ecoartscotland

Review: ‘Dear Nature’ by John Newling

By Chrisfremantle

The formal beauty of John Newlings’s work belies his self-questioning and interrogation of our relationship with the more-than-human world.

Reviewed by Anne Douglas and Mark Hope, unfortunately Newling’s Dear Nature exhibition at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham is a victim of the current lockdown. This in-depth review is for the time being your guided tour. Anne and Mark are Board Members of The Barn, a multi-arts organisation in Aberdeenshire that focuses on the relationship between art and ecology. John Newling was artist in residence at The Barn (2015-17) and continues to actively engage with and support the development of the organisation.


In the corner of the gallery, the last work of John Newling’s exhibition is entitled ‘Reconciliation Steps’ (2019). It consists of a mirror and a rubber stamp on a small shelf. Looking into the mirror, a text reads “We have signed our names in your soil. So sorry”.  This work evokes John’s response to the reality of the Anthropocene.  As stated in the exhibition text, John is determined to understand “what it is to know that we have profoundly affected our environment… you can trace our evolution to a point where we have subdued nature, but to our own cost because we will make ourselves extinct.”  This is the sharp, critical end of a stunningly beautiful, formally aesthetic body of work, which moves between nature and culture, materiality and ideas, interwoven with different notions of time.

work entitled Reconciliation Steps (2019)
‘Reconciliation Steps’ (2019). Image courtesy of the authors.

What is it to know that we have profoundly affected our environment?

The Dear Nature exhibition is situated in three large rooms that open into each other on the second top floor of the Ikon Gallery. As the title implies the work addresses nature throughout, at times with a deep sense of awe, at others profound curiosity and at others of irony, “Can we ever truly be together (with nature)?” John asks (Newling 2018).

“It is learning that deepens our love.” (Newling 2018 ‘3rd February, 2018’)

In the first room ‘365 days and 50 million year old leaves’ (2019) consists of a row of carefully constructed stacks of sticks that are as identical in size and shape to the extent that the material allows. John picked up a stick every day for a year, cut each one to the same length and blackened each of them with charcoal, then painted each end white.

365 detail
‘365 days and 50 million year old leaves’ (2019), detail.
365, John Newling Dear Nature at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham UK, 2020 © Ikon Gallery (4) (Large) (1)
Installation view
Courtesy the artist and the Ikon Gallery.

In this way John joins the cycle of growth and decay in nature, interrupting it by transforming abandoned branches into ‘stick wands’, then into formal sculpture. The similarity yet difference between one stack and another exposes the singular, wilful character of each stick. We come to realise that they are each unique forms of energy that are particular to the time and place in which they have grown, then fallen. It is as if by interrupting the trajectory that nature has set from growth to decay, by collecting and transforming what nature has given, a new element is introduced. The three stacks feature other objects including soil balls, feather quills and an ink well that extend the play and tension between nature and culture. The reference to magic in this relationship is strongly present.

John’s artistic process involves a deep paradox. His way of making art is rigorous, painstaking, structured and controlled and yet the outcome also feels improvisatory, as if somewhere along the way chance and serendipity had played their part.

John Cage, the experimental composer and visual artist, once criticised improvisation: “Most people who improvise slip back into their likes and dislikes and their memory, and don’t arrive at any revelation that they’re aware of” (Fiesst, 2009). Cage wanted to free sound from personal taste, to let sounds be themselves. It is this quality of letting things ‘be themselves’ that John evokes again and again in this exhibition; the sense that the work we are looking at ‘happened’ or ‘occurred’ in ways that were unpredictable and unforeseeable, even to John himself. He attends to the work in progress, continually responding to its emergent life.

1. From my garden
‘From my garden’ (2018)
From my garden detail
detail.
Images courtesy of the artist.

In the second room of the three rooms we encounter ‘From my garden’ (2018), a large work in copper leaf and paint which creates a different record of John’s practice of collecting. This time it is a leaf from every tree within his garden. The leaves are formally organised in a grid and once again it is John’s particular approach to form building that frees the singular shapes of each species and reveals the immense variability across species. This play between determinacy and indeterminacy, between degrees of control and openness to serendipity and chance, is a distinct quality of both Newling and Cage’s work. It is a particular quality of freedom that is does not stand in opposition to constraint. Both artists evoke the way energy moves through material in nature, the blood through arteries, the wind through water, movement that is made possible by being contained, constrained but, free not just from personal taste, but also individual, human control.

'Design for the duvet cover of a farmer' (regrown 2019)
‘Design for the duvet cover of a farmer’ (regrown 2019), Courtesy the artist and the Ikon Gallery
Dear Nature (2018), Courtesy the artist and the Ikon Gallery
Dear Nature (2018), Courtesy the artist and the Ikon Gallery

In the third room ‘Design for a farmer’s duvet’ (regrown 2019) follows from an invitation to make work with a co-operative of flax farmers in Dieppe, Northern France. John created compost into which he planted flax seeds given to him by one of the farmers, Franck Sagaert. When the seedlings were a few inches high, John plucked each one out of the soil, wound each plant and root into a circle and pressed them, generating the motif for a ‘design’. The completed piece was created by gluing each pressed plant in rows onto a large sheet of flax woven in France. The structure evokes the linear form of a script. It is also repetitive in the time-honoured way that designs repeat but it is anything but ‘designed ‘ in any determinate sense. A seed becomes a seedling and then becomes material for new life as an artwork. The pattern is cyclical and rhythmic as well as linear and developmental, unfolding like a story that we are invited to explore, but not literally read.

