Environmental Art Festival Scotland 2015: what is art and ecology?

August 27, 2015 by
EAFS.  Photo Colin Tennant

EAFS. Photo Colin Tennant

The creative team at EAFS needed help this year and ecoartscotland provided some editorial support for the newspaper and an essay on art and ecology as voluntary contributions.  EAFS is an incredibly important development in Scotland (as was the UNFIX festival this year, also delivered by voluntary effort).  The essay below attempts to highlight some of the different ways of working that characterise ‘art and ecology’ practices.

Art and Ecology or “the context is half the work”

By Chris Fremantle with input from Ann T Rosenthal.

Landscape painting represents or idealizes ‘nature,’ usually by depicting wide vistas, such as seascapes, forests, and countrysides. Sometimes it also brings attention to the human impact on the land, such as wilderness vs. settlement. Given the environmental challenges we face today, however, environmental art goes beyond representation or even witnessing changes in the land to effect social change through raising awareness and/or actually restoring damaged landscapes. Some of the ways environmental art differs from more traditional art forms, like landscape painting, are discussed below.

Considering art made or in progress by artists who work with environments or ecosystems, there are a few key things to consider, such as whether the project is reflective, awareness-raising or interventionist. You’ll find various things called ecoartxxx but, unlike Young British Artists, such as Damien Hirst, this isn’t about individualism or celebrities.

So, what are some of the things that might characterise artists working with ecologies?

Context – this might be ‘place’ or ‘issue’, though in the interesting projects these are deeply bound together. The issue might be the deep experience of a place and its effect on a person. Personally I find Hamish Fulton’s piece NO TALKING: seven days walking in the Cairngorms (1988) to be a very personal provocation – could I not talk for seven days? The issue might be storm surges and their impact on coastlines. Eve Mosher was featured in The New Yorker because she had marked a high water line on parts of New York (2007). When Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012 the debris marked the same line. Everyone was amazed that an artist had predicted the impact of an extreme weather event. The context might be a remnant of the ancient Caledonian Forest. The Collins and Goto Studio have been working in the Blackwood of Rannoch (2012-ongoing) to imagine a future of eco-cultural well-being where the forest’s beauty and biodiversity become an icon for a different Scottish landscape.

Interdisciplinarity is often another central characteristic. Artists are using methods and processes that are selected based on the idea/issue/context rather than the skill they were taught at art school. Don’t get me wrong, if you ask the right questions you’ll find that what the artists learnt at art school is still fundamental to their practice. But whether in deep durational collaborations or in short interactions, artists working with environments and ecologies learn and use the knowledge and practices of natural and social sciences, read and seek to influence policy, work in teams and maintain relationships. The quality of interdisciplinarity is perhaps in the seemlessness of what results, such as with Cinema Sark in EAFS 2013 where Pete Smith, Professor of Soil and Plant Science, and John Wallace, film-maker, explored the ecosystem of the river Sark in a work that was at once excellent science and compelling film.

Education and volunteering is a common characteristic of those projects focused on awareness-raising and intervention. It is important to understand that this aspect of practice is not separate from the process of making the art, not ‘outreach’ once the art has been made – rather it must be understood to be intrinsic.

Novelty is less important than sharing. Iterating and the commons are recurrent themes. All of the characteristics noted above (context/issue, interdisciplinarity and education and volunteering) militate against that particular art world requirement for constant newness. In the art world too often the focus is on new things, whereas ecoart is more often about new understandings and revealing experiences of the world around us (and our place or impact within it). More specifically documentation of environmental and ecological projects often takes the form of action guides, sets of instructions, or toolkits. We can recognise the aesthetic of artists, but when groups in Miami (2013) and Bristol (2014) did versions of Eve Mosher’s High Water Line, it wasn’t a breach of copyright – in fact she celebrates it. They used the Action Guide produced by Mosher working with ecoartspace.

Leaving the world a better place than you found it might be an overarching concern. This is more radical that it might sound when you consider that the archetype of the ‘reckless, hedonistic and art for arts sake artist’ has been pervasive for the last century anyway. John Thackara suggested that we live between on the one hand the despair at the scale of the crisis and the complexity of the challenges, and on the other hand the hope in the multitude of examples of grassroots activism, but he also commented that ‘don’t be evil’ is not enough. We have to act in ways to leave things better than we find them as we move through the world.

Does anyone know Professor Paul Younger? Pt. 2

August 21, 2015 by

Professor Paul Younger invited me to meet him in his office at the University of Glasgow after he found the blog post. We had exchanged some emails resulting from the sequence of events triggered by 350.org’s ‘Do The Math’ and the wider divestment campaign.

