Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


Leave a comment

Transitions in Energy Landscapes and Everyday Life in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

27–29 April 2017, Munich, Germany

A report on the workshop sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK), Rachel Carson Center, and the Deutsches Museum (Germany), convened by Heather Chappells (University of British Columbia), Vanessa Taylor (University of Greenwich), Frank Trentmann (Birkbeck College), Helmuth Trischler (Deutsches Museum), and Christof Mauch (Rachel Carson Center).
By Vanessa Taylor and Heather Chappells

 

The modernizing force of electricity, symbolized by pylons traversing the countryside to transform urban and rural space, is a recurrent theme in narratives of twentieth-century energy transition. This workshop aimed to consider wider interpretations of landscape across scales— from mega-structures to micro-grids, from the home to the hearth— to understand energy landscapes from an everyday perspective. With participants from a wide range of disciplines we explored the symbolic meaning, socio-political construction, and material manifestations of energy transitions across space and time. We wanted to conceptualize consumers and communities as entangled in and shaping energy landscapes, not as bystanders in evolving socio-technical networks. How, we asked, have people engaged with these landscapes over time in their roles as energy users and producers, consumers and citizens in the everyday contexts of home, work, and leisure?

Continue reading

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Worldview: One Piece at a Time

Guest post by Judith Selby and Richard Lang

Judith Selby and Richard Lang are artists who collaborate in an ongoing project to collect plastic along Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore. They also recount their adventures in Plastic Forever, the blog they jointly manage. This is a  follow-up post to last week’s Snaphot on Seeing the Woods. All photographs are courtesy of the authors.

For related content about the journey and transformation of waste, take a look at our RCC Perspectives volumes: Out of Sight, Out of Mind and A Future without Waste?


rjfishppt_img_2919

Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang with “Trophy Fish.”

Our story is one of human inventiveness and metamorphosis. It is about how the simple act of picking up trash landed us on national TV, with money in our pockets to continue the work we love, to begin a marriage, and to lose ourselves in a compelling vocation. All of this forged in the crucible of trying to make a visual blight into something good to look at. So, yes, it is about art making. But we wish to point out that in this era of everything standing in for everything else, a world made meaningless by the glut of meanings, something of consequence happened. Bending over, picking up, bending over, picking up one piece at a time. Several tons of plastic collected—one piece at a time.

In 1999, information about a mysterious patch of garbage in the middle of the North Pacific was just beginning to roll in. Charles Moore, a boat captain returning from the Transpacific Yacht Race, came across a befuddling density of plastic. He engaged the help of oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, and their research showed some alarming results. On the planktonic level, plastic particles numbered six-times the number of living creatures. Plastic does not “biodegrade”—as it floats in the ocean, it is simply broken down into smaller and smaller pieces, wearing down to the molecular level. Plastic enters the food chain with some ugly results. Albatross chicks have died by the thousands with their gullets filled with plastic. Chemicals leach out of debris, creating a disruption in the sensitive endocrine systems of birds, fish, and mammals. Dangerous levels of toxins are showing up in humans. Continue reading


Leave a comment

Snapshot: Human Evolution Workshop

By Christian Schnurr

The evolution of the genus Homo was influenced in part by the landscape in which early hominins lived. Important archaeological sites are often located in areas with very rough terrain and a rich supply of nutrients and trace elements. These two features could have led wandering animals on paths where early hominins could track them down and hunt them. Furthermore, the rough terrain made it easier for our ancestors to find shelter from predators.

The Lonetal area in the Swabian Alb is famous for its many artifacts from the Aurignacian culture (ca. 40,000–30,000 years ago). Among the discoveries are the oldest sculptures ever found, including a mammoth as well as a lion sculpture, both made out of mammoth ivory. Other findings include fragments of flutes that belong to the oldest humankind has made.

group_shot

The workshop group: (from left to right) Christian Schnurr, Simon Kübler, Frank Brown, Geoffrey King, Geoff Bailey, and Anke Friedrich.

These photos were taken during a workshop held by the Rachel Carson Center and LMU’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences for students of the Environmental Studies Certificate Program. The field trip to the Swabian Alb included talks by Frank Brown (University of Utah), Geoffrey King (IPG Paris), Simon Kübler (LMU), Geoff Bailey (University of York), and Anke Friedrich (LMU).


Leave a comment

Making Tracks: Alan MacEachern

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

Albrecht and Alan at the Alte”

By Alan MacEachern

In retrospect, mine was the least dissolute of dissolute youths. But spending post-undergraduate time traveling around Europe, drinking cheap beer, and sharing in overloud barroom debates on the human condition was, I thought, the real deal. By night I slept in damp hostels; by day I wandered the art galleries trying to look complicated. But I did genuinely come to love some artists, whatever that means. In Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, it was Rembrandt. In Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, it was Pieter Breughel.  And in Munich’s Alte Pinakothek, it was Albrecht Altdorfer and, more particularly, his Saint George and the Dragon. As difficult as it is to trace inspiration, that painting, as much as anything or anyone, nudged me in the direction of environmental history.   Continue reading


2 Comments

Car Parks and Edgelands: An Interview with Artist Edward Chell

Chell_motorwayFor your most recent project, Eclipse, you’ve painted sixty plant silhouettes on gesso panels. These are common woodland plants that are also found in less conventional landscape spaces, such as motorway verges. Collisions between the natural world and car travel are an underlying theme in your work. Could you expand on the thinking behind the strange juxtaposition of taxonomic systems that inhabit this work?

People go to the woods as strangers from their everyday life in the city or in the town; we go to experience natural habitats, back to nature – somehow this idea of being natural seems more authentic – and the car park is a threshold at this point of change, where people either sit in the car with a Thermos or get out and take their dogs for a walk. We go to places like King’s Wood to experience ‘nature’, but the woodland is artificial. It’s managed, it’s controlled. Some of it is coppice – it’s ancient but nonetheless forms an industrial site. Much of the rest is in large part a plantation.

Some visitors come to King’s Wood to have this kind of communion with nature. Are you suggesting that this leisure tourism is a folly?

We travel and engage with landscape largely as tourists. Today relatively few people work in the landscape – it’s no longer an agricultural economy as it was two hundred years ago – so our experiences are largely premised on tourism. ‘Oh! Let’s go and have a look at that because it will do us good!’ It somehow edifies. But there are other considerations –in travelling to places like the woods we leave a carbon footprint, we leave mess, we leave litter, we leave fumes – all these things have a massive impact. Continue reading