Ecology Centre

Steep Trail: an Ecolab in Fife

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

On the sunny 9th and drenching 10th of August, a group of artists, environmentalists, and community workers met in Fife as part of a series of event coordinated by Fife Contemporary Arts and Crafts, Polarcap, and Edinburgh Sculpture Studios. (For reports on earlier events, see the ecoartscotland blog  and the Greener Leith Blog) The themes were land, walls, boundaries – plus John Muir and China. The first venue for a day of walk and talk was the Ecology Centre near Burntisland, with its impressive blend of social and ecological engagement. Ronnie Mackie and Julie Samuel explained how determination had made the place happen, by nurturing volunteer contributions and generating community input. Biodiversity is catered for too, with this wetland created from a former industrial dump. We found toads, well-tended poly-tunnels, allotments and more. John Muir was the main topic of afternoon talks, being introduced by Liz Adamson of Polarcap and Jo Moulin in the afternoon of talks – Muir’s birthplace in Dunbar   is a visitor centre that contributes to sustainable living in East Lothian. The group mulled over the Muir quote: “I went out for a walk and stayed out till sundown, for going out I found I was really going in.” Wild development was an idea presented in another form in scenes of contemporary China presented by Peter Lindow. On the wet 10th, we convened at Falkland Centre for Stewardship. The day was introduced by Ninian Stuart and Tess Darwin with a tour of woodland walks and farmland – following boundaries and learning (indoors) how the estate has become a place to learn to live more sustainably, threading traditions of stewardship with community involvement and ecological design. The Centre extends support to artwork such as Resounding – sound installation including work by Louise K Wilson – and also to a new conservation project – Lomond Living Landscapes. The latter was presented by David Munro, describing how the ‘commonty‘ of the hills (currently dissected by the Fife/Perth boundary) had been successively divided and enclosed, with ‘marches’ and ‘meiths’ [boundaries] surviving. How can art/craft and biodiversity link? This was a themes developed by Reheema White, lecturer in Sustainable Development at St Andrews. Her presentation made no bones about the implications of species loss and unsustainable lifestyles, but allowed for a creative engagement. This allowed me to explain why I value ecoartscotland as a network, seeing ‘ecoart’ as linking different kinds of knowledge and moving ourselves outwith comfort zones. A theme emerged: what would John Muir take into account if he were alive now? One response was that having taken Teddy Roosevelt to the Yosemite, he might take Alex Salmond to Menie Links in Aberdeenshire (the Trump development). A stimulating event of exchanges, with no particular outcome required but things brewing. posted by Kate Foster

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

Help us choose the best art of 2009

Still from Flooded MacDonalds, Superflex, 2009

It has been an extraordinary year for art that responds to issues surrounding the environment. In the (almost) five years since we have been operating, there has never been so much great work being produced. Art never speaks with a single voice, but there has been an increasing cluster of activity around climate change, politics and the enviroment.

It’s time to compile our annual list of the best of the year. We have an embarrassment of riches to chose from. Radical Nature at the Barbican; 100 Days at the Arnolfini; Denmark’sRETHINK; Steve Water’s The Contingency Plan at the Bush Theatre; Artsadmin’s 2 Degrees; Heather and Ivan Morison’s The Black Cloud; Franny Armstrong’s The Age of Stupid, Manchester’s Environment 2.0 at Futuresonic 2009, Superflex’s Flooded McDonalds Petko Dourmana’s Post Global Warming Survival Kit or one of the Yes Men’s interventions – like their one yesterday at COP15 which proved so embarrassing to the Canadians … that’s just dipping our toes in the water.

What were your highlights of the year – and why? What have I criminally overlooked in that above list? What were the best books and stories – the best films? We want to include your comments in the piece which we’ll put up on the main RSA Arts & Ecology Centre website.

Tell us in the comment field below – or email me at william.shaw@rsa.org.uk.

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Did art help add the sheen to Dubai?


Rem Koolhaas at the Dubai Next exhibition

The party is over in Dubai. It was always based on a boom. And art is always there when there is a boom. It had its foot in the door of the contemporary art fair circuit. Christies had set up shop there.  The RSA Arts & Ecology Centre took part in the 8th Sharjah Biennial – leading a major symposium on arts and ecology….

