Monthly Archives: October 2015

New Case Study on Sustainability Initiatives at Assembly

This post comes from Creative Carbon Scotland

Read our latest case study, which comes to us from the University of Edinburgh’s Social Responsibility and Sustainability Department, to find out more about how Assembly is:

  • Addressing supply chains to make organisation operations much more sustainable
  • Finding creative solutions for waste management problems
  • Linking social and environment sustainability through local suppliers
  • Greening large-scale publicity materials.

You can find this case study, and other case studies from across the arts sector and on a wide range of topics, here.

The post New Case Study on Sustainability Initiatives at Assembly appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.

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Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

Go to Creative Carbon Scotland

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ArtCOP Scotland website now live!

This post comes from Creative Carbon Scotland

How can you get involved? 

Check out our brand new website artcopscotland.com which has events listings with our ArtCOP Scotland partners including Gayfield Creative Spaces, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Deveron Arts, The Stove and Firefly Youth Arts.

Join in by attending an event or list your own event and become part of the ArtCOP Scotland season!

Why is it happening? 

Engaging with what some are calling the most important event of this century – COP21 UN climate change negotiations in Paris (30th November – 11th December), this season is a celebration of creative exploration, debate and discussion connecting art, climate change and environmental sustainability.

What is the COP21? 

COP21 is the 21st annual Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the UNFCCC), a treaty about addressing climate change. Still confused? Read our blog about the COP21!

The post ArtCOP Scotland website now live! appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.

———-

Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

Go to Creative Carbon Scotland

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Samantha Clark on Brett Bloom’s Petro-Subjectivity

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Samantha Clark, artist and currently Phd student of creative writing, attended Camp Breakdown Break Down this summer at SSW and has responded to Brett Bloom’s book ‘Petro-Subjectivity: De-Industrializing Our Sense of Self’ in the following text.  Drawing on variously Ursula Le Guin, mysticism and Deep Ecology, Henry David Thoreau and Murray Bookchin, Clark’s riff on the complexity of our essential 21st century petro-subjectivity meditates on the difficulties of ‘extracting’ ourselves.

 

Brett Bloom is an artist, activist, writer and publisher who works mainly in collaborative groups, and has recently returned to the US after several years based in Denmark. This summer, Bloom organized a series of workshops, events and training sessions in London and at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop in rural Aberdeenshire. These were part of an extended project ‘Breakdown Break Down’ that seeks to mobilize others to collectively consider a series of open questions around our relationship to fossil fuels: how our all-pervasive use of fossil fuels affects the way we see ourselves and experience the world around us, how deeply petroleum penetrates our bodies, minds and ways of being in the world, how we might begin to de-industralise our individual and collective sense of self, and how we might begin to think about the future in terms other than those that oil has forced upon us.

In his essay-length publication brought out to coincide with these events, ‘Petro-Subjectivity: De-industrializing Our Sense of Self’ (2015), Bloom sets out his terms of reference for these questions, motivated by ‘a growing frustration with the ways in which humans respond – or mainly do not respond – to climate breakdown’ (Bloom, 2015: 16).  His use of the term ‘climate breakdown’ as opposed to the more neutral ‘climate change’ is deliberate and pointed. Bloom defines ‘petro-subjectivity’ as the sense of self that arises in the industrialized world, and asks how we might begin to unravel it. He challenges us to come up with any aspect of our life that is not shaped by oil. ‘Oil’, he points out, is ‘in your food, your housing, your health care, your sex, your thoughts, literally everything’ (18). Emphasizing the pervasiveness and power of oil in every aspect of life in the industrialized world, he goes on: ‘The conditions oil (fossil fuel) creates, through massive accretions of habit and influence from great to small, repeatedly over the course of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, generations, in all of us gives immense force to our collective subjectivity’(18). ‘Oil produces our daily lives, our daily selves, our daily communities and everything else in a primary way’ (19). Shaping us from birth to death, ‘it becomes more natural, more normal to us than the things we really need – that is a healthy, functioning global ecosystem – that we destroy to get it’ (20). This begs the question of exactly whose ecosystems get destroyed by whom and for whose direct or indirect benefit. Those of us who campaign against fracking in the UK may well be happily filling our car’s fuel tanks with oil from the Niger delta laced with ethanol biofuel derived from eucalyptus plantations in the Amazon basin. Oil is sticky, stains all it touches, and is hard to wash off our own hands. Fracking, at least, brings the destructiveness and violence of fossil fuel extraction right home onto (some of) our own doorsteps, and shows us all too starkly the power inequalities at work. It’s an ugly lesson that we in the UK are only just starting to learn.

