Archive for the ‘Guest Blog’ Category

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’.

Helmut Lemke art#wetlands Thoughts on scientists, artists, collaborations

October 26, 2018

Helmut Lemke is one of the artists working with the WetlandLIFE project, part of the Valuing Nature Programme. As part of the #art4wetlands leading up to the Ramsar Intergovernmental Convention on Wetlands’ COP (Conference of the Parties) we are highlighting the role of artists in environmental research. In this piece Helmut offers his “thoughts on scientists, artists, collaborations”.

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’.


to be curious

to observe with senses and minds

to develop questions

to create ways n methods to answer those questions

to enjoy a playful rumination of models of inquiry

to gather knowledge

to share knowledge

all of the above is human – none of the above is specific to one gender, one cast, one religion, one race, one profession

all of the above happens in time – none of the above has an end result

there is no answer following from the above that does not lead to further questions

all of the following (in no particular order):

 ownership, copyrights, the notion of the ‘genius’,

research profiles, impact & esteem

are expressions of artificial hierarchies and

the result of a system that values any increase in knowledge

in terms of financial/monetary profit & status

however, because neither ‘artificial hierarchies’ nor ‘financial profits’ or status

have so far contributed to the development of

the understanding and acceptance of us humans

as equals in the ecological system we are part of

or to the creation of a fairer society,

it is of crucial importance to replace

artificial hierarchies with equality

and

the thrive for capital gain and status with the joy of sharing

therefore

ONE SHOULD NOT ASK, ‘WHY TO COLLABORATE?’ BUT
‘WHY NOT TO COLLABORATE?’

and, by the way, I assume that knowledge and understanding reaches beyond the rational

 


MY ROLE IN THE WETLAND LIVE PROJECT

 

wherever I work I communicate,
that might be with people, with the environment or with (and through) my material and equipment.
I have learned to understand that my role as an artist is not that of a creator and maker, but to be promoter and advocate of what is very often already there and more often neglected, over’heard’ and/or over’looked’.
the process of communication and sharing has replaced the obsession with the product.
therefore when I am asked, “what (do) you think you can contribute and also what (do) you actually do to connect, ie your approach to connecting with the scientists and their research, wetlands and mosquitoes…” my answer is quite simple: I do what I always do.

 

I meet,

I share……….thoughts
…………………observations
…………………impressions
…………………experiences
…………………knowledge
…………………emotions

I wait for shared……thoughts
…………………………..observations
…………………………..impressions
…………………………..experiences
…………………………..knowledge
…………………………..emotions of others

I share through……..talk,
…………………………..listen,
…………………………..draw,
…………………………..write,
…………………………..read,
…………………………..sound,
…………………………..image
…………………………..poetry

some of the above is everyday medium
some is attributed to artists
all is interchangeable.

 

by being in a collaborative environment, where all participants through untested communication processes aim to create new, sometimes unpredicted outcomes those processes will flow on all levels in diverse directions. wherever communication media (language, image, other) need translation the collaborators will do so.
my contribution will be ‘me’ – where and what aspects of ‘me’ are useful will be determined by a collective process and by demands of the project group.


Helmut Lemke Is a German sound artist who moved to the UK in 1996. His international, and enthusiastically ecumenical practice, has lead him to work everywhere from the frozen seas round Greenland, to a palace in Venice for the 55th Biennale. Along the way he has collaborated with other Sound Artists and Musicians, with Dancers and Scientists, Visual Artists and Architects, Poets and  Archaeologists, Performance Artists and Wildlife Rangers.

Since 1995 he has taught at art academies & universities in Germany, France, England, Finland, Thailand.  From 1997 until 2000 he was lecturer at the pioneering Phonic Art  Course in Hull He was Research Fellow in Interactive Arts (Media Events) at Manchester Metropolitan University in 1997 and hold an AHRC-Fellowship at the University of Salford from 2004 to 2007.

Victoria Leslie #art4wetlands

October 25, 2018

Photo courtesy of Tim Acott

Victoria Leslie is one of the artists working with the WetlandLIFE project, part of the Valuing Nature Programme. As part of the Ramsar Culture Network and ecoartscotland #art4wetlands story leading up to the Ramsar Intergovernmental Convention on Wetlands’ COP (Conference of the Parties) we are highlighting the role of artists in environmental research. In this piece Victoria, talks about being part of the team and the role of storytelling and folklore.

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’.


It’s a bright spring day, though a chill persists, a memory of recent snowfall. We have forgotten the cold for now, huddled around the fire – a raised fire-pit more accurately – as we eat our sandwiches. There are quite a few of us converged around the warmth, mostly Hands on Heritage volunteers, enjoying a well-earned break from their labours on the Saxon longhouse we are ensconced within. I am the interloper, warming my hands, as I listen to their stories amid the crackle and spit of the flames.

It’s dark inside, the only light emanates from the doorway, the stained-glass windows at the gabled end and the fire itself, which, as long as a trough accommodates us all comfortably. It is easy to see why homesteads were constructed in this manner, with the room arranged around this central channel, creating such a practical socialising space. And it is just as easy imagining yourself in that bygone time, thanks to the many convincing details: the unlevelled render over the wattle and daub, the intricate wood carvings based on a ninth century original.

