Monthly Archives: September 2014

“Art, Science, and Cultural Understanding” published

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This book, in which I have a chapter and a co-authored chapter,  is edited by Brett Wilson, Barbara Hawkins, and Stuart Sim. The publisher’s blurb reads as follows

Art and science are often seen in contemporary Western society as almost entirely separate and polarised fields of human enterprise. In contrast, a growing number of practitioners are realising that art and science are both intimately concerned with how we conceive of the world around us; not just as individuals, but also as societies. Art and science share a common embodied imagination, cognitive creativity, and independent spirit of inquiry at their heart, and both can summon up the visionary power of revolution for our senses.

The editors and contributors to this book clearly highlight the many underlying themes that have always connected art and science throughout our history and show, through a range of essay styles and voices, how a hybrid art-science movement is now emerging. This new movement offers a broader trans-disciplinary perspective to avoid relying on narrow specialisms and short-term fixes when addressing growing global problems such as climate change, economic instability, and provision of food, water, and healthcare for a rapidly expanding world population. Practitioners, researchers, and students in the arts, sciences, and humanities will all find much in this volume to stimulate and inform new ways of thinking about their own disciplinary approaches.

Brett Wilson took early retirement from his professorial post as a university scientist to become a “scientist in residence” in an arts faculty.

Barbara Hawkins is a university-based arts educator and film maker with a special interest in practice-led arts research.

Stuart Sim is retired professor of critical theory and 18th century English literature and a widely published author. They have worked together for a number of years on previous projects and are founder members of Project Dialogue.

Everywhere – Pivots and Peripheries? (2nd part)

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Part Two: ‘Everywhere, pivots and peripheries’ – considering Tim Ingold’s The North Is Everywhere

In an earlier draft of the paper that forms the first part of this essay I tried to suggest that multi-constituency collaboration rarely happens because, as professional people we’re embarrassed by the self as polyverse. This is an extension of our professional discomfort with what Bakhtin calls “matters having to do with ourselves”. The majority of professional people prefer, when asked to identify themselves, to do so in terms of some autonomous cultural domain or professional discipline as an exclusive ‘world-unto-itself’.

I tried to illustrate this point by using the example of the multidimensionality of my anticipated response on coming back to the windswept northern island of Lindisfarne. I have visited it a number of times in the past, but always on family holidays. My point, obvious enough as soon as we consider it, would have been that my responses on this visit, despite my reasons for returning being ‘professional’, would not be limited by professional frames of reference – that other memories, sensations, etc. would have been peripherally present. But this example turned out to be too ponderous and long-winded and I abandoned it.

What remains from that earlier draft is a sense of the richly paradoxical, polyvocal, particular, personal, senses of the North I’d wanted to evoke – senses in which both the sensation and an cultural understanding of the north wind – derived from the extraordinary psychosocial palimpsest that is the old Supernatural ballad of Tam Lin – are always, somehow, implicit. In that ballad the north wind is the almost imperceptible hinge on which the entire narrative finally turns. This moment is described as follows:

As it fell out upon a day,

A-hunting I did ride;

There came a wind out of the north

And woe it did betide.

And drowsy, drowsy as I was,

The sleep upon me fell;

The Queen of Fairies she was there,

And took me to herself.

I have for many years had a sense of over-identification with the ‘world-unto-itself’ of hyper-professionalism, and the institutionalised forms of power we believe this to grant us, as a seductive and dangerous form of enchantment. In no small part because in my own life I’ve been constantly called to remember the price that Tam Lin would have paid for his being enchanted had Janet not woken him from it and lovingly returned him to the human lifeworld – with all the joys, trials, and tribulations that make up the lives of ordinary (lay) mortals. What I want to do here is follow the intuitive meanings that this moment in the ballad carries for me into a discussion of the issue of the North and North-ness raised during the conference.

