ecoartscotland

We need a Percent for Art for Energy

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Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry, Directors of the Land Art Generator Initiative, reflect on another aspect to emerge from the ‘Beautiful Renewables’ workshop hosted by Creative Carbon Scotland.

Cities that recognize the value of arts and culture have long benefited from percent for art programs. It has become expected (and in many cases required) for large-scale development projects to invest at least 1% in the arts, especially when there is public funding involved, either by bringing an artist onto the project team to produce a local outcome, or by investing in a fund that is pooled for larger projects throughout the city.

As we increase our focus on large-scale environmental and climate design solutions—resilient infrastructures, environmental remediation, regenerative water and energy projects—it is high time that a similar percent for art requirement be placed on these projects as well. This simple policy standard would bring great benefit to communities that otherwise find themselves left out of the process. Even when their net benefit to the environment is clear, if these projects have not been considered from a cultural perspective, they risk being ignored at best. And at worst they risk alienating the public and sparking push-back against similar future projects.

Involving artists in the process can instead deliver a more holistic approach to sustainability that addresses social equity, environmental justice, aesthetics, local needs, and other important cultural considerations. As we have said from the founding of LAGI in 2008, “sustainability is not only about resources, but it is also about social harmony.”

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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Green Tease: Land Art Generator Initiative – Creative Carbon Scotland

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What would a renewable energy project for Glasgow look like if the design process was led by artists, architects, landscape architects, and urban planners, working in collaboration with engineers?

Over the past ten months, three interdisciplinary design teams have worked together on proposals for a new renewable energy generation site in Port Dundas, Glasgow in association with the internationally acclaimed Land Art Generator Initiative. The teams have included artists Alec Finlay, Dalziel + Scullion and public art agency Pidgin Perfect.

Coinciding with an exhibition of the resulting designs at the Lighthouse, you are invited to join Creative Carbon Scotland and partners from Land Art Generator Initiative Glasgow – Chris Fremantle (eco/art/scot/land) and Heather Claridge (Glasgow City Council) – for a discussion of the role of creative processes in the development of renewable energy infrastructure in Glasgow.

Timings

On June 20 The event will begin with a viewing of the LAGI Glasgow exhibition in Galleries 4 and 5 of the Lighthouse (from 5:30 – 6pm) followed by a facilitated by a talk and discussion with refreshments provided (6 – 7:30pm).

Go here for booking:  http://www.creativecarbonscotland.com/event/green-tease-land-art-generator-initiative/

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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Active Energy: About the project

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We just received an update from the ActiveEnergy project in London. The following comes from the ‘About’ page on the website.

ActiveEnergy is a project promoting citizen-led innovation led by artist Loraine Leeson in collaboration with The Geezers, a group of senior men in Bow East London, and engineer Toby Borland. Also supporting the project at different times have been social scientist Ann Light, ex-rocket scientist Stephen Dodds and SPACE Studios, who commissioned Active Energy.

The project is being realised through a participatory arts process that facilitates technological expertise in the creation and application of prototype renewable energy devices, which are used as a means of disseminating knowledge at community level while influencing wider practice and policy.

GeezerPower from Loraine Leeson on Vimeo. Camerawork © Jim Prevett, SPACE 2007.

Work so far by this group has involved a practical proposal for installing tidal turbines at the Thames Barrier. Also a renewable energy project at a local school, a wind-driven public light-work for the roof of an Age UK centre and prototyping workshops at University of East London organised by SPACE. Our current project is to create a turbine for installation on a barge opposite the Houses of Parliament to prompt national debate on use of the River Thames as a source of energy for the city.

The effectiveness of this project has lain in its use of art as a means of creative facilitation, production and collaboration that harnesses community initiative. Most importantly, the experience of community elders has provided a foundation for new ideas that have addressed real need and enabled specific local knowledge to create innovative solutions that could impact on all our futures.

Source: Active Energy: About the project

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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Doing Nothing is Not an Option – June 17-19 2016 – Tipping Point

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A major event in partnership with Warwick Arts Centre andJulies Bicycle

This event is intended for everyone concerned with climate change and the role performing arts has in exploring it and its ramifications. It will energise, re-energise and inspire; our aim is that all will leave with a clear sense of direction and purpose, and not a few with concrete ideas or commissions and collaboration that will have the active involvement of producing partners.

Background
COP21 has justifiably been hailed as a diplomatic triumph; it went a long way further than any previous attempts to achieve international consensus on a concerted response to climate change. But a world that includes, in the small corner of the UK, daffodils flowering in December and unprecedented flooding, reminds us of the scale of the chasm between what can be successfully negotiated by the Body Politic and what is actually needed.  The Paris agreement is much better seen as the end of the beginning, rather than something we can take comfort from, a finale.  The fact remains that the West has still not taken on board the scale of action – technological, political, intellectual – needed to deal with this challenge, not by a long chalk.

Taking place at the large Warwick Arts Centre, Doing Nothing is Not an Option – DNNO – will be our most ambitious event ever.  It will offer an opportunity for people in the performing arts sector to reflect on what the subject means for artists today and in the future.  During this three-day gathering, exclusively targeted at the performing arts, 200 people – writers, directors, producers and others, together with climate specialists of all types – will come together to shape new ideas and develop a platform for creative responses and new work. This will take place in the context of a public festival of climate related performance work.

The programme – details here
Using the celebrated methodology TippingPoint has used and refined in five continents, over the three days participants will work, play and eat together. They will share their knowledge, experience and understanding of climate change and will leave feeling affirmed, informed and energised; their horizons broadened, their imaginations enriched and their practice developed. It will be the beginning of a creative journey and a focus for new performance work.

The value of the event
Different people will gain different things from attending this event.  However, our central aim is that all will have a clearer idea of ‘what to do next’ – it is designed specifically to do that.  Particular benefits should include, for people from the performing arts world:

  • –  Greater clarity on the phenomenon of climate change
  • –  The chance to go into real depth on particular aspects of the topic
  • –  The opportunity to identify possible collaborators for creative work
  • –  The chance to access commission opportunities

For people from the research world, our intention is that the event will deliver:

  • –  An opportunity to work closely with creative people from a very different world – who will put a high value on particular expertise
  • –  An entirely new way of getting research into the public domain, of politics and policy
  • –  The potential for very rewarding long term partnerships

We can virtually guarantee that all who attend will leave feeling affirmed, enlightened and reinvigorated, with horizons broadened and work of all types enriched by a sense of purpose and new ideas.

