Yearly Archives: 2020

Opportunity: Call for environmentalists, artists, campaigners, and creatives

We’re looking for proposals for creative online events connecting the arts and environmentalism to be run during social distancing as part of our Green Tease programme. These events would be micro-funded by and organised in collaboration with us, Creative Carbon Scotland.  

Green Tease is a community and events programme organised by Creative Carbon Scotland exploring interactions between environmentalism and the arts. Since the outbreak of coronavirus Green Tease has moved online with monthly meetups, a Facebook group, and a database of practitioners. We’ve also held online meetings about COP26 and climate justice.  

Now we’re looking to hold further online events between June and September that: 

1) engage with the current situation and its implications for the climate movement and the arts. Examples of this might include: 

  • Imagining what a just and green recovery from coronavirus might look like  
  • Creative digital engagement techniques for continuing environmental activism under social distancing 
  • The role of the arts in care and wellbeing 
  • What the environmental movement can learn from the response to coronavirus 

2) make artistic or creative use of online events formats. Examples of this might include: 

  • Collective art making 
  • Interactive workshops 
  • Thinking or visioning exercises  
  • Creative or non-standard ways of using online platforms or resources  

These events should be free, open to people from both arts and environment backgrounds, and as accessible and environmentally sustainable as possible in design. Based on experience and feedback we normally run Green Tease events on weekday evenings for around 2 hours, but there is a lot of flexibility here depending on what you want to achieve.  

If you have an idea for an online event that you would like to run, please get in touch with lewis.coenen-rowe@creativecarbonscotland.com. There is no formal application procedure, rather we’re keen to hear your initial thoughts and develop ideas together collaboratively. The nature of the collaboration is flexible. You may have a fully-fledged plan and need help with publicity or a small amount of funding, or you may have a great idea for an event have no time or resources to organise it. Either of these or anything in between are welcome.  

If you have any further questions, feel free to get in touch.  

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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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The virus speaks pt 2

By Chrisfremantle

The virus is driving adaptation and the priorities are quickly becoming apparent. Three pieces published in the past 24 hours provide an insight into the issues.

On the one hand Nesta’s blog There will be no ‘back to normal’ which highlights aspects of normal which may be ‘gone’. One of the recurring themes is the tension between the emergence of positive community-led responses and the imposition of structural responses. It doesn’t tell us the answers, but it certainly highlights some of the big alternatives.

And on the other a letter to cultural leaders signed by over 200 professionals and academics expressing ‘grave concern’ and ‘imploring’ them to not lay off education teams, asking,

At a moment when museums and galleries claim an interest in their diversification, why do they de-fund the very people and communities made most vulnerable by the current crisis?

What we are learning is that adaptation clearly has phases, including:

  • the ‘immediate reaction’ (throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks)
  • the working out what the ‘new normal’ looks like – the shifted Overton Window of testing and surveillance, social distancing, new austerity, etc.
  • the massive uncertainty of potentially going in and out of ‘lockdown’ periodically.

Finally the Dark Mountain project, who have been arguing for 10 years that the form of our civilisation is the shape of the problem, announce their latest publication, developed before the pandemic, and arriving in the middle of it.

Their opening line is,

What is there left to say?

(Top photo: ‘Violet Storm’ by Kate Williamson)

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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Wild Authors: Loranne Vella

By Mary Woodbury

Today, we travel to Malta with Loranne Vella to discuss her award-winning novel Rokit (Merlin Publishers, 2017).

It’s 2064, and the European continent is disintegrating: walls are up, and communication structures are down. A car crash in Croatia leaves Rika Dimech, world famous fractal photographer, dead. Her 21-year old nephew, Petrel Dimech, the war photographer, decides to travel by sea to Rika’s country of origin, Malta, now occupied by the Italian regime for the purposes of space exploration. He intends to spend two weeks in Malta to find the remnants of Rika’s past. 

Twenty-three years later, he is still there looking for clues about his own roots. Employed as a photographer at the space center for most of this time, Petrel discovers not only Rika’s past, but also his own future. In his inability to move around spatially (the island is divided into sectors, each heavily guarded), Petrel discovers a way of moving in time. His son, Benjamin, is one of the main revolutionary figures fighting for Malta’s freedom. Petrel, who prefers to look at the world through his camera lens, is caught up in a different kind of revolution – a time-loop which links his future to his past to his future. Rokit is a story about time, space, photography, roots, geometry, revolution and ultimately hope. The rocket, itself a symbol of hope, is forever present in the background.

Following is my chat with Loranne. I was honored to talk with her about this magnificent novel.

Rokit takes place in a climate-changed, dystopian future. This is a genre-bending novel that is speculative but also realistic and literary, and uses the elusive perspective of photography to explore how a rocket can propel someone to a distance from which a fuller picture is more clearly seen. I’ll get into some of the perspective talk later but for now, I wonder if you took the route of fiction to partially expose our world now, the hyperobject of climate change, and how we cannot take a still photo of it and find focus?

Yes, definitely, because stories have a way of driving the message home more than any headline news – at least that’s always been the case for me. Rokit is my way of commenting on what is happening in the world today. It’s a cautionary tale, if you will: if we persist in what we’re doing now, this might be the result in half a century’s time. One possible result, of course – there could be many others. But this is the image of the future that I wanted to present, to explore. The comments are there, between the lines, whispered or hinted at by the characters, at times spelled out. Climate change is both the backdrop of this story as well as the driving force of the plot – things would have happened very differently had there been no tsunamis and heavy rains ravaging this little island in the middle of the Mediterranean in 2064.

However, there are other ways of looking at this story, depending on which angle we take, or which detail we decide to focus upon. It’s about photography but also about space and time. It’s about geometry (circularity versus linearity) as much as it is about physics (light, shadows, darkness). It’s about a revolution in all the possible senses of the word. It’s been described as a coming-of-age novel where the teenage Benjamin discovers he has an important role to play in liberating his country. It’s about the search for one’s roots, one’s identity and purpose in life.

You might recognize the Azure Window before collapse, from the Game of Thrones’ Dothraki wedding. Photo by Felix König, CC BY 3.0.

