Wednesday 26 December 2012

Peace on earth

Kellie Gutman writes:

OVERVIEW is a short documentary with near-constant views of the earth from space interspersed with comments form astronauts, philosophers and writers. The word "overview" is used to refer to the astronauts' views of the earth. It was released December 7th, 2012 and is a prelude to a film in the making, CONTINUUM.  OVERVIEW gives a strong sense of the world being one environment, and a very fragile one, that needs to be protected.

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Tuesday 11 December 2012

The tide could turn with 'Ten Billion'

Stephen Emmott in Ten Billion
Wallace Heim writes:

Theatre critic Kate Abbott in today's Guardian joins Michael Billington in reporting a life-changing experience watching Ten Billion at the Royal Court.

Like the facts that Stephen Emmott presented, Abbott can recite the well-polished instructions to "help us out of this hole":

"Never buying a car, iPod, or cotton T-shirt again … stopping our addiction to fossil fuels, starting a mass-desalination programme, building green energy power points on every strip of land, harnessing every scrap of wind, and every turn of the tide …"

But one change is missing. What about demanding that theatre itself changes? What about demanding that mainstream theatre no longer turns away from the compelling emotional, moral and intellectual questions of how humans can continue to live in a time of climate instability? Theatre is more than science, more than facts, more than an instruction manual. What about demanding that theatre takes on its full life-changing role, somewhere between fiction and fact, and becomes the place where audiences wrestle with their future?

See 'Ten Billion' from another side.
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Friday 7 December 2012

'Ten Billion' from another side

Wallace Heim writes:

Michael Billington, in his nomination of Ten Billion as the best theatre event of 2012, claims that all the people he knows who saw the production found it life-changing. From my unscientific poll of the dozen people I know who saw the production, including myself, it’s possible we were in a different theatre. The lecture was well-crafted, the production tight, but the event was neither moving, informative or motivating. It was ‘old news’, a ‘first-year introductory lecture’, ‘Al Gore without the cherry picker’.

Billington’s lauding of the production is encouraging. That he, and others, were deeply affected is even more so, although one wonders what he has avoided reading or seeing for the past 20 years if the information presented was shocking. But Billington finds that it is not merely the accumulation of statistics, but the presence - the performance - of Stephen Emmott, the verifiable scientist, the speaker with a creditable reputation outside the theatre, that gave the production its urgency.

For this audience, the fluid realm of belief and disbelief that makes theatre work had to break down for the shock of climate instability to be heard. At the same time, the very theatrical occasion of sitting in that darkened room redolent of emotions of past productions, listening to another human speak, heightened any effect.

Asking again of those who found the production lacking, I found each person had, in their experience outside the theatre, at least one, if not many moments when the numbers add up, when the terror hits, when someone trusted speaks about a future irreconcilable with what one could bear. These events can be motivating and if Ten Billion provided that for some, then theatre’s role as educator has been met.

But if you’ve already had that experience, theatre is where you want to go to understand it, and a collocation of facts will not do that. This is a far more confused territory, requiring human imagination and many avenues of intelligence, deliberation, conflict and consent. It requires doing something like the processes of science, itself – its questioning and cross-questioning, experimentation, doubt and informed agreement.

Theatre may not be the place to present firm courses of action; Emmott’s advice to get a gun falls especially short. Conventional forms of theatre may, or may not, be adequate to the combination of reality and fiction that understanding climate change demands. But theatre, or something like it, continues to be a place where collectively, humans find a way through. There will continue to be many kinds of productions for many kinds of audiences. The hunger for a theatre by the audience that gets the facts but wants more continues to be strong. 
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Thursday 6 December 2012

'Ten Billion' changes Billington

Stephen Emmott in Ten Billion
Wallace Heim writes:

Michael Billington in today's Guardian nominates Ten Billion as the 'most momentous theatrical performance' of 2012. The show was a lecture by Stephen Emmott, at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, on the consequences of human overpopulation and climate change.

Billington writes:

'I came out shaking with fear, but also moved by theatre's capacity to confront the emergency facing our planet.

'This was theatre doing what it does best: confronting us with unpalatable facts about our very existence. This doesn't mean that there is no room for invented stories or that King Lear and The Lion King have suddenly become redundant. But Ten Billion, directed by Katie Mitchell, shocked us into a new awareness of the future, and even the existing present, with ecosystems being destroyed, the atmosphere polluted, temperatures rising and a billion people facing water shortages.

