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.

Brandon Ballangee’s exhibition Collapse reviewd in PNAS*

July 27, 2015 by

* PNAS is The Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences

Brandon Ballangee’s work is at once good art and good science. This review draws out both the credibility and context of the work as science as well as the works’ existence as art. It also highlights some of the anxieties for artists if their work is understood as just “science communication”. This anxiety is most notable when the artist is brought in and handed ‘finished’ science with which to work (obviously this doesnt apply when you are both scientist and artist).
The curious legacy of CP Snow is that artists and scientists appear to be in opposition when both are in fact seeking to understand the world, albeit through different means and with different values. If there is a common opposition it might be more rightly understood to be with those who seek to obscure the truth. Not all scientists or artists’ work is involved in contentious areas like pollution (and many artists are providing a feel good escape from the everyday) but the artists we value the most are involved in truth just as the scientists are.
Given that Ballangee isn’t the only artist working with science and scientists it would be good to see more reviews of this sort.

Open Call for Entries: Biodiversity/Extinction

July 21, 2015 by

Art Science Inspires

ASCI (Art Science Collaborations Inc) is currently calling for works for an exhibition in the New York Hall of Science (deadline 23 August 2015).  ASCI has involved two really interesting jurors – Elizabeth Corr from the Natural Resources Defence Council and Paula J Ehrlich from the E.O.Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. The exhibition announcement highlights key themes and issues,

The Paleolithic cave paintings at Lascaux, France are a magnificent record of early man’s portrayal of the biodiversity of his surroundings. Artists have continued this long tradition, finding endless inspiration from the shape, color, pattern, texture, movement, and sounds of our natural world to create art in all expressive media. Taking the example of birds: Leonardo keenly observed and drew the flight pattern of birds in an attempt to invent a flying machine; Alfred Hitchcock used bird sounds as a psychological metaphor in his film, The Birds; Audubon’s self-published opus, Birds of America, proved his dual genius as a naturalist and artist; and a growing number of contemporary artworks are being created in reaction to avian species extinction, such as Rachel Berwick’s “may-por-é,” “Zugunruhe,” and “A Vanishing: Martha” installations.

Today we are learning the importance of the conservation of Earth’s biodiversity for more than its innate beauty, capacity to inspire art, and to lift our spirits. It is acknowledged by scientists and even governments around the world, as the key indicator of the health of our planet’s ecosystems. And, a rich biodiversity underpins ecosystem “services” (such as recycling of nutrients, purifying water, removing carbon dioxide and adding oxygen to our atmosphere, and sustaining habitat for animals and organisms like trees, and seeds that produce food), that are essential for human sustainability on our beautiful planet.

In his 1998 book, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, the esteemed Harvard biologist who coined the term “biodiversity,” E.O. Wilson, argues for a return to the ideals of the original Enlightenment, including the bridging of the sciences and humanities. It is in this spirit that Art & Science Collaborations is organizing the “SCIENCE INSPIRES ART: Biodiversity/Extinction” exhibition at the New York Hall of Science. We hope to demonstrate the wide diversity of visual tropes that today’s artists are employing to reflect upon the crisis of biodiversity loss and species extinction. We are seeking images of original art executed in any media for this international show.

Further information including guidance on submissions is on the ASCI page.

Green Infrastructure Innovation Projects Call | Valuing Nature Network

July 20, 2015 by

Reposted from the Valuing Nature blog (Green Infrastructure Innovation Projects Call | Valuing Nature Network)

NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) is inviting proposals that address the issues and opportunities around green infrastructure (GI) in the planning and investment decisions that are made by local policymakers, local planners and organisations responsible for developing the built environment (construction, house builders, developers).

Project proposals submitted in this current round (deadline Thursday 22 October 2015) are expected to start by 1 January 2016 and to last for up to two years. A maximum of £125k (£100k at 80% FEC) may be requested. Smaller, targeted activities of three months upwards are also welcome and NERC anticipates seeing a range of requests within the £125k limit, reflecting the range of potential projects and activities.

Full details can be found on the NERC website.

ONCA awarded £75,000 to develop participatory arts programme « a-n The Artists Information Company

July 18, 2015 by

Thanks to Anne Douglas for alerting us to this exciting development in Brighton. It’s great to see ACE commiting support to an ambitious arts & ecology programme.

Following receipt of a £75,000 award from Arts Council England, Brighton’s ONCA Centre for Arts and Ecology will be launching eleven new projects over the next two years that explore how society and culture can respond to environmental change. read on here…

Reflections on Clyde Reflections: a film installation by film-maker Stephen Hurrel and social ecologist Ruth Brennan

July 16, 2015 by


Sian Sullivan was one of the speakers at the Clyde Reflections seminar at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art last month. She just published this blog further articulating her own thoughts on Stephen Hurrel and Ruth Brennan’s film – an exemplary art science collaboration.

Originally posted on Sian Sullivan:

'Clyde Reflections' installed at the Glasgow gallery of Modern Art, June 2015. ‘Clyde Reflections’ installed at the Glasgow gallery of Modern Art, June 2015.