Simon Jenkins excoriates those who took part in what was effectively a massive PR to suggest that Dubai was the city of the future, when its sustainability was always in question. As the debt bubble bursts, does the art world share some of that blame for joining in the party?

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RSA sets up Arts for COP15 network

RSA sets up Arts for COP15 network

The RSA Arts & Ecology Centre has set up the web-based network, Arts For COP15, for artists and arts professionals who are producing work in the run up to and during the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 09.

It is designed as a site to

  • publicise arts events that relate to COP15
  • Share knowledge and resources with other artists and arts professionals
  • discuss how arts strategy around climate and social change can evolve
  • research into the range and success of these projects
  • use arts to increase the noise around COP15
  • encourage artists and arts professionals who are producing work that is about the environment over the next few months to consider using the event as a way of discussing COP15 with their audiences.
For more information, contact Wiliam Shaw, webeditor at the RSA Art & Ecology Centre.

www.arts4cop15.org
www.rsaartsandecology.org.uk

Who’s in the house? Well, on the house, really. Bat House update

Bat on bat house 09.09.SN150293

Just had an excited email from the WWT London Wetlands Centre. A bat came and checked out the Bat House. [Background: the Berkeley Bat House is a project envisaged by artist Jeremy Deller and put into action by a partnership of organisations that included the RSA Arts & Ecology Centre].

Yes, that’s it… that dark splodge at the top left. Didn’t actually go inside, but think of it as that first drive-by before it calls the estate agents. It appears to have wee-ed down the wall, which has to be a good sign, don’t you think?

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The Big Draw under The Black Cloud

bigdrawbristol
Two projects we’ve been involved with came together in a good way this weekend. The idea forThe Black Cloud, the public shelter artwork created by Heather and Ivan Morison emerged out of a Bristol residency the RSA Arts & Ecology Centre organised back in 2007, with the support of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Curated by Situations, the shelter has been hosting a series of community events based loosely on how we imagine our uncertain future – all held literally under The Black Cloud.  After the discussion it was also host to The Big Draw, the Campaign For Drawing’s great project to get as many people drawing as possible. This year is their tenth year and they asked The RSA Arts & Ecology Centre to pick one of the themes; we chose Look to the future: work together to combat climate change.

Michaela Crimmin, Head of Arts at the RSA was down there this weekend and took this on her phone.

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RSA sets up Arts for COP15 network

The RSA Arts & Ecology Centre has set up the web-based network, Arts For COP15, for artists and arts professionals who are producing work in the run up to and during the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 09.

It is designed as a site to

  • publicise arts events that relate to COP15
  • Share knowledge and resources with other artists and arts professionals
  • discuss how arts strategy around climate and social change can evolve
  • research into the range and success of these projects
  • use arts to increase the noise around COP15
  • encourage artists and arts professionals who are producing work that is about the environment over the next few months to consider using the event as a way of discussing COP15 with their audiences.
For more information, contact Wiliam Shaw, webeditor at the RSA Art & Ecology Centre.

www.arts4cop15.orgwww.rsaartsandecology.org.uk

Robert MacFarlane on literature that inspired action

There was a great article on Edward Abbey by Robert MacFarlane in the weekend’s Guardian.  [I’m inclined to superlatives here, as MacFarlane generously bigged up the RSA Arts & Ecology Centre and our fellow organisations TippingPoint, The Ashden Directory and Cape Farewell in the article].

Anyhow, to the point.

MacFarlane writes about how Abbey’s gloriously rambunctious novel Monkey Wrench Gang became the inspiration for the Earth First! environmental movement in the US, who set about turning Abbey’s fiction into non-fiction through a series of direct actions. Climate change, suggests MacFarlane,  requires not just a technological and political shift but a cultural one too – which is what Abbey’s writing set ablaze for the American conservation movement.

