Category Archives: ‘Translation’

Cliff McLucas in Terschelling

In continuing to  think through what might be learned from Cliff McLucas’ work – particularly in terms of my own interest in the future trajectory of deep mapping in an ecological context – it seems clear that it’s necessary to see how his project with Joop Mulder on Terschelling developed after his death. (I obviously have in mind here some of the points he makes in Ten Things I Can Say About These Deep Maps). I heard from Joop today that he is still working on the project – now called Sense of Place – and he has very kindly said he will send me information when he’s finished his current stint ‘on the road’.

As it happens I am due to go to Terschelling in June to speak at an event dealing with rising sea levels and the role creative activity might play in helping to reframe environmental change in relation to social resilience. So I’m taking Joop’s kind response as a good omen in relation to my current attempts to pull together a number of possibly related hunches – and they are nothing more than that at this stage – about relationships between what I think Cliff McLucas was advocating through his deep mapping projects and the notions of ‘translation’ I’m trying to develop in advance of my time at NUI in Galway. Hopefully by the time I get to Holland – and maybe even manage to meet with Joop in person – I’ll be clearer about how all these threads do or do not interweave.

Certainly at present I seem to have nothing but a scattering of hunches that are slowly being fleshed out in various clusterings of ideas. These may or may not converge. The first cluster will get an airing in Falmouth on Saturday. I’m presenting a paper called ‘Grounding Ecosophy: Reviewing Guattari’s “ecosophy” and Tim Ingold’s “animist meshscape” through the uncanny lens of the “supernatural Border ballads and the visions of Isobel Gowdie’ at the Haunted Landscapes event. This is my first public attempt to present the thinking I’ve been doing around Tim Ingold and Felix Guattari’s Neo-animism and is an attempt to move my understanding of the necessary shift from uni- to poly- versal thinking along the lines implicitly in Guattari’s notion of ecosophy on a bit.

Hopefully I’ll soon have something worthwhile to add to this site out of this work.

A response to ‘Cliff McLucas in the C21st’

The text below is a response to my previous text from Margaret Ames, a lecturer in the Department of Theatre Film & Television Studies at Aberystwyth who knew Cliff McLucas and attended the event to which that post refers. Her research includes: Devising Theatre, particularly in a Welsh cultural context, and disability and performance. She is director/producer for Cyrff Ystwyth Dance Company, who participate in long term practice based research projects, and is co-Investigator with Central School of Speech and Drama University of London on an AHRC funded project. ‘Challenging ‘Liquid’ Place’.

I am putting her response up here – with her permission – because it seems to me to exemplify and clarify, in a highly specific instance, our collective need to keep in mind Paul Ricoeur’s insistence on the importance of what he calls “the model of translation”. This can be found in a short paper titled Reflections on a new ethos for Europe (in Richard Kearney (ed) Paul Ricoeur The Hermeneutics of Action (SAGE 1996). (I should perhaps add that I understand ‘translation’ in relation to different languages – that is literally – but also in the sense of mediating between mentalities and lifeworlds).

Margaret writes:

“First. Thank you. I do not feel let down in any way and I was left with a profound sense of gratitude for all the careful presentations and offerings throughout the day. What you said at the end hit the nail on the head and as everyone agreed – it was a kind of mission impossible in any case, to sum up after the panel. What you have written in your blog extends my thinking further and reminds me of the necessity to ‘let go’ and to develop more nuanced understandings of how others come to these debates/places. None of this is mine, all of it we share. I use the forward slash here as an awkward attempt to refer to the lived experience of contestation within location.”

“For me the entire event was moving as I understood the intellectual endeavour being engaged by all concerned. Future possibilities seemed to abound and I carry the energy of that right now as I write this.”

“I want though to pick up on a couple of points you make – partly from a personal view as ‘I was there’ in the 80s and partly because, although Rhys is a fantastic simultaneous translator, I don’t know how he really coped with the speed and  passion of the discussion!!”

“So….for me the panel discussion took me right back to my very early twenties for as Catrin said, in the house where we lived and the Barn centre, such arguments happened morning noon and night. This was my political context and was profoundly formational. Clifford was always contributing/central to the debates and he challenged me to step up, to be part of the solution and not part of the problem as he phrased it one evening. I was aware of the generation gap as well as the perceptual and experiential gaps, but I was excited to hear the debates again in public.”

