Abstract: The Hope of Something Different

Posted in CF Writing, News, PhD, Research, Sited work by chrisfremantle on July 12, 2020

Educational theorist Gert Biesta proposes that we need to be ‘in the world, without occupying the centre of the world’ (2017 3). This injunction provides a frame with which to interrogate the hybrid practice of ecoart. This practice can be characterised by a concern for the relations of living things to each other, and to their environments. Learning in order to be able to act is critical. One aspect is collaboration with experts (whether those are scientists and environmental managers or inhabitants, including more-than-human). Another is building ‘commons’ and shared understanding being more important than novelty. Grant Kester has argued that there is an underlying paradigm shift in ‘aesthetic autonomy’, underpinned by a ‘trans-disciplinary interest in collective knowledge production’. (2013 np). This goes beyond questions of interdisciplinarity and its variations to raise more fundamental questions of agency. Drawing on the work of key practitioner/researchers (eg Jackie Brookner (1945-2015); Collins and Goto Studio, Helen Mayer Harrison (1927-2018) and Newton Harrison (b 1932)) and theorists (Kester, Kagan) the meaning and implications of not ‘occupying the centre of the world’ will be explored as a motif for an art which can act in public space.

Biesta, G. 2017. Letting Art Teach: Art education ‘after’ Joseph Beuys. Arnhem: ArtEZ Press.

Fremantle, C., 2015. ‘The hope of something different’. In A restless art: thinking about community and participatory art [online]

Fremantle, C. 2015. ‘Art and Ecology’ in Interesting Times: Environmental Art Festival Scotland. Dumfries: EAFS.

Kagan, S., 2013. Art and Sustainability: Connecting Patterns for a Culture of Complexity. 2nd Edition. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Kagan, S., 2014. “The Practice of Ecological Art”, Plastik: Art & Science,

Kester, G., 2013. “On Collaborative Art Practices”, Praktyka Teoretyczna, accessed 7.12. 2015

Published: ‘What if?’ Introduction for North Light Arts 10 Year exhibition

Posted in CF Writing, News, Research, Sited work by chrisfremantle on July 9, 2020

North Light Arts kindly asked me to write a short piece by way of an introduction to their 10 year exhibition.

Gert Biesta proposes that we need to be,

…in the world, without occupying the centre of the world.

Whilst Biesta credits this idea to a French Educational Philosopher, Philippe Meirieu, Meirieu’s comments seem to be in the context of the classroom, and Biesta certainly uses the phrase in a larger sense, as part of what it means to be educated (see in particular Letting Art Teach: Art education ‘after’ Joseph Beuys, ArtEZ Press, 2017).

But for me this phrase speaks to an ecological understanding, or even ‘becoming earthly’ (in Latour’s sense). Ecological approaches to art are distinctive – they ask us to re-imagine our relationship with the world, as part of it, with art being not simply a human commodity or communication. Rather art is potentially a way to experience and understand the livingness and agency of the world, to share experiences with the more-than-human.

North Light Arts, under Susie Goodwin’s leadership, have put myriad aspects of the environment of the East Coast town of Dunbar as the focus of artists’ residencies.

John Muir, mostly known for his key role in the creation of the National Parks in the USA (remember the 1903 picture of him with Theodore Roosevelt on the top of the world?), was born in Dunbar. He provides North Light Arts and Susie in particular with inspiration. Muir is remembered for saying,

Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.

The power of imagination makes us infinite.

Published: Improvising as a method in the time of Covid-19

Posted in Arts & Health, CF Writing, News, Research by chrisfremantle on July 7, 2020

Screen Shot 2020-06-26 at 16.05.44

The Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance kindly published some thoughts on artists and improvisation, drawn from the writings of Professor Emeritus Anne Douglas and the work of Dr Chris Dooks.

This came out of a discussion during a meeting of arts and health networks (WAHWN (Wales), ArtsCare (Northern Ireland) and ACHWS (Scotland), as well as APPG AHW and CHWA (England). We were talking about how artists were adapting to continue to work with various communities, not only shifting online, but also finding new analogue ways.

Improvising provides a different way of thinking from statistics and modelling, which have dominated the news and discussions certainly since lockdown, but actually well before that, and in other discourses such as the climate crisis too. ‘Improvising’ can also be a critique of politicians, but where artists are doing it, the approaches are tested methods, not on-the-fly half-baked patches.

Thanks to Anne Douglas for her comments and Chris Dooks for allowing use of his work.


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Failure talks

Posted in CF Writing, Failure, Research, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on April 26, 2020

A recurring theme has been failure. This has resulted in publications (paper in iJade written with Dr Gemma Kearney, Business School, Robert Gordon University) and talks (principally for the Scottish Graduate School in Arts and Humanities Summer School 2016-18 presented with Elizabeth Reeder, Creative Writing, University of Glasgow).

Recently I’ve prepared the talk in four segments which can be watched online.

Pt 1 focuses on the prescriptions and fables that surround failure. Pt 2 draws on the research Gemma Kearney and I did into Gray’s School of Art staff perceptions of failure in their own practices and teaching. Pt 3 draws on Elizabeth Reeder’s talk for the Summer School as well as on Gert Biesta’s art pedagogy to discuss methods and desires. Pt 4 highlights some of the references and discusses them briefly.

The Art of a Life Adapting, published in Leonardo

Posted in Arts & Health, CF Writing, News, Research, Texts, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on March 10, 2020
'Drawing 2016', pen (Sharpie), found object, sculptural object, 2016. (Photo: Fergus Connor)

‘Drawing 2016’, pen (Sharpie), found object, sculptural object, 2016. (Photo: Fergus Connor)

Statement ‘The Art of a Life Adapting: Drawing and Healing’ just published in Leonardo Vol 53 No 1. You can find an earlier version here. Drawings are here.

There is a lot of talk about adaptation in relation to the climate crisis, but there is also an increasing recognition that cancer survival rates mean that a larger proportion of the population is and will be living with the long term consquences of cancer treatment. This has been highlighted by the EU Horizon programme, “The EU has already placed the needs of survivors as one of the key pillars of its Beating Cancer Plan and has now launched a consultation aimed at identifying where research is needed most.” (‘Treating cancer is only part of the journey’: the overlooked needs of cancer survivors, online.)

The role of arts and cultural practices, as well as approaches to understanding adaptation conceptually and practically, all need further consideration (see recent blog on climate adaptation). We know arts & culture has multiple contributions to make, including:

  • offering forms of autonomy in palliative care, as explored in the ‘Tracing Autonomy’ project by Prof. Ben Colburn of University of Glasgow, Jeni Pearson and Kirsty Stansfield of the Art Room in the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice in Glasgow.
  • playing a role in ’emotional regulation’ (Daisy Fancourt’s recent research provides significant evidence), but there are also issues around ‘uncertainty’ which also connect climate-related adaptation with cancer-related adaptation.
  • opening up ways of ‘living with uncertainty’, which medics recognise as an important part of their professional practice, but is equally significant for patients.


Adaptation and failure

Posted in CF Writing, Failure, Research, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on February 3, 2020


Greenhouse Britain installed at the Feldman Gallery in New York City

Ten years ago I was working with the Harrisons on Greenhouse Britain: Losing Ground, Gaining Wisdom. They insistently focused on ‘adaptation’ although Defra, who were funding the work, wanted the focus on ‘mitigation’. Now public policy is addressing adaptation (cf Climate Ready Clyde) as well as the Cultural Adaptation project (which I’m helping to evaluate as part of my work as a Research Fellow at Gray’s School of Art).

Mitigation is easier to plan and measure. How much reduction in carbon dioxide emissions has this initiative achieved?

Adaptation might be based on strengthening infrastructure and systems, but the shape of the challenge is timescale for knowing whether it has worked or not – this might be a decade?

So understanding what failure means in this context is important. In particular the challenge is that methods and approaches with known outcomes can seem attractive (less likely to fail) but can only deliver what is already understood. Embracing change must mean also embracing failure as a possibility.

The voices speaking as the projection of sea-level rise onto the island of Britain plays out ask,

Will it be enough?

As the most extreme model suggests
to halt the juggernaut of the ocean
if carbon use is stopped
almost all at once
almost all over
in the next 10 years?

Later they ask,

Would it be enough?

To begin now
a transglobal discourse in which
the Global Domestic Output
is discussed
agreeing all efforts be directed to commit
1% of the Global Domestic Product
to the reduction of the carbon surge
to near zero
in order to reduce
the ocean rise?

And again later,

Would it be enough?

to transcend economic thinking
and begin creating
a domain
of ecological thinking
that regenerates
the great carbon-sequestering
world systems
that operate in the forests
and the oceans
while leaving
ancient carbon stored
as coal and oil
in their present inactive states?

This repeating pattern of ‘will it…?’ / ‘would it be enough?’ asks about how we imagine risk of the unknown, risk of failure.

The issue of failure and why it matters in experimental projects is explored in this blog from the Cultural Adaptations project (including more on failure from previous publications).

Enrolled as a p/t student for PhD by Public Output

Posted in CF Writing, CV, PhD, Research by chrisfremantle on October 14, 2019


There is increasing interest in the contribution that the arts can make to the major challenges facing researchers, policy makers and societies more generally. Artists are included within multi-disciplinary teams addressing environmental research subjects (amongst others). Hybrid practices such as art and ecology (‘ecoart’) have established themselves at the intersection of disciplines, adopting approaches from the environmental sciences into arts practices. These practices are often situated within the broad category of Environmental Humanities, however there are distinctive aspects, particularly around the orientation towards collaboration which means that ecoart has a specific contribution to make.

The research, in opening up the specific contribution artists can make to public life, as well as their development of hybrid practices through collaborations with other disciplines, addresses a number of important challenges identified by policy makers. These can be broadly characterised as ‘wicked problems’, problems beyond the scope of any single discipline. This includes in particular global warming: sea level rise, heatwave and biodiversity loss. Other ‘wicked problems’ include healthcare (and specific conditions including cancer and dementia), social injustice, and natural hazards.

The articulation of the contribution, approaches and effects of artists to and within multi-disciplinary teams is key to growing an interdisciplinary culture to address ‘wicked problems’. Clear articulation of how artists’ work works both in terms of the process of development, particularly when it involves collaboration with other disciplines, and well as how it works with audiences and participants, is critical to the realisation of a meaningful contribution.

Practice-led approaches, including live projects as well as reflecting on exemplary practices, provide means to open up and discuss both the contribution made by artists as well as the interactions with other disciplines – the forms of inter- and transdisciplinarity that artists ‘bring to the table’.

