ecoartscotland

“Ambulatory Knowing”: Architecture, Access, and the Anthropocene

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This post is jointly authored by Holly Keasey and Fiona P McDonald (Bio below), another resident on the Santa Fe Art Institute’s Water Rights Programme.


By ‘becoming knowledgeable’ I mean that knowledge is grown along the myriad of paths we take as we make our ways through the world in the course of everyday activities, rather than assembled from information obtained from numerous fixed locations. Thus it is by ‘walking along’ from place to place, and not by building up from local particulars that we come to know what we do.
‘Footprints through the weather-world: walking, breathing, knowing’ – Tim Ingold (2010)


 

Walking is generally assumed as a basic mode of transportation. However, walking (or any movement based on ability) through a place when undertaken as a collaborative tactic finds its way into becoming something else – a way of knowing and doing. Walking for Holly is a way to get lost and yet find what she did not know was already embodied knowledge through making connections between her feet, this place and that which she carries with her from other places. The practice of walking is something she shares with Fiona, who uses walking as a methodology central in her anthropological and collaborative work. By embracing anthropologist Tim Ingold’s logic of “ambulatory knowing”, Holly and Fiona set off on foot and offer a narrative of their shared visual observations from almost 20miles of walking, particularly considering how architecture may be tied to accessibility in New Mexico during the Anthropocene, our human-made geological epoch.

72 hours after arriving in Santa Fe, a group of Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI) Residents headed to learn more about local fabrication facilities. While we left our residency on the campus compound by car to arrive in the industrial area where these facilities are located, we then left this industrial zone on foot. We set our destination to be the downtown plaza, a major tourist site. According to Google Maps, it was going to be a mere 4.2mile walk. The intent of our journey on foot was to get a better handle on what we perceived to be the urban sprawl of Santa Fe. In this instance in Santa Fe, we are both tourists and temporary residents/researchers in-place to carry out work that contributes to global conversations around water. To know the terrain, its waterways, and its urban nuances is critical to our work, knowledge we felt was best acquired through walking through place where we will be for several weeks and months.

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As we moved beyond the industrial area, a space that appears to be in the process of revitalization with a range of art centers tucked around each corner, we arrived at Agua Fria Street, a main traffic artery that draws commuters to and from the downtown plaza. Unaware at this point that we were undertaking an ethnography on foot, what has since resulted is the realization that we were not only becoming geographically oriented, but we were witnessing the socio-economic divides that the main transportation arteries create in Santa Fe, observations that now inform core research questions during our tenure in Santa Fe.

We crossed Agua Fria to consider a brief toilet break at Frenchy’s field. However, we pressed on without stopping. Unbeknown to us, had we abandoned the path set out by Google Maps and embraced Holly’s approach of wandering, our first impressions of the socio-economic divide of Santa Fe would have been very different. We might have followed the Santa Fe River trail (see our observations below on that walk, taken more recently) that moves pedestrians and cyclists through more affluent communities. Yet we continued on the path of Aguia Fria Street where we observed what appeared to be makeshift wooden and wire fences guarded by a variety of dogs from frantically barking Pit Bulls to a jack-in-a-box Pekingese who warned residents of our presence on the pavement. Our perception of the American ideal of independence and property ownership played out along this single 3 mile stretch, with individual properties reflecting a range of values from ornamentation to fortification, to clustered communities off the beaten path.

Holly pausing in her footsteps to look at cluster dwelling in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Holly pausing in her footsteps to look at cluster dwelling in Santa Fe, New Mexico

As we pressed closer to downtown in the space between the intersectional roads of St. Francis Drive and South Guadalupe Street an economic divide became apparent. The adobe vernacular we had seen in the previous three miles, often in disrepair, was now well-maintained and occupied by art galleries, restaurants, schools and homes with low-fences so that passersby could see the manicured yards with local vegetation accompanied by rock installations. It felt to us that the community along Agua Fria Street is undergoing a constant compression of gentrification from both ends. We wondered, when squeezed so far, where will this community go and what policies are driving property shifts in Santa Fe?
The following Saturday, to escape the campus compound once more and locate Santa Fe in the greater expanse that is New Mexico, we abandoned our feet and took the highway seventy miles North following the Rio Grande to Taos. The main area of Taos holds many similarities to Santa Fe, with adobe-style housing and dramatic shifts in socio-economic situations radiating outwards from the central tourist orientated plaza to the leisure mecca of Ski Valley. Yet beyond the town, and truly off the beaten path, is the ‘Greater World Earthship Community’ – a 633 acre subdivision containing nothing but earthship style homes. Here we ventured on foot to explore what we could of this biotecture community.

Holly taking steps in learning about biotecture in New Mexico.

Holly taking steps in learning about biotecture in New Mexico

Sample structures of the Greater World Community of Earthships, New Mexico

Sample structures of the Greater World Community of Earthships, New Mexico

Investing $7 each to enter the Earthship Visitor Center to learn about structures, materials, etc., (too complex to go into here) our conversation drifted to the concept of “sustainability” in the anthropocene. We found ourselves mesmerized by the exclusivity of the community and what the front-end costs are for participating in this lifestyle. As one of three Earthship communities in New Mexico, and part of a larger network across the US that began in the 1970s, one can join this community and purchase a newly built structure for just over $1.5 million US Dollars (as we were told in the visitor center). Playing in here to what Van Jones terms the “eco-elite” (2007).

On our third excursion off the campus compound in the three weeks since arriving, we decided to explore the Santa Fe Rail Trail multi-use pedestrian system, the elusive path we did not know to take during our pause at Frenchy’s field on our first walking odyssey. In walking this trail for 8 miles, we, again, observed disparate socio-economic communities, this time divided by the parched bed of the Santa Fe River. Again, closer to the main roads where the Santa Fe Trail crosses over, communities similar to that along Aguia Fria Street are visible. Edge deeper along the trail network and communities framed by high fences appear as they conceal well-maintained adobe homes with renewable energy sources on their roofs and water catchment practices in their backyards.

