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,

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

Yes, Everyone Can Be Stupid for a Minute –

Posted in Failure, Texts by chrisfremantle on June 7, 2015

This Corner Office interview with a silicon valley tech CEO has stayed with me for a long time. Basically he reckons everyone says something stupid in a meeting occasionally and this guy has a rule that you can say – That thing I just said was stupid. Let’s move on. Otherwise politics kicks in, people defend their positions, etc.  He’s also good on teams.  Worth having a look at some of the other Corner Office interviews too.

imagivation –

Posted in Civics, Texts by chrisfremantle on June 3, 2015

Andrew Ormston recently blogged on the two types of innovation and the need for a theory of innovation that is more than just positivistic is very provocative.  It resonates with Elizabeth Hallam and Tim Ingold’s observation that innovation can only be identified in retrospect, and that in the ‘now’ we are actually improvising.  It also resonates with the work of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, who for 50 years have been making works about places.  They say,

We hold that every place is telling the story of its own becoming, which is another way of saying that it is continually creating its own history and we join that conversation of place.

All of this requires at least a concept of ‘responsible innovation’ if not a much deeper discussion of the stories we want to tell of our futures.  Andrew’s blog is here: imagivation –

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.

What have I read?

Posted in News, Texts by chrisfremantle on March 31, 2014

Townley and Bradby's publication for the Turf Twinning Project (2012-2013)

Townley and Bradby’s publication for the Turf Twinning Project (2012-2013)

I met Townley and Bradby at a Collaborate Creatively seminar at firstsite in Colchester, part of a-n’s Granted! programme.  They were Associate Artists with firstsite working on social practice projects.  One of the projects they presented was Turf Twinning, and they just sent me the publication. Jonathan P Watts’ excellent essay, Six Cuts, takes us on a journey that encompasses Durer and Haacke as well as Nash to position Turf Twinning in a longer field of practice.  The publication should be available from firstsite.

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.


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.

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.

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.

New Economics for Artists

Posted in CV, News, Texts by chrisfremantle on July 1, 2013

Harry Giles’ excellent twenty (?) questions on the cultural economy in relation to its own inconsistencies and in relation to certain other economics that we all might have experienced (4 months working for London Electricity in their call centre in Victoria in about 1990-1; 6 months working as an outdoor clerk for a firm of solicitors; 4 years working as an amanuensis for a paraplegic philosophy professor whilst at University; 10 weeks as an unpaid intern at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York one summer during University).

Harry Josephine Giles

I wrote this brain-dump for Andy Field, who was asked to prepare a presentation on “how artists can think about new financial models for themselves and for audiences”. He collected 150 bits of advice, sold them for £1 each, and used the proceeds to pay a violinist to play music for the length of the presentation: hurrah for the meeting of form and content! I keep attempting to write something long and thoughtful on art and money and how it all fits together, or maybe organise a conference about it, or a piece of action-research, or… well, none of that has happened yet. Maybe it will. In the mean time, two very nice people recently reminded me that I’d written this, so I reread it, and it turns out I’d already said most of the things I’ve been thinking about. So here it is. it’s a start, anyway.


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I woz here

Posted in CF Writing by chrisfremantle on June 10, 2013

Susan T Grant asked me to do a bit of writing for one of the publications following her residency in Dalkeith and the associated exhibition at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop.

My text is on the I woz here project website here.  I didn’t put footnotes in, but if you are interested in participatory practices and town artists, you might like to read David Harding’s piece on Town Artists here, and the Artworks Scotland programme here.

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.

What have I been reading?

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on March 28, 2013

Imagining Possibilities Conference | Public Art Scotland

Posted in CF Writing by chrisfremantle on March 11, 2013

This piece just went out on Public Art Scotland,

This Participation was the focus of the Imagining Possibilities conference at the University of the West of Scotland, but the conference is only a manifestation of a wider concern.  The conference is part of the Remaking Communities project funded as part of Connected Communities.  The Connected Communities programme embraces all the Research Funding Councils in a broad alliance to engage communities and thus increase impact.  The Paul Hamlyn Foundation is currently funding four strands of the ArtWorks programme, including one in Scotland.  The Scottish Government is currently working its way through a new bill on Community Empowerment and Renewal and the Westminster Government has already legislated on ‘localism’.  All of these programmes put community participation at the heart of, respectively, academic research, arts practice and local democracy.

continues in Public Art Scotland news…

The Essential Monument Pt. 1 | Public Art Scotland

Posted in CF Writing by chrisfremantle on February 24, 2013

First part of a report on The Essential Conference in Edinburgh,

“I feel uncomfortable with the term public art, because I’m not sure what it means. If it means what I think it does, then I don’t do it. I’m not crazy about categories.”  Barbara Kruger

Working artists and curators don’t tend to talk about monuments as part of the contemporary public art. Not sure they’d be considered essential. The recent conference, The Essential Monument, held at the Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh (8th February 2013), proved everyone wrong. The provocation clearly worked.

Before talking about the conference I need to say that the new monument to Patrick Geddes installed in the Garden of Sandeman House is one of the finest pieces of sculpture I’ve seen in a long time.

continue reading on Public Art Scotland …

Who is he?

Posted in CF Writing by chrisfremantle on January 7, 2013

Cullen House 16th Century tempura painted ceiling (detail of Mercury) used by Fremantle

Cullen House 16th Century tempura painted ceiling (detail of Mercury)

I use this image (or an even smaller crop) , rather than a photograph of myself, when asked for one by websites.

It is the figure of Mercury from the Scottish Renaissance tempura painted ceiling in Cullen House, Aberdeenshire.  Sadly it was destroyed by fire in the late 80s.  If you are looking for more information on the Cullen House ceiling get hold of a copy of ‘Celestial Ceiling’, the publication of the On The Edge Research project.  The book documents the process of remaking the lost ceiling as a digital projection, and commissioning Robert Orchardson to make a new painted ceiling for the house.