Costs
Charges for attendance are as follows; they include all meals and refreshments, though accommodation onsite, very close to Warwick Arts Centre and strongly recommended, will cost extra.  All TIppingPoint events are very carefully designed, with a beginning, middle and end, so we strongly discourage partial attendance. The booking page is here.

For people from arts organisations with grants of over £750k and research institutions £240
For people from arts organistions with grants between £250k and £750k £190
For people from arts organisations with a grant less than £250k £150
For independents £95
An ‘early-bird’ discount of 10% will be available to all those booking before Sunday May 8

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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Opportunity for Project Artist – Hawick Flood Protection Scheme

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Excellent opportunity for an artist to be part of a team working on flood protection – looks like a chance to shape thinking. Comes from CABN in the Borders.

May 2016 – October 2016
Deadline for applications:  Monday 25th April 2016
Fee:  £4000

A unique opportunity has arisen for a Project Artist to work closely with the engineering and project team around the Hawick Flood Protection Scheme (HFPS) and engage communities in the development and design of proposals which can be taken forward within the scheme.   The key priority of the HFPS works is to protect the town from the effects of a ‘1 in 75’ year flood event on the River Teviot, but the works also offer opportunities to incorporate imaginative place-making proposals, including for permanent public artworks, which can be taken forward into the second phase of the HFPS.

This opportunity has been enabled through a partnership between Scottish Borders Council, CH2M (scheme engineers) and the Creative Arts Business Network (CABN), and has already involved initial engagement with community groups around potential proposals.

More information is available on the CABN website –http://www.cabn.info/opportunities/project-artist-hawick-flood-protection-scheme.html

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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Working Together

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This piece was first published in New Energies, the Land Art Generator publication for the 2014 Copenhagen competition. Land Art Generator will be keynote speakers at the ‘Feeding the Insatiable‘ Art and Energy Conference at Schumacher College in November.


Why is ‘working together’ so vital right now? It is at the heart of ecoart practices and at the heart of the Land Art Generator Initiative. It is one of the features that distinguishes these practices and programs. LAGI asks architects, designers, and artists (a.k.a. “creative practitioners”) to work with scientists, engineers, inventors, land managers, ecologists, manufacturers, and communities.

There are several elements to working together. Teamwork is considered to be an important skill. In fact, it is part of the national curriculum in Scotland (2009). Participation has become mainstream in art, design, architecture, and new media. Interdisciplinarity is the mot du jour in academic research. Collaboration and creativity, participation and knowledge have become powerful words in the discourse today, but they are double-edged. Do they reinforce existing marketization, or do they open up new forms of public space?

LAGI invites teams to form and work together, ideally with communities, to develop new solutions for our societies’ energy systems and to imagine new structures for generating renewable energy at the mid-scale—the scale that relates to settlements. LAGI wants us to embrace renewable energy as a beautiful part of the places we live.

“Embracing” is a good word in this context, because we need to embrace renewable energy. It is also a good word for the particular sense of working together, because creative and techno-scientific practitioners need to embrace each other’s skills and expertise, knowledge and methods. LAGI is not looking to decorate existing energy installations or plop down energy-producing sculptures. This embrace must not be uncritical. The future of energy must be renewable, and it must be socially just. The BBC reported when the renewable energy system on Eigg, an island off the west coast of Scotland, came online. What wasn’t reported was the social justice built into the system. Renewable energy is limitless over time, but limited at any point in time. On Eigg, every house and business has a cut-out switch, which stops an individual from using too much energy at any particular moment. This is a form of community collaboration, which is significant and which addresses the “tragedy of the commons” (the tendency for people to act in their own short term interests even if this has long term negative consequences for the community). On Eigg people embrace each other with social as well as environmental justice.

Greenhouse1

If we want to understand why working together with artists might be important, it is worth looking to the practice of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison. These eminent ecological artists responded to an invitation from David Haley (Director, Ecology in Practice, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK) to consider the impact of global warming on the island of Britain. The result was the project Greenhouse Britain: Losing Ground, Gaining Wisdom (2006–2008) funded by the UK government as part of its Climate Challenge program. In the independent evaluation of that project, Wallace Heim comments on interviews she conducted with the Harrison’s project collaborators:

They all reported that the experience was illuminating, informative, challenging, imaginative, liberating. Their respect for the cross-disciplinary knowledge of the Harrisons was high, including both the science, the land-use planning and the architectural aspects, including Newton Harrison’s ability to ask ‘the right questions.’ Further, they had been taken on a journey, relieved of the strictures of their respective disciplines and work practices, and had found it in some way transformative of their way of considering climate change and possible adaptations to it. But, from their responses, the exercise was not just one of being relieved of limitations, but one which was highly informed, creative, and reflective, not just of their own methods of work, but of more conventional responses to climate change. They reported feeling supported, mentored, and reported an appreciation of what this kind of process of ‘art’ can achieve in providing the context, the time and space for imagining possible futures, for rehearsing what may happen. (2008, p.9)

The words that Heim chooses to characterize the experience of collaborating with the Harrisons are also used by others when speaking about the quality of collaborative relationships between artists and scientists. LAGI is seeking to provide a context, time, and space for that quality of informed, creative, and reflective practice to imagine possible futures and rehearse what can happen as we embrace renewable energy.

There are dangers, however, in focusing on an idealized form of collaborative practice, a fetishized meeting of minds. What Heim’s description does not suggest is that the result of Greenhouse Britain is a problem solved. Rather it is making sense of our new circumstances and exploring what some futures might look like.

In his essay The Negotiation of Hope (2005), Jeremy Till addresses John Forester’s argument that the role of designers in particular should be understood as “sense-making” rather than “problem-solving.” Till states:

“Central to Forester’s argument is that such a move from the problem to sense-making necessarily brings with it an acknowledgement of the contested social situation in which the design process is first initiated….”

When we step outside our specialized spaces, whether the galleries, concert halls, and theaters of artists, or the labs of scientists and engineers, we are negotiating our practices. Increasingly, we are negotiating with communities as well as other professions. Creative practitioners working with ecological systems, human habitation and development, energy and resource generation, and so on, quite specifically embrace other ways of working, in particular other methods. They can enter into deep relationships. There is a sharp edge here, because this involves dealing with other living things, not just inert materials. Therefore, this embrace has to be respectful, has to have an ethical dimension, has to be caring.

plein-air1

To understand what this might mean, Tim Collins and Reiko Goto’s project Plein Air (2010–2014) required that they work with engineers to develop a range of sensing technology. This technology enabled the public to perceive trees breathing and, in collaboration with musicians and audio artists, to transform the data streams of that breathing into acoustic experiences. Collin’s and Goto’s concern was to encourage empathy, using technology to heighten awareness.

