Rosnes Benches, Dalziel + Scullion, 2014, Otter Pool, Dumfries and Galloway (Photo: Chris Fremantle)
Rosnes Benches.Â Took Jana Weldon, Senior Public Art Project Manager for Scottsdale in Arizona, to see some of Dalziel + Scullionâ€˜s Rosnes Benches in Dumfries and Galloway yesterday. She also came in a heard presentations from the MFA Art Space and Nature at Edinburgh College of Art earlier in the week.
The team including Dalziel + Scullion, Kenny Hunter, Wide Open and Jim Buchanan have done a fantastic job realising this project â€“ thirty benches are installed in clusters across the Dark Skies/Biosphere area of Dumfries and Gallowa, but they look like it’s been there for a long time.Â The benches themselves are really comfortable. They skim beautifully between being surfboards on land, referencing cup and ring marks, a bit hippy but really elegantly done. They speak of a different relationship with the trees.
Carbon Catcher Catriona Patterson taking discussion participants on a monitoring walk
Sat. 10th August. We dug back into the question of the role of the artist, in particular working with other disciplines such as scientists and public engagement professionals.
The discussion flagged a couple of slippages: one towards science and another towards public engagement. These are points of blurring – things that the artist might be doing. For example, CO2 Edenburgh involves environmental monitoring and this has been developed between the artists, Tim Collins and Reiko Goto, and Creative Carbon Scotland, Ben Twist and Gemma Lawrence). Both teams have specific skills in this area. CO2 Edenburgh also involves public engagement and both teams have specific skills in that area. So the Carbon Catchers walking the streets of Edinburgh and stop to take readings and talk to people;, the install in the Tent space at Edinburgh College of Art is like a lab studio combination with data on maps on walls. Both of these tactics are designed to make the monitoring very visible and engaging. Both are also elements that we might find in other activist art projects.
But this needs to be set against claims for art. If we want to make claims for the role of art in relation to the social and environmental, and in particular to make a case for high level involvement, then we need to be able to articulate the distinctive contribution, otherwise the role of the artist could be replaced by the environmental scientist or the public engagement professional.
So let’s just note that one of the things Tim Collins and Reiko Goto highlighted is that it feels like CO2 is a talked about as a bad thing in public discourse at the moment. It’s also talked about as a very abstract thing. One of the messages that has been used in campaigns to influence the public in the UK as been “Act on CO2”. There’s a danger that CO2 become like smoking or drink driving. There’s another connected issue with CO2: the climate change discourse focuses on specific thresholds 350 parts per million, 400 parts per million. The environmental science that monitors climate change ‘flattens’ and abstracts CO2. The importance of this point came home when Joel Chaney, one of the panellists, mentioned in passing that the national grid, the infrastructure by which we move electricity from the point of production to the point of consumption, requires ‘grid stability’, again ‘evenness’.
So two points in relation to these issues: firstly CO2 isn’t in itself ‘bad’. In fact it’s only the release of currently fossilised carbon into the atmosphere as CO2 that is a problem. Carbon and CO2 is what we and all of the living world is made out of. Secondly, What is coming out of the monitoring that CO2 Edenburgh is that CO2 is anything but flat or evenly distributed. The monitoring is beginning to enable us to perceive the complexity of the pattern of CO2 in central Edinburgh. As Tim Collins said, this project tries to “…calibrate an experience of CO2.”
Tim Collins and Reiko Goto’s central focus in recent work is empathy. The work Plein Air that they installed in the Tent space in the spring (and is an ongoing project) seeks to enable us to experience trees breathing as a means to engage us empathetically with trees. Of course trees are other living things which we know, experience, and understand (reasonably well). Some people have planted and nurtured trees. Some people have pruned or cut down trees. CO2 on the other hand is a molecule, something which we, particularly if we focus on the science, can’t experience. On the other hand if we begin to pay attention to the locally specific then perhaps we can experience – the stuffy room, the fresh air, etc. And as Simon Beeson noted that experience of CO2 should inform architecture – thinking about CO2 in the environment of buildings.
Perhaps, as Tim Collins pointed us to, we need to deeply engage with the shift from Subject Object (me and CO2), to Subject Object Environment (me, CO2 and the interrelations embedded in the environment). One of Scotland’s great scientists, James Clerk Maxwell, was at the forefront of a shift from looking for evidence to looking for interactions.
But we need to go back to the top – trying to understand what it is that the artist ‘does’. Another trope is to talk about the artist as a storyteller. This is in danger of being a slippage towards the public engagement we mentioned above. Wallace Heim, another panellist, started us off with Alan Badiou and the importance of events. For Badiou there are four critical forms of event – love, politics, art and science. For Badiou these forms of event change our perception of reality in a way that require us in the future to act in ways that are true to that event (so we are not talking about everyday politics, science or art, but those moments when something is revealed and understood). Badiou is of course not writing about art, not trying to tell us what art does distinctively. Rather he’s attempting to describe something about life, something fundamental about being human. And art is part of that, for Badiou enscribed at the heart of it, but not exclusively.