But then MacFarlane starts to ponder where that’s going to come from in relation to climate change. American authors, from Rachel Carson, Edward Abbey, Bill McKibben, Gary Snyder, Cormac MacCarthy and others have produced significant passionate works which have indeed had a galvanising impact on environmental movements. But where, he wonders, are the British equivalents? The British equivalents, he suggests, have an emotional distance which doesn’t “kick your arse off the page” in the way that Abbey’s prose does. But there’s something else too:

Perhaps the key ethical principle of British environmental literature has been that making us see differently is an essential precursor to making us act differently. So it is that each new generation of British environmental writers finds itself trying to design the literary equivalent of the “killer app”: the glittering argument or stylistic turn that will produce an epiphany in sceptical readers, and so persuade them to change their behaviour. I used to believe in the possibility of this killer app, both as a reader and a writer. But I’m increasingly unsure of its existence. Or, if it exists, of its worth. At least in my experience, environmental literature in Britain gets read almost exclusively by the converted to the converted, and its meaningful ethical impact is minimal tending to zero. As Vernon Klinkenbourg noted with glum elegance last year, most documents of environmental literature are “minority reports – sometimes a minority of one. The assumptions, the hopes, the arguments [of such literature] are contradicted by the way the vast majority of us live, and by the political and economic structures that determine that lifestyle … sceptical readers so seldom pick up this kind of writing, or submit to its evidence.”

The point is that Abbey’s fiction was in many ways hackneyed, fed by the cliche’s of the western pulp novel, but it was great because of the scope of its passion and the sureness of Abbey’s vision. In comparison, are European artists and writers just trying too hard to be clever? Does this create a kind of parochial vision that hobbles artists, blunting their chance of having the kind of impact Abbey did?

One of the things that I hope Arts for COP15 will be able to produce is some idea of how effective the various events are at doing what they all, presumably, set out to do, which us change minds.

Illustration: Robert Crumb-designed sticker for Edward Abbey’s book (1985).

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What is Arts for COP15?

Here’s some information that is being sent out to explain the aims of Arts For COP15.

Please pass it around if you can.

You may not be involved in anything that’s directly relevant, but maybe someone on your networks is.

—————————————————————————-

Arts for COP15 is a web-based network of artists and arts professionals who are producing work in the run up to and during the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 09.
It is a place to:

  • Publicise arts events that relate to COP15 both on the site, and through the networks of other artists and organisations
  • Avoid duplicating work where possible
  • Share knowledge and resources with other artists and arts professionals
  • Discuss how arts strategy around climate and social change can evolve
  • Discuss how effective we are in passing messages on to our audiences
  • Research into the range and success of these projects
  • Find COP15-related material to pass on to audiences
  • Use arts to increase the noise around COP15
  • Encourage artists and arts professionals who are producing work that is about the environment over the next few months to consider using the event as a way of discussing COP15 with their audiences

Please go to www.arts4cop15.org and create your own profile.

If you would like to find out more about Arts For COP15 please emailwilliam.shaw@rsa.org.uk. Arts For COP15 is an open network created by the RSA Arts & Ecology Centre. The RSA Arts & Ecology Centre is an RSA initiative in partnership with Arts Council England.

For further information about the RSA Arts & Ecology Centre go to:www.rsaartsandecology.org.uk.

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Video | Feral trade cafe: buying a narrative with your coffee.

Feral Trade Cafe, London from RSA Arts & Ecology on Vimeo.
A Flip camera video.

It’s interesting to see how the best media art moved on from the idea of creating networks in the virtual world, to seeing how those networks could affect the real world. Early net communities were full of idealism; how far does that ability to change the way we interact with each other spill over into the physical?

Earlier this year I talked to Amy Francheschini about the way ideas from her art practice asFuturefarmers informed the creation of Victory Gardens 2008+ in San Francisco. On Friday I dropped into North London’s HTTP Gallery, where media artists/gallerists Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett have created the Feral Trade Cafe implemeting artist Kate Rich’s Feral Tradenetwork in their gallery space.

The cafe is sourced by real personal trade networks – artists bringing back Turkish Delight from Montenegro or discovering a source of honey in Rotherhithe. By using virtual space to record each trade route, every item you consume in the cafe comes with a  narrative. the bland, impersonal act of trade can suddenly come alive with stories, showing us how the items we buy under the normal rules of trade disconnect us from the world in which we live.

Read Ruth Catlow discussing Catlow and Garrett’s we won’t fly for art at the RSA Arts & Ecology Centre.

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