If you come here to help me,
you are wasting your time.
If you came here because your liberation

is bound up with mine,
Then let us work together.

Mary Watkins quotes an Aboriginal Activist from Queensland, Australia, in Mutual Accompaniment and the Creation of the Commons, cited in the new Routledge book: Creative Engagements with Ecologies of Place: Geopoetics, Deep Mapping and Slow Residencies (2021) by Mary Modeen and Iain Biggs.

I’m very excited to share an important new Routledge book, Creative Engagements with Ecologies of Place: Geopoetics, Deep Mapping and Slow Residencies (2021)–by artist-educator-researchers–Prof. Mary Modeen and Dr. Iain Biggs, former co-directors of PLACE International.

This is an important text for the contemporary art world as it is a clear, in-depth critical review of expanded creative-led ecosocial practices of place and community (human-nonhuman) from across the world.

It is a timely publication, as creative-led multi-faceted practices have immense social power to help diverse communities engage, reflect and respond to the unprecedented and urgent ecosocial challenges of our time.

Such practices, increasingly of interest to newcomers to the artworld (if the number of requests for lectures and interviews I am receiving are anything to go by), are also advancing, at last, understandings of creative practice away from its ‘possessive individualism’ of art for art’s sake– to address the ‘ecological (ecosocial) imperative’ -an urgent priority for the art world that art critic Suzi Gablik highlighted several decades ago. *

Disclaimer: Iain Biggs was my creative practice PhD supervisor and in this book (Chapter 7), he presents my ongoing Hollywood Forest Story! 🙂 I was thrilled and honoured to see my work and Hollywood Forest alongside many others’ creative practices I so admire. Thank you Iain! Also, I was delighted to see my work shared as an example of the ‘ecosophical self and ensemble practices’, as Iain and I share a deep interest in the value of French therapist-activist-theorist Félix Guattari’s lifelong work to articulate ethico-aesthetic transversality to live well with ‘three ecologies‘: ourselves, others and our places. Guattari’s ecosophy is very useful to explain the socio-political context and form of creative-led constellations of practice that voyage across and within lifeworld experience and disciplines – that always aim to promote a better world (I explore Guattari’s ecosophy and transversality in my PhD thesis, which you can read here).

About the new book~:~ Creative Engagements with Ecologies of Place by Mary Modeen and Iain Biggs

Providing a radical alternative to current notions of interdisciplinarity, this book demonstrates the breadth of new creative approaches and attitudes that now challenge assumptions of the solitary genius and a culture of ‘possessive individualism’. Drawing upon a multiplicity of perspectives, the book builds on a variety of differing creative approaches, contrasting ways in which both visual art and the concept of the artist are shifting through engagement with ecologies of place. Through examples of specific established practices in the UK, Australia and the USA, and other emergent practices from across the world, it provides the reader with a rich illustration of the ways in which ensemble creative undertakings are reactivating art’s relationship with place and transforming the role of the artist.

Please note: This is an academic publication, created to advance knowledge for contemporary art practice. It is very expensive so if you are interested, please tell your libraries to order it for yourself and others. Thankfully, there is a less expensive and useful illustrated eBook version too, see here

3 March 2021: An online talk by Iain Biggs about this book via Intercultural Research Centre, Heriot-Watt University

I’m also delighted and looking forward to Iain delivering an online talk on this book see details on EventBrite on how to book! Please do let others know about this talk too!

Read an Extract from

Creative Engagements with Ecologies of Place: Geopoetics, Deep Mapping and Slow Residencies,
Chapter 7:~

‘The ecosophical self and ensemble practices’

by Iain Biggs– with The Hollywood Forest Story as an example below:

We can distinguish between the two poles of a spectrum: at one extreme are individuals who wholly identify with, or have imposed upon them, a life-as – as a Wife, an Academic, a Dutiful Son, an Artist – as any identity to which all other roles and concerns, if acknowledged at all, are subordinated.8 At the other end is the self as an ensemble of multiple personae; a being-as-becoming irreducible to a single role or fixed identity. (This echoes Edward S. Casey’s differentiation between a fixed position and a place understood as ‘an essay in experimental living within a changing culture’.)9 Both positions are notional, to the extent that in actuality most people sit somewhere on the spectrum in between these poles. The artistic practices considered in this chapter are each various forms of multiplicity in action, whether enacted in concert with others or as practices initiated by a single individual who typifies an ‘ensemble identity’. As in so many other places in this book, the commitment to a multiplicity of perspectives is preserved and promoted.