What am I reading?

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on July 22, 2012

Frederick Huth Jackson’s Diary

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on June 26, 2012

Frederick Huth Jackson (1863-1921)

Frederick Huth Jackson kept a diary of his visit to New Zealand in 1883-84.  Frederick Huth Jackson Diary 1883 lo res.

He was aged 20 at the time.

The first half survives, and was transcribed by Richard Fremantle in the early 70s.  This covers his own journey to New Zealand on the SS Ionic and his travels through the North and South Islands.  The second half, describing his time escorting Baron Hübner, is sadly missing.

Occupy Museums: MoMA

Posted in News, Texts by chrisfremantle on January 22, 2012

Occupy Museums meeting beneath Sanja Iveković's "Lady Rosa of Luxembourg" -

Professors, Artists, Workers, and Activists Rally Inside MoMA.

So the question is, are museums part of the problem?  What is the problem?

The problem is social and environmental justice.  The problem is massively complex and multi-facetted.   The problem is multi- trans- and inter-disciplinary.  The problem is simple: it’s the financialisation of everything from the value of bees to the value of education, from culture as gentrification to the environmental externalties (the unquantified  impacts, ironically the one thing that needs financialised).  It’s so complex that it cannot be summarised into one or two sound-bites.

As Brian Holmes’ said in his post ‘Culture Beyond Oil‘,

The secret is out: less than 1 percent of our planet’s population is destroying our world for their profit.

So why are museums part of the problem?  and for museums read major arts and cultural organisations.

There are at least a couple of  issues:

One is about the ‘career structure’ of the artworld where a lot of people work for free or minimum wage  (in their studios or communities or wherever) and a few people become incredibly rich (sometimes the artists, always the dealers). The Scottish Artists Union worked with the Scottish Arts Council and the resulting report showed that a very significant proportion of visual artists make almost no money from their work and have to support their practice from other work.  The economy of the visual arts is very challenging and individual artists have always been some of the most precarious workers.

Another is the increasing corporate involvement in the arts – this has always been a factor in the US and the Art Workers Coalition campaigned on this issue forty years ago.  In the UK it was significantly encouraged under the Thatcher government.  One of the effective lines of critique is offered by PLATFORM with their challenge to BP’s funding of the Tate (as well as other cultural ‘majors’).  They argue that this is a form of social license to operate.  They need many different forms of legal licenses to operate, but they also need social permission.  Cultural organisations, especially the large ones like Tate Britain and the Portrait Awards, are very effective means to demonstrate good corporate citizenship.  Good corporate citizenship is not just judged on the funding of cultural majors, it is also a question of actual citizenship across the world.

Art and Occupation

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on December 14, 2011

The Arts of Occupation | The Nation.  Intelligent analysis of arts in Occupy Wall Street addressing the complexity of the issue, including art interventions, the aesthetic tactics of the movement, alliances with radical arts practices, and the work on art and labor that forms part of the occupy ‘enquiry’ into the relationship between the 1% and the 99%.

Art is not simply at the service of occupy, illustrating demands, but it is also not autonomous and ambiguous in relation to occupy.  Rather it forms part of the tactics and challenge.

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Occupy Theory – texts on the theory and strategy of occupation

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on December 12, 2011
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What art have I seen? AHM State of Play

Posted in Exhibitions, Sited work, Texts by chrisfremantle on October 1, 2011

Ruth Ewan’s Brank & Heckle at Dundee Contemporary Arts.

There for the AHM State of Play symposium.  Ross Sinclair’s rant by audio/powerpoint was very refreshing, Jean Urquhart MSP deserved a standing ovation and perhaps hit the nail on the head.  The Manifestos were really good, especially Tara Beall’s.

Once again, and precisely because there was no policy agenda being promoted, one must think hard to understand the point.  Most conferences are organised by bureaucracies seeking to promulgate their policy initiatives and secure adoption by practitioners.  Conferences organised by practitioners tend to complicate and agitate.

So what were AHM attempting to complicate and agitate?  The simple answer might be in Jean Urquhart MSP’s talk which ended with an invitation or a challenge for the artists to engage more directly with the political – get stuck in, get into the Parliament, get political, stop talking the talk and start walking the walk.

And this is probably true, although perhaps the ambition for AHM was more subtle and demonstrated through the one-minute manifestos.  These were a platform for artists (in the broad sense) to articulate something, frankly anything, that they felt it was important to say.  Over the three events, some were political, some humorous, some dadaist, some demonstrated their point through their form.

My manifesto was intended to set out what I think is important in doing what I do.  I was glad to be able to be part of another two manifestos (in the end).  I was part of Tim Collins Anthropocene Evolution Alliance and on the day I found myself being part of Tara Beall’s multivocal performance.

We all have stuff to say and we all believe that it matters.

AHM’s State of Play, Dundee

Posted in News, Texts by chrisfremantle on September 29, 2011

AHM‘s final State of Play event takes place in Dundee on Saturday 1 October.

As with previous events it will include a number of ‘One Minute Manifestos’.  One of these has emerged through a collective process of writing initiated by Tim Collins and contributed to by a number of participants in the Values of Environmental Writing programme at Glasgow University.

Tim has asked me to post the manifesto and authorship, and to encourage anyone who broadly supports the manifesto, and is at the State of Play symposium, to come forward and share in the speaking of the manifesto.

“Who are we? Though the origins of this manifesto are the Values of Environmental Research Network conversations, this document is inclusive of all those who feel that the arts and humanities have a vital role in the effort to mitigate and prevent environmental damage.”