Sample of Sustainable Energy on a private residence

Sample of Sustainable Energy on a private residence

What we discovered in the act of ambulatory knowing in Santa Fe is that development and accessibility to secure, sustainable lifestyles appears to be exclusive. The individuals and families to whom it appears inaccessible are those being compressed by brownfield and urban gentrification, or hugging major roadways. By prioritising economic growth, and then the environment (as a capitalised resource) over social equality, there is something in our current understandings of sustainability that grows mainly out-of-sight in the interstitial spaces of policy, urban planning, and environmental consciousness. Something that can become knowledge through curbside learning and walking. It is in this action of walking and visual observation where we find the questions we need to ask in our own work about policy, law, regulation, and planning as our work here develops with each passing day and the paths we find ourself walking down.

Photos by Fiona P. McDonald


Bibliography

Ingold, Tim. 2010. “Footprints through the weather-world: walking, breathing, knowing.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute: S121-S139.

Jones, Van. 2009. Beyond Eco-Apartheid. Available at: http://truth-out.org/archive/component/k2/item/70209:van-jones–beyond-ecoapartheid

Welch, Bryan. 2009. “Earthships: The Power of Unconventional Ideas.” Available at:

http://www.motherearthnews.com/green-homes/earthships-michael-reynolds-zb0z12fmzsto

Taos and the Greater World Earthship Community. Homepage: http://earthship.com/blogs/2015/03/taos-the-greater-world-community/


Bio for Fiona P. McDonald, PhD. (Anthropologist, Curator)

Fiona P. McDonald is the 2016-2019 Postdoctoral Researcher at Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) Arts and Humanities Institute. She is also a 2017 Water Rights Resident at the Santa Fe Art Institute. Fiona completed her PhD (2014) in the Department of Anthropology at University College London (UCL) in visual anthropology & material culture. Her dissertation is entitled Charting Material Memories: a visual and material ethnography of the transformations of woollen blankets in contemporary art, craft, and Indigenous regalia in Canada, Aotearoa/New Zealand, and the United States. This project was undertaken as both an historic and contemporary visual and material ethnography of the material nature and transformations of woollen (trade) blankets that were produced in the United Kingdom since the seventeenth century. Her work addresses both historical and contemporary uses of woollen blankets through a direct examination of the pluralistic histories that things and objects have when re-worked and recycled by contemporary artists and customary makers in North American and Aotearoa New Zealand. Fiona is currently translating this research into a book project.

Fiona is also the co-founder of Ethnographic Terminalia Collective (ETC) (est.2009), an international curatorial collective that curates exhibitions at the intersections of arts and anthropology. ETC have curated and organized exhibitions and workshops across North America (Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco, Montreal, New York, Austin, Chicago, Denver, and Vancouver) where they aim to move academic research beyond the academy through public engagement.

Research interests are: Water, Energy studies, Indigenous material and visual culture, repatriation, oral histories, contemporary Indigenous art, curatorial theory, performance theory, and museum studies.

www.fiona-p-mcdonald.com


 

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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Holly Keasey: gravel pits, acequias and shared interests

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“Gravel pits offer a casual archaeology of the meeting places of nature and culture, past and present, construction and destruction, indigenous peoples and colonizers, art and life, creeping globalisation and local survival…”
Undermining: A wild ride through land use, politics, and art in the changing west
L. Lippard (The New Press, 2014)


 

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The writings of Lucy Lippard are essential reading for anyone interested in the relations between contemporary art, dematerialisation, feminism, social change etc. Her theory of domestic tourism, in particular, has heavily influenced the framework I have developed for my own practice which uses the act of touring as a methodology within research. Yet reading her latest book, Undermining which conducts an archaeological dig through the impacts of the gravel industry on her hometown, Galisteo, thirty miles from SFAI, pushes the notions of ‘being in place’ and the use of ‘site’ as a focal node to the forefront of my thinking.

Spanish colonists arrived in New Mexico in the mid-sixteenth century. Faced with an arid topography similar to their native Spain, they discovered notable similarities between the irrigation practices of the Indigenous people and the systems of centralized, community based irrigation practices, known as acequias, which were common in Spain (originally brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Arabs). It was this similarity of practice around the allocation of water rights that eventually saw Indigenous water usage become a permanent feature of Spanish and later Mexican water customs, despite the introduction of written water laws as an intentional form of dominating power (see the New Mexico Museum of Art’s page on the history and politics of water)

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Acequias can therefore been seen as sites where different cultures congregated due to a shared understanding of what was necessary for survival. This is also reflective of the term’s root in the Arab word as-Saquiya, which means ‘the Water Bearer’, referring to both the actual irrigation channel and to the association of members organized around it. However, it was in 1848 that this system of irrigation was dramatically challenged by the arrival of the American government into New Mexico, along with its laws that prioritised the belief in individual liberty (see the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s page on Liberty, Diversity and Slavery). This challenge continues even today, with water rights claimants being subjected to the burden of proving water usage prior to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and US Government Bureau of Land Management leasing land and therefore water rights for the purposes of fracking (see the Santa Fe New Mexican for more on the local story).

However, suggestions like those of S. Helmreich in his essay, Nature/Culture/Seawater, that water is anthropologically understood as both a substance and symbol in the world, draws attention back to the importance and role of acequias, and water in general, as sites where communities, ideas and socio-economic constructs will always meet. Water is not an independent entity. The potential within the act of gathering around water is central to the SFAI residency – which over the past week has become more apparent as myself and my cohorts have learnt more about each-others areas of research. Current residents at SFAI who also arrived this month and will be present throughout my stay at SFAI include:

  • River Healers, an activist group working towards re-establish water as a recognised commons. Whilst on residency, River Healers will be mapping corporate executives and government officials that are either directly or indirectly terrorizing New Mexican regional community rights to clean water resources. This will include the composition of a New Mexico water terrorist list that will serve strategic resistance for regionalist water protectors and redirect the U.S. federal administrations attempt to dehumanize and prosecute non-violent people by registering them as domestic terrorists.
  • Anna Macleod, an independent researcher and visual artist based in the northwest of Ireland. She will be expanding an on-going series of water projects which sit with the umbrella term, ‘Water Conversations’. Articulated in varying mediums the projects explore water as a global commons through cultural, political, social and environmental lenses. During her residency, Anna is researching cultural mechanisms of resilience and resistance in communities facing water threats by industry and climate change.
  • Dr. Fiona P. McDonald, a visual anthropologist who specializes in water as material culture. Fiona is the 2016-2019 Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) Arts & Humanities Institute and co-founder of Ethnographic Terminalia Collective, an international curatorial collective that curates exhibitions at the intersections of arts and anthropology. While at SFAI, she is advancing a new research arts-based sensory ethnography related to Anthropology in the Anthropocene that looks at the role of water in our everyday lives.

