A Cabinet of Curiosities for the Anthropocene

October 23, 2014 by

Originally posted on Discard Studies:

The Anthropocene is a term of art for the geologic epoch that began when human activities had a global, lasting impact on the Earth’s ecosystems. While it’s exact origin date is under debate, we know that hundreds and thousands of years into the future the geological strata will be full of plastic, signs of nuclear fall out, increased quantities of carbon dioxide and other permanent signs of planetary alteration. “The Great Acceleration” refers to the past century where many of these planet-altering practices are increasing in frequency, magnitude and intensity.

Image based on data from Steffen, W., Crutzen, P. J., & McNeill, J. R. (2007). The Anthropocene: are humans now overwhelming the great forces of nature. Ambio: A Journal of the Human Environment, 36(8), 614-621.

Image based on data from Steffen, W., Crutzen, P. J., & McNeill, J. R. (2007). “The Anthropocene: are humans now overwhelming the great forces of nature.” Ambio: A Journal of the Human Environment , 36(8), 614-621.

The externalities of economic and industrial systems–waste and discards–play a major role in both creating the Anthropocene and in marking its place in…

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October 23, 2014 by

The Guardian published an article on the Extinction Marathon which took place at the Serpentine Gallery in London last weekend.
Cultural spaces (galleries, museums, concert halls) can make space for challenging subjects and the Serpentine Marathon is a great mechanism, but this feels behind the curve – the extinction issue is something scientists have been asessing and analysing and publishing on for a good while now. Just because the Serpentine got some big names on a platform to speak about the issue for 10 mins each doesn’t make it news.

Fertile Ground in Dunbar 25 and 26 October

September 30, 2014 by

NorthLight Arts Fertile Ground Conference Poster 25 and 26 October 2014

Fertile Ground takes place on Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 October in Dunbar, East Lothian.  The event will nurture a conversation exploring creative ways to engage communities in the potential for change through public art with an environmental agenda.

Saturday 25Oct
Morning 9am: conference speakers; with refreshments and lunch
Afternoon: Sustaining Dunbar’s ‘Gathering In’ community event followed by artists presentations till 6pm
Evening 7pm: ‘Celebration of the Sea Performance’ with a starter by a foraging expert, this locally sourced starter is the opener to our seasonal supper by The Ridge. The performance will include music, poetry and readings and conversation with local marine specialists. Buy your tickets early for this event please £12.

Sunday 26Oct
Morning 10am: collective journey to the Belhaven Hospital Community Garden & Polly Tunnelfor a sensory walk; Guided Geology walk on the fossilised walk at Whitesands
Afternoon till 4pm: buffet lunch at Dunbar Town House followed by an open discussion on how environmental public arts can work for us in our location, led by Chris Freemantle.

To book follow this link  http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/north-light-arts-7266976227

Free creche and children’s workshop for delegates to the Saturday morning talks: please book early. Discount for EH42 postcode

For further information email: infonorthlightarts@gmail.com

Contents of Fertile Ground event leaflet including programme Fertile ground A5 leaflet inside2

Could an artist do this?

September 24, 2014 by

Another in our occasional series derived from Public Contracts Scotland.  The Scottish Government, through it’s agency Marine Scotland, is seeking environmental consultancy to provide,

“A two way conversation with the people of Scotland on the social impact of offshore renewables”

2.2 Description of the goods or services required:
The aim of this project is to engage with the people of Scotland in areas of renewable energy potential, through a series of public dialogue sessions to explore the social impact of renewables development.

NOTE: To register your interest in this notice and obtain any additional information please visit the Public Contracts Scotland Web Site at http://www.publiccontractsscotland.gov.uk/Search/Search_Switch.aspx?ID=319908.

Location:   All Scotland
Highlands and Islands
Aberdeen & North-East
Tayside, Central & Fife
Glasgow & Strathclyde
Edinburgh & Lothians
Scotland South

2.4 Total quantity or scope of tender
The contract will begin on 27 October 2014 with a final report expected on 13 March 2015.

