Failspace Presentation

Posted in CF Writing, Failure, Research by chrisfremantle on December 11, 2022

Presentation given at the Failspace Conference, Queen Margaret University, Musselburgh, 7 December 2022


In terms of the earlier discussion about self-disclosure I am he/him, short, pale skinned, grey haired and dressed in grey and black

I’m also aware as a middle-aged middle class white male I have a form of privilege which makes it easier to talk about failure. This is particularly manifest in a certain form of confidence in the ability to work with dominant narratives and construct versions of reality.

Story telling is at the heart of the problem with failure. Storytelling and neoliberalism.

Storytelling because we find it very difficult to end stories with failure and on some levels storytelling is our business. Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, the pioneering artists working with ecology, ecologies, watersheds, planning and the global environmental crises had a saying ‘every place is the story of its own becoming’ ie that the way things become is organised by the story it is telling itself (Harrison and Harrison 2007).

Neoliberalism because it has constructed a culture of competition – competition is one of the pillars of neoliberalism alongside privatisation, deregulation, globalisation and free trade.

So the work this contribution draws on started with a ‘research’ residency at Gray’s School of Art when I was still a freelancer (at that point having been made redundant twice). I was asked to work with a group of staff to establish a ‘research theme’ – as part of that process I interviewed 8 members of staff. In preparing for the interviews I added a question about failure on instinct. Otherwise all the questions were things like ‘what does making mean to you?’ – too comfortable.

When the research residency ended the ‘research theme’ stalled and never developed in any useful way. The book we discussed drawing on the interviews never got written.

A couple of years later I got hired onto Gray’s as staff (other things I had worked on at Gray’s had been more successful). I was asked to manage Design in Action, a research project, and there was already a Postdoc in place. Gemma Kearney was from the Business School with an interest in Entrepreneurship. We ended up discussing failure and used the interview material I had collected as the basis for a paper (Fremantle and Kearney 2015).

The heart of the paper is the sequence of observations made by the lecturers, artists and designers.

Questioning of the concept of failure, specifically, considering if failure is an end-point or part of an overall trajectory

Maybe they’re just experiments. Failure, perhaps, becomes a bit more strict about it.’

‘There are pieces that I’ve made over the years that I’ve not been pleased with, but they’ve always been ‘not a failure’ because they’ve stepped onto something else.’

I always juxtapose this with the story about Cezanne. According to Renoir Cezanne sometimes came, ‘…away disappointed, returning without his canvas, which he’d leave on a rock or on the grass, at the mercy of the wind or the rain or the sun, swallowed by the earth…’

So the stories we tell ourselves of failure as process need to be juxtaposed with the actual judgements of outright failure.

The potential to learn from failure

‘If I saw myself in the light of all the failures that I’ve made – I’m much more of a failure than a success – but then, I’ve learned much more from those failures than the successes.’ 

‘There is a quote from Dieter Roth. He reached the point in his practice where he deemed everything he did was of equal value; nothing as such was a success and nothing was a failure. Ever since I came across that, I’ve been fascinated by that notion because, again, it almost, in a sense, is the antitheses of teaching and especially assessment; we’re making value judgements on whether things are successes or failures.’ 

“It’s important to exhibit your mistakes. Man is not perfect. Neither are his creations. I’ve given up using sour milk. Instead I use music. I sometimes fasten a tape recorder onto paintings or objects and have the music pour over the spectator/listener. This creates as certain effect: those who look at the art don’t realize how bad it is when they hear the music. For the music is even worse. Two bad things make one good thing.” (1978) 

The role of failure in assessment

‘…so, if you can have a discussion whereby you say that failure is OK and that it might even be a good thing, then the student is only going to say “Yes, but what will that mean if I actually fail?  I can’t fail my assessment.”… It is really, really difficult.  I think the whole assessment process makes it difficult to have a proper discussion about failure’. 

What we realised was that when it comes to assessment there is this slippage

“Yes, but what will that mean if I actually fail?  I can’t fail my assessment.”

If I fail my assessment I’ll fail my course and then I’ll be a failure.

I was co-present for the Scottish Graduate School for the Arts and Humanities together with Elizabeth Reeder who leads the Creative Writing Masters at Glasgow.

We developed a presentation and I think it was the second time we delivered the session someone asked about Mental Health and Creative Failure.

Since then I’ve given a mental health warning at the start of each session. When I had to record the session so it could be delivered during lockdown and I had to break it up into 4×15 minute chunks I had to put the mental health warning at the beginning of each – that still oddly resonates in my mind.

But the point is critical – all the talk of using failures creatively is fine except when the failure has led someone into some sort of depression or anxiety, at which point offering them “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” is actually dangerous.

However discussing failure carefully and opening it out as a subject which we can engage with does seem to be useful – I’ve used live polling a couple of times now asking students at the beginning of a session and at the end what words they associate and the anxiety words reduce in frequency. I’m not a psychologist and it isn’t a controlled trial, but it is an area that I want to explore further because in particular of the link with assessment – the double bind which has the affect in the end of making students cautious – “Yes, but what will that mean if I actually fail?  I can’t fail my assessment.” The response to this is to be risk averse.

I’m not sure exactly how the processes of assessment in education and evaluation in organisational systems are related.

Being here today has helped me realise that my concerns with failure are from the perspective of practitioners much more than from the perspectives of policymakers or funders, or from the perspective of arts admin – but then I teach in the Art School, not in our School of Creative and Cultural Business… I don’t come at it from the issue of participation and the challenge that the research team set themselves – of the wider issue of who participates in arts and culture.

I’m also not regularly involved in evaluation per se, though sometime research papers reporting on projects are also playing an advocacy role.

However I was part of a team commissioned by Creative Carbon Scotland to evaluate a EU funded project on the relationship between culture and climate adaptation (Fremantle and Mabon 2021). The other member of the team – Leslie Mabon – is an urban climate adaptation specialist. It was a highly experimental project – climate adaptation has been the ‘poor cousin’ of climate mitigation, and it was only at the point the project was happening that the importance of public engagement in adaptation was beginning to be recognised at the strategic level – certainly only a few years before it was seen as a matter for infrastructure and technocrats.