We discussed the reasons for the letter to The Guardian (of which Prof Younger was a co-signatory) challenging the University of Glasgow’s recently announced commitment to divestment from investments in the fossil fuel industry. From what I understand this was at least in part driven by the University’s decision to make the commitment on the basis of the student petition without recourse to any advice from the Schools or Departments which have expertise in the subject.

Prof Younger’s response to the Do The Math poster was that he agreed with all of it, apart from where on the right hand side it says, “we have the tools that we need.”

Detail of Do The Math by Rachel Schragis

Detail of Do The Math by Rachel Schragis

Although we see a lot of wind farms and increasing numbers of domestic rooftop solar voltaic installations, electricity is only a relatively small part of the fossil fuel generated energy we use. Further these forms of renewables provide neither baseload nor dispatchable capacity to the grid as it is currently configured ie they create more grid management challenges. In addition renewables development is impacting on issues of heating more slowly and on the transportation of goods at an even slower rate.

Asked the question, “How long is now?” I.e. if we are now in this transition process, how long will it take to move to a low carbon economy, Prof. Younger suggested 30 years between areas still requiring innovation such as energy storage, as well as innovations moving through development and commercialisation phases. It would be interesting to understand from his perspective where the key obstacles are and what could speed the process. I can imagine another one of Rachel Schragis’ images visualising the developmental edge, the relationships, the obstacles and the opportunities.

Reflecting on the University’s reaction to the student petition led to an interesting discussion around decision-making in different disciplines. Prof Younger offered a comparison with medicine where policy decisions are not made exclusively in response to petitions. We discussed the relationship between medical research and medical ethics (and perhaps also medical humanities). This prompted the question as to whether such a thing as a Chair in Engineering Ethics should exist? This is distinct from the existing positions focused on ‘the public understanding of…’ just as it is probably distinct from positions focused on sustainability (sustainability is already an iteration of one mode of ethical analysis, utilitarianism, rather than a primary inquiry into the grounds of thinking).

We also discovered that we had a colleague, Lucy Milton, founder director of Helix Arts in Newcastle, in common. Prof Younger had invited Helix Arts to work with him on the Seen & Unseen (1997-99) project developing a bioremediation solution to acidic run-off from mine workings focused on the Quaking Houses settlement in County Durham.

Prof Younger kindly gave me a copy of his recent publication Energy which appears in the All That Matters series. It’s a primer on current issues in energy engineering. He starts with food. It is the form of energy we consume bodily, and our discovery of cooking has increased the energy value of food to us, that most likely being one of the key contributory factors in our social cultural evolution. He doesn’t shy away from the parallel between our overconsumption of food and our equally unconstrained use of other forms of energy. Nor is the book a marketing exercise for the energy industry. Where it might be limited is in its exclusive focus on the technology of energy. The book doesn’t address the financial dimension of energy or particularly on alternative modes of ownership, both ultimately key factors in any transition to a low carbon economy.

I was able to give him copies of two of the Land Art Generator Initiative publications (New York and Copenhagen).

Postcards from the Outer Hebrides

August 19, 2015 by

chrisfremantle:

Alex Cochrane follows some cyclists through the Outer Hebrides

Originally posted on adcochrane:

In the spring of 2015 four intrepid dashing gentlemen cycled through the Western Isles (Outer Hebrides) battling storms, rain and mountains. I was not one of them. I took the sensible option and hitched a ride in the dry, warm support van.

View original 1,192 more words

GAIA Resonant Visions at SER 2015 Manchester

August 18, 2015 by

The Society for Ecological Restoration annual conference is in Manchester 23-27 August and James Brady has put together an outstanding Arts Programme.
“During the conference, two internationally renowned cultural venues in the city of Manchester will host GAIA – Resonant Visions: an exclusive cultural programme consisting of UK and world premiere artists’ film screenings, accompanied by public talks (with artists, ecologists, activists and scientists, etc.) associated with the conference theme of ecological restoration and resilience.
The events will be artistic co-ordinates and complimentary to the conference. Both responding and acting independently of the conference, they will expand and explore restoration and resilience from the neighbourhood to international scales, and from political, ecological and aesthetic perspectives.
How environmental activism, creative resistance and grassroots/indigenous movements can operate (both as a powerful metaphor and a real-world agency) for ‘resilience and restoration’ towards a post-fossil fuel world, are core themes which these events will also address.
Manchester is the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution: the unprecedented human technological shift which changed Planet Earth and crucially brought about the evolution of this Anthropocene age. It is therefore meaningful and poignant that a collection of moving image ‘visions’ of our changing planet are brought into the heart of what is one of the world’s first Post-Industrial cities.
The core cultural venues pledging their support for SER 2015 in the city are The Whitworth Art Gallery and HOME. A special suite of eco-artist films will also be hosted at Manchester Central during the conference itself, providing an integrated cross-disciplinary aesthetic engagement for delegates.”
Check it out here http://www.ser2015.org/arts-programme

