What art have I seen? In the eddy of the stream

Posted in Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on September 8, 2022

Cooking Sections and Sakiya’s exhibition at Inverleith House in the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh is as good an example of putting the wellbeing of the web if life first – the challenge Helen Mayer Harrison (1927-2018) and Newton Harrison (1932-2022) set themeselves in the early 70s and which is now clearly the challenge for all of us.

Cooking Sections “is a practice that examines the systems that organise the world through food, and how food can be used to explore, trace and advance climate justice.” Sakiya “is an academy, a residency programme, a research hub, and a farm located in Ein Qiniya, a small agricultural village seven kilometres west of Ramallah, in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory… By grafting local traditions of self-sufficiency onto contemporary art and ecological practices, Sakiya seeks to create new narratives around relationships to land, knowledge-production, and commoning.” (Sakiya are also working with Arts Catalyst and have a residency opportunity at the moment.)

Cooking Sections have been working in Scotland and in particular on the Isle of Skye for some years now – Emma Nicolson first worked with them on the Climavore project when she was the Director of Atlas, and she has curated this in her role of Head of Creative Programmes for the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh. This enduring connection is significant.

The exhibition “…draws attention to the breakdown of ecosystems through the removal of plants and the ensuing long-term harm to people, communities, and other species.”

There is an important set of proposals around commoning which directly relate to Newton Harrison’s On the Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland. Where that work proposes understanding the soil, water, air and forests of Scotland as commons that we are dependent upon and asks for a ‘commons of mind’ to commit to putting back more than we take out, the proposals around commons in this exhibition include that the whole intertidal zone of Scotland should be established as a commons and that a Scottish Office for Commoning should be established. This proposal needs published as a full page pull out in the Highland Free Press or another widely distributed publication.

Commoning proposals, In the eddy of a stream exhibition Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh 2022

This forms one part of a series of installations focusing on salmon and forests, mussels and muscles, oysters and terrazzo. Each reveals an aspect of an ecology and a different way of imagining exchange and reuse rather than extraction. Some like the work on seaweeds and shellfish is being developed to a functional scale to offer alternatives to industrial fish farming which is destroying coastal waters in the Highlands.

Deborah Bird Rose talks about the two violences of colonialism – the violence to people and the violence to the environment. Sakiya’s installation focuses on the violence to the environment done by British colonial rule of Palestine even before the imposition of the state of Israel. The British colonial administration ruled that a large number of culturally significant plants were weeds to be exterminated. The main display is of botanical specimens of 33 plants, their cultural significance and their ecological role. Another remarkable creation in the exhibition is a carved wood frieze of these plants, reminiscent of a plaster cornice. Throughout Inverleith House we can hear singing. The installation in the final room echoes through the whole space, lamenting ecological and cultural loss.

In the eddy of the stream judiciously uses whimsical and suprising installations as well as scientific data (highlighting what we know as well as what we don’t know) and beautifully crafted elements – these works hold the challenging evidence of human ignorance of and violence to ecosystems in a way that draws us into careful attention through an experience that is rich and rewarding.

Mussels and Muscles

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.

What art have I seen? In Relation to Linum

Posted in Exhibitions, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on August 24, 2021

What art have I seen? Drawn into tomorrow

Posted in Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on January 19, 2016
Tagged with: ,


Posted in Sited work, Texts by chrisfremantle on January 12, 2010
Tagged with: ,

An artist reports on COP15

Posted in Research, Sited work, Texts by chrisfremantle on January 12, 2010

Read Aviva Rahmani’s reflection on attending COP15 in Copenhagen.  She sees hope, not in transnational engineering of negotiations, but in all the NGOs and projects seeking to make a difference on the ground.  It strikes me that the increasing attention focused on the periphery, whether it’s Eigg or Tuvalu, might be indicating a very basic shift (see posts on Landworkers).  The sharpness of the challenges faced in remote edge locations is matched by the imagination and energy brought to bear on them.  What is interesting is the extent to which these examples, of crisis or initiative, become visible and in turn become benchmarks and potentially become models.