The Dark Outside

September 22, 2014 by

 A 24 hour Radio Broadcast of Unheard Sound Noon 27th September - Noon 28th September 2014  Galloway Forest Dark Skies Park. Murrays Monument, A712, Dumfries and Galloway   Sound artist Frenchbloke, curates 24 hours of previously unheard music donated exclusively for this project by musicians and producers from all over the world. The site-specific transmission will be of specially composed work, forgotten recordings and alternate versions of existing work, none of which have been heard in public before. These sound works will be on air for the duration of the broadcast, then deleted. They may never be heard again.   Listen in your car, or on a portable radio. Visit The Dark Outside HQ at the top of Murray's Monument for a friendly chat, a comfy sofa and a fantastic view, then sit back, relax and hear the transmission at The Dark Star Lounge deep in the Forest. Contributing artists (as of September 12th 2014)  And theres more...  'Enclosure' Large scale light installation   'The Dark Outside'  Lecture by Innes Smith, Vice President of the Scottish Society for Psychical Research - 9pm  Experimental sound and visual works from:      :Zoviet*france - Newcastle      Ruaridh Law and Dave Fyans  - Glasgow      Unicorn Diagragm - London      Rupert Lally and Espen J Jörgensen - Norway  Visit the Rosnes Benches at Mc Moab. Info HERE   See full programme : HERE   Other Information:   Bring a radio and torch  Food by The Green Tea House on 27th  Camping - Basic camping available for tents and camper vans. Bring breakfast and drinking water. Portaloos on site.  Free Event  The Dark Outside FM is part of Sancuary 2014 - A site specific art event.  Sanctuary is a creative space for experiments in sound, light and space, located in the stunning landscape of the Galloway Dark Skies Park To contribute sound:  Send links to frenchbloke@gmail.com. Also see :  http://www.thedarkoutside.tumblr.com

After the People’s Climate March, Flood Wall Street | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

September 21, 2014 by

Flood Wall Street – isn’t this what happened during Hurricane Sandy? Tomorrow it will be a direct action following today’s People’s Climate March. Today will be properly licensed and marshalled with an approved route. Tomorrow will be different.
Worthreading this article to understand the argument about the depoliticisation of the mainstream climate justice movement versus the activism of the continuing anti capitalist movement.

Content of Nothing :: Part 8 :: ….it moves, actually, in a Reticulum

September 17, 2014 by
Judy Spark, Untitled, digital print (300 x 140mm approximately) 2013

Judy Spark, Untitled, digital print (300 x 140mm approximately) 2013

Judy Spark: You remarked earlier that you feel that for you it’s “important to keep a lightness to creative work” and I would certainly agree with you on this and I think that this does bear even more import for visual than for written work. Other than the ‘academic’ aspect of some written work, I’m not sure that I can articulate exactly why I think this just yet, but it is something I think about. You also quoted Rebecca Solnit – that “the ‘results’ or ‘outcomes’ of creative work are nonlinear and unpredictable” and I would certainly agree with that, but again, this for me, seems to stand particularly for visual over written work. Perhaps is just the way that I go about a piece of writing: I know roughly what I am setting out to say, but probably not, at the beginning, how I will say it. Whereas with visual work, I think that I almost deliberately set to one side what I think I want to say, in order to allow the work to ‘make itself’, to borrow Carol Becker’s term. Then, I work out through a sort of retrospective process exactly what it is I’ve been doing. The whole process is a little bit more under my control than that might make it sound, but it is a process that I have had to learn, and in fact am still learning, to trust.

