Field to Palette: Dialogues on Soil and Art in the Anthropocene is an investigation of the cultural meanings, representations, and values of soil in a time of planetary change. The book offers critical reflections on some of the most challenging environmental problems of our time, including land take, groundwater pollution, desertification, and biodiversity loss. At the same time, the book celebrates diverse forms of resilience in the face of such challenges, beginning with its title as a way of honoring locally controlled food production methods championed by “field to plate” movements worldwide. By focusing on concepts of soil functionality, the book weaves together different disciplinary perspectives in a collection of dialogue texts between artists and scientists, interviews by the editors and invited curators, essays and poems by earth scientists and humanities scholars, soil recipes, maps, and DIY experiments. With contributions from over 100 internationally renowned researchers and practitioners, Field to Palette presents a set of visual methodologies and worldviews that expand our understanding of soil and encourage readers to develop their own interpretations of the ground beneath our feet.
Edited by Alexandra Toland, Jay Stratton Noller and Gerd Wessolek. Published by CRC Press
ecoartspace was invited by Alexandra Toland to contribute a piece for Field to Palette back in 2014. The book is sectioned by soil function, and included in Function 3 titled Interface: Soil as site of environmental interaction, filtration and transformation is an interview with Mel Chin by founder Patricia Watts, and NYC Director Amy Lipton. Titled Don’t Worry, It’s Only Mud, the interview includes excerpts from their discussion with Chin in 2015 in the East Village. Both Watts and Lipton have curated exhibitions of artists addressing how food is grown, distributed and consumed. Watts recently curated a public art sculpture Cloud House by Matthew Mazzotta, and curated Hybrid Fields in 2006 that included Laura Parker and Matthew Moore who are both interviewed in Field to Palette. Tattfoo Tan and his Black Gold work in Field to Palette was included in the ecoartspace SOS Action Guide in 2014. And, Lipton curated FoodSHED: Agriculture and Art in Action in 2014 including Linda Weintraub a contributor to Field to Palette, also including Tattfoo Tan. She also curated Down to Earth in 2009 and co-curated ecovention with Sue Spaid, a contributor to Field to Palette, on the exhibition ecovention in 2002.
ecoartapace ecoartspace is a nonprofit platform providing opportunities for artists who address the human/nature relationship in the visual arts. Since 1999 they have collaborated with over 150 organizations to produce more than 40 exhibitions, 100 programs, working with 400 + artists in 15 states nationally and 8 countries internationally. Currently they are developing a media archive of video interviews with artists and collection of exhibitions ephemera for research purposes. Patricia Watts is founder and west coast curator. Amy Lipton is east coast curator and director of the ecoartspace NYC project room.
A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999
In July, Creative Carbon Scotland’s Green Arts Manager, Catriona Patterson, attended a research trip hosted by EUROCITIES, and located in Leeuwarden, Friesland in the Netherlands*. There to represent the sustainability work of Edinburgh’s Festivals, and learn most about city-level sustainability-and-culture initiatives, here is her summary of what she learnt.
An Ecologically Sustainable Capital of Culture
Leeuwarden-Friesland began its European Capital of Culture programme in January 2018 and is the host city-region until December this year, having applied and won the opportunity to host the title in 2013 through a competitive bid process. A Capital of Culture year is a European Union-designated initiative, running since 1985, that seeks to celebrate the diversity of the European cultural offering, and which often strengthens the strategic development of cultural in the chosen region. Glasgow was the European Capital of Culture in 1990: a moment which many Scottish arts organisations cite as being transformative to the city and to the cultural scene.
Capital of Culture programmes are not typically associated with having environmental sustainability as core focus of their work: with socio-cultural and economic generation (or regeneration) being a major motivator for most applying and successful cities. However, the ‘bid’ submitted by Leeuwarden-Friesland back in 2013 also included a significant environmental sustainability component, and it was exploring this which was the focus of my trip.
Recognising the link between physical environmental surrounds, and the ways of life that exist within them, ‘Nature and Culture’ is one of three key themes for the year’s programme (alongside ‘City and Countryside’ and ‘Community and Diversity’):
“Nature and Culture in Europe: biodiversity and geo-diversity are under threat. This affects cultural diversity, too. Culture and nature are living organisms that depend on the same ecosystem…we explore and celebrate the links between nature and culture, using culture as a way to draw attention to nature. Awareness of the landscape, of the environment, of the importance of water and water technology, for example, are preconditions for a sustainable future and learning how to live with nature after centuries of battling it. Throughout this theme we focus on Europe-wide locations where the future of natural heritage hangs in the balance”
Leeuwarden-Ljouwert’s application for European Capital of Culture 2018 (‘Bid Book’).
