Posts Tagged ‘The Stove’

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).

Environmental Art Festival Scotland 2015: what is art and ecology?

August 27, 2015
EAFS.  Photo Colin Tennant

EAFS. Photo Colin Tennant

The creative team at EAFS needed help this year and ecoartscotland provided some editorial support for the newspaper and an essay on art and ecology as voluntary contributions.  EAFS is an incredibly important development in Scotland (as was the UNFIX festival this year, also delivered by voluntary effort).  The essay below attempts to highlight some of the different ways of working that characterise ‘art and ecology’ practices.

Art and Ecology or “the context is half the work”

By Chris Fremantle with input from Ann T Rosenthal.

Landscape painting represents or idealizes ‘nature,’ usually by depicting wide vistas, such as seascapes, forests, and countrysides. Sometimes it also brings attention to the human impact on the land, such as wilderness vs. settlement. Given the environmental challenges we face today, however, environmental art goes beyond representation or even witnessing changes in the land to effect social change through raising awareness and/or actually restoring damaged landscapes. Some of the ways environmental art differs from more traditional art forms, like landscape painting, are discussed below.

Considering art made or in progress by artists who work with environments or ecosystems, there are a few key things to consider, such as whether the project is reflective, awareness-raising or interventionist. You’ll find various things called ecoartxxx but, unlike Young British Artists, such as Damien Hirst, this isn’t about individualism or celebrities.

So, what are some of the things that might characterise artists working with ecologies?

Context – this might be ‘place’ or ‘issue’, though in the interesting projects these are deeply bound together. The issue might be the deep experience of a place and its effect on a person. Personally I find Hamish Fulton’s piece NO TALKING: seven days walking in the Cairngorms (1988) to be a very personal provocation – could I not talk for seven days? The issue might be storm surges and their impact on coastlines. Eve Mosher was featured in The New Yorker because she had marked a high water line on parts of New York (2007). When Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012 the debris marked the same line. Everyone was amazed that an artist had predicted the impact of an extreme weather event. The context might be a remnant of the ancient Caledonian Forest. The Collins and Goto Studio have been working in the Blackwood of Rannoch (2012-ongoing) to imagine a future of eco-cultural well-being where the forest’s beauty and biodiversity become an icon for a different Scottish landscape.

Interdisciplinarity is often another central characteristic. Artists are using methods and processes that are selected based on the idea/issue/context rather than the skill they were taught at art school. Don’t get me wrong, if you ask the right questions you’ll find that what the artists learnt at art school is still fundamental to their practice. But whether in deep durational collaborations or in short interactions, artists working with environments and ecologies learn and use the knowledge and practices of natural and social sciences, read and seek to influence policy, work in teams and maintain relationships. The quality of interdisciplinarity is perhaps in the seemlessness of what results, such as with Cinema Sark in EAFS 2013 where Pete Smith, Professor of Soil and Plant Science, and John Wallace, film-maker, explored the ecosystem of the river Sark in a work that was at once excellent science and compelling film.

Education and volunteering is a common characteristic of those projects focused on awareness-raising and intervention. It is important to understand that this aspect of practice is not separate from the process of making the art, not ‘outreach’ once the art has been made – rather it must be understood to be intrinsic.

Novelty is less important than sharing. Iterating and the commons are recurrent themes. All of the characteristics noted above (context/issue, interdisciplinarity and education and volunteering) militate against that particular art world requirement for constant newness. In the art world too often the focus is on new things, whereas ecoart is more often about new understandings and revealing experiences of the world around us (and our place or impact within it). More specifically documentation of environmental and ecological projects often takes the form of action guides, sets of instructions, or toolkits. We can recognise the aesthetic of artists, but when groups in Miami (2013) and Bristol (2014) did versions of Eve Mosher’s High Water Line, it wasn’t a breach of copyright – in fact she celebrates it. They used the Action Guide produced by Mosher working with ecoartspace.

Leaving the world a better place than you found it might be an overarching concern. This is more radical that it might sound when you consider that the archetype of the ‘reckless, hedonistic and art for arts sake artist’ has been pervasive for the last century anyway. John Thackara suggested that we live between on the one hand the despair at the scale of the crisis and the complexity of the challenges, and on the other hand the hope in the multitude of examples of grassroots activism, but he also commented that ‘don’t be evil’ is not enough. We have to act in ways to leave things better than we find them as we move through the world.


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