The opportunity to focus on water within our individual projects and collectively, through formal and casual discussions that occur when you live and work together, can only be beneficial to expanding our approaches and supportive networks during and beyond the thematic residency format. Yet personally, I like to look at this thematic-residency as a micro-model of how water is a site that will always encourage a collating of difference around a shared focal interest.



About Eco/Art/Scot/Land :

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

Holly Keasey: Santa Fe Art Instutite Water Rights Residency – Introduction

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Holly Keasey is currently undertaking a residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute as part of the Water Rights programme. During the next 8 weeks Holly will be sending regular updates.


“156. Why is the sky blue? -A fair enough question, and one I have learned the answer to several times. Yet every time I try to explain it to someone or remember it to myself, it eludes me. Now I like to remember the question alone, as it reminds me that my mind is essentially a sieve, that I am mortal.

157. The part I do remember: that the blue of the sky depends on the darkness of empty space behind it. As one optics journal puts it, “The color of any planetary atmosphere viewed against the black of space and illuminated by a sunlike star will also be blue.” In which case blue is something of an ecstatic accident produced by void and fire.”
― Maggie Nelson, Bluets (Wave Books, 2009)

A primary observation when arriving in Santa Fe, New Mexico is blueness. Blueness not of water like I am accustomed – that blue filled with surrounding green and a durational dampness – but rather blueness that reflects a niggling lack. A blue where no cloud resides.

A second observation enforces that niggle further as you become physically aware that breathing in this geographical climate, and therefore basic survival here, is a laboured task.*

And a third observation then pushes that niggle down into the gutturals, as the dominant ‘Santa Fe Style’ architecture** conjures up an uncanny reminder of Disney World and yet inside a fe-adobe building you can still find an independent coffee shop, generic in style and intended cliental to any recently gentrified area.

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Yet, it is observations like these that make Santa Fe a prime site for reflections on ecological situations developing across the globe and fortunately, many individuals, community groups and organisations here are already undertaking such reflections and acting upon them. This includes Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI) that run an annual residency programme with set thematic, which for 2016/17 is ‘Water Rights’.

SFAI was established in 1985 by William Lumpkins and Pony Ault to provide unique opportunities for artists to conduct brief, intense periods of study. The current programme format continues and expands upon this original intention, hosting over fifty local, national or international creative thinkers, artists, designers, educators, policy makers, poets, architects, journalists, and activists to reflect on the issue of ‘Water Rights’ for one to three month periods. During these times, residents are able to establish a network of peers working within a common context; are provided support to develop collaborations such as with the Land Arts of the American West programme and the Academy for the Love of Learning; encouraged to develop their professional profile through press coverage with media consortiums such as Circle of Blue; given access to the community workspace MAKE Santa Fe; and invited to attend interdisciplinary discussions with other research institutes such as Santa Fe Institute that conduct research on complex system-theory application.

That said, the primary purpose is to provide residents the time and space to conduct research and/or develop new work in relation to ‘Water Rights’ which may, one-day, indirectly impact the water rights of the surrounding area.

New Mexico is a state where all its waters sources are transboundary (i.e. are shared with other States), a situation that continues to add to a complex history of water rights influenced by the cultures of the Pueblos, the Spanish Colonists and US Federal Government. This history includes occurrences, such as the use of written law as a weapon of dominating power, that reflect Karl Wittfogel’s theory of the Hydraulic Empire, when control of a society is established through the manipulation of its water supply.11 My particular area of research during this 8-week residency will be on this misuse of law and whether non-specialists can develop tactics that makes use of their potential misunderstandings of intended meaning to create space to dream of alternatives. This research will be part of an on-going body of performative work that aims to establish a need for critical formations of public art to aid ecologically sensitive modes of living, with a particular focus on Water Sensitive Urban Design.

So far though, myself and several of my fellow residents have spent our time soaking in much needed doses of vitamin D as we say hello to the sun after dark winters whilst accepting that altitude sickness has a similar and undesirable effect of a heavy night of drinking and a life-time smoking habit, and it can last twenty-five days.

* The human body works most efficiently at sea level whilst at high altitudes the saturation of oxyhemoglobin in the blood plummets. Santa Fe is situated at 7198 feet above sea level.

** Also known as Pueblo Revival style, it is a regional architectural style that is mandate on all new-buildings in the central Santa Fe area. This includes the use of rounded corners, irregular parapets and thick battered walls to simulate original adobe construction.


Holly Keasey is an artist currently based between Dundee and Stockholm. She graduated with a BA in Art, Philosophy and Contemporary Practice from the University of Dundee in 2011 and completed a post-masters course in Critical Habitats from the Department of Architecture at the Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm in 2016. Holly’s focus is on the performative role of public art and her approach to practice has led her to take on a variety of roles including Chair-person for the Generator Projects Committee, lead-artist for the Clyde River Foundation and writer-in-residence for Doggerland. More recently, Holly has produced collaborative designs with artist-design Jessie Giovane-Staniland including finalists in the tender competition for the restaurant design of the Dundee branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum; been the DD artist-in-residence at THIStudios; and recently exhibited a solo show at the Scottish Jute Museum. She is currently working with Studio Mossutställningar to program work challenging the urban development at Norra Djurgardsstaden, Stockholm and producing a one-off publication with Kathryn Briggs of Ess Publications on over-coming trauma through aesthetics.



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

CIWEM Award for LAGI Glasgow Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CIWEM’s Press Release is here.

 

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

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

Go to EcoArtScotland

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Sánchez-León and Douglas: There is a work in the interpretation of the Work* – A Report

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John Latham facing the Niddrie Woman. Photo Murdo Macdonald

An interdisciplinary “bing”** seminar and public discussion in four parts.

Nuria Sánchez-León and Professor Anne Douglas have very kindly provided ecoartscotland with a detailed report on the recent seminar, “There is a work in the interpretation of the Work”, organised in conjunction with the exhibition “Context is Half the Work: A partial history of the Artist Placement Group” at Summerhall Arts Centre in Edinburgh.  The seminar particularly focused on the contemporary relevance of John Latham‘s Placement in the Scottish Office and his work reimagining the bings of West Lothian.  The seminar was organised by Tim Collins, Reiko Goto and Ross Maclean, respectively two artists and a landscape architect.