Renewable electricity generation does not escape Bloom’s taxonomy of oil dependency either, as it remains dependent on oil-based infrastructure, resource extraction and the exploitation of people and land. Whether powered by wind, tide or water, every turbine needs a magnet to generate electricity. These ‘rare earth’ magnets are mined and refined at great environmental cost, mainly in poor, rural China. The minerals themselves are not in fact ‘rare’, but relatively common in the earth’s crust. What is ‘rare’ is the lax environmental and employment legislation that permits such hugely toxic and destructive processes to take place in lands far removed from the countries that are pushing to develop renewable technologies. Bloom argues that turbines and solar panels are just as extractive as fossil fuels. They continue to shift the burden of pollution away from the point of energy use, and, by making us feel like we are doing something, merely compound the problem.

Petro-subjectivity, Bloom writes, is so fundamental to our way of being in the world, so omnipresent, so totalizing that we scarcely recognize it. Bloom is keenly alert to the hidden violence that oil-based society is based on: ‘How to convey the oily sheen everything has, my comfort, my sense of well-being is so deeply dependent on oil that it gives me a tremendous amount of anxiety’ (35). It is as intimate as his own clothes that ‘cloak me in oil and exploitative labour relationships’ (35). Bloom highlights the uselessness of individualistic responses to climate breakdown: ‘You may think you are an individual with the attributes of freedom, free will and a host of other nice conceptions, but this is incorrect and fantasies that distract from closer attention to how your very understanding of everything is prefigured for you. You are an individual, but your life depends on taking the resources of another landscape and using those things in the one where you live…there seems no way not to exist in it without an enormous effort to take it apart’ (46-47). As Derrick Jensen has also argued, placing the responsibility for dealing with climate change onto individual consumer choices distracts our attention from the real culprits – the power elites, global corporations, the military-industrial complex (Jensen, 2006). Kept busy rinsing out yoghurt pots and feeling mildly sanctimonious about our cloth shopping bags, we are encouraged to forget we are not just individualized consumers choosing how to spend our money, we are also citizens capable of collective action that might wield real power. ‘The changes’ argues Bloom, ‘cannot come from individuals and consumers, but must be collectively realized’ (70).

The mismatch between the urgency and scale of the challenge climate breakdown presents and the urgency and scale of the actions we are encouraged to take to meet it reveals something about the peculiar psychology of our collective response to climate change. A pervasive sense of powerlessness and dependency on the very systems that threaten us results in a kind of Stockholm Syndrome, entangling us in a psychological attachment to the status quo even as it threatens us. Bloom has developed a powerful visual map of oil relationships, (Bloom, 2015: 26-27 and below) and teases these out further in his essay. But, as he himself notes with frustration, more information just doesn’t seem to help.

Sometimes the clear light of facts travels in too straight a line, and to help us think our way around corners and into dark spaces, we need another approach. Wearing the mask of fiction uncomfortable truths can be spoken that we would otherwise not hear. In Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic short story ‘The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas’ (2013: 1-7), the gilded city of Omelas offers its citizens a smooth, untroubled life, filled with every comfort, pleasure, joy and gratification. But upon reaching adolescence each citizen learns a terrible fact, a sudden loss of innocence; that all of their prosperity, peace and happiness depends upon the suffering of one miserably neglected child imprisoned in a windowless cell. In Le Guin’s fable, if this child is set free, or even shown the smallest kindness, the city will crumble and all of its people suffer terribly. And so the citizens, when they learn of this child, and even go briefly to see it, are perhaps troubled for a time, feeling angry and helpless. But eventually ‘their tears at the bitter injustice dry when they begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality, and to accept it. Yet it is their tears and anger, the trying of their generosity and the acceptance of their helplessness, which are perhaps the true source of the splendour of their lives. Theirs is no vapid, irresponsible happiness. They know that they, like the child, are not free’ (Le Guin, 2012: 6-7). But, every now and then, a citizen of Omelas will be shown the child-prisoner, or will recall its presence and fall silent for a few days, and they will then walk quietly, alone, away from Omelas, out into the unknown. No-one knows where they go. They do not come back.

When I first read this story it stayed with me a long time, a slow drip feed, wheedling at my conscience. It felt like Le Guin had seen right inside me into a place I didn’t really want to look. The story seemed to tell a deep and uncomfortable truth in the masked and sidelong way that great stories do. I wondered, as I read it, ‘what I would do?’ Later, I realised that I am myself, of course, a cossetted citizen of sleek and pleasurable Omelas, and that the locked-away child is all the distant places, people and other living things that bear the cost of my affluent lifestyle; my smartphone, my central heating, my clothes, my car. The question became not ‘what would I do?’ but ‘what do I do?’ I know the answer, and it is not a comfortable one. I mostly go on with my comfortable life, my path smoothed by oil, all the while carrying in me a terrible knowledge; I am dependent on a system that has violence and exploitation at its very heart. Signing online petitions does not change this, though it makes me feel better. I do not walk away from my Omelas. I tell myself it is because I am not free, and find some consolation in the refinement and sensitivity that my troubled conscience reveals about me. What Bloom’s thoughts on petro-subjectivity reveal, like Le Guin’s parable, is that the work that needs to be done is at a very deep level indeed.

