Posts Tagged ‘Collins and Goto’

What can the arts contribute to a Land Use Strategy for Scotland?

December 22, 2015

Woodland cover in Scotland. Image from Scottish Government website

The Scottish Government is consulting on a new Land Use Strategy for Scotland. This builds on the first Strategy (2011) and also on the two pilot studies done (Aberdeenshire and the Scottish Borders).

At the heart of the Land Use Strategy are the ideas of Natural Capital and Ecosystems Services Assessment. and the use of GIS to integrate many different aspects of our understanding of the land.  Dr Aileen McLeod, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, says in the Introduction to the consultation document,

In the wider context we have seen the development of the natural capital agenda and the formation of the Scottish Forum for Natural Capital, the increased use of an ecosystems approach and significant developments in areas such as the use of spatial mapping tools.

Natural Capital and Ecosystems Services Assessment are problematic both in terms of the financialisation of everything, as well as in the fundamental anthropocentric focus.  But they also shift the framework from ‘single issues’ to ‘systems,’ and the Ecosystems approach recognises the cultural dimension, albeit mostly through a tourism lens.

It is acknowledged that the cultural dimension is particularly difficult to assess in part because it relates to both tangible (e.g. recreational areas, footpath networks, scenic beauty as well as perhaps traditional practices) as well as intangible (e.g. stories, myths and values as well as again traditional practices). Traditional agricultural practices for instance shape the landscape, but are also part of the cultural identity of a landscape. An example of the intangible aspect of this might be the Bothy Ballads of the North East. These form part of the landscape metaphorically, but also can perhaps contribute to understanding the pattern of land use.

But the cultural dimension is not only understanding and valuing the past, it can also be about the present and the future. This has been exemplified in two recent publications. Alec Finlay’s ebban an flowan is a poetic primer for the marine renewable industry and We Live With Water is a vision for Dumfries, where “…tak[ing] an alternative approach and try to imagine a future where increased rainfall, sea-levels and river surges would be seen as an opportunity. We tried to imagine Dumfries as River Town….a place that embraced its environment…a place that Lives With Water.”

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As previously highlighted in the blog Land Use Strategy Pilot: What’s it got to do with artists? there are many examples of contemporary arts practices which can contribute to the Land Use Strategy, and we highlighted ones which already work with GIS systems, the spatial planning tool which is at the heart of Land Use Strategy development.

GIS is very valuable for seeing the relations between soil, water quality, biodiversity, ecosystems health and resource extraction. But it is a particular challenge to introduce cultural knowledge into GIS systems both because cultural knowledge doesn’t typically have a spatial character in the way that knowledge about soil type, forest cover, water or agricultural land quality is inherently spatial.

But if we believe that ‘place’ should be at the heart of any Scottish Land Use Strategy then artists and other cultural practitioners across the humanities (cultural historians and geographers, environmental philosophers, anthropologists, literature and language studies and art historians amongst others) need to find ways to contribute to the Land Use Strategy, especially given that the inclusion of the cultural dimension within the Ecosystems Services Assessment legitimises that input.

Moreover arts practices that focus on the systemic, relational and dialogic, artists with social and community, environmental and ecological practices, can make very important contributions. They can ask questions such as,

“What would Scotland’s landscape look like if significantly more people had stewardship over it?”

“Is conservation, and in particular keeping people out, the only way to manage areas of iconic significance?”

“What does a river see when it looks at us?”

“How can brownfield restoration meet more than legislative requirements?”

“What if renewable energy technology was developed by architects, designers and artists for communities?”

You can contribute to the Scottish Government’s Land Use Strategy consultation here.  The questions seem to be very specific and directed at confirmation (or dissent) rather than any sort of open-ended discussion, participatory or deliberative process.

If you are willing to share your thoughts about what you you think the questions are and how the arts might contribute to understanding those questions (or enabling other questions to be asked) with ecoartscotland we’ll publish them to promote a greater understanding of the ways in which artists, producers, curators and cultural managers can contribute to this important issue.

Please include examples: we are particularly interested in examples of arts projects that address ecosystems, eco-cultural well-being, and ways of working with GIS systems (or challenge the spatial technologies).

