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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.

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.

Newton Harrison visits ASN Studio

September 23, 2018

Art, Space + Nature Blog

“The Deep Wealth of This Nation, Scotland” is an exhibition by the environmental art pioneers, the Harrisons currently on display at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA). The show is a collaboration between the Center for the Study of the Force Majeure (CFM) in California and the Barn in Aberdeenshire, along with the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen. It is presented at ECA in association with Art, Space + Nature Masters Programme (ASN).

Following a public presentation and discussion to accompany the ECA exhibition on Thursday evening, we were honoured to have Newton Harrison visit the ASN studio on Friday. We were treated to a two-hour discussion and career overview from the internationally renowned artist and pioneer of the global ecological art movement. The collaborative team of Newton and his late wife Helen Mayer Harrison (often referred to simply as “the Harrisons”) has worked for almost forty years with biologists, ecologists, architects…

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Sir Peter Scott: the embodiment of art and conservation

July 11, 2018

As part of the #art4wetlands series the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) have very kindly provided us with the following images and story on their founder, artist and conservationist Sir Peter Scott. Sir Peter epitomises one of the many ways that the power of art can be brought to bear on the challenges of conservation. One of the WWT reserve managers mentioned that every time Sir Peter wanted to do work to improve a reserve he would simply, “create another painting to sell.”


scott feeding wildfowl

Image courtesy of Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT)

Sir Peter Scott (1909-1989) knew how to take action, and how to inspire others.  He was a visionary who understood that people and nature are part of the same intertwined ecosystem. He realised – ahead of his time – that our wealth, our health and our emotional wellbeing all depend on the natural world. He understood that showing people how amazing nature is, can ignite a passion to conserve it.

Scott was an accomplished artist, writer, world-class sportsman, Naval Commander and the son of one of the most famous explorers of the 20th Century.  Famously, his father’s last letter from Antarctica prophetically instructed his wife to “Make the boy interested in nature – it is so much better than sports.”  As fate would have it, he was brilliant at both.

Scott with snowgoose

Image courtesy of WWT

Added to this he was an extraordinary wildlife artist with a particular passion for wildfowl art.  He produced hundreds of original wildfowl artworks in his lifetime and his deep love of painting birds must surely have driven his passion for working to save wetlands and wildfowl around the world.

In 1945/6 he became determined to set up a Wildfowl Trust – but where?  At Slimbridge – he had a ‘eureka’ moment.  Here, on the banks of the River Severn in Gloucestershire he spotted two unbelievably rare Lesser White-Fronted Geese in a flock of White-Fronted Geese.  So, Slimbridge would become the home of the Severn Wildfowl Trust – later to become the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

More than that, he began to address wider, global conservation issues.  A co-founder and first chairman of the World Wildlife Fund (1961), his work on international conservation issues continued over the coming decades.  He was instrumental in setting up the Ramsar Convention in 1971.  This international agreement works to protect wetlands of international importance and now includes over 2,300 sites covering 2 million square kilometres. In 1982 he established an international moratorium on whaling and later worked to secure agreements for the protection of Antarctica from international exploitation.  In 1973 he became the first person to be knighted for services to conservation.

scott with nenes - saved from extinction

Sir Peter Scott with Néné Geese. Image courtesy of WWT

Over the coming years he developed new conservation techniques and honed existing ideas; he saved the Hawaiian Goose (the Néné) from extinction; he established international protocols for conservation (i.e. the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species) still used today to categorise the conservation status of all known species; he brokered national and international agreements for the conservation of wildlife; he championed research into the damage done to our wild places and how to address this; he tracked the migratory patterns of wetland birds; he resolved to work across borders to protect their flyways and – insightful as ever – he recognised the power of bringing wildlife into people’s homes through the evolving medium of television and his ‘Look’ series on the BBC.

It is hard to identify anyone before him who had such an impact on raising conservation issues with the general public, and on bringing governments together to address global issues.


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