ecoartscotland

‘We Have More Agency Than We Realize’: Curator Lucia Pietroiusti on How the Art World Can Tackle Climate Change

Lucia Pietroiusti, Curator of General Ecology at The Serpentine in London, says,

“The more I spend time with the practice of ecological thinking, the more I realize that one solution or a one-toned approach is just not the answer. I am driven by the fact that it is becoming quite clear now that we are a little bit past the point of any sort of realistic reversal of the effects of climate disaster. Because of that, I am attached to the idea that you need pluralistic voices.”

She goes on to say,

“My great hope would be for every art institution to have an ecology department. It does not necessarily have to be someone like me who talks about plants, but it should be someone who looks at institutional strategy and environment at the same time, at how this institution relates to others, and how it sits within its urban landscape.”

and,

“There is a necessity to open up the disciplines so that we can face giant considerations like climate change. If departments do not collaborate, then everyone is just seeing things through a small keyhole. What would it mean to operate an institution as a permaculture, and less like a monoculture? I am really obsessed with the fact that metaphors are real and that you can move between the metaphoric and the literal in your program. When you do that, that’s when you start to see things differently.”

There are organisations exploring what this means in their own contexts including several significant ones in Scotland, including The Stove in Dumfries, North Light Arts in Dunbar, Creative Carbon Scotland, and there is a bit of a cluster in Aberdeenshire with SSW, Deveron Projects, and The Barn.

The Barn, in working with the pioneering ecological artists, Helen Mayer Harrison (1927-2018) and Newton Harrison (b.1932) to develop a vision for Scotland, On the Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland, have raised the stakes for the cultural sector’s involvement with these issues.

Read the whole interview on ArtNet

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

Powered by WPeMatico

B. D. Owens reviews ‘Water Makes Us Wet’

Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure, a film by Dr Beth Stephensand Dr Annie Sprinkle which premiered at Documenta 14, defies any easy genre categorisation.

This film about H2O both charmed and surprised me. It is an artwork, a documentary, a sexy and outrageously fun (sometimes turbulent) love story and a valuable multi-layered chronicle of environmentalist activism. It incorporates a vibrant patchwork of film styles including: sweeping aerial landscape shots, experimental video art, animation and relaxed conversational interviews. These are threaded together by narration from the often aggrieved character of ‘their lover, the Earth’ (performed by Dr Sandy Stone, University of Texas). One of the engaging interviews is with the Distinguished Professor Donna Haraway during a visit in her garden.

Later in their Adventure, Stephens and Sprinkle (Annie’s feet clad with rather impractical shoes) are guided through the San Bernardino National Forest by Steve Loe, a retired U.S Forest Service biologist. Together, they battle through thorny bushes, on a steep dusty mountain side in the Strawberry Creek watershed, to witness for themselves the reckless and exploitative water extraction by the Nestlé corporation.

Through the duration of the film, Stephens and Sprinkle have embedded a trail of semiotic code that those ‘in the know’ will be amused to discover. To provoke and tease further curiosity, the film’s content warning declares that it contains “environmental destruction, explicit Ecosexuality and performance art”. In addition to focusing upon their own artwork, they generously platform the performances of several of their Ecosexual artist colleagues including: The Reverend Billy TalenDragon Fly (aka Justice Jester), Guillermo Gómez-PeñaBalitronicaSaul Garcia Lopez and Judy Dunaway. You might also spot a cameo appearance by Dr Laura Guy (Newcastle University).

For the initiated, Dr Annie Sprinkle (artist, sexologist, educator, researcher and activist) carries legendary clout from performance artworks and films that she produced in the 1980s & 90s, which includes a collaboration with renowned experimental composer Pauline Oliveros. Annie Sprinkle has shown her works at hundreds of festivals, museums and galleries such as the Guggenheim (NYC) and Glasgow’s Centre of Contemporary Art – during the Bad Girls Season (1994), which was curated by the trail-blazing Nicola White. The epic art, activism and education collaboration between Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens (interdisciplinary artist, researcher, activist and professor) began in 2002. Through their longterm partnership they founded the E.A.R.T.H. Lab (Environmental. Art. Research. Theory. Happenings.) based at the University of California Santa Cruz.

Throughout Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure, Stephens and Sprinkle gradually introduce the viewers to the E.A.R.T.H. Lab’s areas of research in which they are pioneers; ‘Sexecology‘ (which links sex and ecology) and ‘Ecosexuality’ (a previously undefined sexual orientation). In their words,

Ecosexuality [is] an expanded form of sexuality that imagines sex as an ecology that extends beyond the physical body. [… Furthermore] Ecosexuality shifts the metaphor ‘Earth as Mother’ to ‘Earth as Lover’ to create a more reciprocal and empathic relationship with the natural world.

In one film sequence, they ‘anoint’ the ‘E’ of ‘Ecosexual’ into the LGBTQIA ‘alphabet’ during a jubilant ceremony performance in the San Francisco Pride Parade. Although Stephens and Sprinkle live and work in California, they have performed marriage vows to their Earth “lover” in various places in North America and Europe. These exuberant and sincere wedding ceremonies have, on occasions, become socially engaged artworks because the artists have invited others to join them in taking these vows of love and commitment to the Earth. In this way, they have used performance art as a means of radically shifting perspective in order to re-invigorate interest in environmental protection and climate change.

Because California has been ravaged by drought, destructive flash floods and ever-worsening, catastrophic wild fires, Stephens and Sprinkle have seen, first hand, the devastating, unpredictable and extreme effects of climate change. Concerns for the Earth’s wellbeing, moved the filmmakers to take a tour of the watershed, ‘wet spot’, map of California, to learn more about their relationships with the waters of their beloved. They spent intimate time with the Pacific Ocean, immersed themselves in physical union with pristine Big Creek (Big Sur) and shared lamentation with lakes and parched wildlife. On their expedition, they discovered some upsetting truths about pollution and corporate water ‘mining’. Whereas, they were buoyed by the news of intervention methods which clean and recycle water in both domestic and agricultural sectors. Some of their stops included visits with water treatment plant workers, biologists and a party of elephant seals. There were also some sweet and tender moments when they dropped by to see Annie Sprinkle’s family. In this film, there seems to be a greater emphasis upon Annie Sprinkle’s life-long Ecosexual liaisons with water. But, they perhaps made this directorial choice because their first documentary collaboration, Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story (2014), focuses upon the Earth’s Appalachian Mountain region, where Beth Stephens grew up.

Although Ecosexuality does not seem confined to the LGBTQIAE communities, and appears to extend through and beyond any (and all) sexual orientations and genders, it makes sense that Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle are pioneers in this pool. It is not only their own personal life histories that have led them to this place, but also the broader intermingling creative culture, communities and landscapes in which they have lived and loved. What comes to my mind, when listening to the recital of the Ecosexual Manifesto, is that these said “skinny dippers, sun worshipers and star gazers” (among others) populate the Radical Faerie Sanctuaries, the many Queer nude beaches, as well as the diligently sought out ‘secret’ swimming holes, deep in the forests. And those notorious Queercore punks in Olympia, who made a mud wrestling pit in their back garden (circa 1998), were possibly Ecosexuals too.

In some respects, there may be some cross pollination between Sexecology and Process-Relational Philosophy. However, Dr Sara Ahmed’s opening comments in her essay, Orientations: Toward a Queer Phenomenology, may offer more immediate insights:

“If orientation is a matter of how we reside in space, then sexual orientation might also be a matter of residence, of how we inhabit spaces, and who or what we inhabit spaces with.”