Leslie and I from the outset agreed that we could only do a formative evaluation because there were really no comparable projects against which to evaluate Cultural Adaptations.

What was interesting was that one of the partner organisations TILLT, which has a very long track record of doing placements of artists in industry and public bodies brought up the issue of failure and had reflected on it organisationally (Cultural Adaptations 2020).

There examples are all to do with project management, expectations and communications, and they had as an organisation clearly reflected on the failure and developed effective responses.

The model is that TILLT organises for an artist to work on a placement in a non-arts organisation – sometimes the non-arts organisation is commercial, looking for ‘out of the box’ thinking and they fund the placement. Sometimes the organisation is public or third sector and TILLT does the fundraising.

The artist placement is supported by a TILLT member of staff, originally called a project manager, but for a long time now called a ‘process’ manager.

What TILLT told us about their experiences of failures focused on in the first instance on the gap between the person in the organisation who thinks bringing an artist in is a good idea and the people in the organisation who are expected to benefit from the artist’s input.

Since then TILLT have always had ‘project groups’ including staff as well as management, artist, and process manager.

Another example fundamentally changed TILLT’s approach – for the first ten years the underpinning assumption was that the artist’s role was to disrupt in some way. This approach came to a head when an unnamed artist in an unnamed organisation did a whole date of activity around the theme of ‘death’.

The Director of TILLT told us:

“I had no idea of what the artist and the process manager was planning, and when I on the Monday after found some papers in the printer about experiences and thoughts about death I contacted the client’s contact person to ask how it all went. I got some very hard feedback from her and also very personal. She explained that they all had a very distasteful feeling after the lab, and that she, who was taking a plane the day after the lab, had a panic attack during the flight…

Their conclusion was:

“Today we want to create relations to the participants instead of uncertainty. If you have trust between the artist and the group you can have them do anything and really expanding the comfort zone. If you have no trust nothing will change.”

In terms of the evaluation we delivered it included failure as an issue.

Adaptation requires trust and a willingness to understand and work with the issue of fail­ure.

Exploring what success might mean and embracing shared ambition are both critical parts of learning from different expertise. Criteria for success in adaptation are difficult because success is the avoidance of disruption and collapse.

In the conclusions the term we used was ‘success criteria’.

Turning to some conclusions…

It is interesting that for TILLT it was only in a failure of something that had been working well, that a new model was developed. They had been using a disruptive model for 10 years, presumably effectively. Someone pushed it too far and that resulted in an opportunity for development. They offered it as an example of failure, but they also offered it as an example of development and innovation. Of course they were able to tell us these examples with hindsight. The examples weren’t fresh.

In the end we need to be really careful because the criteria against which we judge failure become normative, are intended to be habitual, and are disciplining – and here I’m channelling Foucault (Conway 2021).

I think for me the areas of future work are around how addressing failure as a subject might actually reduce anxiety. But how we equally need to be willing to deal with discomfort.

And secondly around the way failure might also be something to do with not knowing, and how this might be a form of resistance to neoliberalism and the dominance of competition as an organising principle.


Conway, Will. 2021. ‘Going Astray’. RevoltingBodies (blog). 13 December 2021.

Cultural Adaptations. 2020. ‘Learning from Failure in Experimental Projects’. Cultural Adaptations. 23 January 2020.

Fremantle, Chris, and Gemma Kearney. 2015. ‘Owning Failure: Insights Into the Perceptions and Understandings of Art Educators’. International Journal of Art & Design Education 34 (3): 309–18.

Fremantle, Chris, and Leslie Mabon. 2021. ‘Cultural Adaptations Evaluation Report’. Edinburgh: Creative Carbon Scotland.

Harrison, Helen Mayer, and Newton Harrison. 2007. ‘Public Culture and Sustainable Practices: Peninsula Europe from an Ecodiversity Perspective, Posing Questions to Complexity Scientists’. Structure and Dynamics: EJournal of Anthropological and Related Sciences.

Contribution to TNoC’s Roundtable

Posted in CF Writing, News, Research by chrisfremantle on September 23, 2022

Artists and scientists that co-create regenerative projects in cities? Yes, please. But how?

Honoured to be able to contribute along side a great group of people all working on regenerative approaches all over the world.

My contribution to The Nature of Cities Roundtable on co-creating regenerative projects in cities focuses on an approach to evaluation that works across arts, culture, science and environmental management. Based on work done by Laura Meagher, Catherine Lyall and Sandra Nutley and further developed with input from Dave Edwards, the framework draws attention to conceptual shifts, capacity building, instrumental impacts, attitudinal shifts and enduring connectivity. It is focused by the challenges and impacts of working across different ways of knowing and ways of working.

The whole round table is great with stimulating and informative perspectives from all sorts of different contexts.

Review for Climate Cultures: The Raven’s Nest by Sarah Thomas

Posted in CF Writing, News by chrisfremantle on September 23, 2022
Showing the cover of the book, 'The Raven's Nest' by Sarah Thomas
The Raven’s Nest. Cover art: Carmen R. Balit, based on a photograph by Sarah Thomas

Mark Goldthorpe very kindly asked me to do a review for Climate Cultures. It was fascinating to review Sarah Thomas’ The Raven’s Nest and to explore the inter relation between a great book and a PhD done in combination.

In The Raven’s Nest Sarah Thomas tells us a story of falling in love, moving to another culture and learning its ways. Many things have agency in the book, including all sorts of other living things as well as landscapes and even buildings. Daylight too is an actor. Nested within the book is a photo essay, a visual journey parallel to and intersecting with the words.