One evening in May 2015 I started to read Pirate Utopias: Moorish Corsairs and European Renegadoes (2003(1995)) pirateutopias200by Peter Lamborn Wilson, a writer whose ruminations on ‘ontological anarchy’, under the pseudonym Hakim Bey, have inspired me for years.

Pirate Utopias opens with a chapter called ‘Pirate and Mermaid’, based on a legendary pirate known as Lass el-Behar from the town Rabat, which faces out towards the Atlantic Ocean on the coast of Morocco. Here el-Behar built a white tower – the Torre Blanquilla, ‘in order to hide his treasure within its walls’ (p.7). Wilson writes that:

Lass el-Behar was young, handsome and brave. Many a captive Christian woman fell deeply in love with him, as did the daughters of rich and powerful Mohammedans. But … above all it was the sea he loved; he loved her with…

View original 2,294 more words

Wallace Heim: ‘Art & Ecology Now’ review

July 8, 2015 by

ecoartscotland has just published a pair of blogs by Dr. Wallace Heim reviewing two important publications on art-science collaborations focused on the environment.  Wallace very kindly also looked at Thames and Hudson’s new book Art & Ecology Now.  Below is her response.


There’s a confusion in form in Andrew Brown’s Art & Ecology Now, one that reflects on the book’s perspective on its subject matter. It is a printed book. It needs methods of navigation through the pages that provide the reader, without the benefit of internet links, to move around its layers. In other words, a sufficient table of contents. Art & Ecology Now is a compilation of the works of dozens of artists, but the artists are not listed in the table of contents. There is an alphabetised list with some websites and an index at the end, but you can’t click a link in a book. Knowing whose work Brown thought worth representing requires a hit and miss ruffling through pages. This may seem a small point, but the communicative effect is of obfuscation.

So, with respect to the artists whose work is included, here they are under their section headings:


Benoit Aquin; Yao Lu; Nadav Kander; Daniel Beltrá; Bright Ugochukwu Eke; HeHe; Ravi Agarwal; Edgar Martins; Marjolijn Dijkman; Katie Holten; Suky Best; Andrej Zdravič; Erika Blumenfeld; Rúri; Haubitz+Zoche; Tea Mäkipää; David Maisel; Susannah Sayler & Edward Morris; Rigo 23; Mitch Epstein; Joel Sternfeld


Chris Drury; David Buckland; Katie Paterson; Susan Derges; Buster Simpson; Klaus Weber; Tim Knowles; Luke Jerram; Rivane Neuenschwander; Wilhelm Scheruebl; Henrik Håkansson; Sabrina Raaf; Chiara Lecca; Liu Bolin; Berndnaut Smilde


Heather Ackroyd & Dan Harvey; Brian Collier; Alexandra Regan Toland; Alison Turnbull; Mark Fairnington; Brandon Ballengée; Janine Randerson; Lise Autogena & Joshua Portway; Layla Curtis; Baily, Corby & Mackenzie; United Visual Artists; Lucy & Jorge Orta; Maria Thereza Alves


Naoya Hatakeyama; Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla; Andrea Polli; Chris Jordan; Alejandro Durán; Heather & Ivan Morison; Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo; Svetlana Ostapovici; Eva Jospin; Simon Draper; Lara Almárcegui; Matt Costello


Futurefarmers; N55; Simparch; Simon Starling; Nils Norman; Natalie Jeremijenko; Nicole Dextras; Paula Hayes; Vaughn Bell; Tattfoo Tan; Neighbourhood Satellites; Preemptive Media; Superflex


Basia Irland; The Canary Project; Eve Mosher; Mary Ellen Carroll; Amy Balkin; Dirk Fleischmann; Free Soil; Lauren Berkowitz; Artist as Family; Fritz Haeg; Gustav Metzger; Tue Greenfort.

And here are the ecological artists named in the introductory text:

Mel Chin; Agnes Denes; Olafur Eliasson; Andy Goldsworthy; Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison; Michael Heizer; Nancy Holt; Lynn Hull; Patricia Johanson; Richard Long; Walter De Maria; Kathryn Miller; Dennis Oppenheim; Giuseppe Penone; Robert Smithson; Alan Sonfist; James TurrellMierle Laderman Ukeles; Garcia Uriburu; herman de vries.

This list represents the better part of the book, each artist providing a starting point for a reader. Should a reader also be unfamiliar with art history and ecological thought, though, the introductory text provides a bare, formulaic account of both. There is no movement of ideas in the book. There is the mention of, for example, how works may be challenging conventional ideas of beauty, or the dilemmas posed by photography in situations of conflict and suffering, but these are presented anecdotally. The accounts of ecological thought are generalised around activism, representation, values and participation, and are given sparse treatment. The text that accompanies many of the artists’ pages reads as though poorly edited versions of text or publicity material that may have been supplied by artists. Critical commentary is, most often, absent.

The book may be intended for a ‘new’ and ‘now’ audience, or as informed entertainment. If it does entice some readers to learn more, people from a general arts or public readership, it has fulfilled a purpose. But new readers and artists are vital to the continual generation of art and ecology. They are too important to be presented with poor research. An unintended consequence of the book is the challenge it sets for those, including myself, writing about art and ecology but only within academia or the confines of the field, to write outside those boundaries in whatever form is necessary.