“But the main thing I want to pick up is that I don’t think the marginality is rural alone, I think it is more specific and more wide ranging in terms of identity. I take Euros’ position here and understand his insistence on the word for ‘culture’ – diwylliant as absolutely key. Somewhere in the root of this word is the notion of de-wilding which is there in the English word too I think. But within the definition of the word there is an implicit set of practices. These are about inclusion, sharing, dependency and definitely not about exclusivity, an ‘us and them’ arrangement. And most importantly – it is not about cultural product, of theatre, art, anything at all except the practice of living together here. There are other words he could have used which explain this more clearly – such as the word that I think translates as ‘colleague’ – cydymaith means the one who travels with me. Rural or urban, for there is a Welsh urban context too, the prefix ‘Cym’ and ‘cyd’ signals togetherness – negotiated and contested but together.”

“However….if you travel all the time with people who resist your vocabularies, structures and descriptions as you go along – in order to stay in step with them, to keep up….you cease to speak…..for fear… of loss…how can you cope with this journey alone? You change your language because you know they never will.”

“So… the language is of critical importance and is a means of inclusion rather than exclusivity. It is this I think that many people cannot accommodate. I don’t see the panel expressing nostalgia – I do see them struggling to understand Euros’ radical proposal that the ‘culture’ is more important and that the culture is the people – us – all of us. I have never felt any parochialism in these debates about identity – more a kind of desperate terror of the silence of finding yourself alone. I will always remember Clifford and Catrin talking about the horror of being the last surviving speaker of your language – who would you tell that to in a way that could be felt/understood? Who would you tell your dreams to?”

“And this leads me back to a notion of utopia. Yes – I think that this notion of travelling together is a utopia – but this morning the shop 2 miles down from me opened again – its been closed for over a year. It was decorated with flags and daffodils. They had made cakes and welsh cakes and tea and coffee for anyone who wanted. Mary-Anne bought duck eggs for no reason other than they were there!! Welsh was the language this morning, some without it did the swim in the rhythms and the expletives and the cadences  – we gathered before going on our way for the day. A tiny moment of a utopia  – inclusions and beginnings”.

Cliff McLucas in the C21st?

Yesterday I attended an event in Aberystwyth – see This was organised by Rowan O’Neill and Anwen Jones, and entitled Revisiting The Memory of Cliff McLucas. I had signed up early on, pleased to have a chance to celebrate McLucas’ work on deep mapping and acknowledge my own debt to him. Also to see friends and support Rowan who, through her PhD, has done so much to ensure that informed debate around his work continues. A few days before the event she contacted me and asked if I would act as an informal respondent to the day. “I’m thinking it would be interesting to hear your thoughts … in relation to your own deep mapping work and the inspiration you’ve previously drawn from this aspect of Cliff’s work. … it might be a nice opportunity to bring worlds together”. I agreed, perhaps without sufficiently thinking through what I was signing myself up for.

What follows here is in a sense almost an apology. Although I did speak at the end of the day, I did not say what I wanted to say about what Rowan and others have been doing, about my own debt to McLucas’ work, or about how I see the value of that work now. Apology may be too strong a word, but I have an obscure feeling that I have somehow let Cliff McLucas down and, more significantly, have let down those who value his work for its humanity and for its almost prophetic qualities. I certainly don’t feel I made the most of an ‘opportunity to bring worlds together’, in part because I’m not entirely sure that that was what many of the people at the event really wanted.

Why I feel all this is difficult to articulate, but obviously I’ll try.

First, some context. Dr Cathy Turner started the day with a sensitive, well-researched, and often poetic meditation on the McLucas archive and its resonances – both with regard to the man and to questions thrown up for us today by his work. Among these was the notion of the possibly utopian aspect of his work, which Margaret Ames picked up at the end of the session. I had intended to return to this issue at the end of the day, positing the Irish philosopher’s Richard Kearney’s notion of the productive tension between testimonial, utopian, and empathetic imagination as possibly a more useful way of thinking about Cliff’s work than one derived from the usual suspects among continental philosophers. I didn’t because by the time I was due to speak, I was unclear as to how such an issue sat with the preoccupations that had surfaced during the afternoon.

Unclear, that is, as to whether I was attending what seemed to have turned into a reunion of a generation of Welsh language and cultural activists whose heyday was the 1980s (and that just happened to include Cliff McLucas), or to celebrate the achievements of a man whose work and critical solicitude extended well beyond the specific Welsh context in which it was forged and tempered? I had been told by several people that the McLucas archive was a hot ‘political’ issue within the institution and in Wales. I was now beginning to see why.