Caledonian Everyday Discussions – Glossaries

May 13, 2015
Edvard Munch, The Yellow Log, 1912

Edvard Munch, The Yellow Log, 1912,

A panel of Foresters (2pm Saturday 16 May, Summerhall, Edinburgh), perhaps a Glossary might be in order (thanks to Robert Macfarlane and his new book Landmarks for the idea and the resources).

Forestry Commission Research Glossary. (Page to a letter, i.e. not particularly good for browsing).

Royal Forestry Society Glossary. (Some terms and some links – full glossary available to members, but one also finds a link to an article on Forestry and Painting by Andy Moffat arguing that specific paintings of forests contribute to foresters’ understanding).

Forests and Chases in England and Wales, c. 1000 to c. 1850; A Glossary of Terms and Definitions. (Obviously it’s England and Wales not Scotland, but an interesting historical resource).

Caledonian Everyday Discussion Pt 3 of 3

May 12, 2015

For the third in the series of Caledonian Everyday discussions (2pm Saturday 16 May, Summerhall) we have a panel comprising foresters (managers and researchers).

At the first panel (12 April) we were provided with an historical trajectory of the issues that Forestry Commission managers and researchers have been asked to take on. We started post war with pit props (a short hand for the role of forestry in the economy) through biodiversity (in the 80s) and community (in the 90s). But the shape of our forests, particularly the ancient woodlands such as Blackwood of Rannoch, have been affected by social and economic changes (human conflict) over a much longer timespan. This historical trajectory is from the period of Jacobite Revolts to the present.

Our second panel (9 May) started with the ways and reasons the Squamish First Nations people spent a decade taking back legal control over woodlands (Beth Carruthers). They were supported by the new Roundhouse Arts Centre in Vancouver who’s initial artist in residence project ended up lasting 10 years.

We went on to explore C19th logging on Rothiemurchus Estate (Scott Donaldson) and on to contested languages of forestry and the ways that poetry, for instance, can inflect political discourse (Amy Cutler). We ended with the democratic intellect in Scotland (Murdo Macdonald). Imperial and post-colonial, institutional and critical, understanding and misunderstanding, ran through this conversation.

For the panel on Saturday 16 May (2pm, Summerhall) we’ll take a different trajectory again.

Given an increased understanding that everything is connected, what do we need to be sensitive to in managing both ancient and urban woodlands, commercial plantations and even new sites for forestry such as the NHS Estate? What is the role of the arts and humanities? What is the role of cultural institutions?

To address these questions, we have a great spectrum of people involved in forestry including Bianca Ambrose, David Edwards, Richard Thompson and Rick Worrell.

Recently moved from the mountains of North Wales, Bianca Ambrose is a social forester, researcher and writer known for her work on public engagement and community connections with woodland who is now based in Bristol. A strong thread within her research work is to understand more about the motivations behind people’s engagement with woods and forests, how people feel themselves to be connected to place and with nature, and how this translates into group action and personal satisfaction. The concept of biocultural diversity and the complexities of socio-ecological systems are embedded within her work and thinking. Using environmental sociology and human geography as her epistemological frames of reference, biocultural diversity and socio-ecological systems are manifest as woodland and forest scale cultural landscapes, where agency is directed by culture, place presents the natural resources, and a cultural landscape results. Bianca’s recent work in the UK has involved research collaborations with community woodland groups, and communities involved in urban greenspaces both of which included travel to work in the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland. Previously, she worked in an international context exploring the biocultural diversity of tropical forests and semi-arid rangelands across the world in countries including Cameroon, Mali, Ethiopia, Nepal, India, and the Philippines.

David Edwards, Senior Social Scientist at Forest Research – the research agency of the Forestry Commission – started his career as a forester on rural development programmes in West Africa and South Asia. In 1997 he re-trained in African Studies at Edinburgh University, with a doctoral thesis on the environmental history of southern Tanzania. He joined Forest Research in 2004, where he leads a new programme, ‘Integrating science for policy and practice’, which aims to demonstrate how to conduct applied interdisciplinary research in ways that enhance its impact. He has a keen interest in the environmental humanities and has been collaborating with artists Tim Collins and Reiko Goto, and a diverse range of partners, to help realise the cultural meanings associated with the Black Wood of Rannoch, one of the largest remnants of ancient Caledonian pine forests in Scotland. In doing so, he has explored the contrast between the official instrumental discourse of ‘ecosystem services’ and the private narratives of aesthetic and spiritual connection and empathy with nature held by many ecologists and foresters – and the prospect that these less tangible values might be incorporated better into environmental decision-making.

