Archive for the ‘Artists’ Category

Creative Sustainability

October 15, 2018

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.

Sir Peter Scott: the embodiment of art and conservation

July 11, 2018

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.

Helen Mayer Harrison (1927-2018)

April 3, 2018

We met Helen Mayer Harrison (along with Newton Harrison) in 2006 at a conference in Shrewsbury thanks to David Haley. We had the privilege to spend the next three years working with them to realise Greenhouse Britain: Losing Ground, Gaining Wisdom, a project which prefigured their more recent work through the Center for the Study of the Force Majeure. It was through Greenhouse Britain that they first talked about the ‘form determinant’ which later became the ‘force majeure’.

“We suggest that the existing plans for greenhouse emissions control will be insufficient to keep temperature rise at 2° or less. In this context, the rising ocean becomes a form determinant. By “form determinant” we mean the ocean will determine much of the new form, that culture, industry and many other elements of civilization may need to take.” (Greenhouse Britain, 2007)

Throughout this time we heard Helen read from the end of their magnum opus, Lagoon Cycle, many times, in meetings and at events and performances. She read,

And the waters will rise slowly
at the boundary
at the edge
redrawing that boundary
continually
moment by moment
all over
altogether
all at once
It is a graceful drawing and redrawing
this response to the millennia of the making of fire

And in this new beginning
this continuously rebeginning
will you feed me when my lands can no longer produce
and will I house you when your lands are covered with water
so that together
we can withdraw
as the waters rise
(Lagoon Cycle, 1984)

Sometime she started slightly earlier in the text, with the list of rivers around the world, but she always read this last section and it always drew a deep, thoughtful silence.

Helen was the English Major with a Masters in Psychology who had worked in education extensively and to a senior level before becoming a full time artist and professor at the University of California San Diego. From this point she collaborated full time with Newton.

Living in New York in the early 1960s Helen had also been the first New York Co-ordinator of the Women’s Strike for Peace. As far as we remember she was also the one who had been reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a critical influence in Helen and Newton’s decision in the early 1970s ‘to do no work that did not in some way benefit the ecosystem.’

It is not useful to attempt to separate out who did what (or for that matter which one of them was the genius*). Rather it is useful to highlight that when we asked about their influences from literature, Helen mentioned Chaucer. You can see in particular works humorous comment on human frailty and weakness.

Helen had a lifelong interest in language, narration, storytelling, and the oral tradition. In San Diego the Harrisons were close friends with David and Eleanor Antin and with Jerome and Diane Rothenbeg. They were part of the ethno-poetic movement. Ethno-poetics as an aesthetic movement is concerned with the power and beauty of the spoken word. It is concerned to break out of the dominance in the Western tradition of the written word. Rothenberg pointed out,

“The suspicion came to be that certain forms of poetry, like certain forms of artmaking, permeated traditional societies ∓ that these largely religious forms not only resembled but had long since achieved what the new experimental poets & artists were then first setting out to do.” (Rothenberg, 1994)

Helen, in bringing a certain quality of literature into their practice, opened up the possibility that the “social ∓ spiritual as well aesthetic” (as Rothenberg puts it) can become intertwined. Whilst they recognised that boundary conditions were critical (just read their essay Public Culture and Sustainable Practices) they equally recognised that boundaries, “…seemed to exist only for a moment and thereafter fade back into a pattern of moments grouped within moments.” (Harrisons, 2001)

Helen introduced photography into their practice in addition to literature, but what is perhaps most remarkable about this partnership is that both photography and literature became part of a shared way of working and understanding the world.

In one of the articles which addresses their working together, they describe their process (speaking in the third person) as,

The work of the Harrisons has a great deal of writing in it. Their method is straightforward. Newton writes the initial text; Helen edits it, comments, and develops it, Newton comments, and Helen finishes it. Thus, they have evolved a very comfortable way of working where Newton has the first word and Helen has the last word. (Ingram Allen, 2008)

The two voices of the Lagoon Cycle, the Lagoon Maker and the Witness, are a very powerful evocation of the potential for two people to combine action and reflection in ways that lead to insight.

To touch and be touched by a life gives energy to the world. Helen gifted us with the energy to create, improvise and adapt to whatever life offers us, with humour, courage and with love. She achieved this through empathy, reaching out into the world and listening carefully without judging. Our first meeting created a quality of friendship and humanity that will be with us for the rest of our lives.