Read on…

In Your Hands – Fruit Routes at Loughborough

Posted in CF Writing, News, Research by chrisfremantle on May 19, 2022

I was invited to the celebration of 10 years of the Fruit Routes project at the University of Loughborough. Anne-Marie Culhane, artist, and Marsha Meskimmon, Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies at Loughborough, invited me to contribute a short presentation. The morning was spent discussing Fruit Routes, its development and its future. The afternoon was spent visiting the orchards and in more informal conversations. The event was the launch of the Fruit Routes Charter, the basis for it going on.

Image courtesy of Fruit Routes project

I was keen to travel and participate because this is one of several durational artist-led projects concerning orchards and foraging. Others include the current The Far Orchard project at The Barn in Aberdeenshire, Dundee Urban Orchard developed by Jonathan Baxter and Sarah Gittins, the work of Common Ground’s Save our Orchards, and Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison’s Portable Orchard Survival Piece #5 originally made in 1972 and remade several times since. This is by no means a comprehensive list of artists projects related to orchards, fruit and foraging.

The Fruit Routes Charter, launched at the event, is focused on setting out the basis for the continuation of Fruit Routes, moving beyond being a project. It highlights the permaculture principles underpinning Anne-Marie Culhane’s approach. Through highlighting patterns of events (principally planting and harvesting) and approaches to organising (ensuring a warm welcome for inhabitants of Loughborough as well as students whose first language might not be English). It highlights principles for foraging as well as for publicising. The Charter is intended to inform the steering committee responsible for the ongoing development of Fruit Routes. It might inform a lot of thinking about the relationship of art to life.

My presentation follows:

My colleague Anne Douglas and I are currently working on a book on the early works of the pioneering artists Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison. Helen died in 2018 and Newton carries on. We are showing his work, On The Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland at the World Congress of Soil Science this summer, hopefully including a work that they started doing in 1970 and have made again several times.

This work is called Making Earth. According to Newton Harrison it takes 8-12 weeks and involves sewage, river loam, worms, and garden waste. Newton is clear that the reason for doing this work, and the reason they’ve done the work several times for different exhibitions, is that it is incredibly easy to destroy soil and very hard work to make it.

As we know our lives are dependent on soil – I expect you all read George Monbiot’s article on the secret world beneath our feet in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago – if not it is worth checking out.

So my title for today comes from an article by David Antin – he said in a review in 1970,

The idea of an ecological art is the idea of an art that articulates dependencies, its own condition for existence or those of the world.

ANTIN, D., 1970. Art + Ecology. ArtNews.

In terms of art practices that are concerned with ecology there are several common characteristics

  • a focus on systems, rather than objects (Brian Eno “Art is not an object, but a trigger for experience”),
  • learning through experience and in particular sensory place based experience,
  • collaboration, participation and interdisciplinarity.

I find Gert Biesta’s phrase really valuable too.

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

BIESTA, G., 2017. Letting Art Teach: Art Education ‘After’ Joseph Beuys. Arnhem: ArtEZ Press.

But Antin’s articulation focusing on dependencies is a useful heuristic. I like his ‘its own condition for existence’ ie that the work’s very existence reveals dependencies, or that the work reveals dependencies in the world.

We might be more used to hearing the word ‘interdependency’ and I’m not offering dependency as an alternative – Isabelle Stengers, the Belgian philosopher of science and colleague of Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway, usefully says

Nor should the intertwining interdependencies be confused with a network of interlinking dependences. It is easy to understand why, without water or light, a plant dies. This fits the definition of ‘dependence’. But interdependence implies a way of being sensitive that is a form of venture.

STENGERS, I., 2020. The Earth Won’t Let Itself Be Watched. In: B. LATOUR and P. WEIBEL, eds. Critical Zones: Observatories for Earthly Politics. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press. pp. 228–235.

Interdependence implies a way of being sensitive. But dependence is dependence for life. The writing Anne Douglas and I are doing on the Harrisons focuses on how they developed a practice and ‘committed to doing no work that did not attend to the wellbeing of the lifeweb’.

David Antin was a colleague of their at the University of California San Diego.

Antin’s articulation is useful because it means that we can see Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ work in the Sanitation Department of New York City is clearly an ecological art. Her first project as artist in residence in the Sanitation Department was called Touch Sanitation. Over a period of about 11 months she travelled across NY City meeting all 8500 sanitation workers saying to each of them “Thank you for keeping New York City alive”

Her Manifesto of Maintenance Art asks

After the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?

UKELES, M.L., KWON, M. and MOLESWORTH, H., 1997. Maintenance Art Activity (1973) Artist Project: Mierle Laderman Ukeles. Documents, 10, pp. 5–22.

I almost don’t need to highlight how Fruit Routes articulates dependency as well as interdependence, how its own condition for existence or those of the world.

I’m currently working with Prof Dee Heddon on one of the Research projects with the Future of UK Treescapes programme and amongst other things we are developing a set of case studies around artists working with treescapes (forests, woods, trees). One of the things that Dee has highlighted as becoming apparent is the importance of maintenance arrangements – for example Joseph Beuys’ 7000 Oaks in Kassel, Agnes Denes’ Tree Mountain in Finland. These works have lifespans beyond the human and certainly beyond the artist – they exist as art but also as forestry (urban and otherwise).

The projects are dependent on care and maintenance, replacement of dead trees, etc, as well as in the case of orchards, use – we are dependent on them, and they are dependent on us in varying ways.

But the orchards also evidence the dependencies of the world. I work at a campus University and we still have swathes of mown grass. We are University as golf course. Our campus doesn’t remind us of the ongoing processes of life. It doesn’t attract insects and it isn’t made untidy by fruit dropping to the ground. Infact it is always tidy.

I want to end by reading a meditation by TJ Shin I found recently. It’s published in a magazine devoted euphemistically to those things we call ‘facilities’ otherwise known as toilets.

