Juliet Wilson reviews Apples and Other Languages by Camilla Nelson

May 13, 2017 by
apple+rot

Camilla Nelson, The Same Apple (detail) 2014. Photo: Camilla Nelson

Camilla Nelson is a performance poet and a language artist who creates installations and events, with a particular interest in trees, especially apple trees.
Apples and Other Languages grew out of Nelson’s PhD research ‘Reading and Writing with a Tree: Practising Nature Writing as Enquiry’ (2009 – 2012).

The book is divided into three sections. The brief ‘Musical Introduction‘ is largely inspired by Bjork’s Biophilia and is made up of the collection’s most accessible poetry including the arresting, memorable and very musical ‘A Purse of Sky

give me a coin for the slot machine sky, I said
and she gave me the sun
and the polka dancing stars were sequins on night’s black dress

Apples, the second section of the book (written during the poet’s PhD research) and Other Languages (which, according to Nelson’s afterword to the book, ghosts the thinking of the PhD) are made up of more experimental poems that on the face of it can seem daunting, but which repay re-reading. Nelson has a great ear for thought provoking phrases such as, to give a couple of examples:

tinkle-spin-bio-warp yourself weird‘ from Miracle

what is the shape of this leaf-drenched feeling‘ from Reader Write a Response

This is the sort of original language that can genuinely make the reader see and think about things differently. I particularly like ‘a curlew threads its needle song throughout‘ from Laugharne – with its suggestion that curlew song holds the landscape together, something that is coming apart as this bird declines drastically across its range (the UK being one of it’s most important breeding sites).

The layout of the words on the page is always important in this collection, with conventional punctuation being replaced by strategically placed blank spaces that serve to emphasise the relationship between words and by implication the relationship between the poet and the world around her. This is particularly well used in Kynance, a very effective, almost concrete evocation of Kynance Cove in Cornwall, where the spacing of words on the page evokes the vertiginous feel of this spectacular beach. The phrase ‘we walk the sandy gums of giant’s teeth‘ is a very apt and accurate description of the immense free standing rocks on the beach.

In Writing Apple, written after observing how writing marked into an apple altered as the apple decayed, Nelson contemplates the wizened apple and considers her own ageing:

decay’s unrepresentable hard peaks of wrinkled skin … … will I soon become
like this … … my cheeks blush… … brown decay… … what horror

and then moves to a larger contemplation of her interconnectedness with nature (as represented by the apple):

you affecting me affecting you affecting me

This poem also fits neatly in with Nelson’s installation The Same Apple, in which sixteen apples from the same tree were stored to examine how differently they decayed. This piece, along with the artist’s other installations can be seen at www.singingapplepress.com/installation/.

The relationship between the poet and the natural world is threaded through the whole collection and extended into other relationships between the natural world and the human : that between trees and paper and books in Thinking Tree Shapes (‘imprint a page express a tree‘) and that between the patterns found in the growth of lichen and the patterns made by the writing pen in The Lichenous Page (‘these tile tapping keyed up fascinators mark the shape between you and I plant doubt‘). While in (Not Quite) Within Water, Nelson explores the similarities between pond dipping and searching the internet, which made me see both activities in a slightly different light:

and the value incurred in searching …… whilst sitting at its edge …… and finding
that which is hidden … … … or lost … … … …in the deep dark depths
illicit … … … … illegal … … … deep dark web … … and the fear of drowning

The relationships so carefully explored in this collection are vital to today’s world, a world in which fewer and fewer people feel part of nature. It becomes ever more essential that poetry explores and communicates these connections. However experimental poetry reaches only a small audience – relatively few people read poetry and many who do, are not drawn to experimental poetry or may not even be aware of the existence of such poetry. In addition I feel that the urgency of our current perilous ecological situation requires an urgency in the telling, which is to my reading, lacking in these poems, no matter their beauty, no matter how much they repay re-reading. Perhaps we need a discussion about what and who nature poetry is for in these times? Do we choose to talk to other eco-poets alone or do we choose to write something more accessible that might reach the general public and perhaps change their way of thinking? Not that I believe all poetry should be immediately understandable to anyone with a primary school education, nor do I like political rants that pretend to be poetry, but a good hook for the general reader with a passing interest in poetry would be no bad thing.


Juliet Wilson is an adult education tutor, writer. crafter and conservation volunteer based in Edinburgh. She blogs at http://craftygreenpoet.blogspot.com and tweets as @craftygreenpoet.


Apples and Other Languages is published by Knives Forks and Spoons Press and can be ordered from their website.

The Arts as Ally: Earth Day/Month/Year 2017

April 26, 2017 by

This comes from Julia Levine/artists and climate change blog.

Artists & Climate Change

We are almost four full months into 2017, and already there have been multiple large-scale international public demonstrations, starting most notably with the Women’s March in January. And we’re between two major international marches this week – the March for Science, and the People’s Climate March. In my installment this month, I highlight a particular creative effort for the March for Science, as well as a powerful new documentary from Standing Rock, amidst the unprecedented political situation in the United States.