The introductions to the new McLucas web site, to the archive in the National Library of Wales, and to MabLab where each, in their different ways, informative and thought-provoking.  My own problems as respondent began with the panel in the afternoon. Let me be clear. Some of what was said by panelists was both pertinent and appropriate to a day dedicated, as I had understood it, to revisiting the memory of Cliff McLucas. But of course that phrase is itself somewhat deceptive. I had chosen to take it as emphasising the importance of McLucas’ work and how what he had achieved in the past might be carried forward. But for some others it seemed that what was most important was the act of revisiting a shared past, one in which he had played a sometimes more, sometimes (I sensed) less, important role. Much of the discussion between panel members revolved around issues of the Welsh language and relations to cultural authority – understandably given the cultural situation in Wales at that time. I’ve some familiarity with these debates – as any English person who has worked with Welsh artists and academics must be – and am by no means insensitive to the very real and longstanding problems involved or the continuing issues in a ‘post-colonial’ era. I am also deeply sympathetic to (and a little envious of) those whose language – unlike standard English – allows them to speak the land and their lived taskscape with precision and sensitivity, as Welsh clearly does.

But I have to admit that as the panel session – conducted in Welsh and simultaneously translated – went on I felt increasingly uncomfortable and, to a degree, irritated. In part this was because I could sense the growing inattention of the students in front of me as one of their elders repeated, for the third or fourth time, just how difficult the 1980s had been. But aren’t we here, I found myself thinking, precisely to enthuse those students’ generation with what had made McLucas such a valuable figure to us, rather than tell them what a tough time we had? (And, like Eddie Ladd, I think things are harder now than they were then, since the issues are more complex and far less black and white). The moment I realised I was in real trouble as a respondent came when one panel member told us he would demonstrate that McLucas was (in his words) “no saint”. It seems McLucas had told him at one point he might best solve his problems as as a Welsh-speaking English person living in Wales by simply getting out of “this fucked-up little country”. No saint indeed! I have no idea how that ‘revelation’ of McLucas’ lack of ‘saintliness’ was received by an overwhelmingly Welsh audience – there was certainly no audible sharp intake of collective breath –  but, because the complexities and frustrations that revelation articulated resonated with issues that Rowan had raised about those who are hybrids within the Welsh context, the issues of context and categorisation suddenly came to seem central. Central, but also highly contentious.

What is important to me personally about Cliff McLucas, as I tried to make clear when I did speak, is that he was a man who embodied Geraldine Finn’s insight that: “we are always both more and less than the categories that name and define us”. Including, of course, the categories of nationality and linguistic ability or (in my own case) lack of it. In the self-filmed footage of Cliff explaining his deep mapping work in California, what comes over is his openness (perfectly captured in his brief remarks about his music tastes); his desire to share and involve; his concern that his work should serve the needs of others. And it was very clear from at least two speakers that he was, as a result, an outstanding mentor.

Any of us with some professional awareness of his lifework already knew of his extraordinary breadth of vision and his practical ability, in many registers, to get that vision out into the world. So for me it was the insights into his more personal qualities, his ability to hold at one and the same time an imaginative sense of “the smell on a man’s breath” and the historical and conceptual “strangeness” of his ideas, that struck me – and, as part and parcel of that, his openness, his capability as a mentor. That, for me, was what was most valuable in the day.

So why didn’t I say all this as a respondent. One answer is that I could see no way of doing so adequately without giving offence. To put it bluntly, we all now live in “fucked-up” countries – their size is largely irrelevant – as a result of weight of global capitalism, impending ecological meltdown, and the internalisation of the culture of possessive individualism upon which capitalism depends psycho-socially. The nostalgia (as I see it) of many of the panel for a world in which the Welsh language could be taken as the central issue for their community seemed to me almost counter to everything I admire about Cliff McLucas. I am sure he had his failings, but nostalgia, parochialism, and the particular self-regard of artist/activists that so neatly models possessive individualism for the advertising industry were clearly not among them. Anyway, mindful of being a guest in Wales and at an institution in which its language is central – both facts reinforced by the bi-lingual nature of the event – I felt unable even to appear to question the terms on which that hospitality had been extended. However, and this is the crux of my own discomfort, I also think that there was something cowardly in my reducing all the above responses to the day to the brief generalisations that I ended up presenting.