Richard Thompson, Native Woodland Ecologist for Forest Enterprise Scotland – realised his vocation at the age of ten and spent his formative years doing voluntary nature conservation work. He has muddy boot origins having trained as a forester and worked for a few years supervising harvesting and forest management. However, his interest in nature conservation soon led to an appointment as a conservation forester in Mid Wales and subsequently, a project leader in Forest Research’s Northern Research Station, specialising in the ecology and silviculture of upland native woodlands. Richard now provides strategic and site based advice on native woodland management on the national forest estate focusing on the restoration of planted ancient woodland sites, the improvement of condition in ancient semi-natural woodlands and the restoration and expansion of rare woodland types such as montane scrub and Atlantic hazelwoods. The aesthetic complexity of the “natural” environment and palimpsest of cultural use form important facets of Richard’s interest in native woods.

Rick Worrell is a self-employed forestry consultant who specialises in the management of native and broadleaved woodland. He has been involved in woodland survey, planning, management, research and policy development; working for private owners, Forestry Commission, local authorities and environmental charities. He is one of a small group of people who argued for native woodlands to be brought into the forestry in the 1980s; and has made a career out of working with the forestry profession to develop the collective competence to manage them. After 25 years we are only part way through that process.

He owns a small ancient oak woodland together with 4 other families, near Aberfeldy, where woodland management becomes personal and collective, and gets entangled with family life. He also, after many years of trying, persuaded a commercial forest owner to sell him a couple of acres of spruce plantation behind his house, which he is restoring to native woodland.

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday.

Caledonian Everyday Discussions Pt 2 of 3

April 24, 2015
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Tim Collins and Reiko Goto, Coille Dubh Rainich (The Black Wood of Rannoch), mixed media, 2015. Photo Tim Collins

Should artists seek to change the world?  That’s where the first discussion ended, having explored the history of pit props; the potential for a poet to contribute to the constraints that a forest manager might have to take account of in planning the management of an area of woodland; the development of ecosystems services assessment and in particular the cultural dimension; Gaelic and the subaltern, and how to protect a bramble patch in Central Scotland.  A more reflective and detailed summary of these discussions will be forthcoming in due course.

In the meantime we are very pleased to announce that the next panel (2pm Saturday 9 May 2015, the Anatomy Lecture Theatre, Summerhall) will have on it:

Beth Carruthers is a philosopher, theorist, artist, and curator known internationally for her work and research over three decades exploring the ethics and aesthetics of the human-world relationship. Her primary focus is on the transformative capacities of aesthetic experience, and of the arts in human relations to environment and other beings. She has collaboratively across the arts and sciences on the SongBird project (1998-2002), and in 2006 created a research report for the Canadian Commission of UNESCO on art in sustainability focused on sci-arts collaboration. She has recently begun a collaboration with a neuropsychologist on a project studying interspecies aesthetic engagement in part by imaging the patterns of human brain response to birdsong. Over the past decade she has been developing a theory of “deep aesthetics”, arising from the aesthetics and ontology of Merleau-Ponty, and studies in psychology and cognitive neuroscience. It proposes that aesthetic engagement is potentially transformative of reductive ontology, and hence of cultural practices, looking toward more sustainable futures (see Carruthers, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2015). Her most recent publication is “A Subtle Activism of the Heart” in Piper and Szabo-Jones, Sustaining the West: Cultural Response to Canadian Environments, from Wilfred Laurier University Press (May 2015). Also note: “Returning the Radiant Gaze: Visual art and embodiment in a world of subjects” in Brady, J., Elemental, from Gaia Project/Cornerhouse (forthcoming). Beth lives in unceded indigenous Coast Salish territory on Canada’s west coast. She is irregular faculty at Emily Carr University of Art + Design at Vancouver Canada, and currently a researcher at the University of British Columbia.

Amy Cutler, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, School of English, University of Leeds  Amy’s main academic research focuses on modern literature and its engagement with environmental politics and with old and new geographical imaginaries of Britain. Her specialist areas of study are coasts and forests in popular, small press, and avant-garde writing. She writes on problems of language, symbolism, and definition in particular environmental imaginations.  Amy is the lead academic on the new cross-disciplinary White Rose network, Hearts of Oak: Caring for British Woodland, based at the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield, and York.