In being collaborative, we are often being interdisciplinary—working between, with, across, into, and beyond disciplines and between different forms of knowledge and practice. Sometimes conversations explore the similarities between artists and scientists, designers and engineers, but a discipline is a specialization. With specialization comes skill and expertise. Ecoart always requires multiple and varied skills and expertise. There are many dimensions to this. Creative practitioners tend to have thematic interests, such as water, biodiversity, urban greenspace, brownfields, phyto-remediation, farming, orchards, and permaculture. Ecoartists will name their collaborators and will report, and sometimes document, the dialogues.

I’m increasingly concerned about the terms “collaboration” and “interdisciplinarity” because these words might be obscuring the basic act of “working together.” However, not all “working together” is the same. David Haley (2011), using the analysis of Basarab Nicolescu, suggests some ways of thinking about the differences. A group of people with different specializations can all work on the same question. This might be called “multi-disciplinary.” If those people exchange methods, so that the specializations become hybrid, then that might be called “inter-disciplinary.” Then there are circumstances where different specializations come together to focus on a problem, setting aside any hierarchies of specializations, and this might be called “trans-disciplinary” (the prefixes post- and extra- have also been used). Haley argues that the repositioning of specializations, clarified by this terminology, is vital to address 21st Century questions. I would argue that ecoart is inherently interdisciplinary—it is not just the knowledge domains that are embraced. If you look at a lot of ecoart, it actually sits in grey areas between art and design—not clever product design, but design in the sense of clear communication of information, clear construction of process resulting in impacts. Joachim Sauter opens up the issue when he states:

In short: the result of design work has to be understood immediately and should be directly legible by as many as possible. This means it has to be told in a language that everyone understands. Artwork however is produced using an individual and personal language and it is mainly not meant to be understood immediately or by everyone. The process of understanding an artwork by deciphering is very important. It forces one into a much deeper dialogue with what is presented. In design work it is the opposite—if there is a fire, you don’t want to decipher an exit sign. It goes without saying that the borders are blurry and that you find both approaches in both fields. (2010, p.250-251)

xlarge_supergas_thailand

Perhaps the Danish collective Superflex might exemplify this issue. In addition to their work 2000 Watt Society Contract, which relates to the collaboration on Eigg mentioned above, Superflex’ Supergas project sits in this blurry, in-between space. The Supergas website Introduction page states:

In 1996–1997 Superflex has collaborated with biogas engineer Jan Mallan to construct a simple, portable biogas unit that can produce sufficient gas for the cooking and lighting needs of an African family. The system has been adapted to meet the efficiency and style demands of a modern African consumer. It is intended to match the needs and economic resources that we believe exist in small-scale economies. The orange biogas plant produces biogas from organic materials, such as human and animal stools.

First note that the engineer is credited in the first sentence. Second, the Supergas project appears to conform to Sauter’s description of design. In Tanzania, Cambodia, Thailand, Zanzibar, and Guadalajara, the project’s function is clear. When seen in an art exhibition, however, for example at the Louisiana Museum, Denmark (1997) or at Marres, Centre for Contemporary Culture, in Maastricht (2011), it becomes a kind of personal language that requires deciphering. In those contexts, it becomes an “issue-based” work of art. There is a third position from which it also needs to be deciphered. As Mallans states in an interview:

“That’s also different from industry. In industry you don’t ask whether there is any money. Of course, there is. But here you know there’s no money.” (1999)

Creative practitioners working on environmental and ecological projects, including those contributing to LAGI, might be attempting to operate, like Superflex, in both of Sauter’s modes. Their works often operate at more than one level—to understand immediately what the project is doing and make it directly legible, but also to enter into a deeper dialogue through a more personal relationship with the work.

In exploring collaborations between artists and communities, Grant Kester is interested in the politics of collaboration:

In the most successful collaborative projects we encounter instead a pragmatic openness to site and situation, a willingness to engage with specific cultures and communities in a creative and improvisational manner …, a concern with non-hierarchical and participatory processes, and a critical and self-reflexive relationship to practice itself. Another important component is the desire to cultivate and enhance forms of solidarity…. (2011, p125)

Kester’s defining characteristics are leitmotifs. In particular ‘solidarity’ is a political word (perhaps more so if you are connected to Poland and grew up in the 80s), but it signals the importance of respect and justice in the process, echoing openness to site and situation, reinforcing engaging with specific cultures and communities, and embedding an alternative politics.

Kester’s phrase “a critical and self-reflexive relationship to practice itself” opens up space for the practice to inhabit the blurry space between clarity and directness on the one hand, and depth and personal language on the other.

The reason we might need to rethink our understanding of creative practice, as suggested at the start of this essay, is because the most provocative examples of ecoart, and LAGI in particular, are characterised by a shared process rather than an autonomous one. The artists are not adding decoration to something that engineers have designed, and the designers are not simply designing the logo for the product. There’s a deep understanding that to make sense of our energy challenges and to intervene effectively takes multiple intelligences, multiple practices, multiple creativities working together.

References

HALEY, David (2011). Art, Ecology and Reality: the Potential for Transdisciplinarity in the Proceedings of Art, Emotion and Value. 5th Mediterranean Congress of Aesthetics http://www.um.es/vmca/proceedings/docs/52.David-Haley.pdf accessed 12 March 2014

HEIM, Wallace (2008). Evaluation Report DEFRA Climate Challenge Fund CCF9 Project code AE017 Greenhouse Britain: Losing Ground, Gaining Wisdom. http://greenhousebritain.greenmuseum.org/evaluation/ accessed 12 March 2014.

KESTER, Grant (2011) The One and the Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

SAUTER, Joachim (2010) interview in Data Flow: v. 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design. Berlin: Gestalten

SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT (2009) Curriculum for Excellence: Building the Curriculum for Skills for Learning, Skills for Life and Skills for Work.

SUPERFLEX (1999) Superflex: Tools. Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig

SUPERGAS website http://www.supergas.dk/introduction/ accessed 12 March 2014

TILL, Jeremy (2005). The Negotiation of Hope, in Architecture and Participation London and New York: Taylor Francis

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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Piloting Strategies: Arts and Land Use

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Kate Foster and Claire Pençak have written this article to highlight the ways that they as artists (visual and dance/choreographic), have been engaged with land use and in particular the development of Land Use Strategy for Scotland through the Borders Region Pilot.  The article specifically responds to a previous piece on ecoartscotland which asks “What can the arts contribute to a Land Use Strategy for Scotland?”