Tim Ingold’s opening plenary – The North is everywhere – offered an imaginal, psychosocial reading of the four cardinal points as historical orientations. My notes record – and I cannot begin to do justice to the detail of his exposition – that the West is equated with modernity, with the dualistic view ‘nature versus culture’, and with ‘history of’. The East he identifies with ‘history about’ (the other), a looking-glass history of rising and falling empires. The South is identified in turn with ‘once colonized, oppressed peoples’, with non-histories or ‘people without histories, with ‘histories against’. By contrast, the North is seen as the location of ‘history from’, of ‘inhabitation’ growing from the land and with ‘lives woven into the land’, as inclusive of all beings – human and otherwise – and as ‘anti-isms’ (his examples being example Shamanism and Animism). It is to be taken as the site of circulations of vital force and revitalization, of environment as the world we inhabit grounded in a zone of interpretation where objects are illusory, merely a reification of an unfinished continuum made up of the dynamic flow of materials. In this view of the North history as a preoccupation with the ‘first time’, the novel, does not take precedence over time as repetition. But above all this north is all pervasive, indigenous, the ‘everywhere’ of inhabitation and inhabitants.

The exposition of this position was accompanied by drawings and delivered in a persuasive rhetoric that managed simultaneously to evoke the authority of philosophers and a ‘common sense’ flowing from the phenomenology of the everyday. But, as someone alerted by A. David Napier to the distinction between monotheism and polytheism as modes of thinking, and also long attuned to the ‘polytheistic’, archetypal post-Jungian thinking of James Hillman, all this troubled me.

In the question time afterwards I asked Tim Ingold whether his clear championing of the North as a position was perhaps somewhat at odds with his articulation of the world as mesh, of mycelial ravellings and unravellings, with its implication of multiple dynamic forces and perspectives. His answer suggested that, while he felt the need to acknowledge the dynamics of each of the four cardinal locations, he preferred and was committed to the North. This can be taken at face value as a personal preference, to which he is obviously entirely entitled. However, from the perspective of lifeworld as polyverse integral to the first half of this essay, it can also be taken as indicative of a problematic contradiction in Tim Ingold’s thinking – namely, that it remains, in the last analysis, animated by the same commitment to mono-ideational positions that has given rise to the modernity from which he so clearly wishes to distance himself; the same radical, secular, mono-ideational thinking that the Enlightenment inherited directly from the monotheistic theologies of the Religions of the Book.

At first I suspected that my sense of this contradiction might be as much the result of a projection of my own preoccupations as it was a possible issue inherent in Ingold’s own position. However, listening to David Martin-Jones insightful articulation of an alternative position, in which a rhizomatic South emerged as the prime location of dynamism, suggested that there might be more to my sense of an inherent contradiction than simple personal prejudice. This sense that my concerns were shared was further reinforced by a paper from Chris Dorset, with its celebration of Paul Wheatley’s 1971 work, The Pivot of the Four Quarters. I heard this as an evocation of a Dionysian, catholic (in the secular sense) South, as the counterpoint to an Apollonian, even Calvinist, North. Owain Jones’ reminder of Latour’s association of modernity with purification (a prime cause of distinction within a hierarchy of positions), and his reluctance to partly qualify the anti-modernism he shares with Tim Ingold, seemed to chime with the way in which Lisa Taylor’s informants read David Hockney. They tend to do so as confirming their own affective responses, a process that also, inadvertently, allows them to bracket out the problematic cultural and political readings that his work can also open up. (I share many of the objections to modernity articulated by both Tim and Swain but, having twice had my life saved by surgery – and so am alive only because of its technical advances – I am always mindful of it’s benefits. Additionally, and on the basis of pre-modern mortality rates and educational opportunity, my guess is that only one in ten of us would have been present at the conference had pre-modern conditions pertained). But it was a paper by Leanne Philpot – Narratives of the Transatlantic Slave trade in North West England: Museums, heritage and dockland tourism, with its insistence on the validity of blending multiple, sometimes antagonistic narratives – each a trace of a particular historical lifeworld with continuing reverberations – that was most helpful to my thinking all this into a more coherent weave.