Murdo Macdonald, Professor of History of Scottish Art, University of Dundee. Murdo’s doctoral thesis (University of Edinburgh, 1986) explored the relationships between art and science. He was editor of Edinburgh Review from 1990-1994. He is author of Scottish Art in Thames and Hudson’s World of Art series. His recent research focus has been as principal investigator of an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project Window to the West/ Uinneag dhan Àird an Iar: Towards a Redefinition of the Visual within Gaelic Scotland (2005-2011). This is a collaboration between the Visual Research Centre of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design at the University of Dundee and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic College in the Isle of Skye. It explores the inter-relationships of contemporary art, Gaelic language and culture, and art history. A further research interest is in the generalist ideas of the cultural activist and ecologist Patrick Geddes.

Scott Donaldson, Creative Scotland.  Scott is responsible for film education and environmental development.  Scott studied literature, film, education and environmental management. He taught photography and media in London colleges and Scottish universities, photographed for Scottish Natural Heritage and programmed cinema and education at macrobert. From 1997 – 2010 at Scottish Screen, Scott promoted film and moving image education in statutory and tertiary education. Since 2010 at Creative Scotland, he managed the Creative Futures talent development programme and continues to promote film education.

The following and final discussion on 16 May will have a panel of forestry managers and forestry researchers.

You can download the pdf of the exhibition publication SylvaCaledoniaCatalogue

For those of you who are observant you’ll notice that we have reduced the number of discussions from four to three – the one this Saturday 25 April has been cancelled.  Look forward to seeing you on 9 May.

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Gerry Loose, Neon, 2013. Photo: Tim Collins

Caledonian Everyday Discussions Pt 1 of 4

April 7, 2015

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As part of Sylva Caledonia, one of Summerhall’s contributions to Edinburgh International Science Festival, we are holding a discussion, Caledonian Everyday in four parts.  The first part will take place on Sunday 12 April at 2pm at Summerhall (Anatomy Lecture Theatre).

We are very pleased that Paul Tabbush, Chair of the Landscape Research Group (Bio), will join the exhibiting artists to discuss key questions imagining the future of forests in Scotland.

The key questions are:

  • Who knows what (and who decides) about the ancient woodlands of Scotland?
    Management of forests is no longer restricted to issues of extraction vs biodiversity. In a field including wild and free forest (no management), community management and extraction, and a science-based biodiversity management system, what are the various implications? Who decides? Who benefits? Who speaks for the forest and other living things?
    .
  • What can the arts and humanities contribute to well-being of non-human?
    The iconic and of the everyday:“ where is the Caledonian forest embodied in the central belt? Can a deeper ecological community and its aesthetic experience be nurtured within a city?  Is it a bonsai forest or a living ecosystem?
    .
  • How can the arts and cultural institutions of Scotland enrich our relationship?
    Attachment and the challenges of creating connections: do cultural institutions have a role in the public awareness and well-being of ancient forests? Do the institutions of Scotland enrich our relationship with ancient Caledonian forests? What are the examples of practice in making these connections?

Download the SylvaCaledoniaCatalogue

The subsequent panels will be held on:

  • Saturday 25th April, 2pm
  • Satuday 9th May, 2pm
  • Saturday 16th May, 2pm

 

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The law of the forest and the freedom of the streets

March 23, 2015

Thanks to Scott Donaldson for sharing this article The law of the forest and the freedom of the streets on openDemocracy.  Forests play an important role in the evolution of public space in England.  The Magna Carta was followed in 1217 by The Charter of the Forest.

The Forest Charter formalised the right of unbonded men to access and use of the goods of the royal forests (grazing, fuel, food), while implicitly assuming the right to wander freely in the landscape as well as providing a place of refuge for those cast out of the social order.

Forests not only played the role that cities now play, forests also offer a conceptual tool for thinking about the public realm in cities today.

 

Future Forest

March 17, 2015

Cover of report "Future Forest: The Black Wood, Rannoch, Scotland" click to download

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We are pleased to highlight the Report just released by the Collins and Goto Studio and Forest Research entitled Future Forest, The Black Wood, Rannoch, Scotland.   It features reflection and findings from a year long artist-led creative inquiry into the ecological and cultural meanings and values associated with the Black Wood of Rannoch in Highland Perthshire.