Drawing on more than 10 years of work, this PhD brings together outputs including Chapters and Papers on the work of pioneers of the art and ecology movement, Helen Mayer Harrison (1927-2018) and Newton Harrison (b. 1932); live project work as Producer on their key project ‘Greenhouse Britain: Losing Ground, Gaining Wisdom’ (2006-09) and currently as Associate Producer on ‘The Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland’. In addition to opening up the approaches of the artists to creating the works and their approaches to collaboration with other disciplines, the research discusses the utilisation of key questions that shape the design process in other contexts including public art in healthcare settings. The discussion of collaboration and inter- and trans-disciplinary work is informed by Chapters and Papers addressing another live project, the Land Art Generator Glasgow initiative, as well as reflections on issues of participation and collaboration.

‘Disciplinarity and Peripheries’ at Gray’s Research Conference

Posted in CF Writing, News, Research, Texts by chrisfremantle on September 29, 2019

‘Peripheries’, Gray’s Research Conference, takes place on Friday 4th October. I’ll be presenting on disciplinarity and it’s edges.


By analogy disciplines are a form of ‘centre’ and work across disciplines involves focusing on edges. Some people conceptualise disciplines to have ‘near’ and ‘far’ relations i.e. visual art is ‘near’ art history and ‘far’ from environmental modelling. Gavin Little talks about radical and moderate saying,

“The radical variant involves scholars working across major discipline boundaries—such as theatre and environmental science—while the moderate one takes place between scholars in intellectually cognate disciplines such as law and policy, philosophy and religious studies, politics and history, or visual arts and media.” (Little 2017, 6).

Murdo Macdonald quotes George Davie’s The Crisis of the Democratic Intellect saying,

“…the most important side of any department of knowledge is the side on which it comes into contact with every other department. To insist on this is the true function of humanism.” (Macdonald nd, np)

Disciplines certainly don’t sit tightly next to each other and there are definitely gaps between them – we only need to think about the rationale for ‘multi-disciplinary teams’ in ensuring that these gaps are addressed and acknowledged in for example healthcare between clinical, nursing and other health professionals. Nicolescu goes further and argues that the ‘space’ between disciplines is full with an “information flux” (much as geographical peripheries are full). (Nicolescu 1993, 6)

This conceptualisation also raises interesting analogies in the other direction, including the possibility that attention to linking two ‘centres’ can produce, in the ‘periphery’, a new centre. The interdisciplinary developments between biology and chemistry resulted in due course in the emergence of bio-chemistry as a new discipline (and thus a new ‘centre’).

One of the abiding ‘disciplinary’ debates is whether the objective is synthesis and holism – is the objective to produce centres or even one totalising centre? Or is it as Murdo Macdonald, following George Davie, suggests about specialisations (centres),

“But it also creates blindspots, eddies of ignorance in epistemological space, which can only be perceived from another perspective. This is interesting from our perspective here because it shifts the emphasis of interdisciplinarity from the purloining of other disciplines’ methods in the hope that you can apply them within your own discipline, to illuminating, by the methods of one’s own discipline, what those other disciplines may be methodologically unable to access.” (Macdonald nd, np)

This presentation will be a meditation on the issues of disciplinarity as a spending time with edges and differences, drawing on the writings of Basarab Nicolescu (multi-, inter- trans-disciplinarity), Gavin Little (proximity and distance), and Murdo Macdonald & George Davie (the Scottish tradition of the Democratic Intellect).


Little, G. 2017. ‘Connecting Environmental Humanities: Developing Interdisciplinary Collaborative Method’. Humanities, 6(4), 91;

Macdonald, M. 2007. A Note on Interdisciplinarity.

Nicolescu, B. 1993. Towards Transdisciplinary Education. Invited talk at the International Conference Education of the Future, Memorial da America Latina, Parlamento Latinoamericano, Sao Paulo, Brazil, October 4-8.

Nicolescu, B. 1997. The Transdisciplinary Evolution of the University Condition for Sustainable Development. Talk at the International Congress Universities’ Responsibilities to Society, International Association of Universities, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand, November 12-14,

Abstract: A Funeral March for Economic Valuation

Posted in Maintenance, News, Research by chrisfremantle on September 24, 2019

Accepted for the Valuing Nature Conference at the end of October
This presentation will explore the various ways that we can think about ecosystems that are degraded or dying and how this relates to questions of economic valuation – what does it mean to attribute a monetary value to the Great Barrier Reef, apparently a significant asset for the Australian economy when the Reef by all accounts will be at least three quarters dead within a generation or two?
Drawing on the work of artists who have raised issues of care and maintenance including Mierle Laderman Ukeles and theorists such as Tim Morton, the presentation will juxtapose articulations of economic valuation (eg bees and the Great Barrier Reef) with creative approaches to death and dying. The aim of the presentation is not to offer a solution, method or answer, but rather to evoke the contradictions inherent in thinking about environment.

What art have I seen? Placing Sound

Posted in Exhibitions, On The Edge, Research by chrisfremantle on July 25, 2019

Maja Zeco performing her work 'Hold In/Breathe Out'

Maja Zeco performing her work ‘Hold In/Breathe Out’

Maja Zeco opened her exhibition ‘Placing Sound’ at Gray’s School of Art where she is just completing her practice-led PhD with a performance of her work ‘Hold In/Breathe Out’. This work might be a meditation on the experience of immersing yourself in everyday life and stepping out into perhaps your own mind, or in some sense private space. Zeco filled a large bowl with water and as she immersed her head completely in the water, triggered a soundscape of an urban environment with associated imagery. As she came back out of the water about 30 seconds later she ended the audio imagery. She breathed in silence. Her urban included images of streets and buildings and I’m pretty sure I saw an artillery piece.

Spead across three rooms, this exhibition represents nearly 10 years of work exploring sound and performance. One room is quartered and composed of sounds from the North East of Scotland (Aberdeen and Banchory) and from Bosnia Herzegovina where Zeco was born. Voices and bird song, trees and traffic all layer over each other drawing you to different points in the room as different elements come forward.

The middle room has video and physical documentation of two performance works. In one case, One Thousand Pomegranate Seeds’ bringing the action in the video into another form of presence with the physical evidence of the event in front of you whilst watching its making. Below is the promo video from Horsecross, Perth, where the work was originally performed.

The first room you encounter (I started with the last) again brings together different forms of documentation, physical remains and video, of performance – in this case ‘Silencer’ and in another part of the room the space in which Zeco performed ‘Hold In/Breathe Out’.

What counts as ‘impact’?

Posted in Failure, Research by chrisfremantle on March 11, 2019

Does an email citing a published ‘output’ inviting you to submit papers and join an editorial board of a new Journal count as impact?

I’m asking this because I regularly get emails mentioning the paper Gemma Kearney and I had published in the International Journal of Art and Design Education which, according to Google Scholar, is the 3rd highest rate Visual Art Journal.

I’ve pasted a typical email in below.

The paper, Owning Failure, has been cited three times (again according to Google Scholar), but I’ve had countless emails about it.

Other papers are more frequently cited, but this is the only paper ever mentioned in these invitations.

So good Journal, low citations, lots of soliciting emails… is that any sort of impact?
From: Journal AJAC
Sent: 08 March 2019 07:37:13 (UTC+00:00) Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London
To: Christopher Fremantle (gsa)
Subject: Dear Fremantle, C; Kearney, G: Invite You to Submit Papers and Be Editorial Board/Reviewer Panel Member

International Journal of Literature and Arts
(ISSN Print:2331-0553 ISSN Online: 2331-057X)
Open Access Policy (OA) Peer-review 50-70 Days Paper Publication
Dear Fremantle, C; Kearney, G
International Journal of Literature and Arts (IJLA) is a peer-reviewed academic journal, establishing a solid platform to all academicians, practicing managers, consultants, researchers and those who have interest in emerging global trends in literature and arts.
Having been greatly attracted by your paper titled “Owning Failure: Insights Into the Perceptions and Understandings of Art Educators”, we wholeheartedly invite you to submit papers and join the Editorial Panel/Reviewer Team.
Become the Editorial Board Member/Reviewer
We have been dedicated to building IJLA into a world’s top journal. Well-known experts are cordially welcomed to join the Editorial Board/Reviewers Panel.
Have any interests of joining the Editorial Board/Reviewers Panel?
Please find more here:
Advantages of Joining the Editorial Board/Reviewers Panel:

1. Quickly improve your perceptibility in your research fields.
2. Get cutting-edge materials on latest scientific discoveries.
3. Authoritative certification in PDF format launched by the editorial office.
4. Have your personal profile listed on the journal’s page.
5. 10% off of the original APC.

Submitting Your Article
IJLA was launched with the aim of promoting academic communication all over the world in a more productive way.
During the past years, lots of scholars have contributed many papers to the journal. With your contribution, experts from all over the world will achieve more in the process of scholarly research. We invite you with sincerity to contribute other unpublished papers that have similar topics to the journal. Your further research on this article is also welcomed.
If you are interested in submitting a paper, please learn more here:
Here attached the abstract of your research which has impressed us most:
Title: Owning Failure: Insights Into the Perceptions and Understandings of Art Educators
Keywords: failure; artists; practice-led; pedagogies; learning
Abstract: Failure forms an important dimension of art and design and is inherent in creative endeavours. This article explores current literature on failure in the art and design context and offers a contribution through qualitative research drawing upon interviews with lecturing staff in a UK art school. The findings from this research emphasise the complexity of the concept of failure. Three key themes emerged regarding respondents’ perceptions of failure: failure as a process, as a means of learning and as an issue in assessment culture. This research is exploratory in nature, and whilst the limitations of the small sample are accepted, the article contributes to the dialogue and discussion surrounding the often emotive concept of failure.
Margaret Fredricks
Editorial Office of International Journal of Literature and Arts

Transformations 2017

Posted in CV, Research, Texts, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on June 6, 2017

Abstract for the Transformations 2017 conference in Dundee. Accepted.

ecoart as a practice of understanding the world

In 2007 the artist Eve Mosher drew a line on the streets of New York based on current science indicating the impact of a major storm surge – a hundred-year flood. The line followed the contour 10 feet above sea level. Mosher used a ‘heavy hitter,’ the wheelbarrow-like device used to mark the lines on sports fields. Mosher worked on High Water Line, as she titled the project, on and off for six months, photographing the line as she made it. The context was the noted total lack of discussion of climate change in the City and National elections.

Not long after Hurricane Sandy struck New York in 2012 The New Yorker magazine carried a story (Kolbert) about High Water Line. In the article Mosher is quoted saying, “I wanted to leave this visually interesting mark, to open up a space for conversation…” and goes on to say, “The other part of the project was to try to prod some kind of conversation on a government level.”

Some artists describe what they do as ‘eco-art’ (and themselves as ‘ecoartists’). This neologism is a contraction of “art (or arts) and ecology”. It represents a still emergent form of practice (albeit with a history back to the late 1960s) which is distinctive in several aspects, not least in seeking to ‘do good in the world’.

