Posts Tagged ‘Forests’

Minty Donald reviews A Caledonian Decoy

March 29, 2017

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.

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.

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

Collins_Goto_Edwards_FutureForest2015

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


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