But, for those who might be sceptical, it could be argued that the roots of Ecosexual representations are clearly present in Lesbian and Feminist experimental film & video such as Barbara Hammer’s groundbreaking 16mm film Dyketactics (1974) and Shani Mootoo’s video Her Sweetness Lingers (1994). In addition, the literary groundings may have been laid out in the writings of Mary Oliver and Rachel Carson.

Whether they are ‘marrying’ the Earth’s bodies of water in lavish performance ceremonies or playing with sexual innuendo, Stephens and Sprinkle use mischievous humour and absurdity as useful tools to allow respite from heaviness and to enhance audience engagement. Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure is a film in good company. In my opinion, it is among some of the most memorable and humorous screen-based Feminist performance art, a category in which I include Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno series (2008-2009). In a series that plausibly falls into Ecosexual territory, Rossellini has also demonstrated that absurd humour in performance art can be a remarkably effective tool for education.

Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure is aimed at, and has the potential to reach, a wide variety of publics. Even though there are ongoing intimate discussions, mild nudity and displays of Ecosexual affection throughout the duration of this ‘Adventure’, there is a surprising ambiance of innocence and a refreshing lack of cynicism. It will likely draw the interest of: Environmentalists, Artists, Art Academics, Intersectional Feminists, Wild Swimmers, members of the LGBTQIE communities, Geography students and perhaps Process-Relational thinkers. As a consequence, it would add much to programmes in: film societies, art galleries, museums and university class rooms. There may be some who will claim that this film does not delve down far enough into some of the topics that it covers. However, it could be seen as an access point to deeper discussions about climate change, pollution, the Anthropocene, settler colonialism, Indigenous Water Protectors, sexual orientations and socially engaged/activist art practice. And, perhaps it could be a primer for films such as This Changes Everything (2015) and Water on the Table (2010) which provide more in-depth analysis of multinational corporate control of water and the impacts of capitalism upon climate change.

But, there are some things that have been lingering in my mind. I have been reminiscing about what might constitute my own Ecosexual journey: Skinny dipping after sundown, our bodies tracing phosphorescent trails in the dark waters of English Bay. Night sky gazing, transfixed by the Perseid meteor shower, warm beach-sand at my back. And, scaling majestic snowy Seymour in the brilliant Spring sunshine, with a romantic Radical Faerie. For those who are feeling crushed by impending climate doom, I feel that there is something unusually hopeful and powerful that Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure offers the viewers. Near the end of the film, Katie Alderman (E.A.R.TH. Lab intern) attests that, for her, Ecosexuality is about “fighting the despair [of climate change] with joy”.

Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure had its New York premier at MoMA in February 2019. It is distributed by Juno Films.

Revisions

15 March 2019 17.45 Link to Bad Girls Season updated.
17 March Nicola White is now trail-blazing

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

Powered by WPeMatico

From Climate Cultures: Paul Michael Henry on UNFIX

From Climate Cultures: Paul Michael Henry, artist and artistic director of UNFIX, writes about UNFIX 2019 in Glasgow (29-31 March).

“… People keep mis-labelling it ‘Unfixed’ or ‘The Unfix’ but it’s UNFIX: a command form. A verb and activity.

A loosening, disburdening, freeing-up. Anti-fatalistic, with the assumption that it doesn’t have to be like this. I experience climate change as a terrible affirmation: we cannot treat each other, ourselves and our surroundings this way. We can’t walk around with these egos functioning the way they do, and live.”

Read the rest of the blog.

ecoartscotland has commissioned Christiana Bissett to report from the Festival. More to follow.

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

Powered by WPeMatico

Agriculture and aquaculture, but no culture

Top Image: Newton Harrison, The Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland (2018). Detail: one of ten panels.

The Scottish Government recently published Climate Ready Scotland: Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme 2019-2024 A Consultation Draft – the consultation is open through 9th April 2019.

The focus of this work is on adaptation rather than mitigation.

As Ben Twist of Creative Carbon Scotland explained, mitigation is carbon reduction. Adaptation is about responding to the impacts of climate change: how do we change what we do and how we do it to deal with the changes and uncertainties of global warming? There are practical changes and behavioural changes. Some ‘adaptation’ measures ensure that infrastructure (eg energy and transport) can cope, and other actions are encouraging significant changes to farming practices. Community action is an important aspect too. Given this range it is surprising that culture only features as an aspect of heritage, and the arts don’t feature at all.

The survey is pretty specifically geared around professionals already directly involved in adaptation work engaging with technical questions of programme design. It might be more effective for people from culture and the arts to write letters outlining our role, giving specific examples of relevant work – projects and ways of working. There is an email address climatechangeadaptation@gov.scot.

ecoartscotland has regularly highlighted artists’ and organisations’ work on climate change, or as Helen Mayer Harrison (1927-2018) and Newton Harrison (b. 1932) conceptualised it, ‘The Force Majeure’.

Like an oncoming storm front, the Force Majeure is a fluid frontier; a frontier of heat moving across the planet; a frontier of water advancing on lands; a frontier of extinctions touching all lives. It is a frontier from which we retreat, yet within which we must also adapt.

Center for the Study of the Force Majeurewebsite

The consultation document opens with the following statement from Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform,

Adapting to the changing climate will both help to create a better society for everyone who lives here and unlock Scotland’s immense potential as a nation.

Climate Ready Scotland

It goes on to say,

I want the second Adaptation Programme to deliver a step change in collaboration, and emphasise the wider co-benefits of climate action.

In an essay a few years ago the Harrisons said,

We hold that every place is telling the story of its own becoming, which is another way of saying that it is continually creating its own history and we join that conversation of place.

‘Knotted ropes, rings, lattices and lace: Retrofitting biodiversity into the cultural landscape?’ in Barthlott, Wilhelm and Matthias Winiger, eds.,Biodiversity: A Challenge for Development Research and Policy.Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer-Verlag, p. 14.

Working with The Barn in Aberdeenshire, Newton Harrison and his colleagues from The Center for the Study of the Force Majeure have been developing The Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland, a vision which specifically sets out to imagine Scotland as the first industrialised nation to put back more into the web of life than it takes out. The vision focuses on farming, agriculture and aquaculture (in particular lagoons), and frames these within a ‘Commons of Mind’ – the need for recognition of the prima facie need to adapt in the face of the Force Majeure.

The Barn invited the Harrisons and the Center for the Study of the Force Majeure to Aberdeenshire because of the floods along the river Dee in 2016 caused by Storm Frank. The resulting discussions with the James Hutton Institute and Scottish Rural University Colleges, supported by SEFARI funding, highlighted holistic approaches addressing the settlement, the watershed and the nation. Connections have been drawn to work in other small nations including Sweden and Taiwan and the work has been exhibited in Scotland and in the Taipei Biennial.

The Cabinet Secretary’s ambitions for the Adaptation Programme to produce ‘a more just society’ are critical. The problem is that the Programme does not address the fundamental reimagining required for humans to give back more to the web of life than we take out.

For instance, the Consultation document says of ‘Climate Change Adaptation Behaviours’,

This is where individuals and organisations change their behaviour to help increase their resilience to, and reduce the severity of, negative consequences of climate change.

Climate Ready Scotland

What is missing is actively strengthening the web of life by choosing to, for instance, grow biodiversity, not just in fragments, but comprehensively. So in changing farming it is not enough to simply plant a few more trees and allow for spreading of waters if that doesn’t tackle the ‘agricultural extinction’ that is monocultural farming. Intelligently greening settlements needs to achieve massively greater and connected (not fragmented) biodiversity, which in turn might provide human benefits in terms of edible landscapes (see for example the work of Dundee Urban Orchard and Loughborough University’s Eat Your Campus– both of which are artist-led) and more engaged, interconnected communities while at the same time reducing the impact of heatwaves on urban environments. The Deep Wealth calls for holistic thinking that puts the web of life first.