What is the reality of the island of Malta and the rest of Europe in 50 years according to Albert?

I created this image of the future of Europe and Malta by asking a basic question: what if we’re actually moving toward a future where we lose, or even give up voluntarily, the very things we hold so dear today? Democracy, a unified continent, independence, telecommunications, freedom of movement, freedom in general. What if we actually dismantle all we’ve been building this past century to reinstate that which we spent decades striving to liberate ourselves from; what if we once again opt for borders to open territories? What if we were to find comfort, once again, in isolation? Albert Cauchi, the fictitious historian in the novel, comments in detail about this phenomenon is his work titled “Min jibni u min iħott” (“Those that are busy building, and those that are busy dismantling”). History, according to Cauchi, proves that time moves in circles, spirals even, and that man is bound to repeat past mistakes, making them even grander next time round.

And Malta, in 50 years’ time, will once again lose its independence (2064 would commemorate 100 years since the island gained its independence from the British Empire). In a time when the island is slowly succumbing to the wild sea and crumbling at the edges, the Italian regime lends a seemingly helping hand and lures the islanders into accepting its harsh terms. Malta falls once again under foreign rule (history repeating itself), and slowly starts being evacuated. 

This results in an underpopulated Malta (the other extreme of the reality today), where the islanders have to escape their country and seek refuge some place else; here is where I have created another inversion in order to make a comment about the intolerant approach some Maltese people have towards refugees and migrants who regularly arrive on our island seeking refuge. Under the Italian regime, the few thousands of Maltese who remain on the island are segregated into sectors, thereby making the size of the island even smaller. Eventually a group of these are transferred to shelters underground, where everything becomes unbearably small and dark.

I am mesmerized by the concept of illusion, or maybe more succinctly the photographs that lack shadows or that were taken shortly before someone died. Or photos that are slightly out of focus, or where a person was always trying to be in the center. Can you talk some about this and how the science fiction film La Jetée played into it?

It was important for me to introduce the world of Rokit to the reader as a fictitious one, as a world where the rules of physics do not fully apply. It is for this reason that right from the start we encounter little details that seem to belong to a world other than our own. But I was not interested in high fantasy or science fiction. Just a slight distortion of the world we know. Because this will help us to imagine another world, very similar to ours, but not quite. It’s like tilting one’s head to get a better view of what’s in front of us. I’ve always had this idea of fiction, which is why I am particularly fond of literary works that flirt with the fantastical or science fiction but are not outrightly so. It is all an illusion that distorts and yet reveals what would otherwise remain hidden. Much like the way photography works. 

Rokit makes heavy use of the principles of photography, in form as well as in content. The main character is a photographer. His son, having lived his entire life in captivity in one single village on this small island, has a limited sense of perspective. To bring about the revolution that could lead to the liberation from the tyrannical Italian regime, the son has to learn about the history of photography – about light, detail, perspective, focus – from his father.

Chris Marker’s La Jetée has been a major influence in my work, not only when I was writing Rokit, but also with my previous novel MagnaTM Mater, mainly because of my fascination with the idea that the future can hold a solution to the crises of the present. And only by traveling in time can we hope to find the answer to our problems. 

In MagnaTM Mater, the 15-year old Elizabeth writes a short story about a woman, V (who is no other than her own mother Veronica), who travels to the future to bring back home an answer to all our problems that are a direct result of climate change. In Rokit this idea is taken up again – also because both Elizabeth and Veronica reappear in Rokit – this time round not to tackle the problem of climate change but to bring about the revolution that will set the islanders free from their oppressors. Some characters do travel in time in Rokit. However, the novel is not about traveling in time. Rather, it’s an exploration of what would happen if that kind of temporal jump were a possibility, as well as an enquiry into whether time is linear, circular, spiral or other.

I find all this fascinating. You introduce many central metaphors and other concepts in this novel: the maze, the minotaur, the cathedral. Care to elaborate on any of these ideas?

Petrel perceives the world around him in conceptual terms. Geometry: he tends to see everything, both objects and ideas, in terms of lines, circles or spirals. Greek mythology: when he ends up in an underground shelter he cannot but make the connection with the minotaur’s maze; he compares himself to Perseus, holding the head of the Medusa to represent the role of the war photographer as he captures images of atrocity to present to those who are not aware that it exists; he compares Veronica to Calypso (she seduces Petrel to keep him from leaving the island) and to the shape-shifting Proteus; and he sees Italy’s coming to Malta’s aid as a Trojan horse to conquer the island. Petrel’s associations are always grandiose. The underground shelter reminds him too of the bizarre masterpieces of the great visionaries such as Piranesi, Gaudì or Escher.

On the other hand, Benjamin is also being exposed to grand concepts in order to help him make sense of the limited reality he is trapped in. His “teacher,” Mirelle, uses quotations from philosophical and literary works to help the young generation born in captivity imagine a world much greater and more significant than the one they know. She compares the coming revolution to a cathedral. The foundation of the cathedral lies in the past, in the revolutions that have taken place decades and centuries before; the building itself represents the present, the daily actions that each one of them take in order to bring about the eventual downfall of the oppressor; the bell, then, will chime victory in the future. The image of the chiming bell haunts Benjamin because his greatest fear is that, no matter how much he fights for the island’s liberation, he will no longer be there to hear the bell chime. The only way he can be present to hear it is by making a leap in time.

What are your overall thoughts on the way the destruction of the natural world is handled in fiction, and do you have any favorite authors that made you think more about it?

It seems to me that stories – written these past 30 years, at least – which are set in the future, tend to tackle, directly or indirectly, the consequences of climate change. One of my favorite authors, David Mitchell, sets the last section of The Bone Clocks in 2043, where natural disasters have resulted in a depletion of resources. This last chapter is perhaps one of the most touching endings I have ever read. Yoko Tawada, in The Last Children of Tokyo, presents a devastated Japan one hundred years from now. We are confronted with an unlivable Tokyo where water, air and soil are so heavily polluted as to be poisonous. What we take so much for granted in our everyday life – the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land we cultivate – is that which usually becomes scarce in dystopian literature.