'I don't know a single person who saw it who didn't feel it was a life-changing experience. If enough people, especially those in positions of power, could see Emmott's lecture, it might, just might, help to save our planet from destruction'.
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Tuesday 4 December 2012

Turkey limerick results

Kellie Gutman writes:

Although my limerick did not win an iPad at the Greengrok blog of Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment, it did garner second runner-up.  You can read the results here.

See There once was a turkey
Turkey limerick: melting glaciers
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Tuesday 27 November 2012

new on our news page

Common Dance, choreographer: Rosemary Lee
A cluster of arts events in the next ten days consider different kinds of economy, generosity and profit.

Choreographer Rosemary Lee draws together a day of talks and films 'On Taking Care' in London.

Patronage and the theatre is explored at Birkbeck College, London.

Tim Jeeves' live art project 'Giving in to Gift' ends with a day of talks at the Bluecoat, Liverpool.

Climate and race are correlated with corporate oil practices by Virtual Migrants in an evening of spoken word and music in Manchester.
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Monday 26 November 2012

Turkey limerick: melting glaciers

Melting Glaciers in the Himalayas (Credit:
Kellie Gutman writes:

Unable to pass up the opportunity to submit an "Environmental Turkey of 2012" in the form of a limerick, to the Nicholas School of Environment contest at Duke University, I have chosen the epidemic of melting glaciers worldwide as my subject.  The contest, open to American citizens, ends at midnight Eastern Standard Time tonight.

My offering:

As the global temperature warms
Our planet reacts with fierce storms.
The impact is felt
When our glaciers melt
And the coastline around us re-forms.

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Friday 23 November 2012

There once was a turkey ...

Wallace Heim writes:

As if the American holiday of Thanksgiving wasn't hard enough on turkeys, the pejorative use of the word gives the Greengrok blog the chance to stage a contest for the 'Environmental Turkey of 2012' . The prize is an iPad. The catch is that nominations have to be in the form of a limerick.

Their sampler:

Two thousand twelve, oh what a mess
Dirty ads, gridlock, but I digress
When it comes to green
Little progress was seen
Who’s the turkey to blame for this mess?

You have until 26 November to submit a turkey. 
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Wednesday 14 November 2012

new on our news page

'It's the Skin You're Living In'
Tomorrow night in London, five writers talk poetry, fiction, travel and climate: Tom Chivers, Daniel Kramb, Rachel Lichtenstein, Michael McKimm and Ruth Little.

There's film coming up in Glasgow: 'It's the Skin You're Living In' at FuelFest, and in Berlin: the GROUNDED festival of films about soil.

'Adaptation' is this year's theme for the COAL Prize, Paris. Applications are open.

And in Edinburgh, Bruno Latour will give the Gifford Lectures in February, searching for theatre and ritual in a world of Gaia and politics.
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Tuesday 13 November 2012

Hitting the high water mark

Eve Mosher: High Water Line
Wallace Heim writes:

The Talk of the Town in the New Yorker last week was all about Sandy. Elizabeth Kolbert framed her piece on the impossibility of flood protection around an artwork by Eve Mosher.

Using a Heavy Hitter, the machine to make chalk lines on baseball fields, Mosher drew a blue line around the edge of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan ten feet above sea level, the height that waters were expected to rise during a once-in-a-hundred-year flood.

Mosher’s plan with High Water Line was to leave a visual mark and to open up a space for conversation, in 2007.

"I have pictures of where I drew the line and, if you look at the debris line, they’re pretty close", Mosher writes on her blog, continuing, "I never wanted to be right."
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Thursday 1 November 2012

New on our news page

photo of / by Marcus Coates in Galápagos exhibition
TippingPoint launches a crowd-sourced database of climate art.

Kieran Lynn wins the Nick Darke Award for his play Wild Fish.

Galápagos makes it to the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh.

There are events in the forest at Wysing Arts in Cambridge.

TJ Demos writes on gardens, biotech and the politics of ecology at dOCUMENTA 13. 