Owain Jones had reminded us of the importance of Felix Guattari’s Three Ecologies. Each of these, as I now understand it, must be understood as the site of an interplay, of a dynamic raveling and unraveling of psychic, social and environmental energies associated with, tensioned between, and departing from, that ecology’s own, particular, cardinal points. Tim Ingold’s monolithic – as I see it – privileging of a ‘good’ North over the other cardinal points (in particular a ‘bad’ West) is, in this context, ultimately unhelpful – although, as Owain Jones’ paper made all too clear, entirely understandable given the state of the world today. What I think Tim Ingold forgot is the simple fact that all such imaginal readings are dangerously reductive when they fail to take into account that, as an analytical psychoanalyst might put it, any too close an identification with one archetypal position becomes a form of blinding enchantment, one that in turn evokes opposite and negative forces. Any call to take up a Northern perspective that neglects to attend to this risks becoming a rhetorical enchantment and, in the process, an inadvertent evocation of the mono-ideation framing that has governed the West for far too long, resulting in all the problems identified by Owain Jones and others.

Janet can only return Tim Lin to the lay world against the power of the enchantment the Dame of the Fine Green Kirtle (the Queen of Elphame), puts in place when the north wind blows by hanging on to him, sticking with him through all his multiple changes of material, category, and implicit dynamic or direction. By being the still, present, pivot around which he can swing.

So I want to suggest that, while the imaginal North may indeed be everywhere, so are each of the other imaginal cardinal points. Each, like any imaginal image, is multiple, paradoxical, and irreducible to a single perspective. To identify a ‘good’ North over against a ‘bad’ West – as I take Tim Ingold to have done – is to reify the North, and to invite the return of all those ‘bad’, ‘repressed’, elements that are also integral to its power as an orienting image.

So in the final analysis I’m not too comfortable with this way of thinking. My sense is that each cardinal point has its light and shadow and that our task is to attend at and from the pivot, the act of attending that allows us to orient ourselves by each of them as necessary and appropriate, but without identifying with any particular one. To acknowledge the unending ebb and flow of the lifeworld as polyverse in which each of us, uniquely attentive, is a pivot and, at one and the same time, utterly peripheral – just one small dynamic constellation among innumerable other constellations.

Everywhere, Pivots and Peripheries?



Part One. Reframing Northern Spaces: place, creative practice, and collaboration.

This piece of writing is in two parts. The first part is a slightly revised version of a paper I’ve just given at a workshop on Holy Island or Lindisfarne, just off the Northumbrian coast, for the Northern Peripheries Network which, entirely by chance (or not) can now also serve as background context for the second part. The day workshop for which this was written took place just prior to what turned out to be a wonderful two-day conference – Further North – organized by Ysanne Holt and Angela McClanahan. The second part -to follow – is a provisional set of thoughts in response to a paper by Tim Ingold, one that also draws on points made by a number of excellent papers given during the conference – in particular David Martin-Jones’ Where is Anywhere: Ideas of North, South, East and West and Chris Dorset’s re-situating the gallery farther south. Needless to say, my reflections are partial, a personal ‘mulling over’ of the impact of what I heard over two days on my own thinking.

So, what I myself said at the workshop was roughly as follows, some of which will already be familiar to readers of this blog.   


Part One: Reframing Northern Spaces: place, creative practice, and collaboration

I’m going to talk out of my experience of working in the north, but also, of course, elsewhere – I’ve been working on my Debatable Lands project on the Borders for fifteen years – so as to present a particular view of collaboration. Some of you may feel this view is rather extreme but, having just been listening to younger artists and geographers at three sessions on geo-aesthetics at the Royal Geographical Society Conference in London last week, I can at least confirm that it’s not an entirely idiosyncratic one. What I want to say could be related in some detail to various academic arguments. To Matthew Fuller’s wild generalization that: “art … has oozed out and “become feral in combination with other forms of life”; to Sarah Whatmore and Catharina Landstrum’s work around ‘knowledge controversies’, ‘competency groups’, and ‘pre-figured categories’; or to Yuriko Saito’s argument that we need to pay more attention to the aesthetics of the everyday and less to the aesthetics of the exceptional. But my focus is ultimately practical – to help change views of collaboration and its framings. So I’ll start there, then indicate three points of resistance to dominant cultural framings, and end by introducing examples of a specific type of collaborative project.

Ffion Jones farms with her partner in the hills of mid Wales. She’s bringing up a young daughter, studying for a doctorate at Aberystwyth University, and making extraordinary multi-media performances. Simon Read teaches at Middlesex University, produces sculptural interventions in salt marshes, and makes beautifully drawn maps predicting future costal change so as to influence debates about managing the Suffolk coast. What Ffion and Simon do is normally identified as ‘art’ and I have no particular quarrel with that. But I do wonder increasingly if this does justice to their relationship to place ortheir ability to work collaboratively between radically different lifeworlds. Personally I think of them as being as much multi-skilled cultural translators working across a lifeworld as polyverse – a world made up of multiple and sometimes antagonistic normative positions that are usually seen as largely separate and distinct.

Recently I’ve come to understand that the work I’ve done over the last twenty odd years falls along a fairly broad spectrum – with genuine collaboration at one end and basic co-operation at the other. I’d argue that what animates this spectrum can be related to the two meanings of collaboration: to work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort”, and “to cooperate treasonably, as with an enemy occupying one’s country”. Grant Kester refers to these two meanings at the start of The One and the Many and, conventionally, goes on to oppose them. But I think they’re actually linked at an underlying level. I think both involve challenging given roles and identities. Genuine collaboration requires that we are willing to recognize, question, and negotiate what are often uncomfortable differences between the parties involved. That process requires a type of translation across differences that changes us, or at least has the potential to do so. But radical change in a person can all too easily be taken by others as a form of betrayal – particularly by those people who can’t or – because of vested interests – won’t think beyond the polarized categories of ‘friend’/‘enemy’, ‘specialist’/‘layperson’, ‘artist’/‘public’.

So I find myself wondering whether or not the woman in Edward Capa’s ‘Collaborator woman who had a German soldier’s child, Chartres’was in fact a genuine collaborator, not just someone who simply co-operated with France’s enemies? Might it not be that her love for the child’s father led her to question the category ‘enemy’ to the point where her own self-identity was actually transformed? Whatever the case, I would argue that genuine collaboration – by putting in question the frames of reference on which our institutionalized professional identities into question – is transformative. This clearly makes genuine collaboration a risky and transformative act in any profession where conformity to a status quo predicated on disciplinary realpolitik is a tacit requirement for any ambitious person.

Of course it also means that what academic and cultural institutions call collaboration usually isn’t – it’s actually carefully regulated co-operation based on a pre-existing consensus. Necessarily so – institutionalised authority flows from maintaining or adapting existing framings and presuppositions, not from questioning them. (A point we need to remember when we identify with that authority). It may be that distinguishing collaboration from co-operation goes some way to explain institutional and Government obsession with ‘inter-disciplinarity’. While there are obviously plenty of exceptions to what I’m about to say, I think most academic research that claims to be what’s called ‘interdisciplinarity’ is in fact little more than a slight of hand. In reality the researchers involved simply share a loose co-operative framework that allows them to do precisely what they always do – work on the basis of existing, highly institutionalised, disciplinary presuppositions. Of course such projects may sometimes produce innovative outcomes, but the problem – at least as I see it – is that this leaves the underlying framings unquestioned, not to say unchallenged. Over fifteen years ago Doreen Massey quoted Barbara Bender’s observation that (I quote): “landscapes refuse to be disciplined. They make a mockery of the oppositions that we create between time [History] and space [Geography], or between nature [Science] and culture [Social Anthropology]”. However, while research funding and academic realpolitik remain dominated by disciplinary framings, we will continue to struggle to act on new understandings of place or genuinely collaborate.

So what about framings? I’ll restrict myself to my own area of concern, which is largely with rural lifeworlds. These are now increasingly subject to Government neglect of vital infrastructure, externally imposed environmental governance, and questions around energy and food security. This situation is normatively framed in various different ways. One is dismissive, locating the rural as non-place. It’s neatly summarized by Marx and Engels’ phrase: “the idiocy of rural life” and is implicit in much arts and cultural policy. A second is more complex, involving different mixes of Romanticism, regional tradition, New Age spirituality, and Edenic environmentalism. While each mix inflects the rural differently, they all idealize it over against the urban. The third framing can be characterized as ‘instrumental’. It treats the rural as ‘standing reserve’ – a resource to be exploited with no proper regard for its particular lifeworlds and ecologies. This framing is only too obvious when the Government appoints individuals embedded in the business world to head the Environment Agency and Natural England. But it also appears in a disturbing new guise in the rise of eco-scientism as a coercive top-down rhetoric in public debates about, for example, resilience.

