(an) ecological research in the arts

“Perception of the inner substance of things can only be acquired through practice.“  Joseph Beuys *

Some time ago I was invited to give a short presentation to a group of MA students about the nature of arts research, or at least what this (latest buzzword to make the arts more acceptable in a world dominated by science) meant to me as a practising artist. At the time, still somewhat caught up in the arrogantly insular, some might even say Cartesian[ii], world of academia (where much meaning is most often convoluted and detached from any actual everyday presence and hence understood only by its own exclusive membership) I waffled on incoherently but passionately about politics and purpose, about the instrumental and intentional and propagandic value of art to ‘save the world’. Of course, as is often the case, once I had finished I realised what I might have said, what could have more intimately expressed and embodied the nature of (or at least my present conception of the nature of) research within my own vocation as an ecological artist…

some moments, north devon (p ward 2013) some moments, north devon (p ward 2013)

“Play is the highest form of research.” (Albert Einstein)

As an ecological artist (and by this I mean expressing myself as one transient, evolving, sentient and integral perspective within a complex local, global and universal energetically interweaving ecology[iii]) research towards any specific aesthetic goal encompasses…

all I see, all I hear, all I touch, all I taste, all I smell, all I feel, all I sense, all I read, all I watch, all I listen to, all I dream, all I imagine, all I give and all I receive, all I write, all I sing, all I dance, all I draw, all I paint, all I shape and form, every photograph and film I shoot, all I make and attempt to make, all I build and all I knock down, all I move, all I tie together and undo, all I bind, all I burn, extinguish, submerge and freeze, all I cook, all I eat, chew and swallow, all I may drink and smoke, inhale and exhale, all I bury, all I unearth, all I kill, all I nurture, all I waste, all I injure or maim, accidentally or not, all I help, all I hinder, all I block and unblock, all I catalyse, all I inspire, all I look for, all I lose, all I find, all I seek; every process that I perceive in parts and in its entirety, every success, every failure (whatever that means!?), every question, every answer and every question unanswered, every relationship I have had and have observed, consciously and subconsciously, and not just with other humans but with every entity that I have encountered, animate or not; every conversation I have had, every phone call, every email, every tweet, text and letter, every glance and whisper shared, every place I have visited, every step made, every movement, every action taken, every beginning and every end, every journey – by foot, cycle, car, horse, water and air, every mountain climbed, every field crossed and skirted around, every hat worn and every item of clothing ever worn – every sock, shoe and pullover, every joke, every machine I have used and that has been used on me, every situation I have been privy to, every association I have made – in theory and in practice, every judgement I have made and has been made about me, everything I have touched and been touched by…

tadpoles, parsonage pond, nettlecombe court, west somerset (p ward 2013) tadpoles, parsonage pond, nettlecombe court, west somerset (p ward 2013)

Or, more simply…

All I have experienced and am experiencing,

All that I have done and am doing

In relation to others and all

some other moments, north devon (p ward 2013) some other moments, north devon (p ward 2013)

Of course, one cannot be expected to physically collect, record, document, order and catalogue everything[iv], so I must make choices based on emotive impulse, on logic and reason – founded in memory, both personal and cultural, and contemporary misconception; on the availability of resources, including time, which leaves a rather incomplete but superbly imperfect representation of such all-ness

Nor is it pervasively possible within such a worldly remit to reflect objectively from some ridiculous utopian ideal upon such matters, to make decisions to solve any ‘problems’ of the world at a single stroke, to cast some great net of correctness about it all – we are all prone to miss things out it seems

Yet through a certain degree of collectively inspired intuition one may make a well-considered step, one beat of a butterfly’s wing within the tumultuous turning[v], one series of gentle actions[vi] that may sensually ripple the pulsating fabric and pull a radiant flower of specific resonant truth from a metaphorical hat, to share an occasional mutually identifiable mystery, and hope our subtle intervention doesn’t go pear-shaped, that our careful gesture does not create a hurricane of sorts

So, it is the rigour with which I observe, evaluate, manipulate, put together and apply such experience (my life) within this interactive and reciprocal sense of dynamic communication wherein the magic may lie, where the healing may occur, where the enrichment can exist and where the art is, that allow me to call myself an artist at all…

or not.

logic and reason, north devon (p ward 2013) logic and reason, north devon (p ward 2013)

“My idea of research is to take a walk in the bush and watch the birds fly past, and I am exhilarated by every meteoric movement.” (Lars Knudsen) 

P Ward 2013


[*] from WHAT IS ART? Conversation with Joseph Beuys, Edited with Essays by Volker Harlan (Forest Row; Clairview; 2004)

[ii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartesian_dualism

[iii] Indeed it is questionable whether the term ‘ecological artist’ is at all pertinent by the very inclusive nature of Nature

[iv] Such physical documentation certainly hasn’t been necessary for the multitude of indigenous people throughout our evolution who have employed a more oral and humanly self reliant means of memory, recall and expression…

[v] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect

[vi] F David Peat, GENTLE ACTIONS bringing creative change to a turbulent world (Italy; PARI PUBLISHING; 2008)

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2 Comments on “(an) ecological research in the arts”

  1. Pete,
    love the definition of an ‘ecological artist’ – will be quoting this for sure 😀 .. you have a real talent for using poetic writing to capture ideas/feelings than can’t be easily achieved by other means


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