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Wednesday 24 October 2012

A bestiary of wonders, or, 'Attenborough on acid'

Wallace Heim writes:

Caspar Henderson’s The Book of Barely Imagined Beings. A 21st Century Bestiary came out this month, published by Granta. Here on Ashdenizen, Caspar contributed to our metaphors for sustainability with coral reef. And on the Ashden Directory, he was part of our panel on theatre and climate change in 2006.

Robert Macfarlane calls The Book of Barely Imagined Beings a genre-bending grimoire, a spell-book of species.

Reviewers are marveling at how the compendium of real animals, from the axolotl to the zebra fish, prompts Caspar's essays on the nature of seeing, walking or being:

Philip Hoare in the Literary Review
Roy Wilkinson for Caught by the River
Bella Bathurst in the Daily Telegraph
Stuart Kelly in the Scotsman
John Lloyd for We Love This Book
Anthony Davies in the Ham and High.

The advance reviews are by Robert Macfarlane, Frans de Waal, Callum Roberts, Simon Critchley, Roman Krznaric and Richard Holloway.

Real Monstrosities calls it 'fantastic!'.

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Saturday 20 October 2012

dramas missing in action

Kellie Gutman writes:

With War Horse coming to the end of its run in Boston, the theatre critic for the Boston Globe, Don Aucoin remarks on the dearth of war dramas on stage.  He writes:

During a decade when the United States was mired in two wrenching, costly, and divisive wars, the only combat drama to win a Tony Award as best play was a heartwarming, puppet-driven tale about a British lad and his beloved steed in World War I: War Horse... In fact, if you scan the list of plays, musicals, and performances nominated for Tonys in the past ten years, you'd barely know we were at war at all.

Until recently, much the same could be said about plays on climate change.

See british playwrights have "blithely ignored" climate change
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Monday 15 October 2012

Nigerian theatre mixes oil and climate, on the ground

Wallace Heim writes:

The Nigerian playwright and academic Greg Mbajiorgu got in touch with us after reading Robert Butler's blogs on Ashdenizen on the difficulties of writing plays about climate change. Greg sent us his play, Wake Up Everyone, which has a preface quoting from this blog.

Wake Up Everyone began as a commission by the African Technology Policy Studies Network, Nairobi, Kenya for their international conference on climate change in Nigeria in 2009.

That policy world is represented in the main character, Maukwe Aladinma, a retired professor of agriculture, now attempting to get the local government in the rural Ndoli area to build flood defences and advising communal farmers on using organic waste and planting stronger, non-GMO seeds. The professor, too, is a dramatist. In a play-within-a-play, the actors of his theatre company rehearse scenes describing the effects of climate change, those happening now and those anticipated: rivers dried, torrential floods, tornadoes, plagues, famines and poverty. The surrounding scenes are of a naturalistic theatre style; the rehearsals are a play to be performed as if in a dream or possessed.

A local official, Chairperson of the Ndoli Local Government Area, Hon. Edwin Ochonkeya, blocks the building of the defences. When the threatened flood sweeps the land, the farmers become an angry mob, running off-stage to extract revenge on the official.

Greg's writing is purposeful: to support impoverished farmers, to educate, to build resilience against the effects of climate change in rural Nigeria.

The information on climate change is familiar enough, if uncomfortable. The role of the expert in presenting knowledge to farmers is familiar, too, the belief and disbelief, the sometimes awkward juncture of different kinds of experience, the social power implicit in different kinds of knowledge.

The depiction of the official, Ochonkeya, is what startles. His actions are presented as commonplace. A militant against the oil companies, he was on the verge of forming his own kidnapping gang when a massive oil spill damaged his family's land and killed his father. He employed a lawyer to bring an action against the companies, who settled out of court for three hundred million naira and funded his campaign for local office on the condition that he didn't make any further case on behalf of affected farmers. He won his campaign with the rhetoric of environmentalism: 'Before this plague of climate change the oil companies had milked our land dry, but have given nothing to nourish it. All that is left (of my family's farmland) is thick layers of oil, oil in our waters, oil in our wet lands, oil in our fragile soil, down to the roots of our edible crops, oil and more oil...'

And now, he is stopping any adaptation to or mediation of climate damage.

In a single character, the play conveys the immediate, turbulent, deceptive forces underlying oil production in Nigeria and in Canada, Baku-Tbilisi, Iraq, the Arctic, a world not wholly expressed by the activists against it, working across political boundaries.

