Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Valuing Nature: what do artists contribute?

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

Image from Serpentine Lattice catalogue, courtesy of the artists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.

Beverly Naidus: The ZAD Becomes Compost? LONG LIVE THE ZAD!

April 13, 2018

This post comes from Beverly Naidus, a friend and colleague. Her attention is focused on the ZAD (zone à défendre) after visiting in October. Recent events have made it urgent to relay her experience and why the destruction of this place in France matters. A month ago we drew attention to the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest’s issue #10 Climate Atlas. The point of the Atlas is to focus on where new forms of relations between humans and other living things are being developed. The editors of JOAAP #10 said, “In the face of climate change, we prioritize lifes’ capacity to organize its own variation.” The French State is attempting to stamp out a beautiful example of self-organisation.


April 10, 2018, Tacoma, WA, USA

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When something you have witnessed, loved and cared for is destroyed and uprooted, whether it is a forest, a species, a community or a culture, it can wreck the spirit. The trauma of these violent actions, informed by greed and ignorance, can ripple out widely, encouraging resistance, but it requires attention. In order for the suffering to become compost from which we can plant our visions again, it needs amplification. Writing in the wee hours, on the Pacific coast of North America, I am hoping that these words will be heard, knowing that our peaceful warrior friends in the northwest of France are facing violence today.

Yesterday evening I learned that the ZAD had been invaded by 2500 French police wielding tear gas and driving bulldozers. They destroyed hand-built homes, greenhouses and community spaces and have been pushing people off the land. Gardens that have been lovingly tended and harvested for many years have been trashed. There seems to be not enough bodies assembled to create the physical resistance required to stop the perpetrators. It feels like a lost cause. I am breathing through the shock of this and hoping that a phoenix will rise out of the ashes. Here’s today’s news and here’s another blog [and this Call for Intergalactic Solidarity Actions was published recently. Ed]

In October 2017 we were able to visit the ZAD, a wonderful and complex community in France that inspires revolutionary thoughts and actions. Most folks, including activist folks, on this side of the pond have never heard of the ZAD. We’ve been too busy with the ever-escalating messes in our own backyards to pay much attention to visionary projects elsewhere. But fortunately, I have known of the activist artist, John Jordan, one of the key residents and spoke-persons for the ZAD, for many years. He made a contribution to my book, Arts for Change: Teaching Outside the Frame (New Village Press, 2009) and has kept me informed about the ZAD via email and social media.

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For those who are unaware of this remarkable place, it’s been a European symbol of contemporary resistance against development and fossil fuels. A coalition of movements including environmental activists, local farmers and unionists, anarchists, students and creative resistors of all sorts has prevented the building of an airport, and formed the largest autonomous zone in Europe, 4000 acres inhabited by 250 or so squatters who make up about 60 collectives. The land has been occupied since 2009 as part of a 50 year struggle against the development of the airport.

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This is not going to be an essay to describe the history and theories informing the ZAD. The reader can research that information online, but instead this brief piece will attempt to frame a vision before it slips the collective memory. ZAD is the acronym for zone à défendre (translated as “the Zone to Defend”).

We arrived at the train station at Notre-Dames des Landes on a sunny afternoon in late October 2017. John and his partner, Isa, met us and drove us to the beautiful bocage (a landscape that mixes woodlands and pasture) that makes up the ZAD. John explained that designing a landscape to feature “bocage” is one of the best ways to sequester CO2. Many traditional, small farmers have been working the land this way for centuries.

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John told us that our visit was well-timed, a party was already in progress at the Ambazada, a newly built barn-like space for meetings, dances, concerts and feast. We joined this celebration of the community that gave everyone an opportunity to share updates on different coalitions and actions. People of all ages were sitting around on benches, inside and outside this structure, many in deep conversations. Laughter often erupted, local wine was being shared and a pleasant haze of French cigarette smoke greeted us. John introduced us to people, some were local residents, and a few were visitors, like us, from all over the world. We were invited to grab plates and fill them generously with delicious home-made cuisine. I was struck by the plenty. Huge blocks of cheese and pâté were laid out along with bowls of salads and fruits. A crepe station and the lovely people working there supplied the crowd with warm, tasty regional fare (on the southern edge of Brittany. We made our way to one of the big tables to learn more about this unusual community.

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Over the past three decades, my partner, Bob Spivey, and I had been eager to learn about alternative communities, places where people were living out a vision of how to resist the dominant culture and its rape of the land and community. I had first been interested in collective living when I was a teenager and tasted a bit of it by living on a kibbutz. Unfortunately, the joys of sharing abundance, child care and work, were drowned out by the poison of the racism I witnessed there. Along with government policies that over the past five decades have become increasingly fascist. I was determined to look for other models, ones that were not so contaminated by an ideology of superiority and the propaganda of “safety through aggression.”