Co-incidentally there is a piece in Arts Professional from Judith Knight, quoting Amitav Ghosh’s book The Great Derangement,

“When future generations look back upon the Great Derangement, they will certainly blame the leaders and politicians of this time for their failure to address the climate crisis. But they may well hold artists and writers to be equally culpable – for the imagining of possibilities is not, after all, the job of politicians and bureaucrats.”

(p. )

The Harrisons provide a compelling vision for a different way of living, focused by the need to adapt to The Force Majeure.

There are a number of projects across Scotland which specifically address adaptation, in addition to The Deep WealthThe Stove’s We Live With Water raises questions about how to live with regular flooding, questioning conventional flood defence approaches. Matt Baker described it as,

…an alternative approach and try to imagine a future where increased rainfall, sea-levels and river surges would be seen as an opportunity. We tried to imagine Dumfries as River Town…. a place that embraced its environment… a place that Lives With Water.

The Stove

website

Cooking Sections’ ongoing project Climavore, which was developed in collaboration with Atlas Arts on Skye specifically addresses ‘eating as climate changes’. They say,

“It sets out to envision seasons of food production and consumption that react to man-induced climatic events and landscape alterations.”

Climavorewebsite

Projects in other places such as Eve Mosher’s High Water Line in New York City, featured in Creative Carbon Scotland’s Library of Creative Sustainability, draw attention to the impact of storm surges which will become more frequent as global warming accelerates.

Community Energy focused initiatives including Land Art Generator Glasgow go beyond simple mitigation (carbon reduction) to envisage community owned energy production and local grids for urban contexts.

Arts projects which address climate change, whatever the focus, almost always involve collaboration with scientists and engineers and engage with communities – interdisciplinary and participatory. A recent paper, ‘Raising the Temperature’: The arts in a warming planet (Galafassi et al 2017 Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 31:71–79) highlights that art addressing climate change has grown nearly 20-fold over the ten years they reviewed.

Creative Carbon Scotland’s continuing programme of Green Tease events builds networks, and its new Creative Europe funded Cultural Adaptations project brings artists into working with Sustainability and Adaptation focused organisations.

Even the Scottish Government’s Scottish Energy Strategy: The future of energy in Scotland (2017) says,

We will explore, through the development of a Culture Strategy for Scotland, ways that Scotland’s culture sectors and creative industries can help communities imagine a green future, and to help us all adapt to the changes and opportunities.

(p. 13)

So why does the Adaptation Programme talk about agriculture and aquaculture, but not culture or culture change? Where are the arts? The word culture literally doesn’t appear… (The Heritage sector is significantly represented and is a key stakeholder in the Adaptation Programme.)

It’s a consultation – submit your work and experience – tell them what you do and who it connects with – email it to them at climatechangeadaptation@gov.scot. Tweet it tagging @ecoartscotlandand @CultureAdapts and also @ScotGovClimate

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

Powered by WPeMatico

Adriana Ford #art4wetlands on WetlandLIFE at RamsarCOP13

Flamingoes on the Ras Al Khor wetlands with Dubai’s skyline in the background. Photo: Adriana Ford

For World Wetlands Day, Adriana Ford reports on the WetlandLIFEproject’s side event at the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in Dubai and how it was received. Highlighting the various contributions (on the Community Voice Method and by two of the artists Victoria Leslie and Kerry Morrison), Adriana goes on to report on the responses from the audience (who ‘got’ what the arts and cultural value focused approaches had to offer).


If you were to ask any wetland expert what is the conference to attend for connecting to global wetlands networks, it will most likely be the Ramsar Convention COP (Conference of Parties). It’s like the wetlands version of the UN Climate Change Conference which happens each year (typically making the news), as delegates from governments and other organisations from across the world gather to discuss and make decisions on the issues facing wetlands. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands may not be quite as well-known, but it is the oldest of all the modern global intergovernmental environmental agreements, adopted in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar (coming into force in 1975), with an impressive 170 Contracting Parties.

The Ramsar Convention states its mission as,

“the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world.”

It provides a framework for wetland management and protection at a global to local scale, including the designation of protected “Ramsar sites”. Every three years, the COP – the decision-making body made up of the governments that are the Contracting Parties to the Convention – meets in a different country, to assess progress and to make decisions about how to improve the processes and implementation of the Convention. The most recent COP (COP13) met in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, from 21st-29th October 2018.

It’s the first time I’ve been to a COP, but for a long while I’ve been curious about how they work and what’s involved. What I did know was that the Ramsar COP13 offered a unique and significant opportunity for WetlandLIFE to internationalise our impact and to make important new connections.  WetlandLIFE is a three year multi-institutional research project funded by the Valuing Nature Programme, exploring narratives and values around wetlands, particularly from a health and wellbeing perspective, and also the role of mosquitoes within this. Our research is focused in England, but our interdisciplinary approaches and findings have far broader applicability. So, I applied for a competitive place to host a “side event” at the conference. Held at lunchtimes and in the evenings of the COP, in between the plenary discussions, these side events provide an opportunity for organisations to present and discuss ideas and projects to the most relevant and global audience of wetland practitioners and experts that you could ask for.

We had been allocated a 75 minute slot on the penultimate day of COP13, for our session titled, ‘Sense of Place & Wellbeing in Wetlands: Using Film and the Arts to achieve SDG3’.  After arriving a few days early to navigate the COP and attend other side events (and of course, to promote our own!), I was joined by a small team, comprised of two of our WetlandLIFE artists, Victoria Leslie and Kerry Morrison; Chris Fremantle – a researcher, artist and cultural historian and advisor to WetlandLIFE; and Dave Pritchard – a freelance environmental consultant with extensive experience of the Ramsar Convention, who is also Coordinator of the Ramsar Culture Network.

Together, our aim was to exemplify and discuss ways that the arts, humanities and social sciences can be used either individually or alongside other disciplines to work towards Sustainable Development Goal 3 – Good Health and Wellbeing – for wetlands, particularly through sharing our experiences from WetlandLIFE.  I introduced our audience to Community Voice Method, a social sciences approach which uses filmed interviews as a way of bringing together different experiences and perspectives in an engaging way. When we screen our short films in the spring, they will act as a catalyst for further discourse and deliberation on wetland values and management. Our artists also introduced their work, from poetry and creative writing, to mosquito caravans and bird hides as creative hubs, as ways to both understand and create value and connectivity around wetlands and nature.

Our session was well attended, with representation from at least 12 countries in our audience, from the Middle East, Africa, The Americas, Europe and Asia, and we were fortunate to count two members of the Ramsar Secretariat amongst them. I think it would be fair to say we were prepared to justify our approaches of using the arts, imagining our audience to be potentially sceptical about its value for practical wetland management.  The response, however, was much to the contrary.

The enthusiasm for our approaches was clear and came from all sides. Paraphrasing a few comments from the discussion,

“for many years Ramsar has tried to convince people to save wetlands based on wildlife; then they tried economic values. But this [arts and culture] works. Getting people to think about how they value wetlands is what’s needed,”

and, “Until we can translate cultural values into resolutions we are going to struggle, and this is at the core,”

and quite enthusiastically, “We need to multiply this project [WetlandLIFE] everywhere!”

What became apparent from the discussions was that far from cultural values (and approaches of tapping into those) being considered a luxury afforded only to university projects such as ours, they are recognised as having a crucial role to play in Ramsar, because despite the many successes, wetlands across the globe continue to be degraded and destroyed, and new approaches are required. The idea of tapping into the hearts of people – communities, and indeed decision-makers – through creative and visual approaches may be part of what’s needed to help protect these hugely important, but often overlooked, ecosystems.