This recreation of the Saxon longhouse, part of the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership Project, is one of the initiatives brought to life by enthusiastic volunteers learning a range of heritage crafts. They are just some of the people I have been meeting as part of my role assisting Dr Adriana Ford with her Community Voice Method, a participatory approach examining the relationships people have with their local wetlands. Thus far, I have been fortunate to meet a whole host of people keen to talk about their experience of the Levels, from reserve managers and volunteer conservationists to local historians and environmental bloggers.

Being part of the WetlandLIFE team in an artistic capacity, I am interested in local storytelling traditions, customs and folklore and am engaging with this material to produce new narratives for the wetlands in writing both fiction and non-fiction. My creative approach usually involves plumbing the depths of the archives but in working with Adriana I have also had access to a wide range of people, keen to talk about their experiences and to share stories belonging to the wetland’s past. As a folklore enthusiast, this makes for rich pickings, with traditions such as the wassailing of the apple harvest still enduring, along with memories of reballing – the fishing of eels with a knot of worms – and even tales told of a large wild cat stalking the moors.

In turn, Adriana and myself – and the WetlandLIFE team more broadly – have been engaging with theoretical approaches to storytelling, thinking about how the narratives we tell undoubtedly contribute to the cultural identity of a place and sometimes function to preserve particular environments, often due to the sentimental associations they generate. Adriana’s interview process includes an exploration of oral histories, but through working together, now contains questions related to literature and discourse; of the stories that wetland-users consume as well as the ones they tell.

I think that this kind of relationship offers a fresh perspective and approach, a different way of interpreting and giving voice. It certainly strikes me, sitting at the fireside, that it would have been in a hall very much like this one, throughout the long bleak nights, that people would have gathered together and told stories. Orbiting the fire, fictions would have been created, memories and experiences shared. It is this spirit of exchange that resonates through WetlandLIFE, of ideas kindled by thinking together, of stories unearthed by collective exploration and of taking turns to stoke the flames.


Victoria Leslie is writer and folklorist, author of a short story collection, Skein and Bone, and a novel, Bodies of Water. Her fiction has accrued a number of awards and nominations and she has been awarded fellowships for her writing at Hawthornden in Scotland and the Saari Institute in Finland, where she researching Nordic water myths. Her non-fiction has appeared in History Today, The Victorianist and Gramarye.

Tim Acott and Dave Edwards #art4wetlands, a disciplinary dance

October 24, 2018
Woodland Wetland

Photo Courtesy of Frances Hawkes

As part of the Ramsar Culture Network/ecoartscotland #art4wetlands story Tim Acott (Principal Investigator for WetlandLIFE) and David Edwards (Forest Research) here unpack their thinking behind involving artists in the WetlandLIFE project (part of the Natural Environment Research Council‘s Valuing Nature Programme). WetlandLIFE is focused on managing mosquitoes and the socio-economic value of wetlands for wellbeing.

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’.

We’ll be posting pieces by the artists over the coming days.


Wetlands are ever-changing and dynamic, as water makes its presence felt through its association with a myriad of entities – plants, animals, humans, technology, legislation, economy and climate – all acting in diverse ways to co-create (mostly) watery places, both in reality and in our minds. For some, wetlands are bountiful lively precious places, to be celebrated and protected. For others, they are wastelands, disease ridden swamps that should be improved; ‘remove the water, build a dyke, drain the land’, might run the call, ‘we don’t want our landscape to be a mosquito infested swamp’ interjects another. From liminal locations in coasts and estuaries to the urban heartland of our cities and towns, places with too much water to be land, and too little water to be a lake, can be received with mixed emotions.

Photo courtesy of Tim Acott

Places are constituted through competing ideas and practices: the physical reality of the wetland is shaped by both the mechanical digger and the imagination. In the UK policy makers view the environment through the idea of ecosystem services. Here nature is reconfigured through the dominant perspectives of natural science, social science and economics to help decision makers ‘capture’ the value of the landscape. However, this approach can reinforce a utilitarian attitude towards nature that the arts can reframe or challenge, at times with unpredictable and potentially transformative effects.

With a particular focus on mosquitoes, WetlandLIFE (a three year interdisciplinary project funded by the UK Research Councils through the Valuing Nature Programme) explores how new knowledge about the values of wetlands can be used to inform their use and management. However, arriving at an understanding of wetland values is a fraught task. Competing epistemologies seek to provide authoritative accounts of value, but the competition is not on an even playing field. Scientific perspectives hold a dominant position, with even the qualitative social sciences, and especially the arts and humanities, having to argue hard for their case to be heard. Yet, in evoking science and economics as the privileged arbitrators of value – and of the frameworks through which values are understood – to what extent are other voices being closed out of the conversation? Is not one of the most insidious forms of power to control the rules by which debates, and hence decisions, are framed?