David Haley provides the final word,

I hear the warmth of her words
the passionate chill of her poetry
such fearless insight
such good fun
such a pleasure
such grace
(Helen, David Haley, 2018)

Anne Douglas and Chris Fremantle


* Apparently the MacArthur Foundation never gave them a Genius Award because the Foundation couldn’t decide which one was the genius.


References

Harrison, Helen Mayer and Harrison, Newton, 2001. From There to Here (San Diego: The Harrison Studio), unpaginated.

– 2007. Greenhouse Britain: Losing Ground, Gaining Wisdom (Santa Cruz: The Harrison Studio & Associates (Britain)) pdf

– 1985. Lagoon Cycle. Ithica, NY: Cornell University

– 2007 ‘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. http://repositories.cdlib.org/imbs/socdyn/sdeas/vol2/iss3/art3

Ingram Allen, Jane. ‘A Marriage Made On Earth: Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison’, Public Art Review, issue 38, spring/summer 2008, volume 19, number 2

Rothenberg, Jerome, 1994 Ethnopoetics at the Millennium A Talk for the Modern Language Association, December 29. http://www.ubu.com/ethno/discourses/rothenberg_millennium.html accessed 26 March 2018.

 

Presentation: On The Deep Wealth Of This Nation, 9 March

March 1, 2018
Newton Harrison on the River Dee

Newton Harrison on the River Dee

Launch and Live screening: ​Friday 9 March, 7pm
Live streamed from California: Newton Harrison of the Harrison Studio and The Center for the Study of the Force Majeure (CFM) sets out a vision for Scotland and for the River Dee.

Following on from his lecture in the early autumn, The Barn is delighted to host the launch of the Center for the Study of the Force Majeure’s vision for Scotland and the Dee valley in the form of a guiding narrative film exploring the implications of climate change and provoking thought and action for how we might adapt to the challenges as a diverse group of communities of interest.

This vision imagines the wealth of nations in terms of water, topsoil, forests, air, posing the question of how we as a global community might reach a plan of action that is commonly shared and that secures the health of our natural systems.

This work, entitled The Deep Wealth of this Nation, has been developed by Newton Harrison. Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison are internationally acclaimed artists and pioneers in the ecological art movement. Across five decades they have been invited as artists by governments and national and regional leaders, across the world, including the Dalai Lama, to address issues of climate change in specific places and communities. Their work as artists is consistently informed by current scientific research.

A key contributor to the vision is the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen, an interdisciplinary scientific research institute specializing in crops, soils, land use and environmental research. The collaboration is supported by Scottish Environment, Food and Agricultural Research Institute Gateway (SEFARI) to ensure that the effective communication of research outputs and outcomes to individuals and organisations involved in the future of the environment.

The Barn, Banchory is known nationally as Scotland ’s largest rural multi arts centre. Over the past two decades it has developed a special interest in art and ecology. It currently supports the largest recent allotment development in Scotland, a wild garden and a walled garden building biodiversity along with sound practices of food production and consumption. Buchanan’s, the cafe at the Barn is a key part of the local Slow Food Movement. The Barn has recently secured revenue funding from Creative Scotland and forms a key part of Creative Scotland’s and Aberdeenshire’s arts network.

The screening of this video and continuing conversations will inform the development of a public exhibition and related events in September 2018.

Supported by SEFARI


9 March 2018
Networking and bar from 7pm
Live stream from 7.30pm

This event is FREE but tickets are limited. BOOK NOW

Can’t make it to the event in person?

If you are unable to make the Barn screening in person but who would like to join the event via webinar please email programming@thebarnarts.co.uk with your contact details.


The Barn leaflet of events (pdf) The Deep Wealth Feb2018

Tim Collins: Review of LRG’s What is Landscape Justice and Why Does it Matter?

February 26, 2018

In the second of two pieces resulting from Landscape Research Group (LRG) events, Tim Collins (with input from Reiko Goto) reports on the Debate focused on Landscape Justice held in London on Wednesday 7 December 2017.