Glasgow Community Support For Stalled Space Fund – NOW OPEN

August 17, 2015 by

We’re sharing this Call from Glasgow City Council

Forgotten Island 2011

Forgotten Island (2011) – one of the first projects done under the Stalled Spaces initiative

Do you wish to breathe life into a stalled site or an under-utilised open space within your neighbourhood?

Ever thought of using it temporarily for…

  • an arts project
  • pop up sculpture or exhibition space
  • a pop up park or a growing space
  • children’s play space
  • a green gym/ outdoor exercise
  • outdoor education
  • an event space
  • any other innovative idea?

We now invite applications for the second round of Community Support for Stalled Spaces for 2015-16

Funding is available from a minimum of £1,000 to a maximum of £2,500

Closing Date for applications: Monday, 7 September 2015 (5 pm)

For more information and application forms go to: www.glasgow.gov.uk/stalledspaces

Or contact: Caroline Mulheron on 0141 287 8542

Email: stalledspaces@glasgow.gov.uk

John Newling: The Map Room of the Last Islands

August 15, 2015 by

Originally posted on On The Edge Research:

Woodend Barn, Banchory, Aberdeenshire
22 August – 23 September 2015

This major exhibition of previously unseen work is a powerful, and visually beautiful, illustration of the ways in which artist John Newling explores the relationships between the natural world and systems of value within society.

Since 2009, Newling has been creating art works that are constructed, primarily, through the growing, observing and preserving of Moringa Oleifera trees.  Often referred to as the Miracle Tree or Famine Tree, gram for gram, the Moringa leaves contain: seven times the vitamin C in oranges, four times the calcium in milk, four times the vitamin A in carrots, two times the protein in milk and three times the potassium in bananas. It is for this and other extraordinary properties of this tree that it has been referred to as the world’s most generous tree.

The paintings are maps of a kind, into and…

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Evening Will Come

August 6, 2015 by

Today is the anniversary.
Eve Andree Laramee, Professor and Chair, Department of Art & Art History
Pace University, NYC provides an overview of 20 years of work on nuclear issues that started with reading a newspaper article on United Nuclear Corporation’s Church Rock Uranium Mill Tailings Pond Spill, on Navajo land in New Mexico. Sometimes we ask “Could an artist do this?” about a call for Expressions of Interest about some aspect of environmental work.  In this case ‘an artist has done this’. There is a more detailed version of this essay on the Women’s Environmental Art Directory as part of Issue 5 of their magazine, Atomic Legacy Art.
You can see more research material that Laramee has assembled at http://nuclearfacts.info .

Land Use Strategy pilot: what’s it got to do with artists?

August 4, 2015 by
Aberdeenshire landscape - photo: Chris Fremantle

Aberdeenshire landscape – photo: Chris Fremantle

Absolutely fascinating webminar organised the Ecosystems Knowledge Network on the Aberdeenshire Land Use Strategy Pilot undertaken by Aberdeenshire Council and James Hutton Institute. You can access the presentation online here.

This two year exercise was one of two pilots funded by the Scottish Government to take the national Land Use Strategy and ‘translate’ it down to a local authority level and below that to a more local level. Scottish Government expected GIS to be central to this work. One key output is a new tool which utilises existing data relevant to ecosystems services assessment and integrates it into one interface. The speakers recognised the limitations of spatial data, that some things are not easily translated into spatial data.

The core data in the model is based on ecosystems services assessment across three categories:

  • Provisioning Services
  • Regulating Services
  • Cultural Services

(I don’t quite understand why Supporting Services aren’t included, though in a sense they are perhaps ubiquitous?)

Cultural Services were broadly represented by areas identified for recreational use, areas adjacent to core path networks and judgements such as not prioritising woodland within two miles of coastlines.

The model, which is publicly accessible at xxx allows some key overarching issues eg prime farmland, forestry, water, biodiversity, flood risk, to be prioritised within the model so you can see areas where you might increase tree planting to promote biodiversity by linking up existing areas of woodland, or where you might prioritise farmland over woodland if you want more arable.

