ecoartscotland

Meghan Moe Beitiks reviews Soil Culture

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

SoilCulture: bringing the arts down to earth, from theCentre for Contemporary Art in the Natural World (CCANW) and Falmouth Art Gallery published in collaboration with Gaia Projects is the culmination of years of work—comprehensive documentation of a significant exhibition, nine curated artist residencies, and a Soil Culture Forum. It includes photographs and essays detailing the contributions of the artists involved, as well as personal reflections on theForum, and descriptions of events held at Plymouth University, and at Create, Bristol City Council’s environmental centre, all coordinated to coincide with the United Nations International Year of Soils in 2015.

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Floodplain soil developed in sand, North Wales.  Photo: Bruce Lascelles

After a brief introduction by the directors of the CCANW, we are, fittingly, introduced to soil – both in an “Homage” by Patrick Holden, and more in-depth, in “What is Soil?” by Dr. Bruce Lascelles. It’s really refreshing to pick up an art book about a given subject and begin reading about that subject from the point of view of a scientific researcher. We do not begin with say, soils’ depiction in art through the ages, or with some overly poetic meandering about the modern cultural meanings of soil (though Daro Montag gives a good overview of soil in culture in “Speaking of Soil,” detailing soils’ relationships to language). Instead, we begin with a very practical overview of what soil is, on a scientific level, after an extended essay from Holden about the importance of microbial communities, comparing the function of the soil to that of the human gut.

In beginning with these scientific facts and research on soil, the book reminds us that soil is a global entity, and something upon which we are interdependent. It acknowledges that within the UK there are several hundred varieties of soil, and opens up space for potentially complex dialogue. While there are a diverse number of approaches to making art with/and/about soil included in the book, they remain rooted in conceptual methodologies and approaches. A workshop described later in the book as replicating a Japanese technique for making soil-balls is one of the rare non-Western perspectives that the book holds. It makes sense, to a certain extent, that a UK-based exploration of soil would be culturally- and site-specific in nature, and the examination of work within the contemporary conceptual is in-depth. But the potential for an even more global, expansive dialogue is sometimes lost.

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Stills from ‘Alma Silueta en Fuego (Silueto de Cenizas)’ 1975.  Super-8 colour silent film transferred to DVD. Photo: The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection

From its material, scientific beginning, the book goes on to detail a major traveling exhibition, Deep Roots, featuring the works of known artists like Mel Chin, Richard Long and Ana Mendieta, as well as potentially less internationally known names, such as Paolo Barrile. Within these works, we see soil positioned as a pigment, a currency, and as a site for research.

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Claire Pentecost, Soil Erg, installation in dOCUMENTA(13) in Germany 2012. Image courtesy of the artist.

It’s great to see Claire Pentecost’s work Soil Erg featured, a re-imagining of soil as a currency, complete with soil ingots and soil-paper currency notes (full disclosure: I was a student of Pentecost’s at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). Each artist is given a two-page spread in the book, with large images and text. The work is primarily contemporary conceptual: there’s no attempt to incorporate, say, more traditional clay sculpture, or other folks forms of making art with soil. But overall, the exhibition documentation gives a good overview of soil as engaged with by a series of contemporary, established artists.

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Mel Chin, Revival Field, 1991-ongoing

One point of disappointment, especially given the books’ promising relationship to science, is the treatment given to the research connected to Mel Chin’s Revival Field. This work is so singularly important to environmental art it has become a kind of sacred cow. While it’s true that Revival Field has a significant impact on research in phytoremediation, Sue Spaid has noted previously that it was concerns about perceptions of the validity of the science that prompted subsequent re-plantings.* In SoilCulture, these re-mountings are referred to simply as other versions of the project. There’s a limited amount of space given to each artist in the book, but it’s a shame that more time wasn’t taken in this volume to unpack the relationship between the scientific research and this project over time, as this is a less-often discussed but important aspect of the legacy of the work. Moments like this represent opportunities lost for a more expansive, critical discourse, especially since this art/soil/science relationship proves to be consistently important to the documented programming. If this was something that was expanded on in the live events, it isn’t made clear in the publication.

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Karen Guthrie, Residency 2014, Hauser & Wirth Somerset

The book moves on to focus on nine emerging artists who were given the opportunity to embed themselves in various context to explore soil with scientists, at farms, and in a botanical garden, in a section called Young Shoots. These explorations include a distilled soil work by Karen Guthrie, a “Brest Plough o’ metric” by Paul Chaney, and an attempt to manufacture soil by Something & Son. The works bridge the scientific and the artistic in engaging and effective ways, and speak to emerging interdisciplinary practices. In these projects, soil and its culture are regarded as inspirational material in-and-of-itself, a further remove from historical art cannons, informed by science, engineering, and ecological imperatives.

