Su Grierson 20th January

The heated table.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

The heated table. Photo and permission Su Grierson

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Day 1

The journey to Japan was good and easy.  Yoshiko Maruyama, the artist/ initiator of this project, was waiting for me at Narita airport.

The Japan Foundation wanted to meet me and receive my flight invoices and this meant an hour bus trip in the wrong direction into central Tokyo, but a smiling Mr Ohnishi met us, gave us lunch and towed my suitcase for me and after the formalities of paperwork he found us the correct train for our 3 hour journey up to Kitakata. He is promising to visit us in 10 days time to give us our generous fees and expenses.

I got a little closer to understanding why this project is being sponsored by the Japan Foundation and just what their hopes for it are. It seems there is a general desire of local and national government to counter the current negative images that accompany the word Fukushima internationally, as well as a desire to re-build the cultural activity of the area. Our impressions of our visit that we give to them and local people and also take home with us are just as important as any artwork we create here. They also talk of us conveying a positive image of the area to what they call the ‘Refugees’, in other words the survivors of the Tsunami who are living in temporary accommodation here that they must vacate after 3 years. I hope to find out more about that later.

I feel they see us as trailblazers initiating an artist’s residency in Fukushima that they hope others will then be willing to come to. It is refreshing that they and the other funders are happy to support a project without any clear idea of how it will proceed, instead just letting things fall into place as it goes along.

Day 2.

Yoshiko and I have now joined the two Norwegians, a sculptor and an architect and the first impression for all of us is the COLD, the second is of amazing scenery and buildings.

This is my seventh visit to Japan and I have never seen it look so stunning nor have I been so cold. We are staying in a traditional farmhouse style building with sliding walls with paper ‘glass’ on the inner side and glass on the outer wall (with a metre wide buffer zone between) none of which are tight fitting. There is absolutely no insulation and there is a general reluctance to use any electricity. This seems to stem partly from cost which is often mentioned – although the adjacent new part of the building does have solar panels on the roof (I haven’t yet had a chance to ask about that) – and also from a general attempt to reduce the use of electricity after their nuclear catastrophe. No one here seems to know how many of their nuclear plants have been re-opened.

As Margretha from Norway is an architect we have had long discussions about the nature of these building which seem to have been traditionally so unsuited to this climate, but then again they have also to withstand earthquakes and extremely hot and humid summers for which they seem perfectly adapted. We also don’t yet know the extent to which their approach to life was, and maybe still is, so different from our own age of ‘comfort’. The winters are cold so you just put on more clothes and don’t think about it. We are trying hard to do the same with varying degrees of success. The paraffin heaters and heated meal tables are a blessing. Our hostess has just produced some electric blankets – JOY.

The amount of fantastic food we are plied with also goes a long way to keeping out the cold. Today we have a ‘party’ to which all the funders and local supporters as well as Press will be coming. Tonight apparently we are moving to a mountain farm house for 4 days.

With endless outings being promised, we are wondering when there will be any time to make work for an exhibition in 4 weeks time.

Su Grierson

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 Research, Gray’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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Su Grierson – Corresponding from Fukushima Province, Japan

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland
Japanese do seem to be obsessed by food  endlessly photographing  their meals and we have been  asked to take photos of what we  eat in our Northern countries. This is my Fruitarian Christmas  pudding awash with Brandy. I think the Kitakata speciality is noodles!"Japanese do seem to be obsessed by food endlessly photographing their meals and we have been asked to take photos of what we eat in our Northern countries. This is my Fruitarian Christmas pudding awash with Brandy. I think the Kitakata speciality is noodles!” (Photo with permission Su Grierson)

Su Grierson has kindly agreed to send ecoartscotland regular updates during her 10 week residency in Kitakata, Fukushima Province, Japan.  She is circulating this introduction.

