Case Study: Scottish Sculpture Workshop and Supply Chains
Trainee Technician Michael Hautemulle burning out a mould. Photo: Finn Arschavir
Located in Lumsden, Aberdeenshire, Scottish Sculpture Workshop is an internationally renowned site of learning, exchange, and production, supporting artists of all disciplines. Through their facilities, artist residencies, artist-led projects and international partnerships, Scottish Sculpture Workshop supports artistic ambition on multiple levels.
Scottish Sculpture Workshop (SSW) has for a long time engaged with environmental issues and visiting artists are encouraged to entangle their practice with the ecological concerns of the workshop’s location. Work has included the five-year EU large-scale Cooperation project, Frontiers in Retreat, a collaborative enquiry into the intersections between art and ecology that strived to generate a more complex understanding of the relationships between locally articulated ecological concerns and larger, systemic, global processes.
With questions emerging from these programmes, SSW has been trying to align their inner workings and infrastructures as far as possible with the environmental ethos of the artwork and research produced there. In the past year, they have experimented with initiatives such as setting up a residency exchange by land travel through a new and are planning a major capital development, working with Collective Architecture, which will reduce the environmental impacts of their buildings.
One initiative currently underway examines material supply chains, seeking detailed understanding of where the materials artists use in the workshops come from in order to make informed decisions about the most sustainable choices. As an organisation they are uncomfortably aware of the complex overlaps between the making skills and processes that they foster and the extractive systems that underpin these at environmental cost. This builds on research by artist Brett Bloom, commissioned by ArtsAdmin and SSW as part of Imagine 2020, that looks at how the petrochemical industry is entangled with every aspect of our lives, both in terms of physical objects but also the way that we think.
To explore these supply chains further, they developed a new placement, an Infrastructures Intern, to carry out a detailed investigation. The intern, Finn Arschavir, found that supply chains were often highly opaque and requests for information might be dismissed on the grounds of safeguarding commercially sensitive information or because the company simply did not record the data. Some companies could be convinced to provide information on request and one company compiled the sources of one type of clay (the most used at SSW). This was found to have sources mostly within the UK, making it an option with relatively low travel emissions attached.
However, SSW were concerned that the process of breaking down ingredients seemed to reveal the omnipresence of damaging colonial narratives in the mineral and petro-chemical industries. For example, the process of extracting minerals from developing countries to be removed to the UK for the purpose of developing our arts and culture arguably has its origins in colonial power systems. Finn compiled a list of the most sustainable materials available, taking into account how far they have come from, their perceived life cycle including recyclability and potential for reuse, and whether they are renewable or finite.
This research is feeding into SSW’s environmental policy, which will also include examples of good practice from other institutions. Going forward, this research and the complex questions it raises will be further explored by the 2020 Winter Residency programme, and in collaboration with a Researcher in Residence, funded through the SGSAH Artist Residency programme.