Arts projects in the Transition Network

This post comes to you from Culture|Futures

transition-articles-headerThe Transition Network is a growing network of over a thousand communities around the world. The network “supports community-led responses to climate change and shrinking supplies of cheap energy, building resilience and happiness.” The summer issue of the magazine Transition Free Press, which was published on 1 May 2013, contains four articles about arts projects that relate to the topics of sustainability and ecology in various ways. In summary:

Art and Science meet at new Bee Festival

The Louth Festival of the Bees, organised by Transition Louth in the United Kingdom in May 2013, combines biological sciences with an art exhibition, exploring “the relationships between the aesthetic and the rational”.

“We may not, single-handed, be able to stop war, cure disease, end hunger, or save the planet, but we can, each of us, plant some flowers that give insects a better chance and make our world a little more beautiful,” writes Biff Vernon, a teacher who grows vegetables and flowers in Lincolnshire, and is, according to the magazine editor, “attempting to save the planet one Facebook post at a time.”

“If we are to make the transition to a truly sustainable post-industrial society, protection of biodiversity must be an urgent priority. The festival aims to raise awareness of biodiversity, focussing particularly on wildflowers and all their pollinators,” Biff Vernon writes.

Louth Festival of Bees includes a Family Fun Day, Conference Day and Art Exhibition with stalls, exhibitions, children’s activities, workshops, talks about wild bees, wild flowers, beekeeping and art.


Anne-Marie Culhane and the art of ‘Abundance’

Anne-Marie Culhane, a performer, activist and catalyser of projects who lives in Cornwall in the United Kingdom, tells about the projects ‘Abundance’ and ‘The Diary Keepers’, about the festival ‘Grow Sheffield’, and about exploring the dynamic relationship between the artist and the community:

When Anne-Marie Culhane talks about Art, it is not as it is commonly understood, a commodity to be bought and owned, but a narrative co-created by people seeking to bring the earth and belonging into an urbanised culture.

“I’ve always been uncomfortable with the perception of an artist as a solitary creator who’s outside society,” she tells Transition Free Press.

To be resilient in the face of ecological and economic challenges, communities need to be adaptive and collaborative. As climate scientists admit, “we’re not managing to communicate properly”. Because what inspires us to change are not dry facts, but celebration, creativity, and most of all, belonging:

“We can’t go into any meaningful thinking about the future unless we are examining how we live now, and the diversity of the way different people in the community live now: really looking, taking time, slowing down, observing our place within natural cycles, seeing what we share. So we can say: OK, this is where we’re at. From this point we can look forward.”

Anne-Marie Culhane developed a project, ‘Diary Keepers’, to engage people into thinking about these things by keeping a diary for a month, where they would be trying to answer questions about what it is like to live now.

For Anne-Marie Culhane everything began when she came across climate change as a student of geography: “I was overawed by what it meant,” she said. Characteristically her first piece of work did not appear in a gallery, but in a city park in Leeds – twelve installations, actions and performances during one year.

“I began to ask: How can I support people to grow their own food, to be more knowledgeable about what they’re eating, to start seed-saving and seed-sharing and using organic and permaculture methods which nourish the land and communities? This where the main energy for ‘Grow Sheffield’ came from.

The idea was to hold a big season of events around harvest, giving people from different backgrounds lots of points of access – some creative, some more practical. We had guerrilla gardening in the city centre, a film screening and open space session in a local cinema, poetry walks and Allotment Soup, a celebration of allotment culture, with artists taking up mini-residencies on different allotments.”

Her creative project ‘Abundance’ started from an idea about harvesting unwanted fruit from street trees, but it also quickly took foraging and growing stuff to another level and became about doing and being with people.


Firing up the imagination

Jeppe D. Graugaard writes about ‘The Telling’ which he describes as “a new kind of grassroots, power-down, artistic event which draws on various forms of storytelling, performance, music and craft to explore what living through a time of transition means.

“Born in the imagination of Warren Draper, The Telling is inspired by The Dark Mountain Project and created on a DIY ethos as a reaction against the debilitating effect of the entertainment industry on folk culture.

The enchanting performance of Mr. Fox is just one of many that evening set in the post-apocalyptic Church View courtyard, which is adorned by a large mural by street artist Phlegm, depicting an archer sitting in a giant horn shooting down human bones tied to floating balloons. And the evening programme is just the culmination of a series of events and workshops that ran throughout the day: a pop-up cinema, the Sheffield City Giants (15 ft large puppets), bread-making, make-do-and-mend, a singing workshop, a talk on peace, and my absolute favourite: making iron in a clay foundry.

This diverse mix of activities and performances makes The Telling a place to be inspired and to learn practical skills at the same time.”

More information, pictures and videos of The Telling can be seen online atforthetelling.wordpress.com.