Notes from the event

The Fruit Routes initiative is built on principles of women’s leadership and indigenous ways of knowing. A number of key thinkers were cited including Rachel Carson, Val Plumwood, Vandana Shiva, Greta Gaard, Felix Guattari and Lorraine Code. Although Loughborough might be described as focused on technology, Fruit Routes is not a top down initiative, and it recognises that the challenges we face at a planetary scale require local action. Fruit Routes is focused by place, identity, materiality and history, and thinks in multi-scalar terms – it is specific in its place and relates to other edible locality (city, town, campus, etc) as well as addressing national, continental and global challenges of food and justice. It seeks to address what Amitav Ghosh calls the ‘crisis of the imagination’ in his key book The Great Derangement.

Fruit Routes was described in terms of ‘thinking the land’, recognising that trees have been in the landscape of Loughborough for much longer than the University. Fruit Routes also provides a different time-cycle to the academic. The Harvest Festival happens in the autumn. It acts as a focus for Architecture School’s Summer School providing a brief for an apple store. Planting happens in the winter and spring.

Fruit Routes has had a documented impact on the mental health of students, and has an alumni community of its own. It creates connections between the University and the Town, particularly with the annual Harvest festival, as well as engaging teams within the University such as Gardening and Security.

Fruit Routes has had to find space within the Campus and it has focused on ‘edge’ spaces so as to ensure it didn’t conflict with developments. It has addressed a number of University strategies and priorities including Biodiversity for Business, creating a place to meet between disciplines, offering challenges and also sharing. It enables intergenerational learning.

Culture for Adaptation, Adaptation for Culture – New Report

Posted in CF Writing, News, Research by chrisfremantle on November 8, 2021

Adaptation to climate breakdown has largely focused on infrastructure and strategy, aiming to secure resources and political priority. Recently both the European Union and the US National Academy of Sciences have published reports which highlight the need to co-create with inhabitants to achieve successful adaptation.

Leslie Mabon and I were the Robert Gordon University team appointed to evaluate the ‘Cultural Adaptations‘ project led by Creative Carbon Scotland. ‘Cultural Adaptations’ involved four Cities’ Sustainability teams and cultural organisations sharing expertise – expertise on adaptation needed by cultural organisations, and expertise on co-creative approaches needed by adaptation professionals.

We have summarised some key points in this piece for Yale Climate Connections which also links to the full report.

PhDs by Public Output/ Published Work

Posted in CF Writing, PhD, Research by chrisfremantle on October 8, 2020

I’m currently undertaking a PhD by Public Output (also known as a PhD by Published Work) through Gray’s School of Art, Robert Gordon University (RGU). I’m a part-time member of staff – Research Fellow and Lecturer. I’ve been associated with On The Edge and Research at Gray’s for 20 years, in various capacities (Director of Partner Organisation, Member of Project Steering Group, Contracted Research Assistant, Research Resident, Co-Investigator on Projects).

A PhD by Public Output collects a selection of previous research (publications and projects) and frames the overarching enquiry, identifying the significance, originality and rigor of the contributions.

In summary, RGU takes the view that a completed PhD should provide material sufficient for 4 journal articles, and therefore if you have 4 peer reviewed journal articles all focused on a common theme, you can write a 10,000 word thesis which demonstrates the overall contribution and submit this along with the outputs. (Each institution will have its own regulations.)

Gray’s School of Art, RGU, has played a notable role in particular in supporting established practitioners to undertake practice-led doctoral research.* There are fewer examples of Practice-led PhDs by Public Output. I’ve identified four examples including one from Gray’s:

  • Suzanne Lacy, 2013. Imperfect Art: Working in Public A Case Study of the Oakland Projects (1991-2001).
  • Minty Donald, 2014. Exploring human/environment interdependencies through critical spatial practice.
  • Ross Sinclair, 2016. Ross Sinclair: 20 Years of Real Life.
  • Nicola Triscott, 2017. Art and Intervention in the Stewardship of the Planetary Commons: Towards a Curatorial Model of Co-inquiry.

Full References including links are below.

Before I unpack these I should say that Prof Emeritus Anne Douglas always draws attention to key artists’ writings which demonstrate Practice-led Research before it was an institutionalised process (e.g. Cage, Kaprow, Bernstein, Harrisons, Denes) and Anne’s essays on Practice-led are worth reading too (I’ll do a separate blog on that subject).

Suzanne Lacy

Lacy’s thesis is a reflection on a series of projects, the Oakland Projects, undertaken in collaboration with other artists, large numbers of participants, as well as with a range of institutional partners in Oakland California over 10 years. The thesis incorporates extensive description and discussion of the projects as well as two DVDs of video and TV. Lacy’s text broadly falls into three sections: 

  1. methodology, 
  2. description and reflection on the Oakland Projects, 
  3. discussion of art and pedagogy. 

The description and reflection of the projects comprises 110 pages of the 190 pages of the document. The Oakland Projects, whilst taking place in public, are not written up and reflected on elsewhere by the artist. Rather her contention is that the projects constitute arts-based research in and of themselves, not through exegesis or discrete academic texts.

Lacy’s PhD by Public Output therefore constitutes a major reflection on a body of work and the process which supported it, the Working in Public Seminars (2006-08), is an important aspect of methodology, if unusual. Prof Anne Douglas was Lacy’s Supervisor and proposed the seminars as part of the methodology (see for full details).

The seminars, enabled by support from Creative Scotland, opened up reflection and interrogation of a key body of work by an internationally recognised artist. The programme included public events as well as a programme of seminars for a selected group of established practitioners based in Scotland. Lacy was able to engage in deep reflection, in particular with the group, on 10 years of work in one community. The focus of this reflection is captured in the titles of the three events: ‘aesthetics and ethics’, ‘representation and power’, ‘quality and imperfection’. 

Lacy had previously published Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art (1994), a collection of essays by key practitioners, and has published in Journals as well. One essay in Mapping the Terrain in particular, Allan Kaprow’s piece discussing Project Other Ways is referred to extensively. This too is a personal reflection by an artist on a work that confounds simple analysis as either art or pedagogy – a fundamental theme for Lacy.

