searching for a voice of love in an ecology of blame

(a problematic statement of transmutable intent)

A close friend and fellow artist was recently asked about her feelings towards the current eco-art movement which among other things aims to engage audiences with the current ecological crisis we are experiencing and attempt to resolve such issues through creative activism and artful intervention…

In answer to your question I do not see myself as an eco-artist, I am simply me, creating work as I am part of the environment. I collaborate with it as a source of inspiration, sometimes to connect with and sometimes to aid a deeper appreciation of it. But my work is much broader and most of my working hours at the moment are spent as a Learning Facilitator for adults with Autism. This is part of my art too. It’s a different form and I use this time to help them to enjoy and see that they are part of the environment. So I am not an eco-artist, I just work with many aspects of the environment because it inspires me, reconnects me and is important to me. I do not want to save the world for I do not know if it is broken, nor if such a massive responsibility should be placed upon my shoulders. I do what I can and I enjoy what I do out of love for creativity.” Francesca Owen[i]

Since completing and during our MA in Art & Environment at University College Falmouth in 2012 we have continually questioned how such political motivations forwarded by the course and the excessive focus on crisis may have undermined any spontaneous creative expression we previously benefitted from and enjoyed. We both chose the course because of our love for Nature as the source of our inspiration, hoping to further cultivate this creative link, rather than through any interest in the abuses which are presently being acted out upon the world. For many the relationship between art, in its many forms, and the environment is one integral to human creativity rather than a contemporary response to crisis. It may similarly be argued that such ministrations of putting the world to rights are beyond the realm of human influence and indeed unhealthy to any sense of wellbeing necessary for such aims, and further that focusing attention on such issues merely serves to exasperate and aggravate them rather than resolving them in any way.

table top arrangement (bideford black wool ball, pink carnations, paper and stones; p ward 2013) table top arrangement (bideford black wool ball, pink carnations, paper and stones; p ward 2013)

For many years my own art practice has been strongly motivated by environmentalism (having been brought up with a deep respect for the natural world it is an obvious response to try to protect what is essential to my being through my work). However, continued participation and involvement with other similarly engaged artists and groups has brought to light an underlying frustration and discontent with such forms of creative activism and propaganda, coming as it frequently does from an ill-informed position, from political antagonism and a fearfully romantic perception of the human condition. The work produced is often and typically intellectually and conceptually distanced from any emotional or spiritual communication that I believe is the essence of ‘good’ art, as well as energetically divorced from the community in which it is employed. Thankfully my own practice is animated more by integrity to personal experience and reflection than a need for identification with any peer group and so has gradually allowed evolution towards one inspired by our intrinsic creativity as sentient beings within the cosmos. The following statements attempt to redefine my evolving practice, albeit within the limitations of this contemporary linguistic form (rather than through the preferred potency offered by poetic license to express such matters).

As an artist in an age of ecological understanding I see my respons-ability[ii] to explore and express my own nature in relation with Nature. It is not my place to judge this relationship or manipulate any response to it but to simply present what I am privileged enough to observe. Seeing Nature as an energetic interdependent evolving totality within which a plethora of transient entities act with and upon one another implies an inclusivity of intention and becoming. Such inclusivity may often be undermined by a pervading human predilection for arrogance and domination, exhibited and employed by capitalist corporations and didactic fundamentalism alike – whether in the name of profit and technological progress or environmental rescue. Such inclusivity may be similarly undermined through the desire to make definitive an academic movement or concept, rather than allowing that movement to do just that – move and flow and evolve in response to a constantly changing world. To believe that our actions as artists may ‘save the world’ (from our own and others’ actions) or change it for the ‘better’ (or at least in our own favour) is merely another way of ‘playing God’ – an attitude that arguably has led to the seemingly complex condition we presently face. 

As an individual I do not always necessarily respond solely or consciously to any apparent ecological crisis but tend more to make tentative and aesthetic investigations of the world in which I live, a world that inspires every waking and dreaming moment of my life, through decisions based on intuition and personal need rather than rational thought and duty to some abstract ideal. Hopefully such intimate expression may communicate the sensory depth of my relationship within Nature, striking a resonant chord of recognition with others, human or otherwise. To celebrate and honour the wonder and beauty of Nature through investigations of our own nature maybe has more power and integrity than any political response that an individual or group may wish to pursue. The principle of Ecology, by its own nature and embodied within the process of art, includes both and all as valid expressions of Nature but most importantly expresses a sense of how actions may affect (individuals within) the dynamic of any immanent environment. 