The experiences we gained from hosting our session at the Ramsar COP has been reassuring and motivating. We are keen now to build upon this momentum, with plans to take forward the discussions this year with key organisations and networks including Defra and the Ramsar Culture Network. We will be thinking about how cultural values and approaches can be better embedded into the Convention, and from our perspective, how WetlandLIFE can contribute to this, with the hope that somehow we can make a difference on the international stage.

Flamingoes feeding on the Ras Al Khor wetlands in Dubai, UAE. Photo: Adriana Ford


Dr Adriana Ford is a Research Fellow in Environmental Social Sciences at the University of Greenwich, and Coordinator of the Greenwich Maritime Centre.

Please email a.ford@gre.ac.uk for more information, and download the presentation Presentation Ramsar COP13 WetlandLIFE

Adriana works on various aspects of the human dimensions of  environmental management and conservation, including human-nature relationships, cultural values, wellbeing, and sustainable development.  She is currently working on WetlandLIFE, an interdisciplinary Valuing Nature project exploring the values of wetlands from a health and wellbeing perspective. She has also worked on projects exploring linkages between small-scale fisheries and responsible tourism, and has a broad interest in marine and coastal environments through her role in the Greenwich Maritime Centre.

Prior to Greenwich, Adriana worked as a teaching and research fellow at University of York, where she was also awarded her PhD on invasive species management in Australia. Adriana has also worked in Tanzania for a sustainable forestry initiative, and has an MSc from Imperial College London, and a BA(Hons) from the University of Cambridge.

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

Powered by WPeMatico

Valuing Nature: what do artists contribute?

Artists have been valuing nature probably since we first marked the wall of a cave or whistled like a bird – artists have always rendered nature visible. Artists valuing nature have explored human ‘value’ (Monet’s Haystacks and Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed both render human use of nature visible), but they have also articulated human meaning imposed on nature (Shakespeare’s King Lear thinking the storm is nature mirroring his mental state). ecoartists over the past 50+ years have focused not so much on the literally visible but on making visible the relational and systemic. Their motivation is often the destruction caused by our extraction of value from nature without regard to health or sustainability.

Most art, including the historical precedents mentioned and in particular ecoart, might be seen in juxtaposition with other forms of valuing nature such as ecosystem services. Dave Pritchard articulated the deeper history underlying the emergence of the ecosystem services in an email to the ecoartnework listserve on 9 April 2011. He wrote,

For a time, in the 1970s-80s, there was some of the kind of “reconsideration” you describe [referring to a previous post], with the “deep ecology” of Naess, Bateson, Berry et al. But if you analyse the evolution of the actual policy and advocacy discourse at 10-yearly intervals, for example from the 1972 Stockholm Conference to the 1982 World Conservation Strategy to the 1992 Rio Conference to the 2002 Johannesburg Summit (and then maybe in advance of the Rio+20 summit in 2012 look at the Aichi targets adopted last year), it has swung completely away from any ethics of “existence value” for the non-human component, to a forced justification (in adversarial arenas) in terms of “sustainable development”, “wise use”, “evidence-based conservation”, “ecosystem services” and (largely monetary) valuation of those services. The environmental movement (of which I am a part) congratulates itself on having found better ways of expressing the critical nature of ecosystems within broader mainstream audiences and processes, in this way. But this has all been done by becoming MORE anthropocentric and utilitarian; not less.

Dave Pritchard’s drawing out of one vector of the trajectory of valuing, away from the intrinsic and into the instrumentalised, provides a useful frame for understanding that what we see now as oppositional – arts and humanities approaches versus social and natural science-based methods of valuing nature. His marking of the moments in the intergovernmental conferences and his articulation of the key phrases is the beginning of a cultural history of environmental policy.

However, in the work of Helen Mayer Harrison (1927-2018) and Newton Harrison (b. 1932), known as ‘the Harrisons’, this split isn’t necessarily the case.

Professor Emeritus Anne Douglas and I have been writing about (and working with) the Harrisons, the pioneering post conceptual ecological artists, for some years now. Sadly, Helen Mayer Harrison died this year (aged 90), but we continue to work with Newton Harrison. You can find out more about that work by checking out The Barn website, and by searching this site http://ecoartscotland.net.

We are just in the process of finishing a new essay which focuses on the ways in which the work of the Harrisons might address calls for epistemologies other than the positivistic one which has increasingly dominated our understanding of the natural world. This builds on two other essays we have published recently on their practice and in particular their poetics.

The Harrisons’ work focuses on the lifeweb and in particular on points of inconsistency and contradiction saying,

We have come to believe that inconsistency and contradiction are generated by the processes of cognition, thinking and doing, and have the important role to play of stimulating and evoking creativity and improvisation, which are inherent in the processes of the mind that have led us to do this work.
Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, ‘Public Culture and Sustainable Practices: Peninsula Europe from an ecodiversity perspective, posing questions to Complexity Scientists,’ (Structure and Dynamics: eJournal of Anthropological and Related Sciences: Vol. 2: No. 3, Article 3), p23

In our essay ‘Inconsistency and contradiction: lessons in improvisation in the work of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison’ published in Elemental: An Art and Ecology Reader, we look particularly at the ways that the artists use moments of inconsistency and contradiction as points of intervention. We explore the way they engage imaginatively with metaphor – for them it is dysfunctional metaphors (such as calling places to live ‘developments’ rather than ‘settlements’) which underlie the inconsistencies and contradictions. The works take the form of policy proposals, manifest in poetic texts and images, installations and films, which offer alternative ways of imagining life where we put the health of the lifeweb first.

The second essay, ‘What poetry does best: the Harrisons’ poetics of being and acting in the world’ published in the Harrisons’ The Time of the Force Majeure, a survey of their collaboration over 50 years, focuses on their language, in particular dialogue, and their understanding of improvisation. We explore the way that the works open up the possibility for the audience to imagine living differently, as part of a healthy lifeweb.

The Harrisons’ overarching project, which they have pursued for something like 50 years, is to put us humans back into the ecosystem. This is an underlying refrain in all their work, for example in Serpentine Lattice (1993) they said,

THEN
A NEW REVERSAL OF GROUND COMES INTO BEING
WHERE HUMAN ACTIVITY BECOMES A FIGURE
WITHIN AN ECOLOGICAL FIELD
AS SIMULTANEOUSLY THE ECOLOGY CEASES T0 BE
AN EVER SHRINKING FIGURE
WITHIN THE FIELD OF HUMAN ACTIVITY
Harrison, Newton and Harrison, Helen Mayer, Serpentine Lattice, the Douglas M Cooley Memorial Gallery, Reed College, Portland, Oregon 1993

Within this the Harrisons have taken on issues of watersoilforests and brownfield. They have worked in watersheds and bioregions as well at the scale of the European Peninsula and the Tibetan high ground. The climate crisis – which they define as having three aspects – sea level rise, heatwave and biodiversity loss/extinction, is the manifestation of our dysfunctional relationship with the lifeweb. In essence their message is the message of Deep Ecology.

Yet Serpentine Lattice, created at the invitation of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, in addressing the destruction of the Pacific Temperate Rainforest, includes a proposal for redirecting a proportion of Gross National Product to the restoration of the forest.

In Peninsula Europe (2001) they enumerate the amount of water that falls on the European peninsula annually (1,430 cubic kilometers per year and that’s just on the high ground). Based on this they propose a Water Tax to pay for the restoration of the soils and the reforesting of the land above 360 meters.

This might seem superficially similar to recent approaches which have moved from analysis of ecosystem services to natural capital accounting. These latter moves have resulted in statements such as the Great Barrier Reef is an asset worth $42 billion dollars to the Australian economy, or bees are worth £651 million annually to the UK economy.

Our essay addresses both how these figures and proposals operate as part the Harrisons’ poetics, contributing to the repositioning of human systems within the ecological systems. The Harrisons’ approach to valuing nature does not start with a financial given (eg the value of UK Agriculture, and then identify the importance of bees, quantify bees, and financialise bees). The Harrisons’ works start with an ecological reality, an intrinsic good, such as the Pacific Temperate Rainforest. Often this is an already damaged ecosystem. The art work makes visible the value of the whole ecosystem and offers quantification in order to propose new human systems (such as taxes) that begin to remedy the impacts of extraction.


Chris Fremantle will be presenting a case study on the Harrisons’ Greenhouse Britain: Losing Ground, Gaining Wisdom (2007-09) in the ‘Valuing the Arts Valuing Nature’ session at the Valuing Nature Conference 2018 this week.

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.</ br></ br>

Go to EcoArtScotland

Powered by WPeMatico

Creative Sustainability

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

I don’t know how many people listened to the Moral Maze on Radio 4 on Wednesday evening (10th October)? In the week of the IPCC report saying we have 12 years before we go through the 1.5 degrees of global warming threshold, the programme brought together a debate on the moral implications.

The debate was framed in terms of the competing moral goods between future generations and developing countries, both of whom will disproportionately suffer the impacts of climate breakdown.

The first three witnesses broadly focused on economics and in particular the question ‘Is growth the problem or the solution?’ Can we grow and innovate our way out of the problem (Leo Barasi)? Or do we need to fly less, eat less meat and generally change our lifestyles to be more sustainable and less consuming (George Monbiot)? One of the issues underlying the discussion is the role of ‘progress’. Progress has generated global warming but it has also resulted in longer life spans, lower infant mortality, and more developed countries pay more attention to the environment.

The final speaker was Charlotte Du Caan from the Dark Mountain projectto open up the cultural dimension. The panelists mostly agreed with the Dark Mountain manifesto, except the end of this sentence,

We do not believe that everything will be fine. We are not even sure, based on current definitions of progress and improvement, that we want it to be.

The panelist interpreted the Dark Mountain project as having a death wish, to be nihilist, rather than to be opening up a fundamental question of culture. Somehow the fundamental point got lost: ‘Do we want to continue with a culture that promotes individualism that results in endemic mental health problems?’ or ‘Do we want to live in a culture that promotes unlimited consumption of for example fashion, making fashion one of the most polluting and destructive industries?’ or ‘Do we want a culture that disconnects us from the rest of the living world?’

Actually the economic/progress argument is the wrong argument and the cultural argument was not fully grasped in the debate (although at least the cultural dimension was recognized as relevant).

So Creative Carbon Scotland has just launched its Library of Creative SustainabilityCreative Carbon Scotland is one of the organisations who are saying culture has a central role in addressing the environmental crisis in all its dimensions – climate breakdown, pollution, extinction…

The projects highlighted in the Library are all artists working with organisations long term on specific issues in specific contexts. To pick just one example, SLOW Clean UP involves artist Frances Whitehead, Chicago City Council and various University Science Departments working together on cleaning up petroleum pollution in the middle of communities in Chicago by creating gardens. Using plants which have specific capacities (hyperaccumulators) to suck up the pollution, the project cleaned up the test site, identified a significant number of new plants, as well as involving communities in their own environmental health. In the US whilst this approach is known and understood, unless the land has significant economic value, no-one bothers.

What is important is that this is not a binary debate on growth and progress, but rather cultural change towards a different set of values.

All the projects in the new Library demonstrate approaching challenges differently, creative innovations, and involving people in their own places produces new values that are more sustainable.

Have a look at the way artists are ’embedding’ themselves in organisations and contexts to work long term.

 


This project is supported by ecoartscotland and Gray’s School of Art, Robert Gordon University through an Interface Innovation Voucher.


 

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

Sir Peter Scott: the embodiment of art and conservation

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

As part of the #art4wetlands series the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT)have very kindly provided us with the following images and story on their founder, artist and conservationist Sir Peter Scott. Sir Peter epitomises one of the many ways that the power of art can be brought to bear on the challenges of conservation. One of the WWT reserve managers mentioned that every time Sir Peter wanted to do work to improve a reserve he would simply, “create another painting to sell.”

Image courtesy of Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT)

Sir Peter Scott (1909-1989) knew how to take action, and how to inspire others.  He was a visionary who understood that people and nature are part of the same intertwined ecosystem. He realised – ahead of his time – that our wealth, our health and our emotional wellbeing all depend on the natural world. He understood that showing people how amazing nature is, can ignite a passion to conserve it.

Scott was an accomplished artist, writer, world-class sportsman, Naval Commander and the son of one of the most famous explorers of the 20th Century.  Famously, his father’s last letter from Antarctica prophetically instructed his wife to “Make the boy interested in nature – it is so much better than sports.”  As fate would have it, he was brilliant at both.

Image courtesy of WWT

Added to this he was an extraordinary wildlife artist with a particular passion for wildfowl art.  He produced hundreds of original wildfowl artworks in his lifetime and his deep love of painting birds must surely have driven his passion for working to save wetlands and wildfowl around the world.

In 1945/6 he became determined to set up a Wildfowl Trust – but where?  At Slimbridge – he had a ‘eureka’ moment.  Here, on the banks of the River Severn in Gloucestershire he spotted two unbelievably rare Lesser White-Fronted Geese in a flock of White-Fronted Geese.  So, Slimbridge would become the home of the Severn Wildfowl Trust – later to become the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

More than that, he began to address wider, global conservation issues.  A co-founder and first chairman of the World Wildlife Fund (1961), his work on international conservation issues continued over the coming decades.  He was instrumental in setting up the Ramsar Convention in 1971.  This international agreement works to protect wetlands of international importance and now includes over 2,300 sites covering 2 million square kilometres. In 1982 he established an international moratorium on whaling and later worked to secure agreements for the protection of Antarctica from international exploitation.  In 1973 he became the first person to be knighted for services to conservation.

Sir Peter Scott with Néné Geese. Image courtesy of WWT

Over the coming years he developed new conservation techniques and honed existing ideas; he saved the Hawaiian Goose (the Néné) from extinction; he established international protocols for conservation (i.e. the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species) still used today to categorise the conservation status of all known species; he brokered national and international agreements for the conservation of wildlife; he championed research into the damage done to our wild places and how to address this; he tracked the migratory patterns of wetland birds; he resolved to work across borders to protect their flyways and – insightful as ever – he recognised the power of bringing wildlife into people’s homes through the evolving medium of television and his ‘Look’ series on the BBC.

It is hard to identify anyone before him who had such an impact on raising conservation issues with the general public, and on bringing governments together to address global issues.


 

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

#art4wetlands

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Welcome to a new series of posts here and on Twitter @ecoartscotlandfocused on art, artists and wetlands using the hashtag #art4wetlands. Feel free to join in by posting using this hashtag or contacting us with suggestions for blogs. We’ll be publishing weekly between now and the Ramsar Convention Conference of the Parties #RamsarCOP13 which takes place in October 2018 in Dubai, UAE.

Wetlands are amongst the most widely threatened habitats world-wide. Threats include unsustainable urban development e.g. being drained for housing development; pollution from urban settlements, industry and agriculture; invasive species, as well as overharvesting. According to analyses by Ramsar,

The global extent of wetlands is now estimated to have declined between 64-71% in the 20th century, and wetland losses and degradation continue worldwide.

But the biggest threat is a perception that to quote the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, wetlands are,

…misunderstood and undervalued by people, leading to a desire to replace them with more ‘useful’ and ‘productive’ options such as housing developments and agricultural land.

Wetlands are a fundamental part of the water cycle, with a key role in cleaning water as it moves from smaller bodies into larger ones (rivers, seas, oceans). Wetlands are critical to many migratory animals and hence their careful management is an internationally shared responsibility. Wetlands are also home to a multitude of amphibious species. Wetlands such as saltmarshes and mangroves stabilise littoral zones, reducing coastal erosion and storm damage to properties.

Artists have represented waterbirds since neolithic times, and the Ramsar Convention published Ramsar Cultural Heritage Information Pack 10 Wetlands – an inspiration in art, literature, music and folklore

Betsy Damon, The Living Water Garden, Chengdu, 1998

More recently Peter Howard’s piece Wetland Landscapes in English Arthighlighted how during the 18th and 19th Centuries artists in this country’s tradition marked changes in perceptions of wetlands. Pieces by contemporary artists Simon Read (Communities and Coastal Change) and Betsy Damon (The Sounds of Water) open up contemporary activist practices where artists are not just representing wetlands but also getting directly involved in conservation and wise use.

Limmo Ecology Park visited during the HydroCitizenship Research, Photo: Simon Read

We have assembled a programme highlighting artists working in different ways on issues such as habitat restoration, pollution and biodiversity loss. We have examples from all six of the Ramsar Convention’s regions (Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America & the Caribbean, North America, and Oceania).

The Ramsar Convention’s Culture Network underpins this initiative which draws on the expertise of members of the Network’s Art Focus Group. The Ramsar Convention has a longstanding commitment to culture and the arts from its adoption in 1971 through a series of Resolutions to its partnership with the MAVA Foundation and others in the Ramsar Culture Network (2011-18). As part of World Wetlands Day every year the Ramsar Convention holds the Global Wetlands Youth Photo Competition.

Please share examples of artists (whether now or in the ancient past) contributing to wetlands conservation and wise use with the hashtag #art4wetlands. We are particularly interested in art that makes a difference and we look forward to learning about new examples over the next four months.


 

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.</ br></ br>

Go to EcoArtScotland

Review: ‘Marlene Creates: Places, Paths, and Pauses’

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Introduction

The monograph Marlene Creates: Places, Paths, and Pauses was published last year to coincide with a touring retrospective of the work of Marlene Creates, co-curated by Susan Gibson Garvey and Andrea Kunard. The exhibition was organised by the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in partnership with Dalhousie Art Gallery, it launched in September 2017 and is touring to different locations across Canada until 2020.

This beautifully produced monograph is my first introduction to the work of the Canadian environmental artist Marlene Creates (pronounced “Kreets”). Reading the book acquainted me with the breadth of Creates’ ‘discreet’ practice (p.15) through many crisply reproduced photographs, showing details and exhibition installations of her work. The photographs are accompanied by Creates’ own commentary, giving succinct insights into some of the motivations and processes behind her different bodies of work. Because photography has been the main medium for Creates to document and share her work with others, it translates well onto the printed page.

Overview

Creates’ work is clustered into chronologically ordered bodies of work as follows:

  1. Landworks, 1979-1985, Works based on my responses as a visitor to places;
  2. Works with Memory Maps, 1986-1991, Works based on the relationship of people I met to their own places;
  3. Signs of Our Time, 1992-2003, Works with signage about public notices, official boundaries and prohibitions;
  4. Transition, Transitional works in the midst of a decade working with public signs;
  5. Works from Blast Hole Pond Road (ongoing since 2002), a multi year “slow” engagement with the six-acre patch of boreal forest where I live.(examples of many of the works discussed can be viewed on Marlene Creates’ website) You can see the exhibition at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery thanks to a video made by Jon Pedersen, a filmmaker in Fredericton.

Certain bodies of work come across particularly well within the context of the book. These include Sleeping Places, Newfoundland, 1982, where her haunting series of photographs show the squashed vegetation left by the sleeping imprint of Creates’ own body; and the works where Creates’ hand is pressed against the surface of standing stones and trees in A Hand to Standing Stones, Scotland, 1983 and Larch, Spruce, Fir, Birch, Hand, Blast Hole Pond Road, Newfoundland, 2007. The format of the book is large enough to see the detail of crushed foliage in the Sleeping Places series and the texture of stone, lichen, bark and skin in the Hand to Standing Stones and Larch, Spruce, Fir, Birch, Hand series. These bodies of work communicate a strong sense of the equality of relationship with nature that Creates’ work seeks to explore – the framing of the photographs shows the equal pressing of lichen-encrusted stone/bark to hand as hand to stone/bark.

This comprehensive overview of Creates’ work is interlaced with critical essays, each exploring a different aspect of the artists’ practice. The essays are written by the curators/editors, the poet Don McKay, the art historian Joan M. Schwartz, and the author Robert Macfarlane. I completed the book feeling as though I had enjoyed slowly wandering around the rooms of the Creates’ retrospective, engaging in different conversations after each room, each showing me the work through a different lens and offering rich insights into Creates’ thoughtful practice.

The first of these essays, Written in the Land, Present in the Place, is by Susan Gibson Garvey. In this essay Gibson Garvey maps the main themes of Creates’ work from the earliest gestures in the landscape to her most recent immersive work in the six acres of boreal forest that surround her home. It is a very readable, well-paced essay, offering insightful commentary around many of the developing themes that run through Creates’ practice. I have explored this essay in greater detail than the others as it is here that we first become acquainted with many of the ideas returned to in subsequent essays.

Gibson Garvey starts by contrasting Creates’ ‘ecologically sensitive art practice,’ with the work of ‘more immediately spectacular,’ environmental photographers such as Edward Burtynsky (p.15). She argues that it is the ‘acute awareness,’ ‘formal restraint,’ and ‘understated wit,’ of Creates’ practice that give the work its strength (p.15). As an example of Creates’ ‘discreet’ art practice Gibson Garvey describes one of Creates’ early interventions, Stone Ground Drawing: Wave Patterns, Lake Nipissing, 1986, where Creates arranged pebbles so that they mirrored the patterns in the waves approaching the shore. The work lasted until the next high tide when the pebbles were scattered. Gibson Garvey quotes Creates’ statement that the intention of this work was to draw attention to the waves themselves: ‘“What I would like people to notice the most when they look at my sculpture is, in fact, not the sculpture but the waves.”’ (p.16)

The essay makes a convincing argument for Creates’ work to be seen in relation to feminist earth/body practices of artists such as Ana Mendieta. In her Paper Stones and Water series Creates lays a roll of absorbent paper in different environments, where it is subject to change through encountering the elements – blown by the wind or splattered by raindrops. Gibson Garvey argues that ‘simplicity, economy, seriality, and […] sufficiency,’ are key to Creates’ practice, and frames the fragile Paper Stones and Water series as an ‘act of resistance, on behalf both of the environment and of women’ (p.16). Creates herself states that she was working ‘in deliberate opposition to large-scale earthworks – high impact interventions made in the land with excavators and bulldozers in the 1960’s and 70’s’ (p.13).

