Archive for the ‘Fremantle writing’ Category

Does anyone know Professor Paul Younger? Pt. 2

August 21, 2015

Professor Paul Younger invited me to meet him in his office at the University of Glasgow after he found the blog post. We had exchanged some emails resulting from the sequence of events triggered by 350.org’s ‘Do The Math’ and the wider divestment campaign.

We discussed the reasons for the letter to The Guardian (of which Prof Younger was a co-signatory) challenging the University of Glasgow’s recently announced commitment to divestment from investments in the fossil fuel industry. From what I understand this was at least in part driven by the University’s decision to make the commitment on the basis of the student petition without recourse to any advice from the Schools or Departments which have expertise in the subject.

Prof Younger’s response to the Do The Math poster was that he agreed with all of it, apart from where on the right hand side it says, “we have the tools that we need.”

Detail of Do The Math by Rachel Schragis

Detail of Do The Math by Rachel Schragis

Although we see a lot of wind farms and increasing numbers of domestic rooftop solar voltaic installations, electricity is only a relatively small part of the fossil fuel generated energy we use. Further these forms of renewables provide neither baseload nor dispatchable capacity to the grid as it is currently configured ie they create more grid management challenges. In addition renewables development is impacting on issues of heating more slowly and on the transportation of goods at an even slower rate.

Asked the question, “How long is now?” I.e. if we are now in this transition process, how long will it take to move to a low carbon economy, Prof. Younger suggested 30 years between areas still requiring innovation such as energy storage, as well as innovations moving through development and commercialisation phases. It would be interesting to understand from his perspective where the key obstacles are and what could speed the process. I can imagine another one of Rachel Schragis’ images visualising the developmental edge, the relationships, the obstacles and the opportunities.

Reflecting on the University’s reaction to the student petition led to an interesting discussion around decision-making in different disciplines. Prof Younger offered a comparison with medicine where policy decisions are not made exclusively in response to petitions. We discussed the relationship between medical research and medical ethics (and perhaps also medical humanities). This prompted the question as to whether such a thing as a Chair in Engineering Ethics should exist? This is distinct from the existing positions focused on ‘the public understanding of…’ just as it is probably distinct from positions focused on sustainability (sustainability is already an iteration of one mode of ethical analysis, utilitarianism, rather than a primary inquiry into the grounds of thinking).

We also discovered that we had a colleague, Lucy Milton, founder director of Helix Arts in Newcastle, in common. Prof Younger had invited Helix Arts to work with him on the Seen & Unseen (1997-99) project developing a bioremediation solution to acidic run-off from mine workings focused on the Quaking Houses settlement in County Durham.

Prof Younger kindly gave me a copy of his recent publication Energy which appears in the All That Matters series. It’s a primer on current issues in energy engineering. He starts with food. It is the form of energy we consume bodily, and our discovery of cooking has increased the energy value of food to us, that most likely being one of the key contributory factors in our social cultural evolution. He doesn’t shy away from the parallel between our overconsumption of food and our equally unconstrained use of other forms of energy. Nor is the book a marketing exercise for the energy industry. Where it might be limited is in its exclusive focus on the technology of energy. The book doesn’t address the financial dimension of energy or particularly on alternative modes of ownership, both ultimately key factors in any transition to a low carbon economy.

I was able to give him copies of two of the Land Art Generator Initiative publications (New York and Copenhagen).

Land Use Strategy pilot: what’s it got to do with artists?

August 4, 2015
Aberdeenshire landscape - photo: Chris Fremantle

Aberdeenshire landscape – photo: Chris Fremantle

Absolutely fascinating webminar organised the Ecosystems Knowledge Network on the Aberdeenshire Land Use Strategy Pilot undertaken by Aberdeenshire Council and James Hutton Institute. You can access the presentation online here.