table top arrangement (bideford black wool ball, pink carnations and stone; p ward 2013) table top arrangement (bideford black wool ball, pink carnations and stone; p ward 2013)

When I seek to understand my own nature as a human being, to find peace within myself, to find balance and health and happiness and harmony, I often do not like or am unable to easily accept what I see. Evidently humans are, among other things, warmongers, abusers and murderers; we can be violent, cruel, impatient, insecure and greedy as well as peace-bringers, menders, carers and nurturers, able to be brave and selfless and to appreciate beauty and to create culture with humour and joy.  There is life and death, sickness and health and every subtle hue, tone and colour in between. We make mistakes. Without a comprehensive acceptance and assimilation of such diversity into my conscious being I may not be able to function effectively within the dynamic and constantly changing world. This is not to say that we should adopt or enact all and every behaviour but that we might evaluate and accept our potential and susceptibility to do so.

“It is never too late to give up your prejudices” Henry David Thoreau

Traditional shamans and healers often do not share the new age romantic vision of an ideal world sometime in the past, of a garden from which our kind has been cast and upon which the ministrations of many contemporary psychologists are based, but upon a world where all entities, animate and inanimate, artificial and natural, ethereal and corporeal, act according to their own (evolving and transient) nature. They are not looking for something or someone to blame for our suffering, but more a way to accept and assimilate change into the flow of life. If art may do anything within society it could maybe encourage fluidity of perception and being, to question any pervading, persistent and stultifying status quo and to celebrate and encourage a deep and residing respect for the world of which we are an integral but essentially transient part.[iii]

Yet within a world of cynicism, of over-analysis and lack of faith, and despite the prevalence of such ageless wisdom, where is the simple voice of love upon which all healing and sound human behaviour rests – where is acceptance and understanding? Where is joy and compassion? Where is the sharing and celebration of our sublime and miraculous existence? If art, in whatever form, does not exult and uphold the spirit of life at its very core then what place does it have in this world? What use does it have to society other than to subdue and undermine the sanctity of experience? It is so often easier to point the finger – to blame and despise whatever or whoever for our dis-ease, for our inner and outer dissatisfaction and frustration with existence – than to embrace its wholeness – its dirt and grime and lack of symmetry, its sadness, disparity and dirge, its resonant beauty and power – and our humble place within it and to speak with a voice of love for all…

black sheep wool shadow (bideford black dyed wool ball; p ward 2013)  black sheep wool shadow (bideford black dyed wool ball; p ward 2013)

P Ward 2013


[i] http://dancingwithdyes.wordpress.com/

[ii] “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) from http://www.universityofthetrees.org

[iii] https://intim8ecology.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/art-as-flux/


(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)


acts of empowerment

Tying my shoelaces
Blowing my nose
Riding a bicycle
Learning to swim
Lighting a fire
Building a shelter from sticks and leaves
Cooking my first meal (and ever after…)
Killing a fish
Growing a radish
Reading and writing
Making a choice
Getting out of bed in the morning
Travelling to a different culture
Offering help to another in need…
 
An opportunity to become more of myself
Opening my mind to more than before
I reach around myself and stretch my perception of love
Listening more deeply I learn to hear more
 
I am nature
This is my nature
 
Exploring structures and actions that affirm my inner and my outer being
Those things that connect me to all, that integrate my being to all before and all after, in the present.
I cannot tell you what to think but can suggest a means to reveal thinking –
Responses to our condition and our complexity, as simple as it is
 
Earth and ocean and air and trees and bees
Fish and flowers
Fire, thunder and lightning
Sun and moon and stars above
 
Me and you and everything

 

acts of empowerment (video stills; p ward/f owen 2013) act of power II (video stills; pward/f owen 2013)

During a recent conversation about the application of art within sustainable development policy, conservation projects and as a response to ecological crisis it became apparent that awareness of art as a means towards empowerment, both through (re)connection to nature and our own nature, is maybe not as common knowledge[i] as I presumed. Art has often been and continues to be used politically and commercially as a means to undermine our power, a process commonly known as propaganda, so why shouldn’t a simple understanding and reversal of the mechanisms imposed within such ‘art’ be deployed in favour of ecological and social justice?!

rise up my child and become the flower that you are (mud and paint; p ward 1996) rise up my child and become the flower that you are (mud and paint; p ward 1996)