What enables an ‘ensemble identity’ is an existential attention, listening or noticing (notitia) of particularity and difference as it appears, enabling us to see through given concepts and presuppositions into spaces between “category and experience, representation and reality, language and life”.10 This generates a transformative ‘conversation’ with the world, attempting ‘to recover the neglected and . . . deeper roots of what we call thinking’, and enabling us to move between and across competing authoritarian monologues by recognising that our thinking has ‘contingent roots in particular persons, places and times’.11 At the same time, these ‘deeper roots’ are reminiscent of what Jung referred to as collective interconnectedness to nature. He wrote: ‘No man lives within his own psychic sphere like a snail in its shell, separated from everybody else, but is connected with his fellow-men by his unconscious humanity’.12

Something of this understanding is reflected in the claim that the real value of arts and humanities research does not lie in conventional research outputs. Rather it lies in being ‘carried by and in persons’ as “expertise, as confidence, as understanding and orientation to issues, problems, concerns and opportunities, as tools and abilities”, and is best seen as residing in ‘the notion of responsiveness’.13 It is this aspect of ‘response-ability’ that thrives in conversational spaces that generate ‘opportunities for discussion, argument, critique, reflection’ that support modes of being-as-becoming, so that ‘collaboration’ becomes a basis ‘for evaluation’.14 Such evaluations are embodied and take place in specific locales. The geographer Doreen Massey suggests the space involved may be understood as ‘a simultaneity of stories-so-far’.15 Alternatively, these stories can be thought of as conversations between on-going evaluative narratives. This is a polyvocal process related to the dynamic materialisation of continuing collaboration and evaluation (human and otherwise), an entanglement of intra-related beings and places.

We would stress that what you have just read should not be taken as in some way dismissing those who identify their work as that of one artist. What matters is not membership (or not) of a professional coterie or participation in a particular lifestyle, but the capacity for notitia, the inclusivity and the complex understanding of the place of art in the wider world that a person’s work manifests.

Rowan Lear and Angela Jerardi, Cowhouse artists-in-residence visitors to Hollywood forest, November 28, 2017.
Figure 7.2 Cathy Fitzgerald, Artists from the Wexford Cowhouse Studios visiting Hollywood in Autumn 2017. Photo: Cathy Fitzgerald.

Cathy Fitzgerald trained and originally worked as a biologist in New Zealand before taking art degrees in Ireland. In 2008, she began to engage with the Sitka spruce plantation she re-named Hollywood, initiating an open-ended, relational art/forest project within and with the planation that involves foresters, the local community and the constituencies of environmental politics. She combines forestry, art filmmaking, blogging, green political activism and writing in what she refers to as an ecosocial art practice. She lives in the small plantation that she is working to transform, in County Carlow, Ireland, and all her larger concerns reflect her long-term commitment to this one place.

Ireland has the lowest proportion of deciduous trees in Europe after Iceland and Malta. While it has extensive but fragmented and disjointed forestry policy, addressing everything from water quality and archaeology through to biodiversity and the conservation of the freshwater pearl mussel, it shows little understanding of complex underlying issues such as the relationship between appropriate tree cover and the urgent issue of pluvial flood management. The immediate context for Cathy’s transforming the plantation into a sustainably managed mixed species wood is the tension between piecemeal official policy and grass roots public interest in planting sustainable forest that includes broadleaf native tree species. However, while the sustainable management of the forest is her focus (work regularly assessed by the Irish Council for Forest Research and Development), Cathy Fitzgerald is also engaged in a mesh of projects that set out to build educational links between silvicultural specialists, local communities, timber users, artists and environmental enthusiasts (Figure 7.2) to further eco-cultural, scientific, economic and green policy concerns locally, across Ireland and internationally.

The orientation of Cathy’s activity is simultaneously ecological, creative, political and educational. It is cross-referenced through extensive personal interaction and strategic use of social media aimed at multiple constituencies. Her intention in cross-fertilising forestry with creative film work, writing and political action is to encourage exchange between diverse constituencies to provoke ecosophical thinking. Her own public self-education as a forester creatively sets out to mesh together innovative forestry practice, new conceptions of the nature/culture relationship and fundamental issues of community and environment – thus offering new ideas and models to a variety of lay and specialist constituencies.

Monoculture Sitka spruce plantations are ecologically toxic and aesthetically unattractive. An animating context here is a negotiated aesthetic that balances the economics that originally created the plantation with local desire to re-establish broadleaf native trees. However, Cathy Fitzgerald’s work is also catalysing multiple exchanges between the wood’s transformation and wildlife, local people, silvicultural specialists, timber users, artists and environmental enthusiasts. These exchanges are simultaneously ecological, creative, political and educational. The resulting mutual and public co-transformation is re-positioning forestry practice, notions of community and of environment for a variety of constituencies, both human and non-human. It may also assist in re-positioning notions of art within ensemble practice.

As [this] example suggest, the specific tensions and cognitive dissonances that inform ensemble practices are as different as the places from which those practices are finally inseparable. While in a literal sense Cathy Fitzgerald ‘married into’ County Carlow (her husband Martin took her to Hollywood on their first country drive and jokes that it was the trees she fell for, rather than him), she adds that her work there is, in part, inspired by the forests she misses in New Zealand. (So very true)

Thank you so much Iain and Mary for your tireless work over many years: in teaching, the conferences you organise, networking, the caring, thoughtful and supportive conversations that mean the world to creatives working in this way, often beyond established funding programmes. And especially for noticing my and others’ efforts in the creative world who are striving to move beyond the misguided myth of individualism, and reinstate creativity as an interwoven, beautiful, and wise and loving practice for people, place and planetary wellbeing.

* I share a comprehensive overview of ecoliteracy for expanded ecosocial art practices, for all art forms, for creatives and art professionals– in my Haumea Essential Ecoliteracy Online course.

Read more here

One thought on “New ecosocial art practice book–: ‘Creative Engagements with Ecologies of Place’ and guest talk by Iain Biggs

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