Working back and forth across our disciplines (art and social science) we have produced a deep reading of the historical and current condition of the Black Wood while making a small contribution to ideas about cultural ecosystems services. The report focuses on centuries of conflict that go back to the Jacobites in Rannoch and the fact that this important forest was forfeit to the crown three times. It reflects on 19th century historic management decisions, which created gaps in the cultural/forest landscape relationships and the loss of the native language. The modern history includes visionaries in the Forestry Commission who have conserved this forest for future generations.

This report emerged from local community interest in ancient trails that go back to the transhumance, and how they might be gently revealed and mapped without damaging the forest. Out of the discussion questions emerged about management of the forest, the form and function of the forest today, and what the Black Wood means and to whom is it relevant today:.Is the Black Wood a ‘forest cathedral’ without a local congregation or national recognition? Can future forest ideals be ascertained solely within the domain of science?

The potential benefits of increased national interest and use by people are juxtaposed with the on-going challenges of conducting research, putting long-range plans in place and protecting the forest against the day-to-day interactions with institutions and people, as well as other living things. Managers need to consider the risk of catastrophic weather events and the increased likelihood of pests and disease outbreaks within the changing environmental conditions of today. Everyone involved agreed on one point – no harm should ever come to the Black Wood.

The report explores how cultural values might bring new benefits to ancient Caledonian forests, raising questions about what it means for management and the people of Rannoch and Scotland in general. If you have questions or simply want to discuss the report, please contact us.

David Edwards, Social Scientist
Forest Research
Northern Research Station
Roslin, Midlothian, EH25 9SY
email: david.edwards@forestry.gsi.gov.uk

COLLINS and GOTO STUDIO
Art Design and Planning
1M Glasgow Sculpture Studio
2 Dawson Road, Glasgow, G4 9SS
email: tim@collinsandgoto.com

Anthroposcene Evolution

December 15, 2014

James Eckford Lauder - James Watt and the Steam Engine- the Dawn of the Nineteenth Century - Google Art Project

James Eckford Lauder – James Watt and the Steam Engine- the Dawn of the Nineteenth Century – Google Art Project

James Watt didn’t start the anthropocene age, nor is he responsible for climate change, but the invention of the Steam Engine is more than a footnote in history.  The new online journal at www.anthroposcenemanifesto.com (sic) is a platform for research and reflection from social, cultural ecology perspectives.  The introduction reads,

The Anthroposcene Evolution is a dialogue that began at an Environmental Research Network conversation, convened in Glasgow by Alex Benchimol, Hayden Lorimer and Rhian Williams in 2011. As that conversation closed, Chris Maughan suggested that for the arts and humanities  the idea might be better understood in terms of an ‘anthroposcene’, as a social or cultural ecology. All agreed it was an idea that needed to evolve and spiral outwards rather than a manifesto that would solidify and be set in stone. Here-in with many voices, hearts and minds – we establish a evolution of that discourse. In 2014-2015 an international group of contributors have agreed to develop critical variations on this theme for posting and discussion. Some will critique the form of the manifesto itself. We are the first contributors to a this dialogic journal. The membership of this group will change each year at summer solstice.

This online journal embraces all those in the arts and humanities who feel they have a vital role to play in the future. We will establish links to various projects, workshops and exhibitions as this site develops.

 The blog has a series of reports that Tim Collins and Reiko Goto wrote after ‘The Anthropocene: Artists and Writers in Critical Dialogue with Nature and Ecosystems held at the Australian National University, Canberra, June 2014:
1 Introduction, 2 Participants, 3 Images, 4Reflections and 5 Key Points.

 

A Critical Forest Art Practice

January 17, 2014

Characteristic Scottish landscape, sometimes described as a wet desert: high moorland managed for shooting and commercial plantation of conifers. This is what makes Black Rannoch Woods, as remnant Caledonian Forest, so important. With permission of Collins and Goto Studio

Tim Collins and Reiko Goto’s project, The Forest is Moving, exploring, listening and responding to, imagining, learning from, touching, sleeping in, filming, photographing, walking in and with, the Black Rannoch Woods, is ongoing at the moment.  They have been posting to the Imagining Natural Scotland’s blog (where you can find blog posts from other projects as well).