Thus, the final part of Bloom’s essay explores the practice of ‘Deep Listening’, a contemplative method developed originally by composer Pauline Oliveros. Deep Listening cultivates a heightened awareness of our sonic environment, both external and internal, listening not just with the ears, but with the whole body. ‘The main problem’ Bloom suggests, ‘is how we relate to the world and the ways we see the world are not tuned to receive the damage, let alone the tremendous loss as we continue thinking the world through oil relationships’ (17). A practice of re-sensitisation is necessary. Bloom argues that our sensory world in urban spaces is limited, with ‘no unscripted, wild behaviour, encounters or other experiences allowed’ (70). ‘Paying attention to, and creating the conditions for our full range of perceptual capacities gives us a tremendous leap into what it will mean to expunge petro-subjectivity from our selves and our landscapes’ (71).

Bloom’s argument here is not an especially new one. It falls within a tradition of environmental thought that recognizes the environmental crisis derives from how we think of our self, and the relationship this self has to the natural world. Deep ecologists like Arne Naess, Joanna Macy and Bill Devall have long argued that a more ecologically sustainable way of being needs to be rooted in an expanded ‘ecological Self’, while eco-phenomenologists from David Abram to Ted Toadvine have also tried to tackle the question of how the human self is situated and enfolded within the natural environment as an embodied, experiencing being. Bloom’s project is therefore part of a growing trend in environmental thought that seeks to ground environmental action in a commitment to contemplative practice, a discipline of attention to the natural world, even as we are witnessing its degradation. It is not just a way of thinking about things, but a shift to our way of perceiving that must be consciously and painstakingly cultivated.
This shift can be brought about through a set of contemplative practices most commonly associated with spiritual traditions, but which are not exclusive to them. Purposeful, transformative contemplative practice that aims to breaks down the sense of self is most commonly associated with Buddhist meditation, but it is also proposed by the early Christian mystics. In ‘The Blue Sapphire of the Mind’, Douglas E. Christie suggests that this contemplative sensibility is no longer confined to spiritual traditions but is ‘emerging with increasing frequency in contemporary ecological literature which boasts a striking similarity to an attitude in many traditions of spiritual discourse’ (Christie, 2013: 62). Bloom’s project of deep listening is an example of how this sensibility is also emerging within contemporary art practice.

Christie draws upon the ancient Christian contemplative tradition to propose a ‘contemplative ecology’ in which a practice of cultivating careful attention to the natural world offers a way of recalibrating our senses to a renewed sensitivity to the world and our humble place within it. In particular he draws upon the apophatic theological tradition of the via negativa which asserts that the Divine is essentially and unknowably beyond human concepts or attributes. In this tradition of ‘negative theology’, early Christian mystics such as the unknown author of ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ (Wolters, 1961) focused on achieving direct experience of the divine reality beyond the realm of ordinary human language and perception through contemplative practice. Christie suggests that practicing this ‘contemplative ecology’ can lead to a more mindful way of living that arises from a transformed awareness of our relationship with the natural world, a ‘direct intuitive awareness of its endless power and mystery: and the need for this to become enfolded within an ongoing practice’ (Christie, 2013: 59). It is an awareness that ‘what we know or experience will always be exceeded by the immensity beyond and within,’ and that we also possess both longing and capacity for cultivating a more all-encompassing awareness of the wild world (Christie, 2013:69). The response to this transformed awareness is one of humility. The inadequacy of our knowledge is a gap that cannot and should not be bridged. ‘Instead, this lack of certainty about who or what we behold begins to seem fruitful, important, necessary. We are invited to relinquish our assumption of knowledge’ says Christie, (2013: 62), and in so doing, to develop our capacity to manage our own fear and uncertainty without lapsing into defensiveness, aggression, dogmatic fundamentalisms or the urge to control.

The perceptual exercise that Bloom describes in detail involved deep listening, with a group of other participants, in an immersive natural environment of rain, wind and sea, to the entire Baltic Sea (Bloom, 2015: 75).