WetlandLIFE has sought to widen the lens through which we consider the value of wetlands and challenge the broader assumptions which shape and constrain land-use decisions. Listening to multiple voices is helping the project to engage with wetlands in a deep, critical and imaginative way. Two artists, Helmut Lemke, Kerry Morrison, and a fiction writer, Victoria Leslie, have been recruited to help the project team navigate the boundary of value elicitation and value creation. Working alongside local communities, economists, entomologists, human geographers, historians and environmental social scientists, they were invited to help shape the narrative around wetlands and mosquitoes. Within the project a position of epistemological equality is being adopted, whereby the contributions of all team members are being combined to co-create a place based narrative of wetland and mosquito values.

As the project progresses towards its final year it is becoming clear that artists are having a major contribution by helping to trace and create relational associations that underpin a tapestry of meanings and values. For instance, a walking poem by Helmut, capturing the feeling of being out on the marshes, creates an almost tangible sense of place, revealing something not normally expressed about relations between disparate entities such as wind, sheep, birds, mosquitoes, pylons, ships and other actors beyond the immediate wetland. Such a document can be a seed around which narratives are formed and coalesce. Another example is how Victoria is writing new stories about wetlands and helping the team to explore how narratology can develop reflections on discourses around science and arts. Is there science in art and art in science that could help shape what we are producing and how we judge outcomes? In a creative exchange of ideas, as the team members reflect on their individual roles in contributing to emergent wetland narratives, artists are spending time in science laboratories and scientists are picking up paintbrushes and pens to reflect on their practices.

Photo courtesy of Tim Acott

In conclusion, in WetlandLIFE the project team has sought to create an open and dynamic partnership between natural science, social science, economics, the arts and humanities. The result is an attempt to demonstrate how disciplinary boundaries can be overcome to develop a holistic interdisciplinary narrative of wetland values that does not give authority to one voice but critically engages with dominant narratives about the value of nature and helps celebrate the wonder that is our wetland habitat in all its diverse forms.


Tim Acott is Reader in Human Geography in the Department of History, Politics & Social Sciences at the University of Greenwich. His research is increasingly concerned with ways to understand the social and cultural value of ecosystems through concepts including sense of place, cultural ecosystem services and wellbeing, adopting arts and social science based approaches. He is the Director of the Greenwich Maritime Centre and is Principal Investigator on the WetlandLIFE project.

David Edwards is Programme Manager and Senior Social Scientist in the Social & Economic Research Group at Forest Research. David leads initiatives to understand and enhance interdisciplinary working, knowledge exchange and research impact across the environmental sector. He has a particular interest in the role of the arts and humanities in transformative learning and the co-production of knowledge.

Kate Foster: Engaging with peatland restoration – Embedded Art practices within Landscape Partnerships

May 12, 2018

scotland-peatland-map_carbon-class-a2477850

As artists, we (Kerry Morrison and Kate Foster) have discovered a common purpose of embedding ecological artistic practice and research within peat landscape restoration projects. This post invites readers to ‘watch this space’ for how we are, and will be, involved in restoration work on blanket peatland and raised bogs that will be carried out by three Landscape Partnerships that have been recently funded by the Heritage Lottery Landscape Partnership Fund.

The significance of peatlands in terms of wildlife, climate action and hydrology is increasingly recognised by government policy which is leading to artists’ opportunities, such as with the Peatland Partnership in the Flow Country. For anyone interested in the cultural values of peatland, there is much artwork to draw inspiration from, such as Sexy Peat ; ongoing work by postgraduate students of Art Space and Nature at Edinburgh College of Art; the respective work of Laura Harrington or Lionel Playford, both based at the University of Northumbria; and Wind Resistance by singer-songwriter Karine Polwart.
Within this wider context, our respective artistic aims include profiling existing community culture, skills and knowledge – the living heritage. We will be developing artwork during the stage of ecological restoration, contributing further ways to how peatlands can be culturally valued. We see this as an opportunity to reflect on art practice with others (artists and non-artists) who have similar interests, over a three-year period.

The Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership programme

As director and lead environment artist at In-Situ, Kerry had been working with the Forest of Bowland during the development stages of their Landscape Partnership Heritage Lottery bid for Pendle Hill. This included developing and managing a pilot arts programme which informed the final, and successful, bid. Working closely with Cathy Hopley (Development Officer at Forest of Bowland AONB) to embed art into the landscape restoration strand of the Pendle Hill four-year programme, In-Situ have become one of the partners and will lead an art strand called The Gatherings which includes a two-year artist residency during which Kerry will work alongside the team restoring the upland peatlands of Pendle Hill Summit.

The Gatherings programme integrates arts practice and research into a number of the Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership themes, including: Pendle Hill Summit, Archaeology, High Nature Value, Traditional Boundaries, Woodlands, and What’s a Hill Worth?

The Gatherings strand has been designed/curated as a coherent programme consisting of temporary interventions, events, residencies, films and public gatherings. The art projects, beginning in 2018, will evolve in partnership and collaboration, developing and responding to the project strands as they progress over the 4-year delivery period. The role of the artist will be multitudinous: to shed light on the landscape restoration programme, to outreach and engage communities including audiences that have been identified as the most infrequent visitors to the Pendle landscape, and to contribute to new knowledge. The creative processes, outputs and new knowledge gained will be shared in year 4 (2022) at a 3-day conference.

