CHRIS FREMANTLE

Thinking about failure

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

Slides of a paper on failure co-authored with Dr Gemma Kearney and presented at the NSEAD/iJade conference in Liverpool.

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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.

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 (http://openspace.eca.ac.uk/ ) 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 (http://thomasaclarkblog.blogspot.co.uk/) 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 (http://www.alexanderhamilton.co.uk/) Designing for Dignity (http://designingfordignity.co.uk/Inspired-by-Nature) 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 (http://www.dalzielscullion.com/) 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 (http://www.wide-open.net/index.php?page=vale-of-leven)

Donald Urquhart has completed public art projects for four mental health hospitals including most recently Midpark Acute Mental Health Hospital (http://www.wide-open.net/index.php?page=healing-spaces) and developed Sanctuary spaces for both hospitals and universities. His award winning design for the Sanctuary at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary has become a benchmark (http://www.ginkgoprojects.co.uk/projects/royal-infirmary-edinburgh).

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.

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.

Postscript

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 http://www.pcond.ca/ . 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 http://elotroladoproject.org/index.html) 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,

Chrissie

Viewed up close nobody is normal.
Caestano Veloso

Beth Carruthers (and you can find out more about Beth at http://www.bethcarruthers.com/ or http://ecuad.academia.edu/BethCarruthers) 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 🙂

Beth

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. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zZy2Q3QY0Q

Mary

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.

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.

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?

What Art have I seen?

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on November 18, 2010

James McNaught at Ewan Mundy Fine Art.  This scan of the invitation card does not do this work justice.  Figurative art is not dead.  Painting is not dead.  This sequence of work, almost all concerning urban spaces, but also including two or three still lives, is completely compelling and utterly bewitching.  The quality of surreal space (reminding me a little of De Chirico), the implicit narratives of revolution and religion, the still strangeness animated by gusts, were a joy, each more interesting than the last.

McNaught’s works, though labelled as watercolours, are not wishy washy or lightweight.  The scenes remind me of various parts of Europe – the appearance of the Eiffel Tower in the distance suggests a working class suburb of Paris, but some of the architecture suggests Italy.  The ships, trams and buildings suggest an unmodernised area.  The relationship between key aspects of the foreground, the recurrent ‘Abbe’, the crows, the prams sometimes upset, and the papers caught in gusts all suggest a narrative of the imagination.  The symbolism of the ‘abbe’ and the crow, in at least one image obvious transformed from one to the other, is perhaps in competition with the symbolism of the Eiffel Tower, the centennial monument to the French Revolution.  I’d associate the papers, stacked on a pram or caught in gusts of wind in otherwise very still space, with another form of knowledge from the religious, perhaps with revolution, but communication is also broken – in a number of works the overhead telephone lines are broken.  But my favourite was a work entitled ‘still life with all the objects fallen to the edge of the table’, or something like that – almost Juan Gris cubism.

Attending the SKOR conference in Amsterdam

Posted in CF Writing, News, Research, Sited work, Texts by chrisfremantle on November 1, 2010

Actors, Agents and Attendants: Speculations on the cultural organisations of civility

On The Structure

SKOR (the Dutch Foundation for Art and the Public Domain) set out to focus on the shift from a welfare state to a neo-liberal state, and the implications for care and civility (health and state responsibility).  There were regular references to mega-changes, not only political.  The construction of discourse through multiple channels was embodied in the scenography of the conference (designed by n.office architects) constructed as a podium or soapbox for statements, bleachers for discussion and a table for panels.   The multiple channels extended out of the conference to commissioned works in the streets of Amsterdam and a film programme presented prior to the conference.  It was also manifest in the preparatory seminars bringing together first politics and policy and then practice and research into focus.

Felix Meretis, the venue, is an independent European centre for art, culture and science and a national and international meeting place in Amsterdam.

The form of [a] poem is like the form of a new public sphere, like the structure of a new idea. Paulo Virno

On The Purpose

Superficially focused on the issues of arts and health, the underlying issues raised by the conference included:

  • questioning “the role of art and its assumed ameliorative function,”
  • exploring “care as a political and philosophical concept,”
  • the ability for art to be critical when it is also implicated in gentrification and “consensualising the increasingly capitalised infrastructures of public care.”

“We can say that care forms the core of public art’s aesthetic assemblage: that public art has been invented to produce ameliorative caring, performances and objects within a landscape organised by a welfare state.  So what happens when that landscape is radically withdrawn?”

Day 1 Fulya Erdemci, Director of SKOR, introduced the day which was chaired by Andrea Phillips.

Mark Fisher, a UK writer and philosopher, started his presentation by channelling the experience of precarious work: swipe cards to get into buildings; submitting bank details and forgetting which organisation you have done it for; logon details for different computer systems; emails from institutional administrators; occupational therapists talking about stress; psychiatrists prescribing drugs: the obverse of flexibility is contortionism.  Living with the impact of the business ontology and epistemology (business models of being and thinking) that have been imposed on health, education and culture.  The therapy culture which reflects everything back onto the individual and the family.  He suggested that the flip side of ‘no such thing as society’ is ‘the big society’ based on ‘magical volunteerism.’  I asked about the requirement that all activity be valued as work (caring for instance needs to be transmuted into work for it to be valued by society).  He suggested that there are two responses: refusal to participate or total adoption where everything is defined as work and accounted for financially.  Underlying this is the need to extend the discussion of ‘externalities‘ from the environmental discourse into the wider social discourse.  In other words to find ways to deal with those costs or benefits not ‘transmitted’ through price.  One strand of environmental policy seeks to ensure that environmental impacts, not historically acknowledged in cost, enter into the financial systems through, for instance, carbon taxes.  Is it useful to financialise the value of care any more than it is useful to financialise the value of bees?  Where attributing financial value to the negative environmental impacts of human activity should enable the costs of remediation to be met, attributing financial value to positives such as elements of ecosystem services can produce absurdities.  A good example was the news the day that Lehman Brothers collapsed with an impact measured in billions of dollars, that bees were worth some hundreds of millions to the economy.

Steven de Waal, a politician and social entrepreneur who argued (as I understood him) for the potential of the Dutch co-operatist system, where a significant part of the welfare state is delivered through private not-for-profit institutions, to adapt and engage with the neo-liberalisation of care by reducing the bureaucratic stranglehold and increasing citizen participation in their own care.

Alfredo Jaar, the art star speaker, in a conventional artists’ presentation, showed us a series of projects located in the ‘real world.’  NB his construction of his practice is split across the art world, real world, education – his distinction between the art world and the real world being about the audience expertise.  He talked about the role of artists working in public space trying to create the cracks in spaces of consumption to draw out resistance.  Although a clearly charming and skilled man, these projects were nailed by Ian Hunter as ‘the spectacle of empathy’.

[apposite quote of the day: USE AN UNACCEPTABLE COLOUR, Gavin Wade]

Edi Rama, the Mayor of Tirana in discussion with Fulya Erdemci, Director of SKOR.  Rama is famous for being the man who painted Tirana.  In a short film Rama talked about colour as ‘dresses’ or colour as ‘organs.’  He compared relationship of the Mayor to the electorate with the relationship of the artist to the audience.  Rama talked about the role of beautification in changing a culture and re-engaging the population in civic society.  His colour strategy was one of desperation on discovering himself in a kafkaesque town hall with no budget at all (no one was paying taxes).  When asked by an EU official responsible for repairing a bridge (?) in Tirana, “What colour should I paint it?” Rama replied the orange of the Dutch football strip!  This immediately set off a public discussion.  Based only on the fact that it was actually generating a public discussion of civic space, Rama continued painting buildings and urban structures in vivid colours.  He reported that they undertook a referendum.  In the referendum they asked two questions: “Do you like it?” and “Should we continue?”  He reported that something like 55% said they liked it but 75% said they should continue.

Anton Vidokle, artist, curator and founder of e-flux talked about his understanding of art, referencing the French Revolution and the use of the King’s art collection for public benefit.  Talking about the emergence of Manet and Courbet forty years later, the first artists one would associate with a critical practice as might be understood in contemporary practice, he speculated on a connection with transmutation of the royal art collection into a public art collection.  He went on to describe various e-flux projects.  I’ve written about Vidokle, e-flux and in particular the Martha Rosler Library before, so I’ll move on.