In her thesis Lacy describes her methodology as three fold: 

  1. review all the material associated with the Oakland Projects (20 boxes plus a considerable body of video and TV material) 
  2. interview 40 individuals involved with the projects 
  3. present this material as part of the Working in Public Seminars 

Lacy describes her contribution in the following terms, 

“Although in the last chapter I suggest a few directions for assessing the success or failure of this work as social action and the perfection or imperfection of it as art, I think the major contribution I can make here is curatorial, assembling some of the multiple narratives and, through interviews, multiple voices of the project. (Perhaps because early in my education I was trained in science, I realize that an “evaluation” from my vantage point would be extremely flawed in terms of any “truth” it might reveal, considering my inherent bias as one of the primary makers.)”

(Lacy, 2013, p. 5)

Lacy focuses in particular on the importance of ‘Building a Critical Position for the Artist’s Voice’, saying “…it is the practice, however, that remains fundamental to my analysis – what I know from what I have learnt while making art.” (Lacy, 2013, p. 13).

Lacy highlights a key example of the multi-vocal approach, as demonstrated by Americans for the Arts’ Animating Democracy Initiative and the Critical Perspectives Project. This involved groups of writers reflecting on civic projects from differing perspectives. Lacy highlights others who engaged with the Oakland Projects in depth, as well as her several roles: “…as one of the creators of the artwork, as a curator and recorder of the narratives, and, through writing it down, as contributor to the discourse in the field.” (Lacy, 2013, p. 17). She goes on to ask, “What is inside the practice that only the practitioner can articulate?” (Lacy, 2013, p.18).

Turning to the third section on art and pedagogy, pedagogy is intimately linked with public practice, particularly through the concept of ‘public pedagogy’. For Lacy this is the key intersection that she is concerned with and seeks to navigate. Lacy’s practice is fundamentally concerned with forms of representation, particularly in the media, starting with the invisibility of rape and in various works using this as a lens with which to explore questions of equity and exclusion. She identifies the development of feminist pedagogies and situates her practice within this story, articulating her concerns with class and race, and the emergence of ideas of intersectionality.

This in turn correlates with Lacy’s concern for the development of the ‘Artist’s Voice’. She quotes Arlene Raven saying “Our processes prefigured the emerging public art practices today that move fluidly among criticism, theory, art making and activism.” (Lacy, 2013, p. 145). She has previously articulated her multiple roles within the one dissertation (art maker, curator of multiple perspectives, and narrator).

The form of theorising is distinct, drawing on personal engagement with the emergence of feminist art practices and thinking amongst a community of which Lacy was a part. Her citation is often based on direct engagement with the authors. She particularly highlights Raven’s articulation of the ways that feminist attention to contextual social and political events in turn required nuanced ethical thinking on the role of this reconstituted artist in the public sphere. Lacy discusses her own underpinning engagement with questions of equity in multiple contexts.

Having established the context she turns to her argument for arts-based research (or as she calls it ‘Research as an Art Practice’). The first element of her argument focuses on her own question led approach, and the way that expands as she engages with others (in the Oakland Projects, youth specifically) to be a shared set of questions.

Lacy explores the idea of ‘curriculum’ in her expanded (public) pedagogy, highlighting five areas within the overall framework of the Oakland Projects. This highlights the complexity of the Oakland Projects but also the interweaving of multiple aspects – modalities, contexts, participants and audiences – in the media, in formal  and informal sites of learning, in youth development and in elements more conventionally recognisable as ‘art’.

Lacy in following sections unpacks both aesthetics and ethics in relation to the Oakland Projects, including where these can come into conflict. In particular Lacy discusses the role of institutions as partners in these projects. She summarises seven key practices adopted within the projects. These are drawn from good practice in youth work and adapted to the circumstances that include large scale public performance, but are also in place to ensure that the projects are not co-opted by partners.

Lacy’s conclusion highlights two contributions. One focused the value and significance of the voice of the artist, and the second on the understanding of feminist art and pedagogy, particularly public pedagogy. She identifies areas for further work and also returns to Kaprow, and in particular his interest in ambiguity, and the way the Oakland Projects reveal the tension between aesthetics and ethics played out in works that have a fundamental public pedagogical character. 

Other examples

The three other examples, Minty Donald (external supervisor for my PhD), Ross Sinclair, and Nicola Triscott, all offer different lessons.

Minty Donald’s thesis (2014) is supported by 3 Journal Articles and 1 Book Chapter which between them address two discrete projects, of which extensive documentation is supplied. The focus of the thesis is the development of practice-led approaches to critical spatial practice, particularly in the context of performance and increasingly engaging with a New Materialist conception of agency.

The focus of the framing essay is on the overarching principles Donald identifies in the exemplified practice concerned with the tension between the ways space, place and site carry meaning and embody histories, but are also fluid. The theoretical frame has several dimensions:

  1. a concern with context bringing together post-structuralist writing (Michel de Certeau, Michel Foucault and Henri Lefebvre) with public art and site specific theorising (e.g. Rendell, from whom she takes the conceptualisation of critical spatial practice) and with de-colonial literatures (e.g. Massey).
  2. a concern with heritage and in particular the relationship between heritage and performance. A key concept for Donald is nostalgia and how this is understood.
  3. New Materialism (eg Bennett). This dimension is identified as the emergent focus within the practice.

It is interesting to note that, possibly because this is a PhD by Published Work, the range of theory highlighted is broad. The clear identification of the different dimensions is helpful.

In the context of practice-led research, the theoretical context is critical, as is the historical context – the precedents and significant peer and predecessor practices. Donald highlights her practice as a scenographer and unpacks how that informs her practice in the works under consideration in terms of scenography specifically and the wider context of issues within performance. Donald links aspects of scenography with New Materialism. She links the concerns in performance with practices in public art (Wodiczko, Alys, Starling), creating a clearly articulated territory for her practice.