The image below is of a group of young people from Brierfield Action in the Community, celebrating, having achieved the steep climb to Pendle Hill Summit. Their day out was part of a series of workshops to test the Pendle Hill Engagement Kit, developed by In-Situ in partnership with The Forest of Bowland and artist Amy Pennington.

The Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership programme

“The Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership aims to connect people living and working in the area with its heritage and landscape in a drive to secure a prosperous future for the communities around the Water of Ken and River Dee, right from their source to the sea.”

source: http://www.gallowayglens.org/about/

Further details of the scope of the proposed programme can be seen here. Peatland Connections is one component, led by Dr. Emily Taylor of the Crichton Carbon Centre and to be jointly funded by the Scottish Government programme, Peatland Action. Peatland Connections aims to:

… highlight the significance of Galloway peatlands and, using a demonstrator site beside the Southern Upland Way, trial a new framework to be used to revert areas of forestry back to peatlands, highlighting the resulting water quality, biodiversity and carbon balance benefits. These capital works will be supported by a suite of public engagement/artistic activities highlighting the importance and relevance of peatlands. Source: http://www.gallowayglens.org/projects

Kate’s art practice is concerned with different kinds of land use, focussing on wetlands. Various projects prepared the way for making links to Peatland Connections. For example, in 2016 she co-ordinated an event themed Wetlands, Flow, and Questions of Scale, at the Stove in Dumfries.  The range of inspiring and thought provoking presentations revealed the depth of existing interest and also the possibilities for further connections.

The image above shows a group with a demonstration peatcore at a workshop on Kirkconnel Flow, led by Dr. Lauren Parry of the University of Glasgow.

Kate proposed Peat Culture as an element of the Peatland Connections in consultation with Emily Taylor. As lead artist, Kate intends to profile the biocultural heritage of Galloway Glens Peatlands by creating an anthology; by developing original artwork as artist-in-residence to the restoration; and by jointly creating material for an exhibition.
Recognising synergies in their practice and collaborative approach with landscape Partnerships, Kerry and Kate began to discuss the potential of connecting Galloway Glens and the Pendle Hill Partnerships to widen the scope, reach and impact of ecological art and peat restoration. Both Landscape Partnerships embraced the idea of connecting and partnering, and to also work with the Carbon Landscape Project (another Heritage Lottery Fund Landscape Partnership with a peatland focus), which is in the early stages of delivery.

The Carbon Landscape Project

The Carbon Landscape Project is a Landscape Partnership based around Salford and Warrington, and draws on the area’s importance in the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. A short informative video Taking a Round View of the Carbon Landscape can be seen here.

The Carbon Landscape Project is changing the way in which we approach landscapes and communities in Wigan, Salford and Warrington. Twenty-two interlinked projects will provide a forward-thinking and effective programme that will have lasting benefits for local communities and wildlife.

Source: http://www.lancswt.org.uk/carbon-landscape-project

The scheme is in its first year of their 5-year delivery phase, with work getting underway.

Peat Meets

People involved in developing peatland projects of the Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership, the Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership, and the Carbon Landscape Project travelled to a Great Peat Meet in New Galloway last November, in order to exchange information about their programmes. The proposed peatland restoration projects will offer varied ways of engaging communities. Once the projects are all underway, further exchange visits are planned.

The image above was taken during a site visit to Clatteringshaws Visitor Centre Galloway, allowing informal discussion during a walk over deep peatland. Glens Development Officer, McNabb Laurie, said:

“We were proud to welcome these other Landscape Partnerships to Galloway and to hear how the condition and use of peatland sites varies across the UK. It is great that a number of schemes are coming together to highlight the importance of peat on factors such as water quality, biodiversity, flood management and also the global significance as a carbon store. We can contribute to a national approach to these issues.” Source: http://www.gallowayglens.org/2017/11/

As artists, we attended and have both been proactive in making proposals and connections between the Landscape Partnerships. The aim is to profile the many and varied ways that peatlands are already valued culturally, as well as contribute new creative work. Plans include a seminar series, to create a network with people involved in similar projects elsewhere and to encourage reflection on interpretation and creative practice.

This article has been prepared by artists Kate Foster and Kerry Morrison in consultation with colleagues in their respective Landscape Partnerships projects.

Contacts for further information:
Kerry Morrisonkerry@in-situ.org.uk
Kate Fosterart@meansealevel.net
Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership:
Cathy Hopley: cathy.hopley@lancashire.gov.uk
Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership:
McNabb Laurie: mcnabb.laurie@dumgal.gov.uk

Sarah Gittins reviews ‘Marlene Creates: Places, Paths, and Pauses’

May 10, 2018

places

Introduction

The monograph Marlene Creates: Places, Paths, and Pauses was published last year to coincide with a touring retrospective of the work of Marlene Creates, co-curated by Susan Gibson Garvey and Andrea Kunard. The exhibition was organised by the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in partnership with Dalhousie Art Gallery, it launched in September 2017 and is touring to different locations across Canada until 2020.