1. A Critical Forest Art Practice. | Imagining Natural Scotland.

2. Critical Forest Practice: Onsite in the Black Wood. ¦ Imagining Natural Scotland.

Aesthetics of Uncivilisation Pt.2

January 15, 2014

The first post under the title Aesthetics of Uncivilisation focused on responding to Charlotte Du Caan’s call for submissions for the Dark Mountain Project’s next publications and her reflection on Seeing through a glass darkly. She said,

The fact that civilisation holds us so tightly in its unkind embrace is not only because it controls what some call ‘industrialised storytelling’, but also because it manufactures the images that powerfully and unconsciously distract and misinform us, keep us endlessly looking at the shiny surfaces of what we feel is our cultural reality,

That essay responded to Charlotte’s examples of reconnecting with nature and highlighted the work of the Collins and Goto Studio and their projects The Forest is Moving and Plein Air; Liberate Tate’s performance Parts Per Million and Penny Clare’s photographs. Arguing that these represent aspects of an aesthetics which is also an ethics, an ethics of eco-cultural well-being, of the absurd performance of catastrophe, and of the possibility of an art of low energy, the essay suggested a wider conceptualisation of reconnecting with nature.

In this second essay another selection of examples have come to mind in response to watching The Grass Will Grow Over Your Cities (2010), Sophie Fiennes’ film exploring Anselm Keifer’s studio and landscape in Barjac in the South of France.

In this discussion we cannot overlook Dada and Surrealism. The artists now grouped under those ‘movements’ were responding to catastrophic human stupidity.

Perhaps the shaping document of the 20th Century has been Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurism (1909), calling as it did for the of the overturning of the heart of European culture, the washing away of the old, and celebrating speed and violence. The first few lines evoke this,

“1. We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness.

2. Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry.

3. Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggresive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.

4. We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. ….”

For all the other philosophising, this manifesto is what the 20th Century has lived up to: the headlong charge, the rabid consumption of energy, aggression and violence in magnificent proportions culminating in a weapon that can destroy all life on earth and the realisation that in any case we are affecting all life on earth, and not for the better – so much more than the authors could have imagined in their call for an overturning of a failed culture.

On the other hand, and less than ten years later, Dada and Surrealism were reactions to a civilisation which believed that art was about beauty and truth, but was able to wreak havoc and destruction on a generation. This year we will remember the start of the First World War – as someone recently said, the slaughter of the working classes in the name of European Imperialism. The poets, performers, writers and artists associated with Dada and Surrealism were met with anger and derision.

Dada threw out meaning and sense: it was anti-art. Surrealism opened up the unconscious, foregrounded our basest desires and fears. These are the aesthetics of a previous moment of fury at our civilisation. Dada enacted absurdity, and Surrealism refocused art on inner madness and fear. Both have deeply influenced art over the last century and remain important tropes for artists today (Christy Rupp‘s collages such as the Frack-me-not sequence and her felt sculptures; Joel Tauber‘s Seven Attempts to Make A Ritual films).

Sophie Fiennes’ film of Anselm Keifer’s studio and landscape at Barjac in the South of France is on the one hand precisely an articulation of an aesthetic of abandonment. Keifer has constructed a landscape of broken concrete, molten lead, burnt books and broken glass, a strange proto-archaeological site of desolation. But you cannot watch the film without becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the hubris and an extraordinary cost. Between the many assistants, the JCBs and cranes, and the cement mixers, this is on a scale not hugely dissimilar to Turrell’s Roden Crater. Keifer is creating a landscape of abandonment, a man-made version of landscapes which we can see around us in our cities and towns, but he is doing it by spending vast sums of money. It is a fable of the age.

Where Keifer is constructing a destroyed and abandoned landscape, in the 60s John Latham and Gustav Metzger were amongst a group of artists who again questioned civilisation. Metzger was one of the key figures in the Destruction in Art Symposium (1966), and as part of the symposium Latham experimented with his Skoob Towers. These towers of burning books have a close resonance with Keifer’s towers and burnt books. Latham was not afraid of destruction as an artistic process, but it was within a wider intellectual project.

Whilst Latham is often a reference point for art that is engaged with industry, bureaucracy, policy and society as well as being one of the most compelling demonstrations of the idea that “context is half the work,” other aspects of his art deeply expand the norms of social scope. There are three pieces which could be signal elements in this aesthetics: These three pieces question everything. The first represents experience and event through a reduction of drawing to a one second act. The second reframes the scale of our experience into a device which encompasses the quantum and the cosmological. The third provocatively suggests that there is a common truth which shines through the greatest books understood as cultural events. This was so provocative that the Tate Gallery refused to include it in their retrospective (2005).