Art & Ecology Now by Andrew Brown. Published by Thames and Hudson. ISBN: 978-0-500-23916-2

Dr. Wallace Heim writes and researches on performance and ecology, and she does this in many places. Her academic slant is philosophical, but she works across disciplines to analyse the experience of performance, of art and of social practice arts, to consider how these events shape ecological and social understanding.

She recently published Landing Stages. Selections from the Ashden Directory 2000 – 2014, an ebook marking the archiving of the Ashden Directory and Ashdenizen, websites focused on ecology, climate and culture which she co-edited. Landing Stages can be downloaded from

Her current writing is on conflict; on sense and extinction; and on how a place can learn.

She has published in Performance Research and in Readings in Performance and Ecology. She is on the Advisory Board of the upcoming publication series Performing Landscapes. She co-edited Nature Performed, and co-curated the conference/event BETWEEN NATURE. She taught on the ‘Art & Ecology’ MA at Dartington College of Arts. She has also worked as a set designer.

Basia Irland | Voices

June 29, 2015 by

Looking for the source of the Clyde in Lanarkshire, 2010.  Photo Chris Fremantle

Looking for the source of the Clyde in Lanarkshire, 2010. Photo Chris Fremantle

Basia Irland is one of the foremost artists working with ecological systems and she is currently writing a series of blogs, Basia Irland | Voices, for National Geographic, each of which speaks for a river, imagining the world from the perspective of an “urban working river,” a river “interconnected with the struggles of my people,” “slow moving and bucolic-looking” river.

So far she has given voice to the Ping River, Chiang Mai, and the Chao Phraya, Bangkok, both in Thailand; the Siem Reap, Cambodia; the Kamo River, Japan; the Eagle River in Colorado and the Yaqui River, Sonora, Mexico.



Wallace Heim: documenting art science collaborations focused on environments Pt.2

June 24, 2015 by

The second of Wallace Heim’s reviews of recent publications on art-science collaborations focuses on Field_Notes from the Finnish Bioart Society.

Going someplace unfamiliar for an adventure, and doing this with a group of strangers, is an ancient exercise to stimulate human learning and imagination. This suspension of the everyday for the inspiration of the new is the backbone of several art and science residency projects.

For the bi-annual Field_Notes events, the unfamiliar place is the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station, a science institution for monitoring ecological and climatic processes in Lapland / northern Finland. The territory is one of lichens, reindeer, fjords, tourists, seasonal workers, lemmings, crowberry juice outlets, chainsaw art, gift shops, mountain birch, Arctic scrub, the Olkiluoto nuclear plant, northern lights, granite, the Talvivaara mine, Arctic charr, stone age habitations, trailer parks and swarms of government and civilian drones.


For the first of these, ‘Field_Notes_Cultivating Ground’, in 2011, the group included foragers, hackers and techno-, data- and bio-manipulating artists who spent a week together doing and reflecting on field work and experimentation in ‘bioart’. Around 30 people divided into five working groups: Arctic Waters, looking at freshwater ecosystems; Biological Milieu, investigating the biological matrices of cell structure and tissue growth; Body Nature, looking at communication and the human body as sensor; Environmental Computing, exploring how computational data from the field can contribute to sensory and political engagement; and Second Order, a group studying, as if anthropologists, the workings of the other groups.

[Field Notes] From Landscape to Laboratory is the publication that followed, and has three sections, inter-leaving those groups. The first, Rooting the Practice, provides philosophical and artistic overviews of ‘art&science’; Section 2: Probing the Terrain is accounts from artists of their research; and the third, Impressions from the Field, are four lively personal responses, glimpses into the counter-currents of the week, the passing moments of the adventure that the reader has missed.

The book offers facets of inquiry into the practice of bioart. A Venn diagram of art in the carbon realm (as opposed to the silicon realm) has bioart as the larger category, as art that is alive or that has living components, including ecological and land arts, within which the sub-category of biotech art sits: art that involves biotechnology, genetic and non-genetic manipulations of organisms, tissue culture interventions.

The creation of knowledge through field work and technology are over-arching themes. The opening essay by Tarja Knuuttila and Hanna Johansson sets the ground with reference to an early essay by Bruno Latour, ‘The Pédofil of Boa Vista: A Photo-Philosophical Montage’ in association with the artwork ‘Homage to Werner Homberg’ by Lauri Anttila. Latour used the idea of inscription to explain the chain of representations between the object in the field and the scientific paper. An inscription is a sign, symbol, picture, diagram, co-ordinate grid; an inscription device is any instrument that can transform material substances into signs or numbers. The chain of inscriptions from sample to sign mould the object into something more susceptible to being known by science. The end diagram is more abstract; elements have been lost in its coding. But it is also more concrete; it is detached from its context, but it can travel and circulate.

The contemporary artist Lauri Anttila retraced the treks by the Finnish landscape painter Werner Homberg (1830-1860) to see how one could experience those landscapes today, including how they are known through scientific documentation and measurement. Homberg painted from fragments of sketches, objects, plant drawings to assemble a landscape that appeared coherent. Anttila displays fragments from the field, objects and photo documentation and reworks them into depictions of the ‘reality’ of Homberg’s paintings, and into a construction of changing representations of the land that is itself constantly changing.

