Content of Nothing :: Part 5 :: On Wonder

August 27, 2014 by
Olafur Eliasson: Your Natural Denudation Inverted Carnegie International 1999 Pittsburgh. Image reproduced from Olafur Eliasson, Phaidon Books (2002)

Olafur Eliasson: Your Natural Denudation Inverted Carnegie International 1999 Pittsburgh. Image reproduced from Olafur Eliasson, Phaidon Books (2002)

Judy Spark: Olafur Eliasson’s work seems built around this notion of a ‘gap’ as we catch ourselves in the shift between responding to what it seems we are faced with and our recognition of this response. Although I have only ever seen it in books, I love this piece; it resembles some sort of natural geyser – it reminds me of an exquisite Hokusai landscape but it’s constructed around the flue outlet of the Museum’s heating system. You’d said that the ‘spectacle’ of his work had sometimes made you uncomfortable, and indeed, I appreciate what you mean by this, but I’ve been persisting recently with trying to unearth a bit more about what he does. The work plays on our tendency to ‘name’ things as we momentarily encounter the thing we are viewing as ‘real’. For me, it’s as if this thing of the spectacle; the technological sublimity he creates, ends up coming back on itself to ‘the things themselves'; as we remember that what we are seeing is an artwork, a ‘construction’ and not a ‘real’ thing, we are made to reflect on why we were not at first moved by the original – had forgotten how to see it. His work does seem to effect a shift in perception of our natural surroundings. Perhaps his intentions may turn out to be a little less ‘worthy’ than that but we are being invited to make what we make of it (every title has ‘Your’ at the beginning) or at least encouraged to recognise that this is what we are doing. It almost hurts that we might, for instance, have lain basking in wonder in Tate Modern (beneath the Weather Project) when we have forgotten how to be fully aware of the full implications of the sun itself! Eliasson’s relationship to phenomenology is well evidenced, specifically in the work of writer Daniel Birnbaum. As I see it, Eliasson’s work creates a ‘gap’, a space for wonder. I think a lot about this potential of the artwork as a space for wonder.

Samantha Clark: Yes, wonder as a momentary suspension of discursive thought, a pause or space we can enter. Wonder comes in for criticism, seen as a privilege of the leisured classes wandering awestruck around the mountains while local people are just busy getting on with their work, or as some kind of brainless, slack-jawed paralysis. It’s been used that way historically, by the Church for example, to suppress curious and possibly heretical questioning. But I’m interested in some of the ethical arguments for wonder and enchantment presented by the likes of Suzi Gablik and Jane Bennett, Ronald Hepburn too. What a poem, or an artwork, or a piece of music can convey, is that sense of suspension, sharing a moment of wonder that comes like an unexpected gift, a moment with a particular weight to it, that leaves us in a slightly different shape. Bennett argues that this enchantment brings a gratitude and generosity to our ethical relations, that isn’t about obligation or duty, but about love. Art works can open that space up for us. And I think that ideas can do that too. So I don’t draw a line between academic and creative work in that regard.

Bennett argues that ‘wonder is not a naive escape from politics but marks the vitality and agency of a world that sometimes bestows the gift of joy to humans, a gift that can be translated into ethical generosity’ (2001: 175). It’s not about going about in a constant dwam, but about those moments of wonder that punctuate the everyday. She equates wonder with love for the world, a love that engenders care. Like Hepburn, she thinks we should cultivate the capacity for wonder, and embrace those moments of enchantment which act as a ‘shot in the arm, a fleeting return to childlike excitement about life’ (5). Bennett suggests that the delight and joy of wonder spills its good humour over into our ethical life, to nourish an ethics based on love for the world rather than on duty and obligation, ‘rendering its judgments more generous and its claims less dogmatic’ (10). Hepburn sees an affinity between the non-exploitative, non-utilitarian attitude of wonder and ‘attitudes that seek to affirm and respect other-being’ (1984: 145). Wonder keeps our attention in and on things in the world, poignantly realising their potentiality and fragility. The attitude of wonder is one which, Hepburn thinks, readily gives rise to compassion. ‘From a wondering recognition of forms of value proper to other beings,’ he suggests, ‘and a refusal to see them simply in terms of one’s own utility-purposes, there is only a short step to humility.’ (1984: 146)
References:

Grynsztejn, M.; Birnbaum, D.; Speaks, M. (2002) Olafur Eliasson, London: Phaidon Press Ltd

Gablick, S. (1993) The Re-enchantment of Art, London: Thames and Hudson

Bennett, J. (2001) The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings and Ethics, Princeton: Princeton University Press

Hepburn, R. (1984) Wonder and Other Essays: Eight Studies in Aesthetics and Neighboring Fields, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Check out Strange Weather

August 23, 2014 by

The Strange Weather exhibition and project, curated by CoClimate (and a very important looking man from Met Eireann) is on at the Science Gallery in Dublin at the moment.  CoClimate have flipped our obsession with the weather and how it affects us to play with the idea of how we affect the weather…  If you’re interested to see what sort of work is included, and how the audience is reacting, check out this video:

Honey-bee-lujah

August 22, 2014 by

Re-blogged from Creative Carbon Scotland’s Greenfest Highlights

“Yeah I’m a joke preacher, but do you think I’m not serious?”
Reverend Billy, along with his black-and-gold adorned Stop Shopping Choir, tour the world raising the roof with exuberant songs on the imminent ‘Shopocalypse’ and highlighting the role of big corporations, leading to an unsustainable social, economic and environmental global system. Summer Festivals Production Assistant, Catriona Patterson, was privy to an exorcism of consumerism at Reverend Billy’s Honey-Bee-Lujah! at the closing night of the Forest Fringe on Sunday evening.
Read full post here

The Content of Nothing :: Part 4 :: On Attending

August 20, 2014 by
“A Sort of Visual Rhythm: Symphoricarphos” from Back to the Things Themselves GFVA 2012

“A Sort of Visual Rhythm: Symphoricarphos” from Back to the Things Themselves GFVA 2012

Samantha Clark: I was really interested in how you see the role of drawing within your practice. It seems to me that the process of drawing, particularly such obviously meticulous and detailed drawing that has evidently taken some time, is a kind of attention, a meditative or contemplative process. And I think so much of creative work, whether visual or writing, is fundamentally about this paying attention, and then through putting the work out, drawing other peoples’ attention, a kind of ‘pointing out’, saying ‘have you ever noticed this?’ To ‘attend’ means to wait, to be present with, to serve, to listen, to wait, to take care of someone/something. Its Latin root ‘ad-tendere’ means’ to stretch into’, to stretch one’s mind towards something.

I wanted to quote from the Canadian poet Tim Lilburn’s essay How to be here? because he puts something very eloquently that I couldn’t say any better. Lilburn was trained as a Jesuit, now teaches philosophy in a catholic college, and his work is imbued with a very scholarly understanding of the tradition of ‘negative theology’ and the mystical, contemplative tradition of Christianity that has been somewhat lost. He writes really beautifully about the practice of contemplation, and that desire to be ‘one with nature’ that is bandied around so much in environmental thinking, especially some of the less careful interpretations of deep ecology. It’s something I am always uneasy with. We can never be ‘at one with nature’ in any straightforward, cosy way. Nature doesn’t give a s**t.

PDF extract, Lilburn on watching some deer come into his yard

Lilburn is eloquent on this being-in-the-world and yet there being a separation, a gap, an otherness. Merleau-Ponty is also helpful on this when he talks about the ‘flesh’, that there is a kind of blind spot, a gap in our experience of the world just at the point where we are folded into it – a ‘chiasm’. He goes back again and again to the experience of the toucher touched, when you touch one hand with the other – you can experience ‘touching’ or ‘being touched’ but not exactly simultaneously. I think he was wary of the ‘merging’ that can be implied when we start to see self and world as ‘the same’. In his work on the flesh he describes an ‘embrace’, not a merging. The fleshy solidity of things in the world is not an obstacle but a means of communication. There is differentiation, a gap. But this is not the same as dualism. (Merleau-Ponty, 1968: 130-155) Sartre was big on this too: ‘Nothingness haunts being’. He argued that when we become ‘self’ conscious, there is a slight displacement of the ego that allows us to become reflexive, and so there is a gap, a nothingness, right at the heart of the self. (Sartre, 1937/2000) He was predictably bleak and gloomy about it, describing it as a ‘worm’ at the heart of being, but I think of it in a similar way to the ‘gap’ between two eyelines in stereo vision (or sound) that punches a third dimension into experience, or like to space in a bell that allows it to resonate.

Judy Spark:  I had never heard of Lilburn until you introduced me to him but I am really struck firstly by how beautifully he puts this feeling of wanting to ‘know’ the world, but not really being able to; he sees his ‘separation’ from it as part of the experience; a “desire whose satisfaction is its frustration and continuance” and his thinking does seem comparable to Merleau-Ponty’s on the concept ‘flesh’. These notions speak to me especially in light of what I was alluding to earlier about the impossibility of bridging this separation through description or the sort of attention that is part of drawing, and I’m not saying that bridging the separation ought to be the aim. What we seem to be saying is that this gap itself is very important, and indeed may itself prove to be fertile ground in ways that we (humans) do not yet fully appreciate or understand.

This practice of drawing is indeed a method of paying attention, it is contemplative and the idea of ‘stretching ones mind towards something’ is exactly how it feels. However, these drawings don’t come about through any romantic method of sitting in a field meditating over something and its rendering. As much as this activity may exist as a personal counter to an overload of daily information transmission, through which little of value may actually be received, their making employs the tools of this culture: the digital camera, the print shop, the photocopier. The subjects of the drawings are ones that have ‘spoken’ to me, usually accumulatively, over a period of time on walks made regularly as I go about daily activities (getting to work for instance) on routes that are often a mix of the urban and the rural, the peripheries of the cities I inhabit. I would no more sit down in these environments (or any other outdoor locations) and start drawing than fly in the air. I am too much a product of the 21st Century for that, I’m too afraid I’d attract unwanted attention (human or animal), I’m too soft – get too hot or too cold easily, get hungry, need to pee, or suffer from some other discomfort. As long as I keep moving, I’m fine. But the things still ‘speak’ and I try to build sense from these broken transmissions. Back in my climate controlled studio, I grid up the enlarged photograph of the ‘thing’ that I’m working from. I refer to the notes on it made after each encounter. I think my way back through this encounter as it is transferred to paper, appears as marks in graphite and ends up as not of one world (mine) or another (the one the thing itself inhabits) but something in between. In this process of working in the gap between the two, I find the space to ‘stretch my mind toward’ the thing encountered, the world it inhabits, and this ‘exchange’ is picked up again, the next time I’m on that particular path.

I’m aware that there is again something of the cynic present here in this account of observing the ‘natural’, in a way that still ‘confounds’ it with the technological, in the methods employed in bringing about the work, and in the overlaying of the sound-work that relates to it. Sometimes during the process of these drawings, I think about an experiment I came across in a book called The Secret Life of Plants, the aim of which was to clear a field of pests using electromagnetic resonance to treat, not the field itself, but a photograph of it! It was claimed that the molecular make up of the photographic emulsion would resonate at the same frequencies as the objects in the photograph. If this is just slightly unbelievable (it maybe doesn’t work with digital!), it nevertheless does make me think about what exactly is taken, made, stilled or distilled in the making of a photograph. There is some sort of exchange, and energy has to be part of this, between the seer and the seen. Both are slightly changed by the encounter, folded into one another but still distinct, to turn to Merleau Ponty again. Drawing these things, even through these clunky methods, is a way to begin to get to this.

References:

Lilburn, T (1999) Living in the World as if it Were Home: Essays, Ontario: Cormorant Books

Merleau-Ponty, (1968) The Visible and the Invisible, Evanston: Northwestern University Press

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1937/2000) ‘The Transcendence of the Ego’ in Priest, S. (2000) Jean-Paul Sartre: Basic Writings, Routledge

Tompkins, P. and Bird, C. (1974) The Secret Life of Plants, London: Allen Lane (Penguin)

EAFS 2015 ‹ EAFS – Environmental Art Festival Scotland

August 15, 2014 by

image

The team behind the Environmental Art Festival Scotland (EAFS) have a call out for proposals for 2015 which they asked us to circulate.

The EAFS team is beginning the process of developing work for the 2015 festival. To do this we want to work collaboratively with creative people and communities of interest. EAFS 2015 will connect South West Scotland to national and international locations therefore we are particularly seeking proposals that involve some form of journey to the festival.

The Commissioned Artworks
The commissioned artworks might comprise a journey, an event, an installation, an art happening. They might involve structure, visual art, design, architecture, sound or performance or a combination of these disciplines. We are interested in work that involves making across different disciplines and technologies and ideas of sharing and potentially leaving something behind. The artwork should culminate in Dumfries and Galloway as part of EAFS 2015 (28 – 30 August).

Festival Themes
• Inventiveness, foolishness and generosity as a way of understanding the world;
• Food, clothes, shelter and environmental sustainability;
• Hospitality, hosting and community;
• Journeys, migrations, secular pilgrimage and transformation.

Full details and online submission form can be found here:
http://www.environmentalartfestivalscotland.com/eafs-2015/

The Content of Nothing :: Part 3 :: On Gaps

August 13, 2014 by
Samantha Clark: ‘Instruments for Observing the Universe  *3 : Gravity Boots’ Allenheads Contemporary Arts, Northumberland August 2013

Samantha Clark: ‘Instruments for Observing the Universe *3 : Gravity Boots’
Allenheads Contemporary Arts, Northumberland August 2013

Samantha Clark: According to astronomers we can only actually perceive about 4.7% of the universe. This is the ‘shiny stuff,’ the atoms and particles that we can actually see, the ‘things’ bit. The rest of it, the ‘nothing’ bit, is made up of ‘dark matter’, which is about 27%, and ‘dark energy’ which makes up about 68%. These percentages are not absolutes, not slices of a finite pie, but expressions of relationship, a ratio between the visible and the invisible. They speak eloquently of the relationship between the material and the ineffable. According to modern physics, the material world is only this 4.7%, a tiny fraction, our only point of contact, the tip of an iceberg, a keyhole to peep through. Behind it lies a vast hinterland of strange, dimly seen, uncanny something-nothingness, which is only seen through the effects it has on see-able matter; through its gravitational effects, in the case of dark matter, and in the accelerating expansion of the universe, possibly caused by dark energy. I took part in a short residency this August at Allenheads Contemporary Arts in Northumberland, and together with a group of a dozen or so other artists we explored this notion of the 95% of the universe which we can’t perceive, and had fascinating conversations with an astroparticle physicist who had also been invited. Particle physicists use non-detection as a means of detection – they look for the gap, the hole, the nothing, and voilà! An invisible particle! It turns out that mass, the very solidity and weight of the material world, is not a property of matter itself but a result of the interaction between matter and Higgs particles. We swim through the Higgs field like fish through the sea (and it through us) and its pull we experience as gravity, a phenomenon that remains a great scientific mystery. For the purposes of this one-week residency I quickly made a series of ‘sketches’ in response to the ideas we explored together – ‘Instruments for Exploring the Universe’ – including these ‘gravity boots’ and accompanying piece of text::

‘Walking up a hill is a good time to remember that gravity is a mystery to science, though knowing this doesn’t help the climb much. How strange it is that this firm press of my two feet upon the ground should be felt so keenly by the body, yet seen so dimly by the mind. They say that cold dark matter, the unseen stuff that makes up most of the universe, trawls through us all the time. Like all of the visible world I am fat with the unseen fullness of empty space. Dark matter, slow, lead-heavy, its dull pull clumps galaxies together like dust seeding rainclouds. Puffing uphill I am clogged with it. I feel my own weight as it leans into me. Yet this whole shining world would drift away without its dark ballast.’

Judy Spark: Gravity, a fundamental element of our own make up, yet we generally talk of it as something separate from us that ‘happens’ when we drop something. I really like the way that what you’ve said here emphasises the relationship we have with this ‘ineffable substance’. This notion of ‘relationship’ is so vital to a fuller appreciation of the things and processes, both natural and technological, that are present or taking place around us. I note that alongside the boots was another Instrument for Observing the Universe in the form of an old valve radio tuned to what’s between stations……

“Listening in the Gap” from Back to the Things Themselves; Judy Spark, The Briggait, Glasgow Festival of Visual Art 2012 (with Lesley Punton)

“Listening in the Gap” from Back to the Things Themselves; Judy Spark, The Briggait, Glasgow Festival of Visual Art 2012 (with Lesley Punton)

This printed and bound text, was exhibited in a two person show Back to the Things Themselves with Lesley Punton in the Briggait in Glasgow as part of Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art 2012. The work consisted of a series of written descriptions detailing what could be heard during a concentrated period of listening in the gaps between broadcasts over the FM spectrum of a Robert’s R25 analogue radio (88 – 108 FM) on the 25th May 2011 between 4.20 and 6.15pm.

The notion that the ‘spaces’ between broadcasts themselves hold ‘content’ is of great interest to me. It seems to say a lot about the presence of what appears, on the surface of things, to be absent, and I’m drawn to the parallels between this and the experience of what is between thoughts, i.e., nothing, the Buddhist conception of ‘pure consciousness’? Again it seems to pertain to the idea of a ‘gap’, a stillness, that quells the chatter about what and how things are, leaving a space for things to be more fully disclosed in different ways. Phenomenology has it that consciousness is always consciousness of something.

It may be something cynical in the quality of my observation but it seems that in our culture, we generally find that we must name what occurs in a gap, rather than simply experiencing the quality of this space itself. An extract from the text pictured above reads,

“102 – 104

Soft hiss, like rain in trees, but at a distance. The spinning high-pitched sound
is there but less keen. The odd crackle, like dust on a record, can be heard.
These sounds play around the edges of deliberately broadcast ones.”

A parallel work Instructions for Creating a Gap, shown in the adjacent room, consisted of a pile of A4 folded sheets of printed instructions. Visitors were encouraged to take a copy away with them that they might try ‘listening in gaps’ themselves at home. Over the course of the exhibition, around 1000 of these texts left the gallery; however I have no information as to whether the exercise was undertaken by anyone who holds a copy.

“The Things Themselves” and “Morning Broadcast” from Back to the Things Themselves GFVA 2012

“The Things Themselves” and “Morning Broadcast” from Back to the Things Themselves GFVA 2012

Still with the notion of radio and ‘gaps’, both these pieces of work used mini FM radio transmitters to transmit sound through radios. In Morning Broadcast, the cynic takes those ‘universe observing tools’ and plugs gaps through which it might be listened to with her own sounds……in this case, birdsong.

(The sound of birdsong in the room in which this discussion was taking place became apparent at the appearance of this slide.)

This ‘confounding’ of the ‘natural’ with the technological is designed to address the ways in which we attend to things. Because of the acoustics of the Briggait it sometimes seemed to gallery visitors as if the sound were coming from outside the building. The Things Themselves consisted of two radios broadcasting a series of softly spoken descriptions, in both male and female voices. The descriptions articulate the natural forms that are the subject of the drawings A Sort of Visual Rhythm (Symphoricarpos) also situated in gallery 1 and Orrery (Galium aparine) in gallery 2. The soundtracks coming from the two radios were slightly out of sync with one another, so that two different voices could be heard at any one time. I think that my interest in this latter radio work, lay in the fact that neither in the reported descriptions, nor in the drawings of the things themselves, could even an approximation of the content of the original experience, that of encountering the forms in the landscape, be made. The real ‘listening’ could only really have taken place within that original experience.

Walk / Don’t Walk

August 12, 2014 by

Originally posted on Above the River:

 

It has been a while since the last post—blame it on the lengthening days, the pull of the green world over the white screen come evening—but in it I want to talk about a couple of the walks I’ve taken over the Spring and early Summer, in which I have been seeking something particular. What I’ve been homing in on are works of art in the landscape: textured, and textual creations, repositories of meaning and touchstones for new experiences. This piece is a way of thinking through some of the ideas which have arisen.

Encountering an artwork in a landscape, particularly a relatively remote one, is an estranging experience. One expects overgrown sheep fanks, leaning dykes, the traces of former habitation. This is literally part of the territory, especially where I live in Dumfries and Galloway. What one does not expect (even when one is seeking it—I’ll explain later)…

View original 2,031 more words

Art/Design Commission for Loch Ryan, South West Scotland

August 11, 2014 by

Jan Hogarth at Wide Open asked us to circulate this opportunity.

OPEN CALL for Expressions of Interest Sought for T8he Wig, Loch Ryan, Art/ Design Commission Opportunity – An imaginative art/design installation linked to the interpretation of the Loch Ryan.


Aims
• To create a sense of place inspired by Loch Ryan
• To create imaginative and thought provoking art/design works.
• To bring exemplar design to this stunning landscape location.

Background
Loch Ryan is Scotland’s most southerly sea loch located between the Rhins peninsula, the low lying Stranraer basin and the western Southern Uplands. Its sheltered waters have been used by man since prehistoric times whilst its proximity to Northern Ireland has given it added importance as a gateway between Ireland and mainland Britain.

Many of the important historic sites and remains around Loch Ryan lie close to the shoreline with sites all the way along the east coast and clusters at Stranraer and in the area around Kirkcolm. The sheltered location means people have used Loch Ryan as a gateway for trade and communication by sea and lived on its shores since the earliest days of human settlement in Scotland. During World War II the loch was an important hub of wartime activity.

Project Challenge
This is a fantastic opportunity for an artist/designer or multidisciplinary team to respond imaginatively to place evolving a new aesthetic for a landscape location of this type.

We anticipate that the selected artist/designer will come up with a creative scheme which encapsulates a design vision for the three elements:

• Design bespoke seating for a public seating area. This might use scale and form to create new functional space which enhances the experience of the location.

• Design an entrance feature for the car park entrance. This is a way of highlighting the location and should have a similar visual character to the seating area.

• Redesign/represent in a creative way the WW2 look out. This disused structure has its own aesthetic character which may inform themes developed for the other two features. There is an opportunity to do something creative and imaginative which encourages people to use the lookout as a shelter and interpretation space to bring its history to life or reimagine it in today’s context.

Location
The Wig area of Loch Ryan is the location for the bespoke seating area and the entrance feature. The WW2 lookout shelter is nearby at the eastern end of Wig Bay.

Budget
The total budget for all the works including artist’s fees is £27,500. We suggest the breakdown is as follows:

• Sculptural designed seating area £5000
• Entrance feature for car park entrance £7000
• Conversion of WW2 shelter into interesting installation/interpretation space. £10,000
• Artists fee £4000 (incl £200 development fee)
• Contingency £1100


Timescale and process
• September – Submit expression of interest. Artists/designers will be selected to submit initial ideas.
• Early October – Selection by design team of artist for ideas development by artist (design team will include representation from the community)
• Late October – Presentation by artist of developed designs to design team
• December/January – Construction of works
• February – Installation of works


Expression of interest
An expression of interest for The Wig Environmental Art / Design project is to be submitted by 1st September 2014 and include:

• Examples of relevant past work (up to 6 images or files). Weblinks may be used for video or audio files that are more than 5mb 
• Curriculum Vitae
• Letter of interest in the commission (1 side of A4)

Please save all word documents as pdf before sending. Please send to: jan@wide-open.net or Jan Hogarth, Wide Open, Gracefield Arts Centre, 28 Edinburgh Road, Dumfries, DG1 1JQ. Tel.07801232229

Sustaining Rural Scotland opportunity

August 8, 2014 by

£20k Innovation Event – ‘Sustaining Rural Scotland’ Chiasma
21 – 23 October 2014, New Lanark

With the acceleration of climate change and increased pressure on our planet’s natural resources, raising awareness and innovating around environmental sustainability has never been more urgent. More consumers now than ever before have direct experience of climate change and the pressures on the natural environment. They are calling for better protection against flooding, wise use and re-use of natural or local assets and food security.

To help address these issues, we see innovative technologies, services, models and incentives emerging e.g. in lifecycle management and the circular economy or in open data for energy, agriculture and transport. There are also innovation opportunities for supporting consumer values by removing barriers (such as conflicting attitudes and responsibilities, lack of time, trust or space) for pro environmental action.

Chiasma will provide an opportunity for rural businesses, entrepreneurs and retailers to converge with designers, technologists and academics to identify and create potential solutions to support climate action for rural Scotland.

APPLY TO ATTEND NOW: http://designinaction.com/chiasmas/rural-economies-chiasma-2014

Closing Date for Applications: 5pm, Mon 1st Sep 2014

Chris Fremantle is involved in this programme (though not this event) as Co-Investigator and Senior Research Fellow at Gray’s School of Art/IDEAS, Robert Gordon University.

The Content of Nothing :: Part 2 :: Purposeful non-doing

August 6, 2014 by
Samantha Clark: ‘A Year of Breathing’ Project for Natural Balance: Equilibrio Natural, Girona, Spain, May 2009

Samantha Clark: ‘A Year of Breathing’
Project for Natural Balance: Equilibrio Natural, Girona, Spain, May 2009

Samantha Clark: In 2009 was asked to make a proposal for an eco-art exhibition called Equilibrio Natural: Natural Balance that was taking place in Girona, Spain, which was to be a series of installations around the city developed by artists from all over the world. When I looked at the criteria, I noticed that I had to assure the organisers I would use local materials. And yet the curators and all the artists were going to be flying in from all over Europe and North America just for the exhibition. I felt there was a conflict at the heart of this, and so my proposal pointed out that I wasn’t a local material, and also quite a heavy lump to transport. So I proposed to stay at home, and to donate the CO2 emissions of my return flight to the people of Girona, for the purposes of guilt-free exhalation. I worked out that it would be about the equivalent of one-year’s worth of exhalation (according to some online carbon offsetting calculators it could be as much as 6 years, depending on how many trees they want to sell you). So I worked remotely with locally-based helpers, yoga teachers and Buddhist centres to run a series of meditations on the breath and mindful exhalation, in a space that used to be a mediaeval cloister. It was really interesting to discover that participants felt it offered them a way to physically encounter with the body something invisible that is usually discussed in very abstract, vast terms of ‘parts per million’, which makes it seem like something far away. They said that meditating on the breath like this, brought them to understand in a direct, felt way that ‘the atmosphere’, which is usually seen as something ‘up there’ is also the very air that passes through our bodies. We are in direct relation with it..

Samantha Clark: S.T.I.L.L. : A project for Gentle Actions: Art Ecology Actions Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, Norway Oct/Nov 2010

Samantha Clark: S.T.I.L.L. : A project for Gentle Actions: Art Ecology Actions
Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, Norway
Oct/Nov 2010

Following this I was asked to propose another project for an exhibition in 2010 called Gentle Actions: Art Ecology Action in Oslo. I was still troubled what seems like a cognitive dissonance where we artists, like anyone else, can have a blind spot regarding the ecological footprint of our travel because we want to have an international profile. There’s such a pressure on us to do this as artists and as academics. I don’t want to condemn it outright, and I know I am complicit, but I do feel the need to recognise this as a conflict, and to draw it out into the open rather than just accept it as a necessary evil or just ignore it. If the means and the stated ends are in direct conflict, then the integrity of the work is compromised. I had been teamed up, by the curators, with a Swiss artist who lives in the States, but I felt rather conflicted about her project to fly to Norway to make a piece of work, called S.P.I.L.L. about the Gulf oil spill. I wasn’t sure how to respond to or work with her proposal, which seemed to involve using a lot of fossil fuels to make a statement about our dependence on fossil fuels.

F David Peat in the book (which gave this exhibition its title) Gentle Actions (2008) proposes that acting less, hesitating more, and perhaps refraining from acting at all, might at times be an appropriate response to the crisis of climate change. After all, it’s our incessant rushing about that sucks up so much fossil fuel, and that taking time and space to reflect is important too. It occurred to me that just as a physical ‘nothing’ keeps turning out to be replete with meaning and unfathomably complex, an active ‘doing nothing’ might be, in this case, the most appropriate choice of action. So my response to S.P.I.L.L. was a contribution I called S.T.I.L.L. I chose to participate remotely, staying at home in Scotland to practice the gentle art of keeping still. I wrote, recorded and uploaded a series of reflection on stillness, pausing, air, and the breath as a direct, felt interaction with the invisible environment. The air, that we barely register and can’t see, yet depend on utterly, is a completely astonishing ongoing product of the biosphere.

PDF of Thin Air excerpt

Judy Spark: I love the way that that this sits at the ‘in between’ of the scientific and the poetic – which tend to get forced apart. We have scientific evidence of these processes but we can also have directly observed experience of many of them if enough attention is paid. I mentioned before that this method of drawing on the scientific is a perfectly permissible phenomenological starting point, something that can get forgotten as we are so used to viewing things in dualistic terms. I’m particularly interested here in the premise that you undertook a process of ‘non-doing’, apart from the recorded speech, in order to get something to happen and that the Year of Breathing piece rested on this premise too. It’s purposeful non-doing!

Judy Spark: “The Straight Rods” from Discovering Dowsing Ardo House, Aberdeenshire, (NEOS 2010)

Judy Spark: “The Straight Rods” from Discovering Dowsing
Ardo House, Aberdeenshire, (NEOS 2010)

JS: This work came about in 2010 at Ardo House in Aberdeenshire as part of North East Open Studios (NEOS). I was still working with the notion of tuning here, being tuned in or employing ones natural sensitivities in some way, a process so evident in the work you have been talking about above. Dowsing is said to depend upon the sensitivity of the dowser to movement in the rods as they pick up subtle changes in ground energy as a result of the presence of water.

A series of handmade dowsing rods were installed in the naturally enclosed space beneath a mature Beech tree in the grounds of the house. Visitors were invited to test some of the rods as they walked around and then asked to note the results on an evolving ‘drawing’, installed in the laundry room, the basis of which was a hand drawn map of the grounds. As I was developing the work, I had a conversation with one of the residents of the house, who had lived there since the 1980s. She told me that when they first moved in, the house had required to be hooked up to the mains water supply and a ‘handy man’ had arrived from the local council to locate the path of an old water pipe network known to be already present somewhere at that location. To accomplish this task, he came equipped with a pair of willow dowsing rods, with which he successfully pinpointed the spot for the new pipes to be sunk. The important thing about this piece of work was the involvement of visitors in terms of thinking about their own potential to pick up on subtle energy changes. It is widely held, in the dowsing literature, that one is able to dowse only if one first believes one can!

You have remarked that this work was like a sort of application of Goethe’s ‘delicate empiricism’; I like this parallel. We may scoff at the notion of practices such as dowsing but discoveries and links that have previously been discounted or thought unbelievable may yet bear fruit and indeed, as your reading above shows, even a subtle shift in the way that we attend to things can transform our experience of them. The drawing together of the scientific with phenomenological (or poetic, or ‘lyrical’) accounts of things, towards a fuller experience of the world, need not make for the poor fit it may at first seem. The Mind and Life Institute for instance exists to bring together Buddhist practices and Western science towards a better understanding of the human mind. Perhaps everything in our world requires this trusting openness and unity of approach. It’s as if we need to shift from the position of taking things apart in order to understand their individual components to one that appreciates the complexity, movement and interlinking of all the bits – like the ecological view. This matters because we are not just observers – as we are open to the world around us it in turn gives us who we are.

References:

F. David Peat (2008) Gentle Actions: Bringing Creative Change to a Turbulent World, Pari Publishing

The Mind and Life Institute – http://www.mindandlife.org/


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