terms of engagement

a conversation of sorts 121117


“What’s the difference between a social or educational project and an artwork?”

uncomfortable orchids, London © p ward 2017


each may indeed have much in common and much to share.

it is the means and manner through which they communicate,

in which they engage, inform and sometimes transform that renders them effective or benign.*


an understanding of an audience, a demographic, an ecology

may encourage participation and transformation

reaching out and beyond those and that originally targeted.


the artist, teacher, social worker and ecologist intuit a means

to estimate, interpret, facilitate and hence empower (oneself and others)

literally, pictorially, intellectually, imaginatively, actively, physically, emotionally and most skillfully


the aesthetic that directs whatever intent motivated the craft,

that manipulates, interferes with and informs the intrinsic (or created) dynamic

towards a specific end or beginning or…


it is not necessary to determine how or when or what

those (or that) which experiences may take away

or if anything further does become


but it is in relationship that one may experience and affect movement

from one moment to the next


from one breath to another


so different too

that a tension reveals

swinging back and forth and around


we are all children in this world




dancing under the stars

of this earth

that we share


pavement, London; pavement, Nantes © p ward 2017

© P Ward 2017

(* yet how we may quantify such effectiveness is another matter.)



a space for creative investigation of an indigenous ecology

“I believe in empty spaces; they’re the most wonderful thing.” Anselm Kiefer[i]

as mentioned in a previous post myself and partner, francesca owen[ii], have recently taken on a new workshop space in the north devon seaside town of ilfracombe. it is the first time that either of us have had such a large space dedicated solely to our work and as such are somewhat daunted but very excited by what the venture may hold.

ilfracombe- derelict space, fuchsias, elderberry pavement (© p ward 2014)ilfracombe: derelict space, fuchsias, elderberry pavement (© p ward 2014)

having both finished the MA art & environment course at falmouth university and sharing a similar ethos and intent towards our work, as well as an interest in natural pigments, painting and now a beautiful baby boy called noah, we have taken the plunge and invested last year’s profits into this, our latest venture. as said, we are not yet entirely sure what the space may hold but apart from exploring our own practices as contemporary environmental artists we are looking forward to inviting others to make use of the space both through workshops and also possible residencies, events, talks and even small performances and film screenings. the general theme behind our work looks at how creative engagement with our local ecology, its animals, rocks and plants, may inform and enrich our lives. to do this we are willing to work with other individuals, groups and organizations with similar interests and motivations in order to share our skills as contemporary artists towards a more sensitive and sustainable relationship with the world.

eARTh- greenclose road twilight, ‘stuff’, sorting pigments (© p ward:f owen 2014)eARTh: greenclose road twilight, ‘stuff’, sorting pigments (© p ward/f owen 2014)

ilfracombe has most recently received attention for damien hirst’s input into the town, with a public sculpture, verity, on loan to the local council dominating the harbour, a restaurant, small gallery and most recently a controversial new housing development. whether we like his work and actions or not the changes that have been promoted by his presence have brought renewed vigour and investment to a previously deprived and neglected place. the town is now alive with newly opened and expanding commercial art galleries and shops and a more artistically-minded public now wander the architecturally intriguing lanes and streets. ilfracombe is still a working fishing port, with links to south wales through a now defunct but hopefully reopening ferry route, but essentially income comes from tourism. it is within this exciting and burgeoning environment that we have chosen to place our new and shared practice – eARTh.

eARTh- sorting past work (© f owen 2014)eARTh: sorting past work (© f owen 2014)

eARTh- storage (© p ward 2014)eARTh: storage (© p ward 2014)

so far we have been familiarizing ourselves with the space and area, taking time to reconnect with past contacts and meeting new ones, both human and otherwise. we have filled the space with our old work, made space to store it and even started to make some new work – francesca has somehow been forging ahead despite the constant demands of little noah! for myself, it is taking a little longer. I have a large quantity of paintings on canvas, paper and board from before our MA, as well as more recent sculptural pieces, and am sorting and evaluating this work in relation to my academic experience. this task is both tiring and emotional, if not somewhat liberating, but I hope that the process will help put me back in touch with my work after a long period of enlightening deviation but also debilitating rejection and disillusionment with the academic and artistic establishment and create space for new ideas and work to take root.