Donald discusses her understanding of practice as research drawing on a range of literature. She draws out arguments for “…a persistent concern for those engaged in practice-as-research: the relationship between praxis and discursive reflection on, or exegesis of, that praxis.” (Donald, 2014, p.16). This approach allows the practitioner to reflect on their own intentions and the ways in which they had to adapt in relation the ‘resistances’ of the world.

Donald highlights the generative character of practice-as-research, drawing attention to the particular forms of ‘not knowing’ and ways of working with ‘not knowing’ to reveal new insights.

Donald touches on the collaborative aspects of several projects where she worked with others, sometimes in a role which organised others (directorial/curatorial).

These sections, setting up the theoretical, professional and methodological aspects are followed by description of the projects profiled leading into a discussion of the insights in the associated Journal Articles and Book Chapters.

In the work Glimmers in Limbo Donald is concerned with the binary of tangible/intangible in heritage, something she suggests as a false dichotomy. Donald is concerned with “…the potential of critical spatial practice to bring about what Nigel Thrift describes as an extension of ‘the imagination into matter’. (Donald, 2014, p. 26)

Donald’s articulation of her work Glimmers in Limbo in relation to New Materialism highlights the aspect of agency. Hauntology, the exploration of the ways that material histories of places remain present even after erasure, offers another frame for these concerns, it places less emphasis on agency in the materiality.

In The River Clyde Project Donald is focused on “…ideas of space/place as networked and always in-process.” (Donald, 2014, p. 30). Donald discusses Bridging, a work which opens up new issues for her practice. She explores Tim Ingold’s concept of meshwork in relation to the project because it enables us to ‘see’ the agency of the material, in this case the rope, within the performance. This in turn leads to opening up ecological concerns in ways that humans and materials are encompassed by wind and tide. The role of these encompassing elements in frustrating the artists’ intention is key, opening up new insights.

This section concludes with discussion of a work in progress, High-Slack-Low-Slack-High, for which there is no published corollary. She discusses the parallel research trajectories of herself and collaborators exploring tides, a development from the earlier Bridging project.

Donald identifies aspects of both projects that influenced policy – of the Merchant City Initiative’s understanding of the Britannia Panopticon and of the Velocity programme’s thinking about the regeneration of the Clyde.

In Donald’s conclusion she highlights the importance of experimentation to her research trajectory because it reveals, particularly in failures, the agency of materials and environments in ways that would not otherwise be apparent. Donald indicates the future direction of research particularly into ways of working that reveal forms of agency – quoting Bennett, ‘tactics […] to discern the vitality of matter’ (Donald, 2014, p. 47).

Ross Sinclair

Ross Sinclair’s thesis is different from the others reviewed in that he focuses on his Real Life Project, an ongoing ‘everyday life as a work of art’ process which he has been engaged with over 20 years.

In his abstract, Sinclair sums this up saying,

“This has built a 20-year durational performance project that connects with the public at a dynamic intersection of ideas, context, performance and art-practice. This project was initiated when the words REAL LIFE were tattooed in black ink across my back, at Terry’s Tattoo parlour in Glasgow in 1994.”

(Sinclair, 2016, p. 6)

The form and voice of the thesis are distinctive not least in being informal and personal in a way the others reviewed aren’t.

In practice the thesis is based on a series of 5 monographs (publications associated with solo exhibitions) plus two pieces in Journals. However Sinclair articulates another version of the ‘Prior Publication’ writing,

“…the published evidence of its public dissemination via diverse heterogeneous outputs: starting with the tattoo, then the photograph, the cover of a magazine, the performances, the multiples, the exhibitions, the interventions, the t-shirt paintings, the installations, the dialogue, the hybrid sculptures, the physical structures, the songs, the paintings, the live music, the diverse contexts, the cd’s, the neon signs, the galleries, the shops, the streets, the posters, the records, the billboards, the conversations, the arguments, the planning, the travelling, the meetings, the fund-raising, the talks, the teaching, the publications and finally this submission of Degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Published Work.”

(Sinclair, 2016, p. 29)

Sinclair provides an overview of the context in which the Real Life Project emerged, including the significance of the Artist Placement Group manifesto and the rubric ‘The context is half the work’ to the Environmental Art course at Glasgow School of Art, as well as the strange status of Glasgow negotiating it’s post-industrial future. There is a self-reflexivity in this thesis that is sometimes complex to unpack. The historicization of the practice started as early as 1994 when Sinclair created the Museum of Despair in a shop on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and offered the detritus of 5 years’ practice for sale. From artist as flea market to artist as Co-Investigator in an AHRC funded project investigating the context in which the artist emerged (The Glasgow Miracle, Materials for Alternative Histories, 2012-13).

Sinclair positions the tattoo as a key sign, needing to be, “…traversed along the critical ley lines of Debord / de Certeau / Baudrillard / Barthes / Borges / Eco…” (Sinclair, 2016, p. 33). It acts as the pivot of his analysis, raising a series of issues including the understanding of signs, the relationship between the art world and commerce, the relationship between the artist and the spectator.

He also positions it ‘spatially’ in relation to the concept of Temporary Autonomous Zones, suggesting that the works, in part because they are centred around his unstable presence, “My character is an active performer, everyman, an individual, confused living human presence, e Pluribus Unum: but a member of the public too.” (Sinclair, 2016, p. 35).

Sinclair juxtaposes his own articulation with a significant body of quotation, including key citations which speak to his thinking (in addition to those noted above, Lefebvre), but also texts by leading curators (Archer, Brown, Gillick, Mulholland, Richardson, Verwoert) that reference, interpret and position the Real Life Project. His use of de Certeau’s distinction between ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’ both reminds us of the positioning of the individual and the positioning of the institution, providing Sinclair with the opportunity to explore the ways in which the Real Life Project is positioned adjacent to the audience (but perhaps still at the behest of the institution – not least as a teacher in Higher Education undertaking a PhD by Prior Publication). He highlights the changing relationship with audience as the individual outings for the Real Life Project increasingly open themselves up to participation by audiences. Sinclair turns to the discourse of socially engaged art (Bishop, Kester, et al), positioning his work in a Brechtian space of critical distance through presenting the audience with disruptive situations. In the end Sinclair is seeking to distinguish the Practice-led researcher from the critic and art historian, and claiming value in the artists’ voice (a theme in Lacy’s PhD too). 