We visited co-housing communities on the west coast of the US, the remnants of back-to-the-land communes in New England, NY and Canada, as well as an eco-village in the north of Italy, and while they all had pieces of the puzzle that attracted us, certain vital qualities were missing. Our years of working with the Institute for Social Ecology had given us a vision of what a non-colonizing, permaculture design-informed, ecologically sound, equitable, diverse, revolutionary, liberated world might look like. We saw evidence of this vision at the ZAD.

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Every morning we would wake up to the sounds of John’s collective making breakfast in the house where we were hosted. The pantry was filled with boxes of fruit and vegetables. Fresh bread and eggs seemed to magically arrive. A chalk board displayed the tasks of the day and people took up their responsibilities with apparent ease.

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In the four days we were there we walked the land meeting members of the 60 collectives that have carved out space, built amazing structures and gardens while sharing childcare, bread, cheese, produce, tools, skills and libraries. We spent time in long conversations, climbed the beautifully built lighthouse for an exquisite sunset view, shared meals, sank into the literature provided at the welcome house, met grad students and journalists who are studying the ZAD, talked about the art and cultural democracy that was emerging from daily life, learned about ongoing conflicts between the specie-ists (those who are informed by deep ecology, who don’t believe that humans are special), the global justice activists and the traditional farmers, and discovered that this is the real work of making this vision come alive.

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John shared the history of battles on the land and how old coalitions between trade unions, farmers and activists were revitalized to create solidarity against the airport. We learned how art, play and humor kept the whole process joyful, even in the face of violence. It was inspiring, but we left knowing that romantic dreams were not enough to make this community sustainable. It required gritty, uncomfortable, daily work to keep people communicating productively with each other. Solidarity was not a given. Doing ongoing anti-oppression work and non-violent conflict resolution would be the continuing task of this visionary place.

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Now in this moment of extreme attacks from the State, it is important to remember that the seeds planted by ZAD can be broadcast widely, and we can be encouraged that it has survived and thrived in very difficult conditions. New communities of this kind will be forming all over the world as the dominant culture continues to crumble. We must take heart, be resilient when there are losses and persist in making our visions emerge. Share this story with others, find ways to organize and educate in your own communities. LONG LIVE THE ZAD!

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Flyer being handed out at French Embassies and Consulates


Beverly Naidus, interdisciplinary artist, author and facilitator of a socially engaged, studio arts curriculum, has been creating interactive installations and mixed media projects for several decades. Inspired by lived experience, topics in her art focus on environmental and social issues. After tasting success in the mainstream art world, she became deeply committed to art that emerges from communities struggling against oppression of all kinds. She is currently on the faculty of the University of Washington, Tacoma.

www.beverlynaidus.net

All photos courtesy of Beverly Naidus

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

Call for Artists: WetlandLIFE

June 7, 2017
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Fenlake Meadows. Photo: Tim Acott

The WetlandLIFE Research Team are looking for artists whose work can contribute to our knowledge and appreciation of wetlands and mosquitoes. By this we mean artworks, in any medium, that seek to influence our awareness, understanding, attitudes, emotions, values or behaviour towards them, and the ecological and social interactions that have brought them into being. This might be done by communicating the findings of researchers about wetlands and mosquitoes to new audiences, challenging how we think about them, or changing how we feel about them – perhaps helping us connect with them in new ways.

This is an exciting opportunity for artists to work alongside local communities and a diverse team of environmental researchers to show how art can influence how we value nature and ecosystem services. The focus of work will be on the Somerset Levels, Humber Levels and Thames Estuary, although reference will also be made to a broad range of inland and marine wetlands across England to capture the diversity of these places.

We are offering three bursaries of £5,000 each (total of £15,000). Artists can apply for the total amount – and create work that relates to the project’s three case study sites or to wetlands in general – or for one bursary worth £5000 – perhaps focusing specifically on one of the sites. We welcome applications from consortiums of artists working together to address all three sites. The bursaries cover the artist(s) fees, accommodation and travel, and all costs associated with the production and display of the artworks.

Artworks by the successful artist/s will be included in a final touring exhibition, planned in early/mid 2019, which will visit each of the three case study sites.

The full brief is available on the WetlandLIFE website.

WetlandLIFE is one of the projects funded through the multi-Research Council Valuing Nature Programme.


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