At this event, landscape justice issues discussed included deeply troubling, indeed dark and bloody national narratives underpinning what is presented today to be pristine and wild exemplary European forest; critical/creative legal maneuvers set to music to intervene in transnational oil and gas pipelines in the USA; the deep historic tensions over Land ownership in Scotland; and finally the framework for an ethical-aesthetic duty – a sense of justice owed to more-than- human interests.

Organized and facilitated by the Landscape Research Group (and in particular development manager Sarah McCarthy) the host for the debate was Chris Dalglish, Chair of LRG and social archaeologist. The panel comprised the landscape historian and theorist Ken Olwig from Denmark; eco-artist and activist Aviva Rahmani from New York City; Peter Peacock, former Labour MSP and policy director of Community Land Scotland; and Emily Brady, a philosopher with a focus on environmental aesthetics and ethics living and working in Edinburgh. Both Olwig and Brady are expatriate Americans.

Prior to travelling for the event, Reiko Goto and I had spent time reading to clarify our understanding of the key term and its meanings. The baseline is perhaps encapsulated in the LRG research strategy which views the challenges of landscape justice as a systemic problem of, “…inter-connected social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits and burdens, goods, services and agencies, which arise from landscape itself.” The research statement conflates landscape with land – the surface of the earth distinguished by boundaries of ownership and control. Landscape is generally more of an aggregate term. The European Landscape Convention understands it as land that is: “…perceived by local people or visitors, which evolves through time as a result of being acted upon by natural forces and human beings”. I will expand in the conclusion.

After a practical orientation by Sarah, Chris Dalglish in his role as Chair provided a brief overview of the issues surrounding the meaning and value of Landscape Justice (LJ) and how we would help to address these questions through conversations with our four speakers; but also in a larger dialogue amongst ourselves. With 12 present and former trustees of LRG in attendance and an additional 37 members of the group in the audience the event began with Ken Olwig as the first speaker.

The questions:

  • what is landscape justice and why does it matter?
  • why we should strive for landscape justice, and
  • how we might achieve landscape justice by linking research, policy and practice.

Ken Olwig

Prof Olwig is a historian and critical theorist, an author of a series of texts that examine how landscapes affect language, social, cultural and political process. For his presentation he prepared a series of slides outlining literature that contributes ideas to our present understanding of justice, nature, nationality and landscape with a focus on Europe. He began with the French philosopher Montesquieu before touching on the tensions between ideals, rhetoric and the lives of Scottish authors James Macpherson recognized for being the controversial ‘translator’ (from Scottish Gaelic) of the epic Ossian poems in the first half of the 18 th century and Sir Walter Scott who chronicled the conflicts of Highland life in the last half of the 18th century. His talk was dense and moved quickly through ideas, times and places.

Beginning with Montesquieu he talked about wild nature and the tension between ideas about environmental determinism and freedom from oppression, including theories of separate and opposing executive forces at the national level that would shape constitutions around the world. He then went on to Macpherson whose ‘Gaelic translations’ have been consistently challenged but widely read. A narrative of ancient legends and a description of the beauty of the Highlands, the Ossian epic is internationally recognized for its impact on the Romantic Movement. (He was also known for clearing his own Highland Estate of forests, reshaping landforms and obliterating the Gaelic place names where he could.) Referencing Sir Walter Scott, Olwig drew our attention to passages that suggested the Highlands were drained of nature. He also asked us to consider landscapes where culture was superfluous to emergent meaning largely defined by science. He relied on Simon Schama’s treatise on landscape and its relationship to ideas of culture and national identity as the central thread to the talk. Using Schama’s text Olwig put a critical framework in place to help us consider how landscape and its range of narratives shape national self-perception.