Key elements of ecoart include a focus on context and a concern with human interaction with ecological systems; the frequency of interdisciplinarity between artists and scientists (natural and social) drawing out the complexity of these ecological interactions; the embedding of dialogue leading to wider learning by others living and working in the context.

These elements, along with more formal considerations of making art, combine to form the aesthetic, the tangible and experiential quality of the work, the focus of judgement by the artists concerned.

Mosher’s High Water Line demonstrates all of these characteristics. The context, New York, is where Mosher lives and the work explores the relationship between the artist, other inhabitants and the immediate ecological systems. The context is also the issue of climate change, and in particular the issue of public discourse at the community and civic levels. Mosher drew on readily available science modelling the increase frequency of storm surges. Mosher was doing a field study of published science, exploring what it ‘looks like on the ground’ and what it means to inhabitants. In terms of formal considerations the work, the use of everyday, non-art equipment and materials, the temporal intervention where ‘the work’ exists in documentation, and the performative and social character situate the work in relation to other artists’ practices. Critiques of this work might ask whether it is a work in its own right, or simply and illustration of existing science? Is it merely an exercise in climate change communications, or an artwork in its own right? A key question is the status of learning, Mosher’s own and her intended audiences, within the work – does if form an essential aspect of the aesthetic of the work?

There has been considerable focus on developing our understanding of the aesthetics of social and participatory practices (Bourriaud 1998, Helguera 2011, Jackson 2011, Kester 2004, 2011), but less attention has been paid to ecoart practice. Specific attempts (Kagan 2011) to explore ecoart as an art engaged with sustainability have drawn on thinking about auto-poesis as well as Gregory Bateson’s writings. Others (Douglas and Fremantle 2016a, 2016b) have focused on the formal aspects that are rooted in what might be called core art practices such as composition and improvisation.

The purpose of this paper will be to propose an understanding of education and learning within the practices of selected ecoartists.

Bourriaud, N. 1998. Relational Aesthetics. Les Presse du Reel

Douglas, A. and Fremantle, C. 2016. ‘What Poetry Does Best: The Harrisons’ Poetics of Being and Acting in the World’ in Harrison, H.M. and Harrison, N. The Time of the Force Majeure: After 45 Years Counterforce Is on the Horizon. Prestel, pp 455-460

Douglas, A. and Fremantle, C. 2016. ‘Inconsistency and Contradiction: Lessons in Improvisation in the work of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison’. In Elemental: an Arts and Ecology Reader. The Gaia Project, pp 153-181.

Helguera, P., 2011. Education for Socially Engaged Art: A Materials and Techniques Handbook. Jorge Pinto Books

Jackson, S., 2011. Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics. London and New York: Routledge

Kagan, S. 2011. Art and Sustainability: Connecting Patterns for a Culture of Complexity. Transcript Verlag

Kester, G. H., 2011. The One and the Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context. Duke University Press

Kester, G. H., 2004. Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art. University of California Press

Kolbert, E., Crossing the Line, The New Yorker, November 12, 2012 accessed at, 31 October 2016

Imagining the Mediterranean

Posted in Failure, Research, Texts, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on June 4, 2017

This abstract was submitted to the Imagining The Mediterranean Congress scheduled for September. Unfortunately it wasn’t accepted.

Science and Cultural Heritage: Transdisciplinary Practices and Artists

Current socio-political contexts are shaped in increasingly complex ways by environmental issues which in turn are informed on the one hand by natural sciences and on the other by cultural factors. There are considerable challenges in adequately integrating specialist scientific perspectives with those from the humanities: yet policies (particularly for change adaptation and resilience) are likely to be much more successful if they take on more holistic approaches.

The intergovernmental Convention on Wetlands, the Ramsar Convention, established to protect the values and functions of wetlands, addresses this challenge through the Ramsar Culture Network. The Network includes interest groups and specialist experts in thematic areas ranging from indigenous knowledge and spiritual values to agriculture and food, youth, tourism, art and architecture.

This paper will focus on the role of artists (a term which will be explained as embracing contemporary practices that may surprise some readers by the variety of scientific and socio-political roles that are played), highlighting key examples of artists involved in wetland biodiversity and related cultural heritage. Some artists choose to engage with non-arts contexts, including projects with scientists, planners, landowners and local communities.

In the immediate Spanish context, artists have been drawn to record and represent Las Tablas de Daimiel, one of the first Ramsar designated wetlands in Spain. In particular Ignacio de Meco whose paintings document the landscape and form an important record of a changing environment (2010).

Lillian Ball’s GO Doñana (2008) project, part of an on-going series based on the game of Go, was an invited part of the International Bienal of Sevilla. As the audience interacted with the projected Go board, each move activated the video/sound viewpoints of scientists, farmers, environmentalists, landowners, and park guides.

In a wider Mediterranean context the artist, biologist and environmental activist Brandon Ballengée has worked with the Parco Arte Vivente in Turin (2011). His ongoing project Malamp, focusing on mutations in amphibians, is pursued throughscientific enquiry, art installations and “eco-actions” involving varied communities in field work.

Further examples include Liz Nicol’s on-going work in the Venice Lagoon and Shai Zakai’s work Concrete Creek (1999-2002) in Israel as well as Jane Ingram Allen’s ongoing Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

Some of the strongest impetus for attention to these matters in the Ramsar context has come from initiatives pioneered in the Mediterranean region, and global leadership continues to be provided from this part of the world. The paper will draw out the transdisciplinary characteristics of artists’ practices which address both the cultural and scientific aspects of environmental contexts and policies.


Allen, Jane Ingram. Cheng-Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

Alvarez-Cobelas, M., Cirujano, S. and Meco, A. ‘The Man and Las Tablas de Daimiel’ in Ecology of Threatened Semi-Arid Wetlands: Long-Term Research in Las Tablas de Daimiel. Dordrecht Heidelberg London New York: Springer. 2010

Cravero, Claudio. Praeter Naturam: Brandon Ballengée. Parco Arte Vivente, Centro D’Arte Contemporanea, Torino. 2011.

Culture and Wetlands: A Ramsar Guidance Document. Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, 1971) Culture Working Group. Gland. 2008. accessed 26 April 2017

Zakai, S. Concrete Creek: Artist’s Statement 1999. accessed 30 April 2017

Design Research Failures

Posted in Failure, Research by chrisfremantle on October 29, 2016

This project by Soren Rosenbak was developed for the Design Research Society conference 2016 and now has a web site with all the submissions and the opportunity to comment on them.

Interesting as part of the Design Research Society’s 50 year anniversary. Humble. Participatory in the right ways – community building and empowering. Causing of reflection. 

Design Research Failure

Posted in Failure, Research by chrisfremantle on August 11, 2016

What art have I seen? A partial history of the Artist Placement Group

Posted in Exhibitions, Research by chrisfremantle on August 6, 2016

‘On truth, doubts, and pain: The significance of ideas of objectivity’ a contribution by Daniel Goldberg – Centre for Medical Humanities

Posted in Arts & Health, Research by chrisfremantle on April 16, 2015

Although this article comes from the Medical Humanities and is tagged for arts & health, it has a wider resonance raising issues around the role of imaging in determining what is real and what is not, what is causal and what is not.  Broadly the piece argues that pain is a useful area of research for understanding how ideas of objectivity have emerged.  The author argues that, “…the history of objectivity literally is a history of scientific imaging…” and “…profound changes in ideas of truth and knowledge are coextensive with profound changes in ideas of medicine and medical practice.”

‘On truth, doubts, and pain: The significance of ideas of objectivity’ a contribution by Daniel Goldberg – Centre for Medical Humanities.

Leicester leads new approach to maternity bereavement services

Posted in Arts & Health, News, Research by chrisfremantle on December 16, 2014

Clear articulation of the design requirements and challenges of user consultation in dealing with dignity from this project in Leicester. Similar issues in New South Glasgow Hospitals’ Dignified Spaces project – you can see creative consultation process and initial design thinking here.

Thinking about failure

Posted in CF Writing, Failure, Research by chrisfremantle on October 24, 2014

London LASER reflections

Posted in CF Writing, CV, News, Research by chrisfremantle on June 17, 2014

The two other speakers at the London LASER took us on a tour of the edge of two different human experiences.

Los Ferronautas, who are currently working with Arts Catalyst, took us on a journey of exploration of the railroads of Mexico, largely abandoned post the neoliberal-driven privatisation in the mid 90s. An extensive passenger network now lies in ruins because it was not ‘financially viable’. It only provided a means for Mexicans to get around their large and mountainous country. Somehow you know that the automotive industry had something to do with this. Los Ferronautas built a hybrid vehicle (SEFT1), an “abandoned railway exploration probe” that could travel on road and rail, and used this to explore what remains of the network. They found that it also acted as a “transmitter of stories.”  In parallel they explored the visual representation of the network including early 20th Century paintings celebrating the engineering (initially exported from Britain and Ireland).

Cristina Miranda de Almeida took us on a journey around our increasing hybridity as the internet of things emerges. She explored the emerging interval space between ‘here and there’, ‘you and me’, the past, present and future, different scales and durations. She started with the beautiful analogy of data emerging from under water (behind a screen) to become part of our everyday lives, quoting Manuel Castells saying that soon computing will be paint on the walls.

For me the real moment of joy was when she show an image of a CAD rendering of a building entitled ‘spam architecture.’ As I’m sure we all have, I’ve notices the ‘flows’ of subject lines in my spam folder and wondered what could be done by exploring the patterns that lie in amongst this waste material. The way Alex Dragulescu has worked with this aspect of ‘big data,’ turning it into a proposal for architecture, put a big smile on my face.

We also had a good, if too short, discussion on multi-, inter- and trans-disciplinarity which I found really helpful in pushing my thinking further, so thanks to those who asked really good questions. My presentation is below. Thanks again to Heather Barnett for putting the programme together and continuing to make the London LASERs well worth the trip.


Posted in News, Research, Sited work by chrisfremantle on June 11, 2014

MerzBarn site on the Cylinders Estate near Elterwater in the Lake District (Photo Chris Fremantle)

The Chicken Shed near MerzBarn on the Cylinders Estate near Elterwater in the Lake District (Photo Chris Fremantle)

When you visit the MerzBarn at Elterwater, now being cared for and developed by the Littoral Trust, you realise that Kurt Schwitters may have “ended up in Langdale like a piece of flotsam on the currents of a world war,” but it is a remarkable place and his presence is distinctive. Schwitters is also somewhat of a Trojan Horse. Living as an artist refugee he painted landscape scenes and portraits whilst simultaneously working on a new Merzbau (Schwitters called these works Merzbau which translates as ‘Merz buildings’. He called this work specifically MerzBarn.  Merz is a word Schwitters found in the process of making a collage in 1919). On the one hand he conformed to a Lake District stereotype, and on the other he steered the direction of 20th Century Art.