A second answer is that I would liked to have said that we genuinely only re-member the dead by incorporating what was best in their lives into our own values, practices and understanding. That’s a big ask, because it means that we have to have the humility and generosity to make space within ourselves in order for them to have a place there. For me that’s what the transmission of culture in its best sense is about. That’s a hard thing to say to a room full of people (most of them strangers) at the best of times, particularly since I’m aware that it can all too easily be interpreted as some kind of personal rebuke.

So what do I think is Cliff McLucas’ value to the C21st? On yesterday’s showing I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that question on behalf of any constituency other than myself. However, in my personal view he is a key figure in that – through his exploration of notions of deep mapping – he provides us with an orientation from which to rethink issues of connectivity. By this I mean the dynamic, complex, and unstable web of relationships between humans, non-humans, and the particular spaces and places they inhabit and engage with on a daily basis. Such inhabitation and engagement occurs in a multi-dimensional mesh of physical, psycho-social and non-human geographies that extend well beyond any particular cartographic site, region or even nation. They take, and make, place in a polyverse that is tensioned somewhere between Doreen Massey’s understanding of space as “a simultaneity of stories-so-far” and Tim Ingold’s notion of a ‘meshscape’. More particularly, and in terms of my own interests, he offers an alternative way of engaging with the ‘placing’ of marginal rural communities that’s capable of generating the the critical solicitude necessary to engage with the dynamic psycho-social tensions engendered by their marginality. This, as I see it, is informed by a version of Kenneth Frampton’s Critical Regionalism as re-calibrated through Felix Guattari’s ecosophy. Two tensions are central here. One is between the rural as ‘landscape’ – fundamentally an ‘aesthetic’ presupposition in which land is always seen at a distance and from an ‘edge’, looking inwards – and the other as a working ‘taskscape’ in Tim Ingold’s sense. One experienced from the position of a moving and unstable position within that taskscape. The other tension is between a pragmatic commitment to communitarianism and the dominant culture of ‘possessive individualism’.

Cliff McLucas remains central to my interest, and in my view a globally important figure, to the degree to which working through these tensions might help us re-frame more extensive socio-environmental issues.






Rural matters – a meditation on sinkholes


These photographs are of two sink holes in County Durham. I’ve been keeping an eye on them and their peers over a number of years.  Sink holes appear in the news every so often, usually when a portion of a city in the USA drops into one, often taking houses, vehicles and/or people with it. Their physical presence reminds me very forcibly of the instability of all aspects of the land – and not only of what’s under my feet in places such as these – and so helps me not to take it’s stability granted.

Yesterday I spoke with Margaret Ames, who teaches full time at Aberystwyth University (see As usually happens when we meet – sadly all too infrequently – we discussed issues relating to Welsh culture and the rural uplands farming which still just sustains the taskscape in which Margaret lives, and that has been so important to my own work. Most people have internalized an urbanist mentality that either reflects Marx’s observation about ‘the idiocies of rural life’ or tends to think nostalgically of the rural in terms of picturesque landscape and rather static, backward-looking and parochial communities on the margins of contemporary society. Such attitudes are unfortunately dominant and ignore so much – the realities of agribusiness and its negative environmental and social impact, the playing out of tensions around national identity through the politics of the ‘heritage industry’, the increasing distopia of many indigenous working rural communities, the growing crisis of Britain’s smaller farms, and so on. Some of these attitudes are perpetuated by members of rural communities themselves – particular the landowning classes and urban escapees who might be said to be located, rather than working, rurally; but many are simply a reflection of ignorance and media stereotyping.


Margaret’s and my conversation was focused by a number of general issues that it seems worth articulating here. The first relates to what I take to be the most pressing educational issue of our time which, as anyone who reads these notes regularly will know, is the need to facilitate the shift from a disciplinary-based to an ecosophical conception of education; namely one that aims to provide a basis for ecosophical praxis. While the resistance to any such a shift – which requires a radical change in the realpolitik of Higher Education and the professions – is naturally massive, it is none the less a vital part of creating a genuinely sustainable future. Perhaps ironically, and this brings me to my second issue, working rural communities in countries like Wales – which still have a tradition of poetics – are far more likely to offer us initial models of what is necessary for ecosophical praxis to emerge in practice that any number of academic tomes on Guattari.

