Whereas I’ve been reflecting in a more intuitive, ad hoc way that combines a lot of approaches throughout this module, I’m choosing to summarise everything using Gibbs Reflective Cycle (1988). I’ve considered other evaluative frameworks but this is the one I’m most familiar with. I’ll first be offering a general evaluation of the process before offering a table which evaluates each act/process/experiment taken.
I’ve tried to keep things separate under headings, but my evaluations want to take a more holistic approach and blend together a bit..
Since mid-February (approx. four months ago), I have been translating geopoetical (White, n.d.a.) theory into hands-on artistic practice. Based on emergent themes and concepts arising from my Literature Review, which I have coded and used to relate theory to practice. These are; Direct Action (DA01), Experience and Embodiment (EE01), Ethical Professional Practice (EPP01), Human:non-human collaborations (HNH01), Site-specificity and Place (SP01) and Spirituality and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (STEK01), with an overarching theme of Geopoetics and Dark Green Spirituality (GDGS01).
I have been experimenting with a WIDE array of processes and actions in response to these themes in an attempt to solve the most complex, existential problem of all: the climate crisis and a more sustainable future. My practice-research question is around how can we, as a species, radically transform our relationship with the non:human (i.e. Earth) so that we may better respect and care for it in the way it not only deserves, but in order for our survival. The key premise is that holistic earth-practices and meaningful experiences with nature invite a personal moral transformation, changing how we value the non-human and in turn, leading to more sustainable, compassionate practices. I am finding ways to radicalise myself, to ‘experience the landscape from within’ (Jokela, 2008), so that I may share it with others. I see this as an attempt at ecological damage limitation, or, should it come to it in our lifetimes, a way to develop resilience as a method of post-apocalyptic survival.
The complex research-led lens is which I am using to problem-solve this difficult equation is one that rejects anthropocentrism, both dualism and idealism and extractive, Western teleologics that led to the Anthropocene and the resulting climate catastrophe. Instead, this holistic lens celebrates ecocentrism, kinship ethics, Land Ethics (Leopold, 1949, cited in Millstein, 2018), animism/panpsychism, intuition, embodiment, ‘both/and’ thinking (Starhawk, 1999, cited by Morgain, 2013, p.296), Nature Connectedness (Lumber et al, 2017), Traditional Ecological Knowledges and transactional ecologies as part of a wider Deep Ecology (Naess, 1973) and Dark Green Spirituality (Taylor, 2011).
In practice, this has translated to a number of artistic human:non-human collaborations (Magrane, 2015), ‘space-time’ interactions with nature, such as foraging and gardening (Jokela, 2008), adopting folkloric/magical nature-based practices, mindful immersion practices within nature (White, n.d.a.). Much of this has required a shift in thinking that accepts that natural phenomena operate as independent agencies, in which they are ‘active’ cocreators of knowledge (Barrett, 2014, cited in Golańska and Kronenberg, 2020 p.307). This way of thinking invites philosophical-creative potentialities between human:other-than-human artistic collaboration (Magrane, 2015).
I have really enjoyed the experimentation process, radicalising my thinking, leaning into my intuition and ‘spirit’ more. I am noticing more and more the extent of the dissonance that our Western culture – the one I have been brought up in and enjoyed – employs. By reconnecting myself to the Land, I’ve really been able to see how disconnected those in my general culture are from our roots.
I’ve felt a lot of joy in making and in gardening, but also a lot of pain from the sheer amount of empathy and sadness I’ve felt for the animals, the plants, the seas, the soils… I’ve felt a lot of anger at those who know better but keep on ‘business as usual’, and despair at the inevitable outcome and the attitudes of the nonchalant. It’s been very emotional. I love making, and playing, and experimenting, and being in nature… but my whole purpose at the moment is heartbreaking. And terrifying. And there’s a weird, ineffable disconnect there too.
But, it’s been warming to connect with others who share ecological concerns – through the various Eventbrite webinars or workshops I’ve attended, or the CRAG meetings, or through Friends of the Earth, or through the Friends of Hull General Cemetery… or just online doing my research. Caring so deeply about something can feel very isolative, but connecting to others reminds you that you’re not alone with your thinking!
I feel a lot better in myself too – prior to my MA I was creatively paralyzed for almost two years… and now that I’m art-ing again – and learning more constructively – I feel much more like me. It’s kept me sane and motivated and my studio/HSAD is absolutely my happy place, so that’s been positive too!
