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Adriana Ford #art4wetlands on WetlandLIFE at RamsarCOP13

February 2, 2019
Flamingoes on the Ras Al Khor wetlands with Dubai's skyline in the background. Photo: Adriana Ford

Flamingoes on the Ras Al Khor wetlands with Dubai’s skyline in the background. Photo: Adriana Ford

For World Wetlands Day, Adriana Ford reports on the WetlandLIFE project’s side event at the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in Dubai and how it was received. Highlighting the various contributions (on the Community Voice Method and by two of the artists Victoria Leslie and Kerry Morrison), Adriana goes on to report on the responses from the audience (who ‘got’ what the arts and cultural value focused approaches had to offer).


If you were to ask any wetland expert what is the conference to attend for connecting to global wetlands networks, it will most likely be the Ramsar Convention COP (Conference of Parties). It’s like the wetlands version of the UN Climate Change Conference which happens each year (typically making the news), as delegates from governments and other organisations from across the world gather to discuss and make decisions on the issues facing wetlands. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands may not be quite as well-known, but it is the oldest of all the modern global intergovernmental environmental agreements, adopted in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar (coming into force in 1975), with an impressive 170 Contracting Parties.

The Ramsar Convention states its mission as,

“the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world.”

It provides a framework for wetland management and protection at a global to local scale, including the designation of protected “Ramsar sites”. Every three years, the COP – the decision-making body made up of the governments that are the Contracting Parties to the Convention – meets in a different country, to assess progress and to make decisions about how to improve the processes and implementation of the Convention. The most recent COP (COP13) met in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, from 21st-29th October 2018.

It’s the first time I’ve been to a COP, but for a long while I’ve been curious about how they work and what’s involved. What I did know was that the Ramsar COP13 offered a unique and significant opportunity for WetlandLIFE to internationalise our impact and to make important new connections.  WetlandLIFE is a three year multi-institutional research project funded by the Valuing Nature Programme, exploring narratives and values around wetlands, particularly from a health and wellbeing perspective, and also the role of mosquitoes within this. Our research is focused in England, but our interdisciplinary approaches and findings have far broader applicability. So, I applied for a competitive place to host a “side event” at the conference. Held at lunchtimes and in the evenings of the COP, in between the plenary discussions, these side events provide an opportunity for organisations to present and discuss ideas and projects to the most relevant and global audience of wetland practitioners and experts that you could ask for.

We had been allocated a 75 minute slot on the penultimate day of COP13, for our session titled, ‘Sense of Place & Wellbeing in Wetlands: Using Film and the Arts to achieve SDG3’.  After arriving a few days early to navigate the COP and attend other side events (and of course, to promote our own!), I was joined by a small team, comprised of two of our WetlandLIFE artists, Victoria Leslie and Kerry Morrison; Chris Fremantle – a researcher, artist and cultural historian and advisor to WetlandLIFE; and Dave Pritchard – a freelance environmental consultant with extensive experience of the Ramsar Convention, who is also Coordinator of the Ramsar Culture Network.

Together, our aim was to exemplify and discuss ways that the arts, humanities and social sciences can be used either individually or alongside other disciplines to work towards Sustainable Development Goal 3 – Good Health and Wellbeing – for wetlands, particularly through sharing our experiences from WetlandLIFE.  I introduced our audience to Community Voice Method, a social sciences approach which uses filmed interviews as a way of bringing together different experiences and perspectives in an engaging way. When we screen our short films in the spring, they will act as a catalyst for further discourse and deliberation on wetland values and management. Our artists also introduced their work, from poetry and creative writing, to mosquito caravans and bird hides as creative hubs, as ways to both understand and create value and connectivity around wetlands and nature.

Our session was well attended, with representation from at least 12 countries in our audience, from the Middle East, Africa, The Americas, Europe and Asia, and we were fortunate to count two members of the Ramsar Secretariat amongst them. I think it would be fair to say we were prepared to justify our approaches of using the arts, imagining our audience to be potentially sceptical about its value for practical wetland management.  The response, however, was much to the contrary.

The enthusiasm for our approaches was clear and came from all sides. Paraphrasing a few comments from the discussion,

“for many years Ramsar has tried to convince people to save wetlands based on wildlife; then they tried economic values. But this [arts and culture] works. Getting people to think about how they value wetlands is what’s needed,”

and, “Until we can translate cultural values into resolutions we are going to struggle, and this is at the core,”

and quite enthusiastically, “We need to multiply this project [WetlandLIFE] everywhere!”

What became apparent from the discussions was that far from cultural values (and approaches of tapping into those) being considered a luxury afforded only to university projects such as ours, they are recognised as having a crucial role to play in Ramsar, because despite the many successes, wetlands across the globe continue to be degraded and destroyed, and new approaches are required. The idea of tapping into the hearts of people – communities, and indeed decision-makers – through creative and visual approaches may be part of what’s needed to help protect these hugely important, but often overlooked, ecosystems.