It immediately triggered a series of thoughts about where artists are working in ways that directly speak to the challenges described.

The Collins and Goto Studio has been working with Forest Research, the Forestry Commission and the local communities looking at the Blackwood of Rannoch in Perthshire – access the report here. This is a futures modelling exercise seeking to understand how different ways of thinking about priorities including cultural dimensions to do with both woodland character and also Gaelic culture might inform management. Their report can be accessed at . The Collins and Goto Studio have extensive experience working with GIS (as do some other artists working with ecological systems such as Aviva Rahmani in the US).

The artists Hodges and Coleman worked with Dr Claire Haggett, University of Edinburgh, to explore ways to integrate cultural dimensions into the conventional Environmental Impact Assessment process. Aspects of their process lend themselves to the spatialisation of inhabitants’ perception and value of their landscapes in interesting ways. You can access documentation here.

Hurrel and Brennan have demonstrated ways to spatialise traditional knowledge in their project Mapping the Sea – Barra looking at the waters around Barra in the Outer Hebrides and have also explored the biological, economic and cultural dimensions of the Firth of Clyde in their more recent project Clyde Reflections with a good overview here.

These three all benefited from Creative Scotland’s Imagining Natural Scotland programme developed in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage – Imagining Natural Scotland specifically supported artist scientist collaborations.  You can read the review Dr Wallace Heim wrote for us here.

Professor Pete Smith and John Wallace’s Cinema Sark directly sought to undertake ecosystems services assessment through the medium of film, offering a distinct form of analysis.

Another potentially relevant recent development is the Pinning Stones project which mapped culture across Aberdeenshire. François Matarasso’s brief was to produce “…a portrait of the the shire’s culture, highlighting the role of creativity in place making, identity, quality of life and prosperity.”

Clearly one of the challenges for the arts is to understand how to engage with land use strategy development both in terms of effective intervention, perhaps as evidenced by the Collins and Goto Studio work, as well as supporting understanding cultural ecosystems as demonstrated by the art science collaborations of Hodges, Coleman and Haggett, Hurrel and Brennan and Smith and Wallace.

The integration of the cultural dimension in meaningful and robust ways into GIS to contribute to land use policy and strategy is not new, but its also far from ubiquitous.  But even the list of examples we’ve cited covers Perthshire, Dumfries and Galloway, the Western Isles, the Firth of Clyde – only one example is in Aberdeenshire.  For useful artists work to be integrated into local GIS based Land Use Strategy there needs to be a lot more artists work commissioned.

SYSTEMS BREAKDOWN

August 4, 2015 by

SYSTEMS BREAKDOWN

Rachel Duckhouse was Associate Artist engaging staff at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art around issues of climate change, in response to Ellie Harrison’s Early Warning Sign that the gallery has been hosting.

The image above, part of a suite of images in SYSTEMS BREAKDOWN is the result of conversations with staff about their relationships with each other and with the institution.  She says,

I became aware of patterns, relationships, connections, disconnections, motivations, hierarchies, agendas, preoccupations and passions that shaped each individual’s perception of the institution and how it related to wider environmental and social issues inside and outside its walls.

I attempted to map out and draw the infinitely dynamic, multi layered and intangible relationships between people and the systems they work, live and think within.

In the process of making the drawings, I better understood the difficulties in addressing a community of individuals each with their own relationship to that community and ultimately to climate change; and I’m beginning to understand how they act as a metaphor for the challenges we all face as a global community.

It’s worth looking at these drawings and this process in relation to the irational.org project The Status Project.   That also used visual methods to explore individual’s relations with bureaucracies in a social context.

Call for Ideas – Edinburgh International Science Festival

July 28, 2015 by

Edinburgh International Science Festival is the mother of all science festivals and they have a call for ideas out at the moment (Closing 1 September 2015).  They have highlighted their ambitions for the 2016 Festival as follows,

In 2016 we will transform the halls, gardens, theatres and galleries of Edinburgh into dens of debate, exploring science, technology, engineering and design’s ability to help improve our world and our lives through the concept of Building Better Worlds. Within this theme, specific areas of focus will include Being Human, Our Built Environment, Science and Culture, A Planetary Perspective and Beyond Planet Earth.

More information here Call for Ideas – Edinburgh International Science Festival.

Sylva Caledonia (Tim Collins, Reiko Goto Collins, Gerry Loose, Morven Gregor and ecoartscotland) was part of the 2015 presentation at Summerhall curated by ASCUS.  Search ‘Sylva Caledonia’ on this site for some posts covering the Caledonian Everyday discussions.


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