Samantha Clark: Yes, the retrospective view is when we get to figure out what was actually going on. It’s intrinsic to the reflective process, and here we might get bogged down in definitions of ‘practice-led’ or ‘practice-based’ – ‘practice-following’ research feels most apt sometimes – we do it and then figure it out later. I had a conversation with a colleague who is a social scientist recently. She seemed very surprised that we don’t figure it all out first, assemble all the theory, work out the method, and then just carry out the process we planned. The practice follows a hunch, or launches from a familiar point of departure and sees where it ends up. As you say, it can be quite instinctual. You make a leap, take a bit of a chance (it might not work), and then the research fleshes it out. I think we can become too apologetic about this. I take heart when I read about scientists and the so-called scientific method and find that it’s not so very different sometimes. Kekule saw the structure of benzene in a dream. CTR Wilson built the first cloud chamber on a bit of a whim, to recreate some of the mists and coronas he’d seen walking on the hills – he had no idea his apparatus would reveal the tracks of subatomic particles. According to Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock, ‘you work with so-called scientific methods to put it into their frame after you know’. (Rosen, 1994: 486) Agnes Arber recognised this thought process not as a linear progression but as a reticulated network of associations, analogies and resonances, which were translated into words and equations only with a struggle, after the original, nonverbal and empathic insight. ‘The experience of one’s own thinking suggests that it moves, actually, in a reticulum (possibly of several dimensions) rather than along a single line…A reticulum.… cannot be symbolized adequately in a linear succession of words.’ (Arber, 1854: 18) And here’s the mathematician Poincaré: ‘It is by logic that we prove, but by intuition that we discover…logic teaches us that on such and such a road we are sure of not meeting an obstacle; it does not tell us which is the road that leads to the desired end. For this it is necessary to see the end from afar, and the faculty that teaches us to see is intuition.’ (Poincaré,1914: 130)

JS: Yes, for a while I think the notion of ‘intuition’ in art making was very unpopular, was regarded as something that only happened in ‘women’s art’! The next time I hear anyone slight the part of intuition in making art, I’ll most certainly produce that Poincaré quote, it’s perfect! I sometimes wade into the practice ‘led’ / ‘based’ / ‘following’ debate by stating that I have a ‘research led practice’; the argument behind this will be stronger once I’ve worked out exactly what I mean. In any case, it has something to do with listening and with trust. I’m really interested in this notion of waiting, of listening / active listening or attentiveness in making – you touched on this earlier when we were talking about drawing. Heidegger talks about the poet’s primary role as one of listening before anything is made of that experience. This waiting is as much a part of the process of making as gathering and focus are; all play a part in solving what arises, until the thing is re-solved. But the waiting/listening is difficult; I’ve used the notion of tuning a radio in relation to this, the idea of being on the best frequency and the act of deliberately re-tuning attention – back to Buddhist contemplative practice, or it’s western equivalent, mindfulness. But what about the consequences of not listening, pouncing before things are ready; that desire to fill gaps or absences, to have the art work, poem, writing take a familiar shape….and by a deadline?!


Becker, C. (2004) “Intimate, Immediate, Spontaneous, Obvious: Educating the Unknowing Mind” in Baas, J. and Jacob, M.J. (eds) Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art, Berkley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press

Rosner, M. (1994) Journal of Advanced Composition Vol 14:2 Values in Doing and Writing Science: The Case of Barbara McClintock http://www.jaconlinejournal.com/archives/vol14.2/rosner-values.pdf [Available online. Accessed 4.12.13]

Arber, A. (1954) The Mind and the Eye: A Study of the Biologist’s Standpoint, Cambridge Science Classics

Poincaré, H. (1914) Science and Method, London and New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons

Heidegger, M. (1971) On the Way to Language, New York: Harper & Row

Content of Nothing :: Part 7 :: Making and Writing

September 10, 2014 by

Judy Spark: We have talked about ‘hope’ and about ‘wonder’ but looking around at those mechanisms that will seek to commodify almost every realm of human endeavour the second it appears, it’s easy to feel a bit dispirited sometimes, despite the legions of creative practitioners who are standing up to this – or that play along with it in order to! Is for instance, the creeping ‘academisation’ of creative practice something that we should worry about in this respect? This development is surely bound up with the commodification of ‘knowledge’ and in a way that is closely aligned with what Tim Kasser (mentioned in the last post) would call ‘extrinsic’ values? In any case, for me, writing happens differently to making – though listening is still a major component – but I’ll need to think about what makes them different.