In his essay, Bloom does not, I think, spell out quite clearly enough how a contemplative practice of deep listening in nature connects with a commitment to activism and real change, not just at the individual level, but also collectively. Just how do we come back from the oceanic experience of immersion in nature, and become effective change agents in the societies we actually live in. It is here that I suggest Bloom’s profound distrust of cities, which he sees as ‘machines for stripping us of our desire to live, feel and be free’ (71) is an impediment to making this link clearly. Most human beings now live in cities, and in a context of climate breakdown, any redefined post-petro-subjectivity will have to be able to be a self that can be anywhere, not just in the solitude of wide, wild spaces immersed in the sound of the ocean, but also in difficult, perhaps crowded, urban places, in difficult relationships with sometimes difficult people, able to empathically connect with other human beings and to work with them. Cities are where our ancestors first learned to tolerate ‘strangers’, to live harmoniously with and among those who are not blood kin, who may have different beliefs, and to build a sense of commonality based not on tribal blood group or myths of common ancestry, but on mutual benefit and co-operation: in other words, to become citizens. The polis is, after all, the birthplace of the political.

Connecting the activity of the solitary, contemplative listener with that of social and political activism is not a new idea by any means, and there are examples we might draw upon to help us make the link. We might, for example, look to Henry David Thoreau. In ‘Thoreau’s Nature’ (2000) Jane Bennett argues that Thoreau’s project at Walden, and in his other writings and journals, speaks to the fears of our own time; that social life in techno-industrial societies is too regulated and exerts powerful pressures to uniformity, that privacy is under threat, the world overpopulated and the state intrusive and controlling, that the alternative space of nature has become polluted, threatened, even toxic, that our consumerist way of life breeds violence and injustice, and that the economic imperative has become overwhelmingly rapacious. These fears generate a reactive demand for certainties, fundamentalisms and patriotisms (Bennett, 2000: xxii). Thoreau’s aim in secluding himself at Walden pond, Bennett argues, was not escapist nature-worship but a project of ‘building an individualised self capable of social criticism’ (2000: 34). Bennett sees Thoreau’s project as an attempt to give the wild its due, ‘to respect that which resists or exceeds conventional cultural impositions of form, to preserve the element of heterogeneity present in any entity, to imagine institutions and identities that do less violence to heterogeneity, and to engage in exercises that help to actualise that imagination. The project, in short, is to develop ways to cope artfully, reflectively, and carefully in the world understood as neither divine creation nor docile matter’ (Bennett, 2000: xxiii). According to Bennett, Thoreau ‘was less concerned to articulate the conditions under which disobedience would be legitimate than he was to explore those conditions under which one could render oneself capable of disobedience. Civil disobedience was rare because nonconformity was rare. Both were scarce because the process of forging oneself into a deliberate creature was arduous and precarious, requiring continuous effort’ (Bennett, 2000: 13).

In his account of his sojourn at Walden, Thoreau describes specific practices of mindful, ‘deliberate’ living, which help him to achieve his aims. For Thoreau, slowing down, listening, and seeking periods of solitude in nature is a tactical move designed to create a space whereby he might extract himself from the normalising forces of the busy social sphere, and achieve the independence of mind necessary to challenge the status quo. When we are immersed in busy community life, ‘we are inclined’, unfortunately, ‘to leave the chief stress on the likeness and not on difference’ (Thoreau, 1980: 264)⁠ and to blindly accept received wisdom. In solitude and silent reflection Thoreau finds an ‘intelligence above language’ (Thoreau, 1980: 273).

Like the windswept Baltic seashore where Bloom carried out his deep listening experiments, the world of Thoreau at Walden Pond bears little resemblance to the urban world most human beings at this time inhabit. Projects like these require a level of physical security, material comfort, and educational attainment that are the product of a highly favourable set of circumstances. What relevance do practices like these have to the vast predicament that is climate breakdown, and the challenge Bloom presents us with, of ‘de-industrialising’ our sense of self? Thoreau’s project was to ‘front’ the Wild, and to place himself at a physical and psychological distance from the ‘They-world’ of social, political and economic life, so that he might live more consciously. His aim was not so much to escape from the world of the town and political life as to be better able to dissent from it upon returning. His example suggests some methods that we might use to break the cycle of ‘self-othering’ that occurs when we acclimatise ourselves to living in the industrialised world and yet feel a lingering unease that something is wrong, that we have become alienated from some important part of ourselves and of the wild world. Thoreau’s tools of stillness, silence, inwardness and attentiveness to the living world may be most easily cultivated in a place of seclusion in nature, but they can be practiced anywhere. Once we deliberately cultivate this awareness, it can, as Christie proposes, ‘be achieved anywhere and by anyone committed to the work of listening’ (Christie, 2013: 121). ‘It is in this sense’ argues Christie, ‘that one can see that the primary value to us of Thoreau’s contemplative witness to be found less in his particular form of life…than in the quality of awareness he assiduously cultivated over his entire lifetime’ and this quality of awareness is adaptable to our very different world. How do we develop this capacity, this sensitivity? Regular practice. ‘Thoreau recognised that cultivating the capacity to hear the music of the world must become part of a sustained practice, that one must learn to orient oneself and become sensitive to the myriad ways the world is always expressing itself” (Christie, 2013:214).

