Archive for the ‘Sited work’ Category

Coleman and Hodges:  MOON – WATER – DUST,  Residency at the Bamboo Curtain Studio

April 24, 2020
CH riverbank

Photo courtesy of the artists

Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman, artists with a social practice based in rural Dumfries and Galloway, tell us about the residency they undertook at the Bamboo Curtain Studio, Taiwan in September and October 2019. Using food as well as walking as means of exploring, they provide an insight into the political and environmental context. They discuss climate change activism; Moon Cakes; dust; the potential for umbrellas to take on different form as well as meaning; and walking the Southern Upland Way through Taipei. They conclude with some questions regarding international residencies in a time of climate crisis (this was written before the pandemic which is raising another set of questions).

There are several sections to this blog including:

An introduction providing context particularly in relation to Taiwan’s post-war development and its environment;

Residency Work Notes:

  1. Celebration, making and marking time
  2. Water: falling, carrying and letting go
  3. New forms: Tumbleweed
  4. Museum of the FutureNow
  5. The Walking of Here to There – A Walk by Robbie Coleman

Final Notes – programme and reflections


Introduction

We arrived in Taiwan on 2nd September 2019 in time for the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節) and also in time for the typhoon season; high humidity, torrential rain, 35 degrees and blisteringly hot sun. All set against a continuous background of conversation about politics, democracy, independence, the protests in Hong Kong, China, environmental action and inaction.

BCS PlanWe had been selected for the ‘Creative Talents’ Residency, 2 months at Bamboo Curtain Studio, New Taipei City, Taiwan. Bamboo Curtain Studio (BCS) is an independent arts organisation that has been operating for 25 years. BCS seeks to bring together innovative ecological and social arts practice from around the world, providing a nurturing environment and a platform for open discussion and the development of new ideas, projects and partnerships. BCS practices and promotes sustainability through working with communities to bring awareness about environment, climate change and sustainable living. The studios are situated in an old farm complex of 2,645 sqm with five artists-in-residency rooms and studios; learning space, multi functional performance/exhibition spaces; ceramics & sculpture studio; community kitchen, outdoor stage and garden. BCS is situated near to Zhuwei, a suburb of Taipei, along the bicycle path of the Tamsui riverbank which is about 30 minutes commute from Taipei centre.

We had very little knowledge of Taiwan before being selected, so here’s some brief background for context.

Taiwan is a small island about the size of Wales and its geographical location in the South China Sea has given it an important strategic position. Over the centuries it’s been colonized by China, The Netherlands, Spain and Japan. It is currently (and historically) a contested landscape. Whether or not Taiwan is an independent “country” is a grey area. Taiwan is part of its own definition of China; ‘The Republic of China’, with Taipei as its capital and not part of China under the definition of the ‘Peoples Republic of China’ in Beijing. Taiwan has been governed separately from mainland China since 1949 when the ROC government relocated to the island after military defeat by the communists, and locally governed since martial law was lifted in 1987. The government now operating in Taiwan is a self-sustaining, fully functional, democratically-elected government unrelated to Beijing with its own economy and currency. Taiwan has a free-market economy and high-performing industries, highly developed infrastructure and open internet. The majority of the world has official diplomatic relations with Beijing with Taiwan being recognised by only 14 out of 193 United Nations member States. In practice though most countries do retain some economic and cultural ties however Taiwan is severely limited in its diplomatic capacity as well as its ability to participate in international organisations (such as the World Health organization) and events due to the ongoing conflict with the PRC.

In the wider context of Taiwanese international relations and financial support by the Ministry of Culture for international exchanges and residencies, our residency at BCS may be seen as falling into the realms of cultural diplomacy, a type of soft power that includes the “exchange of ideas, information, art, language and other aspects of culture in order to foster mutual understanding”. In essence ‘cultural diplomacy’ is a tool to create influence with the aim for encouraging foreign nations to develop an understanding of Taiwan’s ideals and institutions in an effort to build broad support for economic and political goals.