eARTh- temporary installations (© p ward:f owen 2014)eARTh: temporary installations (© p ward/f owen 2014)

our first scheduled event will be in november, to host the monthly meeting of combe business[iii], a not-for-profit consortium of local businesses aimed at supporting, advising and developing a sustainable business model for the ilfracombe, woolacombe and combe martin area of north devon. for us, it is an opportunity to provide a space for people from different areas of business, including fishing, agriculture and retail, environmental bodies, the creative industries and transition town movement, to share and discuss ideas and possibilities for the place of art and the cultural services within the region’s development. it is of course also a chance to share our own work with a new audience and make contacts of our own. obviously we cannot, and have no intention of shaping a specific outcome from the event, but hope that it will inspire and provide new ground for thinking creatively about our shared interests.

eARTh logo (© p ward 2014)eARTh logo (© p ward 2014)

but for now we must continue to sort and store, making our first tentative steps towards our new life here. i am looking forward to doing some painting again after many years away, seeing where my new knowledge and experience has taken me, and how my simple marks, my dots and dashes and stripes, may sing again with the resonance of this bounteous place…


© p ward 2014

[i] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/anselm_kiefer.html#ApMbhy1c1eD6hUms.99

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

[iii] http://combebusiness.co.uk/

to keep looking…

on eARTh


‘‘Art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible’’ Paul Klee


as hours and days seemingly while away with baby,

new places and faces continue to appear

offering potential for the creative life we live

and I continue to see this wonderful world through eyes made bright by art’s rich spectre…

summer rain, hillsborough drinking fountain, ilfracombe (video stills © p ward 2014)summer rain, hillsborough drinking fountain, ilfracombe (video stills © p ward 2014)

‘legless lizard’; domestic cricket, ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)‘legless lizard’; domestic cricket, ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)

window casualty, spotted flycatcher(?), ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)window casualty, spotted flycatcher(?), ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)

making a home, ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)making a home, ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)

past work 2012, woodlane campus, falmouth (© p ward 2014)past work 2012, woodlane campus, falmouth (© p ward 2014)

simple drawings, hele (© p ward 2014)simple drawings, hele (© p ward 2014)

echoes of times past I – laston green and the waverly – ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)echoes of times past I – laston green and the waverly – ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)

echoes of times past II, ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)echoes of times past II, ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)

herring gulls:public enemy number 1!, ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)herring gulls/public enemy number 1!, ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)

holdstone hill, combe martin (© p ward 2014)holdstone down, combe martin (© p ward 2014)

working quay, ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)working quay, ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)

repetitive form, hele bay and ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)repetitive form, hele bay and ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)

eARTh, workshop space, ilfracombe (© f owen and p ward 2014)eARTh, workshop space, ilfracombe (© f owen and p ward 2014)

new work – saw dust, eARTh, ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)new work – saw dust, eARTh, ilfracombe (© p ward 2014)

in order to further explore and share this rich and ever evolving dynamic expression of divine being my partner francesca and i are opening a new workshop (eARTh) near our home in ilfracombe, north devon, where we shall be making new work to enrich and celebrate our place amongst it all…

watch this space!

© p ward 2014

for love of soil

“Everywhere science is enriched by unscientific methods and unscientific results, while procedures which have often been regarded as essential parts of science are quietly suspended or circumvented.” Paul Feyerabend, AGAINST METHOD

Does not the science of soil, the chasing of numbers and factors in the name of human value, merely further commodify that which is magic, mystery and worthy of worship, (despite its heady fascinations)? This is not to diminish or undervalue technology – the application of disciplined research – nor the multi-disciplined experiential processes of our enquiry.

Are not those things that we do not know those things that make it all so wonderful, and that lead us to further investigate or invest most heartily? Like the questionable possibilities of ecosystem services, is it possible to measure the fullness that is life? Those in power, or with power, more often do not act favourably beyond their purse strings, despite the truth and compassion of our already excessive and rigourously construed perceptions.

The soil in miraculous evolving living entity – like the shifting, pounding, endless sea – in awe and full of inspiration, of factors beyond our forever faltering, non-sensical, empirical economic motive,

Like culture

Like identity,

Like society

Like life…

the earth bleeding, west somerset (p ward 2014)the earth bleeding, west somerset (p ward 2014)

I watch the fields wash away across the carbon-fuelled tarmac of haste

The ocean muddied with fluvial fertile red earth

Homes fill with the turmoil of our greed, ignorance and waste

The innocent mole drowning forever in its tunnel-tomb populace

human intervention, west somerset (p ward 2014)human intervention, west somerset (p ward 2014) 

There is a popular belief amongst the current ecological art* movement, and other environmentalist groups and individuals, that artful communication of scientific data will sway political opinion and action in favour of more sensible behaviours. However, I personally question the logic that empirical evidence, however true, can transform our hearts and minds due to the very nature of its original form. Our hearts are not numbers – they are beyond measure. The established Cartesian scientific methodology is by its nature divorced from our souls and thus will not affect them. Maybe only through reflective acts and spaces of direct personal relationship can we truly re-evaluate and heal our behaviours. Only through acts of mystery and magic may spirit be experienced and unbound. If we are not willing to get our hands dirty, we will not have dirty hands after all!