This beautifully produced monograph is my first introduction to the work of the Canadian environmental artist Marlene Creates (pronounced “Kreets”). Reading the book acquainted me with the breadth of Creates’ ‘discreet’ practice (p.15) through many crisply reproduced photographs, showing details and exhibition installations of her work. The photographs are accompanied by Creates’ own commentary, giving succinct insights into some of the motivations and processes behind her different bodies of work. Because photography has been the main medium for Creates to document and share her work with others, it translates well onto the printed page.

Overview

Creates’ work is clustered into chronologically ordered bodies of work as follows:

  1. Landworks, 1979-1985, Works based on my responses as a visitor to places;
  2. Works with Memory Maps, 1986-1991, Works based on the relationship of people I met to their own places;
  3. Signs of Our Time, 1992-2003, Works with signage about public notices, official boundaries and prohibitions;
  4. Transition, Transitional works in the midst of a decade working with public signs;
  5. Works from Blast Hole Pond Road (ongoing since 2002), a multi year “slow” engagement with the six-acre patch of boreal forest where I live.(examples of many of the works discussed can be viewed on Marlene Creates’ website) You can see the exhibition at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery thanks to a video made by Jon Pedersen, a filmmaker in Fredericton.

Certain bodies of work come across particularly well within the context of the book. These include Sleeping Places, Newfoundland, 1982, where her haunting series of photographs show the squashed vegetation left by the sleeping imprint of Creates’ own body; and the works where Creates’ hand is pressed against the surface of standing stones and trees in A Hand to Standing Stones, Scotland, 1983 and Larch, Spruce, Fir, Birch, Hand, Blast Hole Pond Road, Newfoundland, 2007. The format of the book is large enough to see the detail of crushed foliage in the Sleeping Places series and the texture of stone, lichen, bark and skin in the Hand to Standing Stones and Larch, Spruce, Fir, Birch, Hand series. These bodies of work communicate a strong sense of the equality of relationship with nature that Creates’ work seeks to explore – the framing of the photographs shows the equal pressing of lichen-encrusted stone/bark to hand as hand to stone/bark.

This comprehensive overview of Creates’ work is interlaced with critical essays, each exploring a different aspect of the artists’ practice. The essays are written by the curators/editors, the poet Don McKay, the art historian Joan M. Schwartz, and the author Robert Macfarlane. I completed the book feeling as though I had enjoyed slowly wandering around the rooms of the Creates’ retrospective, engaging in different conversations after each room, each showing me the work through a different lens and offering rich insights into Creates’ thoughtful practice.

The first of these essays, Written in the Land, Present in the Place, is by Susan Gibson Garvey. In this essay Gibson Garvey maps the main themes of Creates’ work from the earliest gestures in the landscape to her most recent immersive work in the six acres of boreal forest that surround her home. It is a very readable, well-paced essay, offering insightful commentary around many of the developing themes that run through Creates’ practice. I have explored this essay in greater detail than the others as it is here that we first become acquainted with many of the ideas returned to in subsequent essays.

Gibson Garvey starts by contrasting Creates’ ‘ecologically sensitive art practice,’ with the work of ‘more immediately spectacular,’ environmental photographers such as Edward Burtynsky (p.15). She argues that it is the ‘acute awareness,’ ‘formal restraint,’ and ‘understated wit,’ of Creates’ practice that give the work its strength (p.15). As an example of Creates’ ‘discreet’ art practice Gibson Garvey describes one of Creates’ early interventions, Stone Ground Drawing: Wave Patterns, Lake Nipissing, 1986, where Creates arranged pebbles so that they mirrored the patterns in the waves approaching the shore. The work lasted until the next high tide when the pebbles were scattered. Gibson Garvey quotes Creates’ statement that the intention of this work was to draw attention to the waves themselves: ‘“What I would like people to notice the most when they look at my sculpture is, in fact, not the sculpture but the waves.”’ (p.16)

The essay makes a convincing argument for Creates’ work to be seen in relation to feminist earth/body practices of artists such as Ana Mendieta. In her Paper Stones and Water series Creates lays a roll of absorbent paper in different environments, where it is subject to change through encountering the elements – blown by the wind or splattered by raindrops. Gibson Garvey argues that ‘simplicity, economy, seriality, and […] sufficiency,’ are key to Creates’ practice, and frames the fragile Paper Stones and Water series as an ‘act of resistance, on behalf both of the environment and of women’ (p.16). Creates herself states that she was working ‘in deliberate opposition to large-scale earthworks – high impact interventions made in the land with excavators and bulldozers in the 1960’s and 70’s’ (p.13).