Jeppe D. Graugaard is a writer and researcher at UEA, with an interest in grassroots movements and projects. More of his writing is available on patternwhichconnects.com

Arts book in the making: mapping arts and ecological living

Fifteen artists and writers gathered at a Writing Residency at Lumb Bank in Yorkshire to lay the first tracks down for a groundbreaking workbook – mapping ways in which the arts inspire a different way of living within the ecological limits of the planet, reported Lucy Neal.

“At Lumb Bank we glimpsed an everyday ‘art of living’ which now remains to build on and articulate over the next few months, as the book and the project come together.”

You can read these four articles in full here:

Transition Free Press – Issue 2, Summer 2013 – published on 1 May 2013:

More about the Transition Network

Transition and literature

“Stories shape the way that we act,” says Shaun Chamberlin, author of ‘The Transition Timeline’, in this interview which is an excerpt from the film â€˜In Transition 1.0: From oil dependence to to local resilience’ from March 2012.

A transition art piece

About the art piece Oil Memorial
Another excerpt from the same film, ‘In Transition 1.0’.

• Transition Towns channel on YouTube

• Documentary film from April 2012
The Transition Movement – An Introduction

• TEDx presentation about the Transition Towns and Transition Network
“My Town in Transition: Rob Hopkins at TEDxExeter” â€“ 1 May 2012

• The Transition Network’s home page:

Culture|Futures is an international collaboration of organizations and individuals who are concerned with shaping and delivering a proactive cultural agenda to support the necessary transition towards an Ecological Age by 2050.

The Cultural sector that we refer to is an interdisciplinary, inter-sectoral, inter-genre collaboration, which encompasses policy-making, intercultural dialogue/cultural relations, creative cities/cultural planning, creative industries and research and development. It is those decision-makers and practitioners who can reach people in a direct way, through diverse messages and mediums.

Affecting the thinking and behaviour of people and communities is about the dissemination of stories which will profoundly impact cultural values, beliefs and thereby actions. The stories can open people’s eyes to a way of thinking that has not been considered before, challenge a preconceived notion of the past, or a vision of the future that had not been envisioned as possible. As a sector which is viewed as imbued with creativity and cultural values, rather than purely financial motivations, the cultural sector’s stories maintain the trust of people and society.
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Wildflower Works followup

I’ve received a few emails alerting me that I had information wrong in my previous post on Chapman Kelley’s piece, Chicago Wildflower Works.

Here’s a shot from 1992, taken well before the park was altered by the city of Chicago. The image was provided by the artist.
And the shot I used in my previous post was taken after the piece was altered in 2004.
In addition, here’s a watercolor proposal for the piece done in 1984.
And a photo of the park with Frank Gehry’s concert pavilion in the foreground. A curving pedestrian bridge connects that pavilion to the altered garden by Chapman Kelley.

Although I was a bit confused on this originally, seeing all these images has greatly helped me understand Chapman Kelley’s federal appeal that his site-specific installation is original art under the 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act. In September 2008, a Chicago Federal District Court said the park piece did not meet the definition of original art, and this spring, Kelley appealed that decision. More than half of the wildflowers were removed and as you can see in the photos, the ovals were altered to a long rectangle with one oval in the middle.

For really good reaction and analysis of this court case, there have been two excellent posts on the Arts and Ecology Blog here and here. Also, there’s a good post from 2007 on the Aesthetic Grounds blog.

As an artist and gardener, my heart is definitely with Chapman Kelley on this appeal. How terrible to see a garden that you designed and helped maintain for decades get ripped up? The main thing seems to be managing expectations—something the city did horribly by not working with the artist when deciding to alter his work.

Some might say this is simply landscaping but somewhere in there (and I guess this is the point of the court issue) there’s the line between art and landscaping, artist rights and the rights of the city or whichever institution manages site-specific art.

If anything, I’m glad some of the wildflower park is still there and maybe a compromise can be reached to expand or do the best to return the Wildflower Works to it’s original proposed format.

Go to Eco Art Blog

Artist’s Wildflower Park is not Art

{Chapman Kelley’s wildflower park in Chicago. I think this is a before shot?}

…or at least the courts say so.

I’m having a bit of trouble figuring out what is going on here, mostly because I haven’t seen before and after shots, but artist Chapman Kelley is appealing a court decision stating that his 1.5 acre wildflower park is not “original art.” The city of Chicago altered the park in 2004, removing half of his installation, and Kelley subsequently sued the city for $825,000.

Here’s a bit more from artinfo.com:

Kelley is asking the federal appeals court in Chicago to overturn a ruling that his 1.5-acre wildflower piece, in which the flowers are planted in the shape of an ellipse, was not original enough to warrant protection under U.S. copyright law. The City of Chicago reduced the work by over half in 2004, to the dismay of the artist. Kelley says the destroyed wildflowers were valued at $825,000, and he wants the city to pay him for the damages.

There’s also this story from April ’09.

As I mentioned before…some photos of the park now would really help me figure out what’s going on. It is interesting to follow and see if gardens will or will not be considered something that can be copyrighted.

> More work at chapmankelley.com.

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