There is power in the rallies and marches of these past months, in the convening of individuals around shared values. I relish in the humanness – the connections, creativity, compassion. I am also thrilled by the offers of alternatives: public forums to practice alternatives to the oppressive status quo that leaves out and strips the power of people that do not fit the “dominant” type. In these imagined alternatives, there…

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Reviewer needed: Apples & Other Languages by Camilla Nelson

April 8, 2017 by

apples1

We have received a copy of Apples and Other Languages by Camilla Nelson  (published by KFS) and we’re looking for a reviewer.  Please contact Chris Fremantle with examples of your reviewing and a brief bio.  We’d appreciate expressions of interest by 17 April.

A Field of Wheat: Abby Rose’s Perspective

April 6, 2017 by

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Following on the previous post about A Field of Wheat we are pleased to highlight Abby Rose’s recent reflection on the project posted to Agricology.

At a local harvest festival, we bagged up the 100kg of flour we had managed to get milled for our own use, and we had every single thing that was added on farm written in the ingredients list on the pack – fungicides, pesticides, fertilizers and all. The visitors and guests who came along were shocked, and so was I really. This was a powerful way to experience directly the realities of producing food, I had shared the risks with the farmer and I had made some decisions that really surprised me. What’s more, Peter saw that he only needed to apply 1/5th the amount of nitrogen and could still get a high quality crop.

Read the rest of the blog here.

Screening/Reading: Donna Haraway Storytelling for Earthly Survival

April 3, 2017 by
[vimeo https://vimeo.com/189163326]

Screening
Donna Haraway: Storytelling for Earthly Survival
Glasgow Film Theatre, Rose Street, Glasgow
Sunday 23 April 2017  17:15

In this portrait of Haraway, filmmaker Fabrizio Terranova explores her playful, humorous and sincere approach to narrative when dealing with the substantial issues facing human beings as co-habitants of planet earth. Over several weeks Terranova lived in Haraway’s Californian home, filming her and dog Cayenne, within their own domestic universe. Combining this original footage with projections and archival material, Terranova has created a filmic fable in tune with Haraway’s own unique and engaging approach to storytelling.

Director Fabrizio Terranova will join us for a Q&A following the screening.

Special Screening Price: £5.50 for all tickets

Buy Tickets here

Reading Groups
Chapter Thirteen, Pearce Institute, Govan
Hosted by Elsa Richardson and Kirsteen Macdonald
All Welcome / Free Entry / More Information here

19.04.2017 18:00
An introduction to Haraway’s writing through her seminal feminist text A Cyborg Manifesto and recent essays on the nature of human relationships to the environment in Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene.

26.04.2017 18:00
Haraway’s thinking on non-human relationships and propositions for kinship with readings sourced from Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People and Significant Otherness and When Species Meet.

Organised by Kirsteen Macdonald / Chapter Thirteen with support from
The Glasgow School of Art Sustainability in Action Group
gsasustainability.org.uk

Minty Donald reviews A Caledonian Decoy

March 29, 2017 by

Tim Collins and Reiko Goto’s dense and thought-provoking exhibition brings together a number of recent works developed as part of what they describe in the accompanying catalogue as ‘A Critical Forest Art Practice’.* This body of works, made ‘with rather than in’ forests in Scotland is intended to ‘explore […] new relationships between humanity and nature’.

Key to Collins and Goto’s approach, and at the core of the exhibition, is the concept of the ‘cultural decoy’, a term which they use to describe several of the works. As I understand this provocative and generative concept, a cultural decoy is an artefact that is intended to lure the audience/spectator into a relationship with the entanglement of nature and culture that comprises what is commonly referred to as ‘the environment’, and in the particular case of this exhibition, with the natural-cultural environments of Scotland’s forests. The word ‘decoy’, particularly employed in this context, is loaded and complex. It has clear associations with hunting, leading me to reflect on the implications of identifying art objects as decoys in this gallery-based, ecologically inflected exhibition. A decoy may be set by the hunter to trap prey, but also deployed by those pursued to distract or mislead the hunter.

A further frame which seems pertinent to Goto and Collins’ exhibition, though not one overtly referenced by the artists, is Robert Smithson’s notion of site/non-site. Smithson’s grappling with the productive paradoxes of exhibiting work with site-responsive origins in a gallery distant from the originary location has, for me, useful resonances. Goto and Collins appear to share Smithson’s approach, complexifying the relationship between the ‘cultural’ space of the gallery and the ‘natural’ forest environments from which their work emanates.

The exhibition includes six photographic and sculptural works that Collins and Goto consider to be cultural decoys and a video work titled Decoy, installed in the tight confines of the Intermedia Gallery at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow.