On Saturday 1st October, Summerhall, Edinburgh, between 60-70 people met in the former Royal School of Veterinary Studies, now a creative hub for the arts with studio and workshop spaces. It is curious that a building previously used by scientists was now revived through the arts.  The seminar set out to revisit another example of an artist re-imagining something apparently redundant. The Cairn Lecture Theatre was almost full with students, artists, curators, researchers from different disciplines as well as philosophers, engineers, historians, social and natural scientists. Although only 10-15 people acknowledged ever having visited the bings, the focus of the event, in person, all of them were concerned with what early 20th Century spoil heaps could mean to 21st century understandings of art and environment. In fact an underpinning question of the entire event was this, ‘why is John Latham and Artist Placement Group (APG)’s  conceptual art under-recognized in Scotland?’ How would the valuing of this kind of work prompt a very different set of institutional policies and practices? The audience interaction, questions and activities revealed the resonance of such questions across the five or so hours of the event.

The symposium addressed the West Lothian bings as a context for exploring ecology from three interdisciplinary perspectives: art & aesthetics, landscape & ecology and heritage & community. The objective was to question if John Latham´s approach to the bings as a “process sculpture”, a “cumulative unconscious act”, provided a precedent for a different aesthetic/ethical relationship to post-industrial land. As part of this exploration was a possible paradox: while the Greendyke Bing has been recognized as a scheduled national monument since 1995, other bings are currently being mined as a source of aggregate. A clear objective of the seminar was to propose interdisciplinary ways of evaluating the bings, in part to prevent their removal altogether.

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Tim Collins opened the discussion asking about the aesthetic and social values that define these spaces.  Collins briefly reviewed their history in parallel with the history of art in public spaces from Alan Sonfist, Robert Morris and Land Art to Charles Jencks’ recent work at Crawick by Sanquhar in Dumfries.  He laid out a list of competing meanings of the bings such as ecological niche, public space, landform akin to earth art, and a veritable mountain of industrial waste.

The first panel included Prof Craig Richardson, Prof Emily Brady and artists David Harding and Barbara Steveni.

Craig Richardson offered an historical overview pivoting on the APG actions taken by John Latham during the period of three months he spent at the Scottish Office in 1975-76. Latham had opened up questions such as – Was removing them the only solution? -and in response he proposed a re-conceptualization of the bings. He viewed them as monuments to Scotland´s bygone industrial era. He suggested that we needed to accept the bings for what they were, or might become in a post-industrial culture. Re-naming them as ‘sculpture’ would be a way of redeeming the shame associated with this massive volume of inert material resulting from an industrial process. As a sculptor Latham could understand the bings as a process of movement of materials on a significant scale. As an artist he could read the aerial view of the bings figuratively: he renamed the cluster of Greendykes Bings as The Niddrie Woman, a dismembered figure reminiscent of pre-historic art.

Emily Brady, as a philosopher, presented an aesthetic overview based in David Hume´s ideas of the Sublime and Aldo Leopold´s holistic ethics regarding land, where humans are citizens in the land and part of a biological community that includes soils, water, animals and plants. She pointed out that, in the environmental discussion, thinking in the next generation is crucial to developing an intergenerational aesthetic in dialogue with environmental aesthetics. Environmental aesthetics, in her construction, goes beyond the visual and picturesque into the temporal. Cases like Fair Park Lagoon by Patricia Johansson and Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson could in her view, inform the bings in a new set of relations between art, land and ecology. Art is currently reconceptualising land and ecology just as John Latham reconceptualised the bings as a sculptural process layering time. The challenge now is how to imagine this place for future generations of humans and other beings in a complex way, a mixing of ecology and recreation, of an industrial past connecting a quite different present and future, in which people are embedded in place and part of its co-production.

Tim Collins raised the question of whether the bings were stuck in time? He asked whether the institutions of the museum and gallery in Scotland were open to accepting these as forms of art.

For Barbara Steveni this placement was one of the most exemplary from APG even though ironically, neither  the bings nor John Latham´s other proposals (the addition of pathways around The Five Sisters and additional sculptures on the high points of The Niddrie Woman) were recognized, let alone realised.

To value the bings Latham had proposed some sculptures on several summits to make the link between ‘just a bing’ or something with more meaning.

David Harding disagreed with this potentially tourist sense of sculpture. He also recognized that many were still reticent to accept this kind of public art even in the archives and collections of UK museums. Both agreed than just being in this symposium 40 years later discussing this work was already a major achievement.

For the second panel the scientist Barbra Harvie presented rigorous arguments based in an exhaustive study of the bings from the perspective of the science of ecology, stressing biodiversity and the scientific importance of the site. She revealed through her study how after 100 years of evolution, vegetation is now present in every habitat of the bings. The bings now support 350 different species in which we can find succession, colonization, transitory and rare species of flora, local rare insects and local rare birds. She pointed out the scientific interest of the bings in terms of the study of processes of ecosystem reconstruction in derelict land without human assistance.

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Reiko Goto on Empathy. Photo: Holly Knox-Yeoman

Harvie’s way of valuing the site from a classical scientific perspective was complimented and expanded by the perspective offered by Reiko Goto, artist and researcher who explored a ‘more than human’ perspective in relation to ecology. Starting from past projects such as Nine Mile Run(1996) developed with her partner Tim Collins in Pittsburgh, US, Goto realised that dialogue and the scientific study of biodiversity was not enough to understand nature. Her approach to ecology through the concept of empathy alongside scientific information, created a wider and more universal understanding of our relations with nature. In this construction nature is not something external as an object of study based on information, but a way of knowing through emotions and imagination, as part of ourselves. That wider vision motivates the artist to take action in an everyday context. She exemplified this by circulating vivid, very beautiful samples of the flora that she had collected at the bings, giving us an immediate sense of their extraordinary diversity.

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Reiko Goto’s examples of different plants from the Bings. Photo Holly Knox Yeoman

Ross Maclean in response to the presentations, raised the question: What happens if we don’t do anything (i.e. intervene in nature)?

This triggered two important observations by the respondents, Simon Burton and Wallace Heim, specialists in ecology and philosophy respectively. Burton noted the irony that the bings, effectively man–made waste, now have evolved naturally to be islands of high biodiversity within an otherwise impoverished countryside of intensive industrial farming. He illustrated this by pointing out that within the UK the richest biodiversity was 100 species in a 10 km site compared with 350 species in total within the site of the bings. He made a further point that when human beings intervene in the landscape such as through farming practices, they tend to produce low biodiversity landscapes.

Wallace Heim drew out of this discussion a further point. Before re-conceptualising the landscape, we need to re-conceptualise our understandings of waste. The waste of the bings happens not to be toxic and radioactive. It does not leach. It is waste that we can deal with in this way just as Goto and Collins’ work in Pittsburgh was a site that had the potential to regenerate itself. By implication Heim was suggesting that not all waste sites are amenable to this kind of intervention.

It would have been useful in the discussion to have developed Heim’s important point particularly in the light of the current retrospective of Mierle Laderman Ukeles at the Queens Museum, New York http://www.queensmuseum.org/2016/04/mierle-laderman-ukeles-maintenance-art. Ukeles’ practice is formed around a manifesto she wrote claiming that maintenance was art which in turn led to her 30 year position as artist in residence with the New York City Sanitation Department.  The opportunity to do so perhaps lies through this ecoartscotlandblog.

For the last panel about Heritage and Community Tim Collins revisited Ross Maclean’s question about leaving nature alone by provocatively equating the bings with a sick member of one’s family who is suffering. He asked, “Would we just let them suffer?”

For artist Peter McCaughey the solution lay in dialogue with the community who inhabit the area of bings. He juxtaposed human contact, listening, subjectivity to the accelerated processes he had witnessed as artist in residence in a new housing development in Winchburgh. The development company CALA was planning to build 3500 new homes in the area, effectively doubling the population. As resident artist McCaughey followed the processes of APG. As the incidental person, he was able to work across different interests, of developers as well as the community council effectively connecting these groups. Winchburgh would become a commuting rather than mining community. McCaughey’s work resulted in a feasibility study. In the final outcome and in an accelerated design process, newly appointed developers selected Dallas, Pierce and Quintero within a rapacious building process that did not, in McCaughey’s view, integrate the bings in the design. Without wishing to be critical of the outcome, these public artists as architects have ignored the bings instead of adopting a rhizomatic point of view involving all the stakeholders in a conversation and dialogue.

Prof Pauline Phemister concurred that dialogue is an important part of the answer. In recognizing the competing interests of ethics, art, biodiversity and people it was important to look at the problem from the perspective of what is shared, rather than what divides. She drew on the philosopher Leibnitz, his observation that the perception of beauty is key to a work of art. Beauty, ethical ways, pleasure are positive feelings which provoke love and care at the source. These are shared by the non-art world but perhaps what art, like maths, does is draw immense variety and diversity into a simplicity of form and order. Particular situations demand particular solutions as in the case of the bings, where accelerated construction appears to be counter to biodiversity, but where the energies of both forces shape the identity of individuals and their collective histories. Knowledge is essential to this process. The bings should not be ignored as they are part of a process through which we learn to live with love, just as attending to the individual plants that now grow there is to see beauty, to see the ecodependence between human and biodiverse species.

Finally David Edwards, a social scientist at Forestry Research working on environmental policy, suggested he would add economic interest and recreation values to the dimensions discussed in the seminar (art and aesthetics, ecology, heritage and community). Each represents a number of narratives that either impose meaning or build on context. The question that emerges therefore is – Who has the power? How can we mediate between the different groups to sustain the complexity of meaning embedded in the bings? He offered a very interesting triple approach to the problem. From the economist approach the range of options goes from reclamation to business as usual. In this sense an economist would undertake a cost analysis that concludes that building a golf course on the site adds to human well being as well as national wealth through raising house prices. A social scientist would map the stakeholders and their interrelations, bringing to the table a Habermassian deliberative process of reasoned debate. The Arts and Humanities are hardly mentioned in environmental debates. Whereas Economics and the Social Sciences would bring the problem to a close by seeking a solution, the Arts and Humanities would open the situation up to framing problems that we did not know we had, changing meanings in the process. Pauline Phemister developed this point by suggesting that the Arts and Humanities also brings into play the non-human and empathy. Their role was not that of neutral facilitator but one of putting into play different critical positions.

The audience justifiably pointed out that the community of the bings were missing at this event and at the debate. David Harding suggested that the politicians were also missing. Barbara Steveni reaffirmed the importance of working on the inside of power and understanding how it works in relation to past, present and future. She said, “This conference has been about how to bring all the rhizomatic structures of stakeholders together with love. I feel very optimistic about just being here discussing this…”

In conclusion the bings could be evaluated from multiple perspectives including ecological values such as biodiversity or as a site of scientific interest, or from the perspective of economic benefits through recreational values and potential tourism. However all these perspectives are quite anthropocentric, responding to the schemes of ecosystem services. Through this seminar Tim Collins, Reiko Goto and Ross Maclean wanted to address the anthropocene, exploring the implications of an environment that is now predominantly shaped by human intervention and self interest. In this light, they sought to move beyond utilitarian ways of valuing the bings, viewing this site as an opportunity to create an important mental and imaginative shift. As Barbara Steveni explained, John Latham established the first steps to another way of understanding the bings as a collective sculpture resulting from industry. In opening up this possibility, Latham enabled us to confront an instance of the anthropocene – a landscape that is man made, visual proof so to speak of radical intervention and disturbance. In the 100 years since the height of the Shale Oil industry the bings have lost their original utilitarian value and it is only now that we face the dilemma of whether or not to remove the evidence of our scarring. This is paradoxical in the sense that we are trying to save something artificial and more specifically, a product of a polluting industrial process. What has allowed us to make this mental imaginative shift, in addition to Latham’s intervention, is Nature’s capacity to heal the site over time.

The symposium was an historic occasion that brought together key individuals in a debate that reflected critically and from multiple perspectives, the implications of a human-centred era. It brought to the foreground the need for a different quality of relationship between human/non-human and the need for different temporality – not accelerated time but time paced, sufficient to put in place necessary processes of healing. It brought to the fore the complexity of diverse, potentially conflicting views that may not be solved simply but through processes such as these, processes of civic participation.
* Ref: Craig Richardson´s “John Latham: Incidental Person” (2007, pp 27.31)

** Bings are the Scottish word for industrial spoil heaps. The West Lothian bings are in some cases hill scaled and all form significant landscape features.

Authors:

Nuria Sánchez-León has a dual background in Art and Ecology. Her interest has evolved from the practice and study of the pictorical landscape to eco-art, interventions in the landscape and artistic activism towards sustainability. Her work is focused on the crisis in ecology and how artists contribute to environmental awareness and foster social transformation: addressing transition to sustainability.

Sánchez’s research involves ethical questions about the role of the artist in the community, the design of socially engaged projects, collaboration with communities, the limits of authorship, the role of empathy and the influence and real effects/impact of public art?

Currently, she has been awarded a research fellowship with the On the Edge Research, Robert Gordon University. Her objectives in the UK are to search for and analyse examples of how art (especially socially engaged art projects developed by communities) can lead to social transformation in the context of transition to sustainability.

Since 2014, Sánchez has been a research fellow at the Art and Environment Research Center (CIAE), Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV), Spain. She is part of the government funded Research & Development Project team: Environmental Humanities. Strategies for ecological empathy and transition to sustainable societies (15-2018). which emphasizes the role of visual arts and literature as important vectors of change at an ethical level to achieve the ideal of a sustainable society. She is also the Coordinator of the postgraduate Diploma of Specialization in Sustainability, environmental ethics and environmental education at the UPV.

http://ecohumanidades.webs.upv.es/

http://ecoeducacion.webs.upv.es/

Anne Douglas is a research professor, co-founder with Chris Fremantle of On the Edge Research, a doctoral and postdoctoral programme investigating the  place of the arts in public life, predominantly through practice-led research approaches. An important research strand is art and ecology. Douglas has recently co-authored with Chris Fremantle two publications on the work of the Harrisons: 2016 ‘What poetry does best: the Harrisons’ poetics of being and acting in the world’ in The Time of the Force Majeure Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison. New York:Prestel pp 455-460 and 2016 ‘Inconsistency and Contradiction: Lessons in Improvisation in the work of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison’. In Elemental: an Arts and Ecology Reader. Manchester: The Gaia Project, 2016, pp 153-181.

Douglas is  the Principal Investigator on the AHRC funded Cultural leadership and the place of the artist (2015-16) in partnership with Creative Scotland, Clore Leadership Foundation and ENCATC, the EU network of cultural management and policy with Chris Fremantle (Co-Investigator) and Dr Jonathan Price (Senior Research Fellow). She is  a research associate with Knowing from Inside , an advanced research project funded by the EU led by the renowned anthropologist, Professor Tim Ingold.

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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Ingold’s Sustainability of Everything

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Sustainability is an overused word.  It is much diminished by its occurrence in too many documents purporting to suggest that transport, local government or how anything is sustainable following the end of grant funding.  But we know that sustainability matters and thinking out of the current construction doesn’t happen nearly enough.

Tim Ingold’s lecture at the Centre for Human Ecology (Pearce Institute, Govan) on Saturday 10 September was entitled ‘The Sustainability of Everything’.  This provocative phrase came from an invitation to talk at a previous event about sustainability in relation to art and science, citizenship and democracy, love and friendship.

Ingold used ‘everything’ including qualities and processes as a way to open up a trenchant criticism of not merely the usage of sustainability but more widely the turn in science to data and the atomisation of everything.

Tim Ingold is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen.  He is known for his distinctive, arts and humanities inflected approach to anthropology.  He is currently leading ‘Knowing from the Inside’, a major European Research Council funded project involving anthropologists, archaeologists, architects and artists.

For Ingold the question of sustainability is not “How can we carry on doing what we are doing but with a bit less waste and impact?” but rather “What kind of world has a place for us and future generations?” “What does carrying on mean?” and more practically speaking “How do we make it happen?”

The key point is that everything in Ingold’s sense is not the collection of all the individual bits, but something different.  His problem with current science and current constructions of sustainability are their reliance on isolating something to analyse it.  Ingold comes at things looking for movement and entanglement rather than boundary.  To make this point he uses examples where either you don’t know where one thing ends and another starts, or examples of things in motion.  So he asks for instance whether the bird’s nest is part of the tree?  Or whether the wind that has made the tree grow bent over is part of the tree?  He asks if you can tell which part of the eddy in the stream is the ‘inside’ and which is the ‘outside’?

The importance of this approach is that it opens up new ways of experiencing and knowing which are more process oriented rather than object oriented.  Artists in particular respond enthusiastically to this way of knowing.

Ingold further developed this through Lucretius’ idea that everything is in motion and when things bump into each other they form knots – clouds are knots of water and temperature and wind.  Trees are complex knots.  Ingold evolves the idea of knots by pointing out that rope stays together through a combination of twist and friction.  He notes that harmony (eg polyphonic music) is exactly the same – a combination of elements that in themselves might initially appear to be in conflict but in relationship with each other are beautiful.  Again he’s nodding to artists ways of knowing.  In his terms everything is a “correspondence of parts” – not a totality but rather a carrying on.

Having set up this alternative way of understanding Ingold highlighted how current formulations of sustainability are underpinned by an assumption that the “entire earth is a standing reserve” and that we need to protect the earth in the way that a company protects its profits.  He drew attention to the underlying corporate or management language implicit in these descriptions of sustainability and how this is true of conservation organisations as much as corporations and governments. Furthermore of course Paulo Friere provided a deep critique of the ‘banking’ model of education which is closely aligned with this accounting version of sustainability.

Having established what he meant by ‘everything’, Ingold went on to construct an idea of ‘carrying on’.  To do this he referred to traditional ways of forestry in Japan where there is a dynamic relationship between the forester, the forest and the building of a house articulated in a 30 year cycle – trees take 30 years to grow and a house needs renewed every 30 years.  Trees are planted, foresters learn to build houses, trees are cut to build houses, trees are planted.  It is very different from the forms of plantation forestry and clear felling we experience across much of Scotland.

In conclusion Ingold came back to the themes of art and science, citizenship and democracy, peace and friendship.  He suggested that science has reneged on its commitment to understanding the world in ways that are useful for life, and that in his view environmental arts do this more effectively now.  He talked about the need for a politics of difference and the importance of embracing tension and agonism.

Reflecting on this talk there are a few key points that are worth teasing out of Ingold’s valuable line of argument.

Firstly, the construction of sustainability currently offered in ‘sustainable development’ and ‘ecosystems services’ is fundamentally human-centric and has lost any connection with the ‘existence value’ of the non-human as constructed by the likes of Arne Naess, Gregory Bateson and many others which were early inspirations of the environmental movement (and remain very influential on environmental arts). Ingold’s focus on entanglement and movement is a useful counter to ‘banking’ approaches. *

Secondly, we need to recognise that our current construction of sustainability is only one possible construction.  It is in terms of conventional ethics basically a form of Utilitarianism – the greatest good for the greatest number.  And in this respect it suffers from all the criticisms of Utilitarianism in being fundamentally subjective and in environmental terms challenging – if more than half the world’s population lives in cities then what is good for cities must be good for humans – that is a bizarre thought (although one often promoted by architects and urban planners)!  But the point is that Ingold is providing an underpinning articulation of ‘being’ that asks for a different ethics – one which accepts the conflicts but accords value to the connectedness of everything and its motion.  So he positively argued against the conservation of trees and in favour of the carrying on of planting and growing, felling and building as a cycle. Perhaps Ingold doesn’t go far enough – Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, eminent ecological artists, argue that we need to ‘put more back into ecological systems than we take out’ in our carrying on. By this they mean that our cycles need to be weighted to greater biodiversity and strengthening ecological cycles.

Finally Ingold’s construction, particularly of ‘knots’ is useful if we recognise that we humans are arch constructors of knots.  Everything we make is some sort of knot whether it’s food or paths or roads or houses or nuclear power stations or mustard gas or satellites.  And if we can imagine a knot then we will make it.  If its been imagined then someone is trying to make it, somewhere.  That’s an interesting problem.  It’s prompted discussions around what ‘responsible innovation’ might be. How can we create knots that make for healthier places for all living things.

* I’m indebted to Dave Pritchard for elucidating this evolution through the sequence of major environmental summits starting in Stockholm in 1972 and progressing in 10 yearly intervals through to Rio+20 in 2012.  He correlated this with the shift from an environmentalism of ‘existence value’ through to ‘ecosystems services’ and ‘sustainable development’.  Each Summit sought to achieve greater policy impact and as a result reframed in terms of acceptable (human-centric) policy.

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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Art and Energy futures

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Art, particularly sited work, can create a ‘third space’ for public discourse.  By ‘third space’ we mean a space other than the commercial or governmental spaces for people to engage with issues.  This is often characterised by being non-hierarchical, open and willing to embrace contradiction, uncertainty, etc.  Probably because it’s created by artists who have no ‘locus’ for instigating it, the power relations are different.  No-one is trying to sell you anything and there isn’t a policy agenda being fulfilled (and these days the people selling you stuff aren’t hidden behind the people claiming to represent you).

Examples include Tim Collins and Reiko Goto’s recent work imagining the future of the Caledonian Forest through the Blackwood of Rannoch(and previously their work on rivers in Pittsburgh) and Suzanne Lacy’scurrent project in Pendle with superslowway and immigrants and locals as well as her previous work including 10 years of work in Oakland, CA, or Jonathan Baxter and Sarah Gittins’ Dundee Urban OrchardJay Koh, who wrote Art-Led Participative Processes: Dialogue & Subjectivity within Performances in the Everyday, recently spoke in Glasgow.

The Land Art Generator, PLATFORM London’s 25 years of work on fossil fuels, the actions of Liberate Tate, Ellie Harrison’s RRAAF project intended to use renewables to finance activist art and many others have created this third space to address power and the social, cultural and environmental impacts of our insatiable need for energy.

The Feeding the Insatiable Art and Energy Symposium at Schumacher in November will bring together an outstanding line-up of artists and activists to reflect on the current state of work in this area.

Amongst the people presenting are Cathy Fitzgerald who is an artist and Irish Green Party’s spokesperson on Forestry; David Haley who has written extensively on art and uncertainty; Beth Carruthers, one of the key art and sustainability theorists working with deep ecology approaches; Hannah Imlach is a young artist from Scotland who’s recent projects directly engage with renewables; Laura Watts describes herself as a writer, poet, and ethnographer of futures – she is one of the authors of ebban an flowan along with Alec Finlay and Alistair Peebles; Ian Garrett is a key theorist and practitioner of sustainable design for theatre and behind the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts; and finallyLoraine Leeson who is one of the foremost practitioners of socially engaged art in the UK and is currently working with a group of geezers on renewables on the River Lee in East London.  And these are only some of the people presenting.

Feeding the Insatiable promises to be a key moment for sharing practice, exploring theory and imagining policy.  As Chloe Uden of RegenSW’s Art and Energy programme said, “Energy Policy needs to become interesting”.  The arts are key to creating spaces for that to happen.


International summit and residential short course discuss renewables, aesthetics, and the philosophy of consumption

art.earth in association with Schumacher College and Dartington is offering two linked consecutive events this coming November: an international summit/conference Feeding the Insatiable: real and imagined narratives of art, energy and consumption for a troubled planet from November 9-11, and Regenerative Art: creating public art with self-sustaining power a residential short course from November 11-13, 2016.

Both events take place within the extraordinary setting of Dartington Hallin southwest England.

Feeding the Insatiable (feedingtheinsatiable.info) features thinkers and makers from across the world, with an opening keynote event from The Land Art Generator Initiative (Robert Ferry and Elizabeth Monoian) with ecoartist / producer Chris Fremantle from eco/art/scot/land. Futurist Laura Watts will present the second keynote on Day 2 of the summit. Other sessions focus on Ecologies, Shaping the World, Artist projects, Communicating, Energy Generation and Poetics.

The residential short course (regenerative-art.info) is led by Land Art Generator Initiative and offers an opportunity for a much more in-depth and hands-on exploration of the aesthetics of renewable energy and the implications for public policy and design. This practice-based short course provides participants with useful knowledge and experience for creatively integrating renewable energy systems into cherished cultural environments as a part of a larger strategic approach to carbon reduction. The workshop will focus on the Dartington estate and seek to identify opportunities to place new infrastructures in open areas while maintaining shared use with open spaces and other campus functions.