I am now trying to get myself organised to go to Japan next Thursday. I am doing a 10 week residency based at Kitakata in Fukushima province. It is quite a way from the devastated coastal area but I am told we will be working there and with some of the displaced survivors. The project is funded by the Japan Foundation but I think the actual programme will be worked out when we get there. It seems we will also be working with the beautiful Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art.  I will be working with 2 Norwegians, a sculptor and an architect and one Japanese artist with the overall theme of ‘Spirit of North’.

Making work for an exhibition seems to be the main thing but I have a feeling that the very generous funders might have their own expectations which we will find out about later! Watch this space – well you can literally follow my trip by signing up here to Chris Fremantle’s ecoartscotland network. He has offered to put out occasional reports from me which you will be able to find here or if you join up then they will come directly to your email address.

I think this project is part of a wider plan trying to restore normal life and spirit generally in this area and also to get a different picture of Fukushima out to the wider world. I am well aware of some of the more negative recent press, and of course that name Fukushima will always be synonymous with Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear meltdown, but I will hopefully try and find out for myself just what the situation is now.

It has just started snowing in Kitakata so its a question of how many thermals I can get in my case, but at least they make good packing for cameras, laptops and all the other paraphernalia I can’t manage without.

As part of my Survey exhibition and book at Horsecross in Perth next summer (Opening with Sunday Brunch on June 30th – all invited!) I have been commissioned to make a new work for the 22 screen Wave at Perth Concert Hall and I’m hoping to use that as a way of linking Fukushima and Perth.

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 Research, Gray’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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forest and stone reminders: the sculpture of eileen macdonagh

 Eileen MacDonagh with her Ogham Stones 2012

Eileen MacDonagh with her Ogham Stones 2012, VISUAL Carlow

This post comes to you from An Arts and Ecology Notebook

‘ THE QUARRY   This is where it all begins.  I love going there to see the stone in its most natural state.  Quarries are my cathedrals,  even when its raining I always come home uplifted.’ Eileen MacDonagh, 2012

Over the last year or so I have been very privileged to have been invited by one of Ireland’s leading sculptor’s, Eileen MacDonagh, to document her work process by film and photographs for her retrospective exhibition LITHOsphere. The exhibition opens today and continues until May 7 2012 and I’ve been editing madly for the 1/2h film I created for the show (I’ll post some of the links to film clips below).

Eileen is a great friend to my husband and I; Martin over recent years has taken up stone sculpture and he could have no better teacher or friend for that matter. Martin is a geologist so there are often lots of discussions on stones, grinding equipment and lots of excitement about the sculpture process in general. Its an odd contrast to my own practice but I want to mention aspects of Eileen’s work that touch me deeply too.

I really admire the attention to working with physical materials in Eileen’s stone practice; it echoes an earlier time when art was more deeply connected to the material world. In contemporary art, there has been a move, and I would say a dangerous loss of connection to the fabric of material life – much contemporary work has moved to virtual digital methods (my own included although I try to ground my work in a long term work with my forest outside my door). And then there are elements in Eileen’s work that serve to trigger profound reminders too; particularly in her  astounding 8m forest of her new breathtaking installation Cathedral and her new Ogham Stones. Her ‘cathedral’ forest towers above one; these papier mache forms reminiscent of highly remarkable and endangered baobab trees, many species of which are on the island of Madagascar. In recent weeks I’ve seen disturbing reports that we are losing our large trees all over the world. Centuries of relatively rapid forest loss over all continents and further degradation of forested areas by industrial forestry methods, ever encroaching intensive agriculture,  changes in climate, and competition from other invasive species  are having profound and irreversible effects. I know not everyone will be thinking about ecological loss when viewing Eileen’s work but I can’t help relate how forests have always been the ‘shadow of civilization’; how we treat our forests and relate to our forests tells us much about the state of our so called civlisation. Eileen’s forest came together with her incredible enthusiasm to bring people to the project too; forests are not just trees but a complex web of relationships and Eileen’s forest also grew from a complex web of relations of people in the local area.

Eileen’s new Ogham Stones are reminders too. In ancient Ireland, stone pillars around the country were marked with carved, indented lines on the edges to describe the species of trees in the surrounding and then much forested regions of Ireland. In the  stone cleave markings in Eileen’s work process, I see references here to trees too.