Prior to lifting martial law in 1987, Taiwan experienced rapid change through three decades of fast industrialization (petrochemical plastics) and population growth with little concern for environmental impacts. There was massive pollution of soil, water and atmosphere and reduction of Taiwan’s natural forest cover. We were interested in understanding the consequences of and responses to rapid change in systems (cultural, technical, economic) and in communities. What is current thinking about the structures and systems that need to be developed in response to climate emergency and other social and environmental issues? How are artists engaging with rapid change and how might we understand the world differently when viewed from an Asian perspective?

We met with Brian Hioe, editor of New Bloom Magazine to talk about contemporary politics in Taiwan. He was involved in The Sunflower Movement which involved the storming and occupation of the Taiwanese legislature in March 2014. The movement was largely youth-led and a vehicle for a set of issues regarding questions about Taiwanese identity, the relation of Taiwan and China, and also Taiwan’s geopolitical and socioeconomic position in the world. It resulted in a change of government and also an explosion of creativity in the arts and cultural production. The Sunflower Movement marked the political empowerment of a generation, where politics began to be something that young people felt like they could participate in. There was a large amount of cooperation between the groups involved and many members of the movement have now entered formal politics or work for NGO’s. We also talked to Brian about the ‘Umbrella Movement’ in Hong Kong which Taiwan is watching closely, the role of social media in Taiwan and much more.  See https://daybreak.newbloommag.net/ for info on the Sunflower Movement.

The new democratic processes have facilitated the development of a broad range of civil movements and NGO’s active in environmental and social justice. Taiwan for example has become the first Asian country to legalise same sex marriage in May ’19. Since the pollution of the 70’s, there has been a huge rise in environmental consciousness and Taiwan’s environmental organizations have fought to halt industrial pollution and affect environmental policies. People are directly participating in public protests against polluting industries and more recently a new generation of green activists and artists have been moving out from the cities, working with rural villagers to make environmental concerns “trans-local”. The resulting cooperation has been successful in stopping many controversial industrial developments . In Taipei we found many cultural and art actions, events, festivals and artists working with reference to environment/ecology/eco-centric practices and issues, however alongside this, a massive preoccupation with issues of national identity.

As we talked to people these two conflicts in contemporary Taiwan became clear, the question of national identity and the conflict between growth and environmental quality. Every day we felt the positive impacts of the recent rise of democratic processes and civic consciousness. But despite the Taiwanese passion for recycling and conservation, we also witnessed evidence of throwaway consumerist culture such as the mainstay of one use takeaway cups and food boxes (huge culture of street food), and 24 hour arcades of ‘clawgrab’ machines – a craze in Taiwan where individuals rent a machine to earn a few extra dollars and fill it with cheap toys and gadgets. Everywhere there’s ugly evidence of previous unregulated industrialization and the piecemeal ongoing attempts to rectify some of the damage. The tension between ecological awareness and growth is palpable. As the economy has changed, many young people have the expectations of the standard of living of their parents but are earning less. We often found ourselves returning to this topic with our daily conversations with Margaret Shui, founder of BCS, who was interested in finding ways of encouraging young people to challenge notions of growth-based prosperity and to find other ways of living based on creativity and community with less material wealth.

Reinaart Vanhoe, artist and author of Also-Space, From Hot to Something Else : How Indonesian Art Initiatives Have Reinvented Networking was also resident at BCS. We had many discussions with him around his work in Indonesia exploring how creative networks have developed outside the western model of art practice, where cultural institutions and funding don’t exist in the same way. Ruangrupa, an arts collective in Jakarta, Indonesia integrate with, explore and reflect the society they are embedded within in informal, almost conversational ways. This lack of rigidity and obvious hierarchy, allows for an open, socially inviting way of working with a surrounding community that might be useful for European organisations to explore. Reinaart is following how they deal with the increasing success (in western artworld terms) of some of their members and the impact that this might have on their core values.

