Last August I was very fortunate to attend an International Gathering of Multidisciplinary Place-Based Researchers in Scotland for an event called ‘Invisible Scotland’.
What drew me to the event was the opportunity to reconnect with colleagues working deeply with place and also a field trip to some of Scotland’s forests! – ‘A highland journey, past Loch Rannoch, through the Rothiemurchas forest estate, up the the Cairngorm.’ I took photos of this journey and enjoyed hearing about such a diverse range of place-related cultural practices. Many of these cultural practices are often ‘invisible’ and lie outside what gets noticed in contemporary art yet these endeavours reveal much meaningful inquiry on how we are relating, or not, to the ‘places’ that sustain us.
As a brief visitor to this area of Scotland it took time to absorb what we saw and heard, and what reflections we might give after so short a stay. We were all invited to make a contribution to what has evolved as a beautiful catalogue of the symposia and the field trips, which arrived just before Christmas. My text contribution to the catalogue is below; I took the above image of conifer plantations as we were ascending the Cairngorm mountain in the Scottish Highlands.
Toward an ecoculture of mind
It all looked so familiar. Looking out across rural Scotland, and having lived in Ireland these last 19 years, at the same dark blocks of monoculture plantations spreading out before us.
Afterwards looking to current Scottish government policy it was encouraging to find the situation is changing, with an ambition for Scotland to have 25% forest cover by 2050. Yet for all the words of multi-purpose forests, much of Scotland’s forest policy, as in Ireland, appears to facilitate the economic imperatives of a predominantly monoculture timber growing industry, with little mention of more ecologically based forestry.
Writing in 2011, Scottish nature writer Jim Crumley in ‘The Great Wood’, concludes sadly that for Scotland’s forests there should be a great deal more than the ‘endless conveyor belt of Sitka spruces that mostly get pulped’ (p.170). And for forests all over the world there must be a great deal more when the Earth is in an ecological emergency. Unfortunately modern industrial society is centered on the urban and the technological which has largely eclipsed us from ‘seeing’ the Earth. Recently accepted UN ecological boundaries, and which we have already gravely exceeded, remind us that for life to continue to thrive on Earth, that we need to urgently attend to our actions that have caused this predicament.
Looking at forests that support much of the Earth’s biodiversity and climate can be useful to explore this; to question how Western society has so completely valued monoculture production over ecological viability. Somehow this is connected to how we perceive, or not, the natural world around us. Environmentalist Vandana Shiva has commented recently on the ‘monoculture of the mind as a gaze that is unable to see relationships’. Increasing tree planting is a start but we also need to develop an ecological gaze, an ecoculture of mind, to develop forests that provide ecological, cultural as well as economic values.
Image and text from the Invisible Scotland catalogue (2013) pp.46-47.. My thanks to Mary Modeen and all the PlaCE international organisers for organising and documenting such an important and fascinating event.