“Man takes root at his feet, and at best he is no more than a potted plant in his house or carriage till he has established communication with the soil by the loving and magnetic touch of his soles to it.” ― John Burroughs

source, west somerset (p ward 2014)source, west somerset (p ward 2014)

*For me ecological art is an acknowledgement that by their very nature all our actions, artistic or otherwise, may be seen as affective within the totality as well as affective within themselves. It is an admittance of our responsibility to ourselves and others. It is ownership of our actions. Ecology studies the relationships between entities and actions, how the action of a part may affect the whole…)

reclaimed land, langport, somerset (p ward 2014) reclaimed land, langport, somerset (p ward 2014)

“We have to remember that what we observe is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” Werner Heisenberg

© P Ward 2014

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.


It’s enough to put me off saving the World,

Such bickering and postulating amongst them and us

Dispiculating between somnambulant terminologies

Defining the piecrust while the earth turns to dust.

“All life entails violence” said Mahatma K Gandhi[i],

And while I appreciate the necessity in our nature to conflict,

And the hardships and extremes that this world often employs

To willfully move from one point of stasis to another unknown  –

(to evolve and to adapt from form to form) –

I still wonder if there is a better way to relate within.

francesca talking at the table (pward 2013) francesca talking at the table (pward 2013)

Too often do I become drawn into and distracted by the politics of corporate and institutional self-interest that permeates our culture, the ethos that undermines our quest for an energetic emergent harmony, in the hope that working alongside others may multiply the power for justice and good sense that I pray we all desire, only to find a desire dissipated and frustrated by strategies of mistrust and the insecurities of difference. Thank goodness for phenomenology[ii] is all I can say – a philosophy that observes how the whole ‘truth’ may only be truly perceived by a totality of difference and individuality.

“The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude…” George Orwell

And so I return to my familiarly insular position, comfortable in the knowledge that I can never totally detach myself from the world, happy to make my own carefully determined excursions when I see fit, to add to the milieu with integrity and joy when the world summons me forth or when I am hungry and in need – my only task, to let others know that I am here, what my individuality may provide when the time is right and to develop my skills for the benefit of all.

I would like to believe, and quite often do hope, that my minimal actions and interventions may in some way contribute to the miracle of this existence both for myself and my fellow beings, that my words and images and movements mingle well with the dynamic of well-meaning. But rather I would celebrate the honour and privilege it is to exist at all – to breathe and to feel, to sense the changes and appreciate the simple acts of love about us all and to respond responsibly when I can.

dad and chilli, peppercombe (p ward 2008) dad and chilli, peppercombe (p ward 2008)

I recall my father’s passing, his sadness in knowing that he would no longer see the ocean, the waves breaking beneath the big wide sky, hear children playing or the wind in the trees or the songs of birds, the sun and moon rising and setting, the stars above, the rich scent of earth held in his hands. He did not profess to be a spiritual or religious person or to have any particular politics, other than common sense and a deep respect for all life.

the space between 2 stones, westward ho! (pward 2013) the space between 2 pebbles, westward ho! (pward 2013)

To be alive in this world is a gift that should never be undervalued.

Wherever and whenever and however I chose to give thanks may it be with openness and integrity.

However humble and mundane my actions in this world from moment to moment and day to day

May I never forget the fragility and the power,

the wind and sun and rain and all about

the soil beneath my feet, the foundation of all our lives


I will tread gently

I will speak softly

I will act with kindness

(for there is already more than enough violence and greed in the world)

I will use only what I need

and I will be thankful

P Ward 2013

[i] from Alastair McIntosh, Soil and Soul (London; Aurum Press, 2004)

[ii] Phenomenology is a philosophy explored in the 20th Century by such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Martin Heidegger. From an artistic and creative perspective it offers a means of expression and interpretation through the (sometimes random) juxtaposition of disparate opinions and visions. The philosophy does not offer one Truth but the validity of all chosen or perceived positions. To my mind it offers an important contribution to any ecologically inspired political or spiritual intentions through its genuinely egalitarian ethos.