“Love John” – a detail from a Dear Nature Letter printed in Nymans Language (2020)
“Love John” – a detail from a Dear Nature Letter printed in Nymans Language (2020)
Nymans language (2018)
Nymans language (2018)

Script appears as a leitmotif in this work. In ‘A Language from the garden (Nymans language)’ (2017), exhibited in the second room, John invents an alphabet drawn from different species of trees in the gardens of Nymans, West Sussex. The National Trust, who now own and run this historic property, commissioned the work. The leaf of each species forms a letter engraved in marble. Nymans Language is also a downloadable font that the public are invited to use. Where normally the shape of the letters of the alphabet are simply a means to an end rarely noticed, Nymans Language draws our fascination through the significance of each leaf shape and a sense of play and discovery that is fundamental to the way we, as human beings, decipher meaning. We become the child who is excited when he or she learns to read. We share the thrill of the code breaker who ‘cracks’ a secret.

Soil Books (detail) (2019)
Soil Books (detail) (2019). Image courtesy of the artist and the Ikon Gallery

‘Soil Books’ (2019) in the third room of the gallery are a series of nine sculptures in which the content of each ‘book’ is made with leaves picked up each day as John walks from his house into his garden. “It’s like a ritual, so that every leaf in those books – the language of the books – is from my garden”. Each ‘page’ is made of processed soil with leaves that are pressed, gilded and stained with watercolour and each book contains twenty pages of which only the middle two pages are displayed. We might never read the pages beneath the ones that are presented, but we come to know the labour that has led to their coming into being. This is a spiritual labour that evokes the monastic but in some strange reversal. The order of the books is crucial because it indicates the change of seasons. Instead of renouncing life to focus on the spiritual, this series of works reconnects us with mystery in everyday experiences. Cage shared a similar sense of mystery and used different tactics to reveal this: 4’33 “(1952) frames an interval of time in which we as audience are invited to encounter the sounds we make as human beings when we gather together. It appropriates the ritual of the concert and concert hall to open up to the life that exists beyond the frame just as John’s gathered leaves experienced through the frame of the book in Soil Books, make visible the unpredictability and sheer beauty of the life in one material encountering another. In the work of both artists we continually move between the human and nature, co-creatively.

This particular dynamic is deeply felt in the ‘Library of Ecological Conservations – Leaves and Me’ (2017-19) also in the third room. The work consists of 36 ‘letters’ composed over the course of three years in which the apparent artifice of gilding in silver, gold and copper from the ‘base ‘materials of leaves and paper made from compost manifests a present day alchemy. We sense the magic that is contained in this library displayed in three groups of 12 works. In each work the materials have undergone a transformation, creating a life of their own, one that John has nurtured into being through carefully judged constraints and a practice of care, firstly in each individual work and secondly in the placing of each work within its group of 12.These works breathe within their own space and yet combine to create an almost mystical whole. The vaulted upper floors of this particular area of the gallery can rarely have been so evocative of a medieval cathedral, inviting us to reach out for something beyond.

view of 3rd room (1)
View from the second into third room including Soil Books and Library of Ecological Conservations – Leaves and Me (2017-19). Courtesy of the artist and the Ikon Gallery

In the presence of such beautiful work focused on continuing nature’s processes, why do we have a final work that frames the need for reconciliation? The exhibition is entitled Dear Nature, a reference to an art work created in 2018 when John wrote a letter to nature every day for 81 days. Each letter begins with the recognition that human beings are degrading the conditions that enable us to live, a widening gap between ways of being that are incompatible and are indeed in need of reconciliation.

‘Dear Nature’, letter of 10th January, 2018.

Dear Nature

We have been lovers.
We made deities from your wonders
We worshipped you; laid our fears at your feet.
We thought that we needed you to need us.

But wasn’t that just some way of seeking control?

Maybe we find it hard to accept that you are the most powerful
and complex set of relationships that we can encounter; perhaps we got jealous of all your other affairs.

In our rush to evolve in our fights and flights, we have got lost among our own conceits; spinning such a terrible storm.

I am sorry.

What to do?

Yours
John

The downward spiral implied here from love to worship to control gets to the core of the question of what it is to know that we have profoundly affected our environment. Each work in the three rooms of the gallery addresses this question in distinctive ways. The exhibition also spills over into public space. In the square opposite the Ikon Gallery there is an office complex belonging to NATWEST bank. In front of the bank with its proud NATWEST sign, is a tree in which John has placed large but discrete metal lettering that follows the line of the trunk with the words “So Sorry….”.

words "...so sorry" installed in a tree outside a branch of the Nat West
‘Dear Nature’ (2019). Courtesy of the authors.

An apology is both the act of saying sorry for a wrong doing and the explanation and defence of a belief or system, especially one that is unpopular (Cambridge online dictionary). Dear Nature (2020) functions in the first way, saying sorry for the damage we have inflicted on nature and also in the second to expose problems of belief and practice that have led to our current predicament.

‘Dear Nature’, letter of January 15th, 2018


Our need for surplus focused attention on improving you, efficiencies melded in the pressures of a market. We wanted more and more from you; growing yields belied the damage we were doing.

We signed our name in your soils.

Perhaps we did not know of this but we do now. It is a cycle that shows us our deficiencies. It is us that need to improve. We can do better.

No more signing in your soil.

Yours
John

We have only described here a small sample of works in the exhibition. And no review can do justice to either the scope or the authority of this exhibition. It has been curated by an exceptional team at the Ikon Gallery under the directorship of Jonathan Watkins.

There are other exhibitions in the Ikon Gallery at the moment including, in the First Floor Galleries Judy Watson, an Australian artist of matrilineal Waanyi heritage, addresses Australia’s ‘secret war’ in relation to indigenous Aboriginal people and brutal forms of colonisation.