Chto delat?, the Russian artists’ collective.  Dimitry Vilensky challenged the core subject by arguing that care is maintenance of the status quo, and that care contradicts change.  “Where is violence in this discussion?”  He questioned the value of health, coming from one of the most unhealthy countries and reminded the audience of the misuse of ‘a healthy body is a healthy spirit’ by the fascists. Vilensky, in describing the ideological fight, drew out the relationship between the work of Chto delat? and the role of artists during the revolution, particularly highlighting Rodchenko’s design for a workers’ club reading room which Chto delat? have reused in exhibitions.  He noted the strategy of creating pedagogical spaces using furniture, murals and newspapers.  He asked “Where is the factory that we can seize?” and noted that there were no revolutionary masses outside the conference waving flags and supporting the important deliberations.  He commented on the importance of not only taking over the means of production, but also inventing new means of production (such as Vidokle’s e-flux).

Gavin Wade performed part of freee‘s spoken word choir event currently taking place at Eastside Projects in Birmingham, an artist-led space he has been involved in setting up.  Wade is known for amongst other works STRIKE and his involvement in the organisation Support Structure.  When challenged about something he had said about art not being useful, he referenced the Artist Placement Group and the complexity of working within non-art organisations without becoming completely subsumed by their agendas.  He also commented that although Eastside Projects is undoubtedly contributing to the gentrification of the area and generating increased wealth for the landlord, he said, “We are not the tailors of Utopia.”  They use a billboard (the only non-commercial one in Birmingham) attached to the building.  They produced a manual for Eastside Projects, making the operation of the organisation explicit.

Introducing Day 2 Fulya Erdemci reiterated the mega changes, e.g. welfare state to neo-liberalism, analogue to digital.  She also commented on commissioners becoming customers with their own aesthetic preferences (perhaps suggesting some recent experiences where SKOR’s aesthetic authority has been questioned).

Beatriz Colomina‘s presentation on x-ray architecture took us on a cultural historical tour of the relationship between the body and architecture by way of renaissance anatomical/architectural drawing, section and dissection, and the emergence of x-ray and the international style (not synchronous, but not unrelated).  Relating health to architecture she highlighted Le Corbusier‘s language and then demonstrated the relationship between sanatorium architecture and domestic spaces.  Referencing Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor Colomina talked discussed the reshaping of the city by illness, in particular TB.  She explored the evolution of CAT scans into architectural practice manifest in the increasing aesthetic use of sections.  One comment was that medicine is also the end of particular forms of architecture such as TB houses and leper colonies.

Hedy d’Ancona, politician, spoke about the influence of the built environment on wellbeing, the importance of the healing environment as a concept coming out of both healthcare and public housing.

Matthijs Bouw of One Architecture discussed the Jozef and Geertruiden Projects.  He said “We love markets because they encourage dynamism, teams, diversity and flexibility.  We hate markets because they promote atomisation, arbitrage and risk management.  Asked by hospital management to finalise the layout for a housing development on a site being vacated due to relocation of services, Bouw questioned the economic model and with the support of the hospital management developed a new approach.  On one site, Geertruidentuin, existing hospital buildings were regenerated as housing without the involvement of a developer.  On the other nearby site, St. Jozf, the ‘allied services’ (midwives, physiotherapists, etc.) dislocated by the hospital moving to a new site, but not themselves moved in the process, became stakeholders in a new healthcare facility utilising the remodelled existing building.  This important example involved questioning the ‘means of production’ (i.e. developer-led regeneration) through which more value (cash) was produced for the hospital and more value (dislocated services becoming stakeholders) was produced for the locality.  Bouw also raised an interesting point about the client/commissioner because the daily reality is that these are project managers, risk managers, quantity surveyors and legal representatives rather than individuals carrying the vision.

AA Bronson channelled St Paul’s letter to the Galacians setting out his own cv and then making clear he was addressing not only those present, but also those many different absent peoples.  He talked about art, death and healing.  Whilst in many ways adhering to the conventional artists’ talk, it challenged fundamental ideas about boundaries and limits.

The story took us from the early years of General Idea (“Felix Partz, Jorge Zontal and AA Bronson of General Idea lived and worked together for 25 years. Partz and Zontal died in 1994.”), through the emergence of AIDS and its impact on their community,  their work and their lives.  Whilst AA Bronson did not describe in detail the process or experience of caring for his two friends and collaborators as they died, he did show us the works he made with them during that process, and he did allow us to understand how he has since woven together an art practice and a healing practice.  The weaving together of life and art is a constant process: Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal are diagnose with AIDS so pills enter their lives and so the pills entered the work becoming sculptures and installations, as large as sofas and as light as clouds.

Describing life after their deaths, AA Bronson developed his experience of healing built up with his friends and collaborators and how this began to form a fundamental part of his life.  He set out his healing practice as a thing in itself and in his art practice, creating therapy rooms in galleries, and seeing clients in them before and after gallery hours.  He described more recent collaborative work with younger artists (School for Young Shamans) and the group work (Invocations for Queer Spirits).   He talked about his role as a medium for individuals to speak to their own bodies.

Perhaps like Alastair McIntosh who, in Soil and Soul, addresses spirituality and environment without descending into new age waffle, so AA Bronson spoke about healing and art in a compelling and challenging way, straddling uncomfortable boundaries with a compelling presence and story.

Bik van der Pol‘s discussion of happiness started with a short anecdote about advice not to test your sense of humour on policemen in other countries, from which they developed an argument about cultural difference, but more importantly about happiness.  Touching on the World Values Survey and on Laughter Yoga, they talked about using nitrous oxide as part of urban public health programmes.

The programme ended with Willem Geerlings discussion of the challenges for health.  He is the Chair of the Board of the Medical Centre Haaglanden and pulled Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor from his pocket.

Public time?

Posted in CF Writing, News, Research, Sited work, Texts by chrisfremantle on October 21, 2010

Claire Docherty’s comments at the Mapping the Future (of public art in Scotland) event in Dundee yesterday were billed as a discussion of ‘public time’ and focused on the current state of public art. She seemed to be arguing around a need to move beyond a dichotomy of monumentalism or critical ephemeralism looking in particular at what she called public time. She described a number of projects which were iterative or cumulative or strategic, i.e. that, without monumentalism, tried to develop relationships with audiences and participants (the public?) over a period of time. She highlighted gardening and pavilion projects, slow food, conversation and referenced her own year long programme of One Day Sculpture across New Zealand.   The obligatory Ranciere reference – participation does not equal critical legitimacy – was made.

But her comments remained looking around in the (public) art world. Whilst time and space are different dimensions of the same experience, the focus of public art, certainly in Miwon Kwon’s construction, has been an evolution of the understanding of space and the abilities of artists and designers to shape and reveal space.

“Yet despite the meanderings of the last 15 years we often continue to use such a search for resolution in lieu of admitting that there is a need to understand the relative value of work that deals with time as much as space.”  (Proxemics, 2006, JRP Ringier, p.99)

Nothing is ever cut and dried, but when Liam Gillick raised the issue of shifting the focus from public space to public time, and I’m not sure if that’s where Docherty got the idea from, he prompted in my mind thoughts about the public experience of time, not artists’ construction of time.

Turn your thoughts to public time and approach that idea:
Waiting, waiting lists, waiting rooms, wasting
Travelling, delays, speed, dislocation,
Working, pressure, shifts, holidays, nightworkers, clickworkers, payday
Boredom, repetition, necessity, cuts, dole,
Queuing, waiting,
Shopping, retail therapy, footering
Beer o’clock
Timeless places, casinos without clocks or natural light, skara brae
Sleep disorders, postcode lotteries,
Today vs PM, rolling news,
“The geese from Siberia are three weeks earlier this year”
(the list is as long as the time invested in making it – half an hour yesterday, another five minutes today)

Time is a curious phenomenon. It is structured within society, historically by culturally determined cycles derived from the process of the planet’s angle and rotation around the star at the centre of our solar system. In Scotland, because of our Northerliness, the pattern of the seasons mean that our school holidays are different from England. We have different festivals (Michelmas has just passed, Lammas before that, and in the future Candlemas) with associated happenings, including food and drink. Marking time and the pattern of activity related to the seasons has slipped our minds’ because we shelter, light and heat our lives. Other cultures have a more present experience of seasonality, including for instance the Sami (image above).  We rarely extend our timescale to even one cycle of seasons, let alone thinking beyond our own lifespan.