So we believe that artists can change things (Tim Collins and Reiko Goto talk about three aspects to art, the lyrical, the critical and the transformative). But the difficulty is that science, public engagement, politics (and love) also change things, transform them. What we want to be able to do is to understand and share the ways that artists such as Collins and Goto, Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, Amy Balkin, Hans Haacke, Suzanne Lacy operate because they can make a significant contribution to deep social and environmental issues. We also don’t want to let that potential contribution be reduced to a description of storytelling, or public engagement, or public science, or creating spectacular events. But we also don’t want to set it on a pedestal as magic.
In amongst the people handing out leaflets for shows and holding up placards for restaurants, there are a couple of people wearing white coats walking around bearing standards reminiscent of Roman Legions, though these are not surmounted by eagles, but rather by LED displays reporting CO2 levels. These are ‘Carbon Catchers’.
They are part of the Collins and Goto Studio‘s project called CO2 Edenburgh: Can art change the climate? and are working out of the Art, Space and Nature MFA‘s Tent Space at Edinburgh College of Art. The data that the Carbon Catchers are collecting plus the data from a number of Festival venues (theatres, galleries and public spaces) is all feeding into a wall of information. Creative Carbon Scotland, commissioners of the project, have relocated their office to the space so they are living with the blinking red LED’s as well as a background pattern of noise generated from the data and emitted into the space.
Yesterday, at the first of a series of discussions (see below for details of the next ones), Tim Barker, a media theorist from Glasgow University, talked about the history of interference – the point at which we became aware of the invisible. So in 1886 there was unexpected interference on the new Austrian telephone system. This was electromagnetic radiation from the sun was picked up by the copper wires. (Also Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant used to just sit and listen to the noise on the wires.) So there’s something about noise overpowering signals that’s pretty important in the history of science. Or maybe its the converse – as someone said yesterday afternoon, what’s important is, “…the desire to uncover the new by a disruption and treatment of the real.”
Why does this matter? Because our relationship to CO2 is pretty much at a similar stage – scientists are monitoring it (and it was a research station in Hawaii which first recorded passing 400ppm earlier this year). But we only think we understand what all this means. Actually the sensors that form part of this project are taking readings ranging from 320ppm to over 1000ppm. Walking around the City Centre yesterday with one of the team of ‘Carbon Catchers’ taking readings, we were getting different levels along the Cowgate. Someone commented during the discussion in the afternoon that they were surprised that the CO2 level in the room was going down because there were 10 people talking and no obvious carbon sink.
Harry Giles, the other invited speaker, challenged us to set aside the two cultures argument and pay more attention to the militaristic nature of the territory we are in (and he wasn’t talking about the Edinburgh Tattoo). The maps and sensors being used enable the surveillance of the environment in ways that has both tactical and strategic purposes. Art has often been allied with power
We might argue that the arts are engaged in both tactical and strategic purposes. There is an avowed intention on the part of Collins and Goto to challenge assumptions about aesthetics. There is not a lot of ‘sublime’ or ‘picturesque’ in this environmental art work. We might well ask where is the aesthetic? Surely this is just public engagement in science – how is it different from something that the Science Festival might put on? And if it’s public engagement with science, is it effective? Is this a Kaprowesque blurring of art and life? Is this like Burrough’s cut-ups, something as normal as a book cut up to offer new meaning, and at once so strange that it appears as just noise without meaning? If we are dealing with things that we can’t perceive with our senses, and which have timescales that we find difficult to comprehend, then should the aesthetic be that of, as someone suggested, a horror movie? Don’t we need a new aesthetics for a new experience and a new scale?
On the strategic level Creative Carbon Scotland aims to green the cultural sector supporting organisations and institutions to reduce their carbon footprints. This is of course part of a pattern of attention on environmental issues which means that climate change comes up in pretty much every conversation, every organisation has a climate change policy (and it would be fun to make a collection of these), and the sustainability question in grant applications may in the future include environmental alongside economic criteria. But usually these programmes are ‘business to business’ rather than ‘business to consumer’ (if we accept that an exhibition in the Edinburgh Art Festival is by and large a ‘consumer’ facing affair).
So the events programme, a series of four conversations which ecoartscotland has helped to put together, is perhaps the point where we break out of these sorts of dichotomies.