Schama’s text also became the focal point of his conclusion: the clash between recent ecological conceit in the European Union about ‘wild’ nature in the Białowieża forest of Poland and the despotic and fascist interests that claimed the forest as a symbolic validation of their values. He explained that the forest had undergone cycles of harvest and destruction and conservation and protection for centuries. It had been hailed as a wild centerpiece of cultural import for one despotic national interest after another. From the point of view of ‘wild’ ecology all apex predators including bears, wolves and lynx were exterminated in the mid 18th century. During the First World War the last of the wild bison were lost. British lumber merchants would contribute to the decimation of the forest after the war, while Polish scientists would reassemble the bison herd from zoo specimens. In the midst of World War II, Białowieża became a focal point of the fascist Nazi Lebensraum initiative, with ethnic cleansing to remove the resident population followed by radical restoration plans to extend the forest and reverse-engineer extinct species to create a hunting park. The Teutonic narrative of the Nazis would subsume the historic Polish-Lithuanian narrative of that forest, and in retreat the Nazis would burn historic hunting lodges and exterminate the bison, eagles, elk and wolves which were the symbolic focal point of their interest in that place. The subsequent Soviet occupation would then manage the forest frontier for state security. Yet the narrative of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries including the rhetoric of the European Union assume Białowieża to be the largest ‘remnant’ wilderness in Europe, ignoring a social, cultural and political history that complicates that point of view. This was a significant historical narrative, a robust provocation to begin the ‘debate’ about landscape and the location and meaning of justice.

Aviva Rahmani

Dr. Aviva Rahmani is an eminent ecoartist and researcher, with a background in music. She discussed her current project Blued Trees Symphony (2015 ongoing) which integrates the arts, sciences, and policy, resulting in a work that is intellectually challenging and beautiful at the same time.

She began by saying: “I am interested in artwork that results in solutions to difficult problems.” She presented as a researcher with a background in art and science with important collaborators in the fields of biology and paleoecology.

Blued Trees Symphony is a musical composition painted on trees across 50 acres in a forest that lies in the path of the Algonquin Incremental Market (gas) pipeline. The intent was to contest Eminent Domain (understood as Compulsory Purchase in the UK) by establishing an artwork copyrighted onsite, painted on trees as part of the forest. The Visual Rights Act (1990) would then be used to prevent mutilation, or modification of the artwork, actions prejudicing the artist’s honor or reputation.

Rahmani introduced the work with by talking about conversations in 2015 with ‘Frack Busters’ http://www.frackbustersny.org/ an activist group that wanted to discuss the work of Peter von Tiesenhausen. Canadian Tiesenhausen used his artwork on his family land, and his Moral Right for it to not be mutilated, as a means of holding oil pipeline developers at bay. The question was could an artwork be created and Copyrighted in the United States to similar effect, with the potential to block pipeline construction?

Rahmani began her effort in Peekskill, New York, working at the invitation of landowners wrestling with Eminent Domain related to the pipeline. Walking the site, mapping as she went, relying on her music training, she began to see a score marked out, to be played across multiple trees. If done right the score (multiple segments of copyright artworks) would put Copyright in conflict with Eminent Domain.

Each musical notation is a painted onto the tree using a casein slurry of non-toxic ultramarine blue and buttermilk that is conducive to the growth of moss. Installed along potential pipeline sites, Rahmani worked with lawyers to secure copyright of each element of the score. Conceptually this first (copyrighted) piece was an overture, which the artist introduced to us by singing. The painted notation on the trees was beautiful. Although a final slide showing notated trees cut down in Peekskill was disconcerting.

Rahmani then transitioned into a discussion of the work as it has been presented in galleries in New York and South Korea. She also discussed the ongoing legal nature of this work and an important new development in Virginia. She concluded with a few thoughts of the global impact of climate change and the need to reorganize information to have an impact. The last slide was a diagram that began with a specific art history that is the context for this work. Eminent Domain is the focal point and artists’ Copyright is the methodological action in this research. Broader questions attendant to the work include an evolving understanding of the public good and ongoing challenges to environmental law in the US and earth rights worldwide.

Peter Peacock

Peter Peacock was the policy director at Community Land Scotland at the time of the debate. He has served as a member of Scottish Parliament (1999-2011). He is recognized for expertise in community ownership, cultural heritage and land reform. Peter began his talk by describing the Highlands of Scotland as land with high conservation and recreational value, but land ownership limited to a few elite families. It has the most inequitable land ownership statistics in the western world. The clearances of the nineteenth century removed the resident population to enable new land management and economies of sheep and cattle. The Highlands were increasingly devoid of people; he described it as a landscape where full life is lost.