I am only referring to some of the works in this large exhibition; along with the 8 m forest in which you can walk through, there are over 50 tonnes of stoneworks on display. LITHOsphere opens today and continues for 3 months at VISUAL, the centre for contemporary art in Carlow. Please also see the Visual site for talks by Eileen over the coming months, I know the first talk will be a talk around all the pieces in the gallery and the work that went into making them.

installation of Cathedral by Eileen MacDonagh, 2012

A shot I took in the gloaming when Cathedral was being installed; installation by Eileen MacDonagh, 2012

Here are the links to my film clips that I created for Eileen’s work: there is a long slideshow about her two decades of sculpute work (this is a slow silent piece for the gallery as there will be activity sheets for visiting children about the stone works), a film about her new Stone Circle and clips on the community work behind the development, creation and installation of Cathedral.

installation of Cathedral by Cathy Fitzgerald 2012

Cathedral installed: Eileen and Martin running through the trees: a still from the Lithosphere film

An Arts & Ecology Notebook, by Cathy Fitzgerald, whose work exists as ongoing research and is continually inspired to create short films, photographic documentation, and writings. While she interacts with foresters, scientists, and communities, she aims to create a sense of a personal possibility, responsibility and engagement in her local environment that also connects to global environmental concerns.
Go to An Arts and Ecology Notebook

Andrew Rogers: Time and Space

Andrew Rogers, a leading contemporary artist based in Australia, is primarily a sculptor.  His large works may be found in plazas and buildings around the world.  He is also the creator of the world’s largest contemporary land art undertaking.

Derived from an early sculpture, the Rhythms of Life project is composed of 47 land art structures, which can be found in 13 countries and on 7 continents.  The project is the result of 13 years of work, and the collaboration of 6,700 people from around the world.

The work is particularly unique in that Rogers has incorporated a great civic vision.  The structures represent a process, and local collaboration.  At many sites, a common Rhythms of Life piece is not far from a work that is local and unique to the community it represents.

For the first time, images of these works are on exhibition at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, California.  68 large scale photographs of Rogers’ Rhythms of Life project will be on display at the gallery until May 28, 2011.  You can also view the work online at

Rhythms of Life / Chile

Rhythms of Life / Chile

Rhythms of Life / Antarctica

Rhythms of Life / Antarctica

Sam’s Post 4: Meltdown

by Sam Breen, October 31, 2010 (Halloween)

This trailer restoration started out as a Zen affair.  I had a strong sense of purpose. I was fulfilling my need to create something tangible, useful for someone else but myself.  After studying acting for two years, and spending a whole lot of time thinking about myself (how to carry myself, how to market myself) I began to feel as though I was missing something truly vital.

The project wasn’t only about giving back. It was also about adding a dose of humanity to a learning process that can easily become contrived. So I was convinced that the Spartan was my key to success.  Now a month and a half later, more often than not, I feel as though I might just be losing my mind.

There’s so much to keep track of that I’m making many lists.  But I have too many lists to keep track of.  There are too few hours in the day. I get out of class in the evenings and work on the trailer till late at night.

My mentor tells me I need a plan but it’s a whole lot easier to paint a chassis than to

Sam and his mentor, sculptor and CalArts faculty member Michael Darling who came on his day off to help Sam weld a replacement rib onto the chassis.

make a plan- so most of the time I put it off.  I’m not a planner, but I’ve been doing my best at it – even though I think I might actually have some allergic reaction to that activity. My plan, when I make one,  goes like this: week 1: prep chassis for new floor, order plywood floor for next week’s installation etc.. I can think about the next 2 weeks or so,  but I have a hard time getting my head around the big picture- it feels like a distraction. I know, that sounds absurd.  It’s just that there’s so much going on and so many windows and screws and paints and materials to think about that I fear I’ll get lost in all the planning and never actually get any work done.  So I start working… furiously.  And then, of course, I end up hitting brick walls. I’ll start thinking about the configuration of the sub-floor but I get stuck because the gray water holding tanks have to be welded on to the chassis and installed before the floor can get laid over.