In the Tower Room of the second floor, Mariateresa Sartori (until 5th April, 2020) in which Chopin piano pieces are visualised as conversations between two people.

Yhonnie Scarce, who belongs to the Kokatha and Nukunu people in Australia, will open in the Tower Room on 9th March – 31st May 2020, exploring the political and aesthetic qualities of glass, in particular the crystallisation of desert sand as a result of the British nuclear tests in her homeland between 1956-63.

(Top photo: Installation view. Courtesy of the artist and the Ikon Gallery)


References

Feisst, S. 2009, “John Cage and Improvisation: an Unresolved Relationship,” in eds. Gabriel Solis and Bruno Nettl. Musical Improvisation: Art, Education and Society, Chicago: University of Illinois Press. pp. 38–51.

Newling, J., 2018. Dear Nature. Warwick and Nottingham: Warwick Arts Collection and Beam editions.

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.

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Newton Harrison: 3 recent videos including ‘Apologia Mediterranean’

By Chrisfremantle

Three recent video works by Newton Harrison – an apology to the Mediterranean Sea, a call to Scotland to become the first industrialised country to give back more than it takes out, and an installation to assist biodiversity to adapt in Northern California.

Meditation on the Mediterranean. Included in the Collateral events of the 58th Venice Biennale, as part of Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to DestroyMare Nostrum at the Complesso della Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Penitenti, Fondamenta di Cannaregio, 910, from 8 May – 24 November 2019.

On The Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland included in the Taipei Biennial 2018-19 and exhibited in Banchory, Braemar and Edinburgh. Created with the support of The Barn, Banchory and the SEFARI Gateway.

Future Garden for the Central Coast of California is a site-specific environmental art installation by UCSC emeritus arts research professors Newton Harrison and his late wife Helen Mayer Harrison–at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden.

Working in tandem with botanists at the Arboretum, the Harrisons have created trial gardens inside three refabricated geodesic domes, where native plant species are being exposed to the temperatures and water conditions that have been projected for the region in the near future.

For more on current work see The Center for the Study of the Force Majeure. For historical work see The Harrison Studio. For perspectives on the practice of the Harrisons see various Fremantle and Douglas papers.

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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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Shelley Castle asks ‘IS THIS IT? Looking towards COP26’

Throughout our travels to Glasgow and beyond, Lucy Neal, myself and Anne-Marie Culhane witnessed rivers bursting their seams and reclaiming land, causing heartache for communities and farmers, expanding territory for beavers, and washing away crops.  Rising alongside the water is a mounting sense of urgency, and an accompanying feeling of confusion, about how (or even if) as creative practitioners to respond to the Climate Change talks in Glasgow in November.

Described by Lucy as a ‘Black Square’ (from Charlotte DuCann, Dark Mountain), the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) creates a real and metaphorical space which vibrates with a sense of power and exclusivity wherever it lands.  Like its equivalent cosmic force, the black hole, COP also seems to draw everything towards itself, with ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) felt by many who are not invited, but for whom the consequences of a lack of progress will be beyond dire. Lucy and I attended COP24 in Poland as part of Walking Forest, gifting seeds from the last suffragette tree standing in the Suffragette Arboretum in Batheaston to delegates in an intimate ritual aimed at supporting the work being done across the world to fight for the rights of people, trees, rivers.

It was shocking to see how little space, literally and in terms of voice, those already suffering from the consequences of the crisis were given.  So as part of the cultural sector, how do we decide if, how and for whom we might respond to this year’s COP, which has potential to shift the trajectory of Earth’s future, but a track record of getting virtually no-where beyond words?

Is this a once-in-a-lifetime chance to engage (and possibly even make a small difference to its outcomes), or is it something that will be impervious to any energy we might throw at it?  Lucy began by outlining what ‘had to happen’ legally at COP26: countries must submit their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for cutting emissions and demonstrate the Paris agreement is working well enough to deliver a safe climate.

In our open guided conversation kindly hosted by Glasgow Sculpture Studios and Chris Fremantle from ecoartscotland, we met a group of 20 artists, activists, interested individuals and organisations, to at least attempt to find a place to stand in relation to COP26.

We simplified the options of where we might position ourselves individually to:

IGNORE – it’s a f*****g waste of time,
ENGAGE – in parallel but in response to,
DISRUPT – cause interventions that shake up the black square,
BE AT THE TABLE – be inside, working with policy/actions/representatives

Lucy Neal held a group that wanted to explore the idea that to IGNORE COP was the preferred tactic.

Pondering what ‘IGNORE’ might meant, the group considered how it might be possible to create civic spaces like the ‘Commonwealth Games’ where people could mediate the event on the streets; create soft edges with generosity and kindness, person to person.  The conversation focused on creating a space that confronts apathy whilst exploring the narrative of de-growth and other ways of living.

Talk turned to how to create a ‘performance of ignoring’ – an intervention called the ‘black onesie option’ that would see people at the far-flung corners of the Black Square softening it’s edges.

It was decided that ‘Ignoring could well be the new Paying Attention!’

Shelley held the ‘ENGAGE’ space where a group considered their feelings of dilemma around any impact creative actions may have on those living and working in Glasgow.  It was thought that many local people could see both COP itself and accompanying protests as a huge annoyance.

‘It boils down to if you think COP26 will achieve anything or not’ and ‘how much influence do we want/have, who would our actions be for?’ created rich ideas for actions – like a performance in which we could ‘all just walk away from COP’

There will be spaces for creative responses, potentially at Glasgow University and at Strathclyde Student Union which will we understand be the ‘Civil Society space’ organised by Stop Climate Chaos Scotland.