This drawing together of art, philosophy and experience with questions of representation, scientific process and technological developments runs throughout most essays. Questions concerning fieldwork – artistic and scientific – of location, data and cultural meaning are argued from theory, experience and by association with artworks. This gives the reader some traction in understanding how this residency worked, what practices were experimented with and what ideas discussed. The collection is of diverse fragments, but is several steps along an inscription chain from a simple reporting back of what happened.

Each chapter could be the subject of a review in itself, triggering questions over the artist’s practices, the politics and ethics of the work undertaken, its ecological import. What follows are selected summaries.

In the introductory chapters, Laura Beloff sets out the centrality of ‘experience’, as presented by the philosopher John Dewey, and the ‘practical aesthetics’ of Jill Bennett as central to artistic and scientific processes. Maria Huhmarniemi outlines conflicts in conservation plans in Finland between the building of a hydro-electric plant and the habitat of the nocturnal Capricorniae butterfly, and speculates whether art can be used as a means of argumentation in such situations. Paz Tornero provides a summary of art-science collaborations as being matters concerning beauty and truth, quoting Siân Ede, Kant, Arthur Danto, David Bohm. These chapters are useful in providing an artistic and theoretical basis, but it is the following chapters by participants that provide the substance of the book.

Oron Catts, whose practice involves the use of tissue technologies as media for artistic expression, went to Kilpisjärvi to further his research into the roles of inanimate cellular substrates, structures or matrices in biological processes. The matrix and the milieu of cellular development may be as important in cell differentiation and development as DNA. Anticipating an arid, barren environment, Catts was looking for biological material to be used in the technique of decellularisation, a process by which cells are removed from tissue, leaving only the extracellular, inanimate matrix, onto which Catts can apply new cellular material.

In a candid essay, he finds that the diversity and abundant biological life of the Arctic location overwhelmed him, diverted his attention. In that distracted state, he found the site of a crashed WW2 German Junkers 88, and in the charred remains, a piece of Perspex from the cockpit. He weaves a story around the history of that plastic as an inert material that living tissue can accommodate, taking in the work of surgeon and eugenicist Alexis Carel, the aviator Charles Lindbergh, experimentation with rabbits’ corneas and contact lenses, and the birth of biomaterial sciences attributed to the British eye surgeon Sir Harold Ridley. Catts questions whether he has become so separated from the soil that he can relate only to a small piece of plastic – before he returns to his project to grow amphibian cells over an array of substrates as an exploration of the materiality of life at that scale, in that context.

An unintentional armature for microbial life was Niki Passath’s robot, a seeming four-legged device with a head and neck made of jointed, white strips of material (see book cover). The robot as tourist accompanied Passath on field walks and experiments, enjoying the mosses and lichens. On their return to Austria, Passath noticed vegetal growth on the robot, and set up conditions to support it. His question, as the growth proceeds, is when will it overcome the robotic material, when will the symbiont become only living matter. What Passath misses is that the mosses and lichens have become feral.

Questions over methods for collecting data are strong preoccupations throughout the essays. Artist Andrew Gryf Paterson used the crowberries/cloudberries, a fruit indigenous to the area, as a ‘boundary object’, one that positions different viewpoints into a network of inter-relations. Through tracing the names and classifications of the fruit across different languages, foraging for the berries on the nearby fell, visiting a local family business processing berry juice, determining the berry’s nutritional value, and setting a meal of foraged food, including a crowberry parfait (recipe included in book), Paterson provided an experiential variation to the other artists working in the environmental computing group.

The influences of Beatriz da Costa and tactical media art, of DIY culture and citizen science is prevalent in several essays. For da Costa, who attended the residency, artists are activist intellectuals, placing themselves between the academic world and the public, countering the force of global capital to control the production of knowledge. Further, a DIY, hacker culture is one that can maintain ‘good practice’ in relation to technological power. Annti Tenetz, working in media- bio- and urban arts, argues that the artist must fearlessly adopt any technology as an instrument for expression, to act outside the protocols of science for field research in order to create new forms of information. These include recording images from drone civilian aircraft, and creating and editing image fields as representations of experience, not merely cartography.

Jennifer Gabrys, a sociologist, considers how the ongoing, continuous monitoring and the sensing technologies directed on the environment can re-define environmental citizenship. With access to monitoring data, and in the distributed networks of citizens generating data through a multitude of devices, citizens have access to information that may change their behaviours – such as knowing when a sewerage system can cope with a toilet flush. Indigenous peoples can monitor the effects of energy extraction. These new practices of citizenship, and multiple modes of ‘sensing’ gives rise to considerations of whether the more-than-human is not merely the object source of data, but, too, an expressive subject, a citizen. Her philosophical ground is A.N. Whitehead who finds the subject as being always in formation. Citizens are not defined according to rights, then, but according to relationships. A subject emerges through environmental practices that are constitutive of citizenship, and that includes the more-than-human.