The making has been great, that’s a given. Surprisingly however, I’ve enjoyed documenting things and sharing it on social media. I had abandoned social media for a year before returning to document my MA, but it’s been great to be able to be generous and show people what it is I’m doing. I’ve enjoyed writing blogs about things as well – I think differently when writing than I do making and I’ve enjoyed developing that criticality and insightfulness. I think writing – especially reflective writing – IS a key part of my practice, one that I’ve overlooked or undervalued in the past.
Speaking of which, my intuition has also definitely increased – which has been a huge, positive unexpected bonus. I knew deep in my bones for weeks that something bad/stressful would happen the weekend I contracted Covid (which happened just before my birthday and meant all long-awaited plans were cancelled), that my cat had badly hurt his paw before I saw any evidence to suggest he had, plus my tarot readings are getting increasingly accurate… there’s lots of examples of this kind of thing and it’s all too much to be put down to coincidence. I put this shift down to working meditatively with nature, and making a repeated concerted effort to actually listen to the non-human. Gotta listen to collaborate, right?
Working seasonally and within lunar cycles has been interesting. I have had to organize my time in a new way and get things done by a certain day. That’s been frustrating. I was repeatedly frustrated with the Lunar Barren stage – you’re not supposed to plant or disturb life during this phase. I couldn’t stick fully to it because of commitments, life, catching-up-after-covid, and so on. I have also longed to see results (so that I may evaluate them) but as the seasons don’t give a shit about my deadline dates.
It has been difficult starting a new, complex, stressful job whilst working through this module, but the worse thing has been firstly, catching Covid, as it put me about 2 weeks behind schedule and I feel as if I’ve just been playing catch-up, and secondly, collating and preparing my work for submission not long afterwards. I was on a roll, got stopped, tried to re-start, and just as I got back into the flow, I’ve had to stop making and doing and start gathering and organising and typing up and writing etc etc. That’s been by far the least enjoyable bit! On top of that is the fact that for the first time in my life I’ve needed mitigation, and despite applying for it in plenty of time did not get confirmation back from the College before the submission date.
There’s also been anxiety around making too much. Imagine that! To be fair, it’s more about writing too much since EVERYTHING needs documenting and evaluating and so on BUT the module brief says something like ‘equivalent of 7500 words’ and ‘equivalent of 2000 words’. 2000 words in formal essay is very different from reflective free-writing right? Especially if it’s a key part of my practice? Why should an exciting explorative time have limitations? I know it’s so my tutors (hello Laurelin, hello Craig) don’t spend forever reading drivel but at the end of the day, isn’t my writing – which is important to me and my practice – really for me? Worrying about word count caused some anxiety, I can’t lie, because a) I don’t have time to go back through and edit everything, and b) if I delete something that isn’t profound now but will be on future. I’ve decided though… I STAND BY MY WRITING! 😀
Module 2 has been a great opportunity to deepen my practice in practice. Every single one of my separate investigations/experiments is firmly tied to at least one of the core themes of my Literature Review, which I believe demonstrates a real strength in translating theory into artistic practice. Whilst having fun with it. I’ve tried a HUGE number of practical entry points and embodied approaches into better understanding and collaborating with the non-human, which is what I set out to do.
Making – and sticking to – a GANTT chart has been really helpful because I have random ideas for things but often forget them or don’t make time to test them out. I’ve used GANTTs before but never within my making practice, but as it gave me some self-led accountability and structure I’ll definitely be making one again. Coding has been a new method of linking theory to practice, and has been invaluable and has SAVED SO MUCH TIME. I’ll keep using that as well. Same with sequencing – that’s a newly learnt process which I’ll be using next time I feel stuck, or swamped with potential avenues.
I think I mentioned in it one of the ongoing evaluative blogs that much of what I have been doing these last few months has performative significance, rather than outcome-based significance. Some of that is because I’m working according to the rules of nature, some of it is because I’m transforming mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The things I’m producing are mere reflections of a deeper connection. Omg, I finally truly get something I wrote in my Lit Review: ‘The coalescement of Gibson’s theory of ecological perception and Merleau-Ponty’s theory of phenomenological embodiment explain how creatively responding to a site is a form of embodiment, traces of which are left within the art (Sarkar, 2021).’ Oh yes. The experience of creatively being with nature/a site is the thing of core importance here, with the art being a sort of record of those experiences.