If there is value in drawing attention to scale, then it is equally important to draw attention to value. Time is money. Or rather there is a more complex relationship where social position is related to time and money. Just as money is unspecialised form of exchange (and humans are unspecialised animals) so time (as we organise it in Western society) is an unspecialised form of measurement enabling a little of one person’s time to be valued very highly and a lot of another person’s time to be bought extremely cheaply. In this way time is like space. Public art is complicit in the gentrification of space. Can public art not also be accused of being complicit in the gentrification of time?

Detailed summary of all three Mapping the Future events on PAR+RS website.

Postscript

"I always knew you were wrong." Ross Sinclair and David Harding on the train returning from the seminar.

A Manifesto for a time when the environment bites back

Posted in CF Writing, CV, Texts by chrisfremantle on October 12, 2010

One of 30 presented at State of Play (Saturday 9 October 2010, James Arnott Theatre, University of Glasgow) an event organised by AHM.

AHM – Ainsley Harding Moffat ‘WORK AS IF YOU LIVE IN THE EARLY DAYS OF A BETTER SOCIETY.’ Sam Ainsley, David Harding and Sandy Moffat are a collaborative group working with individuals and institutions locally, nationally, and internationally, who share similar or related aims and aspirations – namely to place the arts centrally in the making of a new Scotland.

It’s not often that artists organise conferences and symposia, but in the tradition of Littoral, this one brought together an excellent introduction to the current Scottish cultural policy context from Philip Schlesinger; a reflection on a career trajectory from Christine Borland; a critical theory dérive on the statelessness, medievalism and prosumers from Neil Mulholland and some words of wisdom from the older generation in the form of Sam Ainsley and Sandy Moffat.  The next event is 2 April at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh.

It went a bit flat at the end.  I think there had been such a good range of presentations that the audience didn’t know how to respond effectively.  There is a sense of imminent doom, not least because of the underlying ideas shaping Creative Scotland, impending public sector retrenchment and the end of the buoyant art market.  But no-one could quite put the target in focus.  It was certainly helpful to have Peter McCaughey’s rallying call for the audience to join the Scottish Artists Union en masse.  There is a need to bend Creative Scotland into a relevant shape (the conceptual underpinnings having been shown to be deeply flawed and the current spectral suggestions that its role is akin to an investment bank being laughable).

But equally Brett Bloom’s talks Temporary ServicesArt Work initiative to establish a national conversation (in the US) on art, work and economics is also very much to the point.  I suppose my question would be, was Christine Borland the best choice?  She spoke eloquently about the importance of getting involved in Transmission and the challenges of developing a career, but there is a point where an artist is represented by one of the foremost galleries and is exhibiting in major international bienniales is reinforcing the existing model of artworld career success, rather than offering alternatives.  If one of the problems is, as Bloom suggested, the proliferation of MFA programmes producing young artists geared for a conventional route, and as Schlesinger commented, the current model works on massive overproduction from which a few stars emerge, then we need to explore alternatives rather than re-state existing models.

One of the real challenges for the future events planned in this series is to explore how fine art education can or is reinventing itself, and how artists are operating outside the artworld.  This was hinted at, and Christine Borland’s comments that there is evidence that doctors engaging in medical humanities as part of their education are demonstrably better able to deal with ambiguity than their peers was an interesting point of departure.  What is it about a fine art education that enables engagement with other disciplines to wider social benefit, and how can we construct pedagogical models that promote this?

Calendar Variations

Posted in CF Writing, On The Edge by chrisfremantle on August 4, 2010

Drawing in context, C Fremantle, 2010

Walking In Long Grass Score

Looking for an area of long grass.

Walking into the middle.

Deciding on a shape: a square, a circle, even a triangle.

Walking the shape until the grass is flattened.

Walking hands outstretched to feel the stems and seeds and chaff.

Standing back and admiring your efforts.

Going back in.

Looking at the flattened grass, or

Smelling the scent, or

Walking around the perimeter of the shape to make it bigger, or

Walking the other way around the shape, or

Lying down in the middle in the long grass.

Chu Yuan, Georgina Barney, Janet McEwan, Reiko Goto and Fiona Hope - Woodend Barn

6th International Conference on Contemporary Cast Iron Art

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions, Sited work by chrisfremantle on July 10, 2010

“Come for the Fire Stay for the Art”

“Meet Melt Make”

These are the strap lines on T-Shirts in July in Kidwelly, Camarthenshire: more than a hundred artists taking over an industrial museum to live and breath casting iron. Hard hats, leather aprons and jackets, work boots, gloves, face masks, lots of moulds being made and poured…[more]

Thinking about Radical Nature

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on May 31, 2010

Health, Nature and Art: the GROVE project at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s New Stobhill Hospital

Posted in CF Writing, CV, Research, Sited work by chrisfremantle on March 2, 2010

New Stobhill Hospital Sanctuary, Photo: Laurie Clark

Invited paper as part of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh,  Theory in Practice programme:

“Health, Nature and Art: The Grove Project at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s New Stobhill Hospital”
2 March 2010.

Abstract:

This paper sets out the Art & Architecture collaboration resulting in the GROVE project for NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde’s New Stobhill Hospital.  This project, based on a strong conceptual framework, uses artworks as part of the construction of a environment where the experience nature plays an important role in healthcare. The paper discusses the practical aspects of this major new public art work and looks at the theoretical ideas of the artists, architects and NHS Arts & Health team.

The author, as part of NHSGGC’s Arts & Health team, has worked closely with Thomas A Clark, lead artist-poet; Reiach & Hall Architects; four other artists, and NHSGGC’s Capital and Commissioning Teams to deliver the project.  The project was conceived and developed by Thomas A Clark and Reiach & Hall over a 6 year period prior to commissioning, and has been funded by Scottish Arts Council National Lottery Public Art Fund, NHSGGC Endowments, NHSGGC Staff Lottery, as well as a wide range of community groups.  It forms one of a series of Arts & Health developments as part of NHSGGC’s Modernisation programme.

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Language of Sculpture

Posted in CF Writing, CV, Research, Sited work by chrisfremantle on January 29, 2010

Invited panellist, Language of Sculpture, International Sculpture Center Conference, London, April 9 2010.

Antony Gormley, Lucy Orta, and Peter Noever will headline the International Sculpture Center’s 22nd International Sculpture Conference, “What is Sculpture in the 21st Century?”, being held in London, UK, April 7-9.

This monumental event will explore topics including: The Languages of Sculpture; Public Perception and Investment; and The State of Education. In addition to the keynote speakers, conference highlights include an international roster of presenters, opening reception at Tate Modern, free admission to Henry Moore Exhibition at Tate Britain, daily ArtSlam sessions for attendees to show their work, workshop demonstrations at Chelsea College of Art & Design, and a gallery hop, as well as pre and post event optional activities.

Registration Deadline: March 16, 2010. Find more information and register online @ http://www.sculpture.org. Questions? Contact events@sculpture.org or USA 609.689-1051 x302.

Working in Public Seminars

Posted in CF Writing, On The Edge, Research, Sited work, Texts by chrisfremantle on January 20, 2010

Published on the PAR+RS Public Art Scotland website, an introduction to Working in Public (2007) by Prof Anne Douglas and Chris Fremantle.  This includes links to essays written by Prof Douglas as well as Wallace Heim‘s evaluation of the project.

What art/science have I seen?

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on November 19, 2009

Ex- at the Zoology Museum, Glasgow University.

First, you have to go and find this gem of a museum in Glasgow University, proper old-fashioned place, not over-interpreted (though not quite sure about the size of containers for the live snakes).

This exhibition is the result of a field trip to Payamino in the Ecuadorian part of the Amazon Rainforest by a group of zoology students accompanied by Kate Foster, environmental artist, and Martin Muir, a photographer.  The students were documenting and recording bird and amphibian biodiversity as well as learning about the life, culture and change.

The exhibition includes work by the students as well as Foster and Muir.  The students have presented photography and drawing.

Foster’s sketchbooks seem to capture some sense of interconnectedness.  Few of the drawings set out to isolate and analyse a single ‘thing’ in a ‘scientific way’.  Rather they explore relations, interactions and situations.  A small sketch at the back of one book of a ‘luggage jam.’  Tyre marks on the runway.  Most pages have text in amongst drawing.  Across two pages she has drawn a stream of ants some carrying cut pieces of leaf and others returning for more.  The quality of drawing: suggesting movement by lightness of touch, suggesting pattern, suggesting context without providing one.