This argument is given weight when Gibson Garvey emphasises the importance, for Creates, of seeing the particular in the landscape rather than ‘scoping a scene’: ‘The hand must touch, the voice must utter, the body must be present. We are in the land, inseparable from that which provides the nourishment and raw materials on which we depend. There is no “out there” there, because out there is still us.’ (p.20)

Gibson Garvey cites Rebecca Solnit’s discussion of Creates’ work to describe the important shift in Creates’ practice – her growing understanding of the layers of nature and culture that exist in every landscape, summed up by Solnit’s sentence, ‘“Most landscapes are also territories.”’ (p.16) This shift is clearly seen in the works exploring the relationship of relocated, elderly Labradorians to their remembered homelands in The Distance Between Two Points is Measured in Memories, Laborador, 1988. Once again Gibson Garvey is here highlighting the quiet politics of Creates’ work – ‘contradicting political assertions about the “emptiness” of Labrador.’ (p.19)

There is a very succinct summary of Creates’ description of the different phases of her practice within this essay. Creates describes her landworks as works made ‘“in the first person,”’ the shift to working with other peoples memories of place results in work made ‘“in the second person.”’ Creates’ questioning of cultural assumptions about places in the signs projects is described as work ‘“in the third person”’. Following this summary Gibson Garvey argues that Creates’ most recent work, made in her six-acre, boreal forest home, returns to ‘“first person”’ and also creates the position of ‘no person’ in the work where her trail camera takes photographs when triggered by the movement of animals (p.18). Gibson Garvey argues that Creates, in her boreal forest home, is ‘intent on addressing nature as one subjectivity to another,’ and relates this intention to the thought of Martin Buber. In particular she is interested in Buber’s “I-Thou” concept in relation to Creates’ work, stating that ‘it could be argued that Creates has been saying “Thou” to nature for some considerable time.’ (p.19) This argument is taken one stage further in what Gibson Garvey describes as Creates’ ‘reversal of the gaze,’ in Water Flowing to the Sea Captured at the Speed of Light, Blast Hole Pond River, Newfoundland, 2002-2003, where a camera placed underwater takes photos of the artist, simulating the eye of the river (p.20).

Finally Gibson Garvey points to the part language plays in Creates’ The Boreal Poetry Garden. At the start of this project Creates wrote short poems and photographed them in the places that had inspired their writing. Now the poems are only spoken to small audiences in situ. Gibson Garvey states that this may result in a ‘privileged’ audience. However, this is balanced by the ethics of Creates’ practice, bound to ‘specificity’ and not ‘populism’. The question of privilege in relation to the boreal forest work is explored later in this review.

The Gibson Garvey essay is followed by the images of Landworks. These include the Paper, Stones and Water series, Sleeping Places, Newfoundland 1982 and A Hand to Standing Stones, Scotland 1983. Don McKay’s poem Sleeping Places is included within this section along with his short reflection on Creates’ work – Some Thoughts on Sleeping Places. The poem mirrors the understated aesthetic of Creates’ work in its short lines and simplicity. It maps some of the associations that the poet experienced through his encounter with the work from the delicate to the sinister. The poem acts as an invitation to experience Creates’ work for oneself – to let the mind travel with the imagery in different directions and not just look to where the essays signpost the reader.

The poem starts and ends with the question ‘what is nothing doing’ [sic] which McKay intends as an ‘ungettable riddle’ or Zen koan. He writes about his interest in koans and Taoist poetry in his reflection on Sleeping Places, saying of the old Taoist poets:

Their “bows” to the wilderness involved a slightness and subtlety of gesture that would be good preparation for experiencing works like Sleeping Places, Newfoundland, 1982. (p.49)

McKay states that Creates’ work holds a strong connection to Taoist thought, particularly in relation to what he describes as ‘an engaged “spiritual ecology”’. He describes the important difference between this ‘true ecology’ and the ‘conventional humanism of Romanticism, which tends to focus on the human emotional response to nature rather than to bow toward nature itself.’ He concludes:

We need more such bows if a true ecology is to become widespread. I think of Tu Fu’s line “I inhabit my absence,” which could well serve as a subtitle for Creates’ Sleeping Places. (p.49)

Don McKay’s poem and reflection balances well with the more analytical essays in the book.

Within the second section of Creates’ work: Works with Memory Maps, 1986-1991, is an essay titled Marlene Creates, Visual Geographer by Joan M. Schwartz. In this essay Schwartz frames Creates’ practice within the field of geography, stating that Creates ‘traffics in the geographical imagination, laying bare the processes by which people come to know the world and their place in it.’ (p.71) Schwartz highlights the ways in which Creates questions how we read the landscape and relates this to the ‘terrain of historical and cultural geographers.’ (p.71)

So what is the ‘geographical imagination’ that Marlene Creates ‘traffics’? Schwartz describes how Creates questions idealised notions of a life on the land by showing how particular people relate to places within The Distance Between Two Points is Measured in Memories – mapping a ‘“cultural” experience of place.’ Schwartz quotes Creates’ notion of place: ‘“The land is not an abstract physical location but a place, charged with personal significance, shaping the images we have of ourselves.”’ (p.72) She states that ‘it is in this foregrounding of place in the formation of identity that Creates excels as a visual geographer.’ (p.72)

Schwartz describes how Creates makes the layered meaning of places visible in her signs projects. For example, Creates juxtaposes a sign describing the coastline as ‘Natural and Scenic’ with a statement describing a previous industrial use of the land that played a significant role in forming the present day ‘view’. This exposing of environmental histories is what Creates describes as the ‘“intersection of geography with memory.”’ (p.74) Schwartz argues that by ‘exposing the tension between public and personal expressions of place, they [the signs] prompt private contemplation of one’s situation in space and time.’ (p.76)

In this essay Schwartz introduces a more geographically nuanced framework to explore many of the points already raised in the book. It seems a helpful insight to frame Creates’ practice within the geographical imagination, as it highlights the tactics that Creates used and uses to interrogate our relationship to the land and to place. The revisiting of themes addressed by the first two essays does make for repetition, however. But the essay, in its own right, creates an interesting framework for reflecting on Creates’ practice.