Leeuwarden, and the wider Friesland region, is already experiencing changes to its culture as a result of wider environmental change. There are eleven cities in the region (of differing scales – Leeuwarden is the biggest with a population of 100,000), and in the past they have been annually united in a 120 mile-long ice-skating race, held on the canals which connect the settlements. However, a competition has not taken place since 1997, with the ice repeatedly failing to form sufficiently due to warmer average temperatures. With climate change predictions pointing towards ever-increasing temperatures and milder winters, this warming trend is likely here to stay. However, Frisians are overcoming these challenges and their changing relationship to water in a variety of ways – from conducting the race by bike (or by boat!), to the11Fountains project in their European Capital of Culture year (11 international visual art commissions with water conservation a key part of their designs).
Biodiversity, and the unique landscape, flora and fauna of the Friesland region was prominent in several of the events and exhibitions featured as part of the research itinerary.
When browsing the main programme of Leeuwarden-Friesland’s City of Culture programme, it’s not unusual to see other projects focused on farm life and creativity, However, a particular highlight is the Silence of the Bees project, which combines arts-science collaboration, school engagement, insect data, construction, composition and performance in Europe’s largest herb garden.
The Great Black-Tailed Godwit Theatre, based in the glass courtyard of the Frisian Nature Museum, goes a step further. The immersive and sensory exhibition (narrated quite flippantly by the eponymous bird) encourages audiences to see, hear, touch and experience the Frisian landscape from its perspective. It’s a powerful realisation of the concept of ‘putting yourself in another’s shoes’ and an interactive lesson in how a landscape drained and changed for human needs has implications for other species.
Fostering and Demonstrating Innovation
“Innovation in context” and ‘Mienskip’ (the Frisian word which encapsulates ‘[open] community’ and conveys open-minded, grass-roots, action-led spirit) characterise the approach taken to much of the European Capital of Culture programme. In talking to organisers, curators and participants, it seemed that many considered the City of Culture year as an opportunity to try new things, and to create new and exciting opportunities for the region!
InnoFestis a project that exists to capitalise on the microcosmic-city examples created by pop-up festivals and events, providing start-ups and entrepreneurs the opportunity to test new ideas: both those practical and behind-the-scenes (like smart-grid power) and those more public facing (like sustainable cardboard tents). At the ‘Welcome to the Village’ Festival, such innovations were in abundance – and the insect micro-protein fries were delicious!
Organisers are also more explicitly addressing sustainability in the ‘Fossil Free Friesland’initiative, through which they are hosting large-scale public events, such as a two-week period where every Frisian citizen was encouraged to travel by no-carbon means, and a showcase of low-carbon vehicles . By their own admission, such a proposal was much more radical at the time of the bid submission (five years is a long time in the sustainability movement), but it is a still a powerful act: even directly linking cultural pursuits and sustainability ambitions is still relatively unusual.
Future Sustainable, Cultural Cities
However, I’m hopeful that this may not be the case for much longer. There are increasing pressures – locally, nationally, at a European and at an international level – for cities and cultural organisations to adopt more sustainable practices, and to demonstrate how their strategic plans can create social, economic, environmental and cultural prosperity to their region. Future European Capitals of Culture will surely seek emulate and exceed what Leeuwarden-Friesland has achieved.
In taking inspiration from their tangible and intangible heritage, combining current trend and new innovations, and making it relevant and specific to their unique local context, I think Leeuwarden-Friesland is an exciting example of a European Capital of Culture taking on the challenge of sustainability.Perhaps there could be a European Green Capital bid in the offing?!
*Keen to stay true to principles of low-carbon travel, Catriona travelled entirely by train from Edinburgh! She took the Caledonian Sleeper to London, Eurostar to Rotterdam and Intercity train to Leeuwarden, leaving at midnight and arriving around 3.30pm. You can plan your own sustainable travel to Europe (and further afield!) using websites like www.seat61.com/, www.loco2.com/ and www.rome2rio.com/.
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.
Pia Guilliatt graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) in 2017 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Production) majoring in Design Realisation. She is set and costume designer and artist with an interest in sustainable and community theatre and is particularly fascinated by immersive theatrical spaces where different artistic disciplines intersect and collide. She relishes in the challenge of working within the parameters of environmental sustainability in her work, from model making and sculpting to costume and set design. It was Pia’s interest in sustainable design that led her to joining me in New York to work on the fifth Living Stage as part of her studies last year. Its just over a year since we were in the US, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to share her post about The Living Stage NYC with you.
I have always had a passion for the environment and a strong desire to make a positive impact in whatever area I am working in. I believe that the role of art is to educate and spread awareness about significant social and political issues and to actively partake in exploring solutions to these problems. It is not simply enough make a show about climate change if the creation process is still having a negative effect on the environment through the use of unsustainable materials and wastage. Similarly, the positive message promoted by a theatre piece that explores marginalisation of minorities in society is going to be severely diminished if the show itself is not even accessible to the group of people it supposedly represents.