Bloom describes his group’s experience of deep listening to the Baltic as hearing the sea ‘talking to us’. One of the participants describes a vivid sense of being exposed to immense forces, a feeling of unprotectedness that seemed to key to an understanding of the reality of climate breakdown, a situation in which ‘we are no longer sheltered’ (87). But the message from the Baltic can’t stay there on the sea shore. It needs to come back into the urban. It is not anthropocentric to acknowledge that any redefined post-petro-subjective self must recognise that we exist within a web of interdependencies of which other human beings form a significant part. In a recently published collection of late essays, ‘The Next Revolution’ (2015), Murray Bookchin outlines a case for direct democracy in the form of a libertarian, municipal ‘Communitarianism’. In Bookchin’s model an active and engaged citizenry becomes an effective agent of change. As a political thinker who moved away from the anarchism of his earlier work, here he plots a careful route between individualistic libertarianism on the political right and an equally individualistic, radical anarcho-primitivism on the left. Seeking a political structure that might provide long-haul stamina to energies currently poured into short term phenomena like the Occupy movement, Bookchin puts forward the case for the city’s progressive potential, not as the power-capital of a centralist state, but the city as municipality, town or ‘commune’. Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells also recognises the progressive potential of urban space. He notes a common pattern among current social and political movements in that they comfortably straddle both cyberspace and urban space (2013). Born online, these embryonic social and protest movements empower and raise awareness at grassroots level, moving rhizomatically in cyberspace to then erupt periodically into urban spaces, where they create real social networks in physical places. The hybrid social space that Castells identifies here breaks down stark binaries between ‘place’ on the one hand and cyberspace on the other. In these developments we see an erosion of dualistic binaries such as nature good/internet bad, ‘place’ good/cyberspace bad, forest good/city bad.

Cities are a recent phenomenon in human evolutionary terms but they present in great abundance one aspect of our environment that we have long co-evolved with; other human beings. As contemplative traditions have long known, retreating to solitude in nature enables the cultivation and refinement of awareness and presence, but the real challenge is to bring this cultivated skill of deep listening to environments that usually encourage a sense of alienation, even fear. Can we stay open and ‘unsheltered’ even when we’d rather not? Or do we retreat into anger, aversion, fear, or numb indifference? This is the real test. To realise the progressive potential that Bookchin sees in the city, the work of cultivating non-exploitative and non-extractive relationships towards other human beings, as well as towards animals and places, is work of the most important kind, if we are to move from individualised responses to collective action on climate breakdown, and harness the insights of contemplation to the work of social change.

 

 

 

Maughan, Tim (April 2nd 2015) ‘The Dystopian Lake Filled by the World’s Tech Lust’ BBC Future. Available online: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150402-the-worst-place-on-earth [Accessed 28/8/15]

 

Thoreau, Henry David (1995) Walden; or, Life in the Woods, New York: Dover Publications

 

Bennett, Jane (2000) Thoreau’s Nature, Politics, Ethics and the Wild. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press

Bookchin, Murray (2015) Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy, London: Verso

Castells, Manuel (25 Mar 2013) ‘How modern political movements straddle urban space and cyberspace’ Available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qSIHZaxN14 [Accessed 7 Sep 2015)

Christie, Douglas E. (2013) The Blue Sapphire of the Mind: Notes for a Contemplative Ecology, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Jensen, Derrick (2006) Endgame: The Problem of Civilization, New York: Seven Stories Press

Le Guin, Ursula K. (2012) The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin Vol 2 Outer Space, Inner Lands Easthampton Mass. : Small Beer Press

Maughan, Tim (April 2nd 2015) ‘The Dystopian Lake Filled by the World’s Tech Lust’ BBC Future. Available online: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150402-the-worst-place-on-earth [Accessed 28/8/15]

Thoreau, Henry David (1980) The Writings of Henry David Thoreau: A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Carol, F. Hove and Textual Centre Staff: William H Howarth and Elizabeth Witherell (eds) Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press

Thoreau, Henry David (1995) Walden; or, Life in the Woods, New York: Dover Publications

Wolters, Clifton [Trans] (1961) The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works, Middlesex: Penguin Classics

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.

Go to EcoArtScotland

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September Green Tease Reflections

This post comes from Creative Carbon Scotland

The Green Tease events are a monthly opportunity for people interested in arts, sustainability or both to come together and discuss various ways in which the arts can engage with sustainability issues. This month, both of our Edinburgh and Glasgow events engaged with questions of public spaces and what roles artists can play in different urban contexts.