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)

a simple introduction to ECOLOGICAL ART

(Through the development of potential ecological art projects with fellow arts practitoners and environmental development agencies I have become increasingly aware of the lack of understanding about the unique and radical nature of this contemporary practice. In order to engage more fully with such prospective collaborators I have written this introduction to hopefully express my meaning in more tangible terms…)                                                     

“At the heart of today’s ecological crisis lies a terrible failure to understand the essence of our relationship with the natural world. One can of course address that failure rationally and empirically; but the arts (particularly the visual arts) offer different insights into that relationship, and touch people in ways that conventional education and advocacy can rarely do.” Jonathon Porritt, Director, Forum for the Future, UK

Ecological art, or ecoart, may be seen as a cultural response to the often-overwhelming contemporary environmental issues that are threatening our survival within the earth’s biosphere. With roots in the Land Art, Arte Povera and Conceptual Art movements of the 1960’s its aims are to actively and communally investigate, through arts-based, interdisciplinary means issues such as climate change, land use, pollution, sustainability, resource management, health, biodiversity to name but a few, and to find resolutions appropriate to the nature of ecological principles.

Such work is founded on an understanding of art and culture as an active and functional process within society and the broader ecology. While much ecological art may not be instantly recognisable as the ‘object-based art’ represented within our education or the media, its practice is based in the principles of investigation (drawing), composition (ecology), juxtaposition (relationship), making (technology) and communication with which we are more familiar.

 L-R: Joseph Beuys – 7000 oaks, Kessel, Germany, 1982 – present; Ackroyd & Harvey – Beuys’ Acorns, 2007 – present; Shelley Sacks – The University of the Trees; Mel Chin – Revival field, 1990 – present; Platform – protest against BP funding the Tate 2011.

Ecological art is created in response and as a response to the needs and dynamics of specific communities, ecological or otherwise. It is based very much in an ongoing reciprocal process of consultation and modification to accommodate the vast array of evolving influences and information acting within any specific situation. It may simply take the form of awareness raising, experiential education or knowledge transfer within pre-existing environmental projects, enable holistic and transformative arts experience, or more ambitiously initiate community-based ecological remediation and reconciliation projects through interdisciplinary collaboration. It may even take the form of direct environmental activism…

art as a means towards ecological understanding and environmental action …

Art may be utilised as a service to community …

• To stimulate thinking and action

• To reach and communicate new understandings of the world

• To enrich our lives through creative expression and learning

• To affirm our connection to the animate world

• To celebrate our creativity and sense of community through action

The basis of ecological art lies in reciprocal communication, in relationship and in enquiry, not just between an artist and an audience but between an artist and the material world, it is about intelligent participation in this immanent, wonderful existence…

ecological art in practice      

Ecological art may take a number of forms. Here is some more specific information to help identify what they actually are. While each may be exercised in isolation it is generally through a combination of a few or all over a prolonged period of time that the most effective results may be developed and produced. Most actions may also be seen as both output and research to facilitate further, more informed interventions within an overall development programme.

  • Awareness raising/sharing: interdisciplinary conferences, symposiums, exhibitions; media coverage/attention; public events/exhibitions and information leaflets – Wide Open Space Conference, Sturminster Newton, Dorset 2011 was organized by Alex Murdin to explore public attitudes towards, and the environmental impact of, newly implemented planning laws in the UK; Biosphere Action Week the value of trees event in Barnstaple Town Square, October 2011 with RANE , NDBR and Beaford Arts.
  • Knowledge transfer: data interpretation and documentation of projects and research through publications, displays and presentations
  • Ecological remediation: site-specific interdisciplinary research, creative resolution and appropriate application to identify and address environmental/social issues – (‘Trigger Point Theory’ is being developed by American artist Aviva Rahmani, involving ecologically and socially sensitive interdisciplinary mapping and analysis, creative resolution and intervention into damaged ecosystems – http://www.ghostnets.com; Living Landscapes – environmental consultation service offered to communities by Wildlife Trusts recognizing the lack of respect for local knowledge and hence antagonism caused by top-down environmental intervention; ‘Revival Field’ by Mel Chin – interdisciplinary art work to develop a creative de-pollution strategy for an area of post-industrial land; Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison – interdisciplinary mapping and assessment of ecosystems for strategic ecological interventions – http://www.theharrisonstudio.net.
  • Ecological reconciliation: participatory events to facilitate recognition of shared community interest and respect for individual knowledge and interests, based in ethical implications of ecological understanding/for the good of all – Shelley Sacks ‘earth forum’ invites interested parties from all sections of society, from policy makers, priests and business people to children and indigenous inhabitants to share perspectives within an environmental situation. The process is facilitated through art activities.
  • Community creation/affirmation/networking: events, actions and digital media sharing to facilitate communication between prospective participants in project – The efficacy and uses of social media and blogsites to raise awareness and network is a relatively new but highly potent means of communication within projects, for example NDBR’s photo sharing and facebook pages; ‘7000 oaks’ Kessel, Germany, 1980-present – Social Sculptor Joseph Beuys initiated the planting of 7000 oak trees alongside 7000 limestone boulders in a city decimated during WWII. The action aimed to reinstate a sense of community through widespread participation. Acorns from the original trees are now being planted around the world to initiate similar community building work; ‘Touch Sanitation’ – between 1970 and 1980 American feminist artist, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, personally shook the hand of every garbage worker in New York in recognition and respect, and to highlight, their essential work.
  • Activism: awareness raising, creative demonstration/celebration events to highlight environmental issues. Such actions do not need to be confrontational and are often fun events to consolidate links within a community while gently questioning behaviour and policy that inhibits social and ecological cohesion and healing – for example the ‘Big Lunch’ organized annually by The Eden Project. Quantum physicist and social philanthropist F David Peat amply describes such principles in his book ‘Gentle Actions bringing creative change to a turbulent world’.

