Reflections towards an artful ecology of living…
Having completed an arduous emotional, intellectual and aesthetic journey on the MA Art & Environment Course at University College Falmouth, (and receiving the highest accolades for my achievements I might add – a distinction and the Sandra Blow Award!!??) I am left in a hinterland of ‘where am I now?’, and how does this new, more informed and experienced me fit into the big wide world beyond the safety of the institution kind-of-feeling? Despite establishing numerous links and contacts, and even possible collaborations and residencies locally and internationally through my determined well-intentioned efforts, I still feel that a period of contemplation, reflection and self-nurturing is necessary before launching once more into the fray. A time of reconnection with and reevaluation of my inherent impulses and tendencies that have brought me thus far into the land of ecology and art…
My current projects include a collaboration with Royal Opera House Associate Choreographer Freddie Opoku Addaie (organized by Dance in Devon), invitations to talk at Aune Head Arts and the Devonshire Association, the research and installation of a permanent display about the locally significant earth pigment Bideford Black for the Burton Gallery, development of the 2013-14 CCANW programme Soil Culture, including a residency in association with Northern Devon’s Nature Improvement Area, continued development of North Devon’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve’s Arts Strategy, applications for funding to conduct further research in Australia in 2013 regarding indigenous intelligence with Aboriginal Elder Noel Butler and the Floating Land Environmental Arts Festival, work with the Field Studies Council to initiate Art/Science Field Trips, a possible residency at the recently established University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) at Tremough Campus in Falmouth, ultimately leading to a possible Phd research post with RANE to explore the utilization of interdisciplinary and indigenously inspired arts within UNSECO Biosphere Reserves nationally and internationally.
Despite such lofty and well-meaning intentions my own tendency is not to seek out problem areas within the overwhelming ecological and economic circumstance in which we find ourselves and deliberately draw peoples attention to them through art or the offering of artful ‘solutions’, but to explore and celebrate those simple things and essential happenings that offer us a sense of our rootedness and experiential wonder at being part of this planet. The fact that as a species we have survived and evolved this far as part of the ever-changing and unpredictable universe is a miracle in itself. That we might continue to survive, against all the odds and amidst the contradictions and violence that seemingly surround us, is cause for great cultural contemplation and expression. I have been party to many long words (and even longer sentences) and many painful and ridiculous analogies of our current predicament during the last two years, yet the power of cold fresh water on my body or the heat of a simple log fire and food shared with friends, the exquisite sensation of a hand held in joy and love or the making of another like-minded acquaintance is enough to give real hope for the future and a sense that we will do what we must to preserve the beauty and abundance that life provides.
Travelling regularly to Falmouth from North Devon to participate on the MA has led to probably the most ‘carbon-heavy’ period of my life, and so to (re)establish a lifestyle more aligned with my political and ecological intentions and its spiritual implications is one of the first considerations I will aim to address. Thankfully the advent, development and prevalence of communications technology will allow a sense of community and sharing to continue. Personally I find motorized travel disturbing (far too much molecular vibration for my liking!). Not simply by the ecological damage it might impose but through its speed and noise, insisting upon a period of grounding and readjustment to each place that one encounters before a sense of balance and peace may be achieved. So what choices may I now make to allow for inspiration, purpose and simplicity to re-enter my life, and for the dis-ease of over-movement and excess to recede? Maybe I will just patiently listen to my situation, to my body and heart, to the place that I live and the relationships within it to find out before I calmly and quietly move on…
But before I do I would like to most sincerely thank all those with whom I have shared this journey over the last few years, fellow students, tutors, associates and acquaintances alike. May we all find the purpose and meaning our lives require and the means to support and sustain us…
MA ART & ENVIRONMENT SHOW 2012
4-8 September, Woodlane Campus, Falmouth, Cornwall TR11 4RH
For my final MA ART & ENVIRONMENT exhibition at University College Falmouth, as well as a selection of BUNDLES OF STICKS and indigenously gathered materials within a workshop/studio installation and a show reel of videos completed during the course (https://intim8ecology.wordpress.com/anim8/), I continued my work with COURAGE COPSE CREATIVES by appropriating a single larch tree. The following statement accompanied the exhibition…
As part of our daily lives we are faced with the constant dilemma of taking life and utilizing resources for the purpose of our own survival. In this age of environmental and economic crisis it is not just a matter of whether we should or whether we have the right to continue to interact within the universal ecology, but rather how and how much we choose to do so and also the respect with which we treat the resources that are provided.
The 20 year old, 15-metre Japanese Larch (Larix kaempferi) presented here was felled as part of a woodland restoration project in North Devon – Courage Copse Creatives is based on a PAWS (Plantation on Ancient Woodland Site). The dense crop of Larch and Douglas Fir was originally planted in the 1930’s as part of the Forestry Commission’s drive to supply timber for building and agricultural purposes. In this particular instance such fast growing hardy species were imposed onto oak and hazel coppices dating back at least 400 years. The intensive nature of planting of inappropriate species of the region has led to soil degradation and a decrease in the rich biodiversity associated with manually sustained woodlands of this kind.
