Edenburgh

Spirited discussions pt. 4 (by Ben Twist, Director of Creative Carbon Scotland)

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Dave Young, Carbon Catcher, and Sam Clark, artist and contributor to Spirited discussion 4, in the Meadows. Photo CO2 Edenburgh.

Dave Young, Carbon Catcher, and Sam Clark, artist and contributor to Spirited discussion 4, in the Meadows. Photo CO2 Edenburgh.

The last of our Spirited Discussions asking, ‘Can Art Change the Climate? was entitled:

Going Beyond the Material: Environment and Invisible Forces in the Literary, Performing and Visual Arts.

This, in some ways, reminded me of Wallace Heim’s reference in Spirited Discussion part 2 to Alan Badiou’s idea that the four critical kinds of event which change people are love, science, art and politics.

In the performing arts particularly there is arguably no ‘thing’ that is the work of art: there is the event that is found in the ether between the player and the audience; there is the growth of digital publishing which has emphasised that the same is true of the written work.  With the written word the format is sometimes less important than the content and the work of art is an event taking place in the reader’s head, brought about by the words in whatever form they are reproduced (consider audiobooks). This aesthetic view could of course be equally true of visual artworks; the event takes place when we view the work, but in an empty gallery or an unoccupied installation all that exists is some colour on a surface or a collection of items.

Lucy Miu, Business Manager of the Bedlam Theatre and driving force behind this year and next’s Dramatic Impacts, is also an Environmental Sciences student, effectively straddling the line between the arts and the sciences. She argued that for people to be informed by information they need to be engaged with it. This is backed up by plenty of behaviour change research which shows that plain information has almost no effect on the recipient’s behaviour.  Kate Foster concurred: her experience with biology students saw them overwhelmed by the sheer level of information they were being asked to take in. Her artistic practice allowed them to make sense of it, focus their new knowledge and understand it, rather than just know it. Lucy felt that the arts, which engage us emotionally, can help, and that perhaps they also help where the original experience is not available to all, (murdering the King of Scotland, experiencing the bombing of Guernica), and the artist can bring that experience to a wider audience.

For me, what is particularly important here is that an artist may, perhaps must if they are to be described as an artist rather than a mere reporter, have special insight into the experience that they transmit to the audience along with the basic information: information + insight is what gets the event lodged in the audience’s understanding. Information + insight creates the sort of event we are interested in.

Lucy also made the point that all performing arts events are group activities.  At the very least there is an audience as well as a performer, whilst engaging with visual arts is, or can be, a more solitary business. In her view this made the performing arts more engaging but Tim Collins argued that different forms do different things. (The similarities and differences between the visual and performing arts were questions that arose regularly and usefully during CO2 Edenburgh: Spirit in the Air.) The question of whether feeling is enough arose again, just as it had been raised by Chris Speed in Discussion 1, and it clearly isn’t enough: pornography, a well-made horror film or Love Story make us feel, but that doesn’t seem to be enough to change people or their behaviour as Badiou seems to be getting at.

Here Sam Clark made her first intervention noting that, to the writer Rebecca Solnit, the difference for the writer between discarding an article and having it published is minimal, but history starts when events happen. The event may happen almost accidentally, or is at least subject to chance, and is not solely in the artist’s gift. How does this square with Wallace Heim’s view that the artists’ practices create the conditions where [Badiou’s] change can happen (remember love, science, art and politics)? The answer is surely that art is a fairly slippery thing with fuzzy boundaries. Questions of intention, insight, engagement and emotion swirl around this subject, which is perhaps what makes the question of whether art can change the climate so difficult to disentangle, let alone answer.

Sam Clark chose to address the title Going Beyond the Material more directly in her short and very beautiful talk, speaking about scientists working on matter. Only 4.7% of reality is material, according to a physicist she knows; 75% is dark matter whose existence is only deduced from its interaction with matter and gravity. Even less concrete is dark energy, only imagined because the universe is expanding and accelerating, not shrinking or slowing down. These scientists are working on a relationship between the visible and the invisible, or in artistic terms the knowable and the ineffable (strikingly similar in my mind to Andrew Patrizio’s conjunction of the mercantile and the religious in fifteenth century Florence – see Discussion 3). The scientists at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern use non-detection as a means of detection; 95% of the universe is only knowable through the instrument of the mind. Here we surely get into the realm of philosophy and for me insight comes to the fore again. What we want from artists – why societies from the year dot have supported, encouraged and valued them – is access to the knowledge of the things that are unknowable just through experience, knowledge that requires use of the instrument of the mind. Sam made the same point – insight and experience of things we don’t understand or things we hate, creating a space of wonder, are the things we want from artists. And as Harry Giles made clear in the first of the Spirited Discussions, actually artists and scientists do many of the same things. But maybe Sam’s last suggestion is what artists do but scientists try to avoid: making the familiar strange.