I’ve been thinking about the work I’m making through an expanded lens of drawing, in terms of additative and subtractive methodologies and in what constitutes as line, negative and positive space, and so on. Most of it has been subtractive – at least, before things biodegrade back into the earth – except from gardening, which has been additative. The Tracewalking has been an interesting one though as it subverts the idea of who is subtracting or adding, as I feel like I was the ‘canvas’. Subtracting and Adding really does shift depending on what – or who – is making the decisions and what/whose perspective you look at things from. Considering things through a drawing lens like this has been really interesting and something I intend to develop further.
Considering practice through a nature-cycle lens has been significant too. I like working seasonally and lunar-ly, and I’ve been wondering how that could translate into wider aspects of my practice and life. Do I rest and hibernate over winter, reflecting and making, and then emerge and start working with partners and communities across the spring and summer before winding down in Autumn? Do I timetable looking for new opportunities and residencies during the New Moon? Can’t help but think that working with cycles is a much healthier way to practice as an artist instead of operating frantically all year around.
I really do feel a deeper and more meaningful connection with the non-human. I was already one to get tearful at seeing a hungry bird but I now feel considerably more empathetic towards the non-human than I did, extending far beyond wildlife and plants and into minerals, rivers, clouds and soils. This increased empathy has given me new insights into my practice, especially as at times I feel as if I can genuinely ‘hear’ or ‘sense’ things – such the tree reprimanding me for wanting to help it draw using a wood-based pencil, or feeling the grasses watching me in amusement as I did the trace walking experiment, or my house plants telling me where they want to be moved to (they thrive when I listen). I know I sound batty, but do you know what – I don’t actually care.
That’s not to say that I’m accepting of anything and everything I come across. There are plenty of practices and theories that I find far too ‘woo’ for me – unless I experience something myself empirically, I don’t tend to believe in something. That’s a Western upbringing for you! There are some instances where I can suspend my belief, and as part of this process I’m actively trying to open my mind and heart up more to the unknown and to the ‘other, but there is a limit. I’m quite cynical, and recognize that quite a lot of the literature around these themes are polemic, click-bait, or exploitative of gullible people…
Anyway, I feel I have succeeded in ‘radicalising’ (not my word, but Naess’ (1973)) myself further, and as such, have much stronger views than I did about conservation, land rights, environmentalism, and so on. Some of my views may be a little ‘out there’ for others, but it’s all makes complete sense to me. Since starting this module, we’ve had the IPCC announce that disaster is closer than previously thought, discovered that the indicators of how fucked we are broke records in 2021, and learnt that there’s a 50% chance we’ll hit the 1.5C tipping point within 4 years… and we all know there’s more. I was interested in current environmental issues beforehand, but whereas before I could shake it off after a while and go about my day, now the bad news just cuts a deeper than it ever did. Perhaps that’s because we’re creeping ever closer to chaos? There’s some good news eco-stories from 2022 but still… it’s still not enough.
I feel an increased moral responsibility… although I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing. It frustrates me that realistically I can only do so much. I catch myself bubbling with anger a bit quicker with climate-deniers or climate-shruggers quicker than I did. I burnt my finger the other week and was overcome with guilt because I was running the cold tap over it for ten minutes and felt awful for ‘wasting’ it. I notice how existential despair and anxiety, as previously mentioned, affects my mental health. I’m not the only one. There’s a very thin line here that I need to learn to walk along because – as someone guilt-based trauma and a mental health disability that heightens my emotions (especially empathy) – I feel like I might tip over if I’m not mindful. Yet because my work is so meditative, and embodied, and meaningful and full of nature connection… it’s also healing. It’s interesting, isn’t it?
With moral responsibility comes moral action, and I’m much more motivated to research into what I can do using my creative skillset. My intention is that if I can find meaningful and creative ways to respect the Earth more, I can show others how to do it too. The cold, hard, facts of science aren’t shifting things quick enough to make the immediate changes required – but maybe the heart will.
And so here we are, raring to go and save the world!
Conclusion and Action Plan
This has been a really productive, insightful and exciting few months where I have successfully explored a million different ways to translate Geopoetical (and related) theory – GDGS01, DA01, EE01, EPP01, HNH01, SP01 and STEK01 – into practice, navigating intellectual, mental, emotional, spiritual and bodily approaches in an attempt to find meaningful ways of connecting to, and collaborating with, the non-human. This effort is to attempt to find kinder, more sustainable ways of living with the Earth – originally this was simply for short and medium-term damage limitation, but in light of recent news it’s also becoming a form of resilience preparation for the ‘after’. It has been an emotional journey for me, but it’s been meaningful and purposeful, and therefore one I’m keen to continue on down.