It couldn't be more topical. Last week, in The Hague, four Nigerians and Friends of the Earth began a lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell Plc for its environmental record in the Niger Delta, a case that may set a precedent for claims related to the activities of international corporations.

And on Friday, Wake Up Everyone received a first Individual Award in Arts and Humanities Research at the 5th Nigerian Universities Research and Development Fair in Mina, Niger State. 
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miniature horse meets war horse

Celeste and Joey, courtesy the Boston Globe
Kellie Gutman writes:

War Horse opened in Boston on October 10 for a two-week run.  The traveling Broadway production, which originated at the National Theatre in London a few years ago, is getting all sorts of press.

The day before the opening the main characters - the horse Joey, his owner and his puppeteer - went to the Animal Rescue League in Dedham, Massachusetts to have a play date with Celeste, a miniature horse who had been involved in an animal cruelty case earlier in the year.  Joey is a well-traveled steed.  He has also been to Windsor Castle where he apparently won over the heart of the Queen.  The Handspring Puppet Company cofounders Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, who designed the War Horse puppets, were featured in a long article about their puppets in the Boston Globe.

editors' notes: On the Ashden Directory, Eleanor Margolies writes about Handspring and the power of puppets to enact human relations with animals. And Kellie writes about the opening of War Horse in London.
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Friday 5 October 2012

the family and the world heat up in Nick Payne's play

Photo: Joan Marcus
Kellie Gutman writes:

If There Is I Haven't Found it Yet, with Brian O'Byrne and Jake Gyllenhaal, opened in New York's Roundabout Theatre in September and runs through 25 November.  It was written by Nick Payne, and inspired by his reading of Heat by George Monbiot, about decreasing one's carbon footprint.  Payne saw that many authors of environmentally-themed books had dedicated them to their children, and it gave him the idea of a father trying to save the planet in order to make the world a better place for his children, and beyond.  But the father is so wrapped up in his work that he fails to notice the problems within his own family.  The New York Times review is here.

Artistic director Todd Haimes writes:

On one level, we are watching a domestic drama play about a mother, father, daughter, and uncle.  But the play also takes on a much bigger global issue.  We all want to do the right thing for both the world at large and for the world of our own family, but maybe that's impossible.

More George Monbiot on ashdenizen:
roundheads and cavaliers
the negotiator and the polemicist
vanishing act
George Monbiot finds Dr. Faustus the classic text for climate change
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Thursday 4 October 2012

New on our news page

High Tide Festival is looking for new plays

Good practice is recognised:
After the Edinburgh Fringe, The Man Who Planted Trees is awarded for the sustainability in its production and its themes.

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson, and The Dark Mountain Project's third collection are published.

High Tide Festival in Suffolk is looking for new plays.
Outlandia in Glen Nevis is calling for artists' residencies.
Sky Arts will fund a year's work about the future.
Commissions are available for artists responding to themes of empathy, belonging and values.

That Oceanic Feeling exhibition in Southampton culminates in a conference mingling the spaces of the sea with the landscapes of economics and politics. 

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Monday 1 October 2012

Dr Astrov blogs

Astrov (Laurence Olivier) and Elena (Rosemary Harris) 
in Uncle Vanya
Wallace Heim writes

Dr Astrov is a new blog on ‘arts / culture and environmental sustainability’. Ian Rimington is the writer. He works as a Relationship Manager specialising in environmental sustainability and theatre at Arts Council England, but the blog expresses his personal views.

In his opening blog, Ian visits the British Museum with his son, fascinated by the dominating sculptural figure of the Easter Island statue Hoa Hakananai’a (Hidden Friend). The Ancestor Cult that produced these figures gave way during a time of environmental devastation and extinctions to the Birdman Cult. On the back of the sculpture, marks have been added from that newer cult, more like graffiti than the monumental face. In the differences between these carvings, Ian finds evidence of the changing relations of art and culture to the environment.

Another Pacific island features in a second blog, as Ian attends a read-through of Pitcairn, a new play by Richard Bean. The play tells of the events following the mutiny on the Bounty after Christian Fletcher and the sailors tried to set up a paradise republic there at the end of the 18th Century. This leads on to how the reason beloved of the Enlightenment falls short against the forces of values, beliefs and intuition, and to how art might produce behavioural changes.