In Fiadh

The central and most imposing of the cultural decoys, Fiadh, is a group of cage-like structures constructed from metal fencing and wooden posts, which stand at approximately human head height. The cages, if viewed from above, spell out the word fiadh which, exhibition notes tell me, is ‘Scottish Gaelic for deer, but also references wildness’. One of the cages contains cowberry, bilberry, heather and bracken growths. The work is intended as a maquette for a much larger scale sculpture, which the artists intend to function as a deer fence, protecting recently harvested forest plantation from deer herds. The full-scale work would evolve over time, as the metal fencing is engulfed by maturing trees. It’s a work that invites me to contemplate the inextricable intertwining of nature and culture in Scotland’s forests (and wider ecology) and to consider multiple, opposing and overlapping, perspectives on land stewardship and re-wilding. For me, it functions effectively as a cultural decoy — a gallery-based proposition, luring the spectator into a conceptual engagement with the natural-cultural entanglements of Scotland’s forests. It doesn’t reference or evoke a specific forest location, but functions as a speculative work that points towards conditions common to Scotland’s woodlands and brought about through competing demands of deer preservation and timber cultivation.

Decoy, a split-screen projection showing video footage of movement advancing into and retreating from a dense, ancient forest environment (the forward movement in colour and the retreat in black and white) fills another gallery wall. The footage has the shaky appearance and point-of-view of hand-held camera work. I watch the video while standing among the fence structures of Fiadh. Other visitors stand in front of the wire mesh, in close proximity to the projection/gallery wall. I note my sense of enclosure and my fragmented view of the video, which to me mimics the physical and visual experience of being in a dense woodland. I contemplate the gallery as natural-cultural space, a forest-within-gallery, or gallery-within-forest. The camera movement and my position within the fencing structures evokes for me the somatic experience of moving through a forest environment. Decoy’s sound-track (a commentary reflecting on the Caledonian forests of Scotland and key terms used by the artists, followed by field recordings of rutting deer) and the more formal aspects of the editing (spilt screen projection in colour and monochrome), however, pull me back from this more affective, sensory interaction with the work. You can see Decoy here.

Bridle and Darkness

I experience a similar withdrawal from the somatic and immersive dimensions of the five wall-based pieces, also described as cultural decoys. Lanolin, Can You See the Forest of Scotland? is a sheep’s fleece, manipulated to pick out a saltire in washed white wool against a greyer background of untreated fleece. The Ladder in the Wood is a photograph of a deerstalker’s ladder, once used to access a treetop platform from which the stalker could observe and shoot deer. The ladder is rotting and becoming indistinguishable from the fabric of the tree against which it stands, no longer fulfilling its human-determined function. Fearna/Co2 is a piece of Alder tree bark into which a carbon dioxide monitor, linked to a noise generator, has been inserted. As human spectators approach, the noise level increases in response to their Co2 exhalations. One of two linked pieces, Taod Gaoisdei, is a bit-less horse bridle, woven from twisted birch twigs and horse hair. Exhibition notes inform me that in Scottish folklore a birch bridle could be used to harness a kelpie, the mythical Scottish horse-sprite. A photograph of Goto’s other-than-human collaborator, native-breed horse An Dorchadas, wearing the bridle, accompanies the sculptural piece. These five works operate, for me, as cultural decoys at a conceptual level, pointing to complex entanglements of the natural and the cultivated, human and other-than-human. However, compacted into Intermedia’s small exhibition space, and with prominent explanatory text, my interaction with the wall works feels slightly skewed towards the ocular and intellectual. I feel constrained, for instance, from taking up the invitation to interact with the carbon monoxide monitor in Fearna/Co2, or from touching the fleece in Lanolin, Can You See the Forest of Scotland?

While I may have welcomed a little more space (both physical and interpretive) for open-ended, sensory and affective interactions with the works, A Caledonian Decoy is a rich and thoughtful exhibition that makes a sophisticated and valuable contribution to debates about the natural and the cultural, art and the environment. Goto and Collins’ decoys remain ambivalent — are they set by hunter or prey, poacher or gamekeeper? — suggesting the impossibility of untangling the competing and shared impulses and intentions that play out in the natural-cultural environments of Scotland’s forests.


* All quotations are from the exhibition catalogue or signage. You can download a pdf of the catalogue CollinsandGoto_CALEDONIANDECOY

All photographs and videos courtesy of the artists.


The Collins & Goto Studio’s The Centre for Nature in Cities presents: A Caledonian Decoy
Intermedia Gallery, Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow, 2-23 February 2017


Minty Donald is an artist and senior lecturer in contemporary performance practices at the University of Glasgow. She is interested in the idea of more-than-human performance, where performing is understood as not just a human activity. Minty works regularly with (human) collaborator Nick Millar. Recent work includes THEN/NOW, a public art project with/for the Forth and Clyde Canal and Guddling About, an ongoing project with rivers and other watercourses, which has been performed in Canada, Spain, Germany, Australia and the UK.


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