Margaret Shui is passionate about centering the climate emergency and Jo joined her on the ‘Fridays for Future’ Climate Action on 27th September. Jo participated in the ‘Last Supper’ installation outside the Legislature building in Taipei; a table laden with locally sourced food, around which experts and activists sat (including Jo) Each made a presentation about the link between climate change and food production and the gathering was joined by the local minister for the environment and other politicians who spoke to their commitment to make change. Jo spoke about the Climate Change Bill passed by the Scottish Parliament on 25th Sept and gave her thoughts on the need to reconsider the growth imperative.  Jo noted that there were comparatively fe­­w people at the action compared to many capital cities around the world and that many of those attending were expats. She spoke to the representative of 350.org who said that education was valued so highly in Taiwan, that most parents would not allow their children out for school and many students, while supporting the action felt the same. Jo talked to the main environmental NGO, Citizens of Earth about the seeming lack of support for action on Climate Emergency. They said that while there are some smaller NGO’s that focus specifically on climate issues, much of their work is about mitigation and adaptation not under the name of ‘climate change’. For example advocating for land conservation (wetlands & farm lands), coast and coral reef conservation, forest restoration. They also promote industrial transformation and energy transition to fight air pollution and to reduce use of fossil fuels. Work by other environmental NGOs in Taiwan, such as lowering the use of coal power and promoting renewable energy and reducing plastic waste are all considered as part of climate action.

Most Taiwanese people that we met were very keen to hear about our perceptions of Taiwan and alongside our conversations and discussions around politics and environmental action, ran our daily experiences and observations, giving us a different kind of insight… these include the politeness and kindness of everyone; the quietness of crowds; the thousands of scooters and resulting petrol pollution; recycling trucks playing music as they traverse the streets and people gathering and gossiping on street corners with their rubbish bags waiting for them to arrive; the micro economies of street food; typhoons; people of all ages exercising on the paths by the river; night time cycle rides on the free city bikes; elaborate temples used as social centres; the burning of ‘money’ for the Gods in roadside fireplaces: Karaoke everywhere (a major social activity); Lullabies played to herald the arrival of the MRT trains; ants; mosquitos; humidity. Some things seemed familiar, but so much was very different.

Residency Work Notes:
1. Celebration, making and marking time

CH Creek Cakes

Photo courtesy of the artists

A key part of the contemporary Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations are outdoor barbecues and karaoke in the parks as well as offerings of Moon Cakes between friends and family. Traditional Moon Cakes are filled with red bean paste, sometimes with a salted egg in the centre, to represent the moon and have an imprint on the top of the Chinese characters for “longevity” or “harmony”. In talking about holiday traditions, we discovered that very few people now make Moon Cakes, they buy them from bakeries instead. We were interested in this change and as a way of exploring both traditional and contemporary culture, our first action in Taiwan was to track down the ingredients (not easy) and to learn how to hand make the cakes. To signal the start of our time in Taiwan, we designed a pattern for the top of our cakes relating to the moon’s impact on seed growth.

We followed this successful Mid Autumn Festival baking session by running a Moon Cake making workshop for fellow artists (Five other international artists were resident at the Bamboo Curtain Studios from Netherlands, Thailand, Japan, USA) and studio staff. It was a place for discussion around food, time, tradition and consumerist culture. People don’t feel they have time to make the traditional cakes and so these skills are being lost. We used the engagement with handmade processes to consider issues around contemporary Taiwanese work, family and leisure pressures. Is there value in making more time to make? The Cakes made at the workshop were taken as an offering to participants on the Plum Tree Community Hike on 29th September 2019.

2. Water: falling, carrying and letting go

CH River Sunset

As a creative practice we arrive in a new place with no fixed plan but with an interest in exploring the environmental and social relationships that we find and in fostering hospitality, conversation and exchange through our practice and processes.

We were amazed at how much rain falls around typhoon time and its impact on the city streets, rivers and creeks. The nearby Plum Tree Creek swells massively in size as the rain washes through the city streets and pours into it. As the full moon rises so does the tide in East China Sea and so the Tamsui River rises to the city. We watched as the dusty city water flowed under our local bridge into the Tamsui River and thousands of large fish swam up the creek to amass in huge shoals with their mouths open – consuming the overflow from the city.