You can see there are some serious tensions embodied in this landscape. It was necessary in the mid 60s, and probably in the terms of the time correct, to remove one whole wall of the Barn and take it into a museum to be preserved. Thus the ‘art’ bit of the Merzbarn is now in the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle. The analogy might be the Elgin Marbles: something conceived of as a ‘whole’ (art and architecture) that has been separated. Art, sometimes the legacy of great cultures, is political, but is often managed by people who are unwilling to acknowledge the political dimension as ‘present’ rather than historical.

So outside the MerzBarn each year Littoral organises an event where the names of all the artists included by the Nazi Party as Entartete Kunst Degenerate Art (including Schwitters and more than 100 others) are read out and then written in chalk on the wall of the MerzBarn. This symbolic act might seem curious standing outside a tiny barn on an estate in Cumbria, rather than perhaps in a square in Berlin or at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but the symbolism of the last place a refugee artist worked is rich and powerful (and draws other artists to work there now).

The avoidance of politics in art were replayed in the Schwitters in Britain exhibition at the Tate last year where it was clear that the curators focused on the paintings with only nods to the other media such as the sound poetry and the Merzbau. The curators of the contemporaneous Duchamp exhibition The Bride and the Batchelors at the Barbican succeeded in creating a space for works across multiple media including dance and performance, sound, set design and visual art. The curators at the Tate chose a different trajectory, offering what was really a conventional exhibition of paintings with some contemporary art tacked on the end (not that Provost and Chodzko’s contributions were negligible). But the positioning of contemporary art in the exhibition inevitably pushed the works by Schwitters into the past in a way that the construction of a multi-media environment at the Barbican brought Duchamp, Cage, Cunningham, Johns and Rauchenberg into the present. A different trajectory was created by the reconstruction of the MerzBarn in the courtyard of the Royal Academy in London as part of the Modern British Sculpture show.

The Langdale landscape is in a constant state of flux: a dialogue between human and non-human agencies. It was the non-human agencies that necessitated the removal of the ‘art’. But the way the Littoral Trust is imagining the site conceives of the MerzBarn (the original barn with the missing wall reinstated) in a state of flux. The circumstances at Elterwater are open to that process of change, where the part of the work in the care of the Hatton is ‘preserved’. The Littoral Trust brings its 30+ years of knowledge and work as a social and political art organisation to the development of the MerzBarn. In addition to events to honour the memory of artists called ‘degenerate’ by the Nazi Party, there is an art making and outdoor education programme for children and young people – and of course Schwitters’ Merz works, his use of found waste materials, and his ‘painting with nails’ approach are a Trojan Horse in the context of conventional primary school art.

As the Armitt Museum (which has its own collection of Schwitters’ works from his time in the Lake District)  website says in describing the first Merzbau, “It was unfinished because it was unfinishable; it was environmental and engulfing in scope, but its significance was that it marked the birth of installation or conceptual art that we see today.” In the capable hands of the Littoral Trust the state of unfinishedness is an asset and an opportunity.

AESOP 1 | A Framework for developing and research arts in health programmes

Posted in Arts & Health, News, Research by chrisfremantle on April 4, 2014

If you are interested in planning research and/or evaluation into your arts and health projects, then you need to have a look at this new tool.  The point is that research needs structure, to be done reasonably consistently, and this looks like a very good way to build some consistency.

AESOP 1 | A Framework for developing and research arts in health programmes.

Very much look forward to hearing more about this as it develops.

Digital health comes to the UK | Nesta

Posted in Arts & Health, Research by chrisfremantle on March 20, 2014

If you are interested in things like biosensing and the internet of things (or perhaps people) then this article Digital health comes to the UK | Nesta is very relevant discussions about putting people at the heart of health and well-being.

Some of the ideas are very challenging and we are deeply into the realm of biopolitics (sensors embedded in medication reporting when it’s taken and how it’s digested).  There is no question that the relationship between the body and the world is going to change through various forms of bio-sensing – see for instance the work of Manifest.AR.

I wonder what Michel Foucault would have made of this?  I know Ivan Illich would have fought against it tooth and nail.

Recent publications on art in new healthcare buildings

Posted in Arts & Health, Research, Sited work by chrisfremantle on March 18, 2014

Updated 22 3 2014

This is a short summary of books on arts & health from Glasgow and Scotland that I’m aware of and have on a shelf.  Any reminders and recommendations happily received.  Artists and organisations try to produce books of these projects because firstly they are participatory and durational so sometimes the book is the only tangible outcome, but secondly they are not generally visible to the public beyond immediate communities hosting the projects, so this is the only means of showing what happened and why it mattered.

There have been several books produced to document arts projects in new healthcare buildings in Glasgow.  These join the books produced by Art in Hospital highlighting their long term work with patients.  Also included in this provisional bibliography are other books of Scottish projects.

Space to Heal: Humanity in Healthcare Design. (2009) is published by Reiach and Hall Architects, and reflects their thinking at the time they completed the New Stobhill Hospital.  Includes essays by Andy Law (Architect) and Thomas A Clark (poet).

The Grace of the Birch: Art Nature Healing, the Collection for the Ward Block, New Stobhill Hospital (2011).  Edited by Dr Lindsay Blair documents the new Collection of artworks forming a ‘choosing wall’.  Probably available from Reiach and Hall (above) or Jackie Sands (below).

Aware of Time: Art Poetry Healing, Renfrew Health and Social Work Centre (2012).  Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board.  ISBN 978-1-906150-17-4.  Documentation of the project with Richard Dunn and Toby Paterson, curated by Dr Lindsay Blair.  Probably available from Reiach and Hall (above) or from Jackie Sands, Arts & Health Senior, Health Improvement, NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, West House, Gartnavel Royal Hospital, Great Western Road, Glasgow, G12 OXH.

Dignified Spaces: Designing Rooms for conversations within the clinical environment. (2013)  Alexander Hamilton’s catalogue associated with the exhibition/website on the Dignified Spaces project for the New South Glasgow Hospitals, setting out design ethos and participation programme.  Available as download (catalogue dignified spaces), or from Jackie Sands (as above).  This project was also presented at the European Design 4 Health Conference, Sheffield, 2013 and will be included in the proceedings.

Art in Hospital publications
If they are still available, they can be obtained from Art in Hospital (Order form here – contact details on the website).

“I’ll be doing this sky in my dreams tonight” Art in Hospital (2006).  Published by Art in Hospital.  This is an excellent overview of the work of this organisation which has been working with patients in hospitals in Glasgow since 1991.

Object Scores, Kirsty Stansfield and Art in Hospital (2007).  Published by Art in Hospital.  Documents, through reproducing an extended email exchange, the Object Scores project.

The Pattern of a Bird. (2008). Published by Art in Hospital. ISBN 13 978-0-9554440-2-9.  Documentation and essays on arts in palliative care.

Artlink Edinburgh publications

A number are available electronically from the website.

200 Years 200 Objects. Mark Dion. (2013).  Published by Artlink Edinburgh and Lothians.  ISBN 978-0955188268.  Part of the Ever Present Past project.

Extraordinary Everday: Explorations in Collaborative Art in Healthcare.  (2005). Published by Artlink Edinburgh ISBN 978-0-9551882-0-6.  Documenting and discussion the Functionsuite programme of work, 14 collaborative art projects that took place in hospitals across Edinburgh and the Lothians between 2003 and 2005.

Something in the Pause (2009) Nicola White.  Published by Artlink Edinburgh ISBN 978-0-9551882-2-0 and available electronically as above.  A story about an artist, and infomatics specialist and a man with a liking for music.

Other Scottish

The Sanctuary: The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh: A space designed by Donald Urquhart. (2003). Published by Ginkgo Projects ISBN 1-904443-01-X  Documents the award winning Sanctuary at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.  Copies might be available from Ginkgo Projects.

ARTworks Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital 2006-2009.  Published by Grampian Hospital Art Trust. documents the participatory work leading to installed artworks in the new Children’s Hospital in Aberdeen.  It should be available from The Archie Foundation or from the Grampian Hospital Art Trust.

Creative Therapies.  Undated, self-published. Documentation of their art therapy work with East Dunbartonshire and South Ayrshire Councils which is probably available from them.

Art in Salutogenic Design Dominic Pote

Posted in Arts & Health, Research, Sited work by chrisfremantle on March 16, 2014

This blog by Dominic Pote discusses well-being and how artworks can contribute to a sense of health.  It draws on ideas of ‘coherence’ as a way to understand health and well-being.  Well worth reading Art in Salutogenic Design | by Dominic Pote Fine-art photographer.

Presenting at Enhancing Lives Through Arts & Health, Houston, TX

Posted in Arts & Health, CF Writing, Producing, Research, Sited work, Texts by chrisfremantle on March 7, 2014

My proposal for a paper “Scottish artists bring nature into healthcare” has been accepted for the Global Alliance for Arts & Health 25th Conference in Houston, Texas in April.

The abstract is,

Scotland has a strong portfolio of arts and health projects including both public art installations within healthcare buildings and participatory programmes, in particular with people with long term conditions. This presentation will focus on public art installations by artists and designers which use biophilic and other design approaches to bringing nature into buildings. It addresses the conference themes of Patient Care, Healing Environments and Caring for Caregivers.

It is well known thanks to the work of Robert Ulrich that views of nature contribute to patient recover, and it is clear from the work of Stephen Kaplan that views of nature can play a role in restoring our ability to give our attention. OPENspace Research at Edinburgh College of Art ( ) has further substantiated the connections between nature and wellbeing focusing on inclusive access to the outdoors.

In Scotland there have been a number of projects in the context of Healthcare where artists and designers have specifically sought to use art and design to bring nature into buildings in addition to what the architects and landscape designers are able to achieve.

Four key examples are:

Thomas A Clark’s ( project with the architects Reiach & Hall, ‘A Grove of Larch in a Forest of Birch,’ for the New Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow integrated poetry and visual arts into what the architects described as the architecture of waiting. The Aim was to create spaces in which users of the hospital could wait for appointments in “a place apart having the brightness and stillness of a woodland glade.”

Alexander Hamilton’s ( Designing for Dignity ( is an approach that draws on a deep understanding of the Victorian poet and artist John Ruskin and of the more recent Biophilia Hypothesis. Hamilton is currently developing designs including furniture and art for the Quiet or Family rooms in the New South Glasgow Hospitals based on an extensive programme of creative engagement. Hamilton is also working on the design of a healthcentre in Glasgow.