So I’m finally starting to warm up to the (basic!) notion that the more I know what the trailer will look like as a final project the less overwhelming it will all be.

I view this week as a test. Next Saturday, I will be towing the Spartan about 6 miles away to Newhall.  Students in the Arts and Activism class at Calarts (who volunteered to be on the trailer committee) and I, will be giving a workshop to the kids and parents of Nomadlab. We are planning a series of games and exercises for them that will take place in and around the trailer, and center around the idea of “home”. I hope that the trailer will be an opportunity to talk about what home means for them and what their ideal home would look like.

I have 5 days to get a floor in!

Trailer Trash: 60-year-old fiberglass insulation headed for CalArts’ trash bin for building materials than can not be recycled.

This post is part of a series documenting Sam Breen’a Spartan Restoration Project. Please see his first post here and check out the archive here. The CSPA is helping Sam by serving in an advisory role, offering modest support and featuring Sam’s Progress by syndicating his feed from as part of our CSPA Supports Program.

A Long Way Home (Post: #1)

– by Sam Breen
I’m a 27 year-old graduate student in acting, at CalArts. I’ve just embarked on the final year of my master’s degree and the fun and games are over in class. The focus has shifted from voice classes , movement  and Shakespeare scene-study, to entrepreneurship.  In less than a year, my classmates and I will be classically trained professional actors. But before we graduate we’ve got a whole lot to learn about the business of acting- these days it’s all about “booking the job”.

On evenings and weekends, however, my mind is elsewhere– you’ll find me on the lower parking lot, renovating my 1951 Spartan trailer.

I’ve convinced the school to let me park the 36 foot monster on campus. This gives me easy access to the Institute’s scene-shop and mostly importantly, to the theater school’s technical designer, Michael Darling. My carpentry skills are basic, at best, and Michael’s mentoring has been absolutely essential to the project.

Sculptor and faculty member, Michael Darling works with CalArts students in the scene shop.

In exchange for letting me house the Trailer Trash Project on campus, I’ve offered to put the Spartan to good use. Once finished the trailer will be a home for my mother, a journalist and Katrina evacuee, but while it is being built I want it to serve as a work and performance space for the artist community at CalArts and beyond.

Inspiration piece.

The notion of displacement is one that my mother and I are all too familiar with.  As I began my studies in art school it became  clear to me:

…all artists are, at one time or another, displaced. We’re perpetually confronted with the reality of having to leave home to pursue our craft. Art-making can often distance us from our families.  And when we’re away, the feeling of longing inspires us to make more art.

Over the course of 7 or 8 months, the Spartan will take the form of a mobile performance space/ make-shift classroom/ screening room, used to explore how displacement and artistry go hand-in-hand.

Evelyn Serrano, a member of CalArt’s faculty in the Art School is onboard with this idea. Evelyn is an artist who means business. She’s a staunch supporter of education through the arts and teaches a class at Calarts, Arts and Activism, designed to

From the Nomad Lab web site: “The “NOMAD LAB is a program created to support the goals of the Valle del Oro Neighborhood Committee in partnership with the City of Santa Clarita Community Services Division, The Village Apartments and the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission. As an initiative of the Valle del Oro Neighborhood Committee, NOMAD LAB is devoted to building a better neighborhood through programs and activities for youth and their families.”

help her students develop and pursue their own social agenda. One of her latest projects is Nomadlab in nearby Newhall, which offers free creative writing classes to young students in the Valle del Oro neighborhood, who are at risk of gang activity. She’s offered to make the Trailer Trash Project a key element of her Arts and Activism class this year. Her students and I will be devising ways to use the Spartan as a means to collaborate with Nomadlab. But ultimately, I want to leave it up to the kids of Nomadlab to come up with ways in which the trailer can best serve their cause.