Peacock explained that he understands Landscape Justice as an opportunity to articulate divergent positions; a dialogic space where multiple points of view inform aspirations for Highland places. He envisions the Highlands as a place where a wider range of people have opportunities for housing and land investment rather than the limitations of tenancy arrangements. He recapped the history of Scottish Government policies and investment mechanisms which had initiated community buyouts and public land ownership and relate this to emergent ideas in National Landscape Policy and the factors that complicate that dialogue. Firstly, much policy is written from the position of Edinburgh, disengaged from nature and actual land-use practices. Many urbanites engage with the Highlands through panoramic aesthetic values, placing a premium on a view of desolate landscapes and ideals of wild nature devoid of human interest. Recent national wild lands mapping actually supports extant ideas and aesthetic interests doing little to shift the dominance of large estate owners. There is a tension between those that want to see the Highlands with a diverse array of ‘ordinary’ people living equitably, and this ‘wild land’ idea. The response of Community Land Scotland is to enable an informed, balanced debate between estate owners, land-use professionals and local interests. They work to enable best methods and a variety of means for communities to come together and make a difference in land ownership and management. He described a need for research that supports ordinary people and their interests in the Scottish Highlands, along side new scientific ideas, theories and practical methods that enable power sharing. These are the key landscape justice challenges in the Scottish Highlands.

Emily Brady

Professor Brady is a philosopher who has written books and articles on environmental aesthetics and the sublime. She introduced her interests as a mix of environmental philosophy and ‘landscape as place’. She extended the days’ discussions by bringing the discussion of landscape justice to the moral and ethical duty owed to the more-than-human; introducing ideas of interaction and interrelationships between bipeds, quadrupeds, winged and rooted beings. She started with Aldo Leopold’s ideas about a land ethic, a community of interests that has an interpersonal dimension an individual social/land dimension, and a moral duty to other things that occupy the land along with us. She described a move from a ‘conqueror’ relationship to a ‘citizen’ relationship that is well aware of the more-than-human component. So for her landscape justice is essentially a multi-species justice – a weak anthropocentrism. It is an ecologically informed idea of justice. Species decline becomes a significant issue. Her philosophical project is to articulate the intellectual underpinnings of justice itself as a concept. It is informed by human-to-human interrelationships between indigenous, racially and culturally differentiated communities. Philosophy contributes to an understanding of the ethical duty, and its historic and theoretical development. It is about attachment to beings other than ourselves, but it is also about a sense of virtue or humility in the face of a significant living otherness.

Brady went on to outline her heroes and heroines including Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac; Rachel Carson author of Silent Spring; Robert Bullard the original voice in ideas about environmental racism and environmental justice; Val Plumwood the noted ecofeminist who wrote Feminism and the Mastery of Nature and an artist; and Patricia Johanson who has consistently argued that her work is about healing the earth and creating spaces in urban places for endangered and threatened species. She closed by arguing that aesthetics is sensory not scenery, it is about being immersed and in an integrated relationship (subject – object – environment) relationship rather than a subject that engages (or views) an object. She closed with images of her currently favourite public art: large scale images created by the London-based artist known as ATM; a muralist creating large urban and rural drawings, paintings and murals of birds threatened with extinction. Brady provided a classic LRG conclusion, robustly interdisciplinary while focused on an evolution of thinking about aesthetics and ethics. She brought the question of landscape justice to an appropriately expansive idea of more-than-human ethical duty.

Conclusion

Debate was perhaps a poor choice of words to use to describe this event. It began as a series of lectures contributing to an attempt to define the meaning of landscape justice, as well as its fundamental social and cultural import. Underpinning this was a question of how research into the topic might support LRG’s Research Strategy and its goals of empowering people to critically appreciate and understand the range of values and actions that might contribute to just and sustainable relationships to landscape. The room was filled with an exciting mix of academics and professionals as well as a handful of policy experts from a range of age groups, disciplines, nations and cultural backgrounds. The initial programme was run more like a series of lectures than a debate with four 20 minute presentations, followed by a half hour question and answer period. After a coffee and tea break we were assigned to groups to discuss the key questions. Working groups were followed by a recap and some discussion in a closing plenary. The interdisciplinarity of the event was exciting, the lectures were brilliant but perhaps the audience would have benefitted from a pause, where we were might be able to ask some specific questions of the individual speakers. Finally it wasn’t clear how the collective deliberation would inform the LRG’s interests. Was it more than a talking shop?