The experiences we gained from hosting our session at the Ramsar COP has been reassuring and motivating. We are keen now to build upon this momentum, with plans to take forward the discussions this year with key organisations and networks including Defra and the Ramsar Culture Network. We will be thinking about how cultural values and approaches can be better embedded into the Convention, and from our perspective, how WetlandLIFE can contribute to this, with the hope that somehow we can make a difference on the international stage.

Flamingoes feeding on the Ras Al Khor wetlands in Dubai, UAE. Photo: Adriana Ford


Dr Adriana Ford is a Research Fellow in Environmental Social Sciences at the University of Greenwich, and Coordinator of the Greenwich Maritime Centre.

Please email a.ford@gre.ac.uk for more information, and download the presentation Presentation Ramsar COP13 WetlandLIFE

Adriana works on various aspects of the human dimensions of  environmental management and conservation, including human-nature relationships, cultural values, wellbeing, and sustainable development.  She is currently working on WetlandLIFE, an interdisciplinary Valuing Nature project exploring the values of wetlands from a health and wellbeing perspective. She has also worked on projects exploring linkages between small-scale fisheries and responsible tourism, and has a broad interest in marine and coastal environments through her role in the Greenwich Maritime Centre.

Prior to Greenwich, Adriana worked as a teaching and research fellow at University of York, where she was also awarded her PhD on invasive species management in Australia. Adriana has also worked in Tanzania for a sustainable forestry initiative, and has an MSc from Imperial College London, and a BA(Hons) from the University of Cambridge.

Creative Carbon Scotland Embedded Artist #artopps

December 12, 2018

opportunity-cultural-adaptations-seeks-embedded-artist-800x450

Creative Carbon Scotland is the lead partner in an EU-funded project Cultural Adaptations. As part of this we are seeking an experienced artist to be ‘embedded’ within and to influence the work of Climate Ready Clyde as it develops and implements a climate change adaptation strategy for Glasgow City Region.

Deadline 5pm on Friday 11th January 2019.

This is an exciting, paid opportunity for an artist or cultural practitioner interested in exploring the role the arts can play in shaping how our society adapts to the impact of climate change. It offers the chance to participate in an action-research project taking place at the European level, and contribute new knowledge to the local and international sector.

Read more and download the Brief.

Creative Carbon Scotland’s Library of Creative Sustainability.

PhD by Practice – The Ecological Turn: Living Well with forests to explain eco-social art practices

November 22, 2018

From Cathy Fitzgerald and congratulations to Cathy

The Hollywood Forest Story : An Eco-Social Art Practice | Co. Carlow Ireland

Celebrating with a NZ tree fern at UCD, 19 November 2018. Cathy Fitzgerald celebrating with a beautiful NZ tree fern at University College Dublin, 19 November 2018.

I’m delighted to announce that this week I was conferred with a PhD by Practice in Visual Culture at the National College of Art and Design at a ceremony at University College Dublin. There are so, so many people to thank and I’m delighted to start to share some of my practice and research, FINALLY!

Sincere, heartfelt thanks to all who have supported me in a journey that covered many years and some unavoidable breaks for health and family reasons. A PhD is never created by one person alone and I wish to acknowledge my husband Martin, Holly (our late dog who kept me company on this adventure), my incredibly supportive family in Aotearoa New Zealand, my supervisors, examiners, friends, and people from many fields and places and of course, all who reside at…

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Valuing Nature: what do artists contribute?

November 12, 2018
Serpentine Lattice catalogue, courtesy of the artists

Image from Serpentine Lattice catalogue, courtesy of the artists

Artists have been valuing nature probably since we first marked the wall of a cave or whistled like a bird – artists have always rendered nature visible. Artists valuing nature have explored human ‘value’ (Monet’s Haystacks and Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed both render human use of nature visible), but they have also articulated human meaning imposed on nature (Shakespeare’s King Lear thinking the storm is nature mirroring his mental state). ecoartists over the past 50+ years have focused not so much on the literally visible but on making visible the relational and systemic. Their motivation is often the destruction caused by our extraction of value from nature without regard to health or sustainability.

