2. Littoral: Neo Terra
The sea is a body in a thousand ways that don’t add up, because adding is too stable a transaction for that flux, but the waves come in in a roar and then ebb, almost silent but for the faint suck of sand and snap of bubbles, over and over, a heartbeat rhythm, the sea always this body turned inside out and opened to the sky, the body always a sea folded in on itself, a nautical chart folded into a paper cup.
The comments validate the role of art as not only having an aesthetic function (e.g., ‘beautiful’) but with an ability to shock, challenge and jolt our perception, compelling us to take up a position towards action. However, the exhibition—and the comments book—belies the deep engagement that underpins this project. Workshops with communities, including school children, in Shetland and Ullapool were involved in the process by collecting (litter and sand samples), making and naming of the work (Archipelago), the feedback (comments book and talks). A harbour master asked Barton to get in touch as a possible ally in his quest to clean up his harbour, when other projects had failed. Community engagement formed a key part of the Neo Terra project and continues to be an essential part of the overall ongoing Littoral: sci-art project. Therefore, it was only a logical next step for the Neo Terra project to travel to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh in December 2017 to highlight the impact of marine plastics to ministers and MSPs and speaks of a deep political engagement. As Thompson and Independent Curators International (2008) had noted, art is a powerful interlocutor, which affects people on a deep, emotional level, but with this comes a profound responsibility. Thus, it is the ‘dialogical’ relationship of the work in its discourse (in interviews/discussion by the artist with actors/agents in the process of plastic pollution as well as public talks), and through the process of making that the ‘relational’ aspect of the work makes this Littoral Art work, operating between discourses of science and art, art and activism.thought-provokinga fabulous demonstration of what is affecting our health and environmentgave me a chill up my spineto create something so thought-provoking and beautiful out of something so shocking is a triumphoutstandingly importantchallenging, authentic, beautiful and ultimately extremely horrifying. Art is a powerful medium to highlight this environmental catastrophe. Amazing workdisturbingly beautiful art but so much food for thoughtLittoral Art9
3. Mapping the Sea: Barra
Full fathom five thy father lies:Of his bones are coral made;Those are pearls that were his eyes:Nothing of him doth fadeBut both doth suffer a sea-changeInto something rich and strange.Sea nymphs hourly ring his knell—Shakespeare, The Tempest, 1610
Conflicts of Interest
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Wording on the Preview Invitation.
Neo Terra (2016) was conceived for the eponymous exhibition at the Shetland Museum and Archives in Lerwick (8 October–12 November 2016) and was later exhibited at An Talla Solais Gallery in Ullapool (13 May until 18 June 2017).
Plastic represents the ‘inevitable corollary’ of unfettered economic growth: consuming eight percent of the world oil production, and ecologically devastating with a projected 33 million tons of plastic produced annually by 2050, and a growing understanding of its insidious effects on human and non-human life (Brown et al. 2016) The first synthetic polymer was invented in 1907 by Belgian chemist Leo Bakeland (then referred to as Bakelite), which ultimately led to the development of plastics, which would re-make and re-invent the world as we know it today.
Worldwide, more than 300 million tons of plastic are produced annually, of which 10% ends up in the oceans. It is estimated that there is now a 1:2 of plastic to fish ratio and that plastic will outweigh fish by 2050 if the problem is left unchecked (Munro 2010). When ingested, if these microbeads do not directly kill the animals, the toxic effects of the chemicals may affect their hormones levels and behaviour (Brown et al. 2016).
In an experiment conducted by Icelandic scientists in 2016, two plastic containers fitted with GPS trackers were released of the southern Iceland coast to demonstrate where plastic discarded in the ocean ends up. Both floated west, past Greenland and towards Canada before drifting east: one of the samples ended up on the Faroe Islands and the second one on Tiree in Scotland (McKenzie 2017). This ‘message in a bottle’ thus highlighted the connectedness of ocean currents, as had been demonstrated by a previous accidental experiment in 1992 when 28,800 plastic bath toys lost at sea in the North Pacific were still washing ashore two decades later. The geolocation of the emerging toys helped scientists to map previously unknown global ocean currents (Hohn 2011). It also highlighted the issue of plastic pollution, often ingested by marine wildlife. The North Pacific is also the location of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; an island of floating debris estimated to be twice the size of the state of Texas.
Julia Barton in conversation with author during the exhibition visit at An Talla Solois in Ullapool, on 18 June 2017.
Sand has now been identified as another resource at risk of depletion (Tweedie 2018).
You can read the scanned comments online. Available at: https://littoralartproject.com/neo-terra-exhibition-comments/ (accessed on 1 July 2018).
