meg’s bundle, northam (pward 2011)

POWER & potential


(one more step towards academic annunciation)

If I were to wander and walk[i] and pick up sticks in any place[ii] and then bind them with something, natural or synthetic, found within that place, for ease of carrying, would this be art[iii]? If I was then to place that bundle, conspicuously or not, within that environment without further inference or control would this make it art any the more?[iv] Or further, to take this simple bundle and ‘frame’ it within a gallery or museum setting, would this positively contribute to its artfulness or its metaphorical implications?[v] Or maybe I could give the bundle as a gift to a passer-by or an associate for them to use freely?[vi] And then further still if I were to provide circumstance for others to gather sticks within an intentional and reflective process[vii] would this be art at all or simply social process[viii]? Or, to take things to an international and political extreme[ix], if I were to travel to the State of Victoria in Southern Australia and incite communities[x] to gather sticks in defiance of laws prohibiting the collection of firewood[xi], would I perhaps be straying into another area entirely?[xii] 

Within the context of contemporary (environmental) art any and all of the above actions could be considered to fulfill the critical criteria[xiii] – but then to the uninitiated it would seem that anything goes! Over the last year I have explored the practical and metaphorical implications of such an environmentally situated process[xiv], and its objective residue[xv], both within the context of contemporary art and also within those of indigenous cultures and the immanent global ecological crisis[xvi]. Such research has lead me to question the efficacy of, and motivation for, art within the arena of socially and ecologically determined practice especially with relation to its historical[xvii] and pedagogical[xviii] implications. The power of engagement with the creative process[xix], and ‘the substance’ of such[xx], is seemingly rich in its hypothetical implications for social and ecological change and empowerment, but the contemporary adherence, even obsession, to the principles of science within Western Society[xxi], as well as a measure of intellectually and ecologically extreme and disembodied perceptions of our place within the universe[xxii], often act to limit such holistic experience.[xxiii]

 animate potential, ash bundle and pole with leaves, dartington (pward 2011)

As a contemporary artist I confess preferential allegiance to neither art nor science within the current global political climate of mass-consumerism and unsustainable economic growth. I do however pertain to recognize the power and implications of both disciplines[xxiv] towards deeper understanding and hence more ecologically responsible[xxv] action. To gather sticks within any of the contexts prescribed above provides a rich framework practically, aesthetically, metaphorically, and more importantly universally, to catalyze, communicate and suggest many of the questions currently facing humanity as an integral, but not essential, part of the global ecology. It is further hoped that the processes, actions and objects implied by the project, whether considered art or not, may allow real reflection and change within the behavioural choices[xxvi] that we make both as an ecologically implicated society[xxvii] and as individuals within the animate dynamics of this complex and wondrous existence [xxviii].


[i] walking the line – RICHARD LONG (London; THAMES & HUDSON; 2002)

[ii] LURE OF THE LOCAL senses of place in a multi-centered society – LUCY LIPPARD (New York; THE NEW PRESS; 1999)

[iii] “Perception of the inner substance of things can only be acquired through practice. “ Joseph Beuys from WHAT IS ART? Conversation with Joseph Beuys, Edited with Essays by Volker Harlan (Forest Row; Clairview; 2004)

[iv] “The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.” Marcel Duchamp, from Session on the Creative Act, Convention of the American Federation of Arts, Houston, Texas, April 1957

[v] PARTICIPATION – Claire Bishop (LONDON; Whitechapel Gallery; 2006)

[vi] Giftism & Generosity – Sam Bower, www.greenmuseum.org

[vii] “Once, when asked by a forest ranger what kind of art we would be making to put in the forest, I said that instead of making ‘objects of attention’ we were developing ‘instruments of consciousness’. This seemed to answer many of his questions. We then began to try this phrase out on others, including passersby.  And it worked.  I now use it as one way of describing some of the expanded practices that are key to the field of social sculpture and our transformative work.

But the ‘consciousness’ referred to in this phrase is not only the rational, linear consciousness of our practical, literal and intellectual lives. It is also about another mode of consciousness that enters and inhabits the things perceived; a mode of consciousness that scientists like Henri Bortoft and Arthur Zajonc describe as ‘participatory consciousness’ as opposed to ‘on-looker consciousness’.

Using these ‘instruments of consciousness’ is also closely linked to another core idea in the University of the Trees: that we need to develop ‘new organs of perception’.

