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Will beauty save the world?


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‘Beauty will save the world’: An Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Workshop on Art and Social Change, University of Bristol, 7-8 September 2010 …

‘Beauty will save the world’: An Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Workshop on Art and Social Change, University of Bristol, 7-8 September 2010

Confirmed Keynote Speakers: Professor Alex Danchev, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham
Dr Iain Biggs and Dr Victoria Walters, Faculty of Creative Arts, University of the West of England

Hosted by the Department of Politics and sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Studies and the Global Insecurities Centre, University of Bristol

How does art construct, resist and contest dominant identities and social practices? How does art open up possibilities for (re)creating the world? What are the relationships between art, aesthetics, and politics? What are the power relations involved in art? Whose art, and whose values are best placed to change the world? Can engaging with art help us develop new epistemologies and research methodologies? Can beauty ‘save’ the world?

This two-day interdisciplinary postgraduate workshop is premised on the assumption that art actively constructs social ‘reality’, as opposed to merely reflecting it. Against dominant pronouncements privileging the centrality of rationalism and science as the legitimate avenues towards knowledge and social change, this workshop poses the question: what does the ‘serious’ pursuit of ‘progress’ miss out on when it disqualifies the artist’s imaginary as superfluous, lacking impact, unimportant?

The workshop aims to bring together postgraduate students working in and across various disciplines to share research which looks at the contested meanings of art and aesthetics, explores art in different cultural and historical settings, and examines the ways in which art and its constructions of beauty, society, politics can help in understanding, and changing, the social world. The workshop will also enable postgraduate students to engage and network with more established scholars, who will be present at the workshop as keynote speakers, panel chairs and roundtable discussants.

We welcome paper and panel proposals (2-3 presenters per panel) which engage specifically with the theme of art and social change, from various disciplines, including but not limited to: Archaeology, Anthropology, Classics, English, Modern Languages, History, History of Art, Visual and Performing Arts, Cultural Studies, Geography, Philosophy, Sociology and Politics.

Papers can include think pieces or works in progress. We encourage a diversity of presentation styles, from ‘traditional’ papers to interactive sessions, involving short film screenings, musical and dramatic performances, and the display of paintings, sculpture, photographs, and installation art. Presenters will be assigned a 30-minute slot for their presentation, which can be used by the presenter as they wish, but must include at least 5 minutes for audience questions.

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  • context: mixed science/art background, grew up in NZ, spent 10 years in biological science, moved to ireland15 yrs ago, worked for forest NGO groups in Ireland, then 6 years in fine art college, then 5 years in local green politics....always trying to connect my art and science knowledge .... my research art project is creating short films based on transforming my spruce plantation to a permanent, sustainable forest - i work with leading professional foresters at local and EU level and politicians
  • coming from a background in science i’m sadly convinced that the....
  • ....there has also been a trend to transport artists to environments such as the poles to highlight climate change... To me there is a danger that it does not allow audiences at home to easily connect to their involvement in ecological concerns
  • perhaps we could argue that...scientists are just poor communicators (though that has never been its role)
  • the fact is, definitions of nature are stupendously slippery, complex and contested. It’s old philosophical territory often little regarded in contemporary cultural discourse
  • There appears to be…… and unfortunately with ecological crisis mounting, where science tells us we have less than 50 years to change humanity’s behaviour to live more sustainably on the earth, this is very problematic
  • in cultural spheres.... Nature is seen…. it is how we create and ‘consume’ popular landscapes for e.g
  • whereas....
  • same irish landscape
  • hybrid theories of nature culture are being examined, new consideration of ‘multinatures’ even more recently it has been argued in a more positive slant that the assemblage....
  • Moving onto the relationship between cinema and nature, its clear that we have always....
  • considering cinema (cinema being that term that covers all aspects of the audiovisual moving image) is today’s most powerful medium, the chief concern in my work is ...
  • considering how powerful a medium cinema is, is it truly surprising how little critical analysis of film there is in regards to ecology/environment c.f literature where ecocriticism has been developing over last three decades or so nature has been a backdrop more often than not in cinema I think this again relates to this historic divide between how the humanities and sciences regard nature but also that cinema’s main role has been to entertain
  • i think it is too easy to fall into using horror and blame in regards to loss of species, climate change scenarios, instead my work is about creating.... attempt to create everyday narratives that reflect on sustainable ways to interact in my environment
  • I am interested, and impressed by, artists who centre their work on one location for long periods, chinese artists continually painting the same tree, the 2 guys in the film King Corn growing an acre wheatfield over time to understand the everyday politics of corn in the US, artist filmmakers such as AZ, and Allora and Calzadilla’s film work on env round Hurrican Katrina and everyday life My primary source material is my own 2 acres woodland, named after my dog Holly – as a former microbiologist understand the ever changing complexity in the universe there in my backyard forest I question the acceptance of artists heading off on residencies when more could be gained from ‘stopping and staring’ unless there is an emphasis on connecting the wider back to the local, ie I would be very happy for someone to send me to the amazon, but like in my bird film i would make it a priority to connect it back to my own audiences environment
  • i previously examined documentary interview styles, presenting environmental science facts & figures. To me such works seemed overly didactic, lecturing... one step from propaganda, activist approach - turned to literature, the poetic and applied these ideas to film... poetic might seem outdated, naive in todays world?!
  • not all these ideas occurred to me overnight... but I found that I agree that there is a quality to a poetic approach and poetry’s way of articulating…. Many might also argue that we live in a time where there is a crisis in representation and the philosopher Heidegger suggests that ‘ poetry is our way of stepping outside the technological...proposed that poetry, not science, unconceals the essence of nature (and how we can live with it)
  • while all of the texts I’ve quoted are describing written poetry, I think it can also apply to film... What i find interesting to consider is... the poetic works NOT.... others such as philosopher Mary Midgley agree that poetry may also address the atomistic picture of nature created by science which has been disastrous when turned towards our own understanding of ourselves and the environment Midgely 2001 Science and Poetry
  • last point, as a filmmaker i’m curious about my role as the narrator in my filmpoem diary/essays and how such work circulates/operates on the web and to its is argued that the prioritising of personal subjectivity....
  • my film aesthetic is very lowfi, no CGI or special effects - this is a creative decision, to fit in with presenting the normality of the ‘everyday’ to relate to my local audiences
  • Transcript