In these spaces some representatives from COP might see or experience creative responses and alternative stories, but the question was ‘could these go back into COP in any meaningful way?’  Was inhabiting a ‘parallel space’ enough or did it just give COP more power to ignore?

Anne-Marie held the ‘DISRUPT’ table with two others. There was a surprising lack of interest in creative disruption. Anne-Marie set up some provocations to start the conversation for example:  ‘COP is really important – the lives and deaths of thousands of people/creatures etc ride on this – why wouldn’t we disrupt it by blocking airports and transport links at the end if adequate agreement not reached?’ and ‘What would the suffragettes do?’

The group then discussed whether it could be possible to create ‘hospitable disruptions’ like the Walking Forest seed gifting at COP26 which allowed people to step out of the thrust of debating, writing, compromising, and into another space for remembering their own core values and a sense of humanity/compassion’

Chris Fremantle joined those wanting to ‘BE AT THE TABLE’ in COP.  The group talked about who would be ‘at the table’ particularly focusing on issues such as farming. Multiple different groups from corporate lobbyists through the Soil Association to Via Campesina will all be there. The arts might:

  • draw attention to patriarchy and colonialism through Glasgow’s own history;
  • Solidarity in the face of challenges;
  • amplify the voices of those who are not at the table;
  • support international solidarity.

The group also explored what moral support might be needed for those at the table and how culture connects land workers everywhere through story, song and dance.

By the end of the day most felt that a conversation had begun to offer a rich and deep perspective on why and for whom, before even considering the what and where.

There was strong sense that understanding the significance of the COP in relation to the bigger ‘moment’ is critical; that small performative interventions could influence values and offer new meaning.

It was humbling to feel the diversity and breadth of experience, knowledge, care and artforms in the room.  We hope to continue this dialogue soon – please keep an eye on the cop26-general or cop26-glasgowlocal lists on riseup,  ecoartscotland and the arts4cop26 group on Facebook for further information.

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Shelley Castle is an activist, mother and civic artist, and an active member of Culture Declares Climate and Ecological Emergency. Working across a variety of mediums and with multiple collaborators, her practice is underpinned by a fascination of biodiversity in all its forms.

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

Lucy Neal is a theatre-maker and educator interested in how celebratory events act as a catalyst for change. A Co-founding Director of the London International Festival of Theatre (1981-’05), her work looks at how the arts inspire new ways of living within the ecological limits of a finite planet. She is author of Playing for Time: Making Art as if the World Mattered.

Ruth Ben-Tovim was not able to attend but is the fourth artist in Walking Forest, a project funded by the Arts Council of England as part of the Season for Change, a UK wide programme showcasing cultural leadership on climate action.

Walking Forest seeds a mycelium network of relationships led by women in the UK and internationally to initiate three site-specific public residencies and a large-scale mass participation event, potentially in Scotland and contributing a voice at COP26: whether at the table, engaging, ignoring or creatively disrupting.

Walking Forest concludes in 2028, with the planting of an intentional forest for Earth activists.  All four artists are part of Culture Declares Climate and Ecological Emergency – a growing global movement of ‘declare’ initiatives including local authoritiesarchitectsmusicianslawyers and doctors.

For notes on the open meeting before Christmas co-hosted by ecoartscotland and Creative Carbon Scotland see here.

(Top image: Black Square courtesy of Shelley Castle)

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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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We need to talk about tipping points

By Chrisfremantle

This is from The Learning Planet a blog associated with The Climate Change Museum project. The article discusses the implications of ‘tipping points’ in relation to the language of ‘change’, ‘crisis’, ’emergency’ and ‘catastrophe’, all associated with climate and ecosystems.

The Learning Planet

A tipping point is a threshold that, when exceeded, can lead to large changes in the state of the system. In the case of global climate disruption, these changes could mean a cascade of feedback effects that could destroy conditions for thriving biodiverse life and human civilisation.

Screenshot 2019-12-22 07.40.43
From a thread by Andrew Dessler

The terms for climate have very quickly moved from ‘climate change’ to ‘climate crisis’ to ‘climate emergency’. (Side note, this should always be read as ‘climate and ecological emergency’, with intersecting causes and impacts of ecocide, fossil fuel emissions and ecosystems collapse.)

Arguably, there has been a climate emergency since it was known that fossil fuels were altering the global carbon cycle and raising temperatures (1940s – 1960s). On the other hand, there are valid criticisms of the use of the term ’emergency’ because it calls to mind authoritarian governments cracking down on freedoms to implement extreme action.

This recent paper by seven authors in Nature, ‘Climate tipping points – too risky to bet against’, offers an equation to define ’emergency’.

Screenshot 2019-12-22 07.26.34

The authors argue that the intervention time to prevent global tipping has shrunk to almost zero. However, there is still time – and an absolute necessity – to double down to limit the impacts of global tipping. The reality is that while rainforests dessicate and burn, they are also being deliberately cleared for agriculture, and that while fossil fuels cause ocean acidification, mass deaths of marine life and coral reef bleaching, several major countries are increasing their consumption of coal and drilling for more oil.

I wonder if ’emergency’ is not even a strong enough term for what is unfolding globally now, and perhaps ‘climate catastrophe’ is more appropriate. Most climate discourse in politics and economics places catastrophe at an indefinable point in the future. In the more problematic framings, this corresponds to ignoring that where ecosystems and people’s homes have been affected over past years (if not decades), climate catastrophe has already hit. Even advocates for urgent radical action, such as Greta Thunberg and Caroline Lucas, use phrases such as ‘if we want to avoid climate catastrophe…’. Although they give clear evidence that ‘climate change is here now’, the catastrophe is always still to come.