Our thoughts turned to the creek that runs close to Bamboo Curtain Studios, and which has been the site of Artist Wu Mali’s project A Cultural Action at the Plum Tree Creek in the past. Thinking about the action of torrential rain on dust became a growing interest. Dust is a collection of minute particles; human and more than human. Skin cells, soil, rock, paper, organic material, concrete, hair…it is a binding layer between all materials and parts of life, we are breathing it in all the time as it is thrown up into the city air by wind and the movement of thousands of people, scooters and cars. The detritus is washed from the streets into the creek by the pounding rain and so we followed the dust to where it settles as silt; where the Plum Tree Creek joins the main Tamsui River. We collected silt from the estuary at night when the moons gravitational pull was at its greatest. We investigated it, exploring its mark-making potential at different dilutions on a daily basis over a lunar month, watching it fade as the moon wanes.

We collected more. On each visit to the shoreline we watched with fascination the shoals of huge black fish arriving with the tide to the edge of the city. This city is a dusty place, every celebration, argument, wedding or funeral makes marks and leaves evidence in the dust.  All the sad moments and hopeful dreams of the city were being filtered through the mouths of these black fish.

In the cooler evenings on the roof at the back of the studios we started processing the silt through a series of improvised filters (blankets, beach towels and pillow cases) until we were left with a liquid made of city dust and the erosion of rock and organic matter blown from the farms beyond the city – an emulsion of city, human, animal and more than human traces. As the water gradually evaporated from our material, we were left with a fine clay. So fine that it picked up our fingerprints when we touched it. An idea formed of using the material as a casting medium and of creating a travelling laboratory or studio to take on hikes further up the Creek past the city towards its source in the mountains.  We decided to use the dust/human trace/clay to take impressions of the plant life that we encountered on the creek banks as we went.

People work on small plots of land next to the creek and it was easy to strike up halting but friendly conversations about what we and they were doing. After a few days we started giving the cast tiles of botanical specimens as gifts to the people whom we encountered and people returned the next day with fruit or sweets for us. The work had become a mobile site of conversation and exchange. We talked about people’s relationship to the creek – it used to be a social space, people would gather by the river to chat, wash clothes and collect water for the home and vegetable garden. Now the area has become home to thousands of people who cannot afford to live in other parts of the city, high density housing blocks have been built over the creek, they turn on their taps for water at home, and have forgotten or have never known that they have a river flowing through and under them. We discussed how to change attitudes to the creek, how to stop the pig farm nearby polluting it, how to re-engage people with the watercourse and its ecology.  In this we are building on steady work by the Bamboo Curtain Studios and hope we have added something of value to the discourse. We enjoyed our days out along the creek, becoming a small social centre of friendly and curious folk.

Our process seemed to create a cyclical way of working, all the materials and liquids we are used in some sort of circular movement, being transformed on the journey in different ways – from the hills, to the creek to the sea and back again, subtly transformed, added to or subtracted from. Sometimes an element was removed such as salt, sometimes a meaning added, such as a simple image of a leaf. We felt in collaboration with the place and the people around us; part of a circular flow of materials carrying ideas and gestures.

More of our work using dust and silt from the river at https://colemanhodges.com/2019/12/15/silt/

