms a letter engraved in marble. Nymans Language is also a downloadable font that the public are invited to use. Where normally the shape of the letters of the alphabet are simply a means to an end rarely noticed, Nymans Language draws our fascination through the significance of each leaf shape and a sense of play and discovery that is fundamental to the way we, as human beings, decipher meaning. We become the child who is excited when he or she learns to read. We share the thrill of the code breaker who ‘cracks’ a secret.

Soil Books (detail) (2019)
Soil Books (detail) (2019). Image courtesy of the artist and the Ikon Gallery

‘Soil Books’ (2019) in the third room of the gallery are a series of nine sculptures in which the content of each ‘book’ is made with leaves picked up each day as John walks from his house into his garden. “It’s like a ritual, so that every leaf in those books – the language of the books – is from my garden”. Each ‘page’ is made of processed soil with leaves that are pressed, gilded and stained with watercolour and each book contains twenty pages of which only the middle two pages are displayed. We might never read the pages beneath the ones that are presented, but we come to know the labour that has led to their coming into being. This is a spiritual labour that evokes the monastic but in some strange reversal. The order of the books is crucial because it indicates the change of seasons. Instead of renouncing life to focus on the spiritual, this series of works reconnects us with mystery in everyday experiences. Cage shared a similar sense of mystery and used different tactics to reveal this: 4’33 “(1952) frames an interval of time in which we as audience are invited to encounter the sounds we make as human beings when we gather together. It appropriates the ritual of the concert and concert hall to open up to the life that exists beyond the frame just as John’s gathered leaves experienced through the frame of the book in Soil Books, make visible the unpredictability and sheer beauty of the life in one material encountering another. In the work of both artists we continually move between the human and nature, co-creatively.

This particular dynamic is deeply felt in the ‘Library of Ecological Conservations – Leaves and Me’ (2017-19) also in the third room. The work consists of 36 ‘letters’ composed over the course of three years in which the apparent artifice of gilding in silver, gold and copper from the ‘base ‘materials of leaves and paper made from compost manifests a present day alchemy. We sense the magic that is contained in this library displayed in three groups of 12 works. In each work the materials have undergone a transformation, creating a life of their own, one that John has nurtured into being through carefully judged constraints and a practice of care, firstly in each individual work and secondly in the placing of each work within its group of 12.These works breathe within their own space and yet combine to create an almost mystical whole. The vaulted upper floors of this particular area of the gallery can rarely have been so evocative of a medieval cathedral, inviting us to reach out for something beyond.

view of 3rd room (1)
View from the second into third room including Soil Books and Library of Ecological Conservations – Leaves and Me (2017-19). Courtesy of the artist and the Ikon Gallery

In the presence of such beautiful work focused on continuing nature’s processes, why do we have a final work that frames the need for reconciliation? The exhibition is entitled Dear Nature, a reference to an art work created in 2018 when John wrote a letter to nature every day for 81 days. Each letter begins with the recognition that human beings are degrading the conditions that enable us to live, a widening gap between ways of being that are incompatible and are indeed in need of reconciliation.

‘Dear Nature’, letter of 10th January, 2018.

Dear Nature

We have been lovers.
We made deities from your wonders
We worshipped you; laid our fears at your feet.
We thought that we needed you to need us.

But wasn’t that just some way of seeking control?

Maybe we find it hard to accept that you are the most powerful
and complex set of relationships that we can encounter; perhaps we got jealous of all your other affairs.

In our rush to evolve in our fights and flights, we have got lost among our own conceits; spinning such a terrible storm.

I am sorry.

What to do?

Yours
John

The downward spiral implied here from love to worship to control gets to the core of the question of what it is to know that we have profoundly affected our environment. Each work in the three rooms of the gallery addresses this question in distinctive ways. The exhibition also spills over into public space. In the square opposite the Ikon Gallery there is an office complex belonging to NATWEST bank. In front of the bank with its proud NATWEST sign, is a tree in which John has placed large but discrete metal lettering that follows the line of the trunk with the words “So Sorry….”.

words "...so sorry" installed in a tree outside a branch of the Nat West
‘Dear Nature’ (2019). Courtesy of the authors.

An apology is both the act of saying sorry for a wrong doing and the explanation and defence of a belief or system, especially one that is unpopular (Cambridge online dictionary). Dear Nature (2020) functions in the first way, saying sorry for the damage we have inflicted on nature and also in the second to expose problems of belief and practice that have led to our current predicament.

‘Dear Nature’, letter of January 15th, 2018


Our need for surplus focused attention on improving you, efficiencies melded in the pressures of a market. We wanted more and more from you; growing yields belied the damage we were doing.

We signed our name in your soils.

Perhaps we did not know of this but we do now. It is a cycle that shows us our deficiencies. It is us that need to improve. We can do better.

No more signing in your soil.

Yours
John

We have only described here a small sample of works in the exhibition. And no review can do justice to either the scope or the authority of this exhibition. It has been curated by an exceptional team at the Ikon Gallery under the directorship of Jonathan Watkins.

There are other exhibitions in the Ikon Gallery at the moment including, in the First Floor Galleries Judy Watson, an Australian artist of matrilineal Waanyi heritage, addresses Australia’s ‘secret war’ in relation to indigenous Aboriginal people and brutal forms of colonisation.

In the Tower Room of the second floor, Mariateresa Sartori (until 5th April, 2020) in which Chopin piano pieces are visualised as conversations between two people.

Yhonnie Scarce, who belongs to the Kokatha and Nukunu people in Australia, will open in the Tower Room on 9th March – 31st May 2020, exploring the political and aesthetic qualities of glass, in particular the crystallisation of desert sand as a result of the British nuclear tests in her homeland between 1956-63.

(Top photo: Installation view. Courtesy of the artist and the Ikon Gallery)


References

Feisst, S. 2009, “John Cage and Improvisation: an Unresolved Relationship,” in eds. Gabriel Solis and Bruno Nettl. Musical Improvisation: Art, Education and Society, Chicago: University of Illinois Press. pp. 38–51.

Newling, J., 2018. Dear Nature. Warwick and Nottingham: Warwick Arts Collection and Beam editions.

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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Opportunity: new deadlines for John Byrne Award

The John Byrne Award is open to anyone who is 16 or over living or studying in Scotland. Submit creative works in any medium to enter the competition for a £7500 top prize, and £500 quarterly prizes.

The John Byrne Award is Scotland’s most inclusive competition for emerging artists. Our aim is to encourage a discussion about societal values by promoting the creative work of our entrants.

We are looking for work that is thought-provoking and displays a sophisticated consideration of values.

Visit www.johnbyrneaward.org.uk to see all entries.

Any creative medium is accepted.

Examples include:
  • Visual – Paintings, drawings, sketches, illustrations, sculpture, digital art, screen prints, mixed media, photography.
  • Design – Product/industrial design, fashion design, textile design, game design, UI/UX design, interior and spatial design, architectural design.
  • Audio – Compositions, songs, original pieces of music, audio recordings.
  • Video – Documentaries, interviews, animation, music videos, art films, short films, fashion films.
  • Writing – poetry, journalism, blog posts, essays, creative writing.
Entry criteria:
  • 16 and over
  • Currently living or studying in Scotland
  • We accept one entry per person or team per quarter
Prizes:
  • Annual award – £7500
  • Quarterly award – £500
Deadlines:
  • £500 award: 23:59 on the last day of April, July, and October.
  • £7500 award: 23:59 on 31st January 2021
How to enter:

Submit your entry here.

For further information, please contact jade@johnbyrneaward.org.uk or visit the website.

The post Opportunity: new deadlines for John Byrne Award appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.

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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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