Nonetheless, there were significant provocations made that day that are worth talking about. The four presentations offered significant challenges to the way landscape is ‘normally’ perceived and addressed by both academics and the general public. In each case these were challenging and innovative views. But of the fundamental questions… What does landscape justice mean? What are its key values? And how does research contribute to new understanding and action? The presentations perhaps only provided us with specific insight on particular values (representations of history; legal constructions; rural re-population; and aesthetics). It contributed to LRG’s unique and innovative approach to all the ways that research contributes to landscape questions, but the actual meaning of the term Landscape Justice remains somewhat elusive.

As indicated in the introduction we had spent a bit of time to understand what the LRG (and its publications) have to say about the meaning of Landscape Justice.

LRG Chair Dalglish has a published an article on the topic on the Community Land Scotland website and there is a 2016 editorial on the topic by Anna Jorgenson, Editor of the Landscape Research Journal. Dalglish (a social archaeologist) follows Aldo Leopold’s ideas of a ‘land community’ engaging humans and more than humans in an interdependent network. He differentiates this multi-species ‘landscape’ community from the human-centric definition used by European Landscape Convention. He also juxtaposes this land community idea against a general reading of environmental justice as a focus on the impacts and constraints that disadvantage human communities. Nonetheless, his understanding of Landscape Justice is a materialist distributive approach to value and impact:

“Landscape justice is a matter of the distribution of harms and benefits relating to the landscape. It concerns procedure, or fairness in the way decisions are made about the landscape. …It is a matter of capabilities, i.e. people’s capacity to achieve the outcomes they desire with regard to the landscape.” (2017, Dalglish).

While his focus is on decisions and the social capacity for affective discourse, land-based material interests and equitable consideration of harms and benefits are the underlying driver.

Anna Jorgenson (a landscape architect) is more oriented to land based benefits and impacts.

“It means addressing unequal (human) access to landscape goods and resources, including cultural resources or unequal exposure to environmental degradation and risk.” (2016, Jorgenson).

Like Dalglish, Jorgenson raises questions about rights for a broad range of non-human others, ecosystems and landscapes. Her editorial closes with a focus on the current refugee crisis and landscape injustice as ‘both a cause and an outcome’ of economic hardship and political oppression. She outlines how a refugee situation has an impact on original and destination landscapes, challenging the social and legal perception of who has rights to remain, rights to entry and unsettles the meaning of national borders. So in each instance, these LRG thinkers see land-based conflicts driving Landscape Justice, although the work is realized through discourse in a range of social-political settings.

The fundamental question that occupied us on the long train ride home the next day was about the difference between land and landscape. Is landscape a discursive public space, differentiated from issues of land ownership access and equity? The issues of justice as it refers to landscape are about having a voice that is heard in the debate about landscape cause and effect, meaning and value. This is embedded in Dalglish’ and Jorgenson’s positions and is a thread running through the expert testimony presented on the day. Olwig suggested that the dominant scientific culture of ecosystem science seeking to protect the Białowieża Forest ignores its complicated social/political history which has actually shaped its ecology. Rahmani offered a critical creative response to legal tools, specifically Eminent Domain, the use of which simply shuts down all debate about values. Peacock gave us a glimpse into a centuries old culture in Scotland where a few families dominate land-use decision-making by the weight of their property holdings and historic political strengths. Finally, Brady asked us to think about how the voice of the more-than-human enters the discourse of environmental justice through ethical and aesthetic consideration. Without a doubt, the LRG hosted a provocative day of discussion that raised issues relevant to a broad range of disciplines.

The meaning of Landscape Justice is perhaps still hanging in the air unresolved – as we struggle with the idea of landscape itself, a concept that is generative and morphological (like art) and as a result very difficult to pin down with closed definitions. If we think of it as a discursive space, then deliberation becomes a structure for relational definition. Justice in turn is about having access to and potential impact upon the discourse at hand.


This article is a result of a dialogue between Reiko Goto Collins and Tim Collins. We were in different working groups (and had very different experiences) We discussed the issues on the way down in the train, then discussed the event at length on the way back. We also corresponded a bit with colleagues who were also present at the event. We outlined this paper from our notes at the kitchen table over a series of mornings. Tim took on the task of writing, Reiko provided critical input again at the final stage of writing.