The blog is aptly named. Dr Astrov is the visionary physician-philosopher in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, who presciently grasped the principles of ecology and the ethical relations of humans to nature. His worry that the forests were disappearing forever, rivers drying up and the climate ruined was assuaged by his own planting of sapling birches. In Act III, he shows Elena, who neither understands nor is interested, his maps of the changes in the landscape, the losses of farms, animals, forests. “(Man) destroys everything with no thought for the morrow. And now pretty well everything has been destroyed, but so far nothing new has been put in its place”.

We look forward to following Dr Astrov.

Here is a clip of that Act III scene with Astrov (Laurence Olivier) and Elena (Rosemary Harris) in the 1943 film.

Chekhov, a proto-environmentalist, is one of our playwrights revisited

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Wednesday 26 September 2012

Carbon 13: Ballroom Marfa and Cape Farewell team up

In Marfa, Texas

Kellie Gutman writes:

Marfa is a small town of 2,121 people in western Texas.  In 2003, Virginia Lebermann and Fairfax Dorn converted a former 1927 ballroom into a performance and exhibition space called Ballroom Marfa.  In this intellectual environment, issues and perspectives are explored through film, music, art and performance.

Ballroom Marfa contacted Cape Farewell's David Buckland to curate Carbon 13: From the High Arctic to the High Desert, which runs from 31 August until 20 January 2013.  Eight artists who have traveled with Cape Farewell to the Andes, the Arctic and Scotland's island communities are presenting newly-commissioned works to highlight the effects of climate change.  The exhibit is supported in part by an Artistic Innovation and Collaboration (AIC) Grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

The artists represented are Ackroyd & Harvey, Amy Balkin, Erika Blumenfeld, David Buckland, Adriane Colburn, Antony Gormley, Cynthia Hopkins and Sunand Prasad.

In the online art newspaper,, the reviewer of Carbon 13 wrote:

Ballroom Marfa continues its ambitious mission of presenting art as a transforming media capable of addressing the most pressing issues of our time.
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Friday 21 September 2012

New on our news page

This week-end in Berlin, the Wasteland Twinning Network will be conducting twinning ceremonies between Yogyakarta, Nottingham, Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Amsterdam and other urban wastelands.

Adrift in London, the Cape Farewell poet-in-residence Tom Chivers maps the peatbog underneath Elephant and Castle and Battersea’s tidal loop.

At the edge of London’s Canary Wharf, in the concrete amphitheatre of the Preston Road roundabout, performer Dennis McNulty interferes with urban circuits of transportation, infrastructure, architecture and minerals.

The third Dark Mountain collection of essays, fiction, interviews and poetry is out.

At Cardiff's Chapter Arts Centre, the future's not what it used to be.
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Friday 14 September 2012

The golden glow of arts funding

Wallace Heim writes: is the organisation in Copenhagen that came up with the idea of housing artists and activists in people's homes for the climate talks. Their website lists open calls for artist's awards, residencies and other opportunities.

This week's Special Call is for Passion to Perform - Art Competition 2012, for paintings, photography, sculptures and drawings, with prizes of Canadian $6,000, $2,500 and $1,000.

It's not exactly an 'open' call.

The sponsor is Yamana Gold, one of the world's leading gold and copper mining companies, with operations throughout the Americas, primarily Argentina and Brazil. They are asking for artworks that are inspired by the company's core principles: "sustainability, dependability, respect for the environment and our communities, safety of our colleagues."

"Passion to Perform is a competition which celebrates the success of Yamana Gold, and we are looking forward to engaging creatively in a way that reflects our company's diversity and core values."

Other views about Yamana Gold's principles are here and here.

Photo above of the Gualcamayo open pit, heap leach gold operation in the San Juan province of Argentina, courtesy of the Yamana Gold website. 
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Wednesday 12 September 2012

New on our news page

Reading material (not for summer):

Silence for years, then two journals discover ecology, publishing themed issues:  Performance Research and Research in Drama Education.

'Ecodramaturgy' gets started with a collection of readings in performance and ecology edited by Theresa May and Wendy Arons.

Beautiful Trouble sets out how to make it.