Samantha Clark: For me, it’s important to keep a lightness to creative work, not to let it become too sure of its own rightness, or too didactic. It needs to be a little uncertain, always in a questioning stance. But, like you, I’m also drawn to the academic, philosophical work. For me, the two are in direct conversation, I don’t draw a line, though as I’ve said, I like that I can load the academic work with all the baggage so the art can have more lightness. But it’s not done in the hope that I might make better art as a result of all that booklearning, but because I like to stretch my mind that way. But I recognise it’s not that way for everyone. As for writing v. visual, creative work in either medium feels like a similar process…you hold an idea, thought, sensation, moment in your mind, turn it over and over, and it’s quite fuzzy and indistinct at first, but then something begins to crystallise out. Maybe it’s a word. Maybe it’s a sound. Maybe it’s an image. Maybe it’s an image that conjures up certain words. Maybe it’s a word that conjures a particular image. But whatever it is it seems somehow to resonate. And so you set it down. Then another word, image, sound seems to sit alongside it in a way that is more than the sum of the two, and so you just keep going. It always feels like stepping out blindly, one foot after another, into a white fog hoping the ground will be there when you step onto it.

Samantha Clark working on ‘Wake,’ 2013, photo: Michael Wolchover

Samantha Clark working on ‘Wake,’ 2013, photo: Michael Wolchover

JS: Yes, that is a highly accurate description of the process! It seems that neither of us really make a line between the processes of writing and making. Something led both of us to the MAVE; perhaps a desire for rigour in the philosophical subject area that might not be found within the fine art MA (I very much liked the reference you made to the notion of the ‘personal trainer’ to get you through all those philosophical texts!) Perhaps this latter point, about rigour, could be a bit contentious given the current phenomenon of the interdisciplinary MA? I mean because maybe some of those fine art crossover MAs think that this is what they’re offering – and I hasten to add, maybe by now they do, but contentious also because of the number of artists that are beginning to take on this ‘training’ – Isn’t making art enough!? Stupidly, it becomes about what’s ‘fashionable’…if enough people do it, institutions think everyone should, and so begin to structure their courses accordingly; and so we end up with, for instance, the debacle over the PhD potentially becoming the ‘terminal’ degree in fine art instead of the MA – James Elkins and Brad Buckley have both written well about this.

For me, a lot about the way I work has to do with recognising the multitude of other ways that artists work; it’s to do with the generosity / gift / love element of contributing to a dialogue. In short, I don’t work the way I do because I think it’s the ‘right’ or ‘only’ way to work – and I’m sure you don’t either – it is about ‘following your nose, as a way of making that sort of contribution.

SC: Yes, I see what you mean. For bookish types like us it’s fine, but there are some very fine artists around for whom this is such an imposition, this expectation that you should be an artist AND an academic, that making art is no longer enough, you have to also be able to theorise it extensively, and write about it academically. I suppose it’s an inevitable outcome of the process of Art Schools becoming part of Universities. It’s worth pointing out that art education in Germany has not gone down this path. So there are alternative routes. And artists don’t HAVE to be in the academy to practice, unlike a philosopher, for example. Artists can and do exist completely outwith the academic world, but are just subject to a whole other set of pressures – commercial ones – which they navigate with varying degrees of success and equanimity. Unless you are financially independent (with your own gallery and PR to boot), you’re going to have to navigate either, or more likely both, of these worlds. And it’s going to be a continual adjustment. Well, that’s my thinking anyway. Maybe I’m fudging it, but wherever there is money there is an agenda. As education becomes increasingly monetised this will change, but still, for all its many faults, the world of Higher Education inspires me more than the commercial art world, and fits more closely with my values. Not a perfect fit, but good enough for me to make some creative headway.

JS: Yes, I feel that inhabiting that world works for me too. It seems the best place to be, to return to hopefulness for a moment, of formalising my hopes of contributing fully to, and of getting something back from, on-going philosophic discourse of environment (and for you too perhaps, through the field of creative writing). Of course it is possible to contribute in this way as an artist, and though it is at least beginning to be widely accepted that artists have much to offer within such discourse, I feel that they are also generally expected to bring an artist’s perspective to the mix, whatever that means! In my experience, I still think that it is difficult to shake off the perception of the artist as being some free spirit that can drift in bringing their artist’s perspective, like some elixir, to every problem. I wonder if there is still the tendency to regard this perspective as a form of idealism, a sort of blue sky thinking outside of real world solutions to problems?