This two year exercise was one of two pilots funded by the Scottish Government to take the national Land Use Strategy and ‘translate’ it down to a local authority level and below that to a more local level. Scottish Government expected GIS to be central to this work. One key output is a new tool which utilises existing data relevant to ecosystems services assessment and integrates it into one interface. The speakers recognised the limitations of spatial data, that some things are not easily translated into spatial data.

The core data in the model is based on ecosystems services assessment across three categories:

  • Provisioning Services
  • Regulating Services
  • Cultural Services

(I don’t quite understand why Supporting Services aren’t included, though in a sense they are perhaps ubiquitous?)

Cultural Services were broadly represented by areas identified for recreational use, areas adjacent to core path networks and judgements such as not prioritising woodland within two miles of coastlines.

The model, which is publicly accessible at http://rlup.hutton.ac.uk/ allows some key overarching issues eg prime farmland, forestry, water, biodiversity, flood risk, to be prioritised within the model so you can see areas where you might increase tree planting to promote biodiversity by linking up existing areas of woodland, or where you might prioritise farmland over woodland if you want more arable.

It immediately triggered a series of thoughts about where artists are working in ways that directly speak to the challenges described.

The Collins and Goto Studio has been working with Forest Research, the Forestry Commission and the local communities looking at the Blackwood of Rannoch in Perthshire – access the report here. This is a futures modelling exercise seeking to understand how different ways of thinking about priorities including cultural dimensions to do with both woodland character and also Gaelic culture might inform management. The Collins and Goto Studio have extensive experience working with GIS (as do some other artists working with ecological systems such as Aviva Rahmani in the US).

The artists Hodges and Coleman worked with Dr Claire Haggett, University of Edinburgh, to explore ways to integrate cultural dimensions into the conventional Environmental Impact Assessment process. Aspects of their process lend themselves to the spatialisation of inhabitants’ perception and value of their landscapes in interesting ways. You can access documentation here.

Hurrel and Brennan have demonstrated ways to spatialise traditional knowledge in their project Mapping the Sea – Barra looking at the waters around Barra in the Outer Hebrides and have also explored the biological, economic and cultural dimensions of the Firth of Clyde in their more recent project Clyde Reflections with a good overview here.

These three all benefited from Creative Scotland’s Imagining Natural Scotland programme developed in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage – Imagining Natural Scotland specifically supported artist scientist collaborations.  You can read the review Dr Wallace Heim wrote for us here.

Professor Pete Smith and John Wallace’s Cinema Sark directly sought to undertake ecosystems services assessment through the medium of film, offering a distinct form of analysis.

Another potentially relevant recent development is the Pinning Stones project which mapped culture across Aberdeenshire. François Matarasso’s brief was to produce “…a portrait of the the shire’s culture, highlighting the role of creativity in place making, identity, quality of life and prosperity.”

Clearly one of the challenges for the arts is to understand how to engage with land use strategy development both in terms of effective intervention, perhaps as evidenced by the Collins and Goto Studio work, as well as supporting understanding cultural ecosystems as demonstrated by the art science collaborations of Hodges, Coleman and Haggett, Hurrel and Brennan and Smith and Wallace.

The integration of the cultural dimension in meaningful and robust ways into GIS to contribute to land use policy and strategy is not new, but its also far from ubiquitous.  But even the list of examples we’ve cited covers Perthshire, Dumfries and Galloway, the Western Isles, the Firth of Clyde – only one example is in Aberdeenshire.  For useful artists work to be integrated into local GIS based Land Use Strategy there needs to be a lot more artists work commissioned.

Caledonian Everyday Discussions – Glossaries

May 13, 2015
Edvard Munch, The Yellow Log, 1912

Edvard Munch, The Yellow Log, 1912,

A panel of Foresters (2pm Saturday 16 May, Summerhall, Edinburgh), perhaps a Glossary might be in order (thanks to Robert Macfarlane and his new book Landmarks for the idea and the resources).

Forestry Commission Research Glossary. (Page to a letter, i.e. not particularly good for browsing).