In Margaret’s home village, as in communities like that on the Isle of Mull, most people must exercise a wide range of different skills and understandings, both in order to earn a living and to sustain any kind of living culture. Community in such places is always fragile, cannot be taken as a given, and requires a good deal of effort by individuals and groups to sustain and constantly recreate it. To survive, let alone to thrive, an uplands farming community requires an engagement in the intermeshing of environmental, social and personal ecologies that, while very far from Guattari’s ecosophy in some respects, in others offers an important lived embodiment of the tensions and connectivities any genuine ecosophical praxis must engage with. While the urban academic theorist can take for granted that her monthly salary enables her to gather her basic physical and cultural sustenance on her way between home and work – whether from a supermarket or a multiplex or arts center – in rural communities these things usually require planning, a thoughtful allocation of resources and, very often, the necessity of social co-operation. In short they require skills that, as the unsustainability of our current consumerist culture starts to bite, will be increasingly necessary to us all.


A third related issue has to do with dwindling fossil fuel resources for long-distant transportation of basic necessities, land use, and the production of food. At present upland farming is increasingly threatened by a combination of factors – many of them related to a blending of economic and social policies that – in the name of a popularist pseudo-democracy – enables Government to believe itself entitled to ignore the needs of ‘marginal’ rural communities. However, as climate change continues to lead to rises in sea level, our whole approach to land use will need to change because there will simply be less and less of it – whether to live on or produce food. (Ironically, it is possible that global warming may allow grain to be grown on a small scale at higher altitudes than at present, as it did in the late Iron Age and Roman period in upland Britain). If, as seems inevitable, the UK will need to become both far more self-sufficient in terms of food production and, with many of its major city at close to sea level, need to relocate very substantive percentages of it population to higher ground, working rural communities in general and upland rural communities in particular, are likely become a contested but vital basis for the creation of a genuinely sustainable society. At present both the dominant social order and our increasingly embattled rural communities – facing such issues as the loss of post-offices, in many places a cornerstone of rural communities – lack the necessary envisioning necessary to catalyze the kind of ecosophical praxis necessary to address these issues. While artists – in the broadest sense – are beginning to undertake just such an envisioning they can only do so much on their own.

And it is at this point that an ecosophical approach to the arts and education as they apply to these issues is urgently needed.

Creating convivial places – towards another politics?


In these increasingly uncertain times I am more and more impressed by the way in which people I meet are managing to continue to make ‘convivial places’ that serve to grow or support forms of community and mutual support – ‘places’ that exist solely through the coming together in good faith of people engaged in creative action. This form of ‘making’ seems to me one basis for what we might call another kind of politics and some of the most valuable creative work we can do. Indeed, if some theorists are to be believed, it perhaps lies at the heart of the creative conversations that we undertake when we engage in the work (verb) of art.

Recently the most obvious example of this kind of work for me has been The Showroom Projects with whom Mel Shearsmith and I (representing PLaCE) worked on the Walking in the City project. ( – see my last post and Walking In The City). The three main people involved are Alice Tatton-Brown, Hannah Sullivan and Martha King, who describe themselves as ‘creative practitioners and producers’. Something of the spirit of this enterprise is suggested by the description of Alice Tatton-Brown’s role: “Alice is currently looking after finance and development at TPS, though like Martha and Hannah, she too can also be found cleaning the spaces, emptying bins and filling holes in the walls” ( Not to mention, at least in Martha’s case, taking on other low-paid work so as to help keep body and soul together). Alice is also soon to perform Ariel – part audio walk, part installation, and part performance – an intimate story told and retold in Exeter Central Library (19-26th October).

It might be argued that what I admire in these three women is simply indicative – a working in the kind of hybrid, ‘in-between’ psychosocial space that is occupied, willingly or unwillingly, undertaken by innumerable artists who have both to subsist and sustain their practice by multi-tasking, creatively and economically. While that may be true, it risks missing the particular outward-looking, enthusiastically engaged and intellectually curious quality of the ‘convivial place’ these three have managed to create at the Parlour Show Rooms. It is this creative conviviality, perhaps more than anything else, that we now need as a society and that Bristol City Council risks disabling when it dispossesses The Showrooms Projects later this year.