3. New forms: Tumbleweed

Our ideas progressed gently on a daily basis, almost as sites of conversation between ourselves.  One of these involved the unlikely collision between the typhoon and the political unrest in Hong Kong. Part of our interest was to try and understand the political and activist background to the independence movement in Taiwan and the fast growing environmental sensitivities that are developing, so we met with people that have been involved in those actions over the years to try and get a sense of current issues and how people feel about them.  We knew that the historical, political and cultural context is complex, but we tried to get a sense of it. People were happy to meet explain the current fragile politics and on these conversational journeys across the city we also collected broken umbrellas. Famously, Taiwan used to be the worlds leading manufacturer of umbrellas. They are used here for protection from both sun and rain by everyone and after the typhoon the streets are littered with broken ones. Umbrellas are extraordinary examples of elegant design. Folded they are discreet objects that can be used as walking sticks or for capturing errant children or animals, when they are put up they are beautiful examples of tensile design.  Broken ones seem to have an emotional, defeated quality that, for us, began to entwine with news footage of the demonstrations in Hong Kong, where umbrellas were/are being used as personal defense against the teargas, smoke bombs and water cannons of the state.  On our rooftop studio space we started experimenting with our broken umbrellas and soon realized that however damaged they were as individual objects, in cooperation with other broken umbrellas, they could form strong and resilient new forms and we joined the core geometries, joints and materials to make a spherical form.

4. Museum of the FutureNow

After running a Museums of FutureNow workshop (an ongoing project that generates speculative future scenarios)  at an arts festival in nearby Keelung City we began to think about this new form as part of the Museums of the Future Now and developed a series of future histories for our object.  These histories formed a type of commentary on our thinking and conversations about politics, environment and future. We also experimented with taking the umbrella form into Zhuewi and installing it in various locations as a way of starting a conversation with curious passers by.

5. The Walking of Here to There – A Walk by Robbie Coleman

Preparation for the walk began by overlaying a section of the Southern Upland Way onto a street map of the city of Taipei – I decided on the section of the route that is nearest to my home in Dumfries and Galloway. Traditional walking routes usually follow ancient walkways between destinations and largely follow the lines of least resistance (waterways, lower gradients, animal tracks, droving roads). Overlaying this flowing journey across an artificially constructed terrain like a modern city would mean a real-time restructuring of the original route, taking the walker into unexpected places and situations. The walk was conducted overnight to avoid the heat and traffic.

My initial thoughts re-imagined the cultural colonization by early European explorers, maybe experimenting with re-naming places that I pass through, and exploring the implications of this type of cultural appropriation in a country with its own very real issues of identity and territory. This seemed especially relevant when we were told that many of the street and place names in Taiwan are transplanted from China by the waves of immigration from the mainland.  Streets names that translate as ‘Shanghai Way’ don’t mean anything, as they are not the way to Shanghai and so on.

In reality, the walk turned out to be much more about terrain and the feel of it.  I started at midnight at one end of the Red Metro line.  This is in a very modern part of the city containing the 101 Building, until recently the highest building in the world. I continued walking through ancient night markets, peaceful suburbs and empty multilane highways.

Taipei is an unusual city in terms of lighting, apart from the very central part, which resembles any other modern city – overlit and overbearing – most of the city is underlit.  I have become used to tall office blocks and blocks of flats being lit up at night in some way, either by leaving all the internal lights on at night in the case of office blocks or floodlit as part of an architectural plan or light spillage from another source, but Taipei feels quite dark. Street level is illuminated by all manners of different lighting – neon – riotous LED signage and street lighting, but this lighting does not reach up very high and so when you look above this vibrant layer, the buildings above it are dark.  This gives a sense that you are walking along canyons or amongst steep hills at night.  Sometimes the buildings are felt rather than seen, like walking beneath cliffs at night.  The buildings exist as volume/bulk rather than as surface. This made the journey into something unexpected and very beautiful. Although there was plenty of activity at periods during the night, the overall sense is one of calm. Taipei is a pretty flat city so there is not sense of altitudes or the difficulty of the climb that marks out any walking route in northern Britain

I particularly enjoyed watching the huge high-density housing blocks come to life in the early morning – isolated lit windows appearing in the sheer black walls of the blocks. The architecture changing from something bleak and monolithic to something built of tiny domestic details. Because of the lack of ambient light it was possible to look deep into these living spaces, the vast blocks revealing layers of intimacy. The duality of the walk also played out in unexpected ways – I had toyed with marking significant points from the Southern Upland Way onto my city map – to try and sew the two walks together in some way, but it proved to be unnecessary – taking a deliberate but nonsensical route across the city became a strange map reading exercise, the route bore no intuitive relationship to the terrain to be walked through so the map had to be continuously consulted – long curved corners and backtracking due to obstacles many thousands of miles away became a particular pleasure and as did the way the immediate real obstacles in the city forced the flowing Southern Upland Way into a ungainly series of angles and steps.