The Anthropo-scene Evolution

2011 saw the culmination of avarice that necessitates naming the human impact on all earthly things. In response we wish to reject humanity’s supposed dominion over nature and to take responsibility for wilful and excessive impact. Our intention is to constitute greater empathy between the world’s free-living things. As creative pragmatists committed to producing practical wisdom, we recognise a loss of humility and seek to reengage the aesthetic and the sublime, which provide interface and witness to spirit on earth. Cultural responses to the anthropo-scene realize that there are opportunities embedded in new constraints; but more importantly there is generative force amongst living things that must be engaged anew. We experiment with a new materialism and aim for new metaphysical purpose for the arts and humanities within the public domain.


Draft1 scribed by Tim Collins (TC) with Reiko Goto, 18 June 2011, subsequently edited by Tom Bristow and Chris Maughan, with comments and encouragement from Aaron Franks and Chris Fremantle (CF). The AHM ‘State of Play in Scotland’ submission was initiated by CF. TC offered the first rough draft with proper word editing by Aaron Franks and Rachel Harkness, followed by strategic refinement by Rhian Williams, Kate Foster, Alistair McIntosh and Owain Jones. The full manifesto is a result of discussion that occurred on 17 June, 2011 with Aaron Franks, Owain Jones, Chris Maughan, Mike Robinson and Karen Syse. Tom Bristow and the ‘frog team’ were present in spirit if not in material form. The work was inspired and energized by presentations and dialogue with Alistair McIntosh and Gareth Evans all set within the wider context of the AHRC supported Values of Environmental Writing Network, organized by Hayden Lorimer, Alex Benchimol and Rhian Williams (2011).



Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on September 13, 2011

Fascinating rumination and art historical contextualisation by David Levi-Strauss published in The Brooklyn Rail on the relationship between Joseph Beuys and the Twin Towers drawing out the meanings of his remaking in the postcard (below).

Levi-Strauss shows how Beuys transforms the architecture from the symbol of global capital into something quite different by transmuting steel and glass into butter and by applying the names of two healing saints (Cosmas and Damian) he superimposes a different mythology.

Thanks to Linda Weintraub for highlighting this really provocative piece.


Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on September 10, 2011

Rebecca Solnit writes about blue the way that Donald Urquhart paints blue.

Rebecca Solnit has been doing a residency at Roni Horn’s Library of Water at Stykkishólmur, Iceland.  One of the published pieces, The Blue of Distance, is all about mountains, Renaissance painting, distance.

Donald Urquhart talks about the blue of a perfectly clear day.  He makes it into art: paintings, sculptures, places.

Donald Urquhart, Sea Beams, Oak and paint, 2007

Fear and Loathing in the West Highlands Pt 2

Posted in CF Writing, Research, Texts by chrisfremantle on August 29, 2011

The Water of Life, a Spirit Not to be Exorcised, Lonely Piper, 2006


“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro”

This is the infamous advice contained in Fear and Loathing at the Superbowl, and this seems to be another very apt quote to attach to some further thoughts on Nemeton by Norman Shaw, awarded his PhD in 2003.

What is Nemeton? There is a lot of psycho-geography around at the moment (Sinclair, Self, Sebald) and a lot of nature writing (MacFarlane, Mabey and perhaps also Monbiot and McKibben). Nemeton isn’t either exactly. Psycho-geography is usually defined as the exploring the emotional and psychological impacts of geography, about ways of exploring the urban landscape, about rediscovering somewhere and introducing its idiosyncrasies to others. Nemeton is not in the mode of rediscovery, although the knowledge is in some respects lost. Nor is Nemeton concerned with the urban. Rather this is a landscape that is known and inhabited, even if Shaw is transgressing what might be regarded as the perceived norms of communities in the Highlands (although Scotland has regularly been a place where transgressive communities can find refuge under the radar, on the periphery). But Nemeton does explore the emotional and psychological, in particular in relation to the spiritual. Nor is Nemeton nature writing exactly. It’s not a celebration of nature. Rather its a celebration of the specific spiritual dimension of the West Highland landscape.

“It was dangerous lunacy, but it was also the kind of thing a real connoisseur of edge-work could make an argument for.” (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, p.80)

Edge-work is a term coined in Fear and Loathing. It captures the spirit of transgression that applies equally to both texts. The edge in question isn’t just the edge of consciousness, it’s also the edge of art, the edge of social acceptability, the edge of sanity, as well as working along the edge of what most people have experienced and then diving into spaces that they haven’t. Many people have been to Calanais, not many to the other stone circles, let alone carrying an electric guitar, modified amplifier, etc. seeking to capture the energies in the stones.

Just as Raoul Duke is searching for the American Dream in the hotels and conferences of Las Vegas,

“Let me explain it to you, let me run it down just briefly if I can… Well, we’re looking for the American Dream, and we were told it was somewhere in this area…. Well, we’re here looking for it, ’cause they sent us out here all the way from San Francisco to look for it. That’s why they gave us this white Cadillac, they figure that we could catch up with it in that…” (ibid, 164).

The Lonely Piper is looking for the Dreamworld or Otherworld of the West Highlands, the strange alternate universe of the faeries, of the mother….

The tour involved visits to selected nemetons in the Highlands, the fruits of which constitute the material gathered together in this publication. … As the project developed through accumulated visits and collaborations, a range of sub-themes emerged. Chance encounters during particular collaborations resulted in unforeseen iconoclasms and subversions, the direct result of unplanned happenstances and contingencies. These tangential developments were welcomed, and expanded upon, looping back into the main themes. (Nemeton, p.8)

Nemeton starts with an argument that magic mushrooms must have been used by the Celtic bardic culture to access the dreamworld and enter the faerie land under the faerie hills,

In my mind I was right back there in the doctor’s garden. Not on the surface, but underneath – poking up through that finely cultivated earth like some kind of mutant mushroom.” (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, p.65)

Talk about a trip… this is gonzo research.