One of the students raises the issue of value.  They are documenting and recording biodiversity under threat from oil extraction, soya farming, etc.  What is the value of the biodiversity? And is it measured in monetary terms?  This was crystallised for me recently when, on the radio, I heard a spokesperson for Natural England discussing the economic importance of bees.  They said bees were worth £200 million to the UK economy.  The next item on the news was about the commitment of £4 billion to some aspect of the financial crisis.

We say that we can’t put a price on life, but we are only talking about ourselves.  We don’t understand that we can’t put a price on ecosystems, or on biodiversity.  NGOs try and get us to make donations by showing us pictures of ‘charismatic mega fauna,’ but, and its horrible to say, the loss of polar bears or tigers will have a limited effect on ecosystems (as I understand it), where worms, bats, ants, small birds and especially bees have dynamic and exchange based roles.  Our image of hierarchical food chains makes the big animals look like the most important, but if you begin to think about the other operations taking place at the ‘lower levels’ then your perspective changes.

The student was asking what to do: one answer is to think about what connects Scotland and Ecuador, now economically, and also in the past colonially.  Bring forward the connections, make them visible.  Make us aware of, not distant jungle lushness, but the ways our lifestyle in Scotland is implicated in the changes taking place there.

C words at the Arnolfini

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions, Research, Texts by chrisfremantle on November 16, 2009

Nina Möntmann’s essay for the e-flux journal, (Under)Privileged Spaces: On Martha Rosler’s “If You Lived Here…” is a useful analysis which could almost be written about the C Words show at the Arnolfini.  Many of the same issues are raised.

This essay was commissioned on the occasion of “If You Lived Here Still…: An Archive Project by Martha Rosler,” an exhibition of the archives of If You Lived Here… running from August 28 to October 31, 2009, at e-flux in New York.

The essay sets out the context of homelessness in New York in the 80s and 90s (for which we could substitute our own circumstances of climate change in the first decade of the 21st Century).  It is precisely the market, as unquestioned driver, which is challenged by both exhibitions.

It discusses the role of the institution, then the Dia and now the Arnolfini, and the decisions leading to this form of work being programmed, concluding by linking this work to wider discussions of ‘institutional critique’ or ‘new institutionalism’.

If You Lived Here… was, like C Words, initiated by an artist/artist group, and drew in work by a number of other artists, through a cluster of linked elements.  The character of documentary art raises questions about the role of art in public life, the reference to things that have, or are, taking place outside the gallery, and the questions that need to be raised about presence and absence, about knowledge and the senses.

One of the precursors to If You Lived Here… is evidently Joseph Beuys’ Free International University at Documenta 6 in 1977. In each of these cases, from Honeypump in the Workplace, through the Reading Room as Asylum Seeker’s home, to PLATFORM’s tent/boat/quadricycle, each seek to make the pedagogical space also a visceral, somatic space.  Each of these works disrupts the artworld production/exhibition/distribution structure.

“Art that can not shape society and therefore also can not penetrate the heart questions of society, [and] in the end influence the question of capital, is no art.”  Joseph Beuys, 1985

Of course the question of time plays a role, and we must be careful not to fall into a narrative structure that values avant gardism, making Beuys the greatest because he is the earliest, and PLATFORM an afterthought, as if it took 30 years for an idea to travel from Kassel, via New York, to Bristol.  Furthermore, whilst Möntmann’s essay provides an effective ‘art history’ of a work, it also leaves many questions hanging, such as the inability of members of the ‘artworld’ attending events during If You Lived Here… to do other than sit silently.

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What art have I seen?

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on November 6, 2009

C Words: carbon, climate, capital, culture, How did you get here and where are we going?
Arnolfini, Bristol

The collaborative practice PLATFORM articulate their work as research, campaigning, education and art. As a result of their long-term project Unravelling the Carbon Web (2000-) PLATFORM have been quoted in the financial and environmental sections of newspapers on subjects including hydrocarbon legislation in Iraq, and Shell’s role in the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa. At the same time their opera And While London Burns… (2007) was widely reviewed and they are currently the subject (perhaps) of a major retrospective at the Arnolfini.

But this is not a solo show.  PLATFORM have, in microcosm, demonstrated the Movement of Movements: simultaneously inhabiting the Arnolfini (at their invitation) are Ackroyd & Harvey, African Writers Abroad, Hollington & Kyprianou with Spinwatch, the Institute for the Art & Practice of Dissent at Home, the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, the Trapese Collective, and Virtual Migrants.  Plus Amelia’s Magazine, Art Not Oil, Carbon Trade Watch, The Corner House, Feral Trade, FERN, Greenpeace, Live Art Development Agency, new economics foundation & Clare Patey, Sustrans – Art & the Travelling Landscape, Ultimate Holding Company and others.  In parallel Ursula Biemann’s Black Sea Files, Peter Fend and Barbara Steveni are also exhibiting.

The PLATFORM aspect touches on several key points in 25 years of work – the walls have been lined with recycled timber and this frames a tent, a boat, a quadicycle, an image of a strategy game on a burning world stage, and a discussion.  There are a lot of words in the Arnolfini at the moment, but this is an exhibition, not just a pile of documentation.  This is activism brought into the gallery, but it is as animated as activism.  There are events going on regularly, and between the many different contributors and the team of co-realizers, I don’t think you can just walk into the gallery, walk around and say “Seen it” without someone engaging you.  It fights against being objectified, whilst still acknowledging the need for something aesthetic to engage with.

At the Friday afternoon Critical Tea Party there was an interesting discussion about combative art.  Is this exhibition trying to tell you what to think?  Is it propaganda for a leftist agenda? It certainly wants to say: you are complicit in all of this.  Do you the world to be like this?  Just because you are comfortable, is it ok that everything goes to hell and damnation?  Is this what you call justice?

Underlying PLATFORM’s work is a deep understanding of radical educational theory.  Yes, shock tactics are applied, but to the end of making each of us think for ourselves.  Propaganda is about one truth, and there isn’t one truth here.  Here there is one question: what future?

But we can also ask the question “Where is the art?”  For me, I can’t answer this by saying that the installation of the boat, with the chairs placed next to it like a bow wave, is the art, though that has formal aesthetic elegance (and I do like a bit of formal aesthetic elegance).  Of course the art has been taking place in public over the past 25 years, and this is a gallery.  The danger is that all you can put in the gallery is the evidence of something that happened somewhere else. So, for me, it is important that what is in the gallery is something which is present, here and now.

And is this a PLATFORM show?  Or a group show?  Are PLATFORM curators?  Is their work the most important?

And what about the education, research and campaigning?  To discount them from the aesthetic of the practice is to fail to understand its roots in the work of Joseph Beuys.  His idea of social sculpture is central here.

Or to put it another way, Hal Foster says that there is a fault line travelling through the term ‘art history’ because he says that art is judged on its own terms, not, as with history, enmeshed in the world.  If we accept that art is only judged on its own terms (some strange connoisseur’s estimation of PLATFORM vs Beuys vs Kaprow vs APG)  then we dismiss the world.  Whereas PLATFORM want us to understand that life can be art and art life.

So we are left with more questions, but they are in sharp focus.

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What art have I seen?

Posted in CF Writing, Sited work by chrisfremantle on October 23, 2009

I travelled up to Cairngorm Mountain for the official opening of the second phase of Arthur Watson’s Reading the Landscape.

There are many parts to this, developed in collaboration with a number of other artists.

The first phase works in the base station (images below), Drawing Dangerously, were installed some time ago.   This is a series of images and texts created out of the mountain climbing culture. The huge screen prints were developed from photographs taken by Andy Rice, one of Watson’s collaborators.  The words surrounding the images are the names of climbs.  As climbers explore the rock face and discover a route, they give it a name, subsequent climbers discovering variations of the climb, in turn use variations of the name.

The image below introduces another dimension, collecting Scots and Gaelic words for snow.  I have a small contribution to the first publication on Reading the Landscape and it focuses on this aspect.

The new works include several viewpoints and the Camera Obscura.

At the western end of the site a structure, designed by Watson and Will Maclean, has been built channelling a mountain stream through a platform and down three buttresses.  Within the structure, poems and texts draw attention to the outlook. This is a development for Maclean from Cuimhneachain nan Gaisgeach (Commemoration of our Land Heroes) on Lewis.