That being said, Sinclair is right to highlight the significance of the sequence of publications as a key part of the Real Life Project and a significant body of constructed (self) understanding and (self) construction. He concludes by suggesting that the Real Life Project demonstrates Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomatic mode of existence, “The publications reflect the rhizomatic evolution of the RLP and articulate the contribution made to contemporary art-practice in Scotland, UK, and internationally over two decades via the medium of a single-authored practice-led project that could be characterised as organic, research-led, horizontal, non hierarchical and dialogic.” (Sinclair, 2016, p. 61). The Rückenfigur of Caspar David Friedrich is central to the conception of the Real Life Project, and the modalities of Romanticism, particularly in terms of the authority of the individual, even if only to be tactical are inscribed throughout this thesis.

In relation to the concern to understand structure and approach, voice and positioning, the Real Life Project is distinctive, partly as the most carefully designed of all the examples, but also because of the particular self-referentiality, the curious Beuysian totality, even gestamkunstwerk, of the project. The lack of any reference to Beuys (or Kaprow whose Blurring of Art and Life should surely have featured as a key text) is curious.

Nicola Triscott

Triscott’s thesis addresses 5 projects from 2010 to 2016 across a range of contexts, including outer space. The portfolio supporting the thesis includes 5 exhibitions and a public monument; 3 books associated with various of these projects including 3 authored chapters; a chapter in a collection; and a conference paper. Triscott includes a detailed breakdown of outputs from each project. In this she identifies her various roles including curator, co-curator, editor, author. She highlights the role of writing in the formats noted above as well as in a blog (Triscott, 2017, p. 28).

The focus of Triscott’s thesis is three-fold:

  1. curatorial practice;
  2. interdisciplinary, interdisciplinary art, critical art;
  3. the global/planetary commons.

Her three research questions all raise issues in curatorial practice.

The second key term for Triscott is ‘interdisciplinary’ She briefly unpacks histories associated with the development of thinking and practice in response to specialisation in the sciences. She reflects on her own process of developing ‘multi-disciplinary expertise, listing what she describes as, “…basic knowledge of areas of science and technology (such as synthetic biology, genetic engineering, biodiversity studies, and climate change research), outer space systems and policy, as well as current debates in areas such as STS, cultural and political geography, and international governance.” (Triscott, 2017, p. 28).

The third key concept Triscott invokes is ‘planetary commons’. Here she is referring to not merely the legal definition of global commons (“…the high seas (including the frozen Arctic ocean), the atmosphere, Antarctica and outer space…” Triscott, 2017, p. 19). She seeks to focus on in her words,

“…the planetary turn in the arts and social humanities … to redirect the emphasis of inquiry from governance, with its systems of regulation, to stewardship, the notion of responsible use and protection, as well as allowing greater consideration of non-human actants (other species, objects).”

(Triscott, 2017, p. 19)

In this Triscott is not suggesting that the art needs to address the planetary scale but that art is increasingly engaged with issues which affect the planet in different ways in different places – that there are common concerns including outer space, the Arctic, biodiversity and scientific knowledge (all aspects of the projects discussed).

Triscott positions herself as contributing to the reconfiguring understanding of curating as a practice, and to the development of the understanding of research in curating from a practice-led perspective (as opposed to for instance as an art historical endeavour, a more traditional frame for research in curating). Triscott references Dewey (as does Lacy) in her argument for experience-based understandings of knowing and knowledge. She argues that, “This curatorial knowledge takes two main forms: curatorial knowledge from the projects and knowledge about broader curatorial methodologies and frameworks.” (Triscott, 2017, p. 20). She unpacks forms of knowledge (informational and transformational) and approaches to curatorial practice (active, dialogic, critical interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary, experimental institutional, experiential/ performative). Triscott brings Science and Technologies Studies (STS), drawing on Stengers and Latour, to bear on her curatorial practice involving artists with scientists and other disciplines. She provides a nuanced reading of concepts such as collaboration and cooperation. In doing this she is both articulating her practice and also articulating her understanding of research and method.

She carefully positions the challenges arising from the approach she has developed, saying, “The overarching aims of these inquiries are to co-create knowledge and foster new forms of cultural production. These transdisciplinary inquiries are not separate from the distribution and display aspects of art.” (Triscott, 2017, p. 25). This in turn raises challenges both in relation to curatorial practice, which is still largely understood as a monologic endeavour, and also in relation to academic research, where she points out that the ‘Principal Investigator’ is still the normative and institutionalised way of working. She draws on Heron and Reason’s articulation of co-inquiry to inform her curatorial and interdisciplinary practice and to clarify where her practice is different.

Section 2 provides a Contextual Review of her three key issues, exploring curatorship in relation to institutional developments in the UK and Europe from the 1990s leading into  developments in curating interdisciplinarity including discussions of various configurations and constructions. This in turn leads into a discussion of art-science initiatives and the need for criticality, particularly in relation to assumptions or claims of the authoritative world view of science, or the universal applicability of its methods (again drawing on Latour, Stengers and Haraway). She then turns to ‘planetary commons’ and juxtaposes it with Anthropocene as a framing for addressing current challenges, arguing that the latter term, “…fails to orientate us towards the type of change that is needed to transform the political economies of extraction, consumption and inequality that underpin the catastrophe and that spread its impact unevenly.” (Triscott, 2017, p. 48). Triscott’s provides a detailed discussion of the modalities and significance of commons and its reemergence as a critical concept since the 1990s. Combined with planetarity (as opposed to globalisation), the concept of commons forms the grounds for the interdisciplinary curatorial practice under discussion.