Robert Macfarlane’s essay, Hollow Places and Wordcaves, is placed within the third section of works: Signs of Our Time, 1992–2003. The essay starts with an entry from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s journal describing his encounter with ‘“A hollow place in the rock like a coffin.”’ Macfarlane says that this description sprang to mind when he first encountered Sleeping Places, Newfoundland, 1982. As with McKay, but using different imagery, Macfarlane describes his layered response to this work and states that ‘This wish to allow landscape its layeredness seems to me the defining quality of Creates’s art.’ (p.101) He then goes on to make similar points to Gibson Garvey and Schwartz about Creates’ refusal of romanticism and her interest in nature-culture relations. (Again, the repetition is noticeable.)

Macfarlane identifies the ‘sensing body’ as key to the making of Creates’ work. He links this use of the body as an instrument of knowledge to a lineage of ‘philosopher artists’ including Marcel Mauss, John Muir, Richard Jefferies, and Jacquetta Hawks and identifies a particularly strong link between Creates and Nan Shepherd. Macfarlane states that in her book, The Living Mountain, Nan Shepherd describes how ‘she explored the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland through her “flesh” and “bones” as well as through her eyes.’ (p.102) He goes on to explore parallels between the two women – sharing ‘a fascination with place names and the language of place […] they share an interest in the seeming paradox of a “humanised wild”.’ Macfarlane also describes a parallel between Shepherd’s and Creates’ attention to the particular in the landscapes that they attend to, and importantly their shared attention to the social history of place. Macfarlane points out both the ethnographic importance of this interest and that it acts as ‘an active politics of what might be called resistance through specificity,’ particularly in Creates’ questioning of notions of the empty wilderness of Labrador through memory mapping in The Distance Between Two Points is Measured in Memories. (p.103)

This last point leads Macfarlane to link the work of Creates to others engaged in paying attention to the relationships that people have with specific places in order to resist ‘generalisation and exploitation.’ These include Hugh Brody’s Masterful Maps and Dreams (1986), Iain Sinclair’s Ghost Milk, and the artist’s booklet A-mach an Gleann (A Known Wilderness), made by Jon MacLeod and Anne Campbell in response to the Outer Hebridean islanders fight with AMEC. (p.103)*

(At this point the reader may pause to reflect: set within the context of ‘generalisation and exploitation’, Creates’ later boreal forest work raises questions that go unaddressed by Macfarlane and the other essayists. It could be argued, for example, that the later work maintains a quiet resistance through particular acts of attention. But this has a different quality to working in a context that is overtly exploited. To put it all too crudely – a person standing in a deep state of mindfulness within occupied or disputed territories has a very different resonance to a person standing in an equally mindful state in their own garden.)

Macfarlane pays particular attention to Creates’ interest in the relationship between language and landscape, which he describes as the ‘illocutionary power of place-language: its ability to reform as well as to deform our relations with place.’ (p.105) Macfarlane maps this relationship of language and place in Creates’ practice, from The Distance Between Two Points, through the signs projects and ‘rising to a peak of intensity in her recent book Brickle Nish and Knobbly: A Newfoundland Treasury of Terms for Ice and Snow, Blast Hole Pond River, Winter 2012-2013.’ (p.104) All Creates’ language projects highlight how the specificity of language can ‘refine our acts of perception,’ and resist the homogenisation of dominant western culture. Here it is through seeing the differences in phenomena of ice and snow rather than ‘a cold white blur’ (p.105).

In addition to other pertinent analogies, Macfarlane ends his essay by quoting a poem by Paul Celan which includes the translated term ‘“wordcaves”’. The wordcaves are places where language that has been emptied out can be made useful again. (p.106) With a beautiful symmetry Macfarlane relates this image back to the opening image of Coleridge’s ‘“hollow place”’, a space offering both shelter and hazard, as Creates’ Sleeping Places appear both comfortable and exposed, weaving both the essay and Creates’ practice into a satisfying sense of wholeness.

The final essay is the longest in the book and more academic in tone. In Here and Away: The Photography of Marlene Creates, Andrea Kunard discusses Creates’ use of photography as a medium and the place of her work within photographic discourse.