Tagged with: , ,

Bike Bloc

Posted in Sited work by chrisfremantle on December 1, 2009

Brian Holmes writes very well, and his piece Into Information on Productivist strategies suggesting informationist strategies is very provoking, but for sheer compelling, articulate, quality writing, read The Decade to Come.  He ends with a link to the Bike Bloc video.

You can also hear something tantalising in the Guardian podcast from the Arnolfini where Bike Bloc is being tested.

Pecha Kucha: 6 mins 20 secs

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

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

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

Pecha Kucha Invite

Resources on the history of climate change and science

Posted in Research, Texts by chrisfremantle on July 23, 2009

A timeline of the development of the science of climate change (1800 to the present), part of a much larger site and educational resource created by Spencer Weart (author of The Discovery of Global Warming) and hosted by the American Institute of Physics.

An article on the history of Climate Change science from the Guardian in 2007

Tagged with:

Eco thinking?

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on June 20, 2009

I like William Boyd’s writing and he highlights something quite accurately, which is inherently problematic about the relationship between the urban and the rural.  The assumed dichotomies of creative v traditional, noisy v quiet, dirty v clean, etc need to be challenged.

Furthermore he acknowledges the constructedness of the landscape as a characteristic, but he doesn’t analyse the meaning of constructing landscapes as a human activity.

William Boyd’s It’s all too beautiful in today’s Guardian Review


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged with: , ,

Climate Change and the Carteret Islands

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on May 5, 2009

You need to hear the voices of people on the Carteret Islands, commonly identified as some of the first climate refugees, or people displaced by climate change.

God help me and my people

Youtube – Global Warming and the Carteret Islands

Tagged with:

What art have I seen?

Posted in Research, Sited work by chrisfremantle on May 5, 2009 doing a van conversion, so that it will run on vegetable oil, at the Monument in Newcastle.

The facts – 35 mpg, 70 mph, 65p a litre (more or less) and it is ‘carbon neutral’.

In other words the plants from which vegetable oil is produced take up carbon through photosynthesis as they grow. When the vegetable oil is combusted in the engine and the carbon released, it is then taken up again by the plants being grown for more vegetable oil, unlike fossil fuels which take millions of years to produce.

Not as good as the solar powered cars they race at the Alford Transport Museum, but more sustainable.

Originally posted 13 June 2006

Tagged with:

Greenhouse Britain: Losing Ground, Gaining Wisdom

Posted in CF Writing, CV, Exhibitions, Producing, Research, Texts, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on May 6, 2008

Posted in CF Writing, Texts by chrisfremantle on June 23, 2006

I found the text below in a folder on my laptop – according to the properties it was modified 23 June 2006 so it must have been written right about then. I had been freelance since February of that year. I had been helping Helix Arts with an evaluation of the Climate Change: Culture Change project and must have just been in the development phase of Greenhouse Britain, probably having been to Shrewsbury and met the Harrisons. It’s a curious piece of history and I’m posting it pretty much as a curiousity.

It’s a very good question – why am I interested in Climate Change?

There are a number of answers – firstly I acknowledge that it will have a significant impact on my life, and the life of my family and friends, and it is having an effect on the lives of other people who I don’t know, and other living things on the planet.  But that requires me to reduce my ‘carbon footprint’ (in the jargon) – to travel less by plane and car, to reduce energy consumption in my house, etc.  It does not require me to make it part of my work as a cultural historian/curator/person involved with contemporary art.

I became interested in issues of art and the environment through a number of experiences and observations – I used to be Director of the Scottish Sculpture Workshop, and this is located in rural Aberdeenshire – it was a ‘modernist sculpture factory’ dislocated from its natural urban habitat to a rural one, by virtue of the inclinations of the founder director.  I heard Declan McGonagle, then Director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), speak in Dundee about the challenges of transforming a building which was part of the British colonial history in Ireland into a space for modern art.  He highlighted and emphasised the importance of engaging with the cultural history and the surrounding communities.  IMMA places its relationship with its locality as a key thread of work.