The Land Art Generator Initiative has become one of the world’s most followed sustainable design events and is inspiring people everywhere about the promise of a net-zero carbon future. LAGI is showing how innovation through interdisciplinary collaboration, culture, and the expanding role of technology in art can help to shape the aesthetic impact of renewable energy on our constructed and natural environments.
The goal of LAGI is to design and construct a series of large-scale site-specific public art installations that uniquely combine art with utility scale clean energy generation.

Both events are suitable for more than just experienced designers, architects or artists. If you have an interest in public spaces, public art policy and design, renewable energy and its aesthetics and impact on the visual landscape, or are a landowner or property owner interested in more visually appealing ways to work with renewable energy then this event is for you.

You can register for both events individually, or if you wish to register for both there are special discounted packages available. Seefeedingtheinsatiable.info/registration-prices/ For artists and other independent researchers, there is a limited number of concessionary registrations available.

These events are produced by art.earth (artdotearth.org) in partnership with Regen SW

More information at http://feedingtheinsatiable.info

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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Partial history of artists and bioremediation

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The video posted by A Blade of Grass as well as the information on their website highlighting Jan Mun’s work with Greenpoint Bioremediation Project on Newtown Creek, a polluted industrial maritime waterway and Superfund site, is great. An artist doing useful ecologically-focused work, engaging the symbolism of mushrooms and fairy rings to address the significant pollution of Newtown Creek in New York. And this piece is not intended to diminish the importance of the project, the support of a major funder of social practice, or the involvement of artists in addressing polluted land.

But the way this work is presented misses out the history of the practice in this particular field. We end up with a sense of ‘innovation’ and novelty, “WOW, an artist working with mushrooms to clean up an industrial accident! How cool is that! Awesome.”

It’s important to understand that bioremediation is a major area of scientific, technological and also engineering work which uses organisms to remove or neutralise pollution in a particular location.Phytoremediation specifically uses plants both transgenic (genetically modified to accumulate pollution more effectively) and natural to absorb pollutants. Mycoremediation specifically uses fungi. These are described as technologies.

There is also a history in ecological art for these practices. A number of artists interested in working with scientists and engineers have been involved in the development of this ‘field’, although now bioremediation (and its specialisms) are largely undertaken by engineers and governed by Environmental Protection regulation.

A few key artists whose work might form a lineage for this are Mel Chin, who working with Rufus Chaney, a senior research scientist at the US Department of Agriculture, and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, developed the first field trial of phytoremediation at the Pig’s Eye Landfill in Minnesota in an artwork entitled Revival Field (1990 ongoing). For background on this project and Chin’s articulation of the art, see the Ecovention exhibition catalogue which is fully reproduced on Greenmuseum.org

Other artists who have developed work in this field include Georg Dietzler and Frances Whitehead. Georg Dietzler’s work (1999 involved using Oyster Mushrooms to remediate PCBs and was framed as research, with research questions, and conducted as an experiment (Concept).

Frances Whitehead’s Slow Clean-up (2008-2012) focused on multiple sites of abandoned gas stations across Chicago.  This work is firmly based on her concern with the embedded artist, relies as all these projects do on collaboration with scientists, engineers and environmental managers.  Her documentation of the project, available on the website, highlights her assessment of her own innovation focused on thinking about the meaning of time in relation to site and what short and long timescales for this sort of work enable and exclude.

Clearly early examples of this are innovative by any account, but its worth offering some criteria for innovation against which to examine other projects. Tim Collins suggests that innovation is usually in at least one of the following categories: formal, social or technical. Obviously Mel Chin and Rufus Cheney’s field experiment starting in 1991 was technically innovative – no-one had tested the potential for specific plants (or any plants infact) to remediate pollution. Their experiment both tested specific plants, but also tested the principle which up until that point had been a hypothesis. Revival Field is in itself socially innovative in presenting a scientific experiment as an artwork. Curiously in terms of formal innovation, Chin has described the work in terms of the most basic sculptural process of reduction. He argued that the work is like carving but in this case using biochemistry as the chisel, though eventually this process of reduction, carving away the pollution from the soil, will become obvious in the form of new growth on the site (see herefor Mel Chin’s own description).

To be able to ascertain the innovation in Jan Mun’s work on the Greenpoint Bioremediation Project we need a better and more detailed description of the work, whether through a deep description of the concept allowing us to understand the artist’s intention to do something innovative, or retrospectively by a description of the project’s emergent innovative elements (pacem Elizabeth Hallam and Tim Ingold who argue that we can only see innovation retrospectively and in the moment only improvise).

This is a brief and partial indication of the history of artists involvement in bioremediation. It’s also worth reading Tim Collins’ comments here – he references other people not mentioned above.

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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Why Land Art Generator in Scotland?

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Video from the Test Unit Pecha Kucha at the Whisky Bond, Glasgow, July 2016, which provides a context for LAGI Glasgow.  Thanks to TAKTAL for the opportunity.Filed under: energy, Fremantle writing, News Tagged: Brent Spar, Greenpeace, land Art Generator, Peter Fend, PLATFORM London

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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Tim Ingold: ‘The Sustainability of Everything’

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There was an interesting piece in the NY Times recently entitled Against Sustainability questioning the meaningfulness of ‘sustainability’ and offering a critique of the nostalgia-based version,

We will get a very different ‘take’ on this issue from Tim Ingold, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen, activist for better universities, and author of numerous books including Line: A Brief History (2007),Being Alive (2011), Making (2013) and The Life of Lines(2015).  Ingold’s anthropology is more humanities than social science and he is frequently cited by artists.  His current European Research Council funded project Knowing from the Inside involves a number of artists.

Ingold will ask,

Saturday 10th September, 11am
Fairfield Hall, The Pearce Institute, 840-860 Govan Rd, Glasgow G51 3UU

This public talk is free to attend, although we ask for donations towards the room rent and future CHE/GFU events. Please book your ticket here as places are limited: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2591625

Please spread the word by sharing the attached poster (The_Sustainability_of_Everything) among your relevant networks, or on social media. Thanks!

Event facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1104818026253422/

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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