Matt Ridley

Land and energy

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Northumberlandia, Charles Jencks, 2012 (photo provided by Banks Group)

Matt Ridley is the author of a number of books on the subjects of evolution, genetics and society, and has been variously a scientist, journalist and businessman.  There was an article in Saturday’s Times and the full version is on Matt Ridley’s website.  It’s worth reading.

His family leased land to a mining operation in the North East of England and have sponsored Charles Jencks to create Northumberlandia, the latest of Jencks’ earthworks.

When the Banks Group approached my family to dig out coal from under farmland we own, creating 150 local jobs, they also came with an imaginative suggestion. Instead of waiting ten years to put the rock back and restore the surface to woods and fields, which is the normal practice, why not put some of the rock to one side to make a new landscape feature that people can use long before the mine is restored?

Ridley makes an argument around energy and land.  It’s an economic argument about fossil fuels and land use.

The replacement of muscle power, burning carbohydrates, with fossil power, burning hydrocarbons, has been one of the great liberators of history.

Unfortunately the argument doesn’t look to the future.  It is true that fossil fuels have transformed society, but that’s the transformation of the industrial revolution.  The current transformation is focused on renewable energy and the need to massively reduce our footprint.

And in terms of art practices, this is not innovative, just large.  Cutting edge art practices look to integrate the future into the landscape, not just shape it aesthetically.  Whether it’s AMD&ART addressing Acid Mine Drainage, or the Land Art Generator Initiative  bringing together at scale renewable energy and art, or any of a number of other artists working on energy and land futures (see greenmuseum.org for examples), Northumberlandia misses a trick and a big one.  The creation of new public space is important, but the use of that process to exemplify new futures is vital.

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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TippingPoint makes a step-change

This post comes to you from Ashden Directory

Wallace Heim writes: The TippingPoint last month, co-hosted by the Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability, made a step-change from previous TP events. Many of the same elements were there, but something shifted. Something sparked in the combination of TP’s open structure and those participants, those presentations, the talk, the room and the city. It felt as if many things were converging, and instead of being an event proposing or speculating that culture and the arts could be important responses to climate change, it was an event going with and propelling the diverse and energetic work that is being made, and being dreamt of.

The presentations in more conventional conference form, many now online, were provocative, each presenting a distinct direction and raising questions that filtered through the rest of the event. Kevin Anderson and Matt Ridley’s heated head-to-head (“Two men slugging it out over data” as one participant named it) exemplified adversarial strategies and the ways in which the ‘deniers’ and those who accept the consensus views of science tend to define one another’s arguments, leaving a blank between them. It also brought out the difficulties of seeing and critiquing the rhetoric and argumentation in debates that rely on scientific data.

Lucy Conway presented the artwork that is the Isle of Eigg, and how the population there is realising low-carbon, high socially and culturally benefitted living. Ben Twist from Zero Carbon Scotland +TBD, introduced the problem of whether art can, or should, be linked to behavioural change. Erica Whyman from Northern Stage showed how the major cultural organisations in Newcastle are collaborating across their business and institutional interests, and building a network that could include developing plans for material sustainability. The idea of organisational collaboration returned in Alan Davey’s announcement of Arts Council England’s decision to embed environmental sustainability into its funding agreement.

On the last day, Sue Gill, of Dead Good Guides led everyone in singing a version of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ before John Fox gave his reflections on the transitions in art-making from commercialised spectacle to vernacular art, to ‘random acts of culture’. “Even if the markets fail, we must not tolerate the failure of imagination.”

The three days were planned to allow for chance conversations and random mixing in small groups, like the ‘Show and Tell’ session, where participants bring an object with meaning for them relating to climate change. Some of these personal and emotive exchanges drifted into the wider discussions. The three Open Space sessions had themes, the first two mostly ignored: ‘In what ways might I influence the future’ and ‘Exploring Possibilities’, in favour of people’s more immediate concerns. The third, ‘What am I going to do about the future’, drew out dozens of groups talking about their projects, and help that could be given to them.

The openness of TP makes reporting back very subjective. It did feel as if something happened, more than presentations and networking. The unrepeatable, and well-facilitated, combination of the people, the ideas, the timing came together to make an event that showed and advanced the many edges of social and artistic action.Audio recordings of the presentations, tweets, blogs, interviews and commentaries with participants and some of the evenings’ entertainment are on Amplified. Photos above posted on Amplified by quitexander.

“ashdenizen blog and twitter are consistently among the best sources for information and reflection on developments in the field of arts and climate change in the UK” (2020 Network)

ashdenizen is edited by Robert Butler, and is the blog associated with the Ashden Directory, a website focusing on environment and performance.
The Ashden Directory is edited by Robert Butler and Wallace Heim, with associate editor Kellie Gutman. The Directory includes features, interviews, news, a timeline and a database of ecologically – themed productions since 1893 in the United Kingdom. Our own projects include ‘New Metaphors for Sustainability’, ‘Flowers Onstage’ and ‘Six ways to look at climate change and theatre’.

The Directory has been live since 2000.

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