I also became an avid nighttime photographer, reveling in the limits of the camera in my phone.  The sometimes impressionistic results corresponding to how the terrain felt as well as how it looked.

The walk gave me time to consider what would happen if I remapped the ‘city adjusted map’ back onto the Southern Upland route, changing it into a stepped and clumsy pathway through the rolling landscape – which would lead to new obstacles to work around and remap, which in turn might lead to another remapping onto another city  – the ancient walkway becoming a palimpsest, constantly rewritten for new terrain, each iteration becoming part of a multiple memory of place through a single pathway. These circular thought patterns were helped along by my decision to chew Betel Nuts (local stimulant beloved of truck and taxi drivers in Taiwan) on my journey – this gave the whole walk a sense of uplift and well-being as well as an excess of saliva.

I arrived back at the studios at 6.00 in the morning with a fabulous sense of achievement, a phone-full of very blurred photographs and dyed red teeth.

Final Notes – programme and reflections

During our time on Taiwan we were involved in the following:

  • Presentation of our work at Taipei Annual, Taipei Expo. 7th Sept. https://avat-art.org/taiwanannual2019
  • Attendance at seminar “In Art We Care: Eco-Sustainable Action”, Taipei Artist Village. 24th  Sept. http://bambooculture.com/en/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=151 Speakers Margaret Shui Founder of BCS and Wu Mali, artist (an overview of the eco-art actions carried out by BCS in the past), Marie le Sourd, Secretary General of On The Move Network and Zhou Ganoderma ; Eco Artist / Researcher. The workshop session covered; creating new relationships with water, ways of responding to ecological difficulties within the cultural environment and the challenges and value of international networks for ecological art and action.
  • Cultural / Environmental Action: Hiking the Plum Tree Creek and demonstration of our casting technique to community gathering. 29th Sept. http://bambooculture.com/en/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=152
  • Attending ‘Fridays for Future’ Climate Action, Taipei. 27th Sept. Jo spoke about Scotland’s response to Climate Emergency.
  • Presentation of work at Keelung Ciao 5th October. https://en.keelungciao2019.com.tw
  • Running Museums of the FutureNow workshop at Keelung Ciao, 12th Oct. https://en.keelungciao2019.com.tw/
  • Running ‘Presence’, an organizational reflection and development workshop for BCS staff, 17th Oct
  • Surviving Typhoon ‘Mitag’ 1st October!
  • Exhibition of work at Open Studio Days 25th/26th Oct. http://bambooculture.com/en/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=159

Some questions regarding international residencies:

  • What do international residencies offer in a time of climate breakdown?
  • What are the colonial and corporate impacts of extraction and exploitation within the places we are working and how can we collectively question and act on the legacies of extraction and exploitation.
  • How can the arts support a shift to a post-fossil future?
  • Are there other modes of mobility and production within the arts?
  • How can we build holistic, eco-sensitive relationships and networks… (Reinaart Vanhoe’s work)
  • What methodologies can we use to re-establish or understand our relationships with our environs. Relationships to colonization?
  • What responsibility do we have as guest artists in terms of consumption / materials / ecological response – ability?
  • What is our position the background of ‘cultural diplomacy’ implicit in our invitation and the financial support enabling us to attend?
  • How can practice specific support be identified and provided when an artist is working in a different culture?

All photos are courtesy of the artists. More documentation of specific aspects can be found on their website.

Review: After ‘Into the Mountain’

October 11, 2019

Allen Ginsberg instructed us,

“Notice what you notice”
“Catch yourself thinking”
“Observe what’s vivid”

Earlier this year Simone Kenyon’s new work Into The Mountain, commissioned by the Scottish Sculpture Workshop, was performed in the Cairngorms. ‘After Into The Mountain’ is a reflection from John Hall, Wendy Kirkup and Simon Murray who went to Into The Mountain together.