Courage Copse Creatives intends to restore (to a certain extent) the previous coppice through the implementation of small scale, low impact initiatives and enterprises as part of the woodland including charcoal and biochar production, firewood, building timber, forest hens and ecological art projects. Within previous planning and land use laws to pursue what would seem a perfectly reasonable and sensible endeavour has revealed an incredibly complex bureaucracy to negotiate. While often protecting the environment and people’s livelihoods such laws may also act as a barrier to creative and appropriate resolution of our present ecological difficulties, simply maintaining the power dynamic that undermines an individual’s ability to act freely for the good of all – yet another dilemma of our current crisis.
As an ecological artist, involvement with such projects has provided opportunities to experience and share such dilemmas and dichotomies first hand.
A Summit for Artists and Thinkers at Dartington Hall, South Devon, June 19-21 2012
(Through personal involvement developing a project for 2013-14 with RANE and CCANW (Soil Culture) represented by a participatory earth painting workshop and inclusion of A BUNDLE OF STICKS within the programme of events, I was invited to share a report with the ecoartnetwork about this conference organised by Aune Head Arts. Here is my response …)
Thank you for your interest in the proceedings of the HOME & THE WORLD Summit. It was my first experience of a conference of this kind and therefore my account can only be a very personal, subjective one…
Despite some technical hitches (involving skype link-ups for participants who were unable to attend) which were a great shame and the wonderful English weather (it rained heavily and superbly for the second half of the 3-day event but the climatic situation was of course embraced with good humour and resolve), the summit was an excellent, inspiring and informative meeting of like minds within a beautiful setting.
The selection of presentations, subject matter, issues and approaches from bizarre and massive spectacle to intimate process and subtle and humourous installation, from downright academic to hands on and dirty, from urban to human to rural to surreal to hi-tech, as well as the heartfelt reports of effective interventions in areas of conflict worldwide affirming the incredible diversity of skill, determination and emotion that is encompassed by those of us who feel the relevance and power of the arts about and within the World.
(As minor criticism, there was a certain difficulty in participating more fully in the very packed programme, and in too often presenting such intimate work within the architectural/structural/conventional restraints of dark and rigid lecture theatres while the world called outside and eyes strained to make contact with speakers and audience alike.)
Personally the Summit offered an excellent opportunity to share new work (mistakes and all) and affirm and validate it within a truly supportive community of local, national and international people – we are not alone, and as suggested by Beth and David’s comments this is reinforced all the more by ‘real’ interaction – many new friends and possible positive futures being established.
I felt the diversity of presentations suggested and affirmed the value of framing our work as ‘art’, of how such an inference creates a different space within which to engage with ‘good work’ and hence amplify its purpose. This is not to undermine the value of all the incredible, large- and small-scale ‘good work’ being done around the world to challenge the ecocidal paradigm in whatever form, but to recognize the value of the imaginative and energetic cultural space that art can provide both to learn and express our place in the world.
A particularly refreshing and pertinent thread running through the Summit for me was the challenge of expressing our implicate place within the matter of the universe rather than setting ourselves outside or beyond its influence, and the difficulty our (previous) conditioned means of communication presents within our work towards such a perspective (especially well expressed in the work of Alex Murdin and Cathy Fitzgerald).
To conclude there was talk of how we might create a legacy of the connections and good work done at the Summit and of the possibilities, practical and financial difficulties and limitations of online networks. My personal preference being an online directory/resource/network of UK based ecoart to provide reference and evidence of our working practices when approaching possible partnerships, along the lines of greenmuseum.org but highlighting the well-hidden work being done here – to provide examples of locally relevant work possibly being more helpful than international examples. There is great suspicion of all art in the UK, and as always a lack of awareness of its potential ecological functionality, so many would rather work creatively but unannounced within other structures to avoid the cultural barriers society has established to ‘protect’ itself from the misrepresented and misunderstood art practices of the past, than embrace the preliminary educational feat needed to negotiate for funding and recognition within such a mindset – any resource to enable this and hence the possibility of more ecoart to my mind must be worthwhile. (Unfortunately, I am presently a little too busy with other work to commit to such a proposal but …)
Some form of publication is planned to represent the Summit, alongside the podcasts, but first Richard Povall and the Aune Head Arts team are taking a well-deserved break for a few weeks after their efforts to organize the event.
A next gathering in the UK was proposed in Falmouth, Cornwall at the “Environmental Utterance Conference’ being organized by Natalia Eernstmann (RANE PhD research student) in September 2012 , along with another proposed conference as part of the Soil Culture Project also in Falmouth for September 2013. This next conference also coincides with the 2nd MA Art & Environment Show at University College Falmouth, led by Daro Montag, so keep a space in your diaries if you’re interested …
alex murdin: www.ruralrecreation.org.uk