Dalziel + Scullion’s ( practice is increasingly focused on addressing nature deficit disorder. Their work encompasses exhibitions and public art. Their scheme for the wards of the New South Glasgow Hospitals will bring the whole landscape of Scotland into one building. Their project Rosnes Benches, currently being installed in the landscape of Dumfries and Galloway, they have also contributed work to the Vale of Leven Health Centre (

Donald Urquhart has completed public art projects for four mental health hospitals including most recently Midpark Acute Mental Health Hospital ( and developed Sanctuary spaces for both hospitals and universities. His award winning design for the Sanctuary at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary has become a benchmark (

These artists and others demonstrate key aspects of the role of art in bringing nature into healthcare contexts including focus on characteristics of nature such as colour, pattern and movement. As artists they use attention, framing and synthesis.

In addition to sharing these developments with the conference audience I hope to identify other artists exploring similar issues.

I’m very much hoping to find other artists and designers working along these lines with the depth of thinking as well as the quality of work.

Illuminating art, design and health

Posted in Arts & Health, Exhibitions, Research by chrisfremantle on January 29, 2014

Lisa Pacini and Christine Istad,  Sun, 2012 - photo courtesy of Marres

Lisa Pacini and Christine Istad,
Sun, 2012 – photo courtesy of Marres

Two interesting trajectories across the need for light particularly in winter.  The one is a blog from the Wellcome Trust on research being undertaken by their Research Fellow, Dr Tania Woloshyn, on the history of phototherapy, and the other is an exhibition at Marres House for Contemporary Culture in the Netherlands entitled Winter Anti Depression where they have created an Art Resort, a sensory environment in response to the winter.

The idea that the lack of sunlight affects those of us living in northern climates is not new, and research into the history of treatments highlights the complexity of the amount of sunlight that is healthy.

The exhibition demonstrates a number of art and design approaches to activating the senses.  Different works explore different senses from textured surfaces that you feel through your feet, to sounds to cocoon you in your bed, to light and colour.  The installation comprising a range of yellows is particularly evocative (see below).

Light and colour are increasingly significant in the design of healthcare contexts.  New technologies such as ‘Sky Ceilings’ and lightboxes can bring a feeling of daylight into rooms that lack windows.  The ‘temperature’ of light, especially with the increasing availability of LED bulbs, is enabling much more sophisticated design of environments.  But what is clear is that light and colour are not ‘universals’.  On the one hand their meaning is culturally informed, and as these examples highlight, also informed by seasonality.  We might want healthcare to be 24/7, but our bodies respond to seasonality just as they do to day and night.

Katja Gruijters Saint John's wort Lab, 2014, photography Jonas de Witte Courtesy of Marres

Katja Gruijters
Saint John’s wort Lab, 2014, photography Jonas de Witte Courtesy of Marres

Things I’ve been trying to remember

Posted in News, Research by chrisfremantle on January 14, 2014

From 'painted illisions' The Art of Cornelius Gijsbrechts, London: National Gallery, 2000

From ‘painted illisions’ The Art of Cornelius Gijsbrechts, London: National Gallery, 2000

I was trying to remember the details of this painting last year.  Imagine trying to google ‘trompe l’oeil painting of reverse of painting’.  Without the artist’s name I think this painting may actually be impossible to find.

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Posted in Civics, News, Research, Texts by chrisfremantle on December 20, 2013

One of the earliest entries in this blog, back in 2004, resulted from reading a text by Tim Rollins that formed part of the Civil Arts Enquiry at the City Arts Centre in Dublin.

I had the privilege of attending a workshop at the Talbot Rice in Edinburgh with Tim Rollins and some of the Kids of Survival in August 2012.

Now Brooklyn Rail has published an excellent article,  Two Days in the Lives of Art as Social Action, which name checks the event in Edinburgh.

Last light on a Granny Pine in Black Rannoch Wood, Thurs 21 November, 2013

Posted in News, Research by chrisfremantle on November 27, 2013
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Practising Equality

Posted in CF Writing, News, Research by chrisfremantle on October 22, 2013

Over the past year I’ve been working with Prof Paul Harris and Prof Anne Douglas to explore common issues across art, design, architecture and media/Web 2.0 focusing on issues of co-creativity and participation. This short video made for a presentation at the Moving Targets Conference earlier this month highlights a few key thoughts and the paper will be published imminently in Participations Journal. I’ll post a link in due course.


I just finish posting up this link to work we’ve been doing on participation and co-creativity, go back into my email and there is an Art&Education announcement of a major conference in Montreal entitled The Participatory Condition . Interestingly they have in their blurb aligned participation with democracy, something which we seek to question in our paper, and although they use the term relational, they don’t raise questions of the aesthetic of participation, questions which are critical within the art discourse but have not impacted on the discourse in design, architecture let alone media/Web 2.0.

Wellcome Trust asks, What has art ever done for science?

Posted in Research by chrisfremantle on October 15, 2013
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Deep Routes: research, scale and indigeneity

Posted in CF Writing, News, Research, Sited work by chrisfremantle on September 26, 2013

The Financial Times at the end of 2012 carried a review of an exhibition by Zeng Fanzhi at the Gagosian Gallery. The review opens with the following couple of sentences,

It has finally happened – a solo exhibition of a Chinese artist whose power and interest does not depend on Chinese themes or subject matter. Since the 1990s, China has been the promised land of the global arts scene, but not one of the numerous group shows staged in the past decade – at Tate Liverpool, the Saatchi Gallery, the Hayward – has been able to make a case that artists from the region are of more than local concern.

The image that accompanied the review is of one of Zeng’s paintings, a reworking of Durer’s ubiquitous Hare some 4m square, the surface appearing to be deeply cracked. Whether this was an ironic statement on the import of the canonical tradition of Western Art from the perspective of the East, or an aesthetic judgement, or the quality of the reproduction on pink paper, I don’t know. I didn’t see the exhibition and I haven’t read the press release.

It may be that in the ambit of art criticism published in the FT and moving elegantly between the transnational art fairs and galleries that construct value through those environments, this artist is significant. It may be that because this artist reworks iconic images from canonical western art that they are therefore of ‘power and interest.’ Their ‘power and interest’ might perhaps lie in the exquisite development of the surface of the canvas through brilliant brushwork, or their use of colour, seeming to soak the hare in the night-time neon lights of Shanghai, Hong Kong, New York or LA.

This painting, and the others in the exhibition, and in fact all the work for sale in Gagosian, or in any of the other key galleries and art fairs, only exists at the global level. As the review rightly states what is important at this level is that the work cannot be of local concern, it must speak to The Universal, the abstracted, deterritorialised. It will exist in no-place because thanks to the hard work of the FT reviewer and the hard work of the Gagosian curatorial team ensuring that their merch is only seen in the right places, it’s value has nothing to do with an specific locality, any personal intimate space, any town or region. It might hang in a domestic interior for a period, but it is more likely to go into storage in a warehouse somewhere as an investment: value stored for future exchange.

The reviewer wouldn’t have to highlight this point reviewing a Richard Serra exhibition (such as the one that opened Gagosian’s London space). It would be taken for granted that Serra was of global interest and power, an important element moving in the circuits of value of the international art world. A Chinese artist has now been allowed into this club.

Claire Pentecost, in her essay (pdf: Pentecost Notes on Continental DriftNotes on the Project Called Continental Drift offers an alternative structure for thinking about art. Her structure, and the wider structure of the book Deep Routes: The Midwest In All Directions (Compass Collaborators, 2012 see bottom for ways to get a copy), precisely values an analysis which is interested in multiple levels (p.17),

We aim to explore the five scales of contemporary existence: the intimate, the local, the national, the continental and the global. Within the mesh of scales, we want to understand the extent of our interdependence, how any action we may take has effects on and is shaped by all these scales at once. We attempt to understand these dynamics so that we can understand the meaning of our own actions, the basis for an ethical life.

But for Pentecost, global is not the exclusive realm of ‘power and interest’. Rather her global is a scale at which it is necessary to look to see the entwined flows that articulate our everyday lives. She wants to look at the food on our table (perhaps the jugged hare) and through following the lines of connection to see that we are connected to the workers making ceramics in China for sale in IKEA in Long Island City (cf Ai WeiWei perhaps). And through that examination to see the Phillippino crews of container ships continuously circumnavigating the planet (cf for instance Allan Sekula). For her the global simply cannot exist in isolation. No artist’s interest and power should be divorced from local themes and subject matters. It is simply not possible – those elements can be ignored, but they still exist – practically speaking iron ore is mined, corten steel is produced in foundries, barges, trucks and planes move sculptures. There are social and environmental interactions. A sculpture can be a sign separated from all the realities that are involved in it’s production and presentation – deracinated – separated from all considerations except value to enable it to circulate freely in this global space.

And where the exhibition at Gagosian and the review in the FT are elements in the urgent construction of capital, Pentecost takes us on a detour into a mis-remembered quote trying to latch onto an articulation of a different way of dealing with signs and the value they convey, or actually deferring dealing with signs and value (p.23),

… to the point where many of us aspire to practice an intricate, processual, and research-motivated version of art that resists evaluation by the prescriptive teams of institutions and markets.

Where for the critic and the gallery the essential acts are focused on the carefully orchestrated production and affirmation of the sign as value, Pentecost following the French artist Francois Deck, suggests that the most important act is to operate at the point before the sign is ‘finalised’ and value is conferred. So the artwork is always unfinished, it is always a project, precisely because at the point we confer value, that thing, whatever it is, whether food or art, moves into warehouses and other structures designed to enable and enhance the mobility of capital.

Pentecost’s essay is one of two that open up Deep Routes. Pentecost establishes some key points in a landscape characterised by the financial crisis and the occupy movement. The themes and contexts of the book are focused by the specificity of the midwest of the United States of America. Reading the book we get to know particular places such as Beardstown, IL, exploring through Ryan Griffis and Sarah Ross’ glossary of terms the ‘vertical integration’ of a small town into global commodities markets through ‘the cold chain,’ ‘engineered tiling,’ GMO, chemical fertilizers and GPS mapping. Matthias Regan’s narrative offers a different trajectory, of a Greyhound bus journey from Chicago to Detroit. This is a gentle, reflective meditation on breakdown in which (p.188),

The future does not emerge from amongst the technocratic elite; it will not be driven by new inventions in digital media. We should seek it instead in what is meager and humble, tentative and transitioning. Not rushing away from breakdown, but opening ourselves to its after effects.

The other key trajectory established from the outset in Deep Routes takes us into indigenous experience, practice, pedagogy and critique. Alongside the spatial, economic and experiential journeys of the other authors, Dylan AT Miner’s interviews with First People’s organisers punctuate the book. Miner has been pursuing a project of imagining that we can all be indigenous – it’s not a condition restricted by genealogy, but rather a practice and a philosophy – a way of making sense of the world.