We offer John, Wendy and Simon’s reflection, not as a review (pacem the blog title), but as a consideration of the experience. In order to maintain the three voices this piece is a pdf which you can access here: After into the mountain – final version with images

After Into The Mountain

Biographical notes:

John Hall is a poet, essayist and retired teacher, who lives below Dartmoor and was closely involved in the conception and development of Performance Writing at Dartington College of Arts.

Wendy Kirkup is an artist living in Glasgow. She is also an Associate Lecturer in Fine Art for the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), working at the Moray School of Art campus.

Simon Murray teaches contemporary theatre and performance at the University of Glasgow. He has been a professional performer and theatre maker and was Director of Theatre at Dartington College of Arts before moving to Glasgow.

Links to an incomplete collection of reviews:

Studio International Review

The Scotsman Review

Art North Magazine

The Stage Review

The Guardian Review

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

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

March 1, 2018
Newton Harrison on the River Dee

Newton Harrison on the River Dee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supported by SEFARI


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

This event is FREE but tickets are limited. BOOK NOW

Can’t make it to the event in person?

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


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

LAGI Glasgow exhibition at Edinburgh College of Art

September 9, 2017

LAGI green tease lo res

Land Art Generator Glasgow exhibition
Tent: Art, Space and Nature, Edinburgh College of Art
8-21 September 2017

The award winning Land Art Generator Glasgow project, developed in collaboration with ecoartscotland, explores creative approaches to using renewable energy in urban contexts as part of place-making approaches to regeneration.

The Land Art Generator Glasgow project focused on the Dundas Hill regeneration site just North of Glasgow City Centre. The project has been develop in partnership with Scottish Canals, BIGG Regeneration and Glasgow City Council.

The exhibition includes the designs by teams led by landscape and architectural practices in Glasgow including ERZ, ZM Architecture and Stallan Brand, and also highlights examples from the Land Art Generator Initiative Open Competitions.

The Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) brings together artists, architects, scientists, landscape architects, engineers, and others in a first of its kind collaboration. The goal of the Land Art Generator Initiative is to stimulate the design and construction of public art installations that uniquely combine aesthetics with utility-scale clean energy generation.

As we aggressively implement strategies towards 100% carbon-free energy and witness a greater proliferation of renewable energy infrastructures in our cities and landscapes, we have an opportunity to proactively address the aesthetic influence of these new machines through the lenses of planning, urban design, community benefit, and creative placemaking.

ecoartscotland and the Land Art Generator Initiative were awarded the 2016 Chartered Institution of Water and Environment Management (CIWEM) Arts, Water and Environment Award. The Nick Reeves AWEinspiring Award is presented annually by CIWEM’s Arts and the Environment Network in association with the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World (CCANW). The award celebrates projects or practitioners who have contributed innovatively to CIWEM’s vision of “putting creativity at the heart of environmental policy and action”.

Dave Pritchard, Chair of CIWEM’s Arts and Environment Network, said: “The quality of nominations for this year’s Award was wonderful. LAGI and ecoartscotland’s work is a superb example of our belief that arts-based approaches offer massive potential for more intelligent ways of responding to environmental challenges”.

The Land Art Generator Initiative’s programme includes in addition to the Glasgow project, a programme of Open Competitions, the next of which will be focused on Melbourne, Australia, in 2018.

There will be a discussion event at MFA Art, Space and Nature 3pm on 21 September. The event will be an opportunity to discuss the role of renewable energy in urban environments, as well as the opportunities presented by the Land Art Generator 2018 Open Competition in Melbourne. Allison Palenske, Alumni and member of the Art, Space and Nature based team that was a featured finalist in the 2014 Copenhagen Open Competition, will discuss making a successful Competition entry.

Please RSVP here 

For further information please contact Chris Fremantle on 07714 203016

Publication from the Land Art Generator Glasgow exhibition at The Lighthouse, Glasgow, 9 June – 29 July 2016

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