Fear and Loathing in the West Highlands

Posted in News, Texts by chrisfremantle on June 20, 2011

Norman Shaw’s Nemeton lives up to Alastair McIntosh’s stated approach to writing, “In the absence of 300 micrograms of LSD, how can I trip them out?”

This is gonzo academic writing at its best: faeries, faerie hills (a nemeton is a sacred space in the ancient Celtic religion), second sight, Ossian, standing stones (Callanish in particular), Masons, shit socks, Psilocybin (magic) mushrooms, hazel nuts, the nuts of knowledge, salmon, poaching, patrols for poachers, Christianity, damnation, the second coming, the Jacobites, superquarries, peat, and of course Beuys.

Shaw documents visually and in text a series of journeys to explore specific nemetons, sites in the West Highlands where our world and the dream- or otherworld are connected. These journeys are deeper explorations of previous experiences: Shaw, a son of the Manse, grew up in Lewis and Dingwall amongst other Highland communities. Revisiting sites with the specific objective of researching their existence as meeting points brings him into contact with everyday Highland life as well as with the other world. Cycling, driving and walking through the Highlands in the heat and the rain, in fog and on clear days, sometimes in company and sometimes alone, the journeys are psychological as well as physical explorations.

Nemeton is a rumination on the nature of reality, West Highland reality, which is distinct from other realities, just as Hunter S Thompson’s West Coast reality is an alternate reality. Just imagine three cycles dumped outside a café in a community hall on Harris.

“My bike has a crucifix for handlebars, with a wooden Christ having from it. His legs form the two forks holding the front wheel. Thus Jesus forms a kind of figurehead for the trip. Roineval will be our Holy Mountain, our Calvary. The bike becomes our cross to bear, dragging it round the roads of Harris, whilst simultaneously being steered by Christ, whose humiliation haunts the moors and glens of the Hebrides – a voice crying in the wilderness. A fine twelve-pointed pair of red deer stag’s antlers form Eddie’s handlebars. The deer is a symbol of time and a symbol of love. Time the deer is in the wood… It also symbolises the surplus of deer that roam the sporting estates of the post-clearance highlands; or the horned god Cerrunos, hermes trismegistus – often depicted as Moses with horns (as in Roslin chapel, for instance). Lee’s bicycle is steered by the skull and jawbones of a basking shark. His bike is an appeal to the maritime history of this place, of fish-based economies and a hearkening back to old Atlantis or even Tir Nan Og.” (p.100).

Shaw makes a compelling argument that our post-modern imaginary, breaking down assumptions about cause and effect, disrupting the linear narrative, exploring the circular, is fundamentally more suited to developing an understanding of dimensions beyond those accessible to the sciences of physics and imperial(ist) histories.

There are contributions from others including Murdo Macdonald, the Professor of History of Scottish Art at the University of Dundee as well as the artists Eddie Summerton, Lee O’Connor and Tommy Crooks.

At the heart of this book is a rumination on nature and the spiritual. Shaw belongs in the long lineage of researchers into the otherworld or dreamworld of the Scottish Highlands. What is distinctive about this research, done in the context of contemporary visual arts (as broad as that method can be), is the acceptance of the participation of the researcher in the world. Other texts describe things learnt or things found. This text shares experiences of the research. In this text the spiritual is not other, studied objectively, but rather immanent, studied subjectively. The altered states of this text confront head on the haptic, the liminal, and the full complexity of the Highlands: damnation at the second coming, the schadenfreude of village life where failure  eviscerates incomers. Fear is visceral.

Why this book is self-published I cannot for the life of me understand, but you can get a copy direct from the author email or write to 2 Inzievar Courtyard, Inzievar Woods, Dunfermline, Fife, KY12 8HB.

Dr Norman Shaw

Born in 1970, grew up in the Highlands.

MA (Hons) in Fine Art, University of Edinburgh (1993)

MPhil in Art History, Edinburgh College of Art (1994)

MFA in painting, Edinburgh College of Art (1996).

PhD in Fine Art, University of Dundee (2004)

Taught Art History and Fine Art at Edinburgh College of Art and the University of Edinburgh, before lecturing at the University of Dundee.

Exhibits widely in group and solo exhibitions, nationally and internationally. Outputs include drawing and painting, printmaking, writing, sound, video.

Exhibitions include ‘Window to the West’ (City Art Centre, 2010), ‘Prints of Darkness’ (Edinburgh Printmakers, 2010 (touring)), ‘Highland’ (RSA, 2007), ‘The Great Book of Gaelic’ (An Lanntair, Stornoway, 2002 (touring)), ‘Calanais’ (An Lanntair,1996 (touring)).

Research and practice is multi-disciplinary and polymorphic. Major source is the Scottish Highland landscape; its natural and unnatural histories, mythologies, mysticisms and psychogeologies; tempered by a unique visionary iconography which draws on an expansive range of influences.

Visual research ranges from drawing and painting to printmaking and installation. Influences and obsessions range from prehistoric megalithic culture and Pictish art to early medieval British insular art; and from the early northern renaissance to the northern romantic tradition; William Blake, the Celtic revival, surrealism, neo-romanticism, psychedelia, and occult, subversive and ‘outsider’ art, marginal, alternative and hidden histories. Draws heavily on music-related artforms such as record covers and paraphernalia.

Gil Scott-Heron / Graham’s post

Posted in News, Texts by chrisfremantle on June 10, 2011

Graham Jeffrey also posted in response to the news that Gil Scott-Heron had died – he found some great film, which as he says, demonstrates the man’s greatness.

Creativity, leadership, wellbeing

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on June 5, 2011

Catherine Czerkawska‘s provocative piece in the Scottish Review highlights the increasing distance between the experiences of being a painter, sculptor, printmaker, photographer, maker, writer, poet, playwright, actor, musician, composer, dancer, choreographer, storyteller, and the languages used to articulate the value of creativity.

