“I’ll start with the obvious. Our current problems are not simply environmental. They’re social and, perhaps particularly, psychological – that’s why Amitav Ghosh refers to our global crisis as The Great Derangement. Until a few years back, I earned a living teaching, so I tend to see situations in terms of what we need to unlearn, learn or re-learn. I think that one of the most important things we can do now is unlearn the dominant culture’s assumptions about creativity and self. That’s to say, we have to return to a fundamental ecological principle – that we’re not autonomous as individuals. We don’t own ourselves or anything we produce because we exist and can act only through connections, attachments and relationships.”
Dr. Iain Biggs, artist | educator | researcher presenting ‘Terrestrial Matters’ speaking at the Cultural Climates: Fostering Art for Sustainability – Time for a New Cultural Policy? seminar at the Moore Institute, NUI Galway 14 May 2019
Roll up your Sleeves
“Many people don’t get involved in the Great Turning because there are so many different issues, which seem to compete with each other. Shall I save the whales or help battered children? The truth is that all aspects of the current crisis reflect the same mistake, setting ourselves apart and using others for our gain. So to heal one aspect helps the others to heal as well. Just find what you love to work on and take joy in that. Never try to do it alone. Link up with others; you’ll spark each others’ ideas and sustain each others’ energy.”
One of the 5 personal guidelines on how to act in The Great Turning
by ecologicalwriter and workshop developer, activist and Buddhist scholar, Joanna Macy
Before the 7th EUGeo summit in Galway recently, I was delighted to speak with Dr Iain Biggs (my former creative practice PhD advisor) at a public forum in Galway. During my presentation, I discussed what role the Irish arts and cultural sectors can, and need to, play in addressing the ecological crises in Ireland.
I was invited to speak by Dr Nessa Cronin, Irish Studies, NUIG who warmly hosted myself, Iain and Martin in Galway. Sincere thanks also to Prof. Karen E. Till and Prof. Gerry Kearns, Geography Dept, Maynooth University who assisted Nessa to organising this special seminar ahead of the recent 7th EUGeo Summit. Their work to organise this public talk allowed creative workers, artists to meet with academics when conference fees are prohibitive for creative workers. I’d also like to thank those that attended for the thoughtful conversation we shared after the presentations.
My invitation to talk in Galway came after being invited by Karen, Nessa and Gerry to share my research last year at the 50th Conference of Irish Geographers in Maynooth University in May 2018. I am grateful for their continued interest and support – I first met Karen at the 2012 Art & Ecology Summer School organised by pioneering curator Denise Reddy. My how the time has gone, and thankfully many now understand that we are living in very urgent times.
For my presentation in Galway, in the West of Ireland, and for an audience who knew little of my work (I live in the South East of Ireland), Nessa invited me to present an overview of my study on the absence of arts policy for the eco-social emergencies in Ireland by first presenting how these concerns arose from my long-term eco-social art practice The Hollywood Forest Story (begun in 2008). [A video and podcast version of my seminar are below].
For followers of the blog, the story of how my practice developed into The Hollywood Forest Story will be familiar. However, it became a special task to remember the many people who have helped develop my unconventional way of working: particular tutors and colleagues, inspirational ecological thought leaders here and overseas, friends and followers in forestry, art and politics – my whanau (tribe).
However, presenting a snapshot of my now 11-year old practice was tricky. But, it was good to revisit the challenges, the incomprehension that I regularly faced over years when I tried to insist that the “ecological imperative” (Suzi Gablik, 1992 in reference to Thomas Berry) must become a central concern for the arts. I could also more clearly understand from where my recent compulsion to signal to the Irish arts community that cultural activity for these urgent times is to be valued. I know from experience that if one is informed by ecoliteracy, one can help activate Irish communities in urban and rural regions towards ways of living that will usher in a more beautiful, just and healthy world.
Do feel free to comment below. I am just one voice and cannot know conversations on this topic that maybe arising in other areas in Ireland. However, I strongly believe that a collective conversation on the role of arts for these urgent times is needed.
Update: In the last few days Nessa, Karen, Gerry, Iain and I have been delighted to hear that the Irish Theatre community is also progressing work in this area. We are looking forward to sharing more when we hear details.
I also put an audio only version below as I know many people are now finding they have more time listen to a talk as a podcast, rather than watchinga video.
And, while a talk can be more engaging, my video only gives an overview of my study. My original study on the urgent need for new arts policy and strategies to support the Irish to attend the eco-social emergencies can be found here
I’d also like to thank again the people who have long supported this work:
Ben Twist, CEO, Creative Carbon Scotland
Gemma Lawrence, Culture/SHIFT Producer, Creative Carbon Scotland
Sinead Dowling, Carlow Arts Officer
Jules Michael, MFA, Carlow
Alan Price, former Green Party County Carlow councillor
Malcolm Noonan, Green Party Kilkenny City councillor
Martin Lyttle, Carlow Stone Sculptor
Mary Carty, former Westmeath arts officer, technologyand business start-upentrepreneur
Rosalind Murray, Artist, Educator, Carlow
Art Mooney, Artist, Researcher, Carlow
Dedication: My initial report celebrates the encouragement and support to the author from the late Elinor Mountain (Kilkenny) and the late Dr. Chris Seeley (UK). Both were passionate and generous in all their community-building and education work, and in their understanding that the arts have a profound role in developing deep understandings of place. They lived and breathed a commitment that restoring our broken relationships to our lands and waters is fundamentally connected to creating caring,life-sustainingcommunities.