Royal Forestry Society Glossary. (Some terms and some links – full glossary available to members, but one also finds a link to an article on Forestry and Painting by Andy Moffat arguing that specific paintings of forests contribute to foresters’ understanding).

Forests and Chases in England and Wales, c. 1000 to c. 1850; A Glossary of Terms and Definitions. (Obviously it’s England and Wales not Scotland, but an interesting historical resource).

Caledonian Everyday Discussion Pt 3 of 3

May 12, 2015

For the third in the series of Caledonian Everyday discussions (2pm Saturday 16 May, Summerhall) we have a panel comprising foresters (managers and researchers).

At the first panel (12 April) we were provided with an historical trajectory of the issues that Forestry Commission managers and researchers have been asked to take on. We started post war with pit props (a short hand for the role of forestry in the economy) through biodiversity (in the 80s) and community (in the 90s). But the shape of our forests, particularly the ancient woodlands such as Blackwood of Rannoch, have been affected by social and economic changes (human conflict) over a much longer timespan. This historical trajectory is from the period of Jacobite Revolts to the present.

Our second panel (9 May) started with the ways and reasons the Squamish First Nations people spent a decade taking back legal control over woodlands (Beth Carruthers). They were supported by the new Roundhouse Arts Centre in Vancouver who’s initial artist in residence project ended up lasting 10 years.

We went on to explore C19th logging on Rothiemurchus Estate (Scott Donaldson) and on to contested languages of forestry and the ways that poetry, for instance, can inflect political discourse (Amy Cutler). We ended with the democratic intellect in Scotland (Murdo Macdonald). Imperial and post-colonial, institutional and critical, understanding and misunderstanding, ran through this conversation.

For the panel on Saturday 16 May (2pm, Summerhall) we’ll take a different trajectory again.

Given an increased understanding that everything is connected, what do we need to be sensitive to in managing both ancient and urban woodlands, commercial plantations and even new sites for forestry such as the NHS Estate? What is the role of the arts and humanities? What is the role of cultural institutions?

To address these questions, we have a great spectrum of people involved in forestry including Bianca Ambrose, David Edwards, Richard Thompson and Rick Worrell.

Recently moved from the mountains of North Wales, Bianca Ambrose is a social forester, researcher and writer known for her work on public engagement and community connections with woodland who is now based in Bristol. A strong thread within her research work is to understand more about the motivations behind people’s engagement with woods and forests, how people feel themselves to be connected to place and with nature, and how this translates into group action and personal satisfaction. The concept of biocultural diversity and the complexities of socio-ecological systems are embedded within her work and thinking. Using environmental sociology and human geography as her epistemological frames of reference, biocultural diversity and socio-ecological systems are manifest as woodland and forest scale cultural landscapes, where agency is directed by culture, place presents the natural resources, and a cultural landscape results. Bianca’s recent work in the UK has involved research collaborations with community woodland groups, and communities involved in urban greenspaces both of which included travel to work in the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland. Previously, she worked in an international context exploring the biocultural diversity of tropical forests and semi-arid rangelands across the world in countries including Cameroon, Mali, Ethiopia, Nepal, India, and the Philippines.

David Edwards, Senior Social Scientist at Forest Research – the research agency of the Forestry Commission – started his career as a forester on rural development programmes in West Africa and South Asia. In 1997 he re-trained in African Studies at Edinburgh University, with a doctoral thesis on the environmental history of southern Tanzania. He joined Forest Research in 2004, where he leads a new programme, ‘Integrating science for policy and practice’, which aims to demonstrate how to conduct applied interdisciplinary research in ways that enhance its impact. He has a keen interest in the environmental humanities and has been collaborating with artists Tim Collins and Reiko Goto, and a diverse range of partners, to help realise the cultural meanings associated with the Black Wood of Rannoch, one of the largest remnants of ancient Caledonian pine forests in Scotland. In doing so, he has explored the contrast between the official instrumental discourse of ‘ecosystem services’ and the private narratives of aesthetic and spiritual connection and empathy with nature held by many ecologists and foresters – and the prospect that these less tangible values might be incorporated better into environmental decision-making.