The essay opens by questioning the notion of photography as a medium that ‘stills time.’ (p.139) Kunard outlines an alternative reading of photography as process – ‘it engages individuals in actions, providing a performative space for its realisation.’ (p.139) She argues that the work of Creates fits far more easily into this process-performative category. Kunard uses Creates’ Paper, Stones and Water 1979-1985 to illustrate this point, describing how these photographs contain all the surrounding activity of journey, thought and preparation that went into their making as well as the gesture caught in ‘the performative space the photograph provides.’ The photographs also contain a sense of the time beyond their taking, the viewer sees a fragile material (paper) or stones on a shore that will soon be destroyed or rearranged by the elements. Another example is the knowledge that the squashed grasses in the Sleeping Places series will have already started to recover even in the instant of the camera shutter’s click. As Kunard writes, ‘Creates’ projects reveal how photographs are performative acts or gestures that proclaim something real for the present, and retain it for the future.’ (p.141)

In her discussion of The Distance Between Two Points is Measured in Memories, Labrador 1988, Kunard highlights the importance of text in contextualising the photographs, and the role of the accompanying objects – turf, sand etc. – in bringing the work into the present for the viewer, ‘nudging spectators into an appreciation of the object and present-ness of all the assemblages’ constituent elements.’ (p.142) She relates this to the power of a lock of hair tucked alongside a photograph in a nineteenth-century locket. The ability of photographs to strengthen family bonds is also discussed in relation to the family photograph album and Creates’ Places of Presence: Newfoundland kin and ancestral land, Newfoundland, 1989-1991 (p.142)

Kunard argues that Creates combines the ability of the photograph to still time and reveal process in her Hand photographs. Later she also makes mention of what could be considered a more significant quality of these photographs – their ability to show in fine detail the qualities and textures of stone, lichen, bark and skin. Interestingly it is in this essay that we first become aware that the boreal forest in which Creates’ current work unfolds belongs to her, as Kunard discloses:

‘in the series Larch, Spruce, Fir, Birch, Hand, Blast Hole Pond Road, Newfoundland 2007 (ongoing), her hand, now much older, appears pressed against a tree trunk on the artist’s property.’ (p.143)

(Another reader reflection: Creates never sets this later work within the context of property or ownership, perhaps because she does not consider the trees in the boreal forest to be hers. Or perhaps she intuits that this knowledge would be distracting for the viewer. Nevertheless, reading the word ‘property’ immediately shifted how I read the work – setting the hand in a possible gesture of claim or possession, jarring with my previous understanding of the work as communicating a sense of equal relationship. In balancing this tension it is important to note that the protection Creates’ ownership brings to the six acres of boreal forest has enabled her to develop a deeply intimate relationship with this place, as shown powerfully through the work Spots of Memory: what I remembered during one month away after six years on Blast Hole Pond Road, Newfoundland 2008 where a hand-drawn map is filled with the artist’s abbreviated descriptions of particular toponyms (descriptive names for places – discussed in Macpharlane’s essay). This may not have been possible for Creates in the more vulnerable position of a ‘visitor’ rather than ‘landowner’. Hence the question: has this intimacy of knowledge now become a privilege of ownership and thus protection?)

The Kunard essay ends with a discussion of Water Flowing to the Sea Captured at the Speed of Light, Blast Hole Pond River, Newfoundland 2002-2003 where Creates submerged a camera in the river to take photographs of the artist through the water. Kunard argues that this work ‘personalises place, fusing the artist with the land.’(p.145) She also points out that this work introduces into Creates’ practice a giving up of control over the outcome of the final image. This is further amplified in Creates’ work What Came to Light at Blast Hole Pond River, Newfoundland 2015 (ongoing) where the camera shutter is triggered by the movement of animals through a motion detector. These works highlight Creates’ use of the medium of photography as an evolving process rather than a static moment in time:

‘This use of photography as process is always a movement outwards; it is never static but engaging, never singular but informed by and informing other media, including language.’(p.146)

Indeed it is the randomness caught in the moment of the camera shutter in What Came to Light that highlight and emphasise the sense of a world full of motion and life beyond the pictures’ limits. The book ends with these expansive photographs and thus opens out into the world beyond its pages.

Conclusion

When seen as a whole the images, commentary and essays of Marlene Creates: Places, Paths, and Pauses create a richly woven tapestry that enable the reader to gain insight and understanding into Creates’ ‘discreet’ oeuvre; an oeuvre that I am pleased to have encountered and feel deserves greater recognition. (This is clearly the aim of the editors). However, as indicated by my ‘reader reflections’, the book as a whole is a touch too gentle. It clearly brings together reflections from those who hold the work of Creates in high regard. But it rarely poses critical questions that the work itself may be asking. This could have been amended by an interview with the artist, raising more probing questions about the work and its contexts. Equally, there is a little too much repetition in the points made and examples used in the essays, particularly in relation to Creates’ ideas around place and a cultural reading of the landscape. More in-depth discussion of Creates’ recent work might have created a greater balance and less repetition. The last word, however, is one of respect: Creates’ work makes its powerful presence felt through its understated quietness. I am left with a reverberating sense of the layered histories present in the land around us, and a desire to walk more slowly and connect with the particularity of place.


* AMEC placed an application to site the UK’s largest windfarm on what they repeatedly described as ‘waste’ space and ‘wilderness’.


Sarah Gittins is a visual artist based in Edinburgh. She works across a variety of media, with a particular focus on drawing and printmaking. Her work explores issues of environmental justice, with a current emphasis on issues of climate change, resource use and food sustainability.

www.sarahgittins.net


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