The long walk from the Caspian Sea to the City of London exposes the Oil Road. James Marriott and Mika Minio-Paluello mix travel writing and investigative activism. 
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Tuesday 11 September 2012

The first river to have legal rights

The Whanganui River, Aotearoa / New Zealand
Wallace Heim writes:

For the first time, a river has been given a legal voice. The Whanganui River in New Zealand has become a legal entity, and will be recognised as a person in law in the same way that a company is, giving it rights and interests.

The status of the river as Te Awa Tupua (an integrated, living whole) is a step in the resolution of historical grievances and court cases between the Whanganui iwi, the Maori peoples and nations living along the river, and the Crown. Two guardians, one from the Whanganui River iwi, and one from the Crown will be given the role of protecting the river.

In the UK, ‘rights’ generally means the right to access for humans to rivers, or the right to flood protection.

But many artists are negotiating the relations between human use and the free-running of rivers, navigating the values and affections towards rivers. Just now, among these are Multi-Story Water on the River Aire in Shipley and the River Frome in Bristol, and River Runs on the Thames near Oxford. Jem Southam is exhibiting photographs of the River Exe, investigating what makes or defines a river. Earlier this year, Flow turned the Tyne into music in Newcastle. And two decades ago, Still Waters uncovered the buried rivers of London.

photo: Phil Robinson

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Friday 7 September 2012

The big idea? Get lost

Joan Littlewood
Wallace Heim writes:

Seminars about sustainability and the arts often, usefully but repeatedly, focus on energy use and material consumption. A public conversation at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, ‘What’s the Big Idea?’, organised by Creative Carbon Scotland and Festivals Edinburgh, nodded to the material imperatives -  the plastic cups - then shifted the discussion to the processes of making theatre that don’t fit with the accountancy of sustainability, to the unintended consequences of sustainable decisions, and to the need for sharing more technologies more widely.

The conversation opened with provocations from Erica Whyman, Artistic Director of Northern Stage, and Anthony Alderson, Director of the Pleasance Theatre Trust, chaired by Harry Giles, Environment Officer of Festival Edinburgh, and hosted by Ben Twist of Creative Carbon Scotland.

A phrase from Whyman recurred throughout the discussion. She quoted theatre director Joan Littlewood speaking about how to make theatre, and how to challenge the hierarchies in power: ‘We must get lost if we are to make a new route.’

Whyman compared ‘getting lost’ to the need in theatre production for not adhering to absolute objectives, whether financial, material or ideological. The question, for Whyman, is not why more artists don’t make work about climate change. Artists make the work they want to make; they are not essayists or teachers. Rather, artists get lost, and create something that surprises.

The surprises, or unintended consequences of working within financial constraints have meant theatres having to work with different economic models. Whyman’s example was Northern Stage’s decision to group together artists, makers and staff in accommodation in Edinburgh for their series of productions at St. Stephen’s church. Inadvertently, they created a commune, a creative and powerful way of working together as a team. These aspects of consensus and democracy are forgotten, according to Whyman, in the accountancy of sustainability and in the apocalyptic narratives of climate change.

Alderton spoke of the need to look for the wider questions behind the requests for the artistic community to recycle or use less energy.  Every company working with the Pleasance plants a tree in Scotland. This is a trade. Theatres are places of trade, artistically and materially, and need to share their technologies, be less possessive about their productions and share ideas. 

‘Getting lost’ figured in many of the audience’s questions. If theatre productions set the conditions for the audience to get lost in finding a new route, and organisations set the conditions for productions, how do directors and curators more immediately set the conditions for artists to ‘get lost’ in creating new work about sustainability or the climate? Why might artists not be willing to engage with, get lost, in the scientific and the political aspects of climate change? How can artists be encouraged to hold contradictory ideas in tension in creative ways, like the tension between where we are now, and where we could be heading?

Too, there were questions about the relation between theatre and the public; about whether theatre should teach; about audiences’ carbon footprints and whether the arts world had responsibility for audiences' travel.