Edinburgh: Green Spaces Barge Tour

In Edinburgh we took a barge tour on the union canal from its port in Fountainbridge out to Wester Hailes. Basking in the golden light of the late summer’s evening and cruising along the water, this was the perfect setting to embark upon a discussion about the connections between Edinburgh’s Green spaces and the arts.

Joined by Abby Boultbee of Edinburgh & Lothian Green Spaces Trust, we heard about the 25 year history of the trust and its current work in more deprived areas of the city. Along the way Abby pointed out Hailes Quarry park as an interesting example of place-making through community-focused green space and Gate 55 community centre as a live example of artistic green space development in the south west of the city. Passing around the infrastructural plans for the new outdoor space at Gate 55, the group discussed what roles artists could play in continuing to invigorate and stimulate creative use of the space.

With statistics showing Edinburgh to be a very green city (with 112 parks and 638,000 trees to be exact!) we put it to the group to think about what this means in relation to art and climate change.

In 2011 greenspace scotland produced the report Developing the role of greenspace in climate change mitigation and adaptation which highlighted the need to increase climate change resilience of existing spaces and places. Scottish Government policy recognises the importance of greenspaces and green networks in both climate change mitigation (reducing carbon emissions) and adaptation (adapting to atmospheric changes, which in Scotland’s case means warmer and wetter winters, hotter and drier summers, rising sea levels and more extreme weather.)

Click to view slideshow.

Lots of positive examples of urban green spaces that have involved artists/cultural organisations in their design or use were discussed. These included:

North Edinburgh Art’s North Edinburgh Grows project integrating art, growing and play; Gayfield Creative Spaces project #WalksbyDesign; the ‘Friends of e.g. Pilrig Park’ scheme; Dundee Urban Orchards initiative run by artists Jonathan Baxter and Sarah Gittens; the Edinburgh Mela as a great use of green space and cultural activity; Treefest; and ECA’s City Croft project.

New ideas and areas for improvement in the city were suggested, such as a sculpture walk in Edinburgh linking artistic practices and green spaces; walks informed by research at Edinburgh University’s Informatics Department and New Media Scotland; building new creative interest points in parks such as hidden follies and mobile toolboxes or libraries.

Suggestions for support from networks such as CCS and ELGT included nuturing new connections between local communities and artists; building links with relevant university departments and research projects; spreading knowledge about relevant short term projects such may be missed otherwise; compiling lists of relevant people to contact within institutions such as the City Council.

Overall it was a very positive session and it seemed as though a focus on building these new connections would be a useful and interesting direction for the Edinburgh Green Tease network to follow.

Glasgow: ‘A Space for Art’ with Dress for the Weather

We took a not dissimilar approach to Glasgow’s east end with design practice Dress for the Weather, embarking upon an architectural model making session that explored the east end of the city in relation to art and design.

Situated in industrial surroundings of the soon to be opened Glasgow Collective Studios, DfW co-founder Matt McKenna gave us an insight into the variety of art and architectural projects the practice is engaged in with a uniting theme of producing work which engages with and responds strongly to its context. He emphasised their interest in retrofitting, as opposed to demolishing buildings and starting from scratch, exemplified in their Greenock Masterplan project.

In the context of the development of Glasgow’s east end, we were set the task of considering what spaces could be considered as interesting sites for public art which connect with local communities and the existing architectural landscape.

After a recce around the surrounding area, considering accessibility or inaccessibility of particular sites, overgrown or underused green or brown spaces, travel routes in and out of the city, and sites of historical interest such as Glasgow’s original cattle market, we were tasked to propose and model new public art works or installations.

Various ideas were explored including creating a new cycle route which linked to the commercial rail track which passes through the east end; an interactive sound installation that uses electronic oscillators to make music tones, blending with the hum of the local electricity substation; and a living wall and labyrinth garden situated on the busy Gallowgate.

Click to view slideshow.

Some interesting questions were also raised about the best ways in which to create such spaces in line with the interests and needs their users, as well as the balancing of spatial, social and environmental qualities of a site; and the brief requirements of the commissioning client.

Once again it was clear that strong links could be made in such contexts with the increasing need for urban planners as well as local communities to consider the functions of public spaces in relation to climate change.

Find out more about our monthly Green Tease events here!

The post September Green Tease Reflections appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.

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Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

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Anne-Marie Culhane: Earthwalking

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Editor’s Intro:

Anne-Marie Culhane creates events, performances and long term projects that invite people into an active and inquiring relationship with each other and the earth. She works as artist, activist and collaborator across a range of disciplines.