The session came to a close with a short discussion about empathy, a subject that Reiko Goto Collins had touched upon in her introduction. Sympathy is when you simply feel for another; empathy is when you place yourself in their shoes, which takes more than just emotion. Lucy suggested that maybe if art can change the climate, it is because it can help connect the brain and the heart. If we have done that, just a bit, with CO2 Edenburgh: Spirit in the Air, it will have been well worth it.

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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Reflections on CO2 Edenburgh from Creative Carbon Scotland

This post comes from Creative Carbon Scotland

Project Summary

CO2 Edenburgh arose out of the opportunity to collaborate with ecoartscotland, Art Space Nature, artists Tim Collins and Reiko Goto and programming professional Chris Malcolm on an exhibition in the ECA Tent Gallery during the Edinburgh Art Festival 2013. Broadly the project sought to uncover the invisible effects of Edinburgh’s festivals on the city’s CO2 levels, engaging audiences in local CO2 levels affected by various factors; topography of the city, traffic, audiences breathing out, green spaces etc. The project used cutting edge technology to capture CO2 levels provided by two Scotland-based companies, Gas Sensing Solutions and Envirologger.

What did we do?

For the duration of the exhibition Creative Carbon Scotland moved their office to the Tent Gallery to invigilate the exhibition and make the most of the public presence of CCS during the festival.

The project consisted of four main elements:

  • The Tent Gallery exhibition with real-time data displays for stationary CO2 monitors placed in various outdoor locations including Princes St Gardens and Arthur’s Seat and indoor venues such as Fruitmarket Gallery and National Gallery of Scotland
  • Guided tours of the city with portable CO2 sensors and LED displays led by Carbon Catchers Catriona Patterson and Dave Young
  • Four discussions curated by ecoartscotland asking the question – Can art change the climate?
  • An online blog and summary of discussions.

What did we achieve?

Having reflected upon the project, we feel that one of the key achievements has been to establish CCS as a more public-facing organisation as well as rooting the organisation more firmly in the space of arts and sustainability. We feel the discussions were a big success, serving as an important platform for bringing together individuals and organisations in our area of work and binding the different elements of the project through the exploration of some key themes.

Here are some key points from the discussions

Discussion 1: Bringing the emotion of the arts to bear on the rigour of the sciences

  • Harry Giles made the point that much of what artists and scientists do is the same and they are comparable in their ‘making sense of the insensible’. CO2 Edenburgh was considered in terms of finding a new aesthetic for new experiences such as invisible rising CO2 levels.
  • It was discussed that there is currently a lack of feedback loop particularly in cities which serves to make us aware of the environmental consequences of our actions. Artists can therefore play a role in making these consequences more visible.

Discussion 2: Art, technology, activism and knowledge in the age of climate change

  • Wallace Heim referenced Alan Badiou for whom there are four critical kinds of event which change people – love, politics, art and science. Amongst these art can create the conditions which change our perception of reality and cause us to change our behaviour.
  • Architect Simon Beeson raised the point that CO2 isn’t in itself ‘bad’. In fact it’s only the release of currently fossilised carbon into the atmosphere as CO2 that is a problem. Carbon and CO2 is what we and allof the living world is made out of. CO2 Edenburgh allows us to perceive the complexity of the pattern of CO2 in central Edinburgh.
  • We also discussed the need to be clear about the distinctive contribution artists can make to social and environmental issues without falling into categories such as communicators of science or public engagement.

Discussion 3: Environmental monitoring: Tracking nature in pursuit of aesthetic inter-relationship?

  • Prof Andrew Patrizio took Renaissance Florence as an example of a time at which artists and audiences were attuned to a similar mercantile approach to understanding the form and content of a work of art. Parallels were drawn between Renaissance Italy and now – both times at which paradigm shifts were taking place in terms of how humans understood themselves in relation to the environment.
  • Jan Hogarth provided the example of Dumfries and Galloway as an exciting new region for the links between arts and policy making. Its rural setting allows for a particular proximity between artists, local authorities and organisations such as the Forestry Commission and therefore a stronger influencing role on the part of artists and arts organisations.

Discussion 4: Going beyond the material: Environment and Invisible Forces in the literary, performing and visual arts

  • Lucy Miu opened a discussion about how information + insight or emotion can help engage people more than information alone and may be able to help transmit the essence of something to those who weren’t able to experience it directly. She touched upon the fact that performing arts events are invariably group events, whilst visual art can be experienced more solitarily.
  • We also discussed the idea that in the performing arts and literature the ‘work of art’ is less concrete, existing in the ether between performer and audience or in the mind of the reader and not wholly contained in the reproduction of the words – as demonstrated by the breadth of ways in which literary works are transmitted, from the e-reader to the audio book.
  • Sam Clark noted that scientists working on matter connect the visible and the invisible, just like artists connecting the knowable and the ineffable. But whilst scientists aim to make the strange familiar, perhaps artists’ desire is to do the opposite and make the familiar strange…

The post Blog: Reflections on CO2 Edenburgh appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.