The slight change of perspective connected the achievement of carbon reduction figures to the relations and effects between material use and communal, artistic and intellectual change - a viable new route. 
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Thursday 6 September 2012

Weather presenter freaks out

A colleague has emailed us this clip. A weather presenter strays into climate reporting, comedy and reality. 
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Wednesday 5 September 2012

Jonathan Jones faces the empty museum

Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones on the sixth extinction

"Human activity endangers entire species, yet human culture is profoundly rooted in nature. The loss of a species is also a loss of the images, stories, symbols and wonders that we live by – to call it a cultural loss may sound too cerebral: what we lose when we lose animals is the very meaning of life...The range of animals and plants threatened by the sixth extinction is such that it menaces the foundations of culture as well as the diversity of nature. We are part of nature and it has always fed our imaginations. We face the bare walls of an empty museum, a gallery of the dead."
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Tuesday 4 September 2012

New on our news page

On the move:

Nowhereisland comes to Bristol this week-end, the final stop on its tour around the south west.

In the north west, Ghost Bird walks the Trough of Bowland remembering the Hen Harrier and the Pendle Witches, and Sand Pilot crosses Morecambe Bay.

Walking across Belgium, the Sideways Festival comes into Turnhout and stops for a symposium.

Other conferences coming up are composting culture (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment - UK) and building resilience (Transition Network).
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Friday 31 August 2012

stagereads features Caridad Svich

photo: stagereads, Fishing in the Gulf of Mexico

Kellie Gutman writes:

A new website, stagereads, is publishing plays by emerging playwrights, which are e-readable on mobile devices. They are available by subscription, with a 155 discount for those subscribing before 15 September.  The first featured playwright is Caridad Svich and her recent play The Way of Water.

Svich received the 2012 OBIE Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre.  The Way of Water has been traveling since 3 April, 2012, and has had readings in fifty cities in the United States as well as in the UK and beyond.  The play, written after the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill, tells the story of two fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico, who have to deal with the after effects of the spill. The introduction to the play is written by Henry Godinez, Resident Artistic Associate at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

He writes in his final paragraph:

Many a great play has been written about corporate negligence and devastating catastrophes, but what makes The Way of Water so compelling is the way it exposes the after effects of such sensational evens in the most real of human terms.
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Wednesday 8 August 2012

On time and travel: anticipatory histories at Kilmahew Estate

Benjamin Morris writes: 

Kilmahew Estate, located in Cardross, west of Glasgow, has long been a source of fascination. Despite having been a settlement of some sort for hundreds of years, featuring both a medieval castle and a Victorian stately home, the contemporary lives of the site, first as a Catholic seminary, and then a drug rehabilitation centre, have by comparison been surprisingly brief. St Peter’s Seminary opened in 1966 and lasted two decades; the rehabilitation centre, only half that before closing its doors. Since then, the site has become one of the most popular ruins in Scotland: serving as impromptu musical stage, all-night rave site, unofficial film set, squat encampment, and destination for urban explorers from far and wide.

Explorers, of course, being a broad church. Recently I was privileged to join a group of artists and researchers on a visit to the site, sponsored by the Invisible College and the Royal Geographical Society. It’s important to take the right book on a journey, and fortuitously, tucked away in my bag was a new volume of short essays exploring the futures of historic landscapes: Anticipatory History, edited by Caitlin DeSilvey, Simon Naylor, and Colin Sackett. I couldn’t have brought along a better guidebook.

That said, Anticipatory History is not a guidebook in the traditional sense. Its structure hews more towards a glossary - community-sourced and collectively-written - of terms that are central to ecological thought. Concepts such as adaptation, equilibrium, memory and uncertainty are joined by processes such as erosion, managed realignment, palliative curation, and unfarming. As a conceptual guidebook, it prompted new and novel ways of thinking about this dynamic site, particularly its history of constant change. For this is their aim: 'History that calls attention to process rather than permanence may therefore help us to be more prepared for future change; to respond thoughtfully and proactively, rather than in a mode of retreat or regret.'

Indeed, it was difficult to cover the grounds of the site without feeling those tensions between pasts and futures, between the curated and the wild, play off one another anew. In the seminary building, for instance, the many different forms of engagement with the site were amply visible. Graffiti of more and less accomplished forms graced the walls; the altar had been broken and desecrated, and rubbish of all sorts lay strewn about, inviting impromptu archaeologies and conjectures as to who had left it there, and why. And, of course, what else would come in time. As the editors note, anticipatory history creates a means of approaching historic landscapes outside the bounds of grand narratives or authorised discourses. Rather, they suggest, it 'leaves room for expressing the 'small stories' and 'lay knowledges' that are layered in place, and then linking these to a hoped-for future.'