Some of the really central challenges for artists working with land use issues are highlighted by Kate Foster and Claire Pençak including the discipline and practice specific languages used by environmental scientists and land managers as well as the dominance of Geographical Information Systems technologies.  Kate Foster and Claire Pençak’s projects demonstrate some of the best approaches that can be learnt from the past 60 years of ecoart and the longer history of art.


Introduction

Previous posts on this topic have pointed out that government policy has made an ecosystems service approach central. This opens up questions of what to place value on, and if, and when, it is helpful to monetise an ecosystem service. Too often human interests only are considered, leading to ongoing over-exploitation of ‘natural capital’. There has also been concern that intangible cultural elements cannot be recognised by an approach dominated by Geographical Information Systems, and mapping only what exists on the ground.

This article provides an outline of how we (choreographer Claire Pençak and environmental artist Kate Foster, who both live in the Scottish Borders), have worked in parallel to the regional Land Use Strategy pilot that was conducted in Borders Region.

Creative practices can contribute ways of relating to place, and offer alternative meanings and insights that escape conventional appraisal. Artists can act as connectors between disparate approaches, and re-enchant what is overlooked. The work we describe below is marked by a commitment to improvisation and responding to context. Our consistent theme is finding ways for rural-based arts practice to engage with contemporary concerns, regional and international.

Some background to the Land Use Strategy

In way of background information, the government Land Use Strategy initiative stems from the 2009 Climate Change Act (Scotland). The Scottish Borders along with Aberdeenshire was selected to develop a Pilot Regional Strategy, which would ultimately inform the revision of the national Land Use Strategy, to be published later this year. In our region, the process was led by Scottish Borders Council in partnership with Tweed Forum who co-ordinated the stakeholder engagement programme. Tweed Forum is a membership organisation whose collective purpose is to enhance and restore the rich natural, built, and cultural heritage of the River Tweed and its tributaries.

The Land Use Strategy regional framework in the Scottish Borders was developed through mapping and a series of public consultations to seek the views of communities. This came to our attention as it coincided with Working the Tweed, a Creative Scotland Year of Natural Scotland 2013 project which was an artist led partnership project between Tabula Rasa Collaborations, Tweed Forum and Southern Uplands Partnership.

From our vantage point, it was obvious that the LUS pilot strategy was beckoning to artists to contribute to it, but it was a question of how?

The following sections describe different art projects that were considerations of aspects of land use, emerging during the period between the Climate Change Act (Scotland, 2009) and the conclusion of the draft consultation for the Land Use Strategy 2016-2021, in January 2016. We were aware of the pilot regional strategy taking place in our area, and engaged with it by attending public meetings and filling in questionnaires. This activity fed into our work; we were inspired by the ambition of sustainable land use and searched for a way that we could contribute to the debate in a way that was meaningful for us – both as artists and as local residents.

Timeline2

A catchment map as a talking point

Seeking to engage with the Land Use Strategy, we found the vocabulary and frames of reference were clearly suitable for conversing with land managers and land owners who were knowledgeable and skilled at the interface with government and agriculture. We could sense that the kind of language used could be impenetrable, and wouldn’t empower the broader community to connect with the ideas, which is what Tweed Forum were keen to do. Having been to a few of the public consultations, we found it tricky to know how to engage with what seemed a very prescribed, compartmentalised and ‘male’ approach.

The Land Use Strategy pilot project used catchments to identify localities – an idea we had also used as a motif map for Working the Tweed (a project that is described in more detail below). Because a catchment map was not cheaply available in the public domain, we made a hand-drawn version. We found it an evocative image to engage with people. Looking at this catchment drawing moves you from the predominant perception of the Scottish Borders as a series of discrete small towns, towards seeing it as a region connected by the dense network of tributaries to the Tweed. This was an effective means for us to generate conversation and elicit local knowledge and viewpoints, for example by taking stalls in annual agricultural shows.

2. rivermapS

River Ways © Working the Tweed 2013

A Riverside Meeting concerning Resources and Land Use

Working the Tweed was an artist-led Year of Natural Scotland 2013 project that was planned prior to the Land Use Strategy pilot project. It was a nine-month programme that focussed on the diverse ways that people were working with the Tweed waters. It included a series of six riverside meeting with different themes. These meetings brought together professional creative practitioners living and working in the Tweed Catchment with scientists and environmentalists, to stimulate discussion, exchange and creative responses. They took place at different locations in the Tweed Catchment, and each meeting explored a different theme related to the Tweed Catchment Management Plan.

A first step in making the ideas behind the Land Use Strategy more accessible was to use the final Riverside Meeting to focus on two policy strategies being developed in parallel in the Scottish Borders: for culture as well as land use.  The final Riverside Meeting – Mapping the Future Scottish Borders – took place at The Lees fishing shiel on the Tweed at Coldstream and explored the themes of Water Resources and Land Use. Derek Robeson, Senior Project Officer at Tweed Forum, introduced the Land Use Strategy in relation to the Tweed Rivers through the frames of Environment, Culture and Economy. It was an opportunity to look at the maps that had been created through the lens of the Land Use Strategy (e.g. Biodiversity Networks and Resilience, Sporting and Recreation, Agricultural Crops) and to consider land use in the field through a riverside walk. The meeting placed the Land Use Strategy alongside the parallel development of a Cultural Strategy for the Scottish Borders which was introduced by Mary Morrison, Director of the Creative Arts Business Network. This brought a focus on cultural landscapes to the session. The final contributor David Welsh introduced an historical perspective, with his detailed knowledge of how the line of the Border has shifted around each field and burn in its path. In the year of the Independence Referendum this had an added potency. The session as a whole provided a challenge to how artists can work with complex histories and geographies, and engage with uncertain futures. It is fully reported on this link.

At this Riverside Meeting, the point was made that the lifetime of deciduous trees defied the short time frames for which policy is made, typically a five-year period. The mature trees along the River Tweed are evidence of much older strategies of land management.

Salmon scale – a link to different places and timescales

The catchment map acted as a motif for the Working the Tweed project, and provided an overview of our region. This was complemented by looking at something close-up, a scale from the skin of a Salmon (which is smaller than a finger nail).  Looking at magnified scales from migratory fish offered us another lens to perceive different rhythms of time and place that might influence daily life and work in our region.

Like a tree ring, a Trout or Salmon embodies a pattern of its growth into its scales. The Tweed Foundation collects scales from anglers, and accumulates data that helps interpret seasonal changes in the fishing catch. With a microscope an expert eye might see – for example – that a Salmon lived for two winters in the river, with a further winter at sea before returning to the Tweed to spawn.