Culhane conceived of Earthwalking through an Exeter Enquires residency co-ordinated by Arts & Culture at the University of Exeter funded by Arts Council England. The residency enable Culhane to develop a working relationship with Tim Lenton, Professor of Climate Change and Earth System Science, Dr. Luke Mander and Tom Powell, researchers in Earth System Science at University of Exeter. Earthwalking was a two day ‘choreographed journey’ with overnight camping along 10 miles of coastline in Devon, from Beer to Sidmouth, that aimed to honour different ways of knowing and experiencing the world, offering different perspectives on land, sea and change. Earthwalking involved 33 participants from a range of backgrounds (scientists. artists, curators, administrators, auditors, researchers, playwright, writers, bird watchers) with ages up to the eldest at 75 years old. Twenty-one of these responded to a public invitation to take part.

EARTHWALKING

Earthwalking aimed to bring something of the feeling of the wilder edge of our land – and a wider sense of community – into our conscious reflection on how we live and act in these times.

Earthwalking. Photo: Steve Brown

Earthwalking. Photo: Steve Brown

The idea of a walk was seeded in an early conversation in the residency. A common thread in all our life stories was that playing, exploring or walking in the landscape was a key motivation for inspiring us with the passion for the work that we do. Looking around the Earth System office, on the 7th floor of an overheated concrete building in the city, I realized how far removed we all were from the places that nourish and inspire us. I located our continuing discussions out on campus, on the coast, or in the little shed at the Exeter Community Garden, observing the subtle shifts in how we communicated in different contexts. In particular, walking outdoors changed the rhythm of conversation, other elements (weather, terrain, observations) together with silence and pauses become an integral part of the exchange. There was more ground for possibility.
My impulse was to continue these inspiring conversations and to share the questions emerging with others in an outdoor, journey setting. The Jurassic Coast is close to Exeter. It offers a frontline, where stories of change are played out almost in double-time on the crumbling and lively island edge. The land is constantly slipping and eroding and yet the exposed rocks here draw us backwards into the story of the planet, into deep time over many millions of years. I wanted to demonstrate that you don’t need to travel to the ends of the earth to bear witness to the changing climate. Tim’s work is deeply influenced by his relationship with James Lovelock and the Gaia Theory, which offers a story of the world as a self-regulating, evolving complex system. There have been many people, past and present, inhabiting this coastline (including James Lovelock) and it felt important that some of these people and their stories be part of Earthwalking.

Earthwalking. Photo: Steve Brown

Earthwalking. Photo: Steve Brown

13 July, 11.30am

I invited Tim Lenton to create the first intervention on our walk. He asked us to sit or lie on the grass overlooking the ocean while he read an Invocation to Gaia, written for the event, where he took on the persona of a centurian grandmother earth and wrote in the first person:

“Take your pulse – feel your heart beat. Imagine that each of your heartbeats took a whole year, not a fleeting second – then your lifespan would begin to approach mine.”

He told us that in her 30s:

“Lines began to appear on my skin, marking out the great plates that make up my surface, and slowly they began to move, at the rate your fingernails grow.”
“….. only three minutes ago, on this little island you started the industrial revolution”

Our bodies, the earth, this place.

13 July, 12.30pm

I invited people to walk in silence down a steep path through the Hooken Undercliff, a 10-acre area of land that, one night in March 1790, slipped away from the high chalk cliffs towards the sea. Fishermen reported coming out and finding their crab pots above sea level, as the scale of the slump caused a reef to push up out at sea. There is something unique about walking through this new land – a green oasis with its birdsong, weave of plants and trees, sheltered by chalk pinnacles.

Earthwalking. Photo: Steve Brown

Earthwalking. Photo: Steve Brown

The whole project enhanced my sense of smell, sound and vision (participant)

13 July, 2.00pm

Dr Ceri Lewis, a marine biologist met us at the shoreline and enthused about her love for the small soft and shelled creatures of the sea that she had gathered from the rock pools. She explained the plight of their calcium shells in an acidifying ocean, and her work to protect these marine invertebrates from marine pollution and climate change. We do simple experiments, blowing down straws into coloured seawater to see our breaths change the ph.

Earthwalking. Photo: Steve Brown

Earthwalking. Photo: Steve Brown

At moments throughout the day, we hear from Dr Luke Mander who shared spontaneous geological observations, as we walked West back through time.

13 July, 3.30pm

Chris Woodruff, an East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty land manager relayed stories of complexity, change and human conflict catalysed by the contradiction at the heart of his work – conserving the natural beauty of a place made remarkable by its dynamic nature.