Over the past half-century, some of those futures have already taken place independent of the human presence. Entering the site via the western approach, younger stands of trees, no more than twenty years old, have sprung up at the exact moment the rehabilitation centre had shut its doors in the early 1990s, and now encroach against the older-growth stands. Anyone looking to rehabilitate the site would have to first map the species onset, then determine how best to bring the site back to a more pristine woodland, keeping in mind, as the editors of the volume claim, that such narratives of purity, often defy the larger narratives of dynamicity that complex landscapes harbor.

An excellent example of these tensions centres on a rhododendron tunnel, considered a key feature of the landscape, indeed, part of its ‘heritage’, despite this species having only been introduced to the UK at the end of the 18th century. Despite their ornamental appeal, their introduction has had unintended consequences. As the entry on the species in the volume observes, 'Rhododendrons have been able to out-compete many native plants in Britain, and because their leaves are inedible to many animals, their spread has proved difficult to control and they have become reclassified as pests.'

Entering the tunnel today, it is hard not to be impressed at the intricacy and scale of its design, as well as the atmospheric effect of the corridor. In full leaf, the tunnel feels as dark as an abandoned Tube station, or a holloway such as Robert Macfarlane has recently explored. Non-native species or not, one does feel changed by passing through this ‘natural’ architecture, recalling the theologies of transformation that would have been discussed at length around, and within, the grounds, and explaining why one man in the area, the site curator noted, has threatened to chain himself to the bushes should an order for ‘remediation’- clearance - come through.

Given these tensions, the futures for the site over the long-term remain unclear. Currently under consultation by NVA, Kilmahew looks set to become a multidisciplinary arts site encompassing arts research and practice in a variety of fields. The sound artist Michael Gallagher has recently produced a 45-minute audio documentary on the site, layering the voices of former inhabitants together, a compelling departure point for artists and future historians. With so many stories yet to yield from its past, this move would undoubtedly be a productive use of the space, particularly in terms of conservation, amid its ruination, the site still retains the serenity, grace, and seclusion that gave rise to so many of its lives, and any attempt to preserve that is worth the effort.

But thinking of its futures, other questions remain. Given its extensive grounds (133 acres, encompassing woodlands, fields and burns), its diverse constituencies (many of which are transitory and difficult to document or engage) and its architectural histories (a chapel, a castle and a stately home now demolished), the lives of Kilmahew collide and converge in ways that challenge both cohesive collection and swift, dispensable interpretation. The site precludes our understanding, no matter how many times we visit. As it should. For if anticipatory history teaches us anything, it's that we should move in the direction of, from away from, those limits. The land always has more to tell us. If only we would listen. 

A writer and researcher, Benjamin Morris is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh. 

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Wednesday 25 July 2012

New on our news page

Stephen Emmott in Ten Billion
Nowhereisland, a nomadic landscape moving through the landscapes of the southwest, starts its journey today at Weymouth.

The Ten Billion lecture continues at the Royal Court in London.

Ten days to the start of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, with over 100 shows with ecological themes: dance, theatre, kids, comedy, exhibitions.

Creative Carbon Scotland and Festivals Edinburgh add four events to the Fringe on greening the arts.
Volcano Theatre and the Centre for Alternative Technology will host the Emergence Summit in Wales, approached with a five-day walk.

Julie's Bicycle and Creu Cymru set out to green 42 Welsh theatres and arts venues. 
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Monday 23 July 2012

Culture and Ecology at the Edinburgh Book Festival

Doug Allan Picturing Polar Bears
Kellie Gutman writes:
This year's Edinburgh International Book Festival takes place from 11-27 August. One of the themes is 'Drawing on our Resources', in which writers ponder attitudes toward nature, food, and using our natural resources.  Another major theme is 'Odysseys', which covers journeys writers have taken within England and beyond.  Among the listings from these two areas - Fred Pearce talks about swathes of land being bought up by foreign countries, raising fears of food shortages in The Land Grabbers; Karl Miller of the London Review of Books recounts his passion for the countryside in the walks he took with his friends Seamus Heaney and Andrew O'Hagan; Doug Allan presents photos of the Arctic and Antarctic from his book Freeze Frame.  These and many others are listed in  our picks of the Festival.  There has been a large demand for bookings since tickets went on sale.
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