Thanks so much, Loranne. I can’t wait to share your thoughts and the novel Rokit with readers!

* * * 

Loranne also shared an article from the Times of Malta, which describes what effects global warming has already had, and will continue to have, on the small island in the Mediterranean Sea, just south of Italy’s southern tip. The article says that in the next thirty years, the island could become an “arid, thirsty, overheated rock.”

Moreover, “the predicted sea level rise could transform the landscape and affect buildings that are close to the sea in low-lying areas”, an impact which “would be further compounded by strong winds and storm surges battering the coast.”

Similarly, Loranne said that in Rokit, there are crazy weather conditions and the Sirocco wind.

(Top image: Loranne Vella at the broken Azure Window in Malta, which collapsed due to storms in March 2017. Photo by Jonathan Page.)

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

______________________________

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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#ArtOpps Sustainability First Art Prize

The corona pandemic is currently affecting every area of peoples’ lives across the globe. As we emerge from the crisis, how do we ensure a sustainable recovery – which balances economic, social and environmental wellbeing? Sustainability First is launching an Art Prize to invite original, radical ideas and visions in response to the question ‘How do we build from the current corona crisis towards a more sustainable future?’

The Sustainability First Art Prize is open to all living British and international artists based in the UK, established and emerging, over the age of 18 years. Images of up to 3 works can be submitted online only per person. The works must be original, created in any media – including but not limited to painting, drawing, mixed media, sculpture, video and installation.

More information here https://www.sustainabilityfirst.org.uk/bridging-corona/art-prize

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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Coleman and Hodges:  MOON – WATER – DUST,  Residency at the Bamboo Curtain Studio

By Chrisfremantle

Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman, artists with a social practice based in rural Dumfries and Galloway, tell us about the residency they undertook at the Bamboo Curtain Studio, Taiwan in September and October 2019. Using food as well as walking as means of exploring, they provide an insight into the political and environmental context. They discuss climate change activism; Moon Cakes; dust; the potential for umbrellas to take on different form as well as meaning; and walking the Southern Upland Way through Taipei. They conclude with some questions regarding international residencies in a time of climate crisis (this was written before the pandemic which is raising another set of questions).

There are several sections to this blog including:

An introduction providing context particularly in relation to Taiwan’s post-war development and its environment;

Residency Work Notes:

  1. Celebration, making and marking time
  2. Water: falling, carrying and letting go
  3. New forms: Tumbleweed
  4. Museum of the FutureNow
  5. The Walking of Here to There – A Walk by Robbie Coleman

Final Notes – programme and reflections


Introduction

We arrived in Taiwan on 2nd September 2019 in time for the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節) and also in time for the typhoon season; high humidity, torrential rain, 35 degrees and blisteringly hot sun. All set against a continuous background of conversation about politics, democracy, independence, the protests in Hong Kong, China, environmental action and inaction.

BCS PlanWe had been selected for the ‘Creative Talents’ Residency, 2 months at Bamboo Curtain Studio, New Taipei City, Taiwan. Bamboo Curtain Studio (BCS) is an independent arts organisation that has been operating for 25 years. BCS seeks to bring together innovative ecological and social arts practice from around the world, providing a nurturing environment and a platform for open discussion and the development of new ideas, projects and partnerships. BCS practices and promotes sustainability through working with communities to bring awareness about environment, climate change and sustainable living. The studios are situated in an old farm complex of 2,645 sqm with five artists-in-residency rooms and studios; learning space, multi functional performance/exhibition spaces; ceramics & sculpture studio; community kitchen, outdoor stage and garden. BCS is situated near to Zhuwei, a suburb of Taipei, along the bicycle path of the Tamsui riverbank which is about 30 minutes commute from Taipei centre.

We had very little knowledge of Taiwan before being selected, so here’s some brief background for context.

Taiwan is a small island about the size of Wales and its geographical location in the South China Sea has given it an important strategic position. Over the centuries it’s been colonized by China, The Netherlands, Spain and Japan. It is currently (and historically) a contested landscape. Whether or not Taiwan is an independent “country” is a grey area. Taiwan is part of its own definition of China; ‘The Republic of China’, with Taipei as its capital and not part of China under the definition of the ‘Peoples Republic of China’ in Beijing. Taiwan has been governed separately from mainland China since 1949 when the ROC government relocated to the island after military defeat by the communists, and locally governed since martial law was lifted in 1987. The government now operating in Taiwan is a self-sustaining, fully functional, democratically-elected government unrelated to Beijing with its own economy and currency. Taiwan has a free-market economy and high-performing industries, highly developed infrastructure and open internet. The majority of the world has official diplomatic relations with Beijing with Taiwan being recognised by only 14 out of 193 United Nations member States. In practice though most countries do retain some economic and cultural ties however Taiwan is severely limited in its diplomatic capacity as well as its ability to participate in international organisations (such as the World Health organization) and events due to the ongoing conflict with the PRC.

In the wider context of Taiwanese international relations and financial support by the Ministry of Culture for international exchanges and residencies, our residency at BCS may be seen as falling into the realms of cultural diplomacy, a type of soft power that includes the “exchange of ideas, information, art, language and other aspects of culture in order to foster mutual understanding”. In essence ‘cultural diplomacy’ is a tool to create influence with the aim for encouraging foreign nations to develop an understanding of Taiwan’s ideals and institutions in an effort to build broad support for economic and political goals.

Prior to lifting martial law in 1987, Taiwan experienced rapid change through three decades of fast industrialization (petrochemical plastics) and population growth with little concern for environmental impacts. There was massive pollution of soil, water and atmosphere and reduction of Taiwan’s natural forest cover. We were interested in understanding the consequences of and responses to rapid change in systems (cultural, technical, economic) and in communities. What is current thinking about the structures and systems that need to be developed in response to climate emergency and other social and environmental issues? How are artists engaging with rapid change and how might we understand the world differently when viewed from an Asian perspective?