But, what is climate catastrophe if not this?

Screenshot 2019-12-22 07.40.54

We need to start talking about the Emergency in relation to tipping points, which means understanding that this is a non-linear situation. If the climate impact of Australia’s raging forest fires is equivalent to all its national emissions, this puts a new light on the incrementalism of climate action.

There is room for more, urgent, research on the locations, potential scale and knock-on effects of tipping point changes. Also, there is much more room for tipping points to be reflected in frameworks for action, activist demands and climate communication. Given that climate discourses have been overwhelmed by forces pushing for delay, licence to drill, and denial of the science, this is going to be really hard. When we’re so used to hearing that climate communication must not alarm people, it is hard to know how to avoid alarm when an image search, simply of ‘Australia’ with today’s date yields this array of images.

Active hope continues to be the most essential emotion we can harness, but the situation is as grievous as could be imagined. If anyone has thoughts on how we can start talking more about this through the work of Climate Museum UK and in general, please share.

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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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Green Tease for COP26 Glasgow

ecoartscotland and Creative Carbon Scotland are collaborating to provide an opportunity to discuss the arrival of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change COP bandwagon in Glasgow in November 2020. The Green Tease will happen at Many Studios in Glasgow on Tues 10 December 6.30-8.30pm. See below for booking, schedule and address.

30,000 scientists, policy-makers and politicians (seriously, thirty thousand) will be in Glasgow for two weeks.

UNFCCC COP15 from

It will be in the news. It will jam traffic. There will be many news reports. There will be drama. Trump probably go to Turnberry instead. The organisers are apparently hiring cruise ships to provide additional accommodation because there is not enough hotel capacity in Glasgow.

How can we frame this event in the lead up to it?

Do we understand the specific issues that will be on the agenda?

How will the global South and those already living with the Climate crisis be heard?

What is the role of the arts and heritage?

How can we make it meaningful for people living in Scotland?

Can we engage the attendees usefully?

Once the spotlight moves on to the next place in the unfolding crisis (it’s beams are on Doncaster flooding and on New South Wales fires at this moment), how can we deepen our understanding of the living reality, so often not represented in the Policy?

COP and Cocktails is an opportunity to discuss what we might do, think about when it is useful to commission, to programme, to make as well as ‘what’.

Book your free place

Where?

The event will be held in the event space at MANY Studios, 3 Ross Street, Glasgow, G1 5AR. The venue is situated 15 minutes’ walk from Glasgow Central Station and St Enoch Subway station and a number of buses stop less than 1 minute’s walk away. The venue is situated on the ground floor and is wheelchair accessible.

Tuesday 10 December Schedule

6:30-7pm Drinks and mingling

7-7:30pm Presentations from various organisations about their plans for the COP, including:

  • ecoartscotland
  • Creative Carbon Scotland
  • Glasgow City Council
  • ClimateXChange
  • others to be announced…

7:30-8pm Discussion of what we would like to get out of the COP and how we can achieve it

8-8:30pm Drinks and mingling

For further information please contact Lewis Coenen-Rowe: lewis.coenen-rowe@creativecarbonscotland.com

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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Review: After ‘Into the Mountain’

By

Allen Ginsberg instructed us,

“Notice what you notice”
“Catch yourself thinking”
“Observe what’s vivid”

Earlier this year Simone Kenyon’s new work Into The Mountain, commissioned by the Scottish Sculpture Workshop, was performed in the Cairngorms. ‘After Into The Mountain’ is a reflection from John Hall, Wendy Kirkup and Simon Murray who went to Into The Mountain together.

We offer John, Wendy and Simon’s reflection, not as a review (pacemthe blog title), but as a consideration of the experience. In order to maintain the three voices this piece is a pdf which you can access here: After into the mountain – final version with images.

Biographical notes:

John Hall is a poet, essayist and retired teacher, who lives below Dartmoor and was closely involved in the conception and development of Performance Writing at Dartington College of Arts.

Wendy Kirkup is an artist living in Glasgow. She is also an Associate Lecturer in Fine Art for the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), working at the Moray School of Art campus.

Simon Murray teaches contemporary theatre and performance at the University of Glasgow. He has been a professional performer and theatre maker and was Director of Theatre at Dartington College of Arts before moving to Glasgow.

Links to an incomplete collection of reviews:

Studio International Review

The Scotsman Review

Art North Magazine

The Stage Review

The Guardian Review

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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.

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‘We Have More Agency Than We Realize’: Curator Lucia Pietroiusti on How the Art World Can Tackle Climate Change

Lucia Pietroiusti, Curator of General Ecology at The Serpentine in London, says,

“The more I spend time with the practice of ecological thinking, the more I realize that one solution or a one-toned approach is just not the answer. I am driven by the fact that it is becoming quite clear now that we are a little bit past the point of any sort of realistic reversal of the effects of climate disaster. Because of that, I am attached to the idea that you need pluralistic voices.”

She goes on to say,

“My great hope would be for every art institution to have an ecology department. It does not necessarily have to be someone like me who talks about plants, but it should be someone who looks at institutional strategy and environment at the same time, at how this institution relates to others, and how it sits within its urban landscape.”

and,

“There is a necessity to open up the disciplines so that we can face giant considerations like climate change. If departments do not collaborate, then everyone is just seeing things through a small keyhole. What would it mean to operate an institution as a permaculture, and less like a monoculture? I am really obsessed with the fact that metaphors are real and that you can move between the metaphoric and the literal in your program. When you do that, that’s when you start to see things differently.”