Most art, including the historical precedents mentioned and in particular ecoart, might be seen in juxtaposition with other forms of valuing nature such as ecosystem services. Dave Pritchard articulated the deeper history underlying the emergence of the ecosystem services in an email to the ecoartnework listserve on 9 April 2011. He wrote,

For a time, in the 1970s-80s, there was some of the kind of “reconsideration” you describe [referring to a previous post], with the “deep ecology” of Naess, Bateson, Berry et al. But if you analyse the evolution of the actual policy and advocacy discourse at 10-yearly intervals, for example from the 1972 Stockholm Conference to the 1982 World Conservation Strategy to the 1992 Rio Conference to the 2002 Johannesburg Summit (and then maybe in advance of the Rio+20 summit in 2012 look at the Aichi targets adopted last year), it has swung completely away from any ethics of “existence value” for the non-human component, to a forced justification (in adversarial arenas) in terms of “sustainable development”, “wise use”, “evidence-based conservation”, “ecosystem services” and (largely monetary) valuation of those services. The environmental movement (of which I am a part) congratulates itself on having found better ways of expressing the critical nature of ecosystems within broader mainstream audiences and processes, in this way. But this has all been done by becoming MORE anthropocentric and utilitarian; not less.

Dave Pritchard’s drawing out of one vector of the trajectory of valuing, away from the intrinsic and into the instrumentalised, provides a useful frame for understanding that what we see now as oppositional – arts and humanities approaches versus social and natural science-based methods of valuing nature. His marking of the moments in the intergovernmental conferences and his articulation of the key phrases is the beginning of a cultural history of environmental policy.

However, in the work of Helen Mayer Harrison (1927-2018) and Newton Harrison (b. 1932), known as ‘the Harrisons’, this split isn’t necessarily the case.

Professor Emeritus Anne Douglas and I have been writing about (and working with) the Harrisons, the pioneering post conceptual ecological artists, for some years now. Sadly, Helen Mayer Harrison died this year (aged 90), but we continue to work with Newton Harrison. You can find out more about that work by checking out The Barn website, and by searching this site http://ecoartscotland.net.

We are just in the process of finishing a new essay which focuses on the ways in which the work of the Harrisons might address calls for epistemologies other than the positivistic one which has increasingly dominated our understanding of the natural world. This builds on two other essays we have published recently on their practice and in particular their poetics.

The Harrisons’ work focuses on the lifeweb and in particular on points of inconsistency and contradiction saying,

We have come to believe that inconsistency and contradiction are generated by the processes of cognition, thinking and doing, and have the important role to play of stimulating and evoking creativity and improvisation, which are inherent in the processes of the mind that have led us to do this work.
Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, ‘Public Culture and Sustainable Practices: Peninsula Europe from an ecodiversity perspective, posing questions to Complexity Scientists,’ (Structure and Dynamics: eJournal of Anthropological and Related Sciences: Vol. 2: No. 3, Article 3), p23

In our essay ‘Inconsistency and contradiction: lessons in improvisation in the work of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison’ published in Elemental: An Art and Ecology Reader, we look particularly at the ways that the artists use moments of inconsistency and contradiction as points of intervention. We explore the way they engage imaginatively with metaphor – for them it is dysfunctional metaphors (such as calling places to live ‘developments’ rather than ‘settlements’) which underlie the inconsistencies and contradictions. The works take the form of policy proposals, manifest in poetic texts and images, installations and films, which offer alternative ways of imagining life where we put the health of the lifeweb first.

The second essay, ‘What poetry does best: the Harrisons’ poetics of being and acting in the world’ published in the Harrisons’ The Time of the Force Majeure, a survey of their collaboration over 50 years, focuses on their language, in particular dialogue, and their understanding of improvisation. We explore the way that the works open up the possibility for the audience to imagine living differently, as part of a healthy lifeweb.

The Harrisons’ overarching project, which they have pursued for something like 50 years, is to put us humans back into the ecosystem. This is an underlying refrain in all their work, for example in Serpentine Lattice (1993) they said,

THEN
A NEW REVERSAL OF GROUND COMES INTO BEING
WHERE HUMAN ACTIVITY BECOMES A FIGURE
WITHIN AN ECOLOGICAL FIELD
AS SIMULTANEOUSLY THE ECOLOGY CEASES T0 BE
AN EVER SHRINKING FIGURE
WITHIN THE FIELD OF HUMAN ACTIVITY
Harrison, Newton and Harrison, Helen Mayer, Serpentine Lattice, the Douglas M Cooley Memorial Gallery, Reed College, Portland, Oregon 1993

Within this the Harrisons have taken on issues of water, soil, forests and brownfield. They have worked in watersheds and bioregions as well at the scale of the European Peninsula and the Tibetan high ground. The climate crisis – which they define as having three aspects – sea level rise, heatwave and biodiversity loss/extinction, is the manifestation of our dysfunctional relationship with the lifeweb. In essence their message is the message of Deep Ecology.

Yet Serpentine Lattice, created at the invitation of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, in addressing the destruction of the Pacific Temperate Rainforest, includes a proposal for redirecting a proportion of Gross National Product to the restoration of the forest.

In Peninsula Europe (2001) they enumerate the amount of water that falls on the European peninsula annually (1,430 cubic kilometers per year and that’s just on the high ground). Based on this they propose a Water Tax to pay for the restoration of the soils and the reforesting of the land above 360 meters.