This argument is given weight when Gibson Garvey emphasises the importance, for Creates, of seeing the particular in the landscape rather than ‘scoping a scene’: ‘The hand must touch, the voice must utter, the body must be present. We are in the land, inseparable from that which provides the nourishment and raw materials on which we depend. There is no “out there” there, because out there is still us.’ (p.20)

Gibson Garvey cites Rebecca Solnit’s discussion of Creates’ work to describe the important shift in Creates’ practice – her growing understanding of the layers of nature and culture that exist in every landscape, summed up by Solnit’s sentence, ‘“Most landscapes are also territories.”’ (p.16) This shift is clearly seen in the works exploring the relationship of relocated, elderly Labradorians to their remembered homelands in The Distance Between Two Points is Measured in Memories, Laborador, 1988. Once again Gibson Garvey is here highlighting the quiet politics of Creates’ work – ‘contradicting political assertions about the “emptiness” of Labrador.’ (p.19)

There is a very succinct summary of Creates’ description of the different phases of her practice within this essay. Creates describes her landworks as works made ‘“in the first person,”’ the shift to working with other peoples memories of place results in work made ‘“in the second person.”’ Creates’ questioning of cultural assumptions about places in the signs projects is described as work ‘“in the third person”’. Following this summary Gibson Garvey argues that Creates’ most recent work, made in her six-acre, boreal forest home, returns to ‘“first person”’ and also creates the position of ‘no person’ in the work where her trail camera takes photographs when triggered by the movement of animals (p.18). Gibson Garvey argues that Creates, in her boreal forest home, is ‘intent on addressing nature as one subjectivity to another,’ and relates this intention to the thought of Martin Buber. In particular she is interested in Buber’s “I-Thou” concept in relation to Creates’ work, stating that ‘it could be argued that Creates has been saying “Thou” to nature for some considerable time.’ (p.19) This argument is taken one stage further in what Gibson Garvey describes as Creates’ ‘reversal of the gaze,’ in Water Flowing to the Sea Captured at the Speed of Light, Blast Hole Pond River, Newfoundland, 2002-2003, where a camera placed underwater takes photos of the artist, simulating the eye of the river (p.20).

Finally Gibson Garvey points to the part language plays in Creates’ The Boreal Poetry Garden. At the start of this project Creates wrote short poems and photographed them in the places that had inspired their writing. Now the poems are only spoken to small audiences in situ. Gibson Garvey states that this may result in a ‘privileged’ audience. However, this is balanced by the ethics of Creates’ practice, bound to ‘specificity’ and not ‘populism’. The question of privilege in relation to the boreal forest work is explored later in this review.

The Gibson Garvey essay is followed by the images of Landworks. These include the Paper, Stones and Water series, Sleeping Places, Newfoundland 1982 and A Hand to Standing Stones, Scotland 1983. Don McKay’s poem Sleeping Places is included within this section along with his short reflection on Creates’ work – Some Thoughts on Sleeping Places. The poem mirrors the understated aesthetic of Creates’ work in its short lines and simplicity. It maps some of the associations that the poet experienced through his encounter with the work from the delicate to the sinister. The poem acts as an invitation to experience Creates’ work for oneself – to let the mind travel with the imagery in different directions and not just look to where the essays signpost the reader.

The poem starts and ends with the question ‘what is nothing doing’ [sic] which McKay intends as an ‘ungettable riddle’ or Zen koan. He writes about his interest in koans and Taoist poetry in his reflection on Sleeping Places, saying of the old Taoist poets:

Their “bows” to the wilderness involved a slightness and subtlety of gesture that would be good preparation for experiencing works like Sleeping Places, Newfoundland, 1982. (p.49)

McKay states that Creates’ work holds a strong connection to Taoist thought, particularly in relation to what he describes as ‘an engaged “spiritual ecology”’. He describes the important difference between this ‘true ecology’ and the ‘conventional humanism of Romanticism, which tends to focus on the human emotional response to nature rather than to bow toward nature itself.’ He concludes:

We need more such bows if a true ecology is to become widespread. I think of Tu Fu’s line “I inhabit my absence,” which could well serve as a subtitle for Creates’ Sleeping Places. (p.49)

Don McKay’s poem and reflection balances well with the more analytical essays in the book.

Within the second section of Creates’ work: Works with Memory Maps, 1986-1991, is an essay titled Marlene Creates, Visual Geographer by Joan M. Schwartz. In this essay Schwartz frames Creates’ practice within the field of geography, stating that Creates ‘traffics in the geographical imagination, laying bare the processes by which people come to know the world and their place in it.’ (p.71) Schwartz highlights the ways in which Creates questions how we read the landscape and relates this to the ‘terrain of historical and cultural geographers.’ (p.71)

So what is the ‘geographical imagination’ that Marlene Creates ‘traffics’? Schwartz describes how Creates questions idealised notions of a life on the land by showing how particular people relate to places within The Distance Between Two Points is Measured in Memories – mapping a ‘“cultural” experience of place.’ Schwartz quotes Creates’ notion of place: ‘“The land is not an abstract physical location but a place, charged with personal significance, shaping the images we have of ourselves.”’ (p.72) She states that ‘it is in this foregrounding of place in the formation of identity that Creates excels as a visual geographer.’ (p.72)

Schwartz describes how Creates makes the layered meaning of places visible in her signs projects. For example, Creates juxtaposes a sign describing the coastline as ‘Natural and Scenic’ with a statement describing a previous industrial use of the land that played a significant role in forming the present day ‘view’. This exposing of environmental histories is what Creates describes as the ‘“intersection of geography with memory.”’ (p.74) Schwartz argues that by ‘exposing the tension between public and personal expressions of place, they [the signs] prompt private contemplation of one’s situation in space and time.’ (p.76)

In this essay Schwartz introduces a more geographically nuanced framework to explore many of the points already raised in the book. It seems a helpful insight to frame Creates’ practice within the geographical imagination, as it highlights the tactics that Creates used and uses to interrogate our relationship to the land and to place. The revisiting of themes addressed by the first two essays does make for repetition, however. But the essay, in its own right, creates an interesting framework for reflecting on Creates’ practice.

Robert Macfarlane’s essay, Hollow Places and Wordcaves, is placed within the third section of works: Signs of Our Time, 1992–2003. The essay starts with an entry from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s journal describing his encounter with ‘“A hollow place in the rock like a coffin.”’ Macfarlane says that this description sprang to mind when he first encountered Sleeping Places, Newfoundland, 1982. As with McKay, but using different imagery, Macfarlane describes his layered response to this work and states that ‘This wish to allow landscape its layeredness seems to me the defining quality of Creates’s art.’ (p.101) He then goes on to make similar points to Gibson Garvey and Schwartz about Creates’ refusal of romanticism and her interest in nature-culture relations. (Again, the repetition is noticeable.)

Macfarlane identifies the ‘sensing body’ as key to the making of Creates’ work. He links this use of the body as an instrument of knowledge to a lineage of ‘philosopher artists’ including Marcel Mauss, John Muir, Richard Jefferies, and Jacquetta Hawks and identifies a particularly strong link between Creates and Nan Shepherd. Macfarlane states that in her book, The Living Mountain, Nan Shepherd describes how ‘she explored the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland through her “flesh” and “bones” as well as through her eyes.’ (p.102) He goes on to explore parallels between the two women – sharing ‘a fascination with place names and the language of place […] they share an interest in the seeming paradox of a “humanised wild”.’ Macfarlane also describes a parallel between Shepherd’s and Creates’ attention to the particular in the landscapes that they attend to, and importantly their shared attention to the social history of place. Macfarlane points out both the ethnographic importance of this interest and that it acts as ‘an active politics of what might be called resistance through specificity,’ particularly in Creates’ questioning of notions of the empty wilderness of Labrador through memory mapping in The Distance Between Two Points is Measured in Memories. (p.103)

This last point leads Macfarlane to link the work of Creates to others engaged in paying attention to the relationships that people have with specific places in order to resist ‘generalisation and exploitation.’ These include Hugh Brody’s Masterful Maps and Dreams (1986), Iain Sinclair’s Ghost Milk, and the artist’s booklet A-mach an Gleann (A Known Wilderness), made by Jon MacLeod and Anne Campbell in response to the Outer Hebridean islanders fight with AMEC. (p.103)*

(At this point the reader may pause to reflect: set within the context of ‘generalisation and exploitation’, Creates’ later boreal forest work raises questions that go unaddressed by Macfarlane and the other essayists. It could be argued, for example, that the later work maintains a quiet resistance through particular acts of attention. But this has a different quality to working in a context that is overtly exploited. To put it all too crudely – a person standing in a deep state of mindfulness within occupied or disputed territories has a very different resonance to a person standing in an equally mindful state in their own garden.)