Near the end of the book, in the last interview, Jill Doerfler and Miner discuss tribalography, a methodology developed by by LeAnne Howe. Jill studied with LeAnne and explains the emergence of tribalography (p.228),

LeAnne has explained that tribalography grew out of the Native propensity to connect things together. It is the idea that Native writers often tell stories that combine autobiography, history, and fiction; we tell stories that include all these elements and also work in collaboration with the past, present, and future. …

Jill goes on to say,

These stories are not generally about finding out what really happened but are meant to teach us something and show us our place within our families, communities, nations, and the world. I found that in addition to serving as a critical lens for literary study and as a theoretical framework for cultural analysis, tribalography can also serve as an abundantly fruitful methodological approach relevant across the interdisciplinary field of American Indian studies.

I happened across Deep Routes staying with Sarah Ross and Ryan Griffis in Chicago in the autumn of 2012 (I was introduced to them by Brett Bloom when I asked him for help finding somewhere to stay in Chicago). They had just received delivery of a number of boxes from the printers. There was one on the coffee table. I picked it up and started reading. I realised it was the sequel to MidWest Radical Culture Corridor: A Call to Farms, which I had come across a few years ago. I was in Chicago for the International Sculpture Conference, but in many respects this book is better art than much of what I saw in the conference presentations.  Not only did I meet Sarah and Ryan, but also Claire and Brian Holmes who came up with the concept of Continental Drift, and is the ’embedded’ critical theorist.

We ate preserved pears from the tree in their back garden and Sarah articulated some of the stress of working as a volunteer artist in a maximum security prison on her days off from teach at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

For me the description of tribalography tallies with my experience as an associate of a practice-led research programme. Practice-led research in the arts is autobiography. It is often history (contextualising practices in relation to precedents). It moves across the past, present and future (it has been said that practice-led PhDs are ways for artists to reinvent their practices). Truth in the sense of replicable experiment is not at the heart of practice-led research. But most provocatively fiction is sometimes there too (Sophie Hope’s work Participating in the Wrong Way certainly brings ‘fictionalising’ to bear on research).

Methods, whether Pentecost’s revisiting of the Modern School movement of the early part of the last century or tribalography, positively radiate out of this volume. It is built on the experience of a creative community that exists in a particular territory. Their art is research motivated, processual and intricately interwoven at different scales and with different collaborators. Ironically this work is of global power and interest even if it is all about the Midwest.


You can order a copy here, or if you are in Scotland and we can meet, then I’ll lend you one.

Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Rural Health and Creative Community Engagement – University of the Highlands and Islands –

Posted in Arts & Health, News, Research by chrisfremantle on September 6, 2013

Just saw this on – another important development.

Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Rural Health and Creative Community Engagement – University of the Highlands and Islands –

Applications are invited for a Postdoctoral Research Fellow (PDRF), funded until June 2016, to conduct qualitative work within Highland. The work will explore the nature of the relationships between rural community life, identity, health and well-being.

The post is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council as part of a large grant in the Connected Communities Programme, led by Prof. Gareth Williams at Cardiff University. The overarching aim of the project is to establish how community representations produced through creative arts practices (e.g. storytelling, performance, visual art) can be used as forms of evidence to inform health-related policy and service development. Through analysis of existing representations of communities in literature, film etc. and the production of new community self-representations, the work will explore the relationship between ‘official’ representations of community health and well-being (e.g. in statistical data) and how communities understand and present their own health and well-being.

The project will take place across five distinct case-study communities in Wales, Scotland and England. This post will be based within the UHI Department of Diabetes and Cardiovascular Science (Inverness) and affiliated with the Centre for Rural Health (a joint research centre for UHI and the University of Aberdeen). The PDRF will be report to Dr. Sarah-Anne Munoz who is leading the remote and rural work within the larger project. The PDRF will carry out a remote and rural community case study to feed into the wider project. As one of several PDRFs appointed to the project, the successful candidate will be expected to collaborate with the other PDRFs and members of the academic team. This will involve attending team meetings throughout the UK.

The post involves a focus on understanding and gathering existing representations of a Highland community; both artistic (e.g. in literature) and formal (e.g. statistics) and then using creative engagement methods (e.g. life mapping, storytelling and deep mapping) to work with community members to generate new self-representations. This work will be in partnership with arts and health organisations/professionals.

The successful candidate will have a PhD in a health humanities area relevant to the project themes and have experience of carrying out qualitative research. Experience of using participatory and/or creative methods would be beneficial.

The closing date is Sunday 29 September 2013 and interviews will be held on 15 October 2013 in Inverness.

Professor Gavin Renwick on “working with elders” 22 August, Ayr

Posted in News, Research by chrisfremantle on August 1, 2013


ayr converses presentation/conversation

Be Strong Like Two People: Learning from the Elders of the Tlicho First Nation People in the North West Territories of Canada

Gavin Renwick, Professor and Canada Chair of Design, University of Alberta

Thursday 22 August 2013 : 6pm – 9pm : Ayr Auld Kirk Hall (Upper Hall)

Gavin Renwick, Professor and Canada Chair of Design at the University of Alberta, has spent more than ten years working with the Tlicho first nation people in the North West Territories of Canada on their land claim to the Canadian Government. Renwick was until recently Professor of Art and Policy at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee, where he continues to be a visiting professor. His role with the Tlicho has been as a cultural intermediary assisting with the articulation of the understanding of land and inhabitation of the Tlicho, who are a nomadic people.

Renwick has regularly reported on key aspects of the thinking of the Elders, particularly around their relationships with young people. In his presentation, Gavin Renwick will explore the Elders understanding of the pressures on the young. First, the need to be “strong like two people”, which is a reference to the need for young people to be both strong in their own culture and strong in western culture. The second is the need to be “modern in your own language”, which clearly sets out one way to address the first challenge.

Gavin Renwick is originally from Motherwell. He was brought up among the last generation of Lanarkshire people who worked in coal, iron and steel. He has realised projects across Europe, as well as in Turkey and Canada. His present work utilises practice-led methods that place the practitioner-researcher as a cultural intermediary between indigenous and metropolitan culture. His applied and curatorial practice aims to facilitate cultural continuity for traditional communities. For the past decade he has been working between Scotland and the Canadian Northwest Territories, most recently for the Tlicho (formerly Dogrib) Dene community of Gameti as founder and coordinator of Gameti Ko, an incorporated society directed by a board of Elders.

The presentation/conversation will be chaired by Chris Fremantle, ayr converses co-founder with Lianne Hackett.

Following the presentation and Q&A, there will be the opportunity to converse with a glass of wine or soft drink. A small collection will be made towards venue hire and refreshments.

Please confirm your attendance by Friday 16 August

Gavin Renwick’s website

Sambaa K’e Print Studio

Incubator for Northern Design and Innovation

Afternow- the future of health

Posted in Arts & Health, Research by chrisfremantle on June 10, 2013

AFTERnow is a collaborative enquiry into the impact of modern culture on health involving Professor Phil Hanlon, Dr. Sandra Carlisle, Dr. David Reilly, Dr. Andrew Lyon and Dr. Margaret Hannah. Our work was funded for six years by the National Programme for Improving Mental Health and Well-being in Scotland and supported by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health.

As the era of seemingly endless growth comes to an end, we all need to find new ways to live our daily lives. How do we redefine ‘prosperity’ in this new world? How do we imagine and then create a future that is profoundly different from the way we live today? There is a growing realisation that we all have to learn how to live with less. So what’s the answer? How should we live?

Mr Seel’s Garden and other food research

Posted in Food, Research by chrisfremantle on June 7, 2013

Research projects on food

Concerns such as food miles, climate change and unhealthy lifestyles mean that local food-growing initiatives are becoming increasingly popular. But how do you make them work in a city? Memories of Mr Seel’s Garden, an AHRC-funded project funded through Connected Communities (webpage) [link], is delving into the history of local food production in Liverpool to find out.

‘If you want to learn about food sustainability, one way of getting ideas and being inspired is by researching your area to see how people used to get their food,’ explains project lead Dr Michelle Bastian of the University of Edinburgh. ‘Finding out about the past can help us think about different possibilities for the future.’

Mr Seel’s Garden – Arts & Humanities Research Council.

Also saw this through the Cultural History group

Applications are invited for an AHRC-funded PhD working on food distribution networks between 1920 and 1975. This studentship is one of eight fully-funded awards made by the newly-established Collaborative Doctoral Partnership managed by the Science Museum Group. The project will be supervised by Colin Divall (University of York) and Ed Bartholomew (National Railway Museum, York). The studentship, which is funded for three years full-time equivalent, will begin in September 2013.

The Studentship

How and what we eat is high on public and political agenda. While the particulars are new, the underlying issues are long-standing. Industrialization of the UK’s food supply from the late-C18th enabled unprecedented levels of urbanization and population growth but destroyed local, regional and even national sources, encouraging consumption based more on price than nutritional value. Today’s globalized food-chains can deliver huge amounts of high-quality food: but they also allow unscrupulous suppliers to escape the scrutiny of national and even international regulators.

This project explores one critical shift in Britain’s food supply in the last century: the change over the roughly half-century from 1920 from a rail- to a road-based system of distribution within the UK: from port to market, from farm yard to manufacturer, town shop or supermarket. This change was perhaps not inevitable: while the railways’ inter-war battle with road hauliers reflected traditional concerns such as price, reliability and security, neither service provider was able to demonstrate a clear advantage. Hence there was considerable scope to persuade consignors; the railways’ interest in marketing passenger traffic had some purchase with regard to goods. How did the railway companies imagine, market and deliver the distribution of food between the world wars? Railway publicity suggests that the high profile given to food distribution was partly an attempt to win public and political opinion to the companies’ case for more regulatory freedom. And how did road hauliers (including own-account operators like the food retailer Sainsbury’s) respond to such initiatives before 1939? What did consumers think?

The Second World War is sometimes portrayed as a temporary period of reprieve for rail distribution before the ‘inevitable’ victory of road haulage. But this project might explore whether the war and the following decade of austerity prevented the railways acting soon enough on pre-war ideas about how to handle food. It will also complement existing studies of British Railways’ attempts to reform freight services from the 1950s by analysing the particularities of food distribution. While exogenous factors such as better lorries, state-funded improvements to roads (notably motorways) and wider changes in food retailing (especially processed foods and just-in-time deliveries to supermarkets) arguably increasingly favoured road distribution, BR continued to develop and market services targeted at food suppliers and retailers until around the mid-1970s. How did BR work with the food industry? Did Beeching-era ideas like Freightliner have any role in the motorway age? Could the railways have kept more of the bulk transport of imported foodstuffs? Did food manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers drive innovations in food distribution, or did they adapt to initiatives from the haulage industry? And how did the road and rail operators ‘sell’ their competing notions of modern food supplies to consumers and politicians?

