A part of my work since 2009 has been involved in bringing the new type of permanent forestry management I employ on my small 2.5 acre conifer site into the Irish political sphere.
In contemporary art-ecology projects, political dimensions are often encountered, particularly when you begin to critically examine the socio-political effects that may be affecting the environment you are studying/representing. A special journal issue examines recent thinking and practices in art-ecology-politics-land projects and I detail briefly my own political work in regards to my forest work here.
Over a three year period (2009-12) I attended Irish Green Party forest policy meetings and finally compiled and presented a new comprehensive policy document on behalf of a small committed policy group. Its key point that forests in Ireland should be managed to develop permanent, continuous cover forests was adopted in full in March 2012. I have given an overview of the inspiration and reasons why I felt it was important for my arts practice to work in policy previously, in my article Deep Sustainability and the art and politics of forests (2012).
While not an area to engender quick change, getting involved in policy development work was another means of envisioning the steps we need to take to dramatically improve our relation to a major ecosystem that has numerous intrinsic ecological values, important cultural and amenity properties and diverse economic benefits. While individual artist actions and works may create important symbolic signals to move us to think anew of the world we inhabit, policies can also identify new thinking and practices and sometimes, powerfully direct and ease collective change. After making steps to assist the forest that I live in and giving it ‘a voice’ in my writing and films, the policy work is what I am most proud of. However, I don’t want say it was easy and its still not widely known or understood (yet). It has been at times an enormously frustrating and challenging process for one who far prefers to be behind a camera. There were so many times I wanted to walk away from the process as points were developed so incrementally. I still remember one particular long weekend when I had all the submitted documents from various forest stakeholders to hand and just sitting down and writing for a solid 20 hours – I thought if I could just get it all down in one document that would be it – that was only the half of it as I found out later, all the checking, discussing and checking again to get it right. I should also mention for those working in the arts, that I have a background in politics and I just didn’t rush in with my ideas. I had for some years worked intensively as Group Secretary/Communications Officer in my home area and I got to see and understand the political process both at local and national level – I’ve also had the good fortune to work alongside very experienced and enthusiastic politicians, people who knew their policies or political perspectives that emphasised quality of life in the long-term, were little appreciated,but still kept going anyway.
I’ve also over the last five or so years seen that politics is being recognised as important activity in which other contemporary art-ecology-land practitioners are becoming more involved with. Key early proponents in this area, such as artists Joseph Beuys, Helen Mayer and Newton Harrison, Agnes Denes have long recognised that their works often led to political change. Trans-disciplinarity has always been a key feature of many art-ecology-land/water projects and it will be vital if we are to engage meaningfully on all fronts, to counter the ecocidal industrial mindset and practices we have erroneously employed against the many ecosystems that sustain all life.
An important recent series of articles on contemporary art practices that intersect art-ecology-politics-land, are compiled in the recent special issue of the Taylor Francis Journal Third Text.
Some articles are free online from the special issue or if you are lucky enough to be in an education institution with Athens journal access you can download the whole issue, otherwise its €95!!
The editor, T J Demos (reader for modern and contemporary art at UCL), has written about this area several times previously; he produced the catalogue essay for the retrospective art and ecology show at the Barbican (London); Radical Nature- art and architecture for a changing planet 1969-2009 (a fantastic show that I went to twice as while I had read about so many of the art-ecology-land practitioners in this area since the late 1990s I had never seen their work exhibited before – incidentally I realised that exhibitions are perhaps not the best means to appreciate these works either – that is only part of their value, the exist in both theoretical and socio-political spheres as well).
Last year Demos wrote an article for ArtForum, Art after nature – a reflection on post nature condition (April issue, 2012) and this was reviewed again by ecoartscotland, with some contributions by David Pritchard here. Demos also chaired The Geological Turn project (on The Anthropocene), led by Italian artist Gabo Guzzo in the UK last year and wrote a review on Documenta 13 Gardens Beyond Eden: Bio-aesthetics, Eco-Futurism, and Dystopia at dOCUMENTA (13) for the NY Brooklyn Rail website.
I believe the UK Green Party has also done a recent magazine issue on art & ecology, with an article from David Pritchard who has considerable experience internationally, and I’ve been told it will be up online shortly (I haven’t seen it yet). Do let me/others here know if you have come across any other articles in this area – hopefully they will be open access rather than €95!
- ‘Lets be clear -The Anthropocene is the ‘age of the sociopath’ (ecoartfilm.com)
- Tending the wild – lessons from the forest toward deep sustainability at TheGallery, Bournemouth Arts University (ecoartfilm.com)
- Stories of the Great Turning book includes Hollywood – out soon (ecoartfilm.com)
- Smithson and Holt early Land Art films to be screened in Dublin (ecoartfilm.com)