Talks
Presentation and discussion of ‘the sea cannot be depleted‘ at the seventh ‘Nuclear Futures’ Seminar, Sheffield, September 2018.

‘The sea cannot be depleted’ for the workshop ‘Beyond the Anthropo—Scenes, Mediums, Apparatuses and Environments’, at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, 19 May, 2017.

Panel member for Creative Resistance? Resilient Futures? at Whitworth Gallery, Manchester, September 2015 as part of GAIA: Resonant Visions, the artistic programmes for the Society of Ecological Restoration (SER) conference curated by James Brady.

The rich build walls against the wild and so they desire it’, a talk for The Wild Project at Primary, Nottingham, July 2014.

Keynote and respondent for ‘A Return to Pre-Modernity’, film programme curated by Victor Wang at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, August 2014. The films were: Amphibious (Login-Logout) by Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla;  Tônus | 2012 by Rodrigo Braga; and ‘Beau Geste’ by Yto Barrada.

Conference papers

The papers below explore emotions, walking, giving an account of oneself, Aristotelian phronēsis, conversation, learning and experimentation, relational ethics, kinaesthetic empathy, extinction and banality. Subjects include climate change,  sound art, scientific fact and value, global commodity exchange, metaphor and materiality.

For the text of any talk, please email. The résumé.pdf lists all talks.

Paula Kramer, being-not-being a tree, 2011, photo: Stephen Bottoms

Paula Kramer, being-not-being a tree, 2011, photo: Stephen Bottoms

This paper came out of collaborations with the outdoor movement artist Paula Kramer and the workshop we provided at Tanzkongress, Düsseldorf 2013.

‘I’ll describe improvised movements by a dancer while touching the vegetation, the rocks, the soils and waters of a location, influenced by gravity and by weather and by a witness. My argument is that these improvisations make possible a novel experience of the ethical for the witness, an experience that moves through the body, as likened to Irigaray’s porous movement from within to outside the body…

Paula works with questions of how the human body can perceive and respond to an agency of matter, or the capacities of collections of entities. How does the shift in human consciousness allow for, what she calls, the rising of other presences that the dance can accept and move with, as if they were autonomous – but always unknowable … As a witness one experiences a kinaesthetic empathy. For the witness, though, the ‘other’ is not the tree or stone, but the human in relation with the stone. They don’t form one smooth entity.

Then, when Paula moves away, the rock, the tree, the river bed has become different, if only for a moment. It has become something that compels the witness to go and touch it, too, to acknowledge it. It has not been made ‘special’ by human attention. It’s as if the human – in attempting to be receptive, or to be like matter herself – has somehow entered the time, the duration of the material, not only touched its surface, volume or depth. There is a moment of mutual letting go, when there is a lingering between the human body and the tree, and even the witness can feel the changes that have been effected – as ephemeral and dissipating as they might be’.

key words: Paula Kramer, Mick Smith, Luce Irigaray, new materialisms

at International Society for Environmental Ethics, University of East Anglia 2013

Can a place learn? Can the capability for learning be found not solely within the organism, or the organism responding with its immediate surroundings? Can learning be a capacity found within the wider field of relations between many life forms, a field that includes the non-living?

The question whether a place can learn might act to bring into existence a problem or contradiction. Or be an ingredient of a place that performance can show. Or lead to the invention of a field in which a problem finds its solution.

These variations are discussed by way of the tick, the epiphyte and the camel.

The talk is in two parts. In the first part, the question is treated as if it could be researched, as if experimentations could be made towards its solution. In the second part, the question is treated like a speculative concept, one that is added to a problem and changes the way the problem is understood, but the question itself is not answered.

key words: Isabelle Stengers, Gregory Bateson, AN Whitehead

at Aberystwyth University ‘Ecology and Environment’ Series, Theatre, Film and Television Studies & Geography and Earth Sciences 2013

‘Most of the organisms of the world live beyond human sensing of them, and beyond the ways that humans make sense of the world. How to respond to those beings at temporal and geographical distances, and to the human-induced loss of this diverse biological life that is outside human sensing are problems for relational, ecological ethics, the strand of ethics that begins with the immediate relations between humans and others. For philosophers, this include how to write about the non-relational, about the beings and entities outside the categories and classifications that make the world make sense…

There is a phrase in the policy and science literatures to describe when these species disappear, which is ‘anonymous extinction’ – a phrase that comes close to describing the banality of extinction – but does nothing to describe its violence.  And the phrase does nothing for describing how to live together with the ‘anonymous’. Of course, we do live with the anonymous, and we always have done, they preceded humans. Many probably do not need or want close human contact. It may be that the most enduring relation is one of distance and indifference.

These problems, too, are taunts for performance, at least in theory: how to show and perform the non-relational in an art-form that works between humans and holds hard to the present tense. How might performance contribute its own responses to these problems’.

key words: Jean-Luc Nancy

at ‘Performance and Ecology Symposium’, Central School of Speech and Drama 2013

 

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Über Lebenskunst, Berlin 2011

‘Each of these three concepts has something to do with motion. They are ancient and enduring, and they are about motion, change, solidarity, knowledge, the ethical – and performance.