Perhaps it’s not important but I noticed very recently, when under pressure to refine REF statements in fact, that it was, for me, very important that the written output stood as something undertaken by a person who is writing as opposed to the notion that the writing might take on some form/character as a result of having been written by an artist. Indeed it’s perhaps the case that being ‘An Artist’ actually hinders dialogue over some things, but you go to a conference, first just as another ‘someone’ who has written something and then it comes out in conversation that you are also an artist, that seems to work better!?

Buckley, B. And Conomos, J. (2009) Rethinking the Contemporary Art School: The Artist, the PhD, and the Academy, Halifax, Canada: The Press of The Nova Scotia College

Elkins, J. (2009) Artists with PhDs: On the new Doctoral Degree in Studio Art, Washington, DC: New Academia Publishing

Opportunity: Paper makers – communicating science through art

September 4, 2014 by

2014-09-04 12.42.36

Paper making, the production of academic papers, is an increasingly important and interesting part of the work of artists, and in particular artists working with environmental and ecological issues.  This opportunity was recently highlighted by Dave Borthwick on belhalf of Lydia Bach and Kate Foster:

The Paper Makers project, funded by the British Ecological Society, aims to create a dialogue between early career artists and scientists focussing on human impacts on biodiversity, with the overall aim to generate collaborative work for a wider audience.

To do so five pairs of early career artists and scientist will get together to discuss the content of one scientific paper and create five piece of work based on these discussions. The progress and process of the creation of the artwork to a wider audience.

More information can be found at: http://the-paper-makers.blogspot.co.uk/ .

We are looking for artists and scientists to apply to join us by 15th of September.​

Content of Nothing :: Part 6 :: On Hope

September 3, 2014 by
JS: Untitled, digital print (500 x 309mm approximately) 2010

Judy Spark: Untitled, digital print (500 x 309mm approximately) 2010

[In the previous post, Samantha Clark had been talking about the ethical import of wonder in the work of Ronald Hepburn, Suzi Gablick and Jane Bennett.]

Judy Spark: I want to believe in this link between wonder and ‘ethical generosity’ and even love and that there may only be a ‘short step’ from here to ‘humility’ but I feel compelled to take up the cynic’s position again. I’m not convinced. It’s not that I think that this is not possible exactly, but rather that it will be a long road. The human capacity for wonder is one that is shared by the artist, philosopher and scientist alike, indeed all of us have this latent disposition whether or not it is ever developed. But if it was going to lead naturally to an ethical relationship to the wider world, then I think that it would have done so by now. Sometimes it has pre-empted great scientific discovery, but equally, it can lead us to dismantle and separate things in an effort to learn how they work. It does not necessarily, for instance, always lead to an appreciation of the interconnected dependency of things. I feel inspired by Hepburn and Gablick, though I’m not so familiar with Bennett, but I don’t think that they back up their claims with anything concrete, how could they? How exactly does one move from a position of wonder to one of love and ethical awareness? But if this progression is at the moment unclear, perhaps this is ok. I think that the reason I make art and write is in order to encourage this tuning to wonder and the hopes for its potential, that maybe at some point, the pathway between these things will become clearer.

Samantha Clark: Yes, I think you are right to be cynical. Wonder linked to ignorance is a dangerous combination. People flock to see the orcas performing at Seaworld, and experience genuine wonder at the power and beauty of these creatures and their willingness to engage with humans, but they are ignorant of the suffering that this captivity causes the very creatures they admire so much. People wonder at the bare landscape of the Highlands with no idea that they are looking at an ecological disaster area, a man-made wet desert. A little bit of ‘dismantling to see how it works’ doesn’t need to dispel wonder, but can actually create a more educated awareness. Wonder doesn’t depend on a state of naivety. Kant, in his Critique of Judgement, noticed a difference between astonishment (Verwunderung) which fades once the novelty wears off, and a steady, contemplative wonderment (Bewunderung) which does not depend on novelty, and may even grow deeper with familiarity and understanding. The contemplative wonderment he described maintains the questioning and questing aspect of wonder, and yet rests attentively in the wonderful object (Kant, 1997: 273).