As I become more and more exposed to theatre culture and practices through my studies in stage design, I have become increasingly aware of its exclusivity and general lack of engagement in environmental issues. I find it shocking, for example, that with all the information we have available about the irreversible effects of climate change, there was no acknowledgement of sustainable materials and practices or waste management anywhere in my production curriculum. For these reasons, I had become increasingly disillusioned with the theatre world and had begun questioning whether I could realistically pursue a design career if it meant sacrificing my passion for the environment. I had no idea that there were designers working specifically in the area of theatre and sustainability and had definitely never heard the term ‘ecoscenography’. So, when I came across Tanja’s work, it was like a breath of fresh air and a revival of my desire to work in this industry. She, like me (only much later in her career) had gone through a crisis of questioning the ethics of her work, which led her to instigating projects such as The Living Stage – a project which combines stage design, horticulture and community engagement to create recyclable, biodegradable, biodiverse and edible performance spaces. In 2017, I was fortunate to assist Tanja on her fifth Living Stage project in New York, which she created in collaboration with Superhero Clubhouse; New York’s premier ecological theatre company.
The NYC Living Stage was a community project that took place in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in Meltzer Park, a small paved green space that neighbours a Seniors Centre and apartment block, both of which are owned and managed by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). Instead of working within the parameters of a script or overriding artistic vision, our aim was to turn the asphalt lined park into a beautiful and thriving space that would connect and celebrate the local community through theatre and performance design.
It was amazing to see how much thought went into the communications with the local seniors and children that were engaged in the project, making them feel like they were an integral part of the work, not just passive observers. This turned out to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the whole experience – chatting to locals in the park, hearing their opinions on elements of the design, getting positive feedback, and sometimes blunt criticism. These brief exchanges revealed fascinating anecdotes and snippets of untold histories.
Tanja’s process relies on reclaimed materials and so is by nature spontaneous and devised. One of our highlights was visiting Materials for the Arts or MFTA (a free reclaimed materials warehouse for not-for-profit arts organisations). MFTA provided us with all of the paint we needed for the floor murals, timber frames, fabric for costumes, smaller prop items and some furniture. It was also where we found our 3500 red wooden rulers that we suspended from the trees in the space. This was the very first element of the design that was installed in the space and became a source of free publicity for the event as an increasing number of people were drawn into the park by the striking scene.
The design also included transforming various items of furniture into vessels for plants. Working with reclaimed materials, while often tricky and fraught with splinters, provided many opportunities for creativity and resourcefulness and these items proved to be both the object and inspiration for many of the design elements. The luxury of a long installation period (over several weeks), allowed us to refine and tweak elements of the design in situ.
Many of the last minute solutions were discovered in this final week – such as the donation of trapezoid timber platforms that we re-configured into an angular stage for the performance. The installation period also became an accidental publicity stunt and an impromptu performance in itself, as seniors and passers began to stop to watch us work. This was evidence of the unexpected joys of community engaged theatre and public art, supporting the idea that its impact can be felt not just during the celebration but also during the making of the event.
The Living Stage was entirely successful in its goal – it brought the residents of the Senior Centre together and transformed an underutilised space into one that was bustling with activity and purpose. Tanja’s spontaneous design process proved a great learning opportunity for me, as I was able to have a genuine contribution to both the design and making process. The project introduced me to a world where the distinction between installation and performance; spectator and creator; and intention and outcome were blurred. The experience allowed me to expand my understanding of theatre arts and rethink my role as designer, artist or creator – opening up opportunities to combine my passion for sustainability with my creative skills and artistic ambitions.
All photos by Dylan River Lopez. A short film about The Living Stage NYC is available here.
Ecoscenography.com has been instigated by designer Tanja Beer – a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, Australia, investigating the application of ecological design principles to theatre.
Tanja Beer is a researcher and practitioner in ecological design for performance and the creator of The Living Stage – an ecoscenographic work that combines stage design, permaculture and community engagement to create recyclable, biodegradable and edible performance spaces. Tanja has more than 15 years professional experience, including creating over 50 designs for a variety of theatre companies and festivals in Australia (Sydney Opera House, Melbourne International Arts Festival, Queensland Theatre Company, Melbourne Theatre Company, Arts Centre) and overseas (including projects in Vienna, London, Cardiff and Tokyo).
Since 2011, Tanja has been investigating sustainable practices in the theatre. International projects have included a 2011 Asialink Residency (Australia Council for the Arts) with the Tokyo Institute of Technology and a residency with the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (London) funded by a Norman Macgeorge Scholarship from the University of Melbourne. In 2013, Tanja worked as “activist-in-residence” at Julie’s Bicycle (London), and featured her work at the 2013 World Stage Design Congress (Cardiff)
Tanja has a Masters in Stage Design (KUG, Austria), a Graduate Diploma in Performance Making (VCA, Australia) and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne where she also teaches subjects in Design Research, Scenography and Climate Change. A passionate teacher and facilitator, Tanja has been invited as a guest lecturer and speaker at performing arts schools and events in Australia, Canada, the USA and UK. Her design work has been featured in The Age and The Guardian and can be viewed at www.tanjabeer.com