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Detail of ‘Breast Plough’o’metric’. Photo: Martyn Windsor

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This bridges very well into Soil Culture: Dig it, a chapter based on an exhibition of the same name, in which the studio and the scientific laboratory are brought into the same space. Residency artist Lisa Hirmer (DodoLab) worked alongside Dr. Rob Parkinson, an Associate Professor in Soil Sciences and some colleagues from the School of Biological Sciences in Plymouth University, exploring peat and atmospheric carbon, among other collaborations, and the exhibition space displayed research tools and samples from scientific as well as creative explorations. A fitting exploration for the arc of the project.

It’s followed by Soil Culture at Create, an overview of live and educational programming at Bristol City Council’s environmental centre. A series of “Soil Saturdays” framed workshops, talks, culinary demonstrations, performances, and artistic interventions around the theme of soil, in temporary explorations. It serves well as documentation (each Saturday has a photo and a summary), but is probably best read by itself in a separate sitting, since at that point the reader has been steadily subsumed in the art/soil/science exploration, and it is a condensed format.

Thankfully, the next section is a series of short essays in response to the Soil Culture Forum, a three-day symposium converged by Research in Art, Nature & Environment (RANE) at Falmouth University. This section of the book is both satisfying and frustrating. Its personal tone and short form makes the reader feel a bit like they were in a room with a bunch of well-informed folks reminiscing, reflecting both on soil and on the event of the Forum. Valid questions are raised about culture’s relationship to soil: one of the most satisfying passages comes from Mat Osmond’s report on Richard Kerridge,

Of course, this comes after Holden’s assertion that the micro-organism is drastically important to the soil, so rather than reframe the arts as small, humble, or insignificant, this statement has the effect of positioning the arts as deeply embedded, important, in dialogue with its surroundings. I personally deeply appreciated this reframing.

Unfortunately, it is followed in other shorter essays by familiar tropes in sustainability culture, like the demand for a universal spiritual connection to the Earth, or a singular definition of love that includes the non-human (Stephen Harding’s assertion, for instance, that ‘the only way we can address these problems is through love’). These demands do much to flatten the attempts at diversity in the dialogue. It’s a common problem in the creation and discussion of environmental work that the overwhelming impetus to celebrate has the effect of universalizing, normalizing, and undermining safe spaces for questioning or critical discourse. It’s easy to make such beautiful statements—who can argue with love? But they unintentionally undermine a greater diversity of respectful relationships to soil.

microscopesSoilCulture is, ultimately, the documentation of a strong collection of artists exploring soil at a time when its importance and preciousness is politically and ecologically pressing. This puts some artworks in the position of celebrating or propagandizing. While these efforts may be needed, the conversation that SoilCulture frames also points to the importance of diversity and critical discourse in ecological/cultural work, largely because such elements are sometimes lacking in its own curation. Regardless, the projects put forth solid juxtapositions of scientific and artistic research with soil, including artist/scientist collaborations, and research processes reframed. It is a fascinating snapshot in time of artists engaging with a crucial issue.

* 2002. Ecovention: current art to transform ecologies, Cincinatti, Ohio: The Contemporary Art Center, p.7

Full disclosure: the author is colleagues with one of the residency artists, formerly worked for one of the Soil Culture Forum presenters, and was, as noted above, a student of Claire Pentecost, one of the professionally exhibited artists featured in the book.

All images provided by the publishers.

BIOGRAPHY
Meghan Moe Beitiks is an artist and writer working with associations and disassociations of culture/nature/structure.  She analyzes perceptions of ecology though the lenses of site, history, emotions, and her own body in order to produce work that analyzes relationships with the non-human. She was a Fulbright Student Fellow, a recipient of the Claire Rosen and Samuel Edes Foundation Prize for Emerging Artists, and a MacDowell Colony fellow. She has taught performance at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and exhibited her work at the I-Park Environmental Art Biennale, Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn, Defibrillator Performance Art Gallery in Chicago, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the House of Artists in Moscow, and other locations in California, Chicago, Australia and the UK. She received her BA in Theater Arts from the University of California, Santa Cruz and her MFA in Performance Art from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. www.meghanmoebeitiks.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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Opportunity: Nature and Culture to Revitalize an Island

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International Creative Workshop in Megijima, Japan
2016 October 2-9 (long session) / October 8-9 (short session)
hosted by SocieCity and Final Straw
with Patrick M. Lydon, Suhee Kang, and Kaori Tsuji

Ecological activism, creative practice, and community building come together on the Island of Megijima, Japan this October, and we want you to be a part of it.

The team at SocieCity & Final Straw are assembling an international cast of creative thinkers and doers to join us in a small Japanese village, where we will discover and highlight the social and ecological treasures of this island together. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore in depth, the nature and culture of a small island together with other creative minds from around the world, and to help build an ecological future for this community.

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Our program begins with participants enjoying an in-depth look at the island, it’s nature, and its people. We have arranged special tours of the island’s ecological and cultural history, and participants will interact directly with locals to hear their stories of the island, it’s natural resources, its farms, and its folklore.

The second half of the program focuses on synthesizing our experiences – the ecology, stories, and personal reactions – into creative prototypes for small products that can be made using local materials. The prototypes are mean both as talismans (souvenirs) for visitors, and celebrations of the island’s unique nature and culture.