We met with Brian Hioe, editor of New Bloom Magazine to talk about contemporary politics in Taiwan. He was involved in The Sunflower Movement which involved the storming and occupation of the Taiwanese legislature in March 2014. The movement was largely youth-led and a vehicle for a set of issues regarding questions about Taiwanese identity, the relation of Taiwan and China, and also Taiwan’s geopolitical and socioeconomic position in the world. It resulted in a change of government and also an explosion of creativity in the arts and cultural production. The Sunflower Movement marked the political empowerment of a generation, where politics began to be something that young people felt like they could participate in. There was a large amount of cooperation between the groups involved and many members of the movement have now entered formal politics or work for NGO’s. We also talked to Brian about the ‘Umbrella Movement’ in Hong Kong which Taiwan is watching closely, the role of social media in Taiwan and much more.  See https://daybreak.newbloommag.net/ for info on the Sunflower Movement.

The new democratic processes have facilitated the development of a broad range of civil movements and NGO’s active in environmental and social justice. Taiwan for example has become the first Asian country to legalise same sex marriage in May ’19. Since the pollution of the 70’s, there has been a huge rise in environmental consciousness and Taiwan’s environmental organizations have fought to halt industrial pollution and affect environmental policies. People are directly participating in public protests against polluting industries and more recently a new generation of green activists and artists have been moving out from the cities, working with rural villagers to make environmental concerns “trans-local”. The resulting cooperation has been successful in stopping many controversial industrial developments . In Taipei we found many cultural and art actions, events, festivals and artists working with reference to environment/ecology/eco-centric practices and issues, however alongside this, a massive preoccupation with issues of national identity.

As we talked to people these two conflicts in contemporary Taiwan became clear, the question of national identity and the conflict between growth and environmental quality. Every day we felt the positive impacts of the recent rise of democratic processes and civic consciousness. But despite the Taiwanese passion for recycling and conservation, we also witnessed evidence of throwaway consumerist culture such as the mainstay of one use takeaway cups and food boxes (huge culture of street food), and 24 hour arcades of ‘clawgrab’ machines – a craze in Taiwan where individuals rent a machine to earn a few extra dollars and fill it with cheap toys and gadgets. Everywhere there’s ugly evidence of previous unregulated industrialization and the piecemeal ongoing attempts to rectify some of the damage. The tension between ecological awareness and growth is palpable. As the economy has changed, many young people have the expectations of the standard of living of their parents but are earning less. We often found ourselves returning to this topic with our daily conversations with Margaret Shui, founder of BCS, who was interested in finding ways of encouraging young people to challenge notions of growth-based prosperity and to find other ways of living based on creativity and community with less material wealth.

Reinaart Vanhoe, artist and author of Also-Space, From Hot to Something Else : How Indonesian Art Initiatives Have Reinvented Networking was also resident at BCS. We had many discussions with him around his work in Indonesia exploring how creative networks have developed outside the western model of art practice, where cultural institutions and funding don’t exist in the same way. Ruangrupa, an arts collective in Jakarta, Indonesia integrate with, explore and reflect the society they are embedded within in informal, almost conversational ways. This lack of rigidity and obvious hierarchy, allows for an open, socially inviting way of working with a surrounding community that might be useful for European organisations to explore. Reinaart is following how they deal with the increasing success (in western artworld terms) of some of their members and the impact that this might have on their core values.

Margaret Shui is passionate about centering the climate emergency and Jo joined her on the ‘Fridays for Future’ Climate Action on 27th September. Jo participated in the ‘Last Supper’ installation outside the Legislature building in Taipei; a table laden with locally sourced food, around which experts and activists sat (including Jo) Each made a presentation about the link between climate change and food production and the gathering was joined by the local minister for the environment and other politicians who spoke to their commitment to make change. Jo spoke about the Climate Change Bill passed by the Scottish Parliament on 25th Sept and gave her thoughts on the need to reconsider the growth imperative.  Jo noted that there were comparatively fe­­w people at the action compared to many capital cities around the world and that many of those attending were expats. She spoke to the representative of 350.org who said that education was valued so highly in Taiwan, that most parents would not allow their children out for school and many students, while supporting the action felt the same. Jo talked to the main environmental NGO, Citizens of Earth about the seeming lack of support for action on Climate Emergency. They said that while there are some smaller NGO’s that focus specifically on climate issues, much of their work is about mitigation and adaptation not under the name of ‘climate change’. For example advocating for land conservation (wetlands & farm lands), coast and coral reef conservation, forest restoration. They also promote industrial transformation and energy transition to fight air pollution and to reduce use of fossil fuels. Work by other environmental NGOs in Taiwan, such as lowering the use of coal power and promoting renewable energy and reducing plastic waste are all considered as part of climate action.

Most Taiwanese people that we met were very keen to hear about our perceptions of Taiwan and alongside our conversations and discussions around politics and environmental action, ran our daily experiences and observations, giving us a different kind of insight… these include the politeness and kindness of everyone; the quietness of crowds; the thousands of scooters and resulting petrol pollution; recycling trucks playing music as they traverse the streets and people gathering and gossiping on street corners with their rubbish bags waiting for them to arrive; the micro economies of street food; typhoons; people of all ages exercising on the paths by the river; night time cycle rides on the free city bikes; elaborate temples used as social centres; the burning of ‘money’ for the Gods in roadside fireplaces: Karaoke everywhere (a major social activity); Lullabies played to herald the arrival of the MRT trains; ants; mosquitos; humidity. Some things seemed familiar, but so much was very different.

Residency Work Notes:
1. Celebration, making and marking timeCH Creek Cakes

Photo courtesy of the artists

A key part of the contemporary Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations are outdoor barbecues and karaoke in the parks as well as offerings of Moon Cakes between friends and family. Traditional Moon Cakes are filled with red bean paste, sometimes with a salted egg in the centre, to represent the moon and have an imprint on the top of the Chinese characters for “longevity” or “harmony”. In talking about holiday traditions, we discovered that very few people now make Moon Cakes, they buy them from bakeries instead. We were interested in this change and as a way of exploring both traditional and contemporary culture, our first action in Taiwan was to track down the ingredients (not easy) and to learn how to hand make the cakes. To signal the start of our time in Taiwan, we designed a pattern for the top of our cakes relating to the moon’s impact on seed growth.

