New metaphors for sustainability: the sailboat

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We continue our series of New metaphors for sustainability with the sailboat, suggested by James Marriott, artist, activist, member of PLATFORM. 

The boat for me is a very powerful metaphor. Sustainability is a rather grey and unclear term, but if it means anything, it means that we have to live with the finite resources of the earth. We have to deal with this in our generation and pass it on to future generations.

It is this sense of the finite capacity that I find interesting and comes to me through the experience of boats. I mean boats which are driven by sail and by oar – that use the motive power of the wind and the tide captured through wood and flax and hemp and use that to move from ‘a’ to ‘b’.

I’ve been learning to sail, and it’s been a wonderful experience. It makes you extremely aware of the forces of nature – it makes it very intimate. You’re at the mercy of the winds. You have to work with the tides – the skill comes from using whatever is there, that finite amount of power.

The finiteness, too, comes from the space of the boat itself. You have to pack everything in it that you might need or want. The boat frames my needs and desires about where I can go and how long it’s going to take me.

It concentrates the mind about the nature of the space in which I’m in, and about the wind and the water and the movement of the tide and the flow of the river.

“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)

The editors are Robert Butler and Wallace Heim. The associate editor is Kellie Gutman. The editorial adviser is Patricia Morison.

Robert Butler’s most recent publication is The Alchemist Exposed (Oberon 2006). From 1995-2000 he was drama critic of the Independent on Sunday. See

Wallace Heim has written on social practice art and the work of PLATFORM, Basia Irland and Shelley Sacks. Her doctorate in philosophy investigated nature and performance. Her previous career was as a set designer for theatre and television/film.

Kellie Gutman worked with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture for twenty years, producing video programmes and slide presentations for both the Aga Khan Foundation and the Award for Architecture.

Patricia Morison is an executive officer of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, a group of grant-making trusts of which the Ashden Trust is one.

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