Creative Sustainability

October 15, 2018 by

I don’t know how many people listened to the Moral Maze on Radio 4 on Wednesday evening (10th October)? In the week of the IPCC report saying we have 12 years before we go through the 1.5 degrees of global warming threshold, the programme brought together a debate on the moral implications.

The debate was framed in terms of the competing moral goods between future generations and developing countries, both of whom will disproportionately suffer the impacts of climate breakdown.

The first three witnesses broadly focused on economics and in particular the question ‘Is growth the problem or the solution?’ Can we grow and innovate our way out of the problem (Leo Barasi)? Or do we need to fly less, eat less meat and generally change our lifestyles to be more sustainable and less consuming (George Monbiot)? One of the issues underlying the discussion is the role of ‘progress’. Progress has generated global warming but it has also resulted in longer life spans, lower infant mortality, and more developed countries pay more attention to the environment.

The final speaker was Charlotte Du Caan from the Dark Mountain project to open up the cultural dimension. The panelists mostly agreed with the Dark Mountain manifesto, except the end of this sentence,

We do not believe that everything will be fine. We are not even sure, based on current definitions of progress and improvement, that we want it to be.

The panelist interpreted the Dark Mountain project as having a death wish, to be nihilist, rather than to be opening up a fundamental question of culture. Somehow the fundamental point got lost: ‘Do we want to continue with a culture that promotes individualism that results in endemic mental health problems?’ or ‘Do we want to live in a culture that promotes unlimited consumption of for example fashion, making fashion one of the most polluting and destructive industries?’ or ‘Do we want a culture that disconnects us from the rest of the living world?’

Actually the economic/progress argument is the wrong argument and the cultural argument was not fully grasped in the debate (although at least the cultural dimension was recognized as relevant).

So Creative Carbon Scotland has just launched its Library of Creative Sustainability. Creative Carbon Scotland is one of the organisations who are saying culture has a central role in addressing the environmental crisis in all its dimensions – climate breakdown, pollution, extinction…

The projects highlighted in the Library are all artists working with organisations long term on specific issues in specific contexts. To pick just one example, SLOW Clean UP involves artist Frances Whitehead, Chicago City Council and various University Science Departments working together on cleaning up petroleum pollution in the middle of communities in Chicago by creating gardens. Using plants which have specific capacities (hyperaccumulators) to suck up the pollution, the project cleaned up the test site, identified a significant number of new plants, as well as involving communities in their own environmental health. In the US whilst this approach is known and understood, unless the land has significant economic value, no-one bothers.

What is important is that this is not a binary debate on growth and progress, but rather cultural change towards a different set of values.

All the projects in the new Library demonstrate approaching challenges differently, creative innovations, and involving people in their own places produces new values that are more sustainable.

Have a look at the way artists are ’embedding’ themselves in organisations and contexts to work long term.

This project is supported by ecoartscotland and Gray’s School of Art, Robert Gordon University through an Interface Innovation Voucher.

Newton Harrison visits ASN Studio

September 23, 2018 by

Art, Space + Nature Blog

“The Deep Wealth of This Nation, Scotland” is an exhibition by the environmental art pioneers, the Harrisons currently on display at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA). The show is a collaboration between the Center for the Study of the Force Majeure (CFM) in California and the Barn in Aberdeenshire, along with the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen. It is presented at ECA in association with Art, Space + Nature Masters Programme (ASN).

Following a public presentation and discussion to accompany the ECA exhibition on Thursday evening, we were honoured to have Newton Harrison visit the ASN studio on Friday. We were treated to a two-hour discussion and career overview from the internationally renowned artist and pioneer of the global ecological art movement. The collaborative team of Newton and his late wife Helen Mayer Harrison (often referred to simply as “the Harrisons”) has worked for almost forty years with biologists, ecologists, architects…

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Sir Peter Scott: the embodiment of art and conservation

July 11, 2018 by

As part of the #art4wetlands series the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) have very kindly provided us with the following images and story on their founder, artist and conservationist Sir Peter Scott. Sir Peter epitomises one of the many ways that the power of art can be brought to bear on the challenges of conservation. One of the WWT reserve managers mentioned that every time Sir Peter wanted to do work to improve a reserve he would simply, “create another painting to sell.”


scott feeding wildfowl

Image courtesy of Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT)

Sir Peter Scott (1909-1989) knew how to take action, and how to inspire others.  He was a visionary who understood that people and nature are part of the same intertwined ecosystem. He realised – ahead of his time – that our wealth, our health and our emotional wellbeing all depend on the natural world. He understood that showing people how amazing nature is, can ignite a passion to conserve it.