Report on AALERT

February 22, 2018

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This is a quick and personal reflection on the Art and Artists in Landscape and Environmental Research Today workshop (AALERT) held at the National Gallery London 15 Feb jointly sponsored by the Landscape Research Group and the Valuing Nature Programme of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and supported by the Landscape & Arts Network. This is not an overview of the content of the day, including excellent presentations by Prof Stephen Daniels, Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway or the many threads and contributions. The intention is to focus on the key points in relation to the stated aim – understanding the contribution artists and art make to landscape and environmental research. We understand a more detailed summary will be published by the organisers.

The day brought together artists with natural and social scientists, and humanities academics. The key question was and remains what contribution art and artists can make to landscape and environmental research. The day was organized around questions of agency, value and how to embed artists with other disciplines. The fundamental problem is that many people don’t understand artists’ research. That being said, everyone ‘knows’ that there is a contribution. Most people don’t agree with Lewis Wolpert when he said,

“Although science has had a strong influence on certain artists – in the efforts to imitate nature and thus to develop perspective or in the area of new technologies – art has contributed virtually nothing to science.” (Wolpert, 2002)

Tim Collins opened proceedings with a quote highlighting that artists want to be dealt with as researchers rather than as subjects of research

“In the first place, the scene of research, centred on academic and scientific communities, will encounter new actors who will have to be considered no longer as objects of study, but as inquiring subjects themselves: the artist and the artist-as-researcher…. This means that, fourthly, research cultures will potentially be enriched with new narratives, discourses and modes of knowledge including knowledge of making (techne) and knowledge of the value systems that inform making (phronesis).” (Coessens et al., 2009, pp91-92)

This point is important because art and artists are often spoken for and about not least by art historians but also by anthropologists and other social scientists. We might argue that these interlocutors use evidence in forms which are ‘inter-operable’ with other forms of research evidence. The manifestation of artists’ research is at its core about making room to re-experience the world as (slightly) different, to pick up on Clive Cazeaux’s articulation. This ‘seeing it differently’ – and here we mean seeing in the widest sense, as in ‘understanding the possibility that it isn’t as we assume’ – is maybe neither quantitative nor qualitative. The concepts we use to understand the world shape both how and what we perceive. And also form how we make the world. This critical insight is valuable.

To be clear there are at least two meanings of research when used by artists (and even artists in the room conflated these). Pretty much all contemporary artists do research in the process of making work. In particular artists doing work with other disciplines, in public places, etc and in particular in landscape and environment, do a lot of research across a whole range of dimensions – social, historical, geographical, geological, ecological, etc – as preparation for making work. Sometimes this involves discovering new or forgotten things and sometimes it is functionally ‘familiarisation’ and assemblage of knowledge about a place or issue. Some artists do research informed by the same criteria as other academics – making a contribution to knowledge characterised by ‘originality, significance and rigour’. Artists don’t have to be in academic positions in research active institutions to do this, and in fact there is a long history of artists shaping our understanding of the world and sharing methods and processes so that others can learn. One difference, in addition to going beyond the specific project needs, is that the latter has a public dimension to the process and product which enables others to learn from it. Another difference is the positioning of the work with a social historical discourse. This in turn is one of the validations of the originality, significance and rigour requirement (which has been standardised over 26 years of UK research assessment).

The lack of awareness of this and its manifestation in artist-led work receiving 4* ratings in the 2014 REF was a cause of some frustration during the day.

Fundamentally each discipline and practice has a different way of knowing the world which are all equally valid. The challenge is that the ‘wicked’ problems we are facing including climate disruption, biodiversity loss and a warming planet require us to work together across traditional boundaries in teams. And teams need to understand each other. A quick rehearsal of Basarab Nicolescu’s formulation is useful (Nicolescu, 1997). He starts from the point that disciplines are valuable in themselves. He then talks about multi-disciplinary in terms of co-ordination of different disciplines’ methods; interdisciplinary in terms of learning from each other and hybridising; and trans-disciplinary as working across different levels of reality particularly where they are incommensurable e.g. between the scientific and the spiritual or data and emotions. He suggests that artists are particularly good at this.