Macfarlane pays particular attention to Creates’ interest in the relationship between language and landscape, which he describes as the ‘illocutionary power of place-language: its ability to reform as well as to deform our relations with place.’ (p.105) Macfarlane maps this relationship of language and place in Creates’ practice, from The Distance Between Two Points, through the signs projects and ‘rising to a peak of intensity in her recent book Brickle Nish and Knobbly: A Newfoundland Treasury of Terms for Ice and Snow, Blast Hole Pond River, Winter 2012-2013.’ (p.104) All Creates’ language projects highlight how the specificity of language can ‘refine our acts of perception,’ and resist the homogenisation of dominant western culture. Here it is through seeing the differences in phenomena of ice and snow rather than ‘a cold white blur’ (p.105).

In addition to other pertinent analogies, Macfarlane ends his essay by quoting a poem by Paul Celan which includes the translated term ‘“wordcaves”’. The wordcaves are places where language that has been emptied out can be made useful again. (p.106) With a beautiful symmetry Macfarlane relates this image back to the opening image of Coleridge’s ‘“hollow place”’, a space offering both shelter and hazard, as Creates’ Sleeping Places appear both comfortable and exposed, weaving both the essay and Creates’ practice into a satisfying sense of wholeness.

The final essay is the longest in the book and more academic in tone. In Here and Away: The Photography of Marlene Creates, Andrea Kunard discusses Creates’ use of photography as a medium and the place of her work within photographic discourse.

The essay opens by questioning the notion of photography as a medium that ‘stills time.’ (p.139) Kunard outlines an alternative reading of photography as process – ‘it engages individuals in actions, providing a performative space for its realisation.’ (p.139) She argues that the work of Creates fits far more easily into this process-performative category. Kunard uses Creates’ Paper, Stones and Water 1979-1985 to illustrate this point, describing how these photographs contain all the surrounding activity of journey, thought and preparation that went into their making as well as the gesture caught in ‘the performative space the photograph provides.’ The photographs also contain a sense of the time beyond their taking, the viewer sees a fragile material (paper) or stones on a shore that will soon be destroyed or rearranged by the elements. Another example is the knowledge that the squashed grasses in the Sleeping Places series will have already started to recover even in the instant of the camera shutter’s click. As Kunard writes, ‘Creates’ projects reveal how photographs are performative acts or gestures that proclaim something real for the present, and retain it for the future.’ (p.141)

In her discussion of The Distance Between Two Points is Measured in Memories, Labrador 1988, Kunard highlights the importance of text in contextualising the photographs, and the role of the accompanying objects – turf, sand etc. – in bringing the work into the present for the viewer, ‘nudging spectators into an appreciation of the object and present-ness of all the assemblages’ constituent elements.’ (p.142) She relates this to the power of a lock of hair tucked alongside a photograph in a nineteenth-century locket. The ability of photographs to strengthen family bonds is also discussed in relation to the family photograph album and Creates’ Places of Presence: Newfoundland kin and ancestral land, Newfoundland, 1989-1991 (p.142)

Kunard argues that Creates combines the ability of the photograph to still time and reveal process in her Hand photographs. Later she also makes mention of what could be considered a more significant quality of these photographs – their ability to show in fine detail the qualities and textures of stone, lichen, bark and skin. Interestingly it is in this essay that we first become aware that the boreal forest in which Creates’ current work unfolds belongs to her, as Kunard discloses:

‘in the series Larch, Spruce, Fir, Birch, Hand, Blast Hole Pond Road, Newfoundland 2007 (ongoing), her hand, now much older, appears pressed against a tree trunk on the artist’s property.’ (p.143)

(Another reader reflection: Creates never sets this later work within the context of property or ownership, perhaps because she does not consider the trees in the boreal forest to be hers. Or perhaps she intuits that this knowledge would be distracting for the viewer. Nevertheless, reading the word ‘property’ immediately shifted how I read the work – setting the hand in a possible gesture of claim or possession, jarring with my previous understanding of the work as communicating a sense of equal relationship. In balancing this tension it is important to note that the protection Creates’ ownership brings to the six acres of boreal forest has enabled her to develop a deeply intimate relationship with this place, as shown powerfully through the work Spots of Memory: what I remembered during one month away after six years on Blast Hole Pond Road, Newfoundland 2008 where a hand-drawn map is filled with the artist’s abbreviated descriptions of particular toponyms (descriptive names for places – discussed in Macpharlane’s essay). This may not have been possible for Creates in the more vulnerable position of a ‘visitor’ rather than ‘landowner’. Hence the question: has this intimacy of knowledge now become a privilege of ownership and thus protection?)

The Kunard essay ends with a discussion of Water Flowing to the Sea Captured at the Speed of Light, Blast Hole Pond River, Newfoundland 2002-2003 where Creates submerged a camera in the river to take photographs of the artist through the water. Kunard argues that this work ‘personalises place, fusing the artist with the land.’(p.145) She also points out that this work introduces into Creates’ practice a giving up of control over the outcome of the final image. This is further amplified in Creates’ work What Came to Light at Blast Hole Pond River, Newfoundland 2015 (ongoing) where the camera shutter is triggered by the movement of animals through a motion detector. These works highlight Creates’ use of the medium of photography as an evolving process rather than a static moment in time:

‘This use of photography as process is always a movement outwards; it is never static but engaging, never singular but informed by and informing other media, including language.’(p.146)

Indeed it is the randomness caught in the moment of the camera shutter in What Came to Light that highlight and emphasise the sense of a world full of motion and life beyond the pictures’ limits. The book ends with these expansive photographs and thus opens out into the world beyond its pages.

Conclusion

When seen as a whole the images, commentary and essays of Marlene Creates: Places, Paths, and Pauses create a richly woven tapestry that enable the reader to gain insight and understanding into Creates’ ‘discreet’ oeuvre; an oeuvre that I am pleased to have encountered and feel deserves greater recognition. (This is clearly the aim of the editors). However, as indicated by my ‘reader reflections’, the book as a whole is a touch too gentle. It clearly brings together reflections from those who hold the work of Creates in high regard. But it rarely poses critical questions that the work itself may be asking. This could have been amended by an interview with the artist, raising more probing questions about the work and its contexts. Equally, there is a little too much repetition in the points made and examples used in the essays, particularly in relation to Creates’ ideas around place and a cultural reading of the landscape. More in-depth discussion of Creates’ recent work might have created a greater balance and less repetition. The last word, however, is one of respect: Creates’ work makes its powerful presence felt through its understated quietness. I am left with a reverberating sense of the layered histories present in the land around us, and a desire to walk more slowly and connect with the particularity of place.

 


* AMEC placed an application to site the UK’s largest windfarm on what they repeatedly described as ‘waste’ space and ‘wilderness’.


Sarah Gittins is a visual artist based in Edinburgh. She works across a variety of media, with a particular focus on drawing and printmaking. Her work explores issues of environmental justice, with a current emphasis on issues of climate change, resource use and food sustainability.

www.sarahgittins.net


 

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