There are organisations exploring what this means in their own contexts including several significant ones in Scotland, including The Stove in Dumfries, North Light Arts in Dunbar, Creative Carbon Scotland, and there is a bit of a cluster in Aberdeenshire with SSW, Deveron Projects, and The Barn.

The Barn, in working with the pioneering ecological artists, Helen Mayer Harrison (1927-2018) and Newton Harrison (b.1932) to develop a vision for Scotland, On the Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland, have raised the stakes for the cultural sector’s involvement with these issues.

Read the whole interview on ArtNet

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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B. D. Owens reviews ‘Water Makes Us Wet’

Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure, a film by Dr Beth Stephensand Dr Annie Sprinkle which premiered at Documenta 14, defies any easy genre categorisation.

This film about H2O both charmed and surprised me. It is an artwork, a documentary, a sexy and outrageously fun (sometimes turbulent) love story and a valuable multi-layered chronicle of environmentalist activism. It incorporates a vibrant patchwork of film styles including: sweeping aerial landscape shots, experimental video art, animation and relaxed conversational interviews. These are threaded together by narration from the often aggrieved character of ‘their lover, the Earth’ (performed by Dr Sandy Stone, University of Texas). One of the engaging interviews is with the Distinguished Professor Donna Haraway during a visit in her garden.

Later in their Adventure, Stephens and Sprinkle (Annie’s feet clad with rather impractical shoes) are guided through the San Bernardino National Forest by Steve Loe, a retired U.S Forest Service biologist. Together, they battle through thorny bushes, on a steep dusty mountain side in the Strawberry Creek watershed, to witness for themselves the reckless and exploitative water extraction by the Nestlé corporation.

Through the duration of the film, Stephens and Sprinkle have embedded a trail of semiotic code that those ‘in the know’ will be amused to discover. To provoke and tease further curiosity, the film’s content warning declares that it contains “environmental destruction, explicit Ecosexuality and performance art”. In addition to focusing upon their own artwork, they generously platform the performances of several of their Ecosexual artist colleagues including: The Reverend Billy TalenDragon Fly (aka Justice Jester), Guillermo Gómez-PeñaBalitronicaSaul Garcia Lopez and Judy Dunaway. You might also spot a cameo appearance by Dr Laura Guy (Newcastle University).

For the initiated, Dr Annie Sprinkle (artist, sexologist, educator, researcher and activist) carries legendary clout from performance artworks and films that she produced in the 1980s & 90s, which includes a collaboration with renowned experimental composer Pauline Oliveros. Annie Sprinkle has shown her works at hundreds of festivals, museums and galleries such as the Guggenheim (NYC) and Glasgow’s Centre of Contemporary Art – during the Bad Girls Season (1994), which was curated by the trail-blazing Nicola White. The epic art, activism and education collaboration between Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens (interdisciplinary artist, researcher, activist and professor) began in 2002. Through their longterm partnership they founded the E.A.R.T.H. Lab (Environmental. Art. Research. Theory. Happenings.) based at the University of California Santa Cruz.

Throughout Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure, Stephens and Sprinkle gradually introduce the viewers to the E.A.R.T.H. Lab’s areas of research in which they are pioneers; ‘Sexecology‘ (which links sex and ecology) and ‘Ecosexuality’ (a previously undefined sexual orientation). In their words,

Ecosexuality [is] an expanded form of sexuality that imagines sex as an ecology that extends beyond the physical body. [… Furthermore] Ecosexuality shifts the metaphor ‘Earth as Mother’ to ‘Earth as Lover’ to create a more reciprocal and empathic relationship with the natural world.

In one film sequence, they ‘anoint’ the ‘E’ of ‘Ecosexual’ into the LGBTQIA ‘alphabet’ during a jubilant ceremony performance in the San Francisco Pride Parade. Although Stephens and Sprinkle live and work in California, they have performed marriage vows to their Earth “lover” in various places in North America and Europe. These exuberant and sincere wedding ceremonies have, on occasions, become socially engaged artworks because the artists have invited others to join them in taking these vows of love and commitment to the Earth. In this way, they have used performance art as a means of radically shifting perspective in order to re-invigorate interest in environmental protection and climate change.

Because California has been ravaged by drought, destructive flash floods and ever-worsening, catastrophic wild fires, Stephens and Sprinkle have seen, first hand, the devastating, unpredictable and extreme effects of climate change. Concerns for the Earth’s wellbeing, moved the filmmakers to take a tour of the watershed, ‘wet spot’, map of California, to learn more about their relationships with the waters of their beloved. They spent intimate time with the Pacific Ocean, immersed themselves in physical union with pristine Big Creek (Big Sur) and shared lamentation with lakes and parched wildlife. On their expedition, they discovered some upsetting truths about pollution and corporate water ‘mining’. Whereas, they were buoyed by the news of intervention methods which clean and recycle water in both domestic and agricultural sectors. Some of their stops included visits with water treatment plant workers, biologists and a party of elephant seals. There were also some sweet and tender moments when they dropped by to see Annie Sprinkle’s family. In this film, there seems to be a greater emphasis upon Annie Sprinkle’s life-long Ecosexual liaisons with water. But, they perhaps made this directorial choice because their first documentary collaboration, Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story (2014), focuses upon the Earth’s Appalachian Mountain region, where Beth Stephens grew up.

Although Ecosexuality does not seem confined to the LGBTQIAE communities, and appears to extend through and beyond any (and all) sexual orientations and genders, it makes sense that Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle are pioneers in this pool. It is not only their own personal life histories that have led them to this place, but also the broader intermingling creative culture, communities and landscapes in which they have lived and loved. What comes to my mind, when listening to the recital of the Ecosexual Manifesto, is that these said “skinny dippers, sun worshipers and star gazers” (among others) populate the Radical Faerie Sanctuaries, the many Queer nude beaches, as well as the diligently sought out ‘secret’ swimming holes, deep in the forests. And those notorious Queercore punks in Olympia, who made a mud wrestling pit in their back garden (circa 1998), were possibly Ecosexuals too.