 

Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

Go to Creative Carbon Scotland

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CO2 Edenburgh: Can art change the climate? – Spirited discussions Pt. 1

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

922087632f7564901a6892281f6cadc2In amongst the people handing out leaflets for shows and holding up placards for restaurants, there are a couple of people wearing white coats walking around bearing standards reminiscent of Roman Legions, though these are not surmounted by eagles, but rather by LED displays reporting CO2 levels.  These are ‘Carbon Catchers’.

They are part of the Collins and Goto Studio‘s project called CO2 Edenburgh: Can art change the climate? and are working out of the Art, Space and Nature MFA‘s Tent Space at Edinburgh College of Art.  The data that the Carbon Catchers are collecting plus the data from a number of Festival venues (theatres, galleries and public spaces) is all feeding into a wall of information.  Creative Carbon Scotland, commissioners of the project, have relocated their office to the space so they are living with the blinking red LED’s as well as a background pattern of noise generated from the data and emitted into the space.

Yesterday, at the first of a series of discussions (see below for details of the next ones), Tim Barker, a media theorist from Glasgow University, talked about the history of interference – the point at which we became aware of the invisible. So in 1886 there was unexpected interference on the new Austrian telephone system. This was electromagnetic radiation from the sun was picked up by the copper wires. (Also Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant used to just sit and listen to the noise on the wires.) So there’s something about noise overpowering signals that’s pretty important in the history of science. Or maybe its the converse – as someone said yesterday afternoon, what’s important is, “…the desire to uncover the new by a disruption and treatment of the real.”

Why does this matter? Because our relationship to CO2 is pretty much at a similar stage – scientists are monitoring it (and it was a research station in Hawaii which first recorded passing 400ppm earlier this year). But we only think we understand what all this means. Actually the sensors that form part of this project are taking readings ranging from 320ppm to over 1000ppm. Walking around the City Centre yesterday with one of the team of ‘Carbon Catchers’ taking readings, we were getting different levels along the Cowgate. Someone commented during the discussion in the afternoon that they were surprised that the CO2 level in the room was going down because there were 10 people talking and no obvious carbon sink.

Harry Giles, the other invited speaker, challenged us to set aside the two cultures argument and pay more attention to the militaristic nature of the territory we are in (and he wasn’t talking about the Edinburgh Tattoo). The maps and sensors being used enable the surveillance of the environment in ways that has both tactical and strategic purposes. Art has often been allied with power

We might argue that the arts are engaged in both tactical and strategic purposes. There is an avowed intention on the part of Collins and Goto to challenge assumptions about aesthetics. There is not a lot of ‘sublime’ or ‘picturesque’ in this environmental art work. We might well ask where is the aesthetic? Surely this is just public engagement in science – how is it different from something that the Science Festival might put on? And if it’s public engagement with science, is it effective? Is this a Kaprowesque blurring of art and life? Is this like Burrough’s cut-ups, something as normal as a book cut up to offer new meaning, and at once so strange that it appears as just noise without meaning? If we are dealing with things that we can’t perceive with our senses, and which have timescales that we find difficult to comprehend, then should the aesthetic be that of, as someone suggested, a horror movie?  Don’t we need a new aesthetics for a new experience and a new scale?

On the strategic level Creative Carbon Scotland aims to green the cultural sector supporting organisations and institutions to reduce their carbon footprints. This is of course part of a pattern of attention on environmental issues which means that climate change comes up in pretty much every conversation, every organisation has a climate change policy (and it would be fun to make a collection of these), and the sustainability question in grant applications may in the future include environmental alongside economic criteria. But usually these programmes are ‘business to business’ rather than ‘business to consumer’ (if we accept that an exhibition in the Edinburgh Art Festival is by and large a ‘consumer’ facing affair).

So the events programme, a series of four conversations which ecoartscotland has helped to put together, is perhaps the point where we break out of these sorts of dichotomies.

  • On Saturday (10th August) the conversation will track across art, technology, activism and knowledge with the help of Dr Wallace Heim (of the Ashden Directory) and Joel Chaney (from the Energy Research Group at Heriott Watt).
  • The following Wednesday (14th August) focusing on “Environmental Monitoring” we be joined by Prof Andrew Patrizio (art historian and head of research at Edinburgh College of Art) and Jan Hogarth, (Director of Wide Open and one of the key people behind the imminent Environmental Art Festival Scotland).
  • An for the last event “Going beyond the material” (21st August) we’ll be joined by Samantha Clark, artist, and Lucy Mui, student, activist and Theatre Manager for Bedlam.

Full details on the CO2Edenburgh website.

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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