Collins cited John Roberts, offering an articulation of this particular quality and its complexities. Roberts argues that art has a complex relationship with society at once enmeshed and autonomous. In particular he argues that, “one of the still operative functions of the artist – exploited extensively at the moment, as it is – is his or her ability to work with, reflect on, move through various non-artistic disciplines and practices without fully investing in them.” (Roberts, 2016, p112). Roberts calls this ‘adisciplinarity’ and he says,

“[t]his is because it is not the job of art to defend or extend the truth claims of a particular discipline, but to reflect on the discipline’s epistemological claims and symbolic status within the totality of non-art/ art disciplines and their social relations. When art draws, for example, from a particular scientific discipline such as physics, this is not in order to defend the truths of a particular branch of physics, but, rather, to use such truths as a reflection on physics as such, or as a means to reflect on the truth claims of other disciplines and practices.” (Roberts, p114)

This clarifies another aspect of discussion which focused on agency and autonomy. For artists to do what they do in terms of Roberts’ description, in terms of ‘seeing and/or making it differently’ they need a degree of autonomy, yet at the same time to work with others. This distinctive position, often within a team, is challenging and needs to be valued by others (including other academics but also funders and policy-makers), supported and given space. It raises anxiety in a risk averse culture. But it is fundamental to the contribution that art and artists can make, even if it is an idea that many struggle to recognise or understand how to ‘operationalise’.

One aspect which relates to this is that as artists (and curators, producers, writers) we have become very good at learning the languages of other disciplines and practices, their forms of evidence and their policy frameworks. The converse of this is that we don’t seem to have been very effective at articulating our forms of knowledge to other researchers and practitioners (this problem is as true in the context of arts and health as it is in research-led work).

Another related complexity flushed out during the day was that the conditions of participation need to be attended to, and the Artist Placement Group was referenced, including John Latham’s conceptualisation of the ‘Incidental Person’ as well as his and Barbara Steveni’s operating principles of Open Brief leading to Feasibility Study, the need for a willing host, and the need for commensurate pay (Steveni, 2003). This methodology has been developed within the arts to structure conditions for work in non-arts contexts.

This rich and provocative event opened up real questions on the contribution, conceptual and practical, of artists to landscape and environmental research. It opened up issues which need deeper reflection and consideration because without question the ‘wicked problems’ are increasingly the focus of research and policy. Whilst the Valuing Nature Programme may be nearing the conclusion of this phase of work it is highly likely that the next cycle of research will be larger with more challenging issues to address and it would be good to see more artists as Principal Investigators, Co-Investigators and Research Fellows helping to shape these projects, not just communicate the findings.

As the noted anthropologist Tim Ingold said recently,

“But while mainstream science continues to think of art as a medium for the communication of its own findings, it is now art, rather than science, that is leading the way in promoting radical ecological awareness.” (Ingold, 2017)

Ingold is echoing Roberts’ construction of arts adisciplinary role, pointing to the ways in which artists are re-imagining, even re-creating, our relationships with ecologies whether that is in the form of greater awareness and sensitivity or activism (and a range of other possibilities). All of these practices draw on the truths of various ecological sciences but also ask whether those truths are sufficient to articulate the value of the ecologies they claim to explain. The activists also use art to engage with the symbolic status of both the art and non-art social constructions (e.g. the social license to operate provided to the fossil fuel industry through sponsorship of cultural institutions). But that’s another subject.


Coessens, K., Douglas, A. and Crispin, D. 2009. The Artistic Turn: A Manifesto. Leuven University Press.

Ingold, T. 2017. The Art of Paying Attention. Aalto University. http://artofresearch2017.aalto.fi/keynotes.html accessed 16 February 2018

Nicolescu, B. 1997. The transdisciplinary evolution of learning. In Proceedings of the International Congress on What University for Tomorrow? Towards a Transdisciplinary Evolution of the University, Locarno, 30 April-2 May.
http://www.learndev.org/dl/nicolescu_f.pdf

Roberts, J., 2016. Revolutionary Time and the Avant-Garde. Verso

Steveni, B. 2003. Repositioning Art in the Decision-Making Processes of Society. In Interrupt Symposia. https://web.archive.org/web/20090107002604/http://interrupt.org.uk/symposia/educator/repositioning-art/ accessed 19 February 2018

Wolpert, L. 2002. Which Side Are You On? The Observer. 10 March. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2002/mar/10/arts.highereducation accessed 16 February 2018


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