These three normative framings regularly lock different social constituencies into mutual incomprehension, provoking protective withdrawal and making constructive exchange, let alone collaboration, very difficult. As a result different constituencies become locked into bitter, long-running conflicts – around GM crops and alternative energy in the UK, or small-scale family turf cutting in Ireland. Working across these deeply engrained normative framings requires creative, collaborative translation based on specialist knowledge, empathetic imagination, creativity, patience, and mediation skills. Simon Read and Ffion Jones are, in my view, involved both in just such creative translation. Their work facilitates multi-constituency collaboration between antagonistic constituencies and is helping develop a new, more inclusive, aesthetic.

This kind of work is certainly not without its problems. Creative translators learn many of their skills through a professional, disciplinary training. But the people they work with in rural contexts often suspect any authority based on the framings that underpin those skills. Rural selfhoods are largely dependent on another, place-specific, performative framing – one that has little time for discursive, categorical knowledge. Instead they derive identity and authority from their qualitative, embodied co-constitution in and with a specific taskscape. Addressing this difference – a primary source of conflict between professional and lay constituencies of all kinds – is a central part of Simon Read and Ffion Jones’ work to build bridges across the differences between university-trained professionals and rural workers.

As my quotation from Barbara Bender indicates, this work requires that we don’t over-identify with disciplinary positions. Instead we have to recognize, with Geraldine Finn, that we are always both more and less than the categories that name and divide us. In reality we each live in a polyverse where our various persona – professional, lay, amateur, or domestic – require collaboration on a daily basis. However, all professional work is now increasingly framed so as to reward those who internalize the values of the institutions that validate them as discrete ‘worlds-unto-themselves’. This situation prevents genuine collaboration, ensuring that the deep-seated framings that underwrite our current environmental and psychosocial difficulties go largely unchallenged.

So how do we address the tension between skills learned in a lifeworld as polyverse and those delivered by professional ‘worlds-unto-themselves’. I’ll suggest some possible answers in two stages. First, I’ll indicate three attitudes to place that help resist disciplinary professional framings. These aren’t concerned with place in terms of an aesthetic of the exceptional that speaks primarily to the eye, but with our constantly re-placed ourselves – physically, psychosocially, and ecologically – in ways that value an aesthetic of the everyday. I’ll then very briefly introduce some collaborative projects that I take to be genuinely transformative.

The first form of resistance I want to stress is ‘slowness’ in relation to place and collaboration. Christine Baeumler, working with an ecologist and an engineer, set up this tamarack wetland restoration project on the roof of the main entrance to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.It took years to raise funds, plan, and negotiate this demonstration that, even when transposed into an urban environment, such a fragile ecosystem could, given the right conditions, serve both as green roof infrastructure and an aesthetic micro-environment. As I understand it, Christine’s praxis has, over many years,gradually ‘gone feral’. To art students at the University of Minnesota she’s an inspiring and dedicated teacher. To her employer she’s an effective faculty member with an exemplary research and public engagement record. To local ethnic minority communities she’s a facilitator for environmental youth programmes. To her arts peers she’s a respected artist working across a multitude of media – including painting, installation, film and ecologically led landscape design. To local Dakota community activists she is a long-term practical ally in their fight for cultural recognition and proper representation. Finally, and centrally, to her neighbours Christine is somebody who has worked for eighteen years on community projects restoring the everyday environmental where she lives. It’s this slow engagement with the place in which she lives that’s catalyzed the transformation of her practice, both operationally and aesthetically. This relates directly to Whatmore and Landstrum’s discussion of the need (I quote): “to ‘slow down’ expert reasoning and so create opportunities to generate new knowledge opportunities and gather new publics”.

My second area of resistance concerns acknowledging the fragility of actually enacted community and sensing the interplay of presence & absence.Marlene Creates’ Sleeping Places, Newfoundland documents the impression left where she’s just slept – a transitory imprint from each of twenty-five nights’ brief habitation. The work plays up the relationship between bodily presence, transience, and absence. She later extended this to the fragile, temporal nature of human habitation.Places of Presence: Newfoundland kin and ancestral land, Newfoundland documents just that – familial sites where a sense of community relates as much to the dynamic of natural erasure as human inhabitation. Remembering that fragility helps us guard against institutional appeals to abstract categories like ‘the academic community’, ‘the research community’, or ‘the art community’ – appeals usually intended to evoke a spurious consensus in the interests of those with most to gain. This remembrance is vital because genuine collaboration is constructively combative – energized by differences – not the result of assumed or imposed consensus determined ‘from above’.

My third type of resistance is created by a community of active skill sharing – one that create a new, usually temporary, constellation of skills.Many of you will be familiar with Place of OriginKemnay, Aberdeenshire, Scotland (1996 – 2006). This was a many faceted ten-year ‘landscape as art’ project far too rich to detail here. I simply want to remind you that it involved many very different skills –negotiating, engineering, sculpting, landscape design, community discussion – that took as a focus the history of granite quarrying in the North East of Scotland and an understanding of place as inseparable from time and change. The project came about because Kemnay grew up as a result of its quarry but was fast becoming a commuter dormitory village for Aberdeen. In addition to creating of a temporary community of act, this project parallels, albeit in a very different register, both the need for slowness exemplified by Chris Baeumler’s work and the awareness of fragility, of the play of presence and absence, in that of Marlene Creates.

I now want to introduce some projects and approaches that are located on the cusp between art and art-based aesthetics, understood as the product of a monolithic ‘world-unto-itself’ and an unbounded creativity arising from the lifeworld as polyverses and engaged in opening up a sense of the everyday and unexceptional as potentially rich in aesthetic possibility.

Pauline O’Connell works to challenge normative attitudes to community and land ownership in rural Ireland. Building on her 2012 Drawing The Water commission, she’s been working on an open-ended project, two parts of which – Heave-Ho, An Invitation To Community and Heave-Ho, Pub Pulling League – are complete. This ongoing project raises and explores issues of community and social identity by drawing on history and trace memories – in this case relating to the 1970’s Kilkenny Tug O’ War team’s experience of getting to the All Ireland Final in 1971.Pauline’s use of a community-owned field – rare in Ireland – as a site in which to invite the performance of memory, has enabled her to intervene in the ecology of her local community. Community here is seen not as a given and permanent entity – as the guarantor of established ‘positions’ – but rather as an experimental exploration undertaken by individuals coming together – however temporarily – to re-place themselves so as to face the demands of a changing culture.

Simon Read lives on a barge on the River Deben and works as an artist, teacher, environmental designer, community activist, and ecological coastal expert. He’s been involved in saltmarsh projects since 1997 and his large map drawings relate to management strategies for fluid and shifting environments, delineating specific locations and actively meditating on change. He retrieves, cross-references, and synthesizes material from many different official sources so as to be properly equipped to contribute to complex planning and governance debates around costal environment issues. Recently Simon worked on a stabilization project for the Falkenham saltmarsh that led to him designing and building biodegradable sculptural barriers to prevent erosion by managing tidal flow and encourage the controlled deposition of silt. He has worked with official agencies, the regional community and inmates from the local prison to engage with the social dimensions of environmental issues through collaboration. This includes the planning and governance process, advocating and contributing nuanced practical solutions to problems on the ground, and addressing the cultural implications and dimensions of changing understandings of land, ownership, responsibility and belonging. His work also exemplifies a move to address the aesthetic issues Yuriko Saito raises in relation to ‘un-scenic’ saltmarsh and the need to address issues of cultural sustainability.

Cathy Fitzgeraldtrained as a biologist and now works as a forester, artist filmmaker, blogger, green political activist, writer and doctoral researcher. She lives in a small wood in County Wicklowin Ireland and her many concerns radiate out from her commitment to this one place. The immediate context for Cathy’s transforming of a Sitka spruce plantation into a sustainably managed mixed species wood is the tension between piecemeal official policy and grass roots public interest in sustainable forest and broadleaf native trees. While her commitment to this transformation is regularly assessed by the Irish Council for Forest Research and Development, Cathy is also building multiple face-to-face and virtual links between the Council, silvicultural specialists, local communities, timber users, artists, and environmental enthusiasts. Her intension is to further eco-cultural, scientific, aesthetic, economic, and green policy concerns – locality, across Ireland, and internationally. Cathy’s activities are variously ecological, creative, political, and educational in their addressing the everyday aesthetics of woodlands. They interweave personal interaction and strategic use of social media to generate professional and lay understandings shared with multiple constituencies and intended to encourage exchange between them. It is her public self-education as a forester that creatively meshes together innovative forestry practice, creative work, new conceptions of organic/mechanical relationship, and fundamental issues of community and environment.