There’s some things that I’d definately change were I to do it again. For example, I’d consider what seeds would be most appropriate for each mini project instead of just ALL doing poppy seeds because that’s what I had trillions of. I think that what I’d do differently is best explained in the table (which evaluates every test/experiment) below. Generally speaking, however, I would allow myself a little more flexibility and perhaps not be so ambitious in terms of time management and planning because it all turned into a game of catchup, as evident in my GANTT chart.
Theoretically, I think I’d like to pursue the folkloric, spiritual, meta-physical, ‘otherness’ avenue (STEK01), which I find the most interesting. Because it’s so closely linked with the other themes though, there’s no doubt in my mind that the avenue will loop back around or run concurrently with them.
I’ll keep making-research whilst theory-researching more, probably by developing or following through on some of the things I’ve tested or already started. There’s a few practical explorations I’d like to deepen, and some I’m not too bothered with at the moment – see table below. For the most part, it’s about creating human:non-human collaborations and making ‘living’, biodegradable outdoor artwork.
For example, I’m looking at installing a giant seed bomb sculpture(s) on the Hull College Campus – I’ve been speaking to a few staff about this and they’re happy to support me in getting that okay’d with the powers-that-be. Amazing. Failing that, Hull Samaritans are happy to have the work, but it’s more an issue with transporting it there or having enough facilities to make it on site. Another key partnership I want to develop at the moment is the one with the Friends of Hull General Cemetery (and by extension Hull City Council) to get some simple land art created within the grounds. Need to see if I can find a funding pot, approach the group with my twig maquettes and some other ideas and see where we go. It will have to take place over autumn and winter so not to disturb nesting season.
There’s other things I’ve got approaching as a professional practitioner, all of which are/will be related to this current trajectory of research. First up, I’m involved with a ‘Building Research Culture’ at Leeds Art University, where I’ll be talking about my environmental/geopoetical research-practice methodologies to MA-alumni. Then I’ve had conversations around ‘A Space to Be’, a community-focused Scarborough Museums project that will probably be based around making with nature, coastal relationships and stories. Then there’s that Living Lines project with East Riding Council, University of Hull and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust that we need £60k for. Plus some of the work I’ve made is being submitted to the Trees and Water exhibition with One Hull of a Forest. Everything I’ve been exploring in the last few months feeds into and enriches all of those things, as well as all the things I’ve yet to come.
I’ve applied for some incredible residencies – including this one – and I’ve got some related opportunities still to apply for… and I’ll keep looking down these sort of various professional avenues moving forwards. I’ve also got a residency at the Art House in July, so should probably start thinking about what I’m going to do whilst I’m there!
Evaluative table on arty doings
Golańska, D. and Kronenberg, A. K. (2020) ‘Creative practice for sustainability: A new materialist perspective on artivist production of eco-sensitive knowledges’, International Journal of Education through Art, 16(3), pp. 303 – 318. doi: 10.1386/eta_00035_1
Lumber, R., Richardson, M. and Sheffield, D. (2017) ‘Beyond knowing nature: Contact, emotion, compassion, meaning, and beauty are pathways to nature connection’, PLoS ONE,12(5), pp. 1–24. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177186.
Jokela, T. (2008) ‘A Wanderer in the Landscape: Reflection on the Relationship between Art and the Northern Environment’. In: G. Coutts and T. Jokela (ed.), Art, Community and Environment: Educational Perspectives,1st ed. Chicago: Intellect Press, pp.3 – 27.
Magrane, E. (2015) ‘Situating Geopoetics’, GeoHumanities,1(1), pp. 86 – 102. doi: 10.1080/2373566X.2015.1071674
Morgain, R. (2013) ‘The alchemy of life: Magic, anthropology and human nature in a Pagan theology’, The Australian Journal of Anthropology,24(3), pp. 290 – 309. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/TAJA.12052
Naess, A. (1973) ‘The shallow and the deep, long‐range ecology movement. A summary’, Inquiry, 16(1-4), pp. 95 – 100, doi: 10.1080/00201747308601682
Taylor, B. (2011) ‘Gaian Earth Religion and the Modern God of Nature’, Phi Kappa Phi Forum,91(2), pp. 12 – 15
White, K. (no date a) ‘The Great Field of Geopoetics’ [online] The International Institute of Geopoetics.Available at: <https://www.institut-geopoetique.org/en/founding-texts/133-the-great-field-of-geopoetics> [Accessed 1 December 2021].