Images of construction of viewpoints on CairnGorm Mountain’s Flickr Photostream

Nearer the base station, at the top of a set of steps from the carpark, is a seat built into the wall.  Sit down and Stanley Robertson‘s voice comes out of two speakers built into the walls starts to tell you folktales.  Robertson (1940-2009), certainly one of the foremost traveller storytellers of the North East of Scotland, and a longtime collaborator with Watson.  This is an outdoor version of works that Watson made for Singing for Dead Singers.

In the mountain garden Fergus Purdie, architect, Lei Cox and Mel Woods, artists, have created a Camera Obscura.

This is a built structure sitting over and along a path.  There is a small bay, something like a side chapel, which you enter through heavy curtains.   Inside the landscape is laid out before you on a table, turning gently.  Periodically you move in giant steps along cardinal lines to the sea.  These latter steps are the art introduced by Cox and Woods, a series of videos taken at regular intervals of distance (12 steps to the sea in each direction) and time (going north is winter).

The rangers are already using this particular feature when the weather is bad and the school kids can’t do anything outside.  Lay a piece of paper on the table, show the pupils all Cox and Woods images, let them choose one, and then they can collectively draw the image superimposed on the paper.  Suddenly landscape drawing is both incredibly literal (the image is projected on the paper) but doesn’t come out looking literal – mark making takes precendence.

Images of construction of Camera Obscura on CairnGorm Mountain Flickr Photostream

It was great, eight years after my first journey’s to Cairngorm Mountain to meet Bob Kinnaird, to go back and see something so good.  I suppose my job at the outset had been to suggest what might be possible, to help Bob see that something really interesting might emerge.  I remember writing the application to Scottish Arts Council with the help of … and then being involved with the selection, which by then was being organised by Susan Christie, to whom I had handed the project when I left SSW.

Studio International on Arthur Watson

Previous post.

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Ayr to Zennor

Posted in CF Writing, CV, Exhibitions, Sited work, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on September 15, 2009

Radical Nature at the Barbican

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on August 31, 2009

Radical Nature: Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969-2009 is an important exhibition.  Much has been written about it in the papers and on the Eco Art Network.  It is a really valuable opportunity to see seminal works by a range of artists and architects.  I hadn’t seen Beuys’ Honey Pump, nor the film of UkelesTouch Sanitation, nor Smithson‘s film Spiral Jetty, nor any of the Harrisons’ Survival Series (1970-1973).

But I finally worked out the essence of my problem with the exhibition.  The title frames ‘art and architecture’ and there are works by both artists and architects included in the exhibition.  The artists and architects included, particularly the works from the 60s and 70s are radical, there’s no question about that.  But the real radicalism of some of the artists and architects is in the scale of their work, and in the exhibition this is only really conveyed in the Center for Land Use Interpretation work The Trans-Alaska Pipeline.  Even the film of Touch Sanitation doesn’t convey the eleven month performance of shaking 8,500 sanitation workers’ hands and saying to each of them “Thank you for keeping New York City alive.”  The exhibition feels like its driven by a curatorial focus on artwork as object, rather than artwork as question or consideration of context.

The real shared territory between artists and architects is in thinking at scale about boundary, organisation, information, energy, metaphor, systems and people; not the superficial similarity of objects.

Think about Hans Haacke’s Shapolsky et al., Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971,  shown at the Tate’s exhibition Open Systems: Rethinking Art c.1970 a couple of years ago where he focused on the ownership of tenaments in New York by one family through a network of businesses.  This would have been as relevant an introduction to social ecological concerns.

Think about the Harrisons’ work Peninsula Europe (2001-2003)which presented the European peninsula as single entity considering the role of the high ground in the supply of fresh water to the population.

Think about Tim Collins and Reiko Goto’s work 3 Rivers 2nd Nature (2000-2005) which involved the strategic planning of the whole Pittsburgh river system area.  Goto and Collins “addressed the meaning, form, and function of public space and nature in Allegheny County, PA.”  They developed the Living River Principles which were used as a tool for lobbying public officials.  They worked with a team of volunteers to develop monitoring systems documenting land use, geology, botany and water quality.

Or PLATFORM’s work Unravelling the Carbon Web (2000 ongoing) which asks us to understand the social and environmental consequences of oil through multiple iterative works drawing attention to the oil industry and its associated networks to Universities, Government and other corporates, working with inhabitants, NGOs and Unions along BP’s Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, and in Iraq.  The purpose of this work is social and ecological justice, but it is also to relate this distant business to the lives of people living in London and the UK.

Or even Peter Fend, one of the most interesting artists, whose work with the Ocean Earth Development Corporation actively seeks to challenge the relationship between art and business by developing approaches to ecological problems through the means at the disposal of artists – colour theory, conceptual synthesis and the use of emerging tools such as satellites.

All of these works:

  1. Are of a scale which touch on or encompasses whole political, social and ecological systems.
  2. Involve communication between artists, scientists, politicians and inhabitants (i.e. in multiple and complex ways, rather than from singularly from artist to audience).
  3. Foreground the connections between living and non-living structures, such that the work is relevant to our daily lives, rather than objects for aesthetic contemplation.
  4. Blur the idea of the artist, raising the question “is it art?” because the work and the artist are also  economist, environmental scientist, planner, etc..
  5. Raise the question, “Who made the work?” breaks down the idea of the artist as individual, because the work is made through the input of a range of people.
  6. Embody diversity of description (something very problematic in museum contexts).
  7. Embody and make relevant all phases of the life-cycle of the art.

Whilst much of the work in the exhibition is also characterised by the above points, it has not been chosen to emphasise these points.  Rather it has been chosen because it meets a different set of criteria, criteria of objectness.  Thus there are at least five works that involve plants in the gallery – Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison’s Farm, Hans Haacke’s Grass Grows, Simon Starling’s boat for Rhododendrons, Henrik Håkansson, Fallen Forest, 2006.  But the differences between these works, between ironic comment and practical application is lost.  The Harrisons’ work is of a practical character “What can we do in these circumstances?” where Starling’s work has an ironic purpose, raising questions about nativeness and protection.  Haacke’s work Grass Grows is a work that demonstrates the Manifesto he wrote in 1965,

…make something which experiences, reacts to its environment, changes, is nonstable…
…make something indeterminate, that always looks different, the shape of which cannot be predicted precisely…
…make something that cannot “perform” without the assistance of its environment…
…make something sensitive to light and temperature changes, that is subject to air currents and depends, in its functioning, on the forces of gravity…
…make something the spectator handles, an object to be played with and thus animated…
…make something that lives in time and makes the “spectator” experience time…
…articulate something natural…

Hans Haacke, Cologne, January 1965 republished in Art in the Land. A Critical Anthology of Environmental Art, ed. by Alan Sonfist, (New York: Dutton, 1983

The off-site project in Dalston, which I wrote about earlier, is a more interesting work than some in the exhibition, precisely because it was not curated, but rather made.

Sculpture Parks and Gardens

Posted in CF Writing, Sited work by chrisfremantle on August 14, 2009

International Directory of Sculpture Parks and Gardens

New resource developed out of Cameron Cartiere’s research.  The section on Scotland includes Galloway Forest, Glenkilns, Jupiter Artland, Little Sparta and Tyrebagger.  No reference to those that are gone, including Cramond and Glenshee.

The category Sculpture Parks and Gardens raises a few conceptual challenges and complexities.  Because ‘public art’ is associated with regeneration and the creative city, it has gain far more bureaucratic currency and also funding.  Is a group of work by a number of artists in the landscape a public art project or a sculpture park?  Is a landscape made by artists a sculpture park?

So some other possible inclusions:

Place of Origin though I’d say its a park as sculpture rather than a sculpture park? see essay in writing.
Place of Origin
Kemnay
Aberdeenshire

Yet to be completed is Arthur Watson’s Reading the Landscape, a collaborative scheme developed with Will MacLean, Lei Cox, Stanley Robertson and others for CairnGorm Mountain.  All the works are intended to contributing to a cultural understanding of the landscape as lived in and used.
CairnGorm Mountain Ltd,
Cairn Gorm Ski Area,
Aviemore
PH22 1RB
tel: +44 (0)1479 861261,

I was very pleased to see Glenkilns included, but I wondered why Charles Jencks and Maggie Keswick’s Gardens at Portrack House, Dumfries were not included?  Best reference I can suggest is http://www.gardensofscotland.org/garden.aspx?id=c2a160c8-f9fc-4306-95d0-9c0300966100 It’s only open once a year for Scotland’s Gardens Scheme, usually first weekend in May.
Portrack House
Holywood
Dumfries
DG2 0RW

And you cannot leave out the Hidden Gardens behind the Tramway as a new and award winning ‘art garden.’  The Hidden Gardens are a project of NVA, and are a focus for intercultural dialogue and shared experiences.  Very much driven by community focused activities in a brilliant space.
The Hidden Gardens
Tramway
25 Albert Drive
Glasgow G41 2PE
0141 433 2722
http://www.thehiddengardens.org.uk/

There is a group of works by Ronald Rae in the grounds of Roselle House/the Maclaurin Trust in Ayr.  I understand that they were made as part of a Manpower Services project in 1979 http://www.ronaldrae.co.uk/
Roselle House Galleries
Roselle Park
Monument Road
Ayr KA7 4NQ

Finally the Scottish Sculpture Workshop in Aberdeenshire has a Sculpture Walk
Lumsden
Aberdeenshire
AB54 4JN
01464 861372

See also thoughts on Sculpture Parks after visiting Centre international d’art et du paysage de l’île de Vassivière.

Pecha Kucha: 6 mins 20 secs

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions, Producing, Research, Sited work by chrisfremantle on August 7, 2009

If you start with the sentence “My practice is focused by place,” then the next sentence that logical follows is “I’ve been working in … Ireland, Palestine, Siberia.” Whereas if you start with the sentence “My practice is focused by context,” then the next logical sentence can be any one of a very large number of things… [more]

This text and the associated slides were presented at the Pecha Kucha held at the RSA in Edinburgh.

Pecha Kucha Invite

What art have I seen?

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions, Sited work by chrisfremantle on August 6, 2009

Don’t go and think about Dalston Mill as a whacky eco retro art project.  Think of it as architects working very hard to imagine a future for us all.  And bear in mind that they are sleeping in this structure, above the bar cafe, next to the seminar room and adjacent to the toilets.

The bus dropped me on Dalston Lane and I towed my wheelie suitcase over the uneven pavement.  Leaving Liverpool Street and the skyscrapers we’d passed through Little Nigeria on Shoreditch High Street.  I’d seen the main Radical Nature exhibition at the Barbican a few weeks ago, and Dan Gretton had said this “off-site” project was really worth seeing.  I’d caught a glimpse of the mural you are meant to look out for and seen a black painted wooden wall with words hand painted in white saying Dalston Mill, but it looked closed.  So thinking that there was another entrance I walked through a yard, caught sight of a scrubby patch of wheat, went through an opening in a builders temporary fence and wandered around.  It was 2pm and a few people were casually doing stuff.  One guy in a t-shirt and shorts was sweeping up fag butts whilst smoking.

Going to Nils Norman and Michael Cataloi’s University of Trash at the Sculpture Center, my mother’s comment “I saw this in the 70s” is still firmly with me.  She’s got a point.

And the answer may lie in the blurb about the show Into The Open currently in Philadelphia.  This was the official US representation at the 2008 Venice Bienniale of Architecture.  The sixteen groups represented are at the cutting edge of thinking about the urban, the landscape, the recycled and the social.  I immediately recognise Center for Land Use Interpretation, Center for Urban Pedagogy, Project Row Houses and Rural Studio as landmark initiatives.  I have a collection of CLUI and CUP materials, the book Rural Studio produced on my shelves and I’ve been to Project Row Houses.

The blurb goes:

“Critics noted the exhibition’s unusually sober assessment of the challenges America faces, as well as the inspired attempts by grassroots architects to mitigate these conflicts.”

But I do have a problem, and it was hell of an easy to walk in look around and walk out – to do the artworld strut – and say “seen that”.  I did end up talking to the guy clearing up the fag butts and he turned out to be one of the architects.  I nearly voluntarily got roped into making dough, and I really should have (no strutting making dough) but in the end they were just getting organised and I was heading for a train.  Vidokle does address this so directly and effectively: The Martha Rosler Library as well as the Video Store and the Night School are all about stopping (or tripping) the strut.  And I wish the University of Trash and Dalston Mill had, in addition to the events programme, something which when you walk in off the street, sucked you into ‘the sober assessment of the challenges,’ whatever time of day it was.

Because in reality, these architects and artists have created a structure which is lightweight, adaptable, portable, generates energy, supports social activities, addresses questions of food and land use, and therefore embodies some very serious issues.  And I loved the scarecrows with milk containers for heads.  And I hope that as they take it all to pieces and move on, that they clean up the site, including the archaeological trash from the periphery, which has clearly been there longer than the three weeks of this exercise, and leave the site better than they found it, whether they have left us wiser or not.

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Eco-thinking?

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on August 3, 2009

Paul Kingsnorth in the Guardian 1 August 2009

Technology and hubris.  What is the role of technology in solving the huge challenges that face the world (i.e. all the species living on the planet earth)?  Watching the Center for Land Use Interpretation’s slide show of the Trans Alaskan Pipeline in the Radical Nature Show at the Barbican, I was struck by the scale and sophistication of our engineering (technological) capacities.  I came away feeling that it was not optional.  Yes, I might use the car less, walk more, fly less, use the train more, recycle more, reuse more, eat more vegetables and less meat, grow more potatoes.  I might also be political working on projects which raise environmental issues, join the green party, read the latest thinking on green issues.  But the idea that we, as unspecialised animals, don’t use technology to solve our problems, is impossible.  Kingsnorth rightly highlights the real problem about the application of existing assumptions to the new challenges: they are not ‘wind farms’ they are ‘ wind power stations.’  But pride is a great driver of human development, technological as much as philosophical.  How do we apply our technological imaginations and skills with modesty and humility and a respect for all the other lifeforms on the planet?

What Art/Reading?

Posted in CF Writing, Texts by chrisfremantle on July 31, 2009

Chris Biddlecombe’s book when visitors appear produced as part of his work with the Arthur Conan Doyle Richard Lancelyn Green Collection and the Aspex Gallery which resulted in the exhibition Between Worlds, 2009.

Biddlecombe explores his own interests through the cypher of Arthur Conan Doyle and the Richard Lancelyn Green Collection held by Portsmouth City Council.

Conan Doyle’s public persona as author of the Sherlock Holmes stories is entwined with his less well known involvement in Spiritualism.  Richard Lancelyn Green obsessively collected anything to do with Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes.  Biddlecombe has, in turn, obsessively explored this material during an off-site project co-ordinated by the Aspex Gallery.

The book is a juxtaposition of the moments when Holmes and Watson first meet their ‘clients,’ drawn from the stories; and a number of psychic research photographs found in the Richard Lancelyn Green collection.  Biddlecombe has made drawings of an almost anthropological or illustrative character from the photographs.  Each photograph appears to contain both people and spirits, not always human.  Interestingly Biddlecombe’s drawings apply the same mark making techniques to both subjects, and therefore emphasise an equality of reality.  The spirits are as real as the sitters.

As is highlighted in the text for the exhibition, trickery does not necessarily preclude truth.  Visitors may be the product of the imagination, but that makes them no less significant.

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What Art?

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions, Sited work by chrisfremantle on July 28, 2009

The unacceptable face of Britain
Aesthetic of European stag party culture
Blue Cowboys
out of Newcastle rebranded to maximise market penetration take Gdansk by storm
Find them on  youtube under the name StudioSzkic
Explore Polish bars
Tree climbing, table Squennis, arm wrestling,
begging bankers

Sexercise disco
on a streetcorner in NY in PLish
Who is mixing the beats?  They should be on iTunes as well.

What Art have I seen?

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions, Sited work by chrisfremantle on July 11, 2009

The University of Trash at the Scultpure Center

Art space become alternative pedagogical space.  Quote “I saw enough of this sort of thing in the 70s.”

So are we revisiting the 70s?  If so, why?  And what is the difference between now and the 70s?

What art have I seen?

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions, Sited work by chrisfremantle on July 11, 2009

Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City.

What sticks in the mind?

Fifty bums raised in the air: yoga in the Park.

A giant doilly suspended in the trees
(Jennifer Cecere, Mom, 2009)

Looking across to Manhattan’s volume.

