David Haley ‘Going beyond Earthly’




plant seeds in the ground

compost continues to grow

apple falls to earth




Editor’s introduction:

The Barn, Banchory, has always had an environmental dimension, including allotments, a wild garden, biofuel boilers and shares the site with Buchanan’s, a slow food bistro. But as the largest rural multi-arts centre in Scotland, The Barn has used the challenges of Covid and the impact on the performing arts to rethink what it might mean to be an ecological organisation. To do that, amongst other initiatives, the team created the Becoming Earthly programme to engage with artists also interested in the question of what it means to be terrestrial. For the initial phase eleven artists/practices participated from across the visual and performing arts. This programme involved seven sessions, each led by a different person [1], and had physical, reflective as well as discussion elements. As David explains, Becoming Earthly isn’t a conventional project. It has generated its own energy and is continuing.

Chris Fremantle was an Associate Producer on the programme, and he put out a call to participants to reflect on what Becoming Earthly meant to them. This is David Haley’s response. The poem above and at the bottom is David Haley’s alternative to an image.


This is not a review of Becoming Earthly and given the brevity of this text, much has been omitted, particularly the contributions of individuals at The Barn and each of the Session Leaders. The question is, how did Becoming Earthly influence my practice and thinking? This reflection starts with my application to Becoming Earthly:

Question: Emancipation from outmoded industrial urban infrastructures, corporate digital technologies and oppressive education is vital for human ecological resilience; how may we regenerate fundamental culture for critical recovery with Earth?

Expectation (extracts): I hope Becoming Earthly will enable me to explore and learn with others, new ways of thinking and doing to generate the critical mass for transition beyond the current straightjacket of social norms … I hope that we (will seek) timely, regenerative means of listening to others, human and non-human alike.

Together we may pursue diverse ‘capable futures’ to create the capacity to dream with passion, hope and grace.

Structure – Form – Process

Having the opportunity was very important, because it represented acceptance. Even as a mature artist, researcher and ecopedagogue, I still need assurances that the work I do is relevant, so being offered a place with Becoming Earthly (BE) was/is important. Zoom is a very particular environment to interact with others and given the ongoing pandemic, it is one that some of us accept as the ‘new normal’, some view as a great techno-communications advancement and others as a necessary evil. However, I think we must remain aware that it is not the same as meeting people face to face and it brings with it both favours and disadvantages different people’s communication and learning skills. At times, I find it difficult to contain my enthusiasm and have to rein myself in to ensure that others have space and time. Managed with care, as a co-learning dialogue, BE helped my awareness to aim for listening in creative Zoom encounters I have created or participated in since.

Content, Relevance & Context

Given the conversational limitations of Zoom, notions of transition, transformation and regeneration did emerge and continue to do so. Some political widely/deeply cultural issues were explored beyond merely topical concerns, but overt expressions of outrage and passion are still considered unacceptable in polite society.

As for art and ecology, BE directly and indirectly touched on some aspects, particularly with John Newling’s work. While all participants seemed to be interested in his form of working and thinking, for some it seemed to be a relatively new phenomenon, so I learned that there is still a great need for further discourse on what ecological art might be and might become. Indeed, triggered by BE, the notion of ‘beginners mind’ [2] is something I have returned to.

There was some disquiet around the provision of academic texts, their relevance to artists and non-academic people. Personally, I wasn’t an academic until I, as an artist, needed to read and reflect upon complex issues. Given our contemporary, gross consumption of instant information and hyped culture of digital media, the texts provided by each session leader continue to provide good challenges and alternative perspectives for my slow thinking. It is worth noting the trust that built throughout the sessions, so maybe folk who were concerned about potential ‘academicism’ will be reassured and take the time to return to the texts.

Other Insights

Opening-up. Even as an aged, white, educated, male, artist, I thought of myself as pretty radical and empathetic to/with issues of colonialism and intersectionality, however BE opened me up to much deeper ‘acknowledgement’ – in the sense of John Coltrane’s Love Supreme, Part 1 [3] – re-examining the context in which we live, I see as essential to the process of BE. My reading has since found new paths of exploration, particularly around intersectionality, colonialism and nuances of pedagogy that previously I only saw as dialectical – rationalised arguments of political realities, now giving way to empathetic understanding. Dialogue as an art form is something I have been engaged with since the mid-90s and I immersed myself in Socratic and critical forms of dialogue, but BE expanded my capacity for feeling/experiencing perhaps, even empathising with these issues. And as personal transformative challenges, these are now embedded in my practice and engagement with others. Practically, I gained confidence and some skills to facilitate a series of Zoom, storying workshops with people experiencing stress and anxiety issues, What’s your story?.

Session 8 – BE was seven sessions, but ‘Unfinished…’ was generated by Paolo Maccagno’s initiative to self-organise. A great idea that takes the ‘what next?’ to a specific place of possible transformation, based on self-determinism. I like the idea of ‘Unfinished…’. It suggests evolutionary becoming, beyond hegemony; a dynamic to counteract many of society’s solution-led myths and takes Heidegger’s notion of dasein to that of grace (non-Christian) or becomingness [4]. If it works, it may emerge into a ‘Living Knowledge Network’; if it doesn’t, like most evolutionary events, it will at the very least have provided an opportunity…

Dreaming. Occasionally, at 3.30 in the morning, I find myself dreaming of cows at play, without guilt – an unresolved paradox that resonates from Wallace Heim’s session that found synergy between Play, Shame and Care.

Historically, emancipation takes time, sometimes a long time, for the conditions to be right. That is when ‘the most moral act of all is to create the space for life to move onwards’ [5] and when the time is right, like all revolutions, it will happen, ‘all at once and all together’ [6]. Becoming Earthy contributed generously to the former. I now await the latter; maybe a Second Becoming…?



down to earth dreaming

on becoming an artist

again and again



David Haley makes art with ecology, to inquire, learn and teach. He publishes, exhibits and works internationally with ecosystems and their inhabitants, using images, poetic texts, walking and sculptural installations to generate dialogues that question climate change, species extinction, urban development, transdisciplinarity and ‘critical recovery’ for ‘capable futures’.


[1] including Wallace Heim, Paolo Maccagno, John Newling, and Johan Siebers.

[2] Suzuki, S, (2020) Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: 50th Anniversary Edition Paperback. Boulder, Colorado: Shambhala Publications Inc.

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Pi5ZJZ07ME and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Love_Supreme

[4] Hodge, J. (1995) Heidegger and Ethics. London: Routledge

[5] Pirsig, R. (1993) Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals. London: Black Swan, 407

[6] Harrison, N (2017) On The Deep Wealth Of This Nation, Scotland. Lecture for The Barn at Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh.

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