These scales inspire a step backwards, to consider the larger picture. These fish deserve the name ‘Atlantic Salmon’ because they belong to a species who use ocean currents to drift to cold subarctic waters. Rich feeding to the west of Greenland allows them to mature before returning to their home river in mating mood.

There is room for speculation about future patterns that will be read in Salmon scales. Within ten years perhaps, the North Pole will become a navigable ocean, allowing seasonal passage to the Pacific. What impact will warming oceans have on their migration patterns and the patterns of their scales?

Thus a drawing of a Salmon scale became a second project motif, conveying connectedness to oceans, and hence the world. This led to the reflection that the Land Use pilot strategy was only considering land use within the administrative remit area. From such a narrow frame, events in wider geographical scales become ‘irrelevant’. Conversely, impacts on areas beyond the boundaries as a result of local land use can remain unconsidered.

This is a paradox for legislation stemming from a Climate Change Act, dealing with an international problem that is hard to fix in time or place, and where the actions of people in one place are acknowledged to have distant effects. To quote from an article by the academic Timothy Clark:

Climate change disrupts the scale at which one must think, skews categories of internal and external and resists inherited closed economies of accounting or explanation.  (2012, page 7)

Artists can contribute reminders of the unruliness of more-than-human timescales, explore the possible meanings and experience of climate change, and question the deranged scales in common currency.

We would argue that Salmon are integral to the identity of the Tweed Catchment, and its welfare cannot be seen as separate to the wellbeing of humans.

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Scaling the Tweed © Kate Foster, 2013

Approaching Choreography: A Proposal for Engagement

Following Working the Tweed, Claire Pençak began a research project funded through a Creative Scotland Artist Bursary by considering what a choreographic approach to thinking about Land Use might yield.

Approaching Choreography was an attempt to articulate an environmentally sensitive approach to dance-making and choreography through the frames of Placing and Perspective; Pathways Through; Meetings and Points of Contact and Working with Materials and Sites. It reflects on our positioning and shifts the emphasis from taking centre ‘stage’ towards margins and sidelines. This alternative framework emerged out of a series of riverside improvisations and conversations with dancers Merav Israel and Tim Rubidge, environmental artist Kate Foster and writer/researcher Dr. Wallace Heim. These took place on the Ettrick and Yarrow Waters in the Scottish Borders, and the East and West Allen Rivers in Northumberland.

Claire writes:

Choreography is concerned with space and I started by exchanging the idea of ‘space’ for that of ‘habitat’, and thought of the dancer as both creating and revealing habitat. Through this lens, habitat could be understood as ‘action spaces’ and land use became something that could be considered as performative, emerging and improvisational.

From this I developed a score as a way to proceed, a way to assist imaginative engagement, a way into playful encounters with land.

Further information is available here.

The score offers sixty examples of ways that habitat could be interpreted and worked by the diversity of species that use it – birds, fish, insects, mammals, plants and trees. It is easily understood, does not rely on land management knowledge and acknowledges multi-species. It suggests potential zones of action – on the ground, under the ground and over ground; on the water, underwater and in the air. The score can be cut up, shared, read out and passed on. Further information is available here.

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River Ways © Working the Tweed 2013

This thinking was made into a small illustrated A6 booklet (Approaching Choreography: A Proposal for Engagement) as part of a collaborative project, Speculative Ground which was conducted with Jen Clarke and Rachel Harkness of Aberdeen University.

Stone Lives 

Stone Lives was commissioned by Aberdeen University as a contribution to the Speculative Ground project which also included an exhibition curated by Jennifer Clark and Rachel Harkness at the Anthropological Association Decennial Conference in Edinburgh, in June 2014.

Stone Lives developed from an investigation of riverbank ecology at the meeting point of the Ettrick and Yarrow, at Philliphaugh near Selkirk. Our arrival at the riverbank in an afternoon in late May coincided with a hatch of Stone Flies – aquatic insects emerging from the water to find a stone to air themselves, and shed their final larval form. The river was low and we could walk on the smoothed rock, ancient mudstones shaped and sifted by ice and water.

This is an extract from Kate’s writing on this piece:

This set me on a trail, I collected husks for some days after – keen to find them before river levels rose. I searched online too, learning that of all the insects that live in water, Stone Flies need the cleanest water. They are ecological indicators of healthy streams, flattened and adapted to be able to cling to stones in rapid currents.  Apart from Trout who devour them, they are best known to fishermen, river ecologists and entomologists.  As one source remarks: “they are rather endearing little creatures once you get to know them”.

The fossil record of Stone Flies stretches far back to the Permian, but their adult life is brief.  A juxtaposition of Stone and Fly offers simultaneity at different timescales – a ‘so-far story’ (an idea that is further discussed in an article with Dr. Leah Gibbs and Claire Pençak  available here).

Stone Lives became an artwork inviting anthropologists at an international conference to share a sense of stone, and life supported.

6. StoneLivesF

Documentation of Improvisation and Stone Fly Adult Emergence © Tabula Rasa 2014

Further documentation of Stone Lives is available here.

A bioregional sensibility

We have, so far, offered examples of how visual art, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary events, field work, and improvisational dance practices might offer further ways of thinking about land use. In combination, these directed us towards an ambition of bioregional sensibility, that has been articulated by Mitchell Thomashow:

‘Developing the observational skills to patiently observe bioregional history, the conceptual skills to juxtapose scales, the imaginative faculties to play with multiple landscapes, and the compassion to empathize with local and global neighbours – these qualities are the foundation of a bioregional sensibility…’

M. Thomashow, ‘Cosmopolitan Bioregionalism’, Bioregionalism, ed. M. V. McGinnis (London: Routledge, 1999), pp. 121-32 (pp. 130-31)

Borders Sheepscapes

An earlier project by Kate Foster, Borders Sheepscapes, was an exploration of sheep farming as a major land use in the Scottish Borders. This project is highlighted because it contributed a dimension to our thinking about Land Use Strategies, which are human-centred. The artist’s process of drawing in the field articulated some of the human resources of knowledge, skill and design underlying workaday pastoral scenery – as well as the part that sheep play in producing landscape. This project intended to shift humans from centre stage in landscape appreciation and reached towards a multispecies way of understanding how humans exist in the world.

A later addition to this body of work explored the widespread use of palm oil in livestock fodder through the example of an automated milk supply for orphaned lambs.