Aristotle uses the word phronesis in several contexts, to describe a mode of being that is appropriate to situations so uncertain and complex that there is no comprehensible order. phronesis is a kind of reasoning together between people. It is improvising when there are no rules or beliefs or patterns of conduct to give one a sense of how things should go if they were to go right. It has to do with one’s character, and how we are with one another … Thoreau preceded other philosopher in not separating facts and values, emotions and the mind. He writes: ‘We fully know only those facts that are warm, moist, incarnated’… And metaphors move meaning across sensorial fields…’

key words: Aristotle, Paul Ricoeur

at the Walden Night, Über Lebenskunst, Der Haus der Kulteren der Weldt, Berlin 2011

Requiem-for-Electronic-Moa-by-John-Lyall-1

study for Requiem for Electronic Moa by John Lyall 2000

‘Distance’ is the relational condition of tension felt in attending to a work, involving the fluctuations of perception and the ambiguous intimations of reality, which create the territory in which special, performative emotional affects can be experienced. Performance is an indirect, relational form, and one in which the unbearable, the unspeakable, the terrifying, as well as the subtle and uncharted can be entertained.

In Requiem for Electronic Moa, the emotions engendered around extinction were of a flatness, of a human fumbling in the dark, and of a disturbing banality attending to extinction. There wasn’t the nobility of the last animal. This felt more like entering the haphazard, unreflective habits or necessities by which an animal or plant is extinguished, in the dark  – and in this, felt closer to what might be the reality.  The disjunction between anticipated emotions, and these feelings of banality created an unexpected and complex emotional charge’.

key words: Ronald Hepburn, Edward Bullough

at Emotional Geographies, Lancaster University 2002

sound-of-climate

As Seasons Change / The Sound of the Climate by Lorraine Berry 2007- 2008

Lorraine Berry translated the dataset for aggregated global temperature statistics produced by the UK MET Office’s Hadley Centre and the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit into musical notation.

‘The assemblage of nature and culture, the hands, instruments, humidities, conversations, legal precedents and industrial effluents that are embedded in the production of the piece are more than a steady, exterior context in which the piece sits.

The effects of those players, their responses, the dynamic equilibrium in which they act upon each other is that from which that sound emerged…The musicality that resulted feels like meaningful, communicative sound, as if it’s a sound of the climate from within its codes or structures, or mind, and not merely its material effects, the winds, the ice sheets aching, or the torrents of waves, to which we have become accustomed … How, then does one respond?’

key words: Bruno Latour, Aristotle, ethics, Gregory Bateson

at Living Landscapes, Aberystwyth University 2009

culture-+-climate-podcast

panel left to right: Prof. Diana Liverman, Dr. Wallace Heim, Quentin Cooper (chair), Siobhan Davies CBE, Prof. Nigel Clark (not pictured).

Quentin Cooper:  How much an impact has culture had on politicians, policymakers and others with the power to make a difference?

Wallace Heim:   Part of me wants to say that’s the wrong question. Of course you want the arts to influence everything but that’s a very instrumental view of the arts. If you start with that premise, you’re going to get a very different kind of artistic and cultural response. You’re going to ask for education, you’re going to ask for impact, you’re going to ask for all those things that policymakers can hold on to. I’d rather give policymakers something they can’t hold on to.

A project of the Open University OpenSpace Research Centre and the Ashden Trust

Oxford 2011

‘I have this idea that before too long, the arguments will not be about how to green the theatre, how to convince people to use less energy, how to make productions, buildings and transport less intensive in their uses of carbon. The arguments will flip. And the convincing – at least on materials and energy – will be going the other way. Those who want massive spectacles, world tours, and blazing lights will have to openly justify and account for those excessive drains. Theatre and performance will have changed. And it will looked changed.

Theatre is always changing, with new technologies and with new versions of what constitutes the human – what we think the human is.

I’ll talk about two of the ways that ecological ideas interact with aesthetics –

Firstly, To talk about conventions is to talk about relations between systems of ideas, to talk about breaks and revolts, about habits and about the power of the artist. It is to talk about social power, the tacit everyday kind and the institutional kind. It is to talk about what suddenly can be heard, when the convention breaks and what previously has been allowed to be heard goes stale, and what needs to be heard and seen comes into being, and is able to be sensed. And this changes – changes the public realm, the public space, the space of theatre…So to talk about aesthetic conventions is also to talk about politics.

Secondly, matter. Materials have histories. They pass through a production and move along – which they do whether they are considered waste to begin with, or are relatively new materials, whether they are used again in some way or sent to landfill to continue their history there. They are in movement, and in the brief moment of performance, they have a meaning, in that field of engagement. In performance, what is the balance between the agency of matter – as waste – and the intentions, force and design of the artist? To talk about matter is to talk about consequences, transformations and relations over time….So to talk about the aesthetics of matter is also to talk about ethics’.

at ‘People, Profit, Planet’ at World Stage Design, Cardiff 2013

This talk was the warm-up act for two performances: ‘Volcano’ by Clerke and Joy and ‘The ‘See You Later’ Capital’ by Massive Owl.