I also began to look at the work of artists who worked within the environment across a range of strategies and tactics – I invited John Maine to work with us and a quarry company – this resulted in an 8 year project constructing a new landscape on the rim of an historical quarry in Aberdeenshire, and in passing involved 8 years of research and exploration of the prehistory and history of stone in the landscape of Aberdeenshire.

I commissioned Nina Pope to explore the interface between the rural and the digital with a group of young artists.

I commissioned Gavin Renwick to explore buildings in the rural environment of Aberdeenshire again with a small group of artists and architects.  This opened up a political dimension and resulted in a series of events looking at Devolution in Scotland from a (rural) cultural perspective.  The work with Renwick developed into another project looking at cultural continuity and human settlement in the context of the village and Aberdeenshire.

Another tack over this territory was the Making Places residency with Wendy Gunn – she brought in Craig Dykers of Snohetta and Tim Ingold, Chair of Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen.  Tim in particular spoke about movement in the landscape – knowing places and finding them.  We explored Aberdeenshire through a multi-disciplinary team including artists, architects, archaeologists, anthropologists, land-use researchers, and inhabitants.

I ran a programme of visiting speakers on public art – Penny Balkin Bach from Fairmount Park Art Association in Philadephia, Anna Pepperall from Gateshead in the North East of England, and Stefanie Bourne from the Sustrans organisation.  I commissioned or acted as the commissioning agent for quite a lot of public art – this did not take thinking forward, but it is always interesting to work with artists.  Where it was interesting was when there was an opportunity to for an artist to develop work of their own, or where a commissioner was willing to take risks and be very open.

Helen Denerley’s Craws at the Safeway in Inverurie simply addressed one of the characteristic aspects of the area, and David Annand’s Aberdeenshire Angus was the best possible thing that could be done on the basis of the ambition of the village of Alford.

But more interestingly, George Beasley and Helen Denerley’s collaboration over the Boundaries project brought the whole population of Glen Deskry into making a work of art, and the CairnGorm Mountain landscape initiative has resulted in a truly significant work by Arthur Watson in collaboration with many of his colleagues.  In this work he is addressing hte multiple cultural histories of the Cairngorms.  The first phase of work involves dangerous drawing – exploring the naming of rock climbs – the dotted lines that overlay the cliffs and crags of the mountain.

But as to climate change – all of the above is characterised by
1. rural and inhabited
2. artists with other disciplines
3. reflection and action

Now I have been involved in Practice led research for 6 or 7 years, initially as a partner and collaborator, now probably as a researcher, and in the future as a PhD candidate.  This has only been possible because of my colleague Anne Douglas and On The Edge, her research project into a new articulation of the value of the visual arts in marginal contexts.  Whilst On The Edge does not speak to climate change directly, it addresses the idea of ‘life as art’ and the reposition of art within the everyday.  It also is a hugely important space for thinking rigorously and creatively across such a wide range of issues in partnership, not just within the core team, but much more widely.

I’m not interested in climate change because its a new theme in the endless cycle of issue based work eddying through contemporary art.  I’m not interested because there might be funding.  I am interested because it is an evolution of the work – it asks not just how do we live here?  How do artists respond to this place?  How can we look again at where we are?

It goes beyond that to ‘we have to live differently.  How can we do that creatively?’  Climate change is therefore not the only driver.  There are also social drivers and ethical drivers and aesthetic drivers.

My dissertation for my MLitt in Cultural History was all about Utopia, its underpinning of the Humanist project and the embedded structures of power and social organisation – it was a critique.  I think perhaps I am still involved in the critique of the humanist project and the idea of utopia.

Tagged with:

What art have I seen?

Posted in Exhibitions, Research, Sited work by chrisfremantle on June 15, 2006
Tagged with:

What art have I seen?

Posted in Exhibitions, Research, Sited work, Texts by chrisfremantle on June 10, 2006

Climate Change: Cultural Change at the Globe Gallery:
Michael Pinsky, Peter Rogers and Helen Mayer and Newton Harrison.

I’m evaluating this project.

Tagged with:
%d bloggers like this: