EAFS – Off Grid – Adventures and Journeys
Over the last 12 months Wide Opens creative director of environment has been working very closely with artists Matt Baker and Robbie Coleman to deliver Environmental Art Festival Scotland 2015. We thought it would be useful to talk through the different aspects of EAFS and the particular interest areas for Wide Open which will inspire and inform our ongoing work in landscape.
The Environmental Art Festival Scotland (EAFS) took place at Morton Castle, Thornhill by kind permission of the Duke of Buccleuch a great enthusiast of the arts. This is the second year of Environmental Art Festival Scotland and we had decided that we would hold the festival at one location this time rather than spread it out across the region although there were some satellite events connected to EAFS. Part of this decision was in order to discourage a large carbon footprint and the other reason was so people could come together as a community to discuss ideas about our landscape and environments future.
The festival took place within the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere and the landscape around Morton Castle and further afield (around 25 miles) was used for artworks and journeys to the festival which had been developed by local, national and International artists who wanted to celebrate their love of the land. The EAFS festival is a collaboration between Wide Open and the Stove Network.
The Vision for EAFS Off Grid
EAFS 2015 was informed by a visioning team who included:
Andrew Lyons from International Futures Forum, Mike Bonaventura from the Crichton Carbon Centre and Leah Black from Spring Fling, Robbie Coleman artist, Matt Baker artists and orchestrator of the Stove Network, and Jan Hogarth from Wide Open. Jan Hogarth, Robbie Coleman and Matt Baker took EAFS off Grid forward over summer 2015, connecting artists, academics, scientists, countryside experts, the public and creatives with the vision for the festival. The festival was an artwork itself it was a collective collaboration as well as an event that celebrated artworks which connected with environmental issues and the land. The themes:
“Generosity as a way of understanding the world” and the young peoples project “Disconnect, reconnect and redefine your future” became very strong themes. We all connected the festival with our own individual networks pulling knowledge and experience.
Andrew Lyons ensured EAFS vision was insightful and helped navigate the future. Mike Bonaventura was also crucial to the motivation behind EAFS to address climate change issues through contemporary arts practice with Leah Black from Spring Fling reminding us that all this had to be done in a way that was accessible to the public.
Energising the Landscape
The landscape where the festival was taking place in a diverse upland landscape that is used for recreation and sheep farming. It has breath taking views from the hills down the Nith valley and over towards Galloway and the Solway Firth. The artworks in the landscape explored its ecology and imagined exciting ways to engage with this land and reveal its unique character. Reimagining its future making reference to its past. Bringing music, performance installation, environmental art actions, creativity and walking into a landscape. Imagining new possibilities and new ways of using the land in the future, animating and energizing the landscape.
Water and the Land
There were many beautiful engagements with the landscape many of them dealt with the essential elements we need to survive such as water. Bringing their water Urchin from Wales. Artists, Crafted Space created a water born interactive sculpture installed in Morton loch which combined choreography and pilgrimage. The artists gifted the minister for the Environment Aileen McLeod with spring water from Wales when she launched EAFS. Finnish Artist, Ula Jero and Jens Wilcox’s ‘The Art of Expedition” which explored expedition as a metaphor for sustainable life on earth involving a inuit kayak in Kettleton reservoir. and essential elements needed for survival including air, water, heat, shelter. Nic Millar and Minty Donald’s Experiment 14: Watermeets which was a performance with the watercourses in the surrounding landscape, exploring our relationship with water and how to take it respectfully and give it back to the land. For the first time for a while Wide Open’s director and EAFS orchestrator Jan Hogarth delivered her own environmental artwork called “Quest”.
Quest was an environmental art quest which brought spring water with prophetic and healing properties over 25 miles across the landscape from Hartfell Hill at Moffat by horseback and on foot to Morton Castle. Linking two valleys, Annandale and Nithsdale and connecting 5 communities involved in the ritual and tradition of the riding of the Marches which goes back to the 13th century. The project explores local peoples deep connection with landscape and community. Exploring the timelessness of journeying through landscape on horseback and through the artists blog exploring the interconnectedness of land use, climate change, water quality and sustainability. The project works with healers to explore water quality and demonstrate how it can be assessed through kineseology. Eventually arriving at Morton Castle after a 5 hour ride the entrance was carefully planned to create an authentic but dramatic arrival combining ritual with drama and performance. The aesthetics of Quest were carefully considered to respect the tradition of the Riding of the Marches but to reinvent a new ritual relating to raising consciousness about climate change by exploring our water quality rediscovering ancient knowledge and bringing it forward into our time. Quest was described by artist Mark Zygadlo as,
“The most extraordinary moment at EAFS was a demonstration of just this. On Saturday evening a mounted squadron of Cornets from the region’s Common and March Ridings, dressed in full regalia, galloped into the encampment and delivered water from a well at Moffat. Leaving aside the earth symbolism of this journey and the shocking power of the beautiful animals they rode, the meeting of these two communities represented by the
Cornets and, let’s call them, the Dowsers, for want of a better description,
was perhaps the most significant moment of the weekend. Nothing needs to be done about this except to remember and consider it, and I hope I am doing that here.
These are two communities that may never have met before and, one can imagine, may have little time for each other yet here they were standing together on the same ground, on common ground. What could be more significant? This action has made a new community possible.”
“In many ways Quest completed a very personal and very difficult and deep journey back to being an artist and to rediscover who I really am at a soul level.”
Jan Hogarth and Wide Open will be doing many more Environmental Art Quests to explore and energise the landscape, and the timelessness of travelling through these ancient spaces.
The Mapping of the Landscape
The core team, Jan, Robbie and Matt, spent much time on site exploring the lay of the land to ensure the artworks that were developed were integrated within the landscape context rather than just dropped into sites. They worked closely with the estate manager, the farmers, the gamekeeper and farm manager to ensure the artworks sensitively engaged with place and left no footprint after the festival left the site.
A highlight of the mapping of the landscape came when Professor David Munro, poet and artist Alec Finlay and eco poet David Borthwick further informed the landscape experience through “Conspectus”. With was a poetry performance from one compass point in the landscape which revealed the importance of place names and their meaning and whether they originated from and how they told a story about the past. David Munro also created walks related to the place names found on the old estate maps revealing stories and mysteries about the past. Alyne Jones ethonologist worked with Robbie Coleman to create a beautiful installation in a walking bothy in a remote area of landscape at the foot of Queensberry hill. Alyne talked to people about the installation and told stories about the past making us think about the people who lived and worked the land. Alyne Jones and Professor Monro’s work was very important to creating a rich and deep connection to the past so we can reflect and understand how to more forward.
The producers Matt and Robbie marked the routes and created beautiful signage which was in keeping with the EAFS identity. Creating maps of the site for visitors which were playful and informative and were included in the newspaper “Interesting Times”. A community space was created with the river of fire barbeque and the community post office space that was an elegant tent which was cool and contemporary but seemed also to suit the landscape space bringing contemporary architecture together with the picturesque ruined castle. The space was further enhanced by a fantastic team of young people, who were welcoming and hospitable to guests.
The result was a festival that has been hailed as a great success both artistically and in terms of engaging visitors and local community. Many people described it as transformational and like no festival/art actions and events they had experienced before. The quality of the artwork and art experiences was very high and the atmosphere on the site communicated the sense of generosity and collective concern for living a better way in the future. The audience were also participants becoming part of a temporary cross generational community.
The topic of the future of our landscape, sustainability and climate change were integral to the festival and had been the topic of the development team for a year beforehand. The artworks were inspired by these topics and they explored and posed questions about how we live as a community in this challenging landscape environment. Through the art projects, the creation of a temporary community, the journeys, the engagement with the land via the people working on EAFS, the discussions with the estate with the farm manager and the negotiations with farmers and gamekeepers.
Then there was the discussion which took place during EAFS about the landscape and its future. In “Interesting Times” there were a number of very informative articles that contextualized this time for us by those involved in the debate, including:
• The Landscape Around Us by Chris Miles of SNH
• Disconnect, Reconnect and Redirect Out Future by young marketing intern Ruaridh Thin- Smith
• They Think its All Over: It isn’t Necessarily by Professor Mike Bonaventura of the Crichton Carbon Centre.
• Navigating the Future by Andrew Lyons of the International Future Forum.
• Art and Ecology by Chris Freemantle founder of ecoartscotland.
• The newspaper also had informative articles on the artworks and maps and information about how to use the site.
The Campfire Tales continued the discussion about between artists, scientists, thinkers, mystics and members of the community on diverse subjects such as water, navigating the future, on life and death and time. Again keeping that debate and discussion flowing about where we go from here.
The Unicorn Project – Engaging young people with landscape
The Unicorn was inspired by youth worker Debz McDowall and the EAFS recharge team. His authentic looking horn was created by artist, Jan Hogarth. The Unicorn, an ancient symbol of transformation, is both an art project aiming to give people hope for the future and a way to engage the wider community in the festival.
He was conceived to engage a younger audience with the landscape. Youth worker Debz McDowall was passionate about the fact that young people do gaming much of the time and live in another world, a world that does include history and mythology in it. Therefore the creation of the unicorn created a bridge between this virtual world and landscape. In mythology the unicorn is a shy creature who hides up in the forest and only makes an appearance for beautiful young girls!! The Unicorn was closely associated with the land and when MSP Joan McAlpine got her photography taken with him we ensured that the message that went out was one of healing the land ahead of the festival.
He became a social media sensation (see marketing section). Appearing at local events exciting and engaging local people on the run up to the festival. He reached 150,000 people on social media and appeared in lifestyle magazines and local and national newspapers. He is now the symbol being used for the “Massive Outpouring of Love” refugee campaign in Dumfries. So interms of “feel good” factor he was also highly successful.