    • 1. Beauty will save the world ? An Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Conference on Art and Social Change 7-8 September 2010 University of Bristol
    • 2. a biocentric artist Cathy Fitzgerald, first year, VISUAL Culture – film practice and theory, National College Art & Design, Ireland
    • 3. key research area: we need new cinematic narratives if we want to continue to exist on earth
    • 4. earth’s systems are near collapse
    • 5. yet the crisis of the earth is a crisis of culture
    • 6. our culture prioritises narratives that promise unlimited consumption for all
    • 7. whereas ‘ nature ’ on which we depend is presented as something other, exotic, sublime, picturesque... and not connected to our everyday life
    • 8. aren’t scientists just poor communicators?
    • 9. nature is contested ... old philosophical territory deforestation in New Zealand
    • 10. there is a big divide nature culture
    • 11. ‘ nature ’ seen as a ‘cultural construct ’ ’ ,
    • 12. science deals with nature as a material entity
    • 13. unfortunately ‘the values with which the humanities have taught us to regard humankind have rarely been extended to the material world which the sciences examine and technology transforms ’ Bate 2000 The Song of the Earth
    • 14. the assemblage of nature is in process and can be engaged through many activities , practices and places . Hinchcliffe 2007 Geographies of Nature
    • 15. we have always mediated nature mass mediation is a historical process by which we have been taught to be observers of, if not in, nature Lindahl Elliot, Mediating Nature , 2006
    • 16. how well we are using audiovisual technology, to perceive , or not , the earth and our place in it?
    • 17. popular cultural formulas ‘mediating nature’ sublime (natural disaster movies) horror (animal attack films), picturesque, romantic, exotic, etc historic development of nature documentary often blinkered from wider political, social or ecological concerns own environments
    • 18. my work is creating backyard filmic narratives connecting my local eco stories/actions to planetary concerns
    • 19. Harmonious dwelling with the earth is a matter of staying put and listening in , whereas the rapacious drive of ‘progress’ is towards travelling out and making claims – the claims of knowledge, of conquest and of possession Bate 2000
    • 20. ecopoetics - a hybrid strategy? eco - oikos : Greek, the study of dwelling/home (science) poiesis : Greek ‘making’ (culture) Greeks were all into didactic poetry
    • 21. experimental film burning bright 2008 once i counted birds 2009
    • 22. poetry’s way of articulating the relationship between humankind and environment, person and place is peculiar because it is experiential , not descriptive.... Bate 2000 The Song of the Earth
    • 23. the poetic works not as a set of assumptions or proposals about particular environmental issues but as a way of reflecting upon what it might mean to dwell with the earth .... also it is pre-political (not propaganda) Bate 2000 The Song of the Earth
    • 24. subjectivity in nonfiction cinema , prevalent with low cost video & Internet, is a reflection and a consequence of our fragmented, globalised world.. we are all condemned to decentredness, fragmentation and liquidity... the autobiographical feeds the hope of finding or creating unity in this world... Rascaroli 2009 The Personal Camera -Subjective Cinema and the Essay Film
    • 25. small, slow, organic media centered on local contexts may result in a deeper form of environmental communication than shallow messages in mass media Lopez 2010
    • 26. thank you [email_address] fitzgerald