I felt a strong sense that we were somehow touching base with some quite fundamental things. For my part, the event will serve as a real and important reference point (Academic collaborator)

13 July, 7pm

Goonlas, a Cornish sea song started our evening session. This is an adaptation from the ongoing Storm Songs project by Natalia Eernstman, initiated earlier in the year with people from Porthleven in Cornwall, creating new verses and sea songs with communities, to mark our changing relationship to the sea. For Earthwalking a new English verse was created using words from local accounts of the Branscombe storm of 2014. Branscombe is one of the places where tensions over whether to rebuild or retreat from the incoming sea are playing out. The song was followed by a space where the walkers themselves brought their varied and insightful reflections, questions, ideas, song, dance and poetry to share with the group around the fire.

Earthwalking. Photo: Steve Brown

Earthwalking. Photo: Steve Brown

14 July, 9am

I opened the morning walk by leading a Field Sensing session. This involves slowing down our movements in order to sense inner and outer landscapes more acutely. I chose to locate the Field Sensing at Berry Fort, the site of a Neolithic coastal settlement and Iron Age Fort.

A moment to connect to the landscape in a non-intellectual way … I found it very relaxing, spiritual and energizing (Participant)

Earthwalking. Photo: Steve Brown

Earthwalking. Photo: Steve Brown

 

14 July, 11.30am

At Weston Plats, Tom Powell, a food systems specialist selected extracts from aural histories of coastal cliff farmers collected by the Branscombe Project, to illustrate the growing cycles of the ‘plat’ farmers, who farmed these sheltered, marginal edgelands over centuries until the 1960s. He scaled this up, to share reflections on today’s global challenges of food, population and our massive harvesting of biomass. Huddled in a renovated stone byre, small groups of walkers listen to artist and local smallholder Laura Williams recounting a moving personal story of resilience and adaptation. Her land, in a valley close to the coast, had slipped in 2012, covering the area earmarked for their house and causing the release of shoals of farmed carp away from their land down the valley and into the sea.

Earthwalking. Photo: Steve Brown

Earthwalking. Photo: Steve Brown

This mingling of the past and present pointed towards the future and again opened up discussions about the sustainability of our eco systems. At no time during Earthwalking was anyone told what to think and yet thoughts and discussions naturally and organically flowed into these areas because of the style and structure of the project. In this way the project proved itself to be in line with its own ethics and was in and of itself a sustainable and organic art piece. (Participant)

14 July, 4.00pm

After a further two hours walking including an unrelenting final ascent and a spontaneous dip in the sea, our journey ended at the Old Dissenters Meeting Hall in Sidmouth with its inspiring history of activism (in particular Annie Leigh Brown a suffragist from the age of 17). We were greeted warmly by members of the Vision Group for Sidmouth, a collection of local sustainability campaigners eager to exchange ideas with the walkers and to share the successes and challenges of working in their community and drawing us back into the wider sense of community and action.

The experience was transformational and gave me a totally altered sense of community, the landscape and the future of both. (Participant).

Productive, in that there seemed to be a lot of fruitful, intelligent and practical exchange. And enjoyable because cake and company couldn’t have been better! (Participant Vision Group for Sidmouth)

The final sentence from Tim’s forthcoming publication on Earth System Science states:

Earth system considerations call for some rethinking of economics and a wider social discussion about what kind of future we want, which will engage the arts and the humanities as well as the social sciences.

I’d like to acknowledge my gratitude to Jo Salter and Emily Williams (Kaleider) and to Fern Smith and Lucy Neal, who have advised on Earthwalking. This blog also includes extracts from an interview with Kaleider.

Anne-Marie Culhane:
http://www.amculhane.co.uk

Anne-Marie’s passion for bringing together different disciplines and perspectives on place started with a self-initiated residency on Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh in 2001-2002 funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, Historic Scotland and the Millenium Commission.

Further Projects include Abundance (co-created with Stephen Watts), winner of Observer Ethical Award Grassroots Category, 2010 and Fruit Routes/Eat Your Campus working with the School of the Arts & the Sustainability Unit at Loughborough University, winner Guardian University Awards Sustainable Project 2014. She has worked with National Trust, Tamar Valley AONB, Exmoor National Park, ArtsAdmin and exhibited at Bluecoat, Liverpool; National Media Museum (with Ruth Levene); Newlyn Gallery, Penzance; Castlefield Gallery, Manchester and Plymouth Art Centre and co-founded of Out of the Blue, Edinburgh. She is an associate artist with Encounters Arts and Kaleider and recently completed a commission for CCANW (Soil Cultures Residency).

This Autumn she is starting a year long participatory project A Field of Wheat with artist Ruth Levene and farmer Peter Lundgren which explores collective ownership, industrial what farming and local & global food systems. There is still time to be part of this, follow this link for more information.

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