A series of physical challenges modelled on an exercise assault course
(Risa Puno, The Big Apple Showdown Spectacular, 2009)

A carnival wagon with artefacts displayed
(Dana Sherwood and The Black Forrest Fancies, The Ladies Society of Alchemical Agriculture, 2009)

A black barn of jig-sawed patterns
(Bernard Williams, Socrates Ply- Teck Barn, 2009)

A small garden, the most valuable space for urban-dwellers
(Jeanine Oleson, Retribution, 2009)

Socrates Sculpture Park reinvents itself as a cross-over public space between art and temporary amusement park.  Away with formal sculptural concerns: roll up, roll up to the crazy summer Saturday on a field in the sun.  Is it New York or is it somewhere in Kansas?  Is it Little House On The Prairie or is it socially engaged practice?  Even without the specific ‘dialogics’ intended to captivate the art audiences, Socrates is busy.

Writing

Posted in CF Writing by chrisfremantle on July 5, 2009
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All the trees…

Posted in CF Writing by chrisfremantle on July 4, 2009
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Re: LANDWORKERS

Posted in CF Writing by chrisfremantle on June 8, 2009

Whilst working at the University of the Arts Berne, had the opportunity to meet and speak with George Steinmann.  His work From-To-Beyond highlights what was missing from the discussion at LANDWORKERS.  We heard about wonderful cultural projects in Samiland, in Dogribland and in Scotland.  All these places continue to suffer the environmental and social impacts of extraction.  Steinmann went to the Kola Peninsula in Russia (part of Samiland) and saw the massive environmental destruction:

“In the autumn of 1995, after thorough preparation, and having contacted scientists in Norway, Finland and Russia, I headed for Murmansk to travel the Kola Peninsula with a Russian Guide.  The itinerary included a visit to Severomorsk and the nuclear submarine base there, as well as excursions to the nickel smelting works in Montsegorsk, Apatity, and Nikel, and a trip to Teriberka on the Barents Sea.  I have never travelled in a region so scarred.  It is one huge pathogenic zone caught between primal nature and industrial exploitation.  This vast region is fatally polluted and damaged by the huge amounts of nuclear waste in the Barents Sea and on the island of Novaya Zemlya, and by the gigantic sulphur-dioxide output of the smelting works. “

(p.166, George Steinmann: Blue Notes, Helmhaus Zurich, Verlag fur moderne Kunst Nurnberg, 2007)

Images

There is a real danger in focusing on the art, and the art focusing on aspects of the cultural, and thus missing the real environmental, social and economic dimensions of extraction and pollution in these remote places.

Berne, Switzerland?

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions, On The Edge, Research by chrisfremantle on June 3, 2009

Working at the University of the Arts, Berne

Presenting The Artist as Leader and doing a workshop with 2nd Year Graphic Design students.

Zentrum Paul Klee

Two visits. In the first (27 May) I find:

“Calculation and work. Trial and error, first on paper, then as a model, then eventually as a prototype on a scale of one to one, that is the method of the practical scientist Renzo Piano and his people. The design process oscillates between tinkering and totalling, the simplest hand drawn sketches and the most high-tech computer drawings are used. The search party takes side turnings, longer routes, gets itself out of dead ends, but every step takes them closer to an as yet undefined goal. The detours are necessary – they ensure that no short circuits, no apparent short cuts, lead to a rash, un-thought-out result. Anyone who commits himself too soon, locks himself in. Piano’s people approach their task like a team of researchers on thin ice.” p.24 Benedikt Loderer, Monument in Fruchtland in Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Short Guide. Hatje Cantz, 2005.

Also Dream and Reality: Contemporary Art from the Near East. The curatorial concept is very strong comprising firstly, contemporary works; secondly, elements of material culture chosen from an anthropological collection; and thirdly, a selection of works by Paul Klee. But in practice, as an experience, its not very successful. It’s not that the Klee works aren’t relevant. It’s not that the anthropological works aren’t relevant. Some of the contemporary art is very good. But in this category there are too many video works. But let me tell you about the three really good pieces. Firstly The Walid Raad/Atlas Group work that seems to be called either Untitled 1982-2007 by Walid Raad, or We Decided to Let them Say “We Are Convinced” Twice by the Atlas Group. Secondly the series of carpets by xxx variously titled. When you first walk down the stairs you see a collection of four carpets which are not quite hung in the same way as for instance the carpets in the Burrell in Glasgow. Then you start to question what you are looking at and you realise that they are modified, reconstructed into new forms, subtley different from the normal. Finally, the chair. I thought it was simply a chair with a small booklet chained to it which might elucidate one of the videos. The book started with a short text which explained that in both Europe and in Cairo there are lots of plastic garden chairs, but where in Europe, when they break they are thrown out, in Cairo they are repaired. A sequence of approximately 20 images of various repaired plastic garden chairs followed. The text suggested that visitors to the exhibition should treat this chair very roughly because the museum had agreed to repair any broken chair in the same way that the Egyptians were repairing their chairs.

For me this work articulated the potential for the arts to highlight the infection of one culture by another culture, and the potential for that to work in both directions. Asking the museum exhibition, conservation and curatorial staff to firstly assume that a piece of plastic garden furniture is an important cultural object, and then to suggest that it should be repaired in a very explicit way, is just great. Asking the people visiting the exhibition to treat an artwork roughly (though sadly it was not showing any significant signs of wear and tear), is brilliant. Definitely a sort of Fluxus Score or an Allan Kaprow happening, read through a post-colonial distorting mirror.

Kunstmuseum Berne (28 May)

Tracey Emin (I missed it in Edinburgh, so it was great to see it in Berne).
“Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” Guerrilla Girls 1989.
If women are going to be naked in the museum then Emin tells us something about her experience of being a woman.
Walking through the gallery away from a video about being in a band, suddenly I heard screaming, screaming that hit me in the solar plexus. My immediate reaction was that someone in the next gallery was in deep, deep anguish. The pop music and the screaming.
In the sequence of polaroid or photobooth works it seems that Emin is saying “If you are going to look at my body, then you are going to see it as I see it, feel it as I feel it.”
There is a display of small images of early, post art school work that Emin destroyed. The pictures are presented like a collection of family photos. You can see that she has been deeply influenced by Edvard Munch. Someone also mentioned Egon Schiele. There is a work which reminds me strongly of Louise Bourgeois.

Conclusion: it’s a game of consequences – the statement is ‘if’ ‘then.’

Kunsthalle Berne (29 May) Zhang Enli

Second visit to the Zentrum Paul Klee (30 May)
Paul Klee: Carpet of Memory

It didn’t feel like an historical exhibition.  It was overwhelming, both in the beauty of the images and in the variety of tactics of the visual.  It’s not just a lot of squiggles.  The one image which was apparently simply a series of dabs of colour on a dark surface was infact a broadly applied impasto, overlayered with watercolour, and the dark colour was used to heighten the shapes of the watercolour dabs.

Conclusion: he asks which tactic will I apply here?

The sculpture park behind the Zentrum – five works – twisted and beaten coreten steel and cast bronze.

Fred Bushe, RSA OBE

Posted in CF Writing by chrisfremantle on May 18, 2009

Frederick Bushe.  Born 1931 died 17 May 2009.

One of the foremost of a generation of Scottish sculptors, Fred Bushe also founded the Scottish Sculpture Workshop.

Both his drawing and his sculpture were monumental in scale and concerned with the physical of the environment around him.  He was a modernist through and through, engaged with material and form and dismissive of the fads in sculpture that came and went.  His strong sense composition in three dimensions resulted in work drawing on the industrial as a primary source.  You would naturally connect his work with that of Anthony Caro.

In 1979 he had been teaching art teachers at Aberdeen College of Education, and was looking for a studio.  He found an old bakery in the village of Lumsden, with a flat above a shop front, and a range of buildings behind.  He took these on, establishing the Scottish Sculpture Workshop (SSW) initially under the auspices of WASPS (Workshop Artists Studio Provision Scotland), and later as a ‘client’ of the Scottish Arts Council.

Fred was part of the post-war sculpture symposium movement participating in symposia in eastern europe and in turn hosting a number of international symposia at SSW.  This movement was about cultural communication in the context of political division, and Fred played an important role.  In the Bothy at SSW there is a big kitchen table, and that probably epitomises his spirit.

Over the fifteen or sixteen years that he ran SSW, more than one generation of young artists found a place to explore their interests in a working studio.  At the same time artists from something like 40 countries came to work.  When it was good, SSW was a hothouse with artists working and talking, supporting and helping each other.  When it was bad, it was freezing cold and very isolated.

