Case Study: Exploring Scotland’s Blanket Bog with Cryptic

14th March 2019

Case Study: 'Below the Blanket' in Scotland's Peatlands with Cryptic 1

Hannah Imlach, Sphagnum Ombrometer, brown glass, 2018.

The Flow Country in northern Scotland is the largest blanket bog in Europe, and a unique wetland and peatland habitat, as well a huge 'carbon sink'. Rachel, Green Champion of international and innovative arthouse organisation, Cryptic, tells us more about the origins and development of their multi-disciplinary and multi-sensory project in the area.

From Caithness to Edinburgh: A New Commission

Presented as the culmination of The Peatland Partnership’s Flows to the Future Project, Cryptic has been commissioned to produce a series of multisensory installations exploring the rich and diverse landscapes within the rolling peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland. The work will transport audiences to The Flow Country through a sensory series of visual, sonic and kinetic installations set within the beautiful landscape of the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE).

The Flow Country is an area of deep peat, dotted with bog pools, that forms the heart of the Caithness and Sutherland peatlands. Covering about 200,000 hectares, it is more than twice the size of Orkney. Altogether, this corner of Scotland holds more than 400 million tonnes of carbon, three times more than is held in all the UK’s woodlands combined.

The project aims to:

  • Increase awareness and understanding of The Flow Country, in particular its role in climate change mitigation, as well as its importance for biodiversity and its special landscape;
  • Challenge ideas about art, ecology, and science through high quality, creative and ambitious visual and sonic installations;
  • Inspire the audience to become inquisitive about The Flow Country and its role in the global environment;
  • Be innovative and original, drawing people in to think about an area they have probably never heard of, including younger people who might otherwise not be engaged.

The installations will be created by:

By harnessing the unique data being gathered by scientists at The Flow Country, the artists will bring the RBGE to life, merging scientific data with visual sonic art.

Case Study: 'Below the Blanket' in Scotland's Peatlands with Cryptic 3

‘Chirp and Drift’ by Kathy Hinde. Image by Kathy Hinde.

Environmental Sustainability in Content and Form

The environmental focus of the project has not only provided inspiration for the artists, but has also seen us as an organisation consider the ways in which we can implement more environmentally friendly working methods at each stage of the project.

This thinking first emerged when planning the artists’ residencies at The Flow Country, a vital part of their development process but one in which a lot of travel was inevitable due to the area’s remote setting. Although flying north to Aberdeen or Inverness would have cut costs and journey times, we booked trains for the Cryptic team, artists and press who visited, saving a minimum of 86kgC02 per journey.

While on residency, the artists have focused on many different research areas. These include:

  • the importance of the water table, levels and water saturation in maintaining a bog environment;
  • the carbon locked in the peat and the sphagnum moss that helps to protect it;
  • and the impact that damage and restoration has had on the delicate ecosystem of The Flow Country.

As well as focusing on their own creative research, the artistic team have volunteered with The Flows to the Future Project to restore areas of the peatland by creating manmade bog pools through the damming of drainage ditches. This has allowed the team to learn directly from scientists, gaining an understanding of the important elements of this unique landscape which aid in mitigating climate change.

Subsequently, the artists have started to consider practical ways in which their installations can have a minimal carbon footprint. For example, Kathy Hinde plans to run her water based kinetic sculptures using hydro power. We are also lighting the event with solar powered lights and all the speakers will be powered by rechargeable batteries.

For the project’s artistic content, we have pulled together existing resources where possible such as The Flow Country’s Carbon Capture game, an existing app that lets you take on the role of peatland manager. By presenting existing works and digital projects again, we will be able to minimise the resources required for the project as a whole.

Working and Learning in Partnership  

While planning the audience experience and journey through the gardens, we initially decided to focus on digital alternatives in place of printed handouts and maps. However, one of the project’s lead partners, the RSPB, advised that this should, in fact, not be a focus due to the limited impact it would have in terms of carbon reduction. We therefore concluded that accessibility is more important for the key messages of the project to reach as large an audience as possible. We are also in the process of researching Edinburgh based eco printers to supply all the event signage and large format photographs of The Flow Country which will be displayed in the RBGE.

Being able to utilise the environmental expertise of the project partners has been invaluable in the development of the work and has informed how we will produce not only this work, but also future Cryptic projects.

Cryptic will continue to share their advice and learning as this special project develops.

Case Study: 'Below the Blanket' in Scotland's Peatlands with Cryptic

Hannah Imlach, Pollen Radiometers, mirror stainless steel, wood and glass radiometer, 2018.

Cryptic are a member of our Green Arts Initiative: a growing networked community of practice of 220 Scottish cultural organisations committed to reducing their environmental impact. It is free to become part of the community, and there are lots of resources and case studies (like this one!) to support #GreenArts organisations. Take a look at our Green Arts Initiative page for more information.

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