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RSA Arts & Ecology actively increased the level and breadth of debate around artists’ relationships to contemporary environmental issues. In the project’s title ‘arts’ mainly referred to the work of visual artists; most often it attracted those with research-based practice. The reference to ‘ecology’ went beyond the normal biological definition of ecology as the relationships between living things.  Instead, the emphasis was on the philosophical concept of ecological systems; specifically ‘The Three Ecologies’ as set out by Félix Guattari. He conceived of environmental change as negatively impacting on human life in three interrelated ways – the environmental biosphere, social relations and human subjectivity.

Project Timeline

With this conceptual framework as a starting point, the first major symposium at the RSA in April 2005 addressed Ecology and Artistic Practice, which drew much attention, within the arts, to this under-explored area. This was followed 18-months later by a large two-day conference titled No Way Back held at the London School of Economics (LSE) in 2006. This brought together international specialists from many different disciplines – arts, engineering and environmental science - each presenting their work responding to the environment.  Throughout the project, numerous debates were held in range of places from screenings in Bristol (2005) to biennials in Venice (2007) and Sharjah (2007) and a forum on nuclear power in London (2008). In 2009, Arts & Ecology was instrumental in initiating Culture Futures, a new consortium of international arts organisations who together organised a conference to discuss the contribution of culture to ecology, which coincided with the COP15 negotiations in Copenhagen.

From the beginning, Arts & Ecology set out to encourage artists to engage with the implications of ecological change, but did not set an agenda that artists’ might feel coerced into addressing.  Land, Art: A Cultural Ecology Handbook, was published by the RSA in 2006 and remains a key publication in this much expanded field. It drew together the artists currently working with ecology alongside key people from the 1960s. This gave traction to those interested in ecology and the number of requests for the publication indicated an increased appetite from arts practitioners, which led to the creation of the Arts & Ecology website (no longer active). The site included event and exhibition listings, articles, projects along with blogs and nings. In 2009 – 2010 the website initiated online campaigns with the aim of amplifying activities around the arts and environmental change in the UK and abroad, both to portray how much was taking place and also widen the audience and possibilities of connecting the individuals and organisation involved. The site quickly became a hub for the growing network of artists, environmentalists, activists, organizations and members of the public who were interested in the dynamic cultural responses to environmental change.

RSA Arts & Ecology worked closely with national and international organizations on artists’ residencies and commissions. This included:

  • Three bins, Tue Greenfort (2005 -2008)

  • Stop.Watch, seven short films for the internet (2008)

  • My Forest Farm, Dirk Flieshmann (2007-9)

  • Bat House, Jeremy Deller (2006-2009)

  • Black Cloud, Heather and Ivan Morrison (2007-2009)

  • David Cotterrell Arts & Ecology residency at Turquoise Mountain in Kabul (2007)

  • Kayle Brandon and Heath Bunting Arts & Ecology residency at Khoj Artists’ International Association in Delhi (2007)

And contributed to:

  • Tatton Park Biennale’s Framing Identity (2010)

  • Barbican Gallery’s Radical Nature exhibition (2009)

  • Cape Farewell’s Disko Bay Expedition (2008)

And specifically working with young people:

  • Creative Partnerships in London (2006)

  • Communities in the Brazilian rainforests conducted by the People’s Palace (2007).

The final Arts & Ecology partnership residency was with artist Marjolijn Dijkman, invited from Rotterdam to spend time in the village of Helpston in Peterborough which initiated conversations about an new RSA project whose origins were in engaging with communities and sustainability in cities, Citizen Power Peterborough (now finished).