Scott was an accomplished artist, writer, world-class sportsman, Naval Commander and the son of one of the most famous explorers of the 20th Century.  Famously, his father’s last letter from Antarctica prophetically instructed his wife to “Make the boy interested in nature – it is so much better than sports.”  As fate would have it, he was brilliant at both.

Scott with snowgoose

Image courtesy of WWT

Added to this he was an extraordinary wildlife artist with a particular passion for wildfowl art.  He produced hundreds of original wildfowl artworks in his lifetime and his deep love of painting birds must surely have driven his passion for working to save wetlands and wildfowl around the world.

In 1945/6 he became determined to set up a Wildfowl Trust – but where?  At Slimbridge – he had a ‘eureka’ moment.  Here, on the banks of the River Severn in Gloucestershire he spotted two unbelievably rare Lesser White-Fronted Geese in a flock of White-Fronted Geese.  So, Slimbridge would become the home of the Severn Wildfowl Trust – later to become the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

More than that, he began to address wider, global conservation issues.  A co-founder and first chairman of the World Wildlife Fund (1961), his work on international conservation issues continued over the coming decades.  He was instrumental in setting up the Ramsar Convention in 1971.  This international agreement works to protect wetlands of international importance and now includes over 2,300 sites covering 2 million square kilometres. In 1982 he established an international moratorium on whaling and later worked to secure agreements for the protection of Antarctica from international exploitation.  In 1973 he became the first person to be knighted for services to conservation.

scott with nenes - saved from extinction

Sir Peter Scott with Néné Geese. Image courtesy of WWT

Over the coming years he developed new conservation techniques and honed existing ideas; he saved the Hawaiian Goose (the Néné) from extinction; he established international protocols for conservation (i.e. the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species) still used today to categorise the conservation status of all known species; he brokered national and international agreements for the conservation of wildlife; he championed research into the damage done to our wild places and how to address this; he tracked the migratory patterns of wetland birds; he resolved to work across borders to protect their flyways and – insightful as ever – he recognised the power of bringing wildlife into people’s homes through the evolving medium of television and his ‘Look’ series on the BBC.

It is hard to identify anyone before him who had such an impact on raising conservation issues with the general public, and on bringing governments together to address global issues.

#art4wetlands

June 20, 2018 by

#art4wetlands

Welcome to a new series of posts here and on Twitter @ecoartscotland focused on art, artists and wetlands using the hashtag #art4wetlands. Feel free to join in by posting using this hashtag or contacting us with suggestions for blogs. We’ll be publishing weekly between now and the Ramsar Convention Conference of the Parties #RamsarCOP13 which takes place in October 2018 in Dubai, UAE.

Wetlands are amongst the most widely threatened habitats world-wide. Threats include unsustainable urban development e.g. being drained for housing development; pollution from urban settlements, industry and agriculture; invasive species, as well as overharvesting. According to analyses by Ramsar,

The global extent of wetlands is now estimated to have declined between 64-71% in the 20th century, and wetland losses and degradation continue worldwide.

But the biggest threat is a perception that to quote the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, wetlands are,

…misunderstood and undervalued by people, leading to a desire to replace them with more ‘useful’ and ‘productive’ options such as housing developments and agricultural land.

Wetlands are a fundamental part of the water cycle, with a key role in cleaning water as it moves from smaller bodies into larger ones (rivers, seas, oceans). Wetlands are critical to many migratory animals and hence their careful management is an internationally shared responsibility. Wetlands are also home to a multitude of amphibious species. Wetlands such as saltmarshes and mangroves stabilise littoral zones, reducing coastal erosion and storm damage to properties.

Artists have represented waterbirds since neolithic times, and the Ramsar Convention published Ramsar Cultural Heritage Information Pack 10 Wetlands – an inspiration in art, literature, music and folklore

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Betsy Damon, The Living Water Garden, Chengdu, 1998

More recently Peter Howard’s piece Wetland Landscapes in English Art highlighted how during the 18th and 19th Centuries artists in this country’s tradition marked changes in perceptions of wetlands. Pieces by contemporary artists Simon Read (Communities and Coastal Change) and Betsy Damon (The Sounds of Water) open up contemporary activist practices where artists are not just representing wetlands but also getting directly involved in conservation and wise use.

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Limmo Ecology Park visited during the HydroCitizenship Research, Photo: Simon Read

We have assembled a programme highlighting artists working in different ways on issues such as habitat restoration, pollution and biodiversity loss. We have examples from all six of the Ramsar Convention’s regions (Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America & the Caribbean, North America, and Oceania).

The Ramsar Convention’s Culture Network underpins this initiative which draws on the expertise of members of the Network’s Art Focus Group. The Ramsar Convention has a longstanding commitment to culture and the arts from its adoption in 1971 through a series of Resolutions to its partnership with the MAVA Foundation and others in the Ramsar Culture Network (2011-18). As part of World Wetlands Day every year the Ramsar Convention holds the Global Wetlands Youth Photo Competition.

Please share examples of artists (whether now or in the ancient past) contributing to wetlands conservation and wise use with the hashtag #art4wetlands. We are particularly interested in art that makes a difference and we look forward to learning about new examples over the next four months.

Kate Foster: Engaging with peatland restoration – Embedded Art practices within Landscape Partnerships

May 12, 2018 by

scotland-peatland-map_carbon-class-a2477850

As artists, we (Kerry Morrison and Kate Foster) have discovered a common purpose of embedding ecological artistic practice and research within peat landscape restoration projects. This post invites readers to ‘watch this space’ for how we are, and will be, involved in restoration work on blanket peatland and raised bogs that will be carried out by three Landscape Partnerships that have been recently funded by the Heritage Lottery Landscape Partnership Fund.

The significance of peatlands in terms of wildlife, climate action and hydrology is increasingly recognised by government policy which is leading to artists’ opportunities, such as with the Peatland Partnership in the Flow Country. For anyone interested in the cultural values of peatland, there is much artwork to draw inspiration from, such as Sexy Peat ; ongoing work by postgraduate students of Art Space and Nature at Edinburgh College of Art; the respective work of Laura Harrington or Lionel Playford, both based at the University of Northumbria; and Wind Resistance by singer-songwriter Karine Polwart.
Within this wider context, our respective artistic aims include profiling existing community culture, skills and knowledge – the living heritage. We will be developing artwork during the stage of ecological restoration, contributing further ways to how peatlands can be culturally valued. We see this as an opportunity to reflect on art practice with others (artists and non-artists) who have similar interests, over a three-year period.

The Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership programme

As director and lead environment artist at In-Situ, Kerry had been working with the Forest of Bowland during the development stages of their Landscape Partnership Heritage Lottery bid for Pendle Hill. This included developing and managing a pilot arts programme which informed the final, and successful, bid. Working closely with Cathy Hopley (Development Officer at Forest of Bowland AONB) to embed art into the landscape restoration strand of the Pendle Hill four-year programme, In-Situ have become one of the partners and will lead an art strand called The Gatherings which includes a two-year artist residency during which Kerry will work alongside the team restoring the upland peatlands of Pendle Hill Summit.

The Gatherings programme integrates arts practice and research into a number of the Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership themes, including: Pendle Hill Summit, Archaeology, High Nature Value, Traditional Boundaries, Woodlands, and What’s a Hill Worth?

The Gatherings strand has been designed/curated as a coherent programme consisting of temporary interventions, events, residencies, films and public gatherings. The art projects, beginning in 2018, will evolve in partnership and collaboration, developing and responding to the project strands as they progress over the 4-year delivery period. The role of the artist will be multitudinous: to shed light on the landscape restoration programme, to outreach and engage communities including audiences that have been identified as the most infrequent visitors to the Pendle landscape, and to contribute to new knowledge. The creative processes, outputs and new knowledge gained will be shared in year 4 (2022) at a 3-day conference.

The image below is of a group of young people from Brierfield Action in the Community, celebrating, having achieved the steep climb to Pendle Hill Summit. Their day out was part of a series of workshops to test the Pendle Hill Engagement Kit, developed by In-Situ in partnership with The Forest of Bowland and artist Amy Pennington.

The Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership programme

“The Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership aims to connect people living and working in the area with its heritage and landscape in a drive to secure a prosperous future for the communities around the Water of Ken and River Dee, right from their source to the sea.”

source: http://www.gallowayglens.org/about/

Further details of the scope of the proposed programme can be seen here. Peatland Connections is one component, led by Dr. Emily Taylor of the Crichton Carbon Centre and to be jointly funded by the Scottish Government programme, Peatland Action. Peatland Connections aims to:

… highlight the significance of Galloway peatlands and, using a demonstrator site beside the Southern Upland Way, trial a new framework to be used to revert areas of forestry back to peatlands, highlighting the resulting water quality, biodiversity and carbon balance benefits. These capital works will be supported by a suite of public engagement/artistic activities highlighting the importance and relevance of peatlands. Source: http://www.gallowayglens.org/projects

Kate’s art practice is concerned with different kinds of land use, focussing on wetlands. Various projects prepared the way for making links to Peatland Connections. For example, in 2016 she co-ordinated an event themed Wetlands, Flow, and Questions of Scale, at the Stove in Dumfries.  The range of inspiring and thought provoking presentations revealed the depth of existing interest and also the possibilities for further connections.

The image above shows a group with a demonstration peatcore at a workshop on Kirkconnel Flow, led by Dr. Lauren Parry of the University of Glasgow.

Kate proposed Peat Culture as an element of the Peatland Connections in consultation with Emily Taylor. As lead artist, Kate intends to profile the biocultural heritage of Galloway Glens Peatlands by creating an anthology; by developing original artwork as artist-in-residence to the restoration; and by jointly creating material for an exhibition.
Recognising synergies in their practice and collaborative approach with landscape Partnerships, Kerry and Kate began to discuss the potential of connecting Galloway Glens and the Pendle Hill Partnerships to widen the scope, reach and impact of ecological art and peat restoration. Both Landscape Partnerships embraced the idea of connecting and partnering, and to also work with the Carbon Landscape Project (another Heritage Lottery Fund Landscape Partnership with a peatland focus), which is in the early stages of delivery.

The Carbon Landscape Project

The Carbon Landscape Project is a Landscape Partnership based around Salford and Warrington, and draws on the area’s importance in the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. A short informative video Taking a Round View of the Carbon Landscape can be seen here.

The Carbon Landscape Project is changing the way in which we approach landscapes and communities in Wigan, Salford and Warrington. Twenty-two interlinked projects will provide a forward-thinking and effective programme that will have lasting benefits for local communities and wildlife.

Source: http://www.lancswt.org.uk/carbon-landscape-project

The scheme is in its first year of their 5-year delivery phase, with work getting underway.

Peat Meets

People involved in developing peatland projects of the Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership, the Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership, and the Carbon Landscape Project travelled to a Great Peat Meet in New Galloway last November, in order to exchange information about their programmes. The proposed peatland restoration projects will offer varied ways of engaging communities. Once the projects are all underway, further exchange visits are planned.

The image above was taken during a site visit to Clatteringshaws Visitor Centre Galloway, allowing informal discussion during a walk over deep peatland. Glens Development Officer, McNabb Laurie, said:

“We were proud to welcome these other Landscape Partnerships to Galloway and to hear how the condition and use of peatland sites varies across the UK. It is great that a number of schemes are coming together to highlight the importance of peat on factors such as water quality, biodiversity, flood management and also the global significance as a carbon store. We can contribute to a national approach to these issues.” Source: http://www.gallowayglens.org/2017/11/

As artists, we attended and have both been proactive in making proposals and connections between the Landscape Partnerships. The aim is to profile the many and varied ways that peatlands are already valued culturally, as well as contribute new creative work. Plans include a seminar series, to create a network with people involved in similar projects elsewhere and to encourage reflection on interpretation and creative practice.

This article has been prepared by artists Kate Foster and Kerry Morrison in consultation with colleagues in their respective Landscape Partnerships projects.

Contacts for further information:
Kerry Morrisonkerry@in-situ.org.uk
Kate Fosterart@meansealevel.net
Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership:
Cathy Hopley: cathy.hopley@lancashire.gov.uk
Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership:
McNabb Laurie: mcnabb.laurie@dumgal.gov.uk

Sarah Gittins reviews ‘Marlene Creates: Places, Paths, and Pauses’

May 10, 2018 by

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Introduction

The monograph Marlene Creates: Places, Paths, and Pauses was published last year to coincide with a touring retrospective of the work of Marlene Creates, co-curated by Susan Gibson Garvey and Andrea Kunard. The exhibition was organised by the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in partnership with Dalhousie Art Gallery, it launched in September 2017 and is touring to different locations across Canada until 2020.

This beautifully produced monograph is my first introduction to the work of the Canadian environmental artist Marlene Creates (pronounced “Kreets”). Reading the book acquainted me with the breadth of Creates’ ‘discreet’ practice (p.15) through many crisply reproduced photographs, showing details and exhibition installations of her work. The photographs are accompanied by Creates’ own commentary, giving succinct insights into some of the motivations and processes behind her different bodies of work. Because photography has been the main medium for Creates to document and share her work with others, it translates well onto the printed page.

Overview

Creates’ work is clustered into chronologically ordered bodies of work as follows:

  1. Landworks, 1979-1985, Works based on my responses as a visitor to places;
  2. Works with Memory Maps, 1986-1991, Works based on the relationship of people I met to their own places;
  3. Signs of Our Time, 1992-2003, Works with signage about public notices, official boundaries and prohibitions;
  4. Transition, Transitional works in the midst of a decade working with public signs;
  5. Works from Blast Hole Pond Road (ongoing since 2002), a multi year “slow” engagement with the six-acre patch of boreal forest where I live.(examples of many of the works discussed can be viewed on Marlene Creates’ website) You can see the exhibition at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery thanks to a video made by Jon Pedersen, a filmmaker in Fredericton.

Certain bodies of work come across particularly well within the context of the book. These include Sleeping Places, Newfoundland, 1982, where her haunting series of photographs show the squashed vegetation left by the sleeping imprint of Creates’ own body; and the works where Creates’ hand is pressed against the surface of standing stones and trees in A Hand to Standing Stones, Scotland, 1983 and Larch, Spruce, Fir, Birch, Hand, Blast Hole Pond Road, Newfoundland, 2007. The format of the book is large enough to see the detail of crushed foliage in the Sleeping Places series and the texture of stone, lichen, bark and skin in the Hand to Standing Stones and Larch, Spruce, Fir, Birch, Hand series. These bodies of work communicate a strong sense of the equality of relationship with nature that Creates’ work seeks to explore – the framing of the photographs shows the equal pressing of lichen-encrusted stone/bark to hand as hand to stone/bark.

This comprehensive overview of Creates’ work is interlaced with critical essays, each exploring a different aspect of the artists’ practice. The essays are written by the curators/editors, the poet Don McKay, the art historian Joan M. Schwartz, and the author Robert Macfarlane. I completed the book feeling as though I had enjoyed slowly wandering around the rooms of the Creates’ retrospective, engaging in different conversations after each room, each showing me the work through a different lens and offering rich insights into Creates’ thoughtful practice.

The first of these essays, Written in the Land, Present in the Place, is by Susan Gibson Garvey. In this essay Gibson Garvey maps the main themes of Creates’ work from the earliest gestures in the landscape to her most recent immersive work in the six acres of boreal forest that surround her home. It is a very readable, well-paced essay, offering insightful commentary around many of the developing themes that run through Creates’ practice. I have explored this essay in greater detail than the others as it is here that we first become acquainted with many of the ideas returned to in subsequent essays.

Gibson Garvey starts by contrasting Creates’ ‘ecologically sensitive art practice,’ with the work of ‘more immediately spectacular,’ environmental photographers such as Edward Burtynsky (p.15). She argues that it is the ‘acute awareness,’ ‘formal restraint,’ and ‘understated wit,’ of Creates’ practice that give the work its strength (p.15). As an example of Creates’ ‘discreet’ art practice Gibson Garvey describes one of Creates’ early interventions, Stone Ground Drawing: Wave Patterns, Lake Nipissing, 1986, where Creates arranged pebbles so that they mirrored the patterns in the waves approaching the shore. The work lasted until the next high tide when the pebbles were scattered. Gibson Garvey quotes Creates’ statement that the intention of this work was to draw attention to the waves themselves: ‘“What I would like people to notice the most when they look at my sculpture is, in fact, not the sculpture but the waves.”’ (p.16)

The essay makes a convincing argument for Creates’ work to be seen in relation to feminist earth/body practices of artists such as Ana Mendieta. In her Paper Stones and Water series Creates lays a roll of absorbent paper in different environments, where it is subject to change through encountering the elements – blown by the wind or splattered by raindrops. Gibson Garvey argues that ‘simplicity, economy, seriality, and […] sufficiency,’ are key to Creates’ practice, and frames the fragile Paper Stones and Water series as an ‘act of resistance, on behalf both of the environment and of women’ (p.16). Creates herself states that she was working ‘in deliberate opposition to large-scale earthworks – high impact interventions made in the land with excavators and bulldozers in the 1960’s and 70’s’ (p.13).

This argument is given weight when Gibson Garvey emphasises the importance, for Creates, of seeing the particular in the landscape rather than ‘scoping a scene’: ‘The hand must touch, the voice must utter, the body must be present. We are in the land, inseparable from that which provides the nourishment and raw materials on which we depend. There is no “out there” there, because out there is still us.’ (p.20)

Gibson Garvey cites Rebecca Solnit’s discussion of Creates’ work to describe the important shift in Creates’ practice – her growing understanding of the layers of nature and culture that exist in every landscape, summed up by Solnit’s sentence, ‘“Most landscapes are also territories.”’ (p.16) This shift is clearly seen in the works exploring the relationship of relocated, elderly Labradorians to their remembered homelands in The Distance Between Two Points is Measured in Memories, Laborador, 1988. Once again Gibson Garvey is here highlighting the quiet politics of Creates’ work – ‘contradicting political assertions about the “emptiness” of Labrador.’ (p.19)

There is a very succinct summary of Creates’ description of the different phases of her practice within this essay. Creates describes her landworks as works made ‘“in the first person,”’ the shift to working with other peoples memories of place results in work made ‘“in the second person.”’ Creates’ questioning of cultural assumptions about places in the signs projects is described as work ‘“in the third person”’. Following this summary Gibson Garvey argues that Creates’ most recent work, made in her six-acre, boreal forest home, returns to ‘“first person”’ and also creates the position of ‘no person’ in the work where her trail camera takes photographs when triggered by the movement of animals (p.18). Gibson Garvey argues that Creates, in her boreal forest home, is ‘intent on addressing nature as one subjectivity to another,’ and relates this intention to the thought of Martin Buber. In particular she is interested in Buber’s “I-Thou” concept in relation to Creates’ work, stating that ‘it could be argued that Creates has been saying “Thou” to nature for some considerable time.’ (p.19) This argument is taken one stage further in what Gibson Garvey describes as Creates’ ‘reversal of the gaze,’ in Water Flowing to the Sea Captured at the Speed of Light, Blast Hole Pond River, Newfoundland, 2002-2003, where a camera placed underwater takes photos of the artist, simulating the eye of the river (p.20).

Finally Gibson Garvey points to the part language plays in Creates’ The Boreal Poetry Garden. At the start of this project Creates wrote short poems and photographed them in the places that had inspired their writing. Now the poems are only spoken to small audiences in situ. Gibson Garvey states that this may result in a ‘privileged’ audience. However, this is balanced by the ethics of Creates’ practice, bound to ‘specificity’ and not ‘populism’. The question of privilege in relation to the boreal forest work is explored later in this review.

The Gibson Garvey essay is followed by the images of Landworks. These include the Paper, Stones and Water series, Sleeping Places, Newfoundland 1982 and A Hand to Standing Stones, Scotland 1983. Don McKay’s poem Sleeping Places is included within this section along with his short reflection on Creates’ work – Some Thoughts on Sleeping Places. The poem mirrors the understated aesthetic of Creates’ work in its short lines and simplicity. It maps some of the associations that the poet experienced through his encounter with the work from the delicate to the sinister. The poem acts as an invitation to experience Creates’ work for oneself – to let the mind travel with the imagery in different directions and not just look to where the essays signpost the reader.

The poem starts and ends with the question ‘what is nothing doing’ [sic] which McKay intends as an ‘ungettable riddle’ or Zen koan. He writes about his interest in koans and Taoist poetry in his reflection on Sleeping Places, saying of the old Taoist poets:

Their “bows” to the wilderness involved a slightness and subtlety of gesture that would be good preparation for experiencing works like Sleeping Places, Newfoundland, 1982. (p.49)

McKay states that Creates’ work holds a strong connection to Taoist thought, particularly in relation to what he describes as ‘an engaged “spiritual ecology”’. He describes the important difference between this ‘true ecology’ and the ‘conventional humanism of Romanticism, which tends to focus on the human emotional response to nature rather than to bow toward nature itself.’ He concludes:

We need more such bows if a true ecology is to become widespread. I think of Tu Fu’s line “I inhabit my absence,” which could well serve as a subtitle for Creates’ Sleeping Places. (p.49)

Don McKay’s poem and reflection balances well with the more analytical essays in the book.

Within the second section of Creates’ work: Works with Memory Maps, 1986-1991, is an essay titled Marlene Creates, Visual Geographer by Joan M. Schwartz. In this essay Schwartz frames Creates’ practice within the field of geography, stating that Creates ‘traffics in the geographical imagination, laying bare the processes by which people come to know the world and their place in it.’ (p.71) Schwartz highlights the ways in which Creates questions how we read the landscape and relates this to the ‘terrain of historical and cultural geographers.’ (p.71)

So what is the ‘geographical imagination’ that Marlene Creates ‘traffics’? Schwartz describes how Creates questions idealised notions of a life on the land by showing how particular people relate to places within The Distance Between Two Points is Measured in Memories – mapping a ‘“cultural” experience of place.’ Schwartz quotes Creates’ notion of place: ‘“The land is not an abstract physical location but a place, charged with personal significance, shaping the images we have of ourselves.”’ (p.72) She states that ‘it is in this foregrounding of place in the formation of identity that Creates excels as a visual geographer.’ (p.72)

Schwartz describes how Creates makes the layered meaning of places visible in her signs projects. For example, Creates juxtaposes a sign describing the coastline as ‘Natural and Scenic’ with a statement describing a previous industrial use of the land that played a significant role in forming the present day ‘view’. This exposing of environmental histories is what Creates describes as the ‘“intersection of geography with memory.”’ (p.74) Schwartz argues that by ‘exposing the tension between public and personal expressions of place, they [the signs] prompt private contemplation of one’s situation in space and time.’ (p.76)

In this essay Schwartz introduces a more geographically nuanced framework to explore many of the points already raised in the book. It seems a helpful insight to frame Creates’ practice within the geographical imagination, as it highlights the tactics that Creates used and uses to interrogate our relationship to the land and to place. The revisiting of themes addressed by the first two essays does make for repetition, however. But the essay, in its own right, creates an interesting framework for reflecting on Creates’ practice.

Robert Macfarlane’s essay, Hollow Places and Wordcaves, is placed within the third section of works: Signs of Our Time, 1992–2003. The essay starts with an entry from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s journal describing his encounter with ‘“A hollow place in the rock like a coffin.”’ Macfarlane says that this description sprang to mind when he first encountered Sleeping Places, Newfoundland, 1982. As with McKay, but using different imagery, Macfarlane describes his layered response to this work and states that ‘This wish to allow landscape its layeredness seems to me the defining quality of Creates’s art.’ (p.101) He then goes on to make similar points to Gibson Garvey and Schwartz about Creates’ refusal of romanticism and her interest in nature-culture relations. (Again, the repetition is noticeable.)

Macfarlane identifies the ‘sensing body’ as key to the making of Creates’ work. He links this use of the body as an instrument of knowledge to a lineage of ‘philosopher artists’ including Marcel Mauss, John Muir, Richard Jefferies, and Jacquetta Hawks and identifies a particularly strong link between Creates and Nan Shepherd. Macfarlane states that in her book, The Living Mountain, Nan Shepherd describes how ‘she explored the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland through her “flesh” and “bones” as well as through her eyes.’ (p.102) He goes on to explore parallels between the two women – sharing ‘a fascination with place names and the language of place […] they share an interest in the seeming paradox of a “humanised wild”.’ Macfarlane also describes a parallel between Shepherd’s and Creates’ attention to the particular in the landscapes that they attend to, and importantly their shared attention to the social history of place. Macfarlane points out both the ethnographic importance of this interest and that it acts as ‘an active politics of what might be called resistance through specificity,’ particularly in Creates’ questioning of notions of the empty wilderness of Labrador through memory mapping in The Distance Between Two Points is Measured in Memories. (p.103)

This last point leads Macfarlane to link the work of Creates to others engaged in paying attention to the relationships that people have with specific places in order to resist ‘generalisation and exploitation.’ These include Hugh Brody’s Masterful Maps and Dreams (1986), Iain Sinclair’s Ghost Milk, and the artist’s booklet A-mach an Gleann (A Known Wilderness), made by Jon MacLeod and Anne Campbell in response to the Outer Hebridean islanders fight with AMEC. (p.103)*

(At this point the reader may pause to reflect: set within the context of ‘generalisation and exploitation’, Creates’ later boreal forest work raises questions that go unaddressed by Macfarlane and the other essayists. It could be argued, for example, that the later work maintains a quiet resistance through particular acts of attention. But this has a different quality to working in a context that is overtly exploited. To put it all too crudely – a person standing in a deep state of mindfulness within occupied or disputed territories has a very different resonance to a person standing in an equally mindful state in their own garden.)

Macfarlane pays particular attention to Creates’ interest in the relationship between language and landscape, which he describes as the ‘illocutionary power of place-language: its ability to reform as well as to deform our relations with place.’ (p.105) Macfarlane maps this relationship of language and place in Creates’ practice, from The Distance Between Two Points, through the signs projects and ‘rising to a peak of intensity in her recent book Brickle Nish and Knobbly: A Newfoundland Treasury of Terms for Ice and Snow, Blast Hole Pond River, Winter 2012-2013.’ (p.104) All Creates’ language projects highlight how the specificity of language can ‘refine our acts of perception,’ and resist the homogenisation of dominant western culture. Here it is through seeing the differences in phenomena of ice and snow rather than ‘a cold white blur’ (p.105).

In addition to other pertinent analogies, Macfarlane ends his essay by quoting a poem by Paul Celan which includes the translated term ‘“wordcaves”’. The wordcaves are places where language that has been emptied out can be made useful again. (p.106) With a beautiful symmetry Macfarlane relates this image back to the opening image of Coleridge’s ‘“hollow place”’, a space offering both shelter and hazard, as Creates’ Sleeping Places appear both comfortable and exposed, weaving both the essay and Creates’ practice into a satisfying sense of wholeness.

The final essay is the longest in the book and more academic in tone. In Here and Away: The Photography of Marlene Creates, Andrea Kunard discusses Creates’ use of photography as a medium and the place of her work within photographic discourse.

The essay opens by questioning the notion of photography as a medium that ‘stills time.’ (p.139) Kunard outlines an alternative reading of photography as process – ‘it engages individuals in actions, providing a performative space for its realisation.’ (p.139) She argues that the work of Creates fits far more easily into this process-performative category. Kunard uses Creates’ Paper, Stones and Water 1979-1985 to illustrate this point, describing how these photographs contain all the surrounding activity of journey, thought and preparation that went into their making as well as the gesture caught in ‘the performative space the photograph provides.’ The photographs also contain a sense of the time beyond their taking, the viewer sees a fragile material (paper) or stones on a shore that will soon be destroyed or rearranged by the elements. Another example is the knowledge that the squashed grasses in the Sleeping Places series will have already started to recover even in the instant of the camera shutter’s click. As Kunard writes, ‘Creates’ projects reveal how photographs are performative acts or gestures that proclaim something real for the present, and retain it for the future.’ (p.141)

In her discussion of The Distance Between Two Points is Measured in Memories, Labrador 1988, Kunard highlights the importance of text in contextualising the photographs, and the role of the accompanying objects – turf, sand etc. – in bringing the work into the present for the viewer, ‘nudging spectators into an appreciation of the object and present-ness of all the assemblages’ constituent elements.’ (p.142) She relates this to the power of a lock of hair tucked alongside a photograph in a nineteenth-century locket. The ability of photographs to strengthen family bonds is also discussed in relation to the family photograph album and Creates’ Places of Presence: Newfoundland kin and ancestral land, Newfoundland, 1989-1991 (p.142)

Kunard argues that Creates combines the ability of the photograph to still time and reveal process in her Hand photographs. Later she also makes mention of what could be considered a more significant quality of these photographs – their ability to show in fine detail the qualities and textures of stone, lichen, bark and skin. Interestingly it is in this essay that we first become aware that the boreal forest in which Creates’ current work unfolds belongs to her, as Kunard discloses:

‘in the series Larch, Spruce, Fir, Birch, Hand, Blast Hole Pond Road, Newfoundland 2007 (ongoing), her hand, now much older, appears pressed against a tree trunk on the artist’s property.’ (p.143)

(Another reader reflection: Creates never sets this later work within the context of property or ownership, perhaps because she does not consider the trees in the boreal forest to be hers. Or perhaps she intuits that this knowledge would be distracting for the viewer. Nevertheless, reading the word ‘property’ immediately shifted how I read the work – setting the hand in a possible gesture of claim or possession, jarring with my previous understanding of the work as communicating a sense of equal relationship. In balancing this tension it is important to note that the protection Creates’ ownership brings to the six acres of boreal forest has enabled her to develop a deeply intimate relationship with this place, as shown powerfully through the work Spots of Memory: what I remembered during one month away after six years on Blast Hole Pond Road, Newfoundland 2008 where a hand-drawn map is filled with the artist’s abbreviated descriptions of particular toponyms (descriptive names for places – discussed in Macpharlane’s essay). This may not have been possible for Creates in the more vulnerable position of a ‘visitor’ rather than ‘landowner’. Hence the question: has this intimacy of knowledge now become a privilege of ownership and thus protection?)

The Kunard essay ends with a discussion of Water Flowing to the Sea Captured at the Speed of Light, Blast Hole Pond River, Newfoundland 2002-2003 where Creates submerged a camera in the river to take photographs of the artist through the water. Kunard argues that this work ‘personalises place, fusing the artist with the land.’(p.145) She also points out that this work introduces into Creates’ practice a giving up of control over the outcome of the final image. This is further amplified in Creates’ work What Came to Light at Blast Hole Pond River, Newfoundland 2015 (ongoing) where the camera shutter is triggered by the movement of animals through a motion detector. These works highlight Creates’ use of the medium of photography as an evolving process rather than a static moment in time:

‘This use of photography as process is always a movement outwards; it is never static but engaging, never singular but informed by and informing other media, including language.’(p.146)

Indeed it is the randomness caught in the moment of the camera shutter in What Came to Light that highlight and emphasise the sense of a world full of motion and life beyond the pictures’ limits. The book ends with these expansive photographs and thus opens out into the world beyond its pages.

Conclusion

When seen as a whole the images, commentary and essays of Marlene Creates: Places, Paths, and Pauses create a richly woven tapestry that enable the reader to gain insight and understanding into Creates’ ‘discreet’ oeuvre; an oeuvre that I am pleased to have encountered and feel deserves greater recognition. (This is clearly the aim of the editors). However, as indicated by my ‘reader reflections’, the book as a whole is a touch too gentle. It clearly brings together reflections from those who hold the work of Creates in high regard. But it rarely poses critical questions that the work itself may be asking. This could have been amended by an interview with the artist, raising more probing questions about the work and its contexts. Equally, there is a little too much repetition in the points made and examples used in the essays, particularly in relation to Creates’ ideas around place and a cultural reading of the landscape. More in-depth discussion of Creates’ recent work might have created a greater balance and less repetition. The last word, however, is one of respect: Creates’ work makes its powerful presence felt through its understated quietness. I am left with a reverberating sense of the layered histories present in the land around us, and a desire to walk more slowly and connect with the particularity of place.


* AMEC placed an application to site the UK’s largest windfarm on what they repeatedly described as ‘waste’ space and ‘wilderness’.


Sarah Gittins is a visual artist based in Edinburgh. She works across a variety of media, with a particular focus on drawing and printmaking. Her work explores issues of environmental justice, with a current emphasis on issues of climate change, resource use and food sustainability.

www.sarahgittins.net


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