“A fundamental aspect of this developing practice was exploring the possibility of making things happen rather than making things.” Mary-Lou Barratt

further information

www.rane-research.org . greenmuseum.org . www.ecoartnetwork.org ecoartspace.org . www.universityofthetrees.org . www.social-sculpture.org . www.eartharteducation.com . www.naturearteducation.org



In a vain attempt to appreciate the conceptual nature of my ongoing MA ART & ENVIRONMENT project, A BUNDLE OF STICKS, I have been tempted by drastic but most sensible measures. What could be more logical in light of my year long, artfully intensive and obsessive research into the practical, metaphorical and ecological implications of this primitive action and entity than to embody a most literal interpretation in practice?

 a latent bundle (pward 2012)

‘The Ashen Faggot is a West Country Christmas Eve custom – it’s a large log with withies bound around it to make a bundle which is burned indoors in the hearth. Drinks are consumed as each withy breaks in the flames, which sounds like an excuse for a good drink! The practice still survives in country pubs notably the Lutrell Arms in Dunster, Somerset – their faggot consists of twelve thick sticks bound in a bundle using ash withies and the Dunster Carol is sung while it burns in the vast fireplace. It’s a revived custom dating back to the 1930s but with much older roots.’  calendarcustoms.com

 workshop (pward 2012)

How often have we heard the phrase ‘to listen to nature’, or been puzzled by an intuitive resonance of substance or place? ‘Each according to their own nature’, we may declare, or ‘the substance of things may only be perceived through practice’ said Mr Beuys. As I struggled to consolidate and configure the diverse and intrinsic ramifications of A BUNDLE OF STICKS towards my own emerging practice within the confines of a 7000 word dissertation I was struck by how much I had begun to see the world through it – how I had become both the subject and object within the the nature of my study.

 seeing the world through a bundle of sticks (pward 2012)

As an artist there is a definitive emphasis on the sensory appreciation of and response to the world, which may then be most mystically synthesised with our intellectual, relational and tactile dexterity to perform our communal craft. An adult interest in earth spirituality and indigenous culture has been both enjoyed and indulged through the more traditional celebrations of our ecological connectivity, its ritual, its power and its lore, to enable an active expression of this essential sensibility within my evolving environmentalist practice.

And for a change, more pictures and less words …

  camouflage 1 (pward 2012)

“Owing to the failure of intellectual leadership, the breakdown of religion, and the short-cuts to culture, our minds are now for the most part demoralized; in any true sense we know nothing, we understand nothing, we are incapable of reflection.” John Stewart Collis; THE WORM FORGIVES THE PLOUGH (LONDON; Vintage, 1973) 

 sticks for ears 1 (pward 2012)

 a good cure for a headache (pward 2011)

 lampost (pward 2012)

For more images visit my mummer-me-a-bundle-of-sticks gallery on facebook



“A fundamental aspect of this developing practice was exploring the possibility of making things happen rather than making things.” Mary-Lou Barratt (www.social-sculpture.org)

As a visual artist it has been my tendency and interest throughout my life to make things; things of beauty, provocative things – to explore the world through sensory tactile experience – to engage with the physical materials of the animate earth. Through such experience I have hopefully been able to communicate my relationship with that earth, my sense of wonder at its magic, mystery and power.