Even the listing of all the things that might be done in being an artist helps to question the narrative of artist = creativity = wellbeing.  She highlights the important gaps between the reality of being an artist, and the language of creativity, between the act of making art and the process of being creative.  The latter, the process of being creative, is currently being developed and defined, having been identified as an important aspect of economic success (Cox Review of Creativity in Business, 2005).

But what is interesting is that 15 years ago some people in the arts were arguing to be taken more seriously, not just by the cultural elite, but as as a relevant part of everyday life for all.  Perhaps unfortunately the argument has been made successfully, the value of creativity has been acknowledged and some characteristics have been attached to it: “Questioning, innovating, problem-solving and reflecting critically”.  Teamwork and leadership have been added to the mix (and I worked on the research project The Artist as Leader, which re-focused the discussion on the role of the artist and their ability to develop critical positions).

When Joseph Beuys declared in 1975 “Jeder mensch ein kunstler” or “everyone an artist” did he mean everyone can make works of art or that everyone could be creative?

Czerkawska, although she does not push the distinction between artist and creative person, does characterise the artist as a person involved in an emotional journey,  “It can involve extremes of depression and elation, can be at once fulfilling and frustrating, energising and exhausting. Perhaps most problematic of all, from the point of view of potential employers, a significant percentage of creative people are not, in any sense, ‘joiners’.”

If the ambition for the arts to have a wider role in society is still on the table, then perhaps its time for artists to challenge the values that are being ascribed to creativity, to articulate, as Czerkawska does, some of the realities of creating art, and to help sharpen the distinction between creating art and being creative, rather than eliding this distinction in the process of attempting to secure greater economic relevance and power.

Sometimes it takes a little while

Posted in CF Writing, Texts by chrisfremantle on May 8, 2011

or, How has Scotland changed?

AHM‘s second State of Play Symposium (2 April 2011) was a very different affair from the first. Held in Edinburgh in the Hawthornden Lecture Theatre of the National Galleries of Scotland, it was comfortable, elegant, sophisticated and at the heart of the establishment.

In November when we first met at the invitation of AHM to discuss the state of play, it was in the lecture theatre at Gilmorehill in the University of Glasgow. It felt edgy, not least because the technical staff had just been handed redundancy notices, but also because it was a week before Westminster’s “budget of cuts.”  There was talk of organising. Philip Schlesinger outlined the cultural policy context for the formation of Creative Scotland, describing clearly the increasing economism that has resulted in the arts being transformed into the creative industries, with all the entailed lack of criticality. Peter McCaughey told everyone to join the Scottish Artists Union (and this still applies).

For the second event AHM had invited ex-pat Scots to speak. The event started with a virtually broadcast quality presentation by Neal Ascherson on the history of the Scots overseas. He focused on the Scots in the Baltics, Poland in particular, and how that forms part of a wider European history, developing themes he explored in Stone Voices: The search for Scotland. Rather than list all the excellent speakers, and it was a powerhouse of a day in terms of the line-up of speakers (see AHM blog for videos), I want to reflect on why the question and answer sessions never seemed to get into a groove.

The underlying recurring story was of extremely talented, successful and interesting artists graduating from Scottish art schools in the 70s and high-tailing it out of Scotland as quickly as possible. I am sure that the word stultifying was used. The fact that it took until the early 80s for Scotland to decriminalise same-sex relationships was also mentioned. Whilst we might look back on the period as one of radical actions (Demarco, Beuys, Hamilton Finlay, APG), the reality for young artists was an oppressive environment where according to one speaker it took years to un-learn the house style of Edinburgh College of Art’s Painting Department. There was almost no contemporary art (apart from the Scottish Arts Council’s Gallery), and very few artist-led or run spaces (in Edinburgh there were The New 57 Gallery and the Printmakers).

And now? Artist-led spaces abound and contemporary art is everywhere. The major cultural institutions have bought into contemporary art big time: it’s projects in schools, strategies in healthcare, instrumental to regeneration projects.  So contemporary visual arts are out there, visible and challenging.

Probably a quarter of the audience were from other parts of the world (myself included) choosing to live and work in Scotland because Scotland is now an interesting place to be, and whilst globalisation has made mobility something taken for granted and artists are always coming and going, it is still a decision, sometimes made for love rather than professional returns, to be in Scotland rather than London, LA, Sydney, New York, Berlin or anywhere else.

So the audience for the AHM event, who are choosing to live and work in Scotland now, were faced with people who all left ages ago and made their lives (very successfully) elsewhere: difficult to have that conversation.

But as a way to focus the ‘state of play’, to make it clear that ‘now’ is not the same as ‘before’, and to prepare us to think about the future when we meet again in September in Dundee for the third and final event, AHM placed this symposium right on the mark. Verdict: troubling and requiring thought.

The questions that should have been asked are:

To the speakers: “If you were young again and here now would you still leave and if not, why not?”

To the audience: “How do we work out what’s really important and how do we fight for it?”

If the visual arts in Scotland are vital, alive, vibrant, then what makes them vital and how do we tell that story?  Perhaps the story starts,

“In the 70s the best and brightest talent felt compelled to leave Scotland for other parts of the world.  It’s striking the extent to which that situation has changed.  Now people from other parts of the world choose to make Scotland the base for their practices.  The most talented Scottish artists stay in Scotland and work internationally.  We need to build on this transformation.”

AHM remind us to “Work as if you live in the early days of a better society.”  It seems to me that at this Symposium they demonstrated one of the ways in which we do live in the early days of a better society.