A recent document put together by the organisation Common Cause seems to propose some means by which this transition from ‘wonder’ to ethical and environmental awareness might be made. Their focus is on addressing the values we hold in order to create a shift to a more socially and environmentally just society, suggesting that the arts’ ‘capacity to trigger reflection, generate empathy, create dialogue and foster new ideas and relationships offers a powerful and democratic way of expressing, sharing and shaping values.’ (Common Cause, 2013: 4). In the core paper of this document, the psychologist Tim Kasser suggests that our values can be described as either broadly extrinsic, such as financial success, image, popularity (which depend on rewards or other’s opinions and promote competitive and selfish behaviour), or intrinsic, such as self-acceptance, community, affiliation (which promote more empathic and co-operative ways of behaving). He argues that we all have all of these values in us, but that they increase in importance to us the more they are stimulated, and that, broadly speaking, consumer societies emphasise and so promote the development of extrinsic values. These are shown to make us more dependent on external sources of happiness, such as status, entertainment and consumerism. This has far reaching effects. ‘People who prioritise extrinsic values have been shown to care less about the environment and other species, whereas a focus on intrinsic values promotes more ecologically sustainable attitudes and behaviours’ (11). Kasser builds an argument that pursuit of the arts (either as active participant or viewer) is important as it may deepen public commitment to values that promote environmental and social concern. I think there is some truth to this, though with certain caveats. Engaging with art as a high-end luxury commodity and status symbol clearly stimulates extrinsic values. So we need to be circumspect about what kind of art, and what kind of engagement we are talking about. But it seems pretty clear that it is emotions, not factual arguments, that shape our decisions, and that art can have some role to play here.

Ellie Harrison hits the nail on the head in her contribution to the same publication – arguing that to emphasise ‘art’ and ‘culture’ per se gives them a falsely elevated status and is misleading. ‘What we all need regardless of our occupation, is not arts and culture per se, but simply time and space beyond the realms of the market, where we can each access knowledge, critically reflect and feel empowered to change our lives for the better’ (21). She’s right, but art can be one way of opening up some space and time. I think that wonder, when it crops up in the mundane, maybe hearing migrating geese honking as they go flying over the supermarket car park, momentarily opens up a space of this kind. Engaging with art or writing which invites us to share that experience with the writer or the artist ‘primes’ us to be receptive to it when it crops up in life. I think it helps us to open up a little crack in the midst of the day, a ‘space between,’ a momentary breather from the demands of making our way in a market economy devoted to heedless economic growth. Anything that makes us stop and remember to be grateful, even in a small way, makes a contribution. Gratitude is very subversive in a consumer culture that primes us to be in a constant state of wanting. Kasser again: ‘One set of studies showed that very brief and very subtle reminders of the extrinsic value of money lead people to behave less helpfully and generously moments later’ (9). And another study, ‘that focused particularly on people for whom material possessions and social status were quite important found that thinking for a few minutes about the intrinsic values of affiliation and being broadminded caused these individuals to express stronger care for the environment’ 10). So inviting others to share a moment of wonder or reflection or gratitude through the art we make is maybe part of this drip feed, just tickling those extrinsic values one more time.

You mentioned hope, and hopefulness is a real issue these days, its something I seem to come up against again and again – in the context of ‘eco-art’ especially. Reading Rebecca Solnit’s ‘Hope in the Dark’ helped me to think about this – that ‘results’ or ‘outcomes’ of creative work are nonlinear and unpredictable, so hanging on to some idea of what you’d like to happen as a result of your creative work is pointless. If you want direct results then direct action is a better bet. As artists we’re working at the level of metaphor, getting in ‘under the bonnet’ of thought as it were – shift the metaphors and you contribute towards shifting thought. But it’s not something didactic, or fact-based. It’s more like lending your own small weight to the other side of the scales, towards tipping things back, rebalancing, in a Taoist kind of way. And if Kasser is right, and even such a subtle cue can unconsciously affect someone’s values and behaviour, then perhaps that’s cause for hope.


Kant, I. (trans. Pluhar, W) (1997) Critique of Judgement, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing

Common Cause and Mission Models Money (2103),  The Art of Life: Understanding How Participation in Arts and Culture Can Affect Our Values  http://valuesandframes.org  [Online:  Accessed 12-11- 2013]

Solnit, R (2005) Hope in the Dark: The Untold History of People Power, Edinburgh: Canongate


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