A different take on data is given in ‘On Collecting Anecdata’ by artist Julie Freeman. ‘Anecdata’ is data that is not precisely measureable; has no reliable provenance; is not comparable; cannot be unproven by the traditional scientific method; but as information drawn from direct experience, can be valid empirical data. Unlike computational data, most of which contains errors that are ironed out with algorithms producing averages, there is no ‘average’ with information based on human interpretation, memory and reflection. Freeman asked each member of the Arctic Waters group to list the items they collected on their field trips, the biological data, the technological data and the emotional data. Using a data visualisation technique, she wrote the textual responses on coloured backgrounds and placed them on a page, then submitted them to five layers of degradation, removing information until what remained is a final abstraction of coloured shapes, indicative and interpretive of the process, but without the anecdata itself. Latour’s concrete abstraction.

Freeman’s larger questions are over how the technologies for documenting halt, interrupt or change the moment of experience. Technological documentation is instant; it’s logged; the researcher moves on. The exploration of a place through devices may prescribe what is experienced. But, for Freeman, experiencing the landscape of reindeer and waters, the technology led her to collect un-prescribed actions, serendipitous, extra-curricular data in a process critically reflexive of the expectations of the working groups.

The extra-curricular is delightfully represented by artist Rosanne van Klaveren and her lemming-related moments in ‘The Importance of Fieldwork for Border Crossing Frames of Mind. Probing for Fine Madness’. The intense, deep focus and separation from everyday life that happens in field work can render the artist/scientist eccentric. Van Klaveren was at Kilpisjärvi for a month prior to the other participants, working in isolation, becoming intensely connected with ‘the field’. The human socialisation needed when the others arrived was overwhelming. On a first walk, and wanting to be connected with both the human group and the ever-present lemmings, van Klaveren found herself leaping out over rocks to catch a lemming, in a moment outside normal rationality. On another hike, she found a dead lemming, and declining the human social milieu for an evening, took the animal home, to feel closer to it, to examine, to dissect, and possibly, to eat it.

For the reader, van Klaveren’s account peels back the formality of the other essays, acknowledging the social pressures that accompany these events and providing an animated, sensual feel to that field-place. More, she opens the door to the unexplained, the improvisatory, the moments of flow and ‘fine madness’ that inspire across arts and sciences. How does one connect with the living ‘field’; how closely should one engage with the subject of study; how does one get beyond the limits of what one thinks to be true; how does one experiment passionately.

A fellow writer in the rogue ‘Impressions’ section, Corrie van Sice, in ‘substrate n.’ ruminates on contact lenses; American air conditioners and the immune system; a meal of smoked fish, Manchego cheese and reindeer; and the smell of cardamom oil that lingers in his suitcase all the way home. With Beatriz da Costa, he talks about death, the electrical impulses of the heart, the matrix of human skin. And how much of what the artist and scientist are fabricating in the laboratory, as seeming alchemists of life at a cellular level, would not survive in the ‘chaos’ of organisms in the field.

In the book as a whole, it often seems as if what was a familiar language suddenly becomes unfamiliar, slightly shifted. This may be the effect of translations, but more likely, the more productive effect of ideas around ecological art and bioart being configured slightly differently to expectations.

In each chapter of the book, gripping ethical issues are raised and too often let drift, as with van Sice’s underlying acceptance of artists as bio-alchemists and its justification on the grounds of being ineffective. Other questions linger over the assumption that artists need not, maybe should not, follow the etiquette or protocols of institutional science, a position that can be critiqued when the processes undertaken could cause public and ecological harm. Too, most authors do not engage with the political questions over the means of production of the technology with which they are working, and how this may bind them into a neo-liberal economic structure. The philosophical references are drawn mostly from pragmatism and early environmental ethics. A more robust dialogue with a wider body of theory, including continental philosophies, would be fascinating. More contributions from scientists, with their views on research technologies, would balance the publication.

But that is not what the book sets out to do. Its ‘place’ in the ‘field’ is as a new kind of documentation, somewhere between the polished proceedings of a conference and a straight report back on what happened. The week was a time of experimentation, discussion, field visits, random exchanges, soaking in and taking away. The ephemerality and the liveliness of that is tacitly represented; the sense of a crafted, productive event comes through. The essays are reflexive, analytical and descriptive without the formality of an academic paper. There is a generosity to the collection, not merely a recording of data, that informs and entices.

[Field_Notes] From Landscape to Laboratory, edited by Laura Beloff, Erich Berger, Terike Haapoja and you can order it on line here.

ISBN 978-952-93-2313-5

The next project, Field_Notes-HYBRID MATTERs is underway, a two-year programme with a residency at the Kilpisjärvi Field Station in September 2015.

Essays not mentioned above:

‘Microbes and a Symbolic Journey’:

Antero Kare describes several exhibitions of his bioart with microbes and chemicals and relates his work to Kandinsky’s ethnographic studies of Finland and the ancient national epic Kalevala.

‘Learning from Locality. A Critical Consideration of the Uncontrolled’:

Melissa Anna Murphy sets out ideas on place/locality and the importance of attention, identity, ‘stewardship’ and the unexpected in experience of the local.

‘Science and Art: Harmony and Dissonance’:

Antero Järvinen is the director of the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station. He argues against climate modelling as inaccurate, and as feeding overly dramatic responses to future climate change, in favour of empirical field work as representational of veracity and an indication that climate change will incur the effects predicted. He gives two examples in which a change in habitat and species’ behaviour is not indicative of climate change, although his examples only range to the influence of immediate co-habiting species, and not environmental dependencies more widely.

‘Probing Sound: Capturing Natural Data’:

Artists Dave Lawrence and Melissa Grant recount their workshops showing how the collection, recording and listening to sound, and the sensing involved, including a sense of humour, contribute to field studies data.

‘n Degrees’:

Marta de Menezes and Luis Graca consider temperature; latitude and longitude; the angle of diatom; and academic degrees as variations on a term that was omnipresent in discussions.

Dr. Wallace Heim writes and researches on performance and ecology, and she does this in many places. Her academic slant is philosophical, but she works across disciplines to analyse the experience of performance, of art and of social practice arts, to consider how these events shape ecological and social understanding.

She recently published Landing Stages. Selections from the Ashden Directory 2000 – 2014, an ebook marking the archiving of the Ashden Directory and Ashdenizen, websites focused on ecology, climate and culture which she co-edited. Landing Stages can be downloaded from

Her current writing is on conflict; on sense and extinction; and on how a place can learn.

She has published in Performance Research and in Readings in Performance and Ecology. She is on the Advisory Board of the upcoming publication series Performing Landscapes. She co-edited Nature Performed, and co-curated the conference/event BETWEEN NATURE. She taught on the ‘Art & Ecology’ MA at Dartington College of Arts. She has also worked as a set designer.

Wallace Heim: documenting art science collaborations focused on environments Pt.1

June 23, 2015 by

Wallace Heim, editor of the Ashden Directory and Ashdenizen Blog for 20 years, has reviewed two books, documenting art science collaborations focused on environments.  Imagining Natural Scotland is the publication associated with a programme for the Year of Natural Scotland.  Creative Scotland working with Scottish Natural Heritage and other partners put out a call for collaborations.  They were looking for new and existing partnerships to put forward projects that focused on the way we understand natural Scotland.  The publication highlights the fifteen projects.  In a second post tomorrow, Wallace will review Field_Notes, from Landscape to Laboratory.


Putting together an artist and someone with a specialism in another field or discipline, usually the sciences, has become so prevalent as a mode of research and art-making, it has become a genre, or a practice in itself – whether it takes place on a boat in the northern seas, in a castle, on a farm, in a village hall, along a city river, in a laboratory. The expectations for original insights and a melding of knowledge and praxis from these collaborations continue to be high, along with the more pragmatic acceptance that these associations are a way of generating work, securing funding and establishing credibility.

There’s a mysterious core to these collaborations, those possible moments of generosity and receipt that exceed the mere representation of knowledge in novel forms, or the exchange of information that each can take back to their own disciplinary territory. For the outsider, those moments are never known except as they are described in the documentation that follows, or are evidenced, most often, in the artist’s work. It’s like hearing about a party you missed.

Two compilations have been published recently documenting collaborations that relate to ecological arts practices: Imagining Natural Scotland (reviewed below), investigating the natural-cultural place of Scotland, and [Field Notes]. From Landscape to Laboratory (reviewed in the next post), a report from the Field_Notes – Cultivating Ground collaborative laboratory in 2011, hosted by the Finnish Society of Bioart.

How are these books to be read? How are despatches back from a collaboration to be read? Some offer philosophical perspectives from aesthetics or environmental ethics; others offer justifications according to funding criteria; others how the project has addressed ecological and artistic needs. All of these read as kinds of meta-narratives.

But it’s the descriptive reports of the empirical work that make these collections valuable reading, even if the accounts may be partial, or not even always reliable. Most often, the focus is on the artist’s practice, with how the collaboration affected their working processes, how it contributed to the knowledge that they can use as sources and materials. They are informative of the kinds of art-making being done, the subject matters explored, the combinations that are being made.

Often, the commentary by specialists/scientists will offer leads for further questions, lines of connection with their disciplines. Many remark on a moment of freedom from disciplinary restraint, or of a new perspective on their research processes. But there’s little evidence of how this translates into the accredited work of a peer-reviewed paper in a similar way, for example, to the artist’s practice or a completed piece of work. The weight is with the arts.

Although the views from the participants are self-reflexive, they often do not undertake a critical perspective on the collaboration itself. One wants to know more about the flowing exchanges and the rankling frictions between divergent working processes. One wants to know more about the risks and negotiations made at personal, political, aesthetic and ecological levels. And, the voice that is most often absent is that of the public or communities who are often co-collaborators through artists’ social and dialogic practices.

Even so, these kinds of collections, including the two reviewed here, provide markers of the practices that are defining evolving fields of work and a sampling of the questions that artists ask. These reports offer a multitude of diverse ways-in to ecological art practices for those new to it, and enough detail for those familiar with the fields to mark the shifts in practices that are happening.

Imagining Natural Scotland

Imagining Natural Scotland is a record of the fifteen collaborative projects with artists, scientists, social scientists and environmental historians supported by Creative Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and others as part of the Year of Natural Scotland in 2013. Creative Scotland’s brief to the projects was to explore the relationship between Scotland’s ‘natural’ world and its representation in arts and in popular culture, to explore the differences between the ‘real’ Scottish ‘nature’ and its cultural representations. Further, to ask how could the arts and popular culture influence society, public attitudes, policy and environmental management.

Each partner reflects on their project in relation to the brief. The projects are diverse with overlaps in their artistic methods and in their attention to the land, to river and marine environments, to woodlands and animals. Some directly involve public communities, others work with invited groups or publics. What emerges from the whole are the big themes of the human in the landscape, what is ‘nature’ and ‘natural’. Too, the book confirms a vitality specific to Scotland in how artists are grappling with the ‘place’ of the country, as natural-cultural, as natural-political. There’s a sense of artists and their partners working within the historical conflicts and legacies of land use and aesthetic representations, while newly creating what Scottish nature and culture are and will be.

Following are summaries of the projects, favouring the artistic practices.

Two different collaborations explore the relation of land use policies and management to the landscape and perceptions of place. In A New Environmental Impact Assessment for Natural Scotland – Environment, Imagination and Aesthetics, the artists Robbie Coleman and Jo Hodges, with sociologist Claire Haggett suggest that beauty, naturalness and the impact of change on a community are the missing – and necessary – tools for assessing the impact of large-scale developments. Their co-collaborators were a community in South West Scotland near both an existing and proposed wind farm. They undertook diverse processes, such as mapping journeys, views and memories; devising fictional scenarios; representing a community narrative through a fictional film called ‘Settlement’ complete with film posters featuring individual families; and making a collaborative soundscape broadcast on ‘Settlement Radio’. All were derived from ‘meet-ups’ with the community. A copy of the ‘outputs’ from the project were printed in the style of an EIA, and buried by the community as a time capsule to provide archaeological information for planners in 900 years.

In Future Forest: Caledonian Black Wood, Aware Access, environmental artists Tim Collins and Reiko Goto and social scientist David Edwards considered what it means to make art with a forest, rather than about or in a forest, specifically, the Black Wood of Rannoch in Highland Perthshire. Their ideas for a critical forest art practice involve experimenting with the empathetic exchanges between people and trees in urban and rural settings; and considering the processes of art as an interface with a forest in rural settings, and how these correspond with images, ideas and artefacts in an urban setting. At Black Wood, Collins and Goto found centuries of historical, cultural and institutional conflicts over the meaning, value and use of the forest. Through a dialogic, imaginative and place-centred workshop process with the many institutional partners, they were able to re-align an approach to access and awareness of the forest, to begin a re-framing of ecosystems services to include cultural value. As ‘time’ is an essential element in understanding a forest and a public conversation, for the urban / gallery settings, the artists assembled a body of time-based media work, including video installations.

The contested or conflictual aspects of a place are embedded in its social history; in the inequalities of economics, class and power; and in the variations in perceptions of value, amenity and even of nature itself. Conflict is a thread running through several projects, if not explicitly represented.

Interviews with people connected with the Firth of Clyde showed their differing perspectives, from fishing, scientific, philosophical, ecological, conservationist, underwater and spiritual experiences. Artist Stephen Hurrel and social ecologist Ruth Brennan, in Clyde Reflections, created an immersive film and audio-visual installation of the interviews. Hurrel devised a meditative, ambient structure to the film/installation. Brennan found that this poetic methodology allowed for the implicit ideas and overlaps in interview material to be conveyed, rather than the more informational or confrontational style of a documentary.

Mirror Lands critiqued the techniques of nature documentaries that construct an idealised version of nature. Based on the Moray Firth, filmmaker Emma Dove, composer Mark Lyken with ecologist Paul Thompson and colleagues at the Lighthouse Field Station, Cromarty, conducted interviews with people giving their accounts of experience with the local environment. The filming technique highlighted everyday interactions between humans and the environment, rather than the dramatic focus of a nature documentary. One intention of the research was to influence individual behaviours in ways that reduce conflicts like that between the oil and tourism industries and marine conservation.

Conflicts between human social and political interests and other species was the direction given by the conservation scientist Steve Redpath for the project Thinking Like a Mountain, with writer Esther Woolfson. Conflict is inherent in issues of sustainability, and represented in this project by human relations with predators. They researched how Scottish literature, law and culture viewed predator species like the wolf and its effects on the shared biotic community. Woolfson traced the etymology of Scots language words for ‘predator’, among her series of non-fiction essays.

The ‘science’ in many reports seems confined, but in Search Films, the collaboration opened up the scientific process itself, directly exploring how a science produces its knowledge in a way that melded with an artistic process. The project began as a walk in the woods, as biologist Mick Marquiss described to his son, artist Duncan Marquiss, how he found goshawk sites by responding to cues or idiosyncrasies in the landscape. The hawk is elusive; the subject of study is found by its hawk-signs. That scientific method, that way of walking and observing, is a formalised version of innate foraging behaviour that humans use to find scarce resources in complex environments – on land, but also by extension, while shopping, on the internet. Duncan mimicked this behaviour in the process of film-making, as he followed Mick, as a way of understanding the biologist’s methodology and search patterns. For the scientist, the film-making offered the opportunity to look again at the routines of field studies, the tacit knowledge involved, and at ways that this experiential knowledge could be articulated to others.

How to know a place, how to imagine nature features across most projects. In Imagining Wild Land – Coire Ruadh, artists Simon Fildes and Katrina McPherson, with performer Ruth Janssen, worked with Rob McMorran from the Centre for Mountain Studies. Looking at how landscape depends on movement, the artists used video and dance on the land to articulate the scientific data from CMS defining the borders and zones that mark out ‘the wild’.

Portraits of Scots Pines explored how the identity of a place is known through that iconic species. Artist Marcus Leotaud contrasted ideas of re-wilding with the dead zones of spruce plantation, and with what constitutes a ‘natural’ landscape in Scotland. Working with PhD candidate William Cornforth and Heritage Management Officer Simon Montgomery, the project viewed the individual tree rather than the forest, as iconic of habitat, landscape, time and history. Leotaud’s portraits of are not merely representational, but portray as well the threats to the species.

The animal as a way of imagining nature features in Barnacle Fish or Fowl, by artist Philippa Mitchell and ecologist Carl Mitchell. The visual representation of barnacle geese and how this has affected public perceptions and management decisions about its population was explored with students at Port Ellen Primary School, Islay, in the inner Hebrides.

Interrogating how visual representations of Scottish places invent those places, The Valentine Project: A Landscape with Trees, started with historical post cards from Glen Tilt, produced by James Valentine and Sons of Dundee between 1880 and 1935. Moving between the archive, artefacts and the site, the team of artist Victoria Bernie, landscape architect Lisa Mackenzie, historical geographer Fraser MacDonald and field ecologist John Derbyshire walked, drew, photographed, videoed and talked over how to do field work, how to represent constant change in a landscape, the human artifice that shapes it, the future realities of a landscape and the processes of decay, ruin and flux.

Another grouping of projects draws out that focus on change in the landscape, with water as the indicative representation of this.

In Montrose Bay, the Changing Coast, artist Jean Duncan, zoologist Tracey Dixon and hazard geoscientist Fraser Milne used arts-based public engagement with local groups and schoolchildren to observe the shifting sands of the beach, and to record how it is used and how it might be managed in the future.

Using sound recordings, visual art and photography, artist Tommy Pearson and environmental writer and musician Rob St. John used water flows to explore Edinburgh’s urban environment. In Water of Life – City of Edinburgh, they traced the subterranean flows of water in sewers, drains, pipes, rivers and reservoirs, revealing the confluences of clean and unclean, ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’, the organic and synthetic. Using analogue photography, and with the production of a vinyl record, they kept to a slow artistic methodology.

For Making Space for Water: A Poetry of Place, writer Leslie Harrison and environmental engineer Rebecca Wade walked the banks of the Denburn in Aberdeen and the Dighty Water in Dundee, exchanging methodologies for researching the impact of language on perceptions of urban river environments. The project showed how character, history and social function of the river, what it carries with it, is revealed in both ordinary language and poetry.

Storyteller Andy Hunter, community archaeologist Brian Wilkinson and public engagement practitioner Sophia Collins walked a river, holding storytelling events with communities and specialists along its length. In Tales of River Tweed, stories were told and stories were collected, marking the flow of history, narrative and river.

Finally, in Dreaming Scotland, writer Lowri Potts, sound designer Tam Treanor and photographer Karen Gordon, kept with the human, asking what ‘natural Scotland’ meant to a group of new arrivals to Glasgow, contrasting this with the views of more established residents. Urban parks, the cold, Loch Ness, the traditional skills of shipbuilding, the thinking space offered by the hills outside the city, the light, the softness of the air came through in the interviews. The installation featured recordings interspersing the newcomer and the established resident. Visually, a ‘flock of words’, was animated by an algorithmic, unfixed programme.

All these abbreviated summaries miss the detail of the texts, and they, in turn, miss the details of the processes. But as despatches, they mark a time when public funding saw the political, economic and cultural value of supporting collaborations across the aesthetic and ecological worlds.

Imagining Natural Scotland (2014), edited by David Griffith, published by Creative Scotland.

ISBN: 978 1 85119 207 6

The Imagining Natural Scotland project was a partnership between Creative Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, and supported by the University of St. Andrews. Year of Natural Scotland 2013 was led by VisitScotland, Event Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage.

If you want to obtain a copy of this publication you are best to email at Creative Scotland with your postal address and he’ll arrange to send one to you.  There may be a charge.

Dr. Wallace Heim writes and researches on performance and ecology, and she does this in many places. Her academic slant is philosophical, but she works across disciplines to analyse the experience of performance, of art and of social practice arts, to consider how these events shape ecological and social understanding.

She recently published Landing Stages. Selections from the Ashden Directory 2000 – 2014, an ebook marking the archiving of the Ashden Directory and Ashdenizen, websites focused on ecology, climate and culture which she co-edited. Landing Stages can be downloaded from

Her current writing is on conflict; on sense and extinction; and on how a place can learn.

She has published in Performance Research and in Readings in Performance and Ecology. She is on the Advisory Board of the upcoming publication series Performing Landscapes. She co-edited Nature Performed, and co-curated the conference/event BETWEEN NATURE. She taught on the ‘Art & Ecology’ MA at Dartington College of Arts. She has also worked as a set designer.



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