In some respects, there may be some cross pollination between Sexecology and Process-Relational Philosophy. However, Dr Sara Ahmed’s opening comments in her essay, Orientations: Toward a Queer Phenomenology, may offer more immediate insights:

“If orientation is a matter of how we reside in space, then sexual orientation might also be a matter of residence, of how we inhabit spaces, and who or what we inhabit spaces with.”

But, for those who might be sceptical, it could be argued that the roots of Ecosexual representations are clearly present in Lesbian and Feminist experimental film & video such as Barbara Hammer’s groundbreaking 16mm film Dyketactics (1974) and Shani Mootoo’s video Her Sweetness Lingers (1994). In addition, the literary groundings may have been laid out in the writings of Mary Oliver and Rachel Carson.

Whether they are ‘marrying’ the Earth’s bodies of water in lavish performance ceremonies or playing with sexual innuendo, Stephens and Sprinkle use mischievous humour and absurdity as useful tools to allow respite from heaviness and to enhance audience engagement. Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure is a film in good company. In my opinion, it is among some of the most memorable and humorous screen-based Feminist performance art, a category in which I include Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno series (2008-2009). In a series that plausibly falls into Ecosexual territory, Rossellini has also demonstrated that absurd humour in performance art can be a remarkably effective tool for education.

Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure is aimed at, and has the potential to reach, a wide variety of publics. Even though there are ongoing intimate discussions, mild nudity and displays of Ecosexual affection throughout the duration of this ‘Adventure’, there is a surprising ambiance of innocence and a refreshing lack of cynicism. It will likely draw the interest of: Environmentalists, Artists, Art Academics, Intersectional Feminists, Wild Swimmers, members of the LGBTQIE communities, Geography students and perhaps Process-Relational thinkers. As a consequence, it would add much to programmes in: film societies, art galleries, museums and university class rooms. There may be some who will claim that this film does not delve down far enough into some of the topics that it covers. However, it could be seen as an access point to deeper discussions about climate change, pollution, the Anthropocene, settler colonialism, Indigenous Water Protectors, sexual orientations and socially engaged/activist art practice. And, perhaps it could be a primer for films such as This Changes Everything (2015) and Water on the Table (2010) which provide more in-depth analysis of multinational corporate control of water and the impacts of capitalism upon climate change.

But, there are some things that have been lingering in my mind. I have been reminiscing about what might constitute my own Ecosexual journey: Skinny dipping after sundown, our bodies tracing phosphorescent trails in the dark waters of English Bay. Night sky gazing, transfixed by the Perseid meteor shower, warm beach-sand at my back. And, scaling majestic snowy Seymour in the brilliant Spring sunshine, with a romantic Radical Faerie. For those who are feeling crushed by impending climate doom, I feel that there is something unusually hopeful and powerful that Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure offers the viewers. Near the end of the film, Katie Alderman (E.A.R.TH. Lab intern) attests that, for her, Ecosexuality is about “fighting the despair [of climate change] with joy”.

Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure had its New York premier at MoMA in February 2019. It is distributed by Juno Films.

Revisions

15 March 2019 17.45 Link to Bad Girls Season updated.
17 March Nicola White is now trail-blazing

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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From Climate Cultures: Paul Michael Henry on UNFIX

From Climate Cultures: Paul Michael Henry, artist and artistic director of UNFIX, writes about UNFIX 2019 in Glasgow (29-31 March).

“… People keep mis-labelling it ‘Unfixed’ or ‘The Unfix’ but it’s UNFIX: a command form. A verb and activity.

A loosening, disburdening, freeing-up. Anti-fatalistic, with the assumption that it doesn’t have to be like this. I experience climate change as a terrible affirmation: we cannot treat each other, ourselves and our surroundings this way. We can’t walk around with these egos functioning the way they do, and live.”

Read the rest of the blog.

ecoartscotland has commissioned Christiana Bissett to report from the Festival. More to follow.

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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Agriculture and aquaculture, but no culture

Top Image: Newton Harrison, The Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland (2018). Detail: one of ten panels.

The Scottish Government recently published Climate Ready Scotland: Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme 2019-2024 A Consultation Draft – the consultation is open through 9th April 2019.

The focus of this work is on adaptation rather than mitigation.

As Ben Twist of Creative Carbon Scotland explained, mitigation is carbon reduction. Adaptation is about responding to the impacts of climate change: how do we change what we do and how we do it to deal with the changes and uncertainties of global warming? There are practical changes and behavioural changes. Some ‘adaptation’ measures ensure that infrastructure (eg energy and transport) can cope, and other actions are encouraging significant changes to farming practices. Community action is an important aspect too. Given this range it is surprising that culture only features as an aspect of heritage, and the arts don’t feature at all.

The survey is pretty specifically geared around professionals already directly involved in adaptation work engaging with technical questions of programme design. It might be more effective for people from culture and the arts to write letters outlining our role, giving specific examples of relevant work – projects and ways of working. There is an email address climatechangeadaptation@gov.scot.

ecoartscotland has regularly highlighted artists’ and organisations’ work on climate change, or as Helen Mayer Harrison (1927-2018) and Newton Harrison (b. 1932) conceptualised it, ‘The Force Majeure’.

