Over three days in July, University College Falmouth was pleased to host Artful Ecologies, a conference exploring the relationship between art, process and systems thinking. In addition to the formal presentations and debates at the college’s Woodlane campus, delegates were able to explore and enjoy the local surroundings such as Gyllyngvase Beach, the River Fal and its estuaries, and the sub-tropical gardens at Trebah at specially organised evening events. These settings provided an ideal backdrop to informal discussion and networking.
Artful Ecologies brought together some of the leading members of the artistic community to consider and discuss how artists might best address current ecological concerns. There is little doubt that our planet is facing an impending crisis. Although there are differences of opinion as to how concerned we should be, the balance has dramatically shifted in the past few years. Forty years ago, only a handful of rogue scientists, poets and artists had an idea of the future that we have been creating, that we are responsible for and that we are moving rapidly towards. Today, there is an increasing number of scientists, government advisers and religious leaders who suggest that, if we haven’t already passed the critical point, we are very close to it. For many species, of course, this critical point has been reached and has culminated with extinction. The focus, so far as humans are concerned, has recently shifted from a vague anxiety over pollution and loss of biodiversity, to a confused foreboding about the predicted impacts of global warming.
So where does this leave artists today? The so-called ‘creative industries’ are being coerced – some would say hijacked – by a political machine that sees the benefits of harnessing creativity, without really understanding the role of the artist. Should the artist become the mouthpiece of a system that has been found faulty, or worse, be drawn into a world of business and industry that sees creativity as just another commodity? Surely the artist has a more vital role to play in society? How can an artist create work that is both ethically responsible and valid as art?
There are no easy answers to these questions, but they must be among the most important facing artists today. Artful Ecologies set out to consider these questions and related issues. Using the established category of ecological art, the conference aimed to present and consider particular examples within the framework of holistic thinking and process-based modes of practice.
A full programme of events was enjoyed by over 80 delegates from across the UK and beyond, which included eight international speakers and a supporting exhibition displaying some current RANE research projects. The conference closed with a panel discussion in which the speakers were open to delegates questions.
Some delegates have subsequently published reviews of the conference online. Papers from the conference will be published by RANE later this year, and plans for future symposia are currently being discussed.
F. David Peat
John K. Grande
Tim Collins & Reiko Goto