On Saturday (10th August) the conversation will track across art, technology, activism and knowledge with the help of Dr Wallace Heim (of the Ashden Directory) and Joel Chaney (from the Energy Research Group at Heriott Watt).
at the Tent Gallery, Edinburgh College of Art, Westport, Edinburgh EH3 9DF
(refreshments will be provided)
Spirit in the Air is a visual art, technology and performance project exploring the impacts of the Edinburgh Festivals on climate change. Working with ground-breaking technology generously supplied by Gas Sensing Systems and Envirologger to measure real-time carbon dioxide (CO2) levels when Edinburgh is packed to bursting with artistic activity and people, eminent environmental artists Tim Collins and Reiko Goto will work with Chris Malcolm to ask ‘Can art change the climate?’
‘Carbon Catchers’ will roam the streets and parks of Edinburgh to seek out CO2 hotspots whilst the artists at the Tent Gallery use the measurements to make the invisible comprehensible through visual and sound works.
Spirit in the Air is part of the Edinburgh Art Festival and will be open Monday to Friday, 12 noon-5pm, from 2 – 22 August at the Tent Gallery on Westport, Edinburgh EH3 9DF. For more information click here.
In addition to the exhibition, a discussion programme curated by ecoartscotland will consider questions of art, science, activism and environmentalism in a Festival-long conversation.
Wednesday 7 August 3-5pm, Tent Gallery
Bringing the emotion of the arts to bear on the rigour of the sciences
Saturday 10 August 1.30 – 4pm, Tent Gallery
Art, technology, activism and knowledge in the age of climate change (book here for this event)
Wednesday 14 August 3-5pm, Tent Gallery
Environmental monitoring: Tracking nature in pursuit of aesthetic inter-relationship?
Wednesday 21 August 3-5pm, Tent Gallery
Going beyond the material: Environment and Invisible Forces in the literary, performing and visual arts
ecoartscotland is pleased to partner with Creative Carbon Scotland and Edinburgh College of Art to present Collins & Goto’s Spirit in the Air at the Edinburgh Art Festival 2013.
Collins & Goto, the eminent US ecological artists now based in Scotland, will present new work, using the Tent Gallery as a base of operations and performance to explore the actual rate and flow of CO2 in the environment in Edinburgh. This project asks the question If humans produce gas in cities and there are no trees around to breathe it, does anyone care?
Following up on Louis Helbig‘s presentation at Edinburgh College of Art comes Suzaan Boettger’s review in Brooklyn Rail of three books of photography of oil landscapes, Burtynsky’s Oil, J. Henry Fair’s The Day After Tomorrow: Images of our Earth in Crisis, and Richard Misrach and Kate Orff’s Petrochemical America.
The review addresses the approaches of the three photographers and comments on their aesthetic and art historical context. There is a larger piece of work which would encompass, for instance, the also important books by James Marriott/PLATFORM including Next Gulf: London, Washington and the Oil Conflict in Nigeria and The Oil Road: Journeys from the Caspian Sea to the City of London.
These books provide a counterpoint because rather than focusing on the visual in the context of the industrial, they narrate the relationship between the impact on the lives of people living with the oil industry and our lives in London, or Scotland, or wherever and how we are complicit through financial investments, whether that’s JP Morgan Chase or Royal Bank of Scotland.
Exhibition – April 22 to May 25, 2013
Tent Gallery, in Art Space and Nature
Edinburgh College of Art
Evolution House (corner of Westport and Lady Lawson Street)
Edinburgh, EH1 2LE, Scotland
Phone: 0131 651 5800
Hours: Tues-Fri 12noon to 4:45PM or by appointment on Saturday.
The Collins & Goto Studio presents an on-going series of works with trees, including Eden3 an installation of trees and technology that provide an experience of photosynthesis through sound, and Caledonia: The Forest is Moving a series of expeditions and related inquiry about specific forests. The exhibition includes a brief overview of previous work from Pennsylvania and California to provide context for the current creative inquiry.
This work has evolved through collaboration with other artists, musicians, scientists and technicians. The exhibition is partially sponsored by Trilight Industries, Glasgow. Engineering support for the development of Eden3 is provided by Solutions for Research, Bedford. Special thanks to Helen de Main, Sogol Mabadi and Chris Fremantle.
Opening – Thursday April 25, 4 to 6 PM
Artist’s Talk – Thursday May 16, 4 to 6 PM
Collins and Goto will host an open discussion with friends and colleagues about their work and the role of art in relationship to a changing environment.
Space is limited please RSVP if interested in attending the artist talk firstname.lastname@example.org
Slick Sunset, N 57.14.07 W 111.35.15, Shell Albian Sands, Alberta, Canada, Louis Helbig, with permission
Louis Helbig’s talk on his project Beautiful Destruction yesterday afternoon at Edinburgh College of Art brought together some interesting elements: environmental destruction in remote northern Alberta, national economic benefits, the role of the arts, the relevance of this to Scotland, Jim Hansen’s arguments about tipping points in climate change, the need for civic discourse and the uses of restorative justice techniques.