This is chiefly a qualitative study that will draw out the connections between the imagining of food distribution systems, the politics of building food chains, and the practices of using them in the period ca 1920-75.

How to Apply

Applicants must have a good undergraduate degree in history or other relevant discipline, and should normally also hold a master’s (or equivalent) degree in an appropriate subject. A full statement of the AHRC’s criteria for academic and residency eligibility is available on the AHRC website

Applicants should submit a short curriculum vitae and a brief letter outlining both their

qualifications for the studentship and their ideas about how the research might develop. This should be in the form of a single MS Word, Open Office or PDF file no more than three pages in total, using a typeface no smaller than 11 point. The names and contact details of two academic referees should also be supplied. Applications should be sent to Colin Divall at  to arrive no later than 12.00 Wednesday 12th June 2013. Applicants should not at this stage make a formal application to the University of York.

Interviews for short-listed candidate will be held at the National Railway Museum, York, in the morning of Friday 28th June 2013.

For further information, please contact either of the project supervisors: Colin Divall or Ed Bartholomew

Provocation for ArtWorks blog

Posted in CF Writing, Research by chrisfremantle on May 11, 2013

You have in front of you a typewritten text. It could be poetry. It is an invitation to action, but not exactly an instruction. It reads:

planting a square of turf
amid grass like it

planting another
amid grass a little less green

planting four more squares
in places progressively drier

planting a square of dry turf
amid grass like it

planting another
amid grass a little less dry

planting four more squares
in places progressively greener

This is an artwork by Allan Kaprow, a score in his terminology. Kaprow wasn’t a musician, and in using the term score he was borrowing the terminology of music.

Reading the ArtWorks’ programme’s International Next Practice Review by Chrissie Tiller and in particular the Participation Spectrum proposed by the James Irvine Foundation, it strikes us that this work could operate at any point along the passive to active audience spectrum proposed. It could simply be read by an audience, or at the other end of the spectrum, made by them. A group of artists and researchers from Gray’s School of Art took this score as a starting point to make new work. We called that Calendar Variations. Were we artists or audience? Were we performing Kaprow’s score?

But what was Kaprow doing? Would he have defined his practice as participatory?

We’d like to suggest that Kaprow is breaking out of the norms of being an artist. The score was a prototype for a co-creative relationship. Kaprow authored the score, but other people played it.

Perhaps Kaprow simply thought that music benefited from having three different roles of composer, performer and audience, where in visual art there might be understood to be only artist and audience. Of course the performer could be many things: composer; professional performer, hired to perform the work; or member of the audience who goes home and performs the work themselves. Is the person who whistles the melody also more than passive audience?

But it could also be another composer who creates new work in response to the original, or a painter who makes something in another form. The more improvisational you get, the more that the role of the composer recedes and the role of the performer comes forward. Kaprow’s Calendar score is something with which to improvise. As soon as you set out to perform it, you realise that you have to interpret it.

Having done a series of projects on social practices, we have recently been working on improvisation, looking to understand the aesthetics of social practice.

Currently we are exploring participatory and co-creative practices across art, design and architecture.

Professor Paul Harris, Professor Anne Douglas and Chris Fremantle
Gray’s School of Art

This was just published as a provocation on the ArtWorks blog and is an element of a wider programme of work on participation and co-creation across art, design and architecture.

Portraying the change – evaluating 14 years’s work

Posted in Research by chrisfremantle on April 29, 2013

How can you describe a cultural programme that has extended over 14 years, 9 countries and 3,000 projects? How do you account for its outcomes, the change it may have contributed to, and the effects on culture or society?

Portraying the change.  Fascinating in depth report prepared by Francois Matarasso on the Swiss Cultural Programme in South Eastern Europe focused on participants, rather than organisers.

Two views of participatory art

Posted in Research by chrisfremantle on March 18, 2013

Eleanor Heartney’ review in Art in America provides a useful comparison of Kester and Bishop’s new books which continue the argument between these key theorists of socially engaged and participatory arts practices.

Legacies of British Slave-ownership

Posted in News, Research by chrisfremantle on March 7, 2013

UCL have just put a new database online which allows searching for owners of slaves by name and address.  So put ‘Ayrshire’ into the search field and you’ll find the addresses in Ayrshire, the Plantations in the British Carribean, Mauritius and the Cape.  The last item is a sum of money.  It’s the compensation paid to the slave owners.


Posted in Research by chrisfremantle on December 12, 2012

Billy Klüver again,

The “expertise” that artists bring to the collaboration comes directly from their experience in making art.  The artist deals with materials and physical situations in a straightforward manner without the limits of generally accepted functions of an object or situation, and without assigning a value hierarchy to any material.  The audacity of Picasso’s collages in his time, Meret Oppenheim’s surrealist objects, and Rauschenberg’s combines and cardboard pieces all illustrate this quality.  The artist makes the most efficient use of materials, and achieves the maximum effect with minimum means.  Surplus of material leads to decorative work.  The artist is sensitive to scale and how it affects the human being.  From cave drawings to Persian miniatures, cathedral frescoes, or Christo’s Running Fence, scale has been a consistent concern of the artist.  The artist is sensitive to generally unexpressed aesthetic assupltions, which are based on subjective preference masquerading as “objective,” practical, economic, or social factors.  The artist assumes total responsibility for the artwork.  The artist knows that a work is the result of personal choices: this sense of commitment and responsibility gives the artist and the work a unique quality.

Artists, Engineers, and Collaboration (published in Culture on the Brink: Ideologies of Technology, A Manifesto for Cyborgs. Bender, G. and Druckrey, T. (Eds) Dia Center for the Arts, Discussions in Contemporary Culture Number 9. Seattle: Bay Press, 1994).


Posted in Failure, Research by chrisfremantle on November 26, 2012

I’ve started adding examples of failure into my blog. I’ve tried to put them into the blog at the time they happened. This will probably mean that there is a clump retrofitted into the time before I started actually keeping the blog. And to be honest I’m not going to be able to put anything that’s going on right now that might constitute failure for obvious reasons, so this will be a backwards looking exercise.

The first I put in is a misunderstanding from the late 90s. I was running SSW and trying to learn about artists working in the landscape. I was picking up on references to John Latham and his work in Scotland. I had heard that it had something to do with the bings of West Lothian. So I was down, probably visiting with relatives and went looking. I came across the Five Sisters near a now defunct retail park. I took a load of pictures. I thought at the time John Latham was an important largely unknown British land artist in the American sense. I thought he had literally shaped this monumental earthwork. It took a while for me to understand what was really going on. I did write about that a while ago here.

I think this is typical for me. Often I’ll misunderstand something to start with, and it will take a while for me to get it the right way around, sort out what’s important.  Interestingly Johan Siebers recently highlighted the Slow Science movement and in their manifesto they say,

We do need time to think. We do need time to digest. We do need time to mis­understand each other, especially when fostering lost dialogue between humanities and natural sciences. We cannot continuously tell you what our science means; what it will be good for; because we simply don’t know yet. Science needs time.

The next example is a piece I was asked to write as an introduction to a catalogue. This would be around 2001. The catalogue was for the exhibition Common Place at The Lighthouse in Glasgow. I was living and working up in the North East of Scotland and I got completely obssessed by farm bothies, bothy ballads, Bob Dylan and the way that these were connected. I wrote the piece. It definitely wasn’t what was wanted. There is a model for writing an introduction to an exhibition catalogue and I missed that model completely. It’s taken me a very long time to work out that models are important. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. I like starting with a blank sheet of paper. Not everyone else does.  You can read it here.

This brings me onto another failure – if being made redundant from a local authority is a failure (could it actually be a badge of success?). Before I went freelance I worked as the Arts Links Officer for South Ayrshire Council. They made me redundant at the end of the contract in 2006. I went freelance and have not looked back. Even in South Ayrshire, where I still live, I think I’ve achieved more since than I ever did during. But I do think there was a conceptual failure on my part. I don’t think I understood that I was simply there to deliver on existing models. What I should have been doing was networking with other Links Officers to find out what was being done in other Local Authorities across Scotland and simply bring those programmes to South Ayrshire. I was doing some of that, but I was always looking to make it distinctive, specific to that place.

Another much earlier failure, again at SSW, was not managing to deliver the tenth edition of the Scottish Sculpture Open. That should have opened in 1999 in early July. I had a number of meetings with SSW Board members and we discussed and or approached a couple of people to be guest artists (I remember Martin Puryear and John David Mooney). I remember writing to Puryear and sending him some images of Kildrummy Castle. He didn’t want to do it. The Sculpture Open had been done on a shoe string in the past and we had, with the ninth edition, tried to do it properly with at least some fees and production expenses. It has to be said that there were a few other things going on at the time, but essentially I definitely failed to keep the programme going.

So why put examples of failure into my blog? Failure is something we don’t talk about enough. There is Beckett’s brilliant quote,

Ever tried.
Ever failed.
No matter.
Try Again.
Fail again.
Fail better.

Samuel Beckett

Failure is about taking risks. There seems to be a bigger and bigger gap between the public sector and the private sector in terms of risks. It is talked about a bit in terms of design and innovation – fail fast, fail frequently. On the other side the requirements in the public sector for clear identification of outputs, outcomes and risk assessments are all limiting the bureaucratic exposure to risk and pushing it onto individuals and organisations.

Working with staff at Gray’s School of Art on a research residency last year we discussed failure a lot. The staff highlighted how difficult it is to promote failure as an important way of working for art school students. All the staff were quite happy to talk about failure in their own practice. Most said that failure was a more common experience than success. No one had any problem talking about failure.

But they described the situation where students need to be prepared to make works that fail, but they are constantly worried about grading and being failed. How can you develop a practice that has a healthy relationship with failure if the structure you are working in constantly threatens you with failing the course?

Failure is about learning. By listing failures I am also listing things I have learnt from (or should have learnt from). Talking to Chris Hewson from Manchester School of Architecture, who’s doing research into multi-faith spaces, he said that the Planner on the research team is always wanting to visit spaces that don’t work, rather than the ones that are exemplary. He says you learn more. People can tell you exactly why spaces don’t work, but find it more difficult to explain why things do work.

There are some good books on failure:

Antebi, N., Dickey, C., Herbst, R. (Eds). (2007). Failure! Experiments in Aesthetics and Social Practices.  Los Angeles, CA : The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press. accessed 26 November 2012.

Hope, S. (2011).  Participating the Wrong Way: Four Experiments by Sophie Hope.  London: Cultural Democracy Editions. accessed 26 November 2012.

Le Feuvre, L. (ed).  (2010).  Failure (Documents of Contemporary Art).  London: Whitechapel Art Gallery.