We followed this successful Mid Autumn Festival baking session by running a Moon Cake making workshop for fellow artists (Five other international artists were resident at the Bamboo Curtain Studios from Netherlands, Thailand, Japan, USA) and studio staff. It was a place for discussion around food, time, tradition and consumerist culture. People don’t feel they have time to make the traditional cakes and so these skills are being lost. We used the engagement with handmade processes to consider issues around contemporary Taiwanese work, family and leisure pressures. Is there value in making more time to make? The Cakes made at the workshop were taken as an offering to participants on the Plum Tree Community Hike on 29th September 2019.

2. Water: falling, carrying and letting go

CH River Sunset

As a creative practice we arrive in a new place with no fixed plan but with an interest in exploring the environmental and social relationships that we find and in fostering hospitality, conversation and exchange through our practice and processes.

We were amazed at how much rain falls around typhoon time and its impact on the city streets, rivers and creeks. The nearby Plum Tree Creek swells massively in size as the rain washes through the city streets and pours into it. As the full moon rises so does the tide in East China Sea and so the Tamsui River rises to the city. We watched as the dusty city water flowed under our local bridge into the Tamsui River and thousands of large fish swam up the creek to amass in huge shoals with their mouths open – consuming the overflow from the city.

Plum Tree Creek 1
Plum Tree Creek 2

Our thoughts turned to the creek that runs close to Bamboo Curtain Studios, and which has been the site of Artist Wu Mali’s project A Cultural Action at the Plum Tree Creek in the past. Thinking about the action of torrential rain on dust became a growing interest. Dust is a collection of minute particles; human and more than human. Skin cells, soil, rock, paper, organic material, concrete, hair…it is a binding layer between all materials and parts of life, we are breathing it in all the time as it is thrown up into the city air by wind and the movement of thousands of people, scooters and cars. The detritus is washed from the streets into the creek by the pounding rain and so we followed the dust to where it settles as silt; where the Plum Tree Creek joins the main Tamsui River. We collected silt from the estuary at night when the moons gravitational pull was at its greatest. We investigated it, exploring its mark-making potential at different dilutions on a daily basis over a lunar month, watching it fade as the moon wanes.

We collected more. On each visit to the shoreline we watched with fascination the shoals of huge black fish arriving with the tide to the edge of the city. This city is a dusty place, every celebration, argument, wedding or funeral makes marks and leaves evidence in the dust.  All the sad moments and hopeful dreams of the city were being filtered through the mouths of these black fish.

CH River mud bucket
CH Mud working
CH mud sieving
CH Mud pattern

In the cooler evenings on the roof at the back of the studios we started processing the silt through a series of improvised filters (blankets, beach towels and pillow cases) until we were left with a liquid made of city dust and the erosion of rock and organic matter blown from the farms beyond the city – an emulsion of city, human, animal and more than human traces. As the water gradually evaporated from our material, we were left with a fine clay. So fine that it picked up our fingerprints when we touched it. An idea formed of using the material as a casting medium and of creating a travelling laboratory or studio to take on hikes further up the Creek past the city towards its source in the mountains.  We decided to use the dust/human trace/clay to take impressions of the plant life that we encountered on the creek banks as we went.

People work on small plots of land next to the creek and it was easy to strike up halting but friendly conversations about what we and they were doing. After a few days we started giving the cast tiles of botanical specimens as gifts to the people whom we encountered and people returned the next day with fruit or sweets for us. The work had become a mobile site of conversation and exchange. We talked about people’s relationship to the creek – it used to be a social space, people would gather by the river to chat, wash clothes and collect water for the home and vegetable garden. Now the area has become home to thousands of people who cannot afford to live in other parts of the city, high density housing blocks have been built over the creek, they turn on their taps for water at home, and have forgotten or have never known that they have a river flowing through and under them. We discussed how to change attitudes to the creek, how to stop the pig farm nearby polluting it, how to re-engage people with the watercourse and its ecology.  In this we are building on steady work by the Bamboo Curtain Studios and hope we have added something of value to the discourse. We enjoyed our days out along the creek, becoming a small social centre of friendly and curious folk.

CH mud engagement
CH Mud Printing
CH Mud cast

Our process seemed to create a cyclical way of working, all the materials and liquids we are used in some sort of circular movement, being transformed on the journey in different ways – from the hills, to the creek to the sea and back again, subtly transformed, added to or subtracted from. Sometimes an element was removed such as salt, sometimes a meaning added, such as a simple image of a leaf. We felt in collaboration with the place and the people around us; part of a circular flow of materials carrying ideas and gestures.

More of our work using dust and silt from the river at https://colemanhodges.com/2019/12/15/silt/

3. New forms: Tumbleweed

CH umbrella gallery
CH umbrella reconstruction

Our ideas progressed gently on a daily basis, almost as sites of conversation between ourselves.  One of these involved the unlikely collision between the typhoon and the political unrest in Hong Kong. Part of our interest was to try and understand the political and activist background to the independence movement in Taiwan and the fast growing environmental sensitivities that are developing, so we met with people that have been involved in those actions over the years to try and get a sense of current issues and how people feel about them.  We knew that the historical, political and cultural context is complex, but we tried to get a sense of it. People were happy to meet explain the current fragile politics and on these conversational journeys across the city we also collected broken umbrellas. Famously, Taiwan used to be the worlds leading manufacturer of umbrellas. They are used here for protection from both sun and rain by everyone and after the typhoon the streets are littered with broken ones. Umbrellas are extraordinary examples of elegant design. Folded they are discreet objects that can be used as walking sticks or for capturing errant children or animals, when they are put up they are beautiful examples of tensile design.  Broken ones seem to have an emotional, defeated quality that, for us, began to entwine with news footage of the demonstrations in Hong Kong, where umbrellas were/are being used as personal defense against the teargas, smoke bombs and water cannons of the state.  On our rooftop studio space we started experimenting with our broken umbrellas and soon realized that however damaged they were as individual objects, in cooperation with other broken umbrellas, they could form strong and resilient new forms and we joined the core geometries, joints and materials to make a spherical form.

