Green Tease Reflections: Beautiful Disruption
Image of a black and white tree trunk intersected by red dotted lines. Text reads: Beautiful Disruption: Radically reimagining approaches to contested landscapes
25th February 2021. This event explored issues around how landscapes are managed, maintained, protected, and run in Scotland and how artists might 'beautifully disrupt' the status quo and find new approaches. It was organised in collaboration with artists Kerry Morrison and Jo Hodges and academics Dr Tim Acott and Dr Eirini Saratsi.
This event started with a quick activity. Attendees were invited to think of an example of a rural or urban landscape that they were close to or was significant for them and write down:
- The ways that this landscape was or might be threatened or contested
- Who should make decisions about that landscape
The results looked like this:
We then heard from our speakers. Eirini Saratsi and Tim Acott shared their perspectives on issues around how landscapes are managed and the roles of the arts. After this Jo Hodges and Kerry Morrison shared a series of ‘beautiful disruptions’, examples of situations where the arts have creatively intervened in landscape decision making. These talks are available here as a video with a summary below.
Dr Eirini Saratsi is a lecturer at Reading University and part of the AALERT (Arts and Artists in Landscape and Environmental Research Today) network. She talked about the importance of bringing together people interested in landscape and environmental management but coming from very different fields to enable learning from each other and find new ways of collaborating. This process is not straightforward because landscape decision making is very complex, involves entrenched power dynamics, and is seen in different ways from different sectors.
Landscape decisions are made on the macro scale by national bodies but also on he micro scale by individuals and communities. Decisions are also not only made by humans. The natural world does restrict or enable our actions, so decision making is more accurately framed as an exchange rather than a one-way process.
Dr Tim Acott is a lecturer at Greenwich University and part of the AALERT network as well as running the research project Wetland Life. He emphasised the interaction between values and decision making. Various types of values are embedded into different cultural, institutional and disciplinary contexts, with different people having differing priorities. This can lead to conflicts or alliances forming between fields. For examples social scientists, economists and ecologists tend to try to measure the value of things in different ways that might support or undermine each other.
Conversely, we can also argue that the landscape has an innate value of its own in a way that is independent of how humans view it. Measuring and eliciting values also tends to reinforce certain types of values over others, so we have to be careful about which lenses we use and try to retain the ability to see the world through different lenses when discussing the value of landscapes.
Kerry Morrison and Jo Hodges are public artists who both produce work that engages with landscape use. They shared examples from their own work and that of other artists.
- A New Environmental Impact Assessment: Environment, Imagination and Aesthetics: Artists Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman and researcher Claire Haggett worked with people living close to the site of a proposed new windfarm to explore how planning processes for new wind developments can use artistic methods to consider impacts on people, place and community.
- Grass is not Green: Artist Kerry Morrison took a piece of park lawn and suspended any mowing or management of it, allowing it to develop naturally without intervention. She then documented the plants that grew there and held public workshops where people could learn about and experience them.
- Sphagnum Splat: Artist Kate Foster and the Crichton Carbon Centre organised a creative day out at a peat bog in Galloway to symbolically and practically support its restoration. Participants created banners and played music then threw moss-laden peat-balls into the bare patches of the deforested peat bog.
- The Red Brigade: A protest group that perform ritualised mourning ceremonies at natural sites that are threatened with destruction.
- Bridge Garden: During the 2019 Extinction Rebellion, protestors occupied Waterloo Bridge and symbolically transformed it into a garden, installing temporary trees and plants along its length.
- Guerrilla Grafters: A group that secretly grafts fruit bearing stems onto non-fruit bearing varieties of fruit trees grown in public places. The trees then start to produce fruit for the enjoyment of the general public.
- GIPT: Artists Robbie Coleman and Jo Hodges were invited by Tønsberg council to find new ways of engaging residents with an underused site – the foundation of a historical round church. The artists created a temporary garden and social space on the site that cultivated the herbs that had been grown there in medieval times and then harvested these for community use.
- Climavore: This seashore installation had a dual use as a habitat for oysters and other sea life at high tide and a dining table for humans at low tide. Performative meals using sustainably sourced seafood were held at the table as a space for discussions around sustainable use of seascapes.
- Human Cost: A work of protest art by Liberate Tate that sought to alert visitors to the gallery to its sponsorship by fossil fuel companies and the harm fossil fuel extraction causes to landscapes elsewhere. Artist Amy Scaife covered herself in oil-like treacle and lay in foetal position in the centre of the gallery.
Following this, Laura Campbell, Policy and Advice Manager at NatureScot, offered a live example of a contested landscape in Scotland for participants to discuss: Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest in Aberdeenshire. Her concern was about access. They are keen to encourage people to access nature and its benefits, but what is the best approach when a small number leave litter or cause damage that affects others’ enjoyment? Responses from attendees included:
- The example shows a need for greater understanding and communication between local rural residents and visiting urban residents, so that visitors can better understand how to behave and understand the importance of leaving no trace
- People who litter are in one sense behaving naturally. The need to tidy up after ourselves is an unnatural behaviour that we have had to develop in response to our material-heavy culture. How can we change entrenched culture and perceptions?
- Much is said about the need to reconnect with nature (especially for urban dwellers) so we need to encourage people to visit and enjoy natural sites while ensuring their protection. Who decides what the ideal balance between these things is?
- Who gets to decide who can and cannot visit a site? Does this connote ideas of ownership that are anathema to an equal relationship with landscapes.
- How can we give agency to the landscape and it’s non-human inhabitants in these decisions?
Finally, attendees were encouraged to take everything that they had learned from the session and apply it to the landscapes that they imagined in the initial exercise, considering how they might beautify, disrupt, or beautifully disrupt the situations they had outlined. The results looked like this:
About Green Tease
This event is taking place as part of the Green Tease events series and network, a project organised by Creative Carbon Scotland, bringing together people from arts and environmental backgrounds to discuss, share expertise, and collaborate. Green Tease forms part of our culture/SHIFT programme.