This might seem superficially similar to recent approaches which have moved from analysis of ecosystem services to natural capital accounting. These latter moves have resulted in statements such as the Great Barrier Reef is an asset worth $42 billion dollars to the Australian economy, or bees are worth £651 million annually to the UK economy.

Our essay addresses both how these figures and proposals operate as part the Harrisons’ poetics, contributing to the repositioning of human systems within the ecological systems. The Harrisons’ approach to valuing nature does not start with a financial given (eg the value of UK Agriculture, and then identify the importance of bees, quantify bees, and financialise bees). The Harrisons’ works start with an ecological reality, an intrinsic good, such as the Pacific Temperate Rainforest. Often this is an already damaged ecosystem. The art work makes visible the value of the whole ecosystem and offers quantification in order to propose new human systems (such as taxes) that begin to remedy the impacts of extraction.


Chris Fremantle will be presenting a case study on the Harrisons’ Greenhouse Britain: Losing Ground, Gaining Wisdom (2007-09) in the ‘Valuing the Arts Valuing Nature’ session at the Valuing Nature Conference 2018 this week.

Reviewer needed: Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure

November 1, 2018

As part of the #art4wetlands programme we are looking for someone to review Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens’ film Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure.

The film is distributed by Juno Films who have kindly given us access for the reviewer.

Contact chris@fremantle.org if you are interested in doing this review. Please tell us why you are interested, if there is an angle you imagine taking, and also provide us with links to other pieces of review writing you have done.

Check out the ecosexual manifesto.

We look forward to hearing from you!

 

Kerry Morrison #art4wetlands …the way I view mosquitoes

October 27, 2018

Reflecting on being part of the WetlandLife team and how interdisciplinary working has shifted the way I view mosquitos
Kerry Morrison
11.07.18

The interdisciplinary nature of WetlandLIFE
The openness and inclusiveness
Has broadened my understanding
And my views
Of wetlands
Of mosquitos

Information exchanged
Put out there
Into the group
Relating to the collective research
Offers insights that we can delve in to
Or not
As we choose

Peter posted: in praise of the midges pestering footballers in the world cup
Gay responded:
…best of all for me is link at the end of the article to a study on the flight behaviour in swarms, which is what my colleague, Lionel, and I are working on in mosquitoes.  It is an amazing study – so thank you for many reasons!
I hit the link and read the paper: Collective Behaviour without Collective Order in Wild Swarms of Midges [1]

Some time later
Out on Alkborough Flats
In July
At dusk
Helmut and I found one of the mosquito traps
Well hidden in the dank, yet humid, undergrowth
Well surrounded by flying mosquitos

Venturing in I witnessed what I now know to be male mosquitos
Flying in a swarm
Out to attract females
With this little knowledge,
gained from conversations with the team entomologists
and from reading the paper
I felt partly safe
Male mosquitos don’t bite
(though the females will likely be somewhere nearby)

Informed by me read of ‘Collective Behaviour without Collective Order in Wild Swarms of Midges’ (2014)
I watched the swarm
Intently
Paying attention to the individual’s movements
and
The swarm as a whole
Looking intently
I observed
More than a twilight swarm in a disordered phase
I saw a male mosquito gathering

Collective behavior became visible
As if in a choreographed dance
.
.
.
The small swarm
To start
Disorderly
Then
As two came into close proximity of one another
Millimeters apart
Their movements synchronized and mirrored
Two darted sideways in unison
Three spiraled upwards at an angle in unison
then together semi circled downwards
Two more spiraled upwards and outwards
then back into the swarm
When all came together
In close proximity
The whole swarm
Spiraled down
As one collective mass
As if a murmuration

Beautiful
Awe-inspiring
Experience
Walking into mosquitos
For the first time
Seeing
Male mosquitos Dance
No longer misunderstood as biting beasts
But seen as dancing males
Moving in murmurations
Waiting for females
to charm with their songs

My vision might not yet be clear
My understanding still murky
and not yet fully informed
Yet
What I see has shifted
And in shifting
My views have expanded

[1] Attanasi A, Cavagna A, Del Castello L, Giardina I, Melillo S, et al. (2014) Collective Behaviour without Collective Order in Wild Swarms of Midges. PLoS Comput Biol 10(7): e1003697. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi. 1003697


Kerry Morrison is an artist, a Director of In-Situ, and has completed a Phd in Cultural Ecosystem Services.

On Sunday 28th October (18.15 in Room 7) the WetlandLIFE team will host a side event at the Ramsar Intergovernmental Convention on Wetlands13th COP in Dubai. The event focuses on ‘Sense of Place & Wellbeing in Wetlands: Using Film & the Arts to achieve SDG3’.


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