All prototypes produced by workshop participants will be voted on by the local villagers, with the winning design having a chance to be put into production locally in order to support the island.

Participants can choose to stay for only the intensive course (October 8th – 9th), or an extended internship (October 2nd – 9th) that will include becoming part of the larger community regeneration activities we are undertaking on the island. The extended internship, though not required, is especially recommended for international visitors.

To Apply, please send the following topatrick@finalstraw.org by Sept 1, 2016:

  • Your Name / Street Address / Email / Phone / and Website (if available)
  • Either five still images or five minutes of video showing previous work. Images must be JPEG format and around 500kb – 1mb in size each, attached to the email. Videos must be submitted as a links to YouTube, Vimeo, or another streaming service. If a video is longer than 5 minutes, please note that we can only watch the first 5 minutes.
  • An image list with location, title, and short description for each image or video
  • A short statement (less than 300 words) about your practice
  • A short statement (less than 300 words) about why you wish to join the workshop
    Please include all text in the body of the email, not as an attachment.

Conditions (Please Read Before Applying):

Accommodation – The rate for accommodation is $40 (2 days / 1 night) or $180USD (7 days / 6 nights). This covers the cost of private room hotel accommodation on the island.
Tuition – The workshop tuition is done using the “pay it forward” system. This means that there is no predetermined rate for tuition, and participants are welcome to pay what they can. However, Pay it Forward also means that your project coordinators are volunteering their time, they are not getting paid to produce and lead these workshops. Your tuition payment is the only way we can continue to conduct more workshops for future participants.

Travel and Meals – All participants must cover their own travel and expenses of getting to Japan and during their stay. Meals are not included in the tuition fee, though there are a few options for eating on the island, and group-cooked dinners will be arranged for those who wish to take part in them.

Applicants are expected to be proficient in speaking English. Japanese language experience is a bonus, but certainly not required.

Previous experience with community engaged arts, craft skills, or creative practice, although not explicitly required, is recommended and should be reflected in your work and statement.

Learn More About Our Work:
SocieCity / Creative actions for inspiring tomorrow –www.sociecity.org
Final Straw / Food, Earth, Happiness – www.finalstraw.org

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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Outlook: Exploring Geddes in the 21st Century

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To coincide with Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016, a two-day international conference (18-19 August, 2016) will celebrate the impact and legacy of Sir Patrick Geddes, polymath, botanist and founding father of town planning.

The conference will be opened by Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Fiona Hyslop MSP.

The conference will involve a series of interactive seminars and workshops, fusing together strands of academic and practice-based thinking from Scotland and all around the world.

The first day will hear from young people about their sense of place as well as a range of leading thinkers, artists, architects, educationalists and planners.
Day two will provide opportunities for creative, hands-on art and design workshops inspired by Geddes, involving students from Art, Space + Nature Masters Programme at ECA.

Further information and booking 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.

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Julia Barton: Collecting new rock samples in Scotland’s GeoParks

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Featured Image: plastic rock reveal. NH 093 988 Isle Martin. J Barton

Julia Barton sent us the following information on her current work:

Artist Julia Barton is presently collecting classifying samples of a new rock now found on beaches in the remotest places on the North West Coast and Shetland, the rocks have become the focus of her Littoral Art Project which is investigating beach litter around Scotland.

Littoral meaning, the zone between the low and the high tide marks.

In 2013 a Canadian geological team named this rock ‘Plastiglomerate’ a category now acknowledged by scientists as a geological marker of our time (the Anthropocene) .  These ‘rocks’ lumps of melted plastic are now common on some beaches, as people turn to burning the increasing volumes of plastic waste which accumulates on beaches.  Every year 8 million tonnes of plastic reaches the world’s ocean and 100,000 sharks, turtles, dolphins and whales die from eating plastic according to the Marine Conservation Society.

The ‘plastic rocks’ are difficult to distinguish from natural beach rocks, and often go un-noticed, each has a unique molecular composition, their toxicity and timeline is unknown.  The ‘rocks’ collected will be used to construct the principal piece of an exhibition opening at Da Gadderie, Shetland Museum – 8th Oct-12 Nov and at An Talla Solais Caledonian Gallery in 2017 (dates to be confirmed).

It is intended that the exhibition will then travel to Edinburgh and internationally. Julia is presently producing a ‘Guide to Beach Litter’ to accompany the exhibition. This exhibition has received part funding from the National Lottery through Creative Scotland Open Project Funding.

Littoral Art Project was set up in 2013 by artist Julia Barton in response to her fear of drowning in litter which she experienced whilst walking on a beach on the North West coast of Scotland. Since then Julia has surveyed and mapped litter on over 20 Scottish beaches engaging local communities in her interactive investigations some of which can be viewed

The aim of the project and exhibition is to encourage understanding of the threat that beach and marine litter presents and to promote change by allowing people to see litter in different ways and consider the long term environmental implications.

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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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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