Understanding of these mechanisms is increasingly commonplace within person-centered and experiential learning and contemporary self-help techniques, as well as in healthy reflection upon events experienced in our everyday lives – methods founded on the traditional learning of indigenous cultures and the principles of ecopsychology[ii], rooted in the importance of connection to nature, place and an exploration and affirmation of individual aptitude. How such principles may be applied within our own art practices is a matter for our personal journey of self-discovery and empowerment – we can only really know and share that which we have experienced ourselves after all – their application seeming more and more pertinent as the practices of contemporary art and society increasingly (re)entwine.

act of power (ink cap ink and watercolour; p ward 1998) act of power (ink cap ink and watercolour; pward 1998)

 P Ward 2013


[i] To find out more about art and artists who have deployed and explore the mechanisms of such within their practice have a look at www.social-sculpture.org, www.universityofthetrees.org, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, search ecologically or socially engaged art on the web or simply just continue to read this blog.

[ii] Ecopsychology investigates and utilizes the importance of direct contact with nature in the development of a balanced psyche. Richard Louv’s popular book Last Child in the Woods – Saving our children from nature deficit disorder amply illustrates such principles, while Theodore Roszak is credited with coining the term in his 1992 book, The Voice of the Earth.


timeless discoursed…

warning

what are we doing?
what are we doing right now?
what have we been doing?
what have we done?
what will we do?
what do we do?
what did we do before?
what have we undone?
 
what is this that we are doing?
what is it that we did do?
what is this that we shall be doing
when all is said and done?
what will we be doing
after it has happened?
what will we become
if everything is gone?
if there is no air
if there is no water
if there is no earth
if there is no food
 
or fire to keep us warm,
we may feel rather foolish,
we may feel absolutely nothing,
if there isn’t anything at all.
this i understand.
  .

painted driftwood triptych, westward ho! (p ward 2013) painted driftwood triptych, westward ho! (p ward 2013)

On offering the above poetic excursion to a respected friend to peruse it was accused of exhibiting a rather didactic nomenclature, being somewhat opinionated and hence possibly disallowing imaginative participation for many readers. But begging to differ, as is my want, I thereby suggest that any and all statements are contestable. Even perhaps those that are most edifying and offensive to the sensibilities of the liberally inclined deliver most provocatively just such cause for cataclysmic departure (albeit somewhat deterministically limited by dualistic tendencies within thought and discourse). While it may admittedly be declared that my linguistic deliverance is a little wanting within this acclaimed literary genre, it may just as easily be surmised that all statements, literally adroit or not have an equal capacity for creative response.

frosty steps, northam burrows (p ward 2013) frosty steps, northam burrows (p ward 2013)

Thankfully healthy relationships are (most possibly rather than most definitely) based upon an easy acceptance and celebration of difference as well as similarity – difference creating a dynamic for organic and prolonged growth and evolution rather than a dissatisfied sense of compromise; opposition presenting worthy challenges in the face of stultifying stagnation when enjoyed within an attitude of good humoured trust and benign mutuality. Without such obstacles in our path how might we begin or continue to appreciate the many strengths and intelligences of our intrinsic limitations and beauty.

84 dots (bideford black; 112x78cm; 2008) 84 dots (bideford black; p ward 2008)

So, long may we share our ego-fuelled individuality with love, integrity and joy, knowing that it is such enduring diversity that makes a whole world alive in animate becoming and without which any sense of peace might readily be known as death.

P Ward 2013


Socially-engaged-practice is a dirty word it seems…

 

Socially-engaged-practice is a dirty word it seems;

A troublesome meddling in a cynical society.

To think that art might be instrumental for social change

Leaves the aloof aghast that art’s purity may be undermined for political purpose as mere propaganda.

ecological exploration, alice holt (p ward 2012)ecological exploration, alice holt forest research station, surrey (p ward 2012)

But propaganda or not,

If it be for the good of all,

What harm may come of well meaning rhetoric or aesthetic deliberation in the name of love?

.

From the start we have toyed with function and form,

Seeking resolutions for our everyday needs –

We artfully explore our nature to further celebrate our existence as nature.

.

We  learn lessons from this sensory experience,

Sharing trials and errors with our world,

Skillfully expressing our dreams and desires with what is at hand.

.

We engage, not disengage, with the means of our subsistence,

Simply understanding what it means to take our place within it all,

Nurturing for future generation’s sake, for our own survival.

.

So, I will continue to dig in the dirt for somewhere to call home

I will light fires in prayer with the wood that I have gathered

And intelligently interfere whenever I can, knowing that it is my right to do so.

.

P Ward 2013

nurture, farnham and westward ho! (p ward 2012)nurture, farnham and westward ho! (p ward 2012)