Ayrshire Poetry Slam 16th Feb, 8pm

Posted in News, Texts by chrisfremantle on February 6, 2011

Su Casa coffee house, The Lorne Arcade, (off the High Street) Ayr … Entrance £4 (£3)

The contest to find this year’s Ayrshire Slam Champ is on. Rhymers, rappers and rhapsodists welcome. Purveyors of verse blank, verse blue or verse bleezin – all are welcome to take part.

Everyone will go up to the mic twice. For three minutes each time. Judges will score for poem, for performance and for audience reaction. The three highest scorers go into the final on the night. There they will have three more minuutes to perform the poem that will win them the glory, the fame, the laurels of the victor … and a small amount of money!

Under 18s welcome tho we can’t edit content or language content!

The winner will also qualify to take part in the Scottish Slam Championships at The Mitchell Theatre on March 4.

If you’d like to take part please contact

or you can call rosie on 01292 520543

Sunny Dunny

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on February 4, 2011

Well not exactly, but it wasn’t sunny leaving another Scottish seaside holiday town this morning either. I was invited by Polarcap (Liz Adamson and Graeme Todd) to see their current exhibition, Vegetable Loves, at West Barns Studios.

Adamson and Todd curate projects as Polarcap, and are also, with another colleague, the organisers of West Barns Studios, a project space and six studios outside Dunbar on the East coast.

Derrick Guild, root crop, oil on resin with cz diamonds, 2006

Drawing inspiration from Andrew Marvell’s most famous poem To His Coy Mistress and hinting at the ecological interests of the curators, Vegetable Loves includes a range of work, from Jonathan Owen‘s obsessively recarved figure which started as Don Quixote and is now a surrealist fantasy of the bondage of books, to Jacqui Irvine’s ‘painting’ made by the snails in her garden working for her in exchange for the nacotic joys of envelope adhesive. Having just been reading Boris Groys’ essay in the e-flux Journal Marx After Duchamp, or The Artist’s Two Bodies, I wonder what sort of alienated labour that represents?

The melody in the background, part of the video by Soland Goose found by following the sound down a corridor to a small alcove, alludes to agriculture. Furrow patterns in a field caught in the low sunlight of the Scottish winter are animated by, organ-grinder-like, C-A-B-B-A-G-E.

The sound of running water takes over as guide to the inquisitive, leading to a projection with a fountain. Images of anonymous, un-peopled, spaces in a modern city, curiously new and yet bereft of life, as if abandoned, are projected on the wall. In front stands a red plastic stool with a bucket on it, but the roof is not leaking. Instead a small garden water fountain mechanism is in the bucket, and a spout of water arcs into another bucket on the floor. Where the images are of modern topiary perfection (nothing like a garden in the Italianate style), the fountain is an improvised icon of a Shanghai market, offered by an artist Rania Ho to Todd in remembrance of a visit (as I understood).

But going back to Groys, underneath the skin of this exhibition we find precisely the problems of labour in contemporary art. Adamson and Todd collaborate on curatorial projects, whilst Todd maintains a formal painting practice. Both also lecture at Edinburgh College of Art (and are probably being expected to evidence ‘impact’ for the REF). Talking about the exhibition they commented on the arrival of Hayley Tompkins elegantly simple and modest work from her gallery, the Modern Institute, and the importance of good packaging in signalling the significance of the artist. Todd described with loving detail the layers of foam rubber and the precision with which they had been packed. Whilst Groys is right that there has been a shift from ‘artistic mass consumption’ to ‘artistic mass production’ brought on by the high bandwidth communications which mean that,

“Contemporary means of communication and social networks such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter offer global populations the ability to present their photos, videos, and texts in ways that cannot be distinguished from any post-Conceptualist artwork. And contemporary design offers the same populations a means of shaping and experiencing their apartments or workplaces as artistic installations.”

And he is right that institutional critique has been focused on the purposes and powers of art institutions rather than their practicalities,

“Especially within the framework of “institutional critique,” art institutions are mostly considered to be power structures defining what is included or excluded from public view. Thus art institutions are analyzed mostly in “idealist,” non-materialist terms, whereas, in materialist terms, art institutions present themselves rather as buildings, spaces, storage facilities, and so forth, requiring an amount of manual work in order to be built, maintained, and used.”

The grassroots of contemporary art brings all the systemic elements (curatorship, organisational development, fundraising, creating work, installing work, marketing through social media) into the hands of individuals and small collectives where they are still personal bodily activity, and where the results have the touch of the individual. Often, like Polarcap and West Barns Studios, these are also seeking to challenge centre-periphery dynamics, whilst simultaneously allowing Todd to exhibit in London and undertake research visits to China.

What emerges is a new construction challenging the VALS (highlighted in another e-flux journal paper, this time by Martha Rosler) analysis which aligns ‘experiencers’ to the highest value and ‘makers’ with the lowest value. Innovation is making, making work and making things happen, and yes the experiencers can feel creative through high bandwidth, but they are not changing the world.


Ruth Barker’s Big Questions, No Answers

Posted in CF Writing, Producing, Research, Sited work by chrisfremantle on January 28, 2011

Ruth Barker’s blog post Big Questions, No Answers on the PAR+RS website asks some very important questions which turn the question of skill and expertise.  Taking off at a tangent, these questions are fundamentally to do with inter-disciplinarity, skill, competence and, as Ruth says, responsibility.

One of the sharpest critiques I’ve read draws on Psychology and applies Attachment Theory to recent trends within the arts and culture, i.e. if culture or the arts attaches itself to health to gain access to resources then it is forced to adopt the valuation methods used in health.  (Gray, C., Local Government and the Arts. Local Government Studies. Jan 2002.)

The danger is of course that the arts have attached themselves to health, environment, education (primary, secondary, further, higher and informal), social work, youth justice, criminal justice, etc… each bringing its own formulation and methodology for valuation.  Hence there is an under acknowledged process of specialisation particularly in the field of public art, where successful practitioners have indepth knowledge of very specific policy areas and are able to engage with managers, politicians and policy makers on their own terms.