John Latham One-Second Drawing (17″ 2002) (Time Signature 5:1) 1972

Latham’s One Second Drawing works of various dates are just a second of spray paint on paper. They allude to the limits of our perception as well as to the limits of beauty. The question the value of painting and express the briefness of life whilst reminding us of the cosmological. These works express with absolute simplicity his conception of the least event, demonstrating the simplest spatiality whilst embodying the shortest temporal experience.

Time-Base Roller with Graphic Score, 1987 (with Basic T Diagram on left). Canvas, electric motor operating metal bar, wood, graphite. Photo: Ken Adlard

Latham’s Time Base Roller (1972) is a much more complex and sophisticated evocation of his philosophy, enabling us to understand our experience of time as event in a spectrum. Using something as mundane as a domestic roller blind with an electric motor, he set out different scales of time through a along its length, from the cosmological to the quantum, “Light at one end, and at the other the longest cosmological extent” (1975). Events occur in front of us as the roller unfurls, past time being perceived only partially through the canvas against the wall. So our sense of the immediacy of events and our dim understanding of the scale of time, whether of the least moment or the longest duration, is manifest in an everyday object elegantly reimagined as a treatise on chronology. He describes it thus, “This Time-base Spectrum presents a universal filing device whereby all manifestations are comparable within the same co-ordinates.” (1975).

John Latham, God is Great.

Latham’s work God is Great of various dates takes the form of the three fundamental books of the Abrahamic tradition, the Talmud, the Bible and the Koran, and unites them with a sheet of glass which penetrates all three. The unifying device of a sheet of broken glass both signals a shared truth and notes the incompleteness of that truth in one moment. But the underlying point is the event structure of which these books are merely spatial manifestations.  Latham said, “The belief system is a rock-bottom source of non-negotiable problems of the day”.

If one aesthetic of uncivilisation is to attempt to make art more or less useful in reconnecting us with nature, then another must be the absurd and the internal confrontation with death. In a blog for the New York Times (2013), the soldier and writer Roy Scranton spoke about coming to terms with dying in the Anthropocene. He says,

Many thinkers, including Cicero, Montaigne, Karl Jaspers, and The Stone’s own Simon Critchley, have argued that studying philosophy is learning how to die. If that’s true, then we have entered humanity’s most philosophical age — for this is precisely the problem of the Anthropocene. The rub is that now we have to learn how to die not as individuals, but as a civilization.

He goes on to say,

I found my way forward through an 18th-century Samurai manual, Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s “Hagakure,” which commanded: “Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily.” Instead of fearing my end, I owned it. Every morning, after doing maintenance on my Humvee, I’d imagine getting blown up by an I.E.D., shot by a sniper, burned to death, run over by a tank, torn apart by dogs, captured and beheaded, and succumbing to dysentery. Then, before we rolled out through the gate, I’d tell myself that I didn’t need to worry, because I was already dead. The only thing that mattered was that I did my best to make sure everyone else came back alive. “If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead,” wrote Tsunetomo, “he gains freedom in the Way.”

To come to terms with dying, or collapse as the Dark Mountain project frames it, is to address the absurdity of life, to acknowledge our inner fears and nightmares, and also to understand our existence in relation to the quantum and the cosmological, to see the event rather than the thing.

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Apollonio, Umbro, ed. 1973. Documents of 20th Century Art: Futurist Manifestos. Brain, Robert, R.W. Flint, J.C. Higgitt, and Caroline Tisdall, trans. New York: Viking Press, 19-24.

Du Caan, C. Seeing through a glass darkly: towards and aesthetics of uncivilisation. The Dark Mountain Project, The Dark Mountain Blog. http://dark-mountain.net/blog/seeing-through-a-glass-darkly-towards-an-aesthetic-of-uncivilisation/ accessed 8 January 2014

Latham, J. 1975 Time-base and determination in events in State of Mind, Düsseldorf: Kunsthalle Dusseldorf, revised reprint Edinburgh: R & R Clark

Scranton, R. 2013. Learning how to die in the anthropocene. New York Times. November 10, 2013. http://www.opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/learning-how-to-die-in-the-anthropocene/?_r=0&pagewanted=print accessed 12 November 2013

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