4. Museum of the FutureNow

CH Museum Future Now poster
CH MoFN

After running a Museums of FutureNow workshop (an ongoing project that generates speculative future scenarios)  at an arts festival in nearby Keelung City we began to think about this new form as part of the Museums of the Future Now and developed a series of future histories for our object.  These histories formed a type of commentary on our thinking and conversations about politics, environment and future. We also experimented with taking the umbrella form into Zhuewi and installing it in various locations as a way of starting a conversation with curious passers by.

5. The Walking of Here to There – A Walk by Robbie Coleman

Preparation for the walk began by overlaying a section of the Southern Upland Way onto a street map of the city of Taipei – I decided on the section of the route that is nearest to my home in Dumfries and Galloway. Traditional walking routes usually follow ancient walkways between destinations and largely follow the lines of least resistance (waterways, lower gradients, animal tracks, droving roads). Overlaying this flowing journey across an artificially constructed terrain like a modern city would mean a real-time restructuring of the original route, taking the walker into unexpected places and situations. The walk was conducted overnight to avoid the heat and traffic.

My initial thoughts re-imagined the cultural colonization by early European explorers, maybe experimenting with re-naming places that I pass through, and exploring the implications of this type of cultural appropriation in a country with its own very real issues of identity and territory. This seemed especially relevant when we were told that many of the street and place names in Taiwan are transplanted from China by the waves of immigration from the mainland.  Streets names that translate as ‘Shanghai Way’ don’t mean anything, as they are not the way to Shanghai and so on.

In reality, the walk turned out to be much more about terrain and the feel of it.  I started at midnight at one end of the Red Metro line.  This is in a very modern part of the city containing the 101 Building, until recently the highest building in the world. I continued walking through ancient night markets, peaceful suburbs and empty multilane highways.

CH Night walk 2
CH Night Walk

Taipei is an unusual city in terms of lighting, apart from the very central part, which resembles any other modern city – overlit and overbearing – most of the city is underlit.  I have become used to tall office blocks and blocks of flats being lit up at night in some way, either by leaving all the internal lights on at night in the case of office blocks or floodlit as part of an architectural plan or light spillage from another source, but Taipei feels quite dark. Street level is illuminated by all manners of different lighting – neon – riotous LED signage and street lighting, but this lighting does not reach up very high and so when you look above this vibrant layer, the buildings above it are dark.  This gives a sense that you are walking along canyons or amongst steep hills at night.  Sometimes the buildings are felt rather than seen, like walking beneath cliffs at night.  The buildings exist as volume/bulk rather than as surface. This made the journey into something unexpected and very beautiful. Although there was plenty of activity at periods during the night, the overall sense is one of calm. Taipei is a pretty flat city so there is not sense of altitudes or the difficulty of the climb that marks out any walking route in northern Britain

I particularly enjoyed watching the huge high-density housing blocks come to life in the early morning – isolated lit windows appearing in the sheer black walls of the blocks. The architecture changing from something bleak and monolithic to something built of tiny domestic details. Because of the lack of ambient light it was possible to look deep into these living spaces, the vast blocks revealing layers of intimacy. The duality of the walk also played out in unexpected ways – I had toyed with marking significant points from the Southern Upland Way onto my city map – to try and sew the two walks together in some way, but it proved to be unnecessary – taking a deliberate but nonsensical route across the city became a strange map reading exercise, the route bore no intuitive relationship to the terrain to be walked through so the map had to be continuously consulted – long curved corners and backtracking due to obstacles many thousands of miles away became a particular pleasure and as did the way the immediate real obstacles in the city forced the flowing Southern Upland Way into a ungainly series of angles and steps.

I also became an avid nighttime photographer, reveling in the limits of the camera in my phone.  The sometimes impressionistic results corresponding to how the terrain felt as well as how it looked.

The walk gave me time to consider what would happen if I remapped the ‘city adjusted map’ back onto the Southern Upland route, changing it into a stepped and clumsy pathway through the rolling landscape – which would lead to new obstacles to work around and remap, which in turn might lead to another remapping onto another city  – the ancient walkway becoming a palimpsest, constantly rewritten for new terrain, each iteration becoming part of a multiple memory of place through a single pathway. These circular thought patterns were helped along by my decision to chew Betel Nuts (local stimulant beloved of truck and taxi drivers in Taiwan) on my journey – this gave the whole walk a sense of uplift and well-being as well as an excess of saliva.

I arrived back at the studios at 6.00 in the morning with a fabulous sense of achievement, a phone-full of very blurred photographs and dyed red teeth.

Final Notes – programme and reflections

During our time on Taiwan we were involved in the following:

  • Presentation of our work at Taipei Annual, Taipei Expo. 7th Sept. https://avat-art.org/taiwanannual2019
  • Attendance at seminar “In Art We Care: Eco-Sustainable Action”, Taipei Artist Village. 24th  Sept. http://bambooculture.com/en/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=151Speakers Margaret Shui Founder of BCS and Wu Mali, artist (an overview of the eco-art actions carried out by BCS in the past), Marie le Sourd, Secretary General of On The Move Network and Zhou Ganoderma ; Eco Artist / Researcher. The workshop session covered; creating new relationships with water, ways of responding to ecological difficulties within the cultural environment and the challenges and value of international networks for ecological art and action.
  • Cultural / Environmental Action: Hiking the Plum Tree Creek and demonstration of our casting technique to community gathering. 29th Sept. http://bambooculture.com/en/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=152
  • Attending ‘Fridays for Future’ Climate Action, Taipei. 27th Sept. Jo spoke about Scotland’s response to Climate Emergency.
  • Presentation of work at Keelung Ciao 5th October. https://en.keelungciao2019.com.tw
  • Running Museums of the FutureNow workshop at Keelung Ciao, 12th Oct. https://en.keelungciao2019.com.tw/
  • Running ‘Presence’, an organizational reflection and development workshop for BCS staff, 17th Oct
  • Surviving Typhoon ‘Mitag’ 1st October!
  • Exhibition of work at Open Studio Days 25th/26th Oct. http://bambooculture.com/en/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=159