I would cite for example Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison who can sit down with very senior environmental scientists, policy makers and politicians and engage in detailed discussion of watershed management strategies.  If you take a look at their publication Peninsula Europe you will find an analysis of the financial value of reforesting the high ground of Europe in terms of the amount of clean water produced.  This is only one example.  There are many others: Suzanne Lacy talking about the issues around rape or teen pregnancy.  In Scotland Jackie Donnachie has a relationship with medical researchers of this same quality, but I digress.

The question is whether in this process the artist also persuades these sectors that creative methods (of valuation) are relevant to them.  Whose terms is success judged by?

Comments on animals, ethics and Robert Burns

Posted in CF Writing by chrisfremantle on January 28, 2011

Some members of the ecoartnetwork responded to the short piece reflecting on Robert Burns’ To A Mouse and they kindly let me share their thoughts:

Chrissie Orr (and you can find out more about Chrissie at said,

Chris, I have always loved this poem. I was born in Scotland and  grew up hearing  the poems of Burns. My father was well known for reciting them at the Burns Suppers. I used to be able to recite this one by heart but over the years it has become more and more difficult to remember it all.  Out here in New Mexico there are not many opportunities to use it and I’m out of practice.

However with this new and interesting take on it I might revive my recitation and Scottish accent skills.  I did use Address to a Haggis in an exhibition that was held at the State Capital in Santa Fe which was called Food and Politics!
Thank you for you interesting thoughts on this,


Viewed up close nobody is normal.
Caestano Veloso

Beth Carruthers (and you can find out more about Beth at or said,

Thanks so much for this Chris

I know this poem and what I like about it is not only the commiseration and empathy, but also as you say the recognition of relationship, of being together in a world. There is indeed a very long and deep history of people being not only human. Yet so many stories have been lost through the loss of the oral traditions of record keeping. I am fond of some stories that have survived in the Irish tradition, best known might be the Story of Fintan, and parts of the Song(s) of Amergin, which was written down by monks in 3500. The intertwining of being and the shape-changing is also very common here on the Pacific coast of Canada, in the traditional Haida culture, with its oral tradition. For the Haida, it was Raven who discovered the first men (and also, separately, the first women):

“Very strange creatures they were: two legged like Raven, but otherwise very different. They had no feathers. Nor fur. They had no great beak. Their skin was pale, and they were naked except for the dark hair upon round, flat-featured heads. Instead of strong wings like raven, they had thin stick-like arms that waved and fluttered constantly. They were the first humans.”

Traditional Haida tale of Raven finding the first men, as retold in translation by Barry McWilliams in Raven Finds the First Men

The world is full of persons, not all of whom are human 🙂

Canada is chock full of descendants of Scots settlers and my grandparents had the Gaelic – although they wouldn’t teach it to their children, for fear they would become social and economic outcasts in a British colony should they have a Scots accent. Normal, at that time. I certainly got a deep sense of interspecies relationship and of being part of a living and aware world from the Sinclair side of my family.

(BTW, here, on Robbie Burns Day, there are dinners, haggis, dancing and piping galore. Simon Fraser University – where I used to both study and teach – has 3 campuses around the city of Vancouver. Each year on this day a haggis is carried behind a kilted piper and protected with a ceremonial sword as it is carried to visit all campuses as a part of the celebration ritual – all by way of public transit (tube/skytrain). It is something to be on the train when they board 🙂


and Mary Arnold commented,

Chris & Beth,

Then there are the Selkie legends — tales of love and possession, hidden and dual identities, alienation and loss, as in this old recording.


Animals, ethics and Robert Burns

Posted in CF Writing by chrisfremantle on January 25, 2011

The question of the interspecies relations, and in particular those between humans and other inhabitants of the planet, is a key thread on the ecoartscotland site.  This is a brief attempt to articulate a couple of thoughts, and needs further development, but it seems appropriate to ‘get it out’ tonight and then come back to it later.

[Robert Burns is of course remembered as the ploughman poet and is Scotland’s national bard.  His birthday is remembered through Burns’ Night celebrations the world over on 25th January, and his songs are still sung, not least at New Year.]

Robert Burns’ poem, TO A MOUSE,  ON TURNING HER UP IN HER NEST WITH THE PLOUGH,  NOVEMBER, 1785, is a particular example of the way that Burns uses animals in his work, not just as metaphors and similes, but also empathetically, exploring their experience of the world in his imagination.

In “To A Mouse,” the first stanza establishes the circumstances: Burns is ploughing and ‘turns up’ the nest of a mouse.

The second stanza is an apology, not just for breaking open the nest, but for the way that man has exerted his control over the world and in particular has upset nature’s structure of relations between animals.  Burns goes on to place himself on an equal footing with the mouse, as “fellow-mortal” and “earth-born companion”.  Burns understands animals to have an “ill opinion” of man and, based on that, he empathises with the way that the mouse startles, not just at sudden exposure, but at man.

The poem goes on to describe the home of the mouse as a shelter from the harsh winter, and to justify the mouse’s theiving ways as necessary for survival.  Throughout the poem, Burns is building affinities between the animal and man.

The second stanza is a radical repositioning of man in relation to other animals, positioning the animal at the centre of a disruption caused by man and exploring the consequences through an understanding of the animal’s needs.  Framing these in terms of food, shelter and peace, Burns creates an alignment with perceived basic human needs.

The last stanza concludes with the idea that the mouse is relatively blessed, being concerned only with the present (albeit an extended present that includes preparations for winter), where Burns looks back on dreary events and forward to things unknown, but feared.