‘New organs of perception’ is a phrase that stems from the scientific work of Goethe, who contrasted a participatory, holistic mode of seeing to onlooker consciousness. Joseph Beuys used this phrase too to emphasize the need for new forms of knowing and perceiving that would lead us to act in a more connected way.” Shelley Sacks (http://www.universityofthetrees.org/about/instruments-of-consciousness.html)

[viii] “This ‘elemental’ sensibility towards facilitating change is relevant to all social organisms, however small and young, or old and complex.” Allan Kaplan, Development Practitioners and Social Process – Artists of the Invisible (London; Pluto Press; 2002).

[ix] “It is not impractical to consider seriously changing the rules of the game when the game is clearly killing you.” M. Scott Peck, from THE RE-ENCHANTMENT OF ART – Suzi Gablik (London: Thames and Hudson, 1991) 

[x] ONE PLACE AFTER ANOTHER site-specific and locational identity – MIWON KWON (The MIT PRESS; Cambridge Massachusetts; 2002)

[xi] Personal conversations with Noel Butler (Australian Aboriginal Elder) and Trish Roberts (www.nuragunyu.com.au)

[xii] GENTLE ACTIONS bringing creative change to a turbulent world – F DAVID PEAT (Italy; PARI PUBLISHING; 2008)

[xiii] THE RE-ENCHANTMENT OF ART – Suzi Gablik (London: Thames and Hudson, 1991)

[xiv] CONVERSATION PIECES: Community and communication in modern art – GRANT H KESTER (University of California Press, Berkeley, California, 2004)

 ruth’s bundle with titles, dartington (pward 2011)

[xv] From a conversation with Aviva Rahmani (www.ghostnets.com) UCF MA A&E 2011.

[xvi] see http://www.billmckibben.com

[xvii] DREAMING THE DARK magic, sex and politics – STARHAWK (London; UNWIN HYMAN LIMITED; 1990)


[xix] www.naturearteducation.org – Art-based environmental education research group

[xx] Paul Carter – Material Thinking: The Theory and Practice of Creative Research (Melbourne University Press; 2004)

[xxi] Albert Borgmann, Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life (CHICAGO; The University of Chicago Press; 1984)

[xxii] “Some speak of a return to nature. I wonder where they could have been?” Frederick Somner

[xxiii] “It explained only why I should no longer trust my senses, and should accept that the abstract dimension of sub-atomic particles – the esoteric world of electrons and gluons and quarks – was in fact a truer, realer world than the one disclosed by my corporeal senses…” BECOMING ANIMAL an earthly cosmology – David Abram (New York; RANDOM HOUSE BOOKS; 2010)

[xxiv] “Of course, actual experience, not the limited abstractions of science, matters most in the conduct of our lives. It is our entire experience, including our cultural heritage, that links us to the world in which we live, not just the artificially limited aspects of experience that constitute an experiment or a scientific observation. If we are not to live double lives, split between an ‘objective’, impersonal, mechanistic reality and the ‘subjective’ world of personal experience, we need to find a way of bridging these two realms.” (from ‘The Rebirth of Nature – The Greening of Science and God’ by Rupert Sheldrake (London, UK; RANDOM CENTURY GROUP LTD; 1990))

[xxv] “If the aesthetic is seen in contrast to the ‘anaesthetic’ – or numbness, it can be understood more correctly as ‘enlivened being’. Reclaiming the aesthetic in this way enables us to understand the link between the aesthetic and responsibility: response-ability not as a moral imperative, but as the ability to respond.” (Shelley Sacks, UN Summit on Culture and Development, Stockholm 1998)

[xxvi]Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one’s group.

While the term propaganda has acquired a strongly negative connotation by association with its most manipulative and jingoistic examples, propaganda in its original sense was neutral, and could refer to uses that were generally benign or innocuous, such as public health recommendations, signs encouraging citizens to participate in a census or election, or messages encouraging persons to report crimes to the police, among others.” (from Wikipedia)

[xxvii] “We are about the Great Work. … Beside the particular work we do and the particular lives we lead, we have a Great Work that everyone is involved in and no one is exempt from. That is the Great Work of moving on … to an emerging Ecozoic Era in the story of the planet Earth.” Thomas Berry, from http://www.ecozoicstudies.org

[xxviii] “After all, anybody is as their land and air is. Anybody is as the sky is low or high, the air heavy or clear and anybody is as there is wind or no wind there. It is that which makes them and the arts they make and the work they do and the way they eat and the way they drink and the way they learn and everything” Gertrude Stein, from BECOMING ANIMAL an earthly cosmology – David Abram (New York; RANDOM HOUSE BOOKS; 2010).

(PW 2011)

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