Louis presented on the Alberta Tar Sands highlighting the scale of the environmental and economic impact. The Tar Sands cover something like an area the size of England. There has been an investment over the past 10 years of something like $300 billion into this industry and investors represent every country in the world with an active oil industry. Canada has derived a massive economic benefit from the Alberta Tar Sands allowing it to ride out the global economic crisis and become an oil exporter.
Louis articulated his interest in the Alberta Tar Sands coming from the experience of flying, with his partner Kristin Reimer, over the workings and being amazed at the scale, whilst also being astounded at the lack of civic discourse in Canadian society. He described the polarisation of debate in Canada between the environmentalists and the industrialists, and he offered a critique of the environmentalists in terms of their lack of engagement with the subject over an extended period during the development of the industry. Canadian environmental NGOs have, according to Louis, largely ignored the Tar Sands until recently.
Scott Donaldson, Portfolio Manager at Creative Scotland, reminded us that Jim Hansen, recently retired Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the foremost scientists and more recently activists has specifically highlighted the development of Canada’s Tar Sands as a key indicator. Scientific American said this year,
His acts of civil disobedience started in 2009, and he was first arrested in 2011 for protesting the development of Canada’s tar sands and, especially, the Keystone XL pipeline proposal that would serve to open the spigot for such oil even wider. “To avoid passing tipping points, such as initiation of the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, we need to limit the climate forcing severely. It’s still possible to do that, if we phase down carbon emissions rapidly, but that means moving expeditiously to clean energies of the future,” he explains. “Moving to tar sands, one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet, is a step in exactly the opposite direction, indicating either that governments don’t understand the situation or that they just don’t give a damn.” 23 Jan 2013
Hansen’s argument makes Canada’s tar sands everyone’s business, but the issue of energy and land is one where Canada is only an extreme example. This point was raised by Gemma Lawrence of Creative Carbon Scotland. Harry Giles, Environment Officer for Festivals Edinburgh noted that there are a significant number of applications for open-cast coal currently before the Scottish Government, as well as numerous applications for major renewables installations. All of these, for better or for worse, are driven by our addiction to cheap energy, and politicians commitment to “keep the lights on.”
Louis kept emphasising the need for a civic discourse, rather than throwing stones at each other from extreme positions. There was a sense in the room that this was an unusual position for an artist to take. Are we more used to artists aligning themselves with environmental campaigners, than trying to open up a centre ground that enables all parties to engage in the discourse?
Louis kept returning to the experiences of speaking with individuals who worked in the industry, electricians or truck drivers rather than corporate executives, and how they, when faced with an artists’ representation of the beautiful destruction, articulated their own conflicted views.
Although it wasn’t raised in the formal discussion, the idea of restorative justice was also present, and perhaps needs to be explored. Kristin Reimer, Louis’ partner, is currently in Scotland to research restorative justice programmes in Scottish schools. Restorative justice is broadly speaking an approach that seeks to address the needs of both the victims and the offenders. It provides a space in which offenders, including those who have committed the most serious crimes, can be confronted by their victims. It is not a space of stone-throwing or media manipulation.
Given that we are all implicated in the self-destructive culture of cheap energy (even if energy doesn’t necessarily seem cheap in Scotland at the moment) do we not need the means by which to face each other, and talk about the problems, not as a soft option, but as a way to see that we all benefit economically from cheap energy and we all need to change our ways.
ecoartscotland is pleased to announce that we will be co-hosting a talk by Louis Helbig, Canadian environmental photographer, at in the Main Boardroom (Level 5) Evolution House (corner of West Port and Lady Lawson Street), Edinburgh College of Art at 4pm on Tuesday 2nd April. For more information, email email@example.com.
Louis Helbig is a Canadian aerial art photographer and social commentator. His best-known project, Beautiful Destruction – Alberta Tar Sands Aerial Photographs, uses the evocative power of art to create space for viewers to reflect, imagine and think for themselves. He depicts one of the largest industrial projects of our time.
Also ongoing is Sunken Villages about what disappeared and has re-emerged; ten communities flooded by the St Lawrence Seaway in 1958. That industrial project was the pride of the Commonwealth in its time.
Raised in rural British Columbia, Canada, Louis Helbig’s work is informed by the eclectic. His background includes membership of Canada’s national cross-country ski team, several academic degrees, flying bush planes, and employment with various public agencies and government departments, NGOs and education institutions. He left Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs in 2006 to pursue art.
If you’d like to attend a discussion, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0) 7714 203016
PS Thanks to Betsy Davis (Art, Space & Nature) for remixing the ecoartscotland logo.
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.