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Lac-tek, the electronic mummy © Kate Foster 2012

This work explored both the welcome benefit ‘Lac-tek’ brought to the farmers and possibly the orphaned lambs, and also the presence of palm and coconut oil in the sheeps-milk substitute (and many other animal feeds). Palm oil is an example of a highly controversial commodity, because increasing demand for this product has led to expansion of plantation monoculture in tropical countries, undermining climate change mitigation and creating further environmental injustice.

Carbon Landscapes

The Climate Change Act (Scotland) was a starting point for the Land Use Strategy. Atmospheric pollution by greenhouse gases is a complicated science, but there are straightforward ways that the movement of carbon can be inferred. These are not widely understood. Kate is piloting collaborative work that explores what artists can add to the environmental science of Carbon Landscapes.

The project Flux Chamber created a guide to carbon riverscapes with Dr. David Borthwick and Professor Susan Waldron of Glasgow University.

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Image from Flux Chamber series © Kate Foster 2015

You need to have thought about what Carbon Landscapes consist of before you can start to see where carbon exchange between different reservoirs (terrestrial, marine, atmospheric) is taking place. If people are to protect naturally stored carbon, we need to develop sensibility to see how carbon is gained, lost and recycled.

For Peatland Actions, Kate worked with Nadiah Rosli on another pilot project exploring carbon landscapes, that brought together different experiences of the use and exploitation of peatlands in Scotland and South East Asia. The name of the work was derived from a government programme of  peatland restoration, and this piece was shown at the exhibition Submerge, as part of the ArtCOP 2015 programme at the Stove Network, Dumfries.

Nadiah Rosli used social media communications to convey how the toxic haze, that now frequently spreads from Indonesia to other countries in South East Asia, has come to feel normal to her family and friends in Malaysia. The haze from illegal fires makes blue sky  something to exclaim about.

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River Ways © Working the Tweed 2013

Here is an extract from Kate’s description of this collaborative work:

Until recently Mosses have not been valued for their ‘ecosystem services’ but peatbogs are the most effective carbon sinks known. Conversely, peat releases greenhouse gases when it is exposed. Damaged Scottish peatlands are being restored using public money for climate mitigation – but at the same time, peat extraction is pursued privately, for example at Nutberry Moss. I see this, passing by on the A75 to Carlisle. For me (Kate), this grim landscape of carbon emission is a glimpse from the car window. Nadiah Rosli has had to breathe far more damaging airs – the thick toxic haze from fires raging in Indonesian carbon-rich peatlands. Nadiah has courageously communicated about the situation in which Indonesian rainforest is burnt to allow commodity production (including palm oil and paper pulp for western markets). Her approach insists on a focus on environmental justice, including the idea that land abuse should be understood as a crime whose victims include humans exposed to the consequences of atmospheric pollution, amongst many other species.

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Nutberry Moss seen in passing, from a car © Kate Foster 2015

These are ways in which we as artists have worked to open out political attention to land use, to include more-than-human and intangible cultural viewpoints. Short-term economic gain for humans is often the main consideration within our globalised economy. However artist-led projects can explore how different kinds of land use bring both benefits and loss to different parties, by adopting an ecocentric viewpoint and juxtaposing different timeframes and geographical scales. In common with other strands of contemporary art, this work seeks to shift humans from centre stage in landscape appreciation. The anthropocentric idea that extraction of commodities is endlessly possible is challenged by eco-artwork that refuses to work within the deranged scales that are endorsed elsewhere.

Academic work informs our practices in different ways, for example there is a trend in the study of international relations that takes ecology into account. Also, the environmental humanities are producing multispecies perspectives: as Deborah Bird Rose argues, if we fail to grasp the connectivities between human and nonhuman, we cannot have insight into the ramifications of anthropogenic extinction and miss ‘our entangled responsibilities and accountabilities.’

Artists can work with these pioneering and inspiring influences to produce multi-layered understandings of place, which can also be thought of as developing a bioregional sensibility. This feeds into a process of shifting aesthetic appreciation, and being able to recognise patterns of land use – as well as land abuse – within global processes. We would also wish to take the more complex step of helping develop the relationships to place and its inhabitants, humans and others, that a contemporary land ethic requires.

Kate Foster and Claire Pençak, February 2016

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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Call for proposals – Feeding the insatiable – a creative summit – November 9-11 2016

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Real and imagined narratives of art and energy for a troubled planet

This international summit takes place at Dartington Hall in southwest England from 16.30 on November 9 to 16.30 on November 11, 2016.

Encouraging all manner of energy generation through creative intervention and invention and new approaches to scientific enquiry including the quirky, the impossible, the micro and the personal.  Encouraging debate – practical, philosophical, metaphysical, and theoretical – bringing creative minds from many disciplines to bear on these pressing issues.

We also offer an accompanying residential short for three days adjacent to the summit, from Saturday November 11 Monday November 13.  Special pricing is available for both if registered together

Principal partners are Schumacher College, and Regen SW.

Scope

COP21, the climate talks held in Paris in December 2015 produced a breakthrough agreement after twenty years of frustrations, meanderings, compromises, and political squeamishness. The commitment to limit temperature rise to 2°C (whilst aiming for 1.5°C) represents a global commitment to wean the world from dirty energy to cleaner forms in which renewables must inevitably play a significant part: the only way the commitment can be met. This, we were told, ‘was the last chance… and we took it’; not all voices purred so positively but the outcome was broadly embraced.

The politicians and diplomats, it seems, have finally been moved to action. Moving the general populace has proved more difficult. Twenty years of increasingly immoderate language bordering at times on the hysterical, broadly-aligned and finely-honed but progressively panicky science from some of the world’s brightest minds, and even a grudging political consensus has made virtually no impact on how people live and how they consume: energy, food, the planet. In the meantime our government here in the UK sends out the most mixed of messages, lauding the outcome of COP21 whilst legislating to undermine renewable and clean energy and many other initiatives aimed at mitigating harm to the planet. Clean energy becomes a discussion about money, not about our world.

Art can change the world.  Artists have played an important part in every major social change in our society and have an indispensable role today in helping us deal with complex existential challenges.  But issues-laden art can be bombastic, unsubtle and lacking in spirit, particularly when artists insist they have a message to send. Renewable energy can change the world, too. But we don’t have to accept that only industrial scale installations are the answer.

This gathering encourages through creative intervention and invention and new approaches to scientific enquiry all manner of energy generation including the quirky, the impossible, the micro and the personal. It encourages debate – practical, philosophical, metaphysical, and theoretical – about how creative minds and creative spirit can be brought to bear on these issues.