Some questions regarding international residencies:

  • What do international residencies offer in a time of climate breakdown?
  • What are the colonial and corporate impacts of extraction and exploitation within the places we are working and how can we collectively question and act on the legacies of extraction and exploitation.
  • How can the arts support a shift to a post-fossil future?
  • Are there other modes of mobility and production within the arts?
  • How can we build holistic, eco-sensitive relationships and networks… (Reinaart Vanhoe’s work)
  • What methodologies can we use to re-establish or understand our relationships with our environs. Relationships to colonization?
  • What responsibility do we have as guest artists in terms of consumption / materials / ecological response – ability?
  • What is our position the background of ‘cultural diplomacy’ implicit in our invitation and the financial support enabling us to attend?
  • How can practice specific support be identified and provided when an artist is working in a different culture?

All photos are courtesy of the artists. More documentation of specific aspects can be found on their website.

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.

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Wild Authors: Rick Hodges

By Mary Woodbury

For this post, we travel back to the continent of Africa, this time with author Rick Hodges; we talk about his visits to Kenya and his new novel To Follow Elephants (Stormbird Press, March 2019). 

ABOUT THE NOVEL

To Follow Elephants is an enchanting coming-of-age story that switches back and forth among its main characters to build a breathtaking journey involving a young elephant, a teenager from the United States traveling to Kenya to look for his imprisoned father, and a young Kenyan woman studying wild elephants. Hodges’ remarkable debut novel left me longing to visit the dry season of East Africa, where wild elephants, among other wildlife, freely migrate and are a part of the scenery and life of many people. Hodges’ chapters flip through the perspectives of a few individuals, but my favorite is the elephants growing older and learning about First Grandmother.

On his 18th birthday, young American Owen Dorner travels to Africa to meet his father for the first time. Plunged into the corrupt underworld of Colonel Mubego, a conniving prison warden and former revolutionary fighter, Owen seeks friendship amongst unlikely allies and finds meaning in the world of elephants.

Biologist Wanjeri Mubego, the colonel’s niece, who is happier among the wildlife in her native Kenya than with people, helps Owen discover the truth about his father, Karl. A U.S. Army captain, Karl Dorner has lived in a dusty African prison cell since Owen was a small boy. Could Karl, accused of helping a local rebellion, be a hero, and not a traitor?

Karl isn’t telling.

But when Karl escapes from prison, Wanjeri helps Owen find the truth about his father – and unveils her own family’s secrets – as a young elephant learns the ways of the world from his herd’s matriarch. In a moving portrayal of elephant civilization, parallel tales of intrigue and survival unfold, masterfully enriching our understanding of what it means to be human.

CHAT WITH THE AUTHOR

I was happy to talk with Rick about the birth of this novel and his travel in Kenya. What I learned was haunting in some ways but uplifting in others.

Can you explain to readers your time in East Africa and what you experienced there that inspired your novel?

Many years ago, my wife and I traveled to Kenya and Tanzania. She had traveled a bit, but I had never been overseas, so I figured I would make the most of it and go somewhere exotic and exciting the first time. The immersion in a very different place affected me, and when I returned, the story in my novel, peppered with the details I had observed, took shape. To Follow Elephants roughly tracks our itinerary in Africa and contains some specific scenes from our trip.

Many of the themes in the book also come directly from my experience on this journey, such as the wonder of seeing wildlife up close, observing animals co-existing with people in a way I rarely see in the United States, the mixture of wonder and anxiety of suddenly dropping into such a different place from my secure world at home and the sense of being among, rather than above, wild animals and their world.

I noticed in To Follow Elephants that your characters come of age – in the sense that they learn to let go of fears (some of them extreme) and notice the bigger world around them, including the natural world. Can you talk about this?

Owen’s struggle with anxiety has its roots in my own culture shock caused by picking such a different place to go in the world for my first foreign trip, and my own general anxiety issues.

One good technique for dealing with anxiety, whether justified by the events at hand or an overreaction, is to distance yourself from the here and now and switch to the big picture. You can look out into the distance and see the mountains or the sky and stabilize your viewpoint, much like you might do on a rocking boat to steady a queasy stomach. The larger landscape of the natural world feels more eternal, fixed, steady. It was there when you were born and it will be there after you die. The elephants feel that deep connection to the land, too, because they believe they sprouted from the soil, and they even consume soil and touch and feel the bones of their dead as the bones become soil again. It’s something bigger than they are that gives them comfort and confidence, like a parent, or God, or First Grandmother.

This is how I began to imagine the story that became the book – I looked outside at the landscape and conjured something larger than the immediate reality around me. I drew energy, if you will, from the natural world and rolled it up into a story with more excitement and meaning.

The people in my story seek the same kind of grounding, whether they realize it or not. On the bus ride, Owen seeks to calm his rising anxiety by looking out toward the horizon and seeing all the people and animals and trees and mountains and sky. They’re all calm, not bothered by his immediate reality, and he borrows from that.

Wanjeri has her own issues rooted in being unsure of her place in her family and the world. Her struggle is with other people, and she retreats to the world of elephants. She does the same kind of musing when she is on the safari about how she is lucky to live in such an amazing, important natural place that infuses her life with value beyond her daily existence and frayed family relationships.

The elephants sense that Wanjeri watches them to learn from them, since they are, naturally, superior beings to humans and have more knowledge. And they are on to something. Wanjeri would probably be happier as an elephant, and she wishes she had life all figured out like they seem to. When she finally completes the process of doing what’s right and making a choice of where she stands, Wanjeri has the option of going out and living with elephants in the wild forever (and perhaps she does).

Owen’s anxiety is driven by separation from his father, much like people create anxiety as they build cities around themselves and separate from the natural world. There is scientific research supporting the idea that people need exposure to nature for mental, and even physical, health. It is like a nutrient, and we are not getting enough of it.