Yet as a political and social being, as part of the universal ecology and the responsibility it implies, it seems imperative at this time of ecological crisis that as artists we employ our power to make things happen– to question the behaviour that has brought our civilization to the brink of self-destruction, to challenge its ecocidal tendencies and to unearth and offer means to resolve the challenges to survival we are facing.

 Joseph Beuys, 7000 Oaks, Kessel, Germany

As much as I appreciate the political and performative confidence and artistry of such as Joseph Beuys, Shelley Sacks (www.universityofthetrees.org) and Mierle Laderman Ukeles, and the cross-disciplinary ecological applications and intelligence of Aviva Rahmani (www.ghostnets.com) and Helen Mayer and Newton Harrison (www.theharrisonstudio.net), my own tendency is to shy away from such confrontational and interactive engagement towards a more intimate and personable meditative practice, more akin to traditional than contemporary art practice.

So is it possible to satisfy both aspects, both intentional aspirations, of my communicative practice – to inspire and catalyze and embody action towards ecozoic[i] sensitivity, towards resilient, sustainable development, towards ecological reconciliationn – through the process of making? Is it possible to make things that make things happen?

Similar matters were recently covered in an article in Art MONTHLY Magazine by Morgan Quaintance[ii], drawing attention to how the prevalence of and recent preference for socially (community) engaged participatory practice has somewhat negated the individual and personal experience engendered by more traditional art forms, and highlighting the potential for imaginative, emotional and sensorial participation in such work. The article did not however engage with the purposeful or transformational intent or efficacy for which much socially and ecologically engaged practice is motivated, nor the means by which art objects may catalyse such functionality.

As easy as it is to blur the definition of a ‘thing’, alternatively becoming a guided participatory performance, a ritual or activist event, can an art object alone, in the more traditional sense, motivate action or perceptive and behavioural transformation? It is obviously impossible to remove such objects from the contextual conditions of an age but are such transformations and motivations triggered through the sphere of the imagination, through our sensorial and aesthetic responses? And if they are how might we encourage prolonged sensible engagement with these objects of our attention?[iii]

 we are the power (pward 2009)

 Such intentional and purposeful use of art brings propaganda to mind. For example, the posters of the early 20th Century, which blatantly incite people to rise up and act in defence of nation or state, often through a dismissal and undermining of intrinsic self-worth by a strategic deployment of idealized and idolatrous imagery. Another form being the overwhelming blanket of advertising which aims to promote material consumption for profit and individual gain, often in the name of ‘progress’. Such means merely serve the dominant political power of the time and are often further enforced through fear of violence and ultimately aims to disempower the people and their environment[iv]. However, despite its more negative associations, when we look how propaganda is defined[v] it is obvious that more often than not this is what we are appropriating in eco-art practice, albeit in the name of all our relations rather than just a few.

 the magic and wonder of it all (mud/paint); drinking from a natural spring, co galway (pward 1996)

So how might we promote and embody ecozoic action through our art and its residual objects? What are the mechanics behind the ability to empower people, to incite action, through our art and and its practice without dictating an outcome or undermining the innate intelligence of our species? And how might we rise to and resolve such challenges through art?

Some might say that such purposeful intentionality, or hope of social or ecological transformation, is antithesis to our role as artists[vi] or else impossible within the cosmic perception of our realities. Whichever, as responsible communicators acting within and responding to the social, economic and ecological circumstances of our age it is maybe fundamental to our practice that we ask ourselves such questions before we continue…

(A version of his article was originally published @ www.aefalmouth.blogspot.co.uk)

PW 2012

[i] ecozoic
an era or epoch marked by the reintegration of human endeavors into a larger ecological consciousness (www.ecozoic.org) – a term coined by the environmentalist Thomas Berry in 1991.

[ii] Morgan Quaintance, Private Moments; Art Monthly, Issue 354, March 2012, p7 (www.artmonthly.co.uk)

[iii] These ideas are explored as part of  the work towards ‘New organs of perception’ which is a phrase that stems from the scientific work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832), and refers to a participatory, holistic mode of seeing. It offers an alternative to the onlooker consciousness of natural science – from www.universityofthetrees.org

[iv] Paulo Freire, PEDOGOGY OF THE OPPRESSED (London; PENGUIN; 1970)

[v] Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position.

[vi] Re: Andy Webster (www.andywebster.info/www.rane-research.org) Phd research.