We explore ways in which creative makers and enquirers –– artists, scientists, philosophers, theorists and others –– can increasingly play a part in moving rather than cajoling, inspiring rather than scaring, succouring rather than scourging. The impassioned voice has an essential role to play in shifting the inert and entrenched thinking about how we live in the world, how we consume its resources and how we subvert and circumvent monolithic thinking. The danger lies not in those with abrasively negative views (as panic leads to stridency bordering on the absurd and numbers inevitably dwindle to irrelevancy under the growing weight of evidence), but those who have no views at all.  Flicking the switch is so utterly fundamental to our daily lives that we gasp with horror and puzzlement if it produces no effect.

How can the lights not come on?

Potential topics

This are suggested topics only; the list is not intended to be proscriptive

  • transformational potential of art
  • visioning change
  • imaginative and invented narratives and technologies
  • micro-generation and body-derived energy
  • plant and other organic power generators
  • beyond communication
  • energy and metaphor
  • message and instrumentalisation
  • slow art, process
  • non-literal big data visualisation
  • envisioning the profound
  • aesthetics of art/science
  • using imagination for social change
  • emotion / science
  • sensible / actual
  • new ways of seeing
  • new ways of knowing
  • evolving meaning
  • celebrating authenticity and ethos
  • energy in the animal world
  • ethnographics, big data, climate change, understanding
  • exploring chasms between artists and industry
  • energy futures and questions of design

Keynote speakers

Robert Ferry and Elizabeth Monoian of Land Art Generator Initiative

The Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI), provides a platform for artists, architects, landscape architects, and other creatives working with engineers and scientists to bring forward human-centered solutions for sustainable energy infrastructures that enhance the city as works of public art while cleanly powering thousands of homes.

Laura Watts (IT University of Copenhagen): writer, poet and ethnographer of futures

Laura is a Writer, Poet, & Ethnographer, and Associate Professor in Science and Technology Studies (STS) at IT University of Copenhagen. Her interest is in the effect of landscape on how the future is imagined and made in everyday practice. How might the future be made differently in different places? Over the last fifteen years, she has collaborated with industry and organisations in telecoms, public transport, and renewable energy, to re-imagine how the future gets made in high-tech industry, and how it might be made otherwise.

ICE Art & Energy 200

During the summit we will launch the callout for the ICE Art & Energy prize, an engaging, clean energy generating, international art competition, led by Regen SW and the Institution of Civil Engineers.

The competition challenges outstanding artists and designers to collaborate with civil engineers to construct an iconic piece of public art that also generates energy at scale. The winning piece will be installed in a UK city by 2020.

Day 0: Research Day

During the day on November 9 an invited group of artists, engineers and others will meet to discuss issues around art and renewable energy, public art, ephemeral art, and how to foster closer ties between artists and industry. A summary of this day will be presented during the main summit, and a report published. This meeting will be led by Chris Fremantle, founder of ecoartscotland and is hosted by Schumacher College‘s arts and ecology programme

Find out more

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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Sea Change: Art, Place and Resilience

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

ruth-littleGlasgow Centre for Population Health‘s Seminar Series 12: Lecture 5 will feature Ruth Little speaking about Sea Change: Art, Place and Resilience.

Tuesday 22nd March 2016
4.30 pm – 6.00 pm
Scottish Youth Theatre, 105 Brunswick Street, Glasgow G1 1TF

Sign up here

What can art and art-making contribute to fostering the coherence, capacity and connection that enable whole body health and adaptation, both social and individual? How can we better find our own place in living systems perpetually in motion where the stable patterns that once supported our lives are increasingly fragile?

Ruth Little works with artists and communities in the context of change: climate change, economic change, social change, sea change, and for many, short change. As associate director of Cape Farewell, a project which uses artistic creativity to instigate a cultural response to climate change, she is currently involved in a four year programme of interdisciplinary research, sailing expeditions, events, workshops and exhibitions across the islands of Scotland.

She brings to this work her award-winning skills as a dramaturg in theatre and dance. This is a role that is difficult to describe and has no easy synonym. It is essentially about discerning, revealing and expressing the connections and patterns which help us to make meaning from dramatic action or movement. As Ruth puts it: “Live performance is a living, evolving system: an assemblage of objects united by regular interaction or interdependence. And living systems all work in essentially the same way, no matter how big or small they are. Dramaturgy is, literally, the work of the actions, and the actions of living systems are patterned.”

The themes of change, health, resilience and adaptation spring from this perspective. Growth and evolution are only possible when something changes, when the patterns are disturbed. “Meaning is, in effect, found not in the pattern itself, but in its disturbance, and the creation of new patterns. Knowledge lies at thresholds and edges of experience, and this is the place where dramaturgy happens.”

It is also the place where, increasingly, most of us live our lives in a complex, rapidly changing world. How we adapt to change and disturbance at every level as individuals and as social beings is both a measure and a determinant of our health and wellbeing and is the basis of resilience.

Ruth Little is a theatre and dance dramaturg, a teacher and writer. She lectured in English Literature at the University of Sydney and was literary manager at Out of Joint, Soho Theatre, the Young Vic and the Royal Court. She is Associate Director at Cape Farewell where she is curating and producing Sea Change, a four-year programme of interdisciplinary research, sailing expeditions, events, workshops and exhibitions across the islands of Scotland. She is dramaturg with Akram Khan Company and has worked with Sadlers Wells, Spitalfields Festival, Barbican, National Theatre Connections, Fuel, Theatre Forum Dubln, Siobhan Davies Dance, Le Patin Libre. Winner of the 2012 Kenneth Tynan Award for dramaturgy. Recent publications include The Slow Art of Contemporary Expedition: Islandings and Art, Place, Climate: Situated Ethics

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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Camilla Nelson: An Oakwoods Almanac in Review

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

223_5477There is much to explore in this Almanac of entries, some more sculpted than others, compiled by the poet Gerry Loose as he wandered the familiar and foreign oakwoods of Sunart and Saari in 2007, 2008 and 2010.

An Oakwoods Almanac is arranged in two parts. The first, ‘Sunart’, takes its name from the Scottish oakwood and contains entries made in and around this area from September 2007 to June 2008. ‘Saari’, the second, shorter and more focussed section, contains entries made in and around the Finnish oakwood (from which this section takes its name) between September and November 2010. These two parts have very different qualities and characters. The first, ‘Sunart’, is a fog of place names and organism activity that weave in and out of an oakwood that you may or may not be inhabiting at any one time. There are no maps. Dates are partial. And it feels like Loose is only partly committed to this text as a publishable piece of writing. You are as likely to be treated to reflections on the conflict in Israel as you are to a detailed observation of ants. The mind wanders and the text, correspondingly, disorientates. In contrast, ‘Saari’ has no maps, but the structure is clear. This section provides days, dates, months and place names with which to orient the reader. In ‘Sunart’ you are never quite sure where you are or what time it is. In ‘Saari’ you even get subheadings. ‘Saari’ is a series of highly focussed snapshots and polished reflections. Loose’s entries shine hard and bright, like the ‘diamond pointed minds’ (136) of the raptors he references. If ‘Saari’ is something to share, ‘Sunart’ is for himself.