Cliff (Clifford) McLucas

I am delighted to discover that there is now a web site devoted to the work of Cliff MacLucas, whose “Ten Things I Know About These Deep Maps” has been a really important source of inspiration for the deep mapping work I’ve been involved in over the last fifteen odd years, along with the work of Mike Pearson.

The new web site, which grows in large part out of work done by Dr Rowan O’Neil, a Lecturer in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television, at Aberystwyth University, can be found at: For those who are interested in hearing the man himself there is also the video at:


Transgression, or: …


Transgression, or: ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House’.1

In the essay that gives me the second half of my title, Audre Lorde asks: “what does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy”? Later she also states: “survival is not an academic skill”. I need to return to these and other of Lorde’s observations because they help me ponder concerns that press in on me at present, following a wonderful period of new experience and exchange in Dundee. And of course the crux of the matter that troubles me is captured in this observation: “… the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change”.

As so often when I get back from a powerful event shared with old friends and with exciting new contacts, I find myself pondering my own multiple connections and my ‘work’ (not primarily in the economic sense, but that other business of engaging with the mesh of connectivities we call ‘the world’). This questioning also relates to the Transgression film I’m doing with Antony Lyons, admittedly mostly through field trips, conversations and emails to date. This questioning has now been amplified further by reading the draft of an essay by the New Zealand/Irish artist Cathy Fitzgerald (in which she quotes some of my thoughts about ‘raw beauty’ published on this site). Cathy and I have just met up with each other again at Invisible Scotland in Dundee, a truly wonderful event – half academic conference, half locally led ‘walk-about’ – put together by the incomparable Mary Modeen. Cathy’s essay, which I found generated more serious food for thought, will appear later on her blog: beyond ecocide toward deep sustainability: stories from a small Irish forest.

Two things impressed themselves on me in Dundee which relate to all this. The first is that there is now a whole emergent ‘younger’ generation of people in dialogue with the PLaCE International / Mapping Spectral Traces network nexus. This includes graduate and doctoral students, ‘young’ and ‘established’ artists, and interdisciplinary folk of various persuasions more than able and willing to contribute to the development of the networks’ concerns. But, as the Dakota activist Mona Smith reminded us during the co-ordinators’ meeting afterwards, there is less dialogue with, and inclusion of, the ‘local’ people with the greatest knowledge of the places with which we are concerned than there should be. I will return to this later.

The second thing that impressed me is that there is now much more open disagreement – ‘dissensus’ if you like – between members of the core group than there used to be. This seems to me a very positive situation for a number of reasons. When we first got together as a group, it was very much for mutual support in what was then – for academics with our concerns and orientations – a disinterested and often openly hostile environment. That has changed, at least in some of the places we work in, as issues of interdisciplinarity and ecology have become more visible. (The old problems have, however, often simply taken new forms – not least in imposing impossibly heavy workloads on people already doing more than their fair share of work for the institution). What has changed fundamentally is our ability to articulate our collective confidence in what we do and, alongside that, our greater willingness to debate our differences rather than stress our commonalities.

One of those differences is, I think, very much to do with how we each understand ‘community’, an understanding that is inevitably closely bound up with our particular contexts – physical and otherwise – our aspirations and inheritances. Community as part of lived experience is, for example for Mona and myself, inevitably something very different. My personal concern is how, as disparate people with shared concerns, we now negotiate our differences in this respect. This is, at least for me, an intensely practical question to do with how time and energy are used.

Which brings me to the issue of transgression. Antony and I originally thought of this in geological terms – environmental events during which the sea rises in relation to the land so that the shoreline shifts upwards, covering more ground and resulting in flooding. This issue of land lost to the sea is clearly one of the major impacts on human habitation resulting from climate change. However, because of discussions and a particular shared experience of ‘silver bullet’ thinking being used to dismiss Antony’s suggestion that we need to focus more on preparing to undertake major adaptions to every aspect of our way of life and less on ways to preserve the status quo, ‘transgression’ has now become the centre of a whole mesh of linked understandings and concerns.

An unnerving part of all this is the privilege that derives from our investment in professionalism – artistic or otherwise – and in academic knowledge. What indeed does it mean today when the tools of a global economy run by a racist patriarchy – not least among which are the professional worlds of culture and the university – are still used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? And if it remains the case, as I think we know in our hearts, that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” and, indeed, more and more rarely “allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game”, then what are we going to do? If those tools – of disciplinary academic knowledge and state-sanctioned and funded ‘transgressive’ art, for example – “will never enable us to bring about genuine change”, surely we need to think carefully about how we use these tools and whether it is perhaps time to forge some new ones of our own? While I accept that we may need to use our privileged access to the master’s forge and workshop to do so, we need to be very clear that we really cannot have our cake and eat it.

