From small seeds …

So the PLACE Collective is here – but how did it come about?

The PLACE Collective is an ambitious and exciting venture. And for the first blog we thought we’d share some musings about the early sparks of ideas, and the journey to get to here.

The PLACE Collective has been brewing for quite a long time! We – Rob and Harriet – have been working together through our practice somewhere nowhere for ten years, enquiring into the nature and culture of rural areas, meeting all kinds of people, learning from them and learning from the land. We’ve combined this really enjoyable hands-on research with long periods of time walking and working out of doors, and we’ve held public events, worked with schools, toured exhibitions and given presentations across the UK and in America. Much of our work has taken a Cumbrian focus, and in this corner of northwest England we’ve connected with ecologists, farmers, land managers and organisations charged with the care of nationally valued landscapes. We’ve come to see this region – and its complexity – as a microcosm of a wider picture where many different demands exist on a single place, and many pressures as well as opportunities exist.

Filling wall gaps in the Duddon Valley

We know there are many other artists who are equally passionate about their craft and feel driven to do something that can make a difference. Collaboration feels right for the times we find ourselves in: when problems are complex and working together is a much better way of stimulating change – or even radical transformation. It felt to us as if the PLACE Collective was waiting to happen.

Over the last ten years we’ve met artists working in a variety of creative media, here in the UK and further afield, who are looking at issues of the environment. There’s a community of like-minded people who are turning curious, professional eyes and minds to subjects that urgently need consideration. In America, we hung out with artists working alongside urban soil specialists (who knew there was so much still to learn about urban soils, or that artists could really drive this process of research?). Here in the UK, we’ve met artists who’ve been working alongside peat restoration specialists, artists who work with farmers, others who have a deep appreciation of geology, others who are curious about the impacts of industry, or whose key focus is engaging people in actions around nature restoration. There are many more who would like the opportunity to share a learning, working space with experts in areas including farming, forestry and the earth sciences. A couple of centuries ago, many of the great artists and scientists of the time would have sat shoulder to shoulder, and enhanced one another’s work. Wouldn’t it be great if this kind of relationship could become more normal again?

It’s one thing to have an idea, but quite another to nurture it, and then set it free. We had many conversations over coffee, as well as pub meetings with the wonderful stimulus of locally-brewed ale, and we have teased out ideas with the help of many of the people who are now on the advisory board, including Chris Loynes and Lois Mansfield, both from CNPPA. We kept asking: How might a community like this work? How might the strength of individuals be supported and enhanced by connecting with others – sharing conversations and working together? We wanