Matt Ridley is the author of a number of books on the subjects of evolution, genetics and society, and has been variously a scientist, journalist and businessman. There was an article in Saturday’s Times and the full version is on Matt Ridley’s website. It’s worth reading.
His family leased land to a mining operation in the North East of England and have sponsored Charles Jencks to create Northumberlandia, the latest of Jencks’ earthworks.
When the Banks Group approached my family to dig out coal from under farmland we own, creating 150 local jobs, they also came with an imaginative suggestion. Instead of waiting ten years to put the rock back and restore the surface to woods and fields, which is the normal practice, why not put some of the rock to one side to make a new landscape feature that people can use long before the mine is restored?
Ridley makes an argument around energy and land. It’s an economic argument about fossil fuels and land use.
The replacement of muscle power, burning carbohydrates, with fossil power, burning hydrocarbons, has been one of the great liberators of history.
Unfortunately the argument doesn’t look to the future. It is true that fossil fuels have transformed society, but that’s the transformation of the industrial revolution. The current transformation is focused on renewable energy and the need to massively reduce our footprint.
And in terms of art practices, this is not innovative, just large. Cutting edge art practices look to integrate the future into the landscape, not just shape it aesthetically. Whether it’s AMD&ART addressing Acid Mine Drainage, or the Land Art Generator Initiative bringing together at scale renewable energy and art, or any of a number of other artists working on energy and land futures (see greenmuseum.org for examples), Northumberlandia misses a trick and a big one. The creation of new public space is important, but the use of that process to exemplify new futures is vital.