Fred also established the Scottish Sculpture Open at Kildrummy Castle.  For many years it provided an opportunity to see large scale work by established and emerging artists, again both Scottish and overseas.  It is difficult to image the importance of this biennial when there are now so many opportunities for large scale work (temporary and permanent), but at the time it was critical.

Fred had studied at Glasgow School of Art, 1949–53. In 1966–67 he attended the University of Birmingham School of Art, where he gained an Advanced Diploma in Art Education.  He was a long standing member of the Royal Scottish Academy and received his OBE in 1997 (I think).

He exhibited in group shows from the Camden Arts Centre in London to the Pier Arts Centre on Orkney, as well as many of the Sculpture Opens, and his works are to be found in various locations in Scotland as well as in odd corners of Eastern Europe.

Hopefully the RSA will put on a good retrospective of his work.

A characteristic large sculpture, “Grave Gate”, in Corten steel and wood, can be found in the Hunterian Sculpture Courtyard.

Obituary in Scotsman

Other links to images:

Chatham Street North Extension Relief

T-Fold, Highland Council

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LANDWORKERS

Posted in CF Writing, Producing, Sited work by chrisfremantle on May 16, 2009

Twice this week I have been confronted by the importance of thinking about the rural as a thing in itself, rather than by what it is not.  The Scottish Government defines the rural in negative terms; it is that which is not urban.  But, and it has to be said, sometime around now according to the UN Population Fund humanity is crossing a threshold into (statistically speaking) more than 50% of us living in cities.

And it is precisely at this point that it is increasingly clear that we need to pay attention to the cost of our beliefs, and our belief that the rural is backward, dependent and boring compared to the smooth, fast and creative spaces of our cities is one we need to question.

On Thursday 14th May 2009 the Geddes Institute at the University of Dundee, as part of the Annual Conference of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland held a symposium entitled Landworkers. We were taken on a journey into a space where the indigenous and the vernacular and the rural and the remote were foremost. I have a slight reservation even using the word rural in the context of work around the Great Bear Lake in the North West Territories of Canada, or of Samiland stretching across Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Rural suggests the space of western agrarian cultures, not the space of travelling folk and nomads.

So I’d like to start by suggesting several things Scotland can learn from its own rural:

The international Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently reported that Scotland’s rural schools provide the best education in the world.

As noted previously, the result of more than 20 years of community development through the process of land claim on Eigg (amongst other remote Scottish estates) has resulted in the Eigg Trust introducing a renewable energy system which makes the island an exemplar. Moreover the fact that this renewable energy system incorporates a means to limit any individual from taking too much is something to be celebrated. It means that social and environmental justice are manifest in the infrastructure.

Rural Scotland also has the potential to generate 25% of Europe’s wind energy, as well as a very significant proportion of wave and tidal energy. In the context of climate change it is imperative, not that we cover every square mile of the Scottish landscape with wind turbines, but that we develop a robust politics to maximise the production of renewable energy by pushing all the technologies to commercial viability, and by re-designing and re-engineering the grid to support this. The key words for such a policy need to be a mixed economy of means across both technologies and scales – just as rural life is characterised by mixed economies and complex interdependecies.

This moves from the overused word ‘sustainability’ to the more imaginatively rich concept of a ‘stability domain’ as articulated by the eminent ecological artists Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison. A ‘stability domain’ is a region, whether a watershed, or another geographical entity, which achieves ecological and economic stability. In human terms this means having the necessary interdependencies, structures and limitors embedding social and environmental justice, for life to thrive. It also means ceasing to be dependent on the extraction of, and consuming of, limited resources beyond the carrying capacity of the ecology.  We might also want to ask what a cultural stability domain might be?

If we want to challenge beliefs, then we might want to imagine the situation where our energy needs are met from the energies already in movement around the planet, rather than those embedded beneath our feet. I can understand why miners in St Helens in Lancashire are proud of their motto ‘Ex Terra Lucem’ and it’s a wonderfully resonant phrase, but we need a new motto.

These are all pragmatic and practical lessons we can learn from the rural, but we can also learn in a different way, and returning to the Landworkers symposium I want to highlight the cultural things we can learn from the rural.

Four, if not more, presentations focused on vernacular and indigenous projects:

Gavin Renwick working as cultural intermediary for the Dogrib in their land claim negotiations with the Canadian Government, andnow moving on to the process of designing and developing a new vernacular for housing in the new nation.

Juhani Pallasmaa creating a museum of nature and culture with and for the Sami.

Then two wonderful presentations flowing into each other by a process of playing ‘tag’ starting with Arthur Watson, handing on to Will Maclean, handing on to Fergus Purdie, handing back to Will Maclean handing on to Marion Leven.

Watson was talking about Cairn Gorm: Reading a Landscape in which he is collaborating with Maclean and Purdie, amongst others. Maclean then talked about the works Cuimhneachain nan Gaisgeach (Commemoration of our Land Heroes) on Lewis where he is collaborating on the fourth site with Leven.

These projects are more than just art in rural places. They speak to a very specific and different understanding: one the places priority on the vernacular and indigenous. T.S.Eliot and others were quoted on the relationship between tradition and innovation but Renwick provided some of the key phrases that structure thinking this through. The first, probably derived from reading MacDiarmid, in “Being modern in your own language.” The second is the dictum of the Dogrib elders which is to educate young people to understand both Western culture and their own traditional culture: “to be strong like two people”.

The cultural projects all demonstrate that it is absolutely critical in the context of rampant urbanisation to express the value (richness, complexity, duration, immediacy, experimentation and repetition) of the rural. And that the expressions of value and meaning we saw help us understand, if nothing else, that the rural is more than just a lower density of population.

The issue of the vernacular seemed quite opaque in the event.  What is vernacular?  Is it of the everyday?  In relation to architecture it can seem like an aspect of the aesthetic realm or a stylistic device.  But it struck me that the terrace I live on with 20 houses the same and two at the end which are larger (for the builder/developer and his family at a guess) also describes a vernacular – yes in the ‘character,’ but also in the economics.  There is a real danger that the vernacular is a lifestyle choice rather than an aspect of imagining our ‘stability domain’.  It seemed to me that the artists’ projects evidenced a clear operation within a complex idea of vernacular which comes back to Renwick’s ‘modern in our own language’ and ‘strong like two people.’

Scotland's Futures Forum – How to re-perceive our understanding of 'rural Scotland' in the 21st Century?

Posted in CF Writing, Texts by chrisfremantle on May 12, 2009

Willie Roe, Chair, Skills Development Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, focused this event on an idea of equivalence and interdependence. He drew on the example of Denmark where, in law, the urban and the rural have to be dealt with in equivalent ways. This means that within any planning cycle rolling out services the rural is dealt with in parallel with the urban. The case in point is broadband which has apparently been rolled out in urban Scotland but is still only just reaching the islands. He perhaps highlighted interdependence through the example of very functional ferry services in the Shetlands versus the rest of the western and northern isles ferry services. He observed that in Shetland these had been designed to be the most effective for the islanders by the islanders, whereas the rest seemed to have been designed from the urban centre outwards. He also highlighted the importance of renewable energy in rural Scotland.

It therefore felt a little like the invitation had been made to come to Edinburgh to consider what could be done for rural Scotland which was obviously ‘dependent’ but that by the end the question was quite different: and might end up something like: ‘What are the key priorities where the rural has a specific role to play?’ When we ask these questions we begin to see a different set of answers: certainly renewables, but also education (apparently the OECD recently found that education in rural Scotland is actually the best in the world), probably community development, and I am sure the list goes on. Our priorities would come out looking different: re-engineering our electricity grid from one which distributes from the centre to the periphery, to one which also enables the periphery to distribute to the centre, might be a metaphor for quite a lot of other re-engineering. We would move away from assuming that the ‘rural’ is ‘dependent.’

But, if I had a reservation about the event, it was the lack of the use of the word sustainability in relation to the proposed core concept of equivalence. Equivalence could be interpreted in very wasteful ways. Rather I’d like to imagine Scotland in 20 years time being equivalent to Eigg, certainly in relation to energy if not also land ownership. I say this because Eigg is now wholly renewable, but also because there is social and environmental justice built into the system. Eigg does not have an unlimited volume of electricity available, although it is free and not consumed in the process of use. Therefore they have implemented a 5kw limit for households and a 10kw limit for businesses in the form of a trip on the supply. This way noone can take more than their share. To me this is an important model for a sustainable future for the planet, not just one utopian island.

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