Richard Thompson, Native Woodland Ecologist for Forest Enterprise Scotland – realised his vocation at the age of ten and spent his formative years doing voluntary nature conservation work. He has muddy boot origins having trained as a forester and worked for a few years supervising harvesting and forest management. However, his interest in nature conservation soon led to an appointment as a conservation forester in Mid Wales and subsequently, a project leader in Forest Research’s Northern Research Station, specialising in the ecology and silviculture of upland native woodlands. Richard now provides strategic and site based advice on native woodland management on the national forest estate focusing on the restoration of planted ancient woodland sites, the improvement of condition in ancient semi-natural woodlands and the restoration and expansion of rare woodland types such as montane scrub and Atlantic hazelwoods. The aesthetic complexity of the “natural” environment and palimpsest of cultural use form important facets of Richard’s interest in native woods.

Rick Worrell is a self-employed forestry consultant who specialises in the management of native and broadleaved woodland. He has been involved in woodland survey, planning, management, research and policy development; working for private owners, Forestry Commission, local authorities and environmental charities. He is one of a small group of people who argued for native woodlands to be brought into the forestry in the 1980s; and has made a career out of working with the forestry profession to develop the collective competence to manage them. After 25 years we are only part way through that process.

He owns a small ancient oak woodland together with 4 other families, near Aberfeldy, where woodland management becomes personal and collective, and gets entangled with family life. He also, after many years of trying, persuaded a commercial forest owner to sell him a couple of acres of spruce plantation behind his house, which he is restoring to native woodland.

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday.

Caledonian Everyday Discussions Pt 2 of 3

April 24, 2015
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Tim Collins and Reiko Goto, Coille Dubh Rainich (The Black Wood of Rannoch), mixed media, 2015. Photo Tim Collins

Should artists seek to change the world?  That’s where the first discussion ended, having explored the history of pit props; the potential for a poet to contribute to the constraints that a forest manager might have to take account of in planning the management of an area of woodland; the development of ecosystems services assessment and in particular the cultural dimension; Gaelic and the subaltern, and how to protect a bramble patch in Central Scotland.  A more reflective and detailed summary of these discussions will be forthcoming in due course.

In the meantime we are very pleased to announce that the next panel (2pm Saturday 9 May 2015, the Anatomy Lecture Theatre, Summerhall) will have on it:

Beth Carruthers is a philosopher, theorist, artist, and curator known internationally for her work and research over three decades exploring the ethics and aesthetics of the human-world relationship. Her primary focus is on the transformative capacities of aesthetic experience, and of the arts in human relations to environment and other beings. She has collaboratively across the arts and sciences on the SongBird project (1998-2002), and in 2006 created a research report for the Canadian Commission of UNESCO on art in sustainability focused on sci-arts collaboration. She has recently begun a collaboration with a neuropsychologist on a project studying interspecies aesthetic engagement in part by imaging the patterns of human brain response to birdsong. Over the past decade she has been developing a theory of “deep aesthetics”, arising from the aesthetics and ontology of Merleau-Ponty, and studies in psychology and cognitive neuroscience. It proposes that aesthetic engagement is potentially transformative of reductive ontology, and hence of cultural practices, looking toward more sustainable futures (see Carruthers, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2015). Her most recent publication is “A Subtle Activism of the Heart” in Piper and Szabo-Jones, Sustaining the West: Cultural Response to Canadian Environments, from Wilfred Laurier University Press (May 2015). Also note: “Returning the Radiant Gaze: Visual art and embodiment in a world of subjects” in Brady, J., Elemental, from Gaia Project/Cornerhouse (forthcoming). Beth lives in unceded indigenous Coast Salish territory on Canada’s west coast. She is irregular faculty at Emily Carr University of Art + Design at Vancouver Canada, and currently a researcher at the University of British Columbia.