Another source of inspiration for my project has been Side Streets, a community arts project co-founded by Cal Arts, alum, Karen Atkinson along with RIDS grad Joe Luttrell, two artists committed to the belief that the creative process belongs in the streets as well as in studios and galleries.  More on Side Streets in future posts.

My mother, who has been researching and writing about the green revolution sees this trailer as an opportunity to display mobile, sustainable living. So we’re going eco!

This is a former FEMA trailer turned into a mobile disaster art studio by Paul Villinski. The trailer has solar panels and a wind turbine. We’ll use both on the Spartan, along with a composting toilet, and sustainable building materials. Credit:

My Trailer Trash Project will be carried out in collaboration with The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, founded by CalArts alumni, Miranda Wright and Ian Garrett.   The CSPA is a network providing artists and arts organizations with resources to help them adopt more sustainable practices in their work.

The Trailer Trash Project will be carried out using safe, clean and renewable materials as much as

feasibly possible.  (See for instance, posts on “green” insulation materials.)  Believe me this is no easy task. To give you an example, I was convinced bamboo flooring and cabinetry was the way to go. It’s super renewable (it only takes bamboo 3-5 years to reach maturity) but in recent years controversy has surfaced over the use of bamboo: it has to be flown over from China, lots of chemicals are used in the manufacturing process, deforestation and others.

Keeping up with this has been a little too much for me to handle right now– I’ve got my hands full as it is. So I’ve charged my mother with this task. This blog has lots of interesting info about sustainable materials, information that Michael and I use when deciding how to proceed.  Perhaps it will be of interest to you as well.

Stay tuned.  It’s going to be a wild ride!

The CSPA is helping Sam Breen with the Spartan Trailer Restoration Project by serving in an advisory role, offering modest support and featuring Sam’s Progress by syndicating his feed from as part of our CSPA Supports Program.

Bring on the electric cars?

Last week in New York the sculptor Seth Kinmont unveiled the first of three electric cars, bodywork made from wood. For three days he invited people to ride around the block in his new hand-built horseless carriage. Beautiful, huh?

I mention this because a) it forms a tenuous artistic link to the following story, and b) Kinmont’s work underlines the quixotic nature of electric transport.

The latest voyagers on this quixotic journey are Jeff Hoon and Peter Mandelson. Today they will announce a £250m scheme to kickstart the UK’s electric car infrastructure.  You might think they’re unlikely travellers on this road, given the fact that this are the pair who were most vocal about the impracticality the green movement’s objections to Heathrow expansion.

But no, Geoff Hoon in particular has retooled himself as the champion of green in this morning’s Guardian.

Hoon said yesterday that decarbonising road transport had a big role in helping the UK meet its targets of reducing CO2 emissions by 26% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. “Something like 35% of all our carbon emissions are caused by domestic transport,” he said. “Of that, 58% of the emissions are caused by motor cars.”

The implication is that electric cars will help cut that figure. And they might, but… Big but.

As a recent report commissioned by the Campaign for Better Transport suggests, if everyone in the UK moved to electric cars we’d need four times as much capacity in our electricty generation than we have at present, and even the government’s recently unveiled plans for nuclear generation aren’t enough to plug that gap.

Even a modest rise in electric car use doesn’t automatically reduce CO2 emissions – it just shifts emissions from the exhaust pipe to the power station. For those who use their cars only for short urban journeys, the CO2 reduction can be significant, but for average car use the figures are much less clear cut.

A few weeks ago the government let it be known that they were considering a scheme to encourage people to buy greener cars by offering an incentive for people to scrap their old ones. In reality, this was an attempt to boost the UK’s failing manufacturing sector, not a green scheme; given the embedded carbon costs of manufacturing, scrapping working cars in favour of newly built ones is about the least green strategy of all. That embedded energy calculation is the same for electric cars too.

This initiative is the start of Gordon Brown’s much touted green recovery plan; for a cabinet who have dismissed green concerns as impractical, they’re going to have to work extremly hard to demonstrate that this really is a practical scheme, not just another sop to industry.

Hat tip to Bad At Sports for the Seth Kinmont story.

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