‘I was asked to talk about ‘environmental theatre’, but discovered that both Clerke and Joy and Massive Owl do not want to be identified with anything environmental. How could these two plays about the vastness and unpredictability of geology – the volcano –  and the indeterminacy in the metabolisms of human social, economic and artefactual systems – which is the transience of the city and capital – not be thought of as ecological?

It’s a common response. There’s an embarrassment about ‘nature’ that has to do with the history and habits of theatre …

Theatre borrows. It’s a porous form. Much current environmental-ist theatre borrows the languages from other kinds of environmental knowledge, and accepts them, works with them, even places them onstage.  This borrowing of languages can often represent a limitation of experience and of imagination, as if sufficient knowledge existed through these other disciplines and practices and it was up to theatre just to adapt or translate in a theatre-kind of way.

I want to argue strongly for developing methods for inquiry, methods for devising and practice that will open up experience and creativity in ways that explore and meddle with nature-human relations, and for being impatient with the existing practices and conventions of theatre.

I’m looking forward to the day when, in addition to the critical work that finds what is essential about theatre at any given historical time, that marks its evolutions, whether that’s by the ideas of presence, or the unmarked, or the post-dramatic, there will be concepts that we haven’t thought of yet, concepts that describe theatre’s way of making evident, of showing, of bringing into presence, the human as related to the other than human’.

at University College Falmouth 2013

 

In response to climate instability, new ways of making art, new languages – and new ways of recognising what counts as art – are developing. There are new relations forming between artists, scientists, politicians, the legal system, activists and communities. It is a subject that presents many tensions for artists, and these, in themselves, uncover wider assumptions about the arts, and about how we understand climate change.

Works presented: Greenhouse Britain (exhibition, Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison), The Contingency Plan (theatre play, Steve Waters), And While London Burns (audio walk, Platform), Endangered Species (dance and installation, Siobhan Davies) and Feast on the Bridge (public celebration, Clare Patey)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PYtD-jB_Uw

at Climate Change Symposium hosted by Help Rescue the Planet, London 2012

Homeland-at-Desire-Lines

HOMELAND by Platform 1993

‘The ancient Greek idea of Parrhesia means to speak frankly in public about oneself when asked to do so by another person, not as a confession or autobiography – but to demonstrate there is a relation between the rational discourse that one uses to explain one’s life, and the way that one lives. The purpose, quoting Foucault, is ‘to convince someone that he must take care of himself and of others, and this means that he must change his life.’

There is a moment in conversation-based art practices, between taking in the art work, and speaking in the art work, a moment that can cause people to fall silent, and in which there is a yearning for the account of one’s life – which is to be given – to be other than it is’.

key words: Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Aristotle, ethics

at Desire Lines, Art + Ecology, Dartington College of Arts 2006

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‘The term ‘sustainability’ directs one towards a vague future while tabulating the present. One might calculate one’s position relative to an optimum emissions target. But one doesn’t fall into sustainability as one falls in love.

Metaphors do things, they are performative. Metaphors ‘graft together’ different fields of meaning. And this is a process in which, to quote Paul Ricoeur, ‘imagination is diffused in all directions, reviving former experiences, awakening dormant memories, irrigating adjacent sensorial fields’. The playfulness of metaphor, its absurdity, its irreverence, its defiance of gravity, its mutiny, its profanity, its magic, are what I want to enlist with this project asking artists to suggest their metaphors for sustainability, to irrigate those sensorial fields, whether the metaphors are observant, supportive or critical’.

key words: George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Gregory Bateson, Paul Ricoeur

at Staging Sustainability, University of York, Toronto 2011

Exchange-Values-by-Shelley-Sacks

public conversation as part of Exchange Values by Shelley Sacks, Birmingham 2005

‘The artist sets the conditions for and initiates the action of listening. Listening is neither passive, nor a tool for gathering and negotiating existing opinions, but an action which in itself is expressive and has agency.

There is a beautiful tension in some works, between the activist intentions to communicate an idea or position, and the desire for a conversation which has a life of its own, beyond the control of either partner. This is not a tension of opposites. To make sculpture in the social realm can mean to navigate, not direct, and even to let go of a conversation. And in this intimate and public sphere, to do this in order to create the conditions for change’.

key words: Hans-Georg Gadamer

at the Social Sculpture Research Seminars, Tate Modern  2005

‘Performance and ethics are very different processes, but both can be seen as desires for change, and as relational. Performance is relational through time, through images, through direct bodily encounters, through the senses and a physical closeness to another being, entity or landscape.

Both performance and ethics are practices which create a world, which create what it is possible to know. Relational ethics afford an immediacy in experience, a feeling for context rather than a system of judgement, a particular connection between the human self and an other… Considering nature within a relational ethic, that starting approach to creating a world can be one of care, regard, concern, or tender in its Shakespearean usage’.

key words: ethics, Jim Cheney, social sculpture

at BETWEEN NATURE, Lancaster University 2000