If I wasn’t interested in the dynamics of writing in and about place, Loose might have lost me with ‘Sunart’. In this first section, Loose is so much a part of his surroundings that he is largely absent to himself and the reader. He forgets that his audience are strangers both to him and to the oakwoods he inhabits. His account is intimate. We find his thoughts and language in a state of disarray. We are mainlined into his stream of consciousness; we inhabit what Loose inhabits, unedited. The partiality of flitting from one thing to another is set down faithfully, in the moment, with the result that the writing may only make partial sense. We are half-blind. Loose is fluent in these woods and takes this knowledge for granted, making no allowance for our ignorance. In this section, we get a sense of our guide more through his patterns of thought than through any direct detail; he is mostly speaking to himself.

There are two entries that, together, give a good sense of what it is like to read ‘Sunart’. The first, written on the 10th October 2007, describes Loose’s relationship to words:

I have too many words. What’s written here is spontaneous, I’ve nothing to lose but the words. It may be a broadcloth journal, from cutout bits from poems; the poems are the holes in the cloth from which they’ve been cut. Like the Jain image of the released spirit, a negative, because they are not yet written. In the surrounding material are many repetitions in pattern, like speech. (23)

This almanac ‘may be a broadcloth journal’, a word hoard, or spontaneous site of notes that fill the store cupboard from which future poems might later ferment. This is both suggested and immediately counteracted as a possibility. It is not that the poems will later be cut from this broadcloth of spontaneous jottings but that this broadcloth is already a collage, formed ‘from cutout bits from poems’. The journal is less a continuous piece and more of a patchwork quilt; a quilt made from the leftover fabric from which these poems have been already cut. Except this is not quite it either because the poems do not yet exist, or exist only in negative, ‘because they are not yet written’. But if they are not yet written, how have they formed holes in the text? I’m pushing the text, perhaps more than is warranted, in order to excavate what it is Loose is delivering for the reader. This excerpt shows how ‘Sunart’ can be both suggestive and confusing, a combination that can be frustrating – it gestures towards what it could give you, but doesn’t. ‘Sunart’ rewritten would be a very different oakwood. There is something to be gained from the honesty of setting down words as they arrive but this act of recording unstructured thoughts and leaving the reader to make sense of them could also be seen as presumptuous; other writers have to rewrite and restructure but this writer doesn’t have to – why? Is publishing a work before it is fully-formed an act of laziness on the part of an author who won’t rewrite or an act of generous vulnerability, exposing prose in its ‘purest’ formation, only just out of the mind? It is these questions that makes this text an interesting work to study, but not always an easy one to read. ‘Sunart’ is a word store, pre clear-out, and we are often lost in its midden.

The second entry I want to look at, written on 29th December 2007, describes Loose’s perceptual approach to Sunart oakwoods:

There is a need to approach Sunart oakwoods obliquely. Like sitting. Sitting very still, alert and relaxed, waiting for something to arrive: a deer, maybe, or an owl. If I look at trees in the dusk directly, they dance in vision; it’s the way our eyes are physically made. Look to one side and the tree is clearer. I approach the tree sideways, a little nervous of their history and presence. I count geese, deer, list mosses, enumerate spiders, look out to sea with my back to the woods, holly and birch and alder all around. It’s as if to look directly is somehow to obscure a latency, a voice that I want to listen to; but it’s not enough to be attentive, scientific; it’s necessary to be receptive. I’m impatient. I’ll not live as long as an oak. (61)

This entry provides the rationale for ‘Sunart’s mode of delivery. It also sheds light on Loose’s decision to leave this section so unreconstructed, and potentially offers a guide to the reader. Loose’s approach to understanding this oakwood is oblique, perhaps our reading method should be similar? Loose is wary of disturbing the oakwood’s fragile voice with the violence of direct attention. Perhaps the violent kind of truth-searching to which I subjected the word-store excerpt is an example of precisely what Loose is trying to avoid. I can identify with this feeling. It is something I felt when working with a tree for three years in Cornwall. There is a different logic among trees. A human cannot contain the expansiveness of the relationships at work there. We have to insert ourselves into the network – to be rather than do – in order to feel how these relationships work, and even then we have already disturbed something. The counting of geese and deer, the listing of mosses, the enumeration of spiders are gestures, fine-fingered attempts to store fragments from which to reconfigure a whole. Loose has tried to capture a sense of these threads without pulling a hole in the fabric, but the oakwood is no clearer as a result. In response to William Carlos Williams, Loose writes that ‘Things have their own ideas, they’re […] an event, walking their own way’ (39). The event that is this oakwood evades capture in ‘Sunart’, despite Loose’s best efforts. ‘Inside a wood, it is hard to see it for the trees which overwhelm with their forms, twisted, broken, growing one in the other […] I find it hard also to see the trees for this reason’ (22). Loose cannot see the woods or trees, and neither can we.

‘Saari’ is a different species. As a stranger, Loose is more attentive and committed to his note-making; he is more focussed in Finland. His prose is a poetry: alert, more consciously placed, more settled. Here, Loose writes, ‘I go to the woods because they do not need me’ (111). He is clear-sighted and precise. After enduring the fog of ‘Sunart’ (for almost one hundred pages), ‘Saari’ sparkles and all forty-eight pages are equally brilliant.

And so we are left with the question, should Loose have made ‘Sunart’ sparkle in the same way as ‘Saari’? Or is there more for the reader in the unfinished, warts-and-all structure of ‘Sunart’ than in ‘Saari’s polished prose? Or, finally, does the value lie in their comparison? This Almanac poses many questions, the responses to all of which will be different depending on how and what you like to read. For myself, having braved the wilds of ‘Sunart’, ‘Saari’ was a welcome reward. But Loose’s Almanac certainly offers much to think about.


 

An Oakwoods Almanac is available from Shearsman Books.

Camilla Nelson is a language artist, researcher and collaborator across a range of disciplines. ‘Tidal Voices’, a collaboration with Welsh poet Rhys Trimble, was short-listed for the Tidal Bay Swansea Lagoon

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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