In the context of ongoing discussions about human-animal relations articulated in the works of artists as various as Erica Fielder and Kate Foster, this poem offers us a reminder that the radical creative imagination has addressed these issues over a very long period.

Burns’ works articulate a wider ethical and political concern.  This is exemplified, for instance, by the statement Burns makes in a letter in 1789, “Whatever mitigates the woes or increases the happiness of others, this is my criterion of goodness; and whatever injures society at large or any individual in it, this is my measure of iniquity.”

(Whilst Burns’ Scots language can be challenging if you are not used to it, the best approach is to speak it out loud.)

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
. Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
. Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
. Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor earth-born companion,
. An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
. ‘S a sma’ request:
I’ll get a blessin’ wi’ the lave,
. And never miss’t!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin;
Its silly wa’s the win’s are strewin’!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
. O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin’,
. Baith snell and keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary winter comin’ fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
. Thou thought to dwell,
‘Till, crash! the cruel coulter past
. Out thro’ thy cell.

That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
. But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
. An’ cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men,
. Gang aft a-gley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief and pain,
. For promis’d joy.

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e,
. On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
. I guess an’ fear.

State of Play Manifesto performance – Central Station Video

Posted in CF Writing, News by chrisfremantle on January 18, 2011

Video of contributions to the AHM ‘State of Play’ Symposium last year including Philip Schlesinger’s ‘Very Short Introduction to current Scottish Cultural Policy’, as well as Ruth Barker’s and Jimmie Durham’s amongst others … including mine, manifesto performance.


Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on January 17, 2011

Anne Carson’s Nox published by New Directions is a remarkable book and reproduction of a scrapbook.  It says on the back “When my brother died I made an epitaph for him in the form of a book.  this is a replica of it, as close as we could get.”


Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty islands I have not visited and never will, the result of exploring the world through an atlas.

Robert Burns Public Art

Posted in CF Writing, Sited work by chrisfremantle on January 11, 2011

Some of the many futures: I can report that on the 25th of January 2015 the STV Greatest Scot New Art Commission for Alloway, first announced in January 2011, is finally unveiled.

David Mach’s proposal, was for a 50ft high figure constructed out of small irregular pieces of metal leaning on the Auld Kirk ruin. Mach had trawled the internet for a year collecting images of people from Scotland and these faces had been printed onto the metal. It met with outrage when it was discovered that the figure was a nude female form entitled “Tam O’Shanter’s favourite Witch.”

Sandy Stoddart’s proposal was for a four-times life-size figure of Robert Burns in masonic robes. To be carved in granite, this work was to have cost more than the National Trust for Scotland’s entire deficit.

Claus Oldenburg collaged a modern hi-tech plough, rendered as a structure larger than the Brig O’Doon Hotel and called “John Barleycorn”, onto the landscape on the far side of the bridge.

Tracy Emin’s proposal, entitled “The Lass That Made The Bed To Me” was for a bed, sited in the gardens of the visitor centre, surrounded by whisky bottles and dirty clothes.

Fritz Haeg, although generally unknown in Scotland, drew on an experience as a young man visiting Burns Cottage. He had seen the representation of the market garden with plastic cows, chickens and cats. His ecoart proposal, “Tatties”, was to grub up all the gardens of the Burns Monument Park and establish allotments.

Jeremy Deller collected a large archive of Burns’ “tat”, primarily from the Burns Visitor Centre shop, and presented this as a cabinet of curiosities, the highlight of which was a taxonomy of decreasingly well executed representations of Robert Burns based on the portrait by Nasmyth.

Mark Dion’s proposal for a cabinet of curiosities entitled “To A Mouse,” used a taxidermists approach and incorporated every stuffed animal referred to in the collected works.

Charles Jencks proposed raising the existing Burns Monument on a large spiral landform taking up the whole area of the Monument Park and making the structure visible from Ayr Town centre.

Banksy proposed putting a traffic cone on top of the Monument.

George Wyllie’s 100,000 tonne container ship, named “Burns Line,” permanently moored at the mouth of the river Doon was to be inscribed with the words “Whatever mitigates the woes or increases the happiness of others, this is my criterion of goodness; and whatever injures society at large or any individual in it, this is my measure of iniquity.”

Suzanne Lacy’s approach was to involve as many young women in the South West of Scotland in a performance entitled “The Lads o’ Tarbolton, Cessnock Banks, the Highlands, Ballochmyle, Albany, Inverness, Ecclefechan and of the Country.”

Rachel Whiteread cast the inside of Burns Cottage and then demolished the building.

Yinka Shonibare proposed to dress all the statues of Burns around the world in brightly colour West African batik clothes for a day. As with his other works, all the heads were to be removed.

Anthony Gormley’s cast iron life sized nude figure entitled “A man’s a man for all that” was rejected as being self-serving.

With thanks to Murdo for the inspiring conversation.


Posted in News, Texts by chrisfremantle on December 18, 2010

Chinua Achebe‘s lecture  on Nigeria, politics and the role of the artist at Cambridge University’s Centre for African Studies, reported in the Guardian:

“We have endured a terrible failure of leadership – not just individuals, but a whole class of potential leaders, from which I do not absolve myself. The role of the intellectual is difficult. We should live by what we preach and we should speak out. In that way we always seemed to be superior to our former western leaders. For them, writers and painters just had to write and paint and keep out of politics. Leadership in all its forms is a sacred trust in a democracy, almost like an anointed priesthood.” Guardian 13 Dec 2010

See also Ken Saro-Wiwa’s comment on the nature and purpose of art.

More public time?

Posted in CF Writing, News, Research, Sited work, Texts by chrisfremantle on November 30, 2010

Thanks to Alison Bell for drawing my attention to the following quote from Rebecca Solnit,

‘Landscape’s most crucial condition is considered to be space, but its deepest theme is time.’

See earlier post Public time?

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