Like an oncoming storm front, the Force Majeure is a fluid frontier; a frontier of heat moving across the planet; a frontier of water advancing on lands; a frontier of extinctions touching all lives. It is a frontier from which we retreat, yet within which we must also adapt.

Center for the Study of the Force Majeurewebsite

The consultation document opens with the following statement from Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform,

Adapting to the changing climate will both help to create a better society for everyone who lives here and unlock Scotland’s immense potential as a nation.

Climate Ready Scotland

It goes on to say,

I want the second Adaptation Programme to deliver a step change in collaboration, and emphasise the wider co-benefits of climate action.

In an essay a few years ago the Harrisons said,

We hold that every place is telling the story of its own becoming, which is another way of saying that it is continually creating its own history and we join that conversation of place.

‘Knotted ropes, rings, lattices and lace: Retrofitting biodiversity into the cultural landscape?’ in Barthlott, Wilhelm and Matthias Winiger, eds.,Biodiversity: A Challenge for Development Research and Policy.Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer-Verlag, p. 14.

Working with The Barn in Aberdeenshire, Newton Harrison and his colleagues from The Center for the Study of the Force Majeure have been developing The Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland, a vision which specifically sets out to imagine Scotland as the first industrialised nation to put back more into the web of life than it takes out. The vision focuses on farming, agriculture and aquaculture (in particular lagoons), and frames these within a ‘Commons of Mind’ – the need for recognition of the prima facie need to adapt in the face of the Force Majeure.

The Barn invited the Harrisons and the Center for the Study of the Force Majeure to Aberdeenshire because of the floods along the river Dee in 2016 caused by Storm Frank. The resulting discussions with the James Hutton Institute and Scottish Rural University Colleges, supported by SEFARI funding, highlighted holistic approaches addressing the settlement, the watershed and the nation. Connections have been drawn to work in other small nations including Sweden and Taiwan and the work has been exhibited in Scotland and in the Taipei Biennial.

The Cabinet Secretary’s ambitions for the Adaptation Programme to produce ‘a more just society’ are critical. The problem is that the Programme does not address the fundamental reimagining required for humans to give back more to the web of life than we take out.

For instance, the Consultation document says of ‘Climate Change Adaptation Behaviours’,

This is where individuals and organisations change their behaviour to help increase their resilience to, and reduce the severity of, negative consequences of climate change.

Climate Ready Scotland

What is missing is actively strengthening the web of life by choosing to, for instance, grow biodiversity, not just in fragments, but comprehensively. So in changing farming it is not enough to simply plant a few more trees and allow for spreading of waters if that doesn’t tackle the ‘agricultural extinction’ that is monocultural farming. Intelligently greening settlements needs to achieve massively greater and connected (not fragmented) biodiversity, which in turn might provide human benefits in terms of edible landscapes (see for example the work of Dundee Urban Orchard and Loughborough University’s Eat Your Campus– both of which are artist-led) and more engaged, interconnected communities while at the same time reducing the impact of heatwaves on urban environments. The Deep Wealth calls for holistic thinking that puts the web of life first.

Co-incidentally there is a piece in Arts Professional from Judith Knight, quoting Amitav Ghosh’s book The Great Derangement,

“When future generations look back upon the Great Derangement, they will certainly blame the leaders and politicians of this time for their failure to address the climate crisis. But they may well hold artists and writers to be equally culpable – for the imagining of possibilities is not, after all, the job of politicians and bureaucrats.”

(p. )

The Harrisons provide a compelling vision for a different way of living, focused by the need to adapt to The Force Majeure.

There are a number of projects across Scotland which specifically address adaptation, in addition to The Deep WealthThe Stove’s We Live With Water raises questions about how to live with regular flooding, questioning conventional flood defence approaches. Matt Baker described it as,

…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.

The Stove

website

Cooking Sections’ ongoing project Climavore, which was developed in collaboration with Atlas Arts on Skye specifically addresses ‘eating as climate changes’. They say,

“It sets out to envision seasons of food production and consumption that react to man-induced climatic events and landscape alterations.”

Climavorewebsite

Projects in other places such as Eve Mosher’s High Water Line in New York City, featured in Creative Carbon Scotland’s Library of Creative Sustainability, draw attention to the impact of storm surges which will become more frequent as global warming accelerates.

Community Energy focused initiatives including Land Art Generator Glasgow go beyond simple mitigation (carbon reduction) to envisage community owned energy production and local grids for urban contexts.

Arts projects which address climate change, whatever the focus, almost always involve collaboration with scientists and engineers and engage with communities – interdisciplinary and participatory. A recent paper, ‘Raising the Temperature’: The arts in a warming planet (Galafassi et al 2017 Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 31:71–79) highlights that art addressing climate change has grown nearly 20-fold over the ten years they reviewed.

Creative Carbon Scotland’s continuing programme of Green Tease events builds networks, and its new Creative Europe funded Cultural Adaptations project brings artists into working with Sustainability and Adaptation focused organisations.

Even the Scottish Government’s Scottish Energy Strategy: The future of energy in Scotland (2017) says,

We will explore, through the development of a Culture Strategy for Scotland, ways that Scotland’s culture sectors and creative industries can help communities imagine a green future, and to help us all adapt to the changes and opportunities.

(p. 13)

So why does the Adaptation Programme talk about agriculture and aquaculture, but not culture or culture change? Where are the arts? The word culture literally doesn’t appear… (The Heritage sector is significantly represented and is a key stakeholder in the Adaptation Programme.)

It’s a consultation – submit your work and experience – tell them what you do and who it connects with – email it to them at climatechangeadaptation@gov.scot. Tweet it tagging @ecoartscotlandand @CultureAdapts and also @ScotGovClimate

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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