Antony Lyons trained as an environmental geo-scientist, sculptor, and landscape designer, and is concerned with tidal, estuary, watershed and other watery environments. His Lovely Weather project in Donegal took a multi-constituency approach involving scientific specialists, a local postman and dedicated folk meteorologist, and the teachers and pupils from a local school.It created dialogue between scientific weather measurements (rainfall, humidity, temperature, pressure, wind speed, wind direction), traditional local weather lore, and personal weather-related material from Antony and members of a small volunteer observation team. Local peat bogs and their role as carbon sinks became a focus during the project and a peat stack and related artworks in the final exhibition raise questions about the complexity of climate and its changes in a local context. The project – sponsored by Leonardo and Donegal County Council – brought the concerns of a number of different regional, national and international constituencies into dialogue.

I’ll start to wind this up by pointing to same other, emergent, forms of translation. The boundary between site-specific performance and religious ritual has always been permeable. As the dogmas of the Religions of the Book are increasingly co-opted by fundamentalists, it’s perhaps inevitable that ritual as a form of collaborative spiritual resistance is taken up in the arts. Some people find that art practice constitutes a training of attention that aligns them with the dynamic psychophysical aspects of traditional rituals and want to reconfigure these in contemporary terms. This type of work is often focused by the need – particularly in rural contexts – to address the erosion of traditional cycles of ritual that, paradoxically, both helped constitute rural locations as communities but also bound them to social framings that then left them marginalized and neglected by the modern world.

Lucy Wright recently coordinated Making Traditions, an event at the People’s History Museum in Manchester. She works as an ethnomusicologist, with a folk group, as a maker and, having just gained a doctorate, as a Research Associate helping small companies with product design.Notionally ‘an exhibition’ to make the completion of her doctorate, this event was in reality a unique multimedia and multi-cultural event. It showcased costume and hats produced by Lucy in collaboration with makers from different ethnic communities, together with collections of contemporary folk objects. All these served as a backdrop for an event that brought together people engaged in different forms of vernacular performance from a wide cross-section of ages, backgrounds, and folk traditions. Lucy’s own work is focused by translation between several generic lifeworlds, exploring the vernacular North East from the inside out. As folk musician, apprentice maker, and professional ethno-musicologist she has explored the boundaries between professional and vernacular worlds so as to set up new modes of translation between them that also facilitate innovative aesthetic exchanges.

In various ways and particular places, I think each of the collaborative projects I’ve introduced challenges our given framings – not by abandoning Art and its aesthetic of the exceptional but by a way of working – but more by incorporating it into what we might call creative multi-tasking – an approach that also includes the development of a more inclusive and dynamic sense of the aesthetic of everyday place. All of which, I want to suggest, flows from engaging with the lifeworld as polyverse rather than orienting one self according to a single professional world-unto-itself.

I’m very well aware that an art historian like Clare Bishop might want simply to reincorporate these projects into the usual analytical, hyper-professionalised discourse of contemporary art history – through a set of comparative judgements about their aesthetic and relational originality. However, I don’t find that helpful and have instead tried to indicate another way we might understand them – as evidence of a shift from Art as a ‘world-unto-itself), whether badged as relational or otherwise, to a form of creative ecosophical translation. I think it’s more productive to see them as invitations in this respect, to recognise the value of collaborations that challenge normative frames and, in so doing, become transformative – allowing us to genuinely re-negotiate place in terms of multiple constituencies, framings, and possibilities. Of course those people whose work I’ve referenced have also been transformed by their collaborations. They are, viewed conventionally, somehow both more and less than artists in the usual sense and so can adopt more porous and eco-socially productive positions. Positions that, in turn, might serve as models to help re-frame debates about the places we refer to as the North.