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Northern Perspectives Arctic Art Education and Arts Based Research methods

Posted in Research by chrisfremantle on September 14, 2012

Professors Timo Jokela & Glen Coutts, University of Lapland will be speaking at Northern Perspectives: Arctic Art Education and Arts-based Research Methods at this UWS seminar 2-4pm Saturday 22nd September at the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow.  Alison Bell and I are respondents

First people (not cars)

Posted in News, Research, Sited work by chrisfremantle on September 8, 2012

Yesterday evening at the annual Patrick Geddes Commemorative Lecture the audience was charmed into seeing the world a different way and recognising our own failures in the process.  The lecture was given by Jan Gehl, an internationally acknowledged champion of urban quality focused on and driven by people and their well-being (rather than cars or egos).

In fact his critique of architects represented them as people who looked at the world from 3 kilometres up and dropped buildings into skylines.  His counter was that the skyline was not as important as the way that the building meets the ground.  In the analysis he offered us of Edinburgh, the topography and skyline are excellent, but the point where you move the human eye level you see the disaster.

His critique of traffic engineers was equally damning.  In his analysis the past 50 years have been dominated by the motor car at the expense of everyone and everything else.  In 2012 we need to make prioritising the car in public as unacceptable as smoking – that’s the level of challenge in effect Gehl was suggesting.

So much is true and in so many ways self evident, but the full ramifications of the analysis are wider and more comprehensive than you might think.  For instance, having a Department of Walking, Cycling and Transport?  Having the driver press the button at the junction to get permission to cross, rather than the pedestrian?  Having newspaper articles about bicycle congestion and demands for wider bicycle lanes?

What was a shame was that there were only a couple of artists in the room (lots of architects and obviously a majority of urban planners), but I didn’t see people who really ought to have been there – no-one from the VeloCity programme for Glasgow, no-one from Ayr Renaissance, and I didn’t recognise anyone from the health sector.

There was a really interesting question at the end.  The individual noted that Gehl had not used the word design once in his presentation.  The questioner contrasted this with the Scottish Government’s consultation on a new Policy on Architecture and Place-making.  Gehl basically said that he did two things.  He (and his practice) worked on “programmes and Strategies” and these set the tasks for the designers.  He (particularly in his academic life) worked on the in depth understanding of people and their experiences in public spaces.  These two obviously complement each other, but in essence he is ‘bracketing’ the designers – by evaluating (and that was his word) what works and what doesn’t, and then inscribing it into Programmes and Strategies, he is driving the design agenda.

For me this demonstrated an important articulation of the value of operating between the academic and the practice, as well as everything else he said.  It all seems so obvious when Gehl says it, but then you look around.

Maybe his books should be mandatory reading not only on urban planning programmes?

Collaborate Creatively

Posted in News, Research by chrisfremantle on August 28, 2012

Workshop in association with World Event for Young Artists (WEYA) and a-n.

Nottingham, 12-3pm, 13th September 2012 open to participants in the WEYA event.


Drawing on his text for a-n Reflections on Collaboration, Chris Fremantle will explore with guest artists the principles and approaches to creating great collaborative relationships amongst artists and into other disciplines and contexts. Includes informal and facilitated discussion exploring how artists can realise their ambitions and a hands-on workshop highlighting contexts for innovation and guiding good practice.

Collaboration is one of those hot topics.  Missions, Models, Money have had a whole stream of work around the issue over the past few years, Grant Kester‘s new book The One and the Many theorises the subject, and a-n has been tagging articles as ‘Collaborative Relationships‘ for about five years.

Making Policy Public – MAS CONTEXT

Posted in News, Research, Sited work, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on July 18, 2012

Vendor Power, Copyright Kevin Noble for CUP

The Center for Urban Pedagogy‘s Making Policy Public series is a standout project engaging marginalised interest groups with designers and communities.  MAS Context provides and overview of the series here.  Its a good description, though it doesn’t offer a critical commentary.

New Growth Walking from Renton to Kilmahew, 9 June 2012

Posted in News, Research by chrisfremantle on June 9, 2012

Funded PhD Opportunities

Posted in News, Research by chrisfremantle on March 19, 2012

3 PhD Studentships (Reference IDEAS 12)
Grays School of Art, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen
IDEAS Research Institute for Innovation, Design And Sustainability

Closing Date: 9th April 2012

Applications are invited from excellent candidates for PhD studentships in the IDEAS Research Institute at The Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. IDEAS is a multi-disciplinary research centre encompassing the disciplines of Architecture & Built Environment, Art & Design, Computing, Engineering and Environmental Science.

Theme: Creativity, Design & Innovation

Art in the Public Sphere: The Case of Feminist Manifestos

This PhD project will creatively contribute to the artistic and theoretical exploration of the unique interweaving of politics and poetics in this still under-researched genre of revolutionary discourse, the manifesto. The project will specifically address the contribution of visual art practice associated with second-wave and later feminist movements, focusing on lesser known British feminist manifestos produced in and since second-wave feminism, through the study of anthologised documents but also through archival research in libraries and special collections. One of the project’s aims is to not simply discover but also uncover feminist manifestos in unexpected forms and locations, in corroboration of the thesis that certain works of art, as well as the familiar written proclamations, may be considered as manifestos thanks to their reception, function and interpretation.

Dr Alexandra Kokoli: +44 (0)1224 263692,

Cultural Leadership, its role, processes and implications for cultural development

Applications are invited for a 3 year PhD to explore cultural leadership as a practice and its implications for social, cultural and economic development in a local and global context. Cultural leadership has emerged as a need that is sharply focused in particular in the fields of art and design. We do not sufficiently understand the practice of cultural leadership as it relates to art and design practices in particular in relation to coping with rapid change and increased levels of self organisation. This research will build on the AHRC funded Artist as Leader project (2006-8) initially mining this archive of 32+ in depth interviews with cultural leaders in Britain. The research will result in a framework for cultural leadership in Scotland that is informed by its rural culture. This research is timely because of the local initiatives in cultural development (City Gardens Project, related application for City of Culture 2017, national review of cultural delivery agencies, and emergence of new regional, lead cultural body: AB+).

The successful candidate will meet RGU’s criteria for eligibility and be able to demonstrate the potential to develop advanced research skills. They should hold a Master’s degree in Fine Art/Design, Art/Design History, Critical/Cultural Theory, or equivalent practice or policy experience. In the case of a practicing artist/designer or arts administrator, some experience in practice-led research would be an advantage. The prospective student should be highly self-motivated and have a keen and imaginative critical interest in the arts in contemporary life.

Professor Anne Douglas: +44 (0)1224 263647,

Smart Textiles for Health and Wellbeing

Technologically enhanced textiles can respond to a range of physical and psychological health barriers, which have the potential to transform lifestyles. Smart textiles can help manage body temperature, incorporate antimicrobial properties, provide insulation, breathability, compression, re-shaping, moisture absorption, articulation enabling mobility, constrain movement and improve circulation. Current textile products designed for medical application often do not provide satisfactory solutions because they don’t address the full range of an individual’s needs, which includes both the physical and the psychological. In recent years a number of technical innovations have shown potential but have not been successfully applied to provide solutions that meet the needs of individuals. Current products are related to monitoring health rather than providing a more interactive system that builds a stronger connection with the wearer, which are both responsive and adaptive and take into account an individual’s emotional needs.

We are looking for a design graduate with technical expertise to undertake a PhD programme of research with the aim of understanding how textile and clothing solutions can be designed to improve the quality of life for individuals experiencing long-term medical conditions, which have a direct impact on their mobility, self-esteem and wellbeing. Through the application of advanced technology and design, this project seeks to explore new wearable smart clothing concepts with direct relevance to a range of mobility related health issues. The project will investigate a range of new technologies from micro-scale computing (speckled) to combined laser scanning and laser cutting, and new materials in order to develop advanced clothing concepts that can be used to alleviate the effects of long term debilitating conditions.

The project is suitable for someone with a first degree in product or textile and/or fashion design. They should also have some basic knowledge of materials science and computer based technologies.

This PhD research programme builds on the current work of the Molecular Imprinted Textiles (MIT) group (a project funded by the Scottish Academy of Fashion), a Scottish Govt funded project ‘Future Textile Visions’ (FTV) and an AHRC network application currently awaiting decision. The project will be headed by Josie Steed, Course Director for Fashion and Textiles, and Julian Malins, Professor of Design at Gray’s School of Art.

Josie Steed: +44 1224 263678,

Candidates for the studentship must have a high quality Honours Degree (preferably a First Class) or a Masters qualification (or equivalent) in a relevant discipline. Each studentship provides full university fees for UK/EU applicants and a tax-free maintenance allowance of £13,590 per annum for 3 years. Additional fee support may be available to students who are not UK/EU residents and who would normally be required to pay the full overseas postgraduate fee. The studentships start on 1 October 2012.

Applicants should Apply Online at When applying, please click on advertised studentships and select IDEAS 12.

For further information on research at Robert Gordon University and in the IDEAS Research Institute, please see:

Informal enquiries may be addressed to potential supervisors or to the IDEAS Graduate School Leader, Professor Linda Lawton, + 44 (0)1224 262823/262473, email

Four Funded PhD Opportunities

Posted in News, Research by chrisfremantle on March 4, 2012

Tim Collins, Acting Head of Research, recently announced that Glasgow School of Art hasa number of studentships on offer.

There are two Studentships within the School of Fine Art.

Areas of focus could include:

Society and Environmental Art
Prof Timothy Collins [
Additional supervisors include artists Ross Sinclair and Sue Brind, Justin Carter, and Clara Ursitti as well as Dr Ken Neil.

Art and Curatorial Practices
Dr Frances Mckee (}
Additional supervisors offering support in these areas include critics, artists and curators such as John Calcutt, Dr Ross Birrell and Dr Sarah Lowndes.

Photography, Painting
Prof Roger Wilson []
Additional supervisors include artists Prof Thomas Joshua Cooper, Dr Nicky Bird, and Stephanie Smith.

We have one studentship in the School of Design.

Areas of focus could include:

Design and Innovation
Prof Irene McAra McWilliam (
Additional supervisors offering support include designers Jimmy Stephen-Cran and Paul Stickley, Dr Gordon Hush and Dr Ben Craven.

Design for Health and Care
Prof Alastair Macdonald (
Additional supervisors includes Dr Paul Chapman, and Dr David Loudon, there is also co-support available in the MEARU research unit.

We have one studentship in the Mackintosh School of Architecture

Areas of focus could include:

Place, Memory and Practice
Prof Chris Platt (
Additional supervisors include Prof Brian Evans, Prof Thomas Maver, Dr Robert Proctor, Sally Stewart and Prof Florian Urban.

Mackintosh Environmental Architecture Research Unit
Reader Tim Sharpe (
Additional supervisors include Dr Masa Noguchi Dr. Filbert Musau and Dr Raid Hanna.

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