Amy Cutler, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, School of English, University of Leeds  Amy’s main academic research focuses on modern literature and its engagement with environmental politics and with old and new geographical imaginaries of Britain. Her specialist areas of study are coasts and forests in popular, small press, and avant-garde writing. She writes on problems of language, symbolism, and definition in particular environmental imaginations.  Amy is the lead academic on the new cross-disciplinary White Rose network, Hearts of Oak: Caring for British Woodland, based at the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield, and York.

Murdo Macdonald, Professor of History of Scottish Art, University of Dundee. Murdo’s doctoral thesis (University of Edinburgh, 1986) explored the relationships between art and science. He was editor of Edinburgh Review from 1990-1994. He is author of Scottish Art in Thames and Hudson’s World of Art series. His recent research focus has been as principal investigator of an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project Window to the West/ Uinneag dhan Àird an Iar: Towards a Redefinition of the Visual within Gaelic Scotland (2005-2011). This is a collaboration between the Visual Research Centre of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design at the University of Dundee and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic College in the Isle of Skye. It explores the inter-relationships of contemporary art, Gaelic language and culture, and art history. A further research interest is in the generalist ideas of the cultural activist and ecologist Patrick Geddes.

Scott Donaldson, Creative Scotland.  Scott is responsible for film education and environmental development.  Scott studied literature, film, education and environmental management. He taught photography and media in London colleges and Scottish universities, photographed for Scottish Natural Heritage and programmed cinema and education at macrobert. From 1997 – 2010 at Scottish Screen, Scott promoted film and moving image education in statutory and tertiary education. Since 2010 at Creative Scotland, he managed the Creative Futures talent development programme and continues to promote film education.

The following and final discussion on 16 May will have a panel of forestry managers and forestry researchers.

You can download the pdf of the exhibition publication SylvaCaledoniaCatalogue

For those of you who are observant you’ll notice that we have reduced the number of discussions from four to three – the one this Saturday 25 April has been cancelled.  Look forward to seeing you on 9 May.

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Gerry Loose, Neon, 2013. Photo: Tim Collins

Caledonian Everyday Discussions Pt 1 of 4

April 7, 2015

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As part of Sylva Caledonia, one of Summerhall’s contributions to Edinburgh International Science Festival, we are holding a discussion, Caledonian Everyday in four parts.  The first part will take place on Sunday 12 April at 2pm at Summerhall (Anatomy Lecture Theatre).

We are very pleased that Paul Tabbush, Chair of the Landscape Research Group (Bio), will join the exhibiting artists to discuss key questions imagining the future of forests in Scotland.

The key questions are:

  • Who knows what (and who decides) about the ancient woodlands of Scotland?
    Management of forests is no longer restricted to issues of extraction vs biodiversity. In a field including wild and free forest (no management), community management and extraction, and a science-based biodiversity management system, what are the various implications? Who decides? Who benefits? Who speaks for the forest and other living things?
    .
  • What can the arts and humanities contribute to well-being of non-human?
    The iconic and of the everyday:“ where is the Caledonian forest embodied in the central belt? Can a deeper ecological community and its aesthetic experience be nurtured within a city?  Is it a bonsai forest or a living ecosystem?
    .
  • How can the arts and cultural institutions of Scotland enrich our relationship?
    Attachment and the challenges of creating connections: do cultural institutions have a role in the public awareness and well-being of ancient forests? Do the institutions of Scotland enrich our relationship with ancient Caledonian forests? What are the examples of practice in making these connections?

Download the SylvaCaledoniaCatalogue

The subsequent panels will be held on:

  • Saturday 25th April, 2pm
  • Satuday 9th May, 2pm
  • Saturday 16th May, 2pm

 

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