Hurrel grew up on the West Coast and is influenced by its landscape. He witnessed the submarines going past: thus, the dichotomy of the manmade and the natural environment are often explored in his work. Beneath and Beyond (2008) for example, and shown at Tramway, Glasgow, made the live sound of the earth visible. The invisible nature of what is happening beneath your feet—the sound of low frequency seismic movement across the world—is made tangible (in interview: 1 February 2019).
The Sea Change project formed part of London 2012 Festival, the Year of Creative Scotland (2012) as well as the Year of Natural Scotland (2013) and was supported by Arts Council England, Creative Scotland, Cove Park and The Bromley Trust.
Cape Farewell was set up in in 2001 by artist David Buckland following a collaboration with climate modellers at the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Change and Sciences. Buckland observed the capability of climate data to project into the future. He argued that humanity never had had such as tool and that in the past, ‘it was the role of artists and visionaries to map futures, but with no sense of logic or probability’. It is thus through the modelling and mapping that the future has become visible. Cape Farewell developed a model of recrafting abstract science data into more urgent narratives informed by expeditions and action-based research. Notably, in 2007, Cape Farewell changed tact and acknowledged that climate change was a given scientific fact and instead focused on solution-based projects. Cape Farewell continue their current cultural activity ‘towards building a Renaissance in energy production, economic regeneration and a cultural renewal’.
Project details taken from Cape Farewell’s website. Available from: http://www.capefarewell.com/latest/projects/sea-change.html (accessed on 7 July 2017).
Cape Farewell has an international remit and ambition: since 2003 it has led eight expeditions to the Arctic, two to the Scottish Islands, and one to the Peruvian Andes, taking artists, scientists, educators and communicators to experience the effects of climate change first-hand: ‘By physically sailing to the heart of the debate, Cape Farewell aims to draw people’s attention to the effects of ocean currents on us and our climate’. Sustained critique on Cape Farewell has noted the inherent contradiction in the large carbon footprint of these expeditions and their inherent elitism by selection of (far off) sites and ‘A-listed artists’ (Smith and Howe 2015). Cape Farewell has diversified their programme—possibly in response to this criticism- by tracking climate change in less remote locations and with a focus on local history and place. The Scottish expeditions are, in short, a response to this criticism.
The island of Eigg was bought for £1.5 million by the local community in 1997 with support from the public and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. It has since made concerted effort to derive all the island’s energy needs from sustainable sources: wind, water and solar, winning several awards for its efforts (Scottish Wildlife Trust 2017).
Translations by Rody Gorman. It was published in a free full-colour booklet. and was distributed to local people at the Barra Community Hall on 15 August 2012. It is also available online. Available at: http://www.sams.ac.uk/ruth-brennan/belonging-to-the-sea/view (accessed on 8 March 2016). The project received a First in a Lifetime Award from Creative Scotland.
By making these traditions visible, as in this project, these cases of ‘intangible’ cultural heritage are made tangible. The MGS became the first UK organisation to become accredited as an expert NGO advisor to UNESCO on ICH. Interview available at: https://ich.unesco.org/en/state/united-kingdom-of-great-britain-and-northern-ireland-GB (accessed on 7 July 2017).
The European Habitats Directive (92/43 EEC) was in response to the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), endorsed at the UN ‘Earth’ summit in Rio de Janeiro (1992) and the subsequent endorsement of the ‘Malawi principles’ at the fifth CBD conference in 2000 in Nairobi, Kenya.
There are parallels with the UK government and its refusal to sign the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) Convention 2003. Scottish Government urged the UK Government to sign ICG in a motion (S5M-11347) raised in the Scottish Parliament in March 2018. These divergent positions between Holyrood and Westminster are likely to become more explicit when the responsibilities for the environment, farming and fisheries may temporarily be returned to Westminster post Brexit (Sim 2018). The Scottish Parliament: 29 of March 2018: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/sp/?id=2018-03-29.23.0.
The project also considered anther Gaelic speaking community in Ireland experiencing similar opposition to an Irish Government initiative.
http://www.mappingthesea.net/barra/ (accessed on 8 March 2016).
This related to whom was chosen to present the project, and where, rather than whom it represented or how it was represented. Ultimately, the community could add to the map themselves without intermediaries from Hurrel or Brennan.
Mapping the Sea: Barra (2013) formed part of the North Sea Hitch (2013) trilogy of works created between 2012 and 2014 and were exhibited at Timespan as one of the most northern outposts of Generation: 25 years of contemporary art in Scotland in 2014 The three film pieces were shown consecutively for four weeks; Dead Reckoning (2012) 8 June–1 July, Mapping the Sea: Barra (2013) 5–29 July and The Sea, The Sails, and the White, White Blades (2014) 2–31 August 2014.
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