As part of relieving his anxiety, Owen goes on a quest to reunite with his father just as the elephants go to the soil. For the elephants, the soil is literally a nutrient, but also the substance they believe they sprung from, so it is a spiritual nutrient as well.

One of the many elephants Rick and his wife, Elenor, viewed.

Your book beautifully portrays elephants and gives them dignity. Yet, many are endangered. Have you seen this first-hand? What has your research shown?

Yes, they are, and it’s sad and frustrating. We went to Africa in part to see things that might disappear soon.

I wanted to convey a deep sense of caring and respect for elephants in my book. I believe that too much negativity can depress people or turn them off, making them shut down instead. I didn’t focus on the threats to elephants; rather, I showed how they are fascinating, dignified, intelligent, sensitive, caring, loyal and strong – characteristics we admire in people. We can identify with them and their struggles, especially when we hear them “talking” to each other like people, as they do in To Follow Elephants. By revealing the internal thoughts and beliefs of elephants to the reader and depicting them as similar to ours, right down to their creation myths, I wanted to foster a feeling of kinship with them.

My wife, Elenor, has a background in environmental science and education and runs an environmental non-profit group, and I’ve learned from her about the principle of starting with the positive. Instead of a hard sell – “The animals are dying!” – it works better to first say “Isn’t this animal fascinating and beautiful?” That approach is more likely to bring a deep caring. I saw that sort of outlook in Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer and modeled my book on that.

Once someone has a lasting affinity for something, a threat to the thing they love makes them angry and feel empowered to help. I want my readers to feel dismayed by endangerment of elephants, but to turn that anger into action instead of despair.

Rick’s wife Elenor, next to the pile of burnt tusks in Nairobi National Park mentioned in the book.

I agree that turning despair into positive action is a great outcome. I learned that you are a beekeeper and have an affinity for the natural world. What kinds of things do you do outside of writing?

Actually, I used to keep bees as a teenager. I was stung many times, which is part of the job, until one day one of my bees stung me and I ended up in the hospital in anaphylactic shock. I had developed a bee sting allergy. That was the end of my beekeeping career.

But they stayed with me. Honeybees are amazing. They have a complex social structure that involves specialization – different bees do different jobs – sophisticated forms of communication and construction, and communal living. They’re just insects, but they create their world around themselves. A beehive is like a city. Learning about bees knocks homo sapiens down a peg. Maybe we’re not as special as we think. Wanjeri muses about that when she talks to Owen at the tusk memorial. She tells Owen her thoughts about how evolution isn’t a straight line and humanity may share the top of the tree of life with other species…including elephants.

As for other things l do, well, I write all day for my job, which means I know how to sit and write, but sometimes I’ve had enough for the day and can’t sustain it at night when I write fiction. I try to do interesting things as best I can while living a fairly standard life with a wife and two kids. I’ve performed in an improv comedy troupe. I’ve home-brewed beer. I wrote a stage play and, when it was performed, I experienced the magical moment where I forgot that I had created the characters on stage. I came up with an idea for a federal law to allow people with disabilities to save money like others can, and with lots of help, got it passed into law. Did I mention beer?

I try to incorporate the outdoors into everyday life when I can. I commute to work by bicycle when the weather is nice. I build all kinds of whimsical decks and furniture in my backyard, which I’ve landscaped entirely with native plants.

Being outdoors is always either a thrill or a source of peace, depending on what I need at the time. It connects me with space and time far beyond my own life. I am privileged to have the ability to sense that by going inward as well as outward without having to travel all the way to places like Africa. I find fascination in even the smallest of natural things as close as my own backyard.

What are your thoughts in writing fiction that combines the human story with the animal story? While there are particular genres for this, such as eco-fiction, what if every story did this?

There are pitfalls to avoid when writing this way. If the animals sound hokey or juvenile in adult fiction, it could turn readers off. My elephants speak in a sort of noble, formal language that distinguishes them. It’s a little like the version of English that many Africans speak – more formal and British than American English. My elephants also never speak to humans. After all, they don’t in reality either. The dialogue is among elephants only, and elephants and people are both left to only wonder about what the others are thinking.

I loved Watership Down and read it several times as a kid. That’s the book that gave me the confidence to speak in the voice of animals. Ultimately, though, animals are characters like any other, and require the same process of writing as human characters. Any story could do it, and wouldn’t it be great if they did? Stories about animals don’t just introduce new characters, they bring up entirely new worlds – their home, their way of life, their social structure, their challenges. Writing about animals brings great freedom for an author, much like science fiction or fantasy does.

Of course, my book has human and animal characters with different worlds that intersect and influence each other. I blurred the artificial barrier between people and nature, and not just by comparing elephants in parallel. Wanjeri’s longing for freedom among elephants, her rare ability to learn knowledge from them the way the elephants believe isn’t possible for people, father and then son’s connection with the bull elephant through the prison window, Wanjeri and Owen following the herd as if they were part of it – those are times when a sort of portal between the two worlds opens and reminds us that we were once as much animals as any other.

In any event, I think my approach of incorporating animals as characters helped to achieve one of my goals – writing an eco-fiction novel for people who don’t yet know they like eco-fiction.

Are you working on anything else at the moment?

The ideas never stop coming, but my best is going to be my next novel. I’m working on a story about a fictional town in coastal Virginia where white and black people lived in harmony and intermarried, their extreme isolation allowing them to avoid the poison of racism that prevailed elsewhere and to live off the land and sea, almost as a part of it, for a century. That all changes, though, when a young minister comes to the town and introduces some new and unsettling ideas about how they live, and spurs a personal tragedy that sends the town on a path of decline and destruction. I am drawing heavily from my knowledge of the natural world (and Virginia’s racial history), which I developed growing up on the Virginia coast. I was inspired by a real ghost town on the coast that now consists of nothing more than a few gravestones a few feet from the sand dunes.

Please keep in touch and let me know when your new novel is out. I have a personal affinity for the South and also write and think about my time there a lot. Thank you so much for sharing your story here, Rick.

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.

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