In her conclusion Triscott argues that the model she has developed through her practice over 10 years can be understood through three concepts, all drawn from or related to STS thinking. She is focused on ‘matters of concern’ (Latour), seeks the co-production of knowledge, and this is achieved through ‘an ecology of practices’ (Stengers), which she further elaborates.


Reflecting across the four examples, Ross Sinclair’s thesis (2016) is perhaps the most leftfield in part because the practice he has developed over 20 years, the Real Life Project, is from the outset historicised and self-reflexive in itself. ‘Real life’ is constantly in question and the thesis adds another layer of how ‘real life’ can be art (or in this case Practice-led research). The discussion of publication (even including the ‘REAL LIFE’ tattoo itself) and the attention Sinclair has given to publication within his practice is valuable. 

All four comprise different combinations of journal articles and book chapters alongside projects captured through documentation (as noted above). Lacy and Sinclair in particular include materials such as video, and Triscott includes a public monument created by artists where her role was curator (i.e. not primary originator).

Each addresses theory (as noted above); the context and development of the practice; as well as methodology, both in the sense of the methods used in assembling the thesis, as well as the methods used in the practice and outputs.

All four specifically address the voice of the practitioner, and the value of practice-led research as a means of opening up the knowledge of the practitioner to others. The importance of knowing how to create, techne, alongside theory and knowledge of acting, of understanding other human beings, phronesis, is widely explored within the literature of practice-led research (cf Coessens, Crispin and Douglas, 2009, p. 76-8).

This approach allows the practitioner to reflect on their own intentions and the ways in which they had to adapt in relation to the ‘resistances’ of the world. If we accept Duchamp’s analysis in The Creative Act (Duchamp, 1957), in which he articulates the relationship between the artist’s intention and the spectators’ experience, then the practitioner cannot attempt to address the significance of the work to posterity. That is the realm of the spectator. However the practitioner can speak to their understanding of ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’

Douglas, reflecting as Supervisor on Lacy’s PhD, highlights this key purpose, “…Suzanne embarked on the research to deepen her own understanding of what it takes to practise well, with quality, in public life. She was seeing many poor examples of practice. She wanted to explore this work through the experience and voice of the artist because the artist had the deepest knowledge of what was involved in producing the work.” Douglas, 2016, p. 4). Douglas goes on to say, “Suzanne’s approach to critical reflection and analysis was simultaneously performative and pedagogical.” (2016, p. 5). She reflects, “In this PhD – and this is perhaps unusual – she was simultaneously ‘research student’ and mentor to us in learning what the practice could be along with figuring out an appropriate way of researching it.” (2016, p. 5). This opens up aspects of practice-led research which arise from the combination of reflection and theorisation, as well as the context and complexity of working with established practitioners.

Reviewing these theses in particular has informed the structure and voice I am adopting. Lacy, Donald and Triscott all raise issues of collaboration and multi-authorship in various relevant ways which are relevant to my own work. This review has enabled me to better understand how to contextualise the various contributions in my outputs as well as provided me with a sense of how my work sits in relation to others undertaking similar exercises.


* Prof Emeritus Anne Douglas oversaw a significant number of PhDs including by established practitioners (Goto-Collins, 2012; Chu, 2013; Smith, 2015; Gausden, 2016; Price, 2016).


COESSENS, K., CRISPIN, D., and DOUGLAS, A., 2009. The Artistic Turn: A Manifesto. Leuven: University of Leuven Press.

DOUGLAS, A. 2016. Practice-led research and improvisation in post modern culture. Presented  as part of the docARTES: crossing borders programme, 26 February 2016, Ghent, Belgium. Available from: 

DUCHAMP, M., 1957. The Creative Act. [online] available from: 

DONALD, M., 2014. Exploring human/environment interdependencies through critical spatial practice. PhD by Published Work, University of Glasgow. Available from: 

LACY, S. 2013. Imperfect art: working in public: a case study of the Oakland Projects (1991-2001). Robert Gordon University, PhD Thesis. Available from: 

LACY, S., 1994. Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art. Seattle: Bay Press.

SINCLAIR, R., 2016. Ross Sinclair: 20 Years of Real Life. PhD by Published Work, The Glasgow School of Art. Available from: 

TRISCOTT, N., 2017. Art and Intervention in the Stewardship of the Planetary Commons: Towards a Curatorial Model of Co-inquiry. PhD by Published Work, University of Westminster. Available from:

Abstract: The Hope of Something Different

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gert Biesta proposes that we need to be,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The power of imagination makes us infinite.

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

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

Screen Shot 2020-06-26 at 16.05.44

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

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

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

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


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Failure talks

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

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

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

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

The Art of a Life Adapting, published in Leonardo

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

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

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

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

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

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


Adaptation and failure

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


Greenhouse Britain installed at the Feldman Gallery in New York City

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

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

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

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

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

Will it be enough?

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

Later they ask,

Would it be enough?

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

And again later,

Would it be enough?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

‘Disciplinarity and Peripheries’ at Gray’s Research Conference

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Macdonald, M. 2007. A Note on Interdisciplinarity.

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

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

Thinking about failure

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

London LASER reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The abstract is,

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

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

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

Four key examples are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practising Equality

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

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


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

Deep Routes: research, scale and indigeneity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jill goes on to say,

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

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

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

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

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


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

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 Activity 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.

My responses to Calendar can be found here.

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 said,

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

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


Viewed up close nobody is normal.
Caestano Veloso

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

Thanks so much for this Chris

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

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

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

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

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

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


and Mary Arnold commented,

Chris & Beth,

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


Animals, ethics and Robert Burns

Posted in CF Writing by chrisfremantle on January 25, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State of Play Manifesto performance – Central Station Video

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

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

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 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.


"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.


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 @ Questions? Contact 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

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,
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 It’s only open once a year for Scotland’s Gardens Scheme, usually first weekend in May.
Portrack House

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
25 Albert Drive
Glasgow G41 2PE
0141 433 2722

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
Roselle House Galleries
Roselle Park
Monument Road
Ayr KA7 4NQ

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

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

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