As I have now argued both in recent texts and at public events on a couple of occasions recently, it seems to me that we (those of us who have the privilege of working as artists and academics) have to give something up in order to contribute to trying to dismantle the master’s house, to make the space necessary for real change to come about. This ‘something’ is, I think, the engrained attitude of ‘possessive individualism’ that dominates and determines the reality of the art world and the academy. Until we address this the matters that are central to Guattari’s third ecology – that of those constellations we call the ‘self’ – will remain an intractable problem that undermines our efforts at the social and environmental levels.

And this returns me to something Joseph Beuys said to me shortly before I graduated as an art student. “Always remember, education is more important than art”. But not, perhaps,education as managed by the university as it now manifests itself?

Activating The Gap


The artist and water scientist Antony Lyons has just copied me into an email to our mutual friend Simon Read – one of the instigators of the recent Activating The Gap event at Middlesex – an event I’ve written about previously here – that aimed to promote multi-disciplinary and multi-constituency work that includes the arts in environmental contexts. Antony wants, as I would imagine anyone who attended that event would do, to encourage Simon and his partners to build on what they have begun. In particular he urges Simon to make the concept “into something substantial, and enduring”. This is in part animated by an acute sense of how difficult it can be to use the impetus of such events to move things forward. As Antony rightly adds, he and I missed the opportunity to build on the evident energy of the Catchment workshop we put together out of initiatives we were trying to develop with Steven Sodek in Bristol before his resignation from the Council there, and suggests that the Activating The the Gap event “could develop into a London – Bristol – Falmouth nexus”. But, as he also notes, “there are of course lots of ‘players’”. I’m not sure whether this isn’t part of the problem. Although I have an encouraging sense of networks being extended and alliances forged, I worry about where the funding to turn these into a substantial initiative is going to come from.

Obviously I’m very pleased to hear from the eco-artist Cathy Fitzgerald that she has recently met Liz Adamson and Graeme Todd from Polarcap[1] in Ireland, and that she is going to meet Tim Collins and Reiko Goto during a stop-off in Edinburgh on her way to the Invisible Scotland event in Dundee at the beginning of August.. [2] As someone who combines being a doctoral student, a Green Party activist and eco-artist focusing on forests – she manages a small one of her own – she obviously needs to be making these kinds of contacts. We also clearly need more such committed and energetic people. But how is that commitment and energy to be directed so that it has the best possible effect?

I’m aware of just how hard it is for people like Simon, Liz and Graeme to take up the demands of pushing forward in practical ways to develop multi-disciplinary and multi-constituency ecological work that includes the arts in addition to teaching, research, their creative practices and the innumerable demands of everyday life. Artists prepared to work to provide an acceptable face for the shadowy world of the medical techno-science industry have the economic clout of bodies like the Welcome Trust and all the tacit support of various lobbying organizations/”press agencies” behind them. But where is the equivalent support for the multi-disciplinary, multi-constituency thinking that animates the best eco-art?

It’s almost certainly not going to come from the universities themselves, no matter what individual academics are managing to achieve (often despite, rather than with the support of, their institutional managers). As Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Robert Gordon University, has indicated that while universities are supposed to be the prime generators of ‘new knowledge’ in our culture, they are currently among its most reactionary and conservative institutions.[3] This is a situation that he also very properly links to the fact that both their pedagogy and realpolitik (as opposed to their public rhetoric) are almost entirely determined by a professional and academic status quo that is dependent for its power and influence on the perpetuation of disciplinary thinking.[4] Add to that the profoundly reactionary and reductive government interventions provided by the likes of Michael Gove and the struggle to build a serious consensus on the basis of such initiatives as have been begun looks like being very long and hard indeed.

The next gap we need to activate then is that between the potential identified and action initiated by the people mentioned her and others like them and those with the ability to link them to the funds necessary to help develop that potential – an equivalent to the Welcome Trust for the arts and ecological sciences if you like.

[3] von Prondzynski, F (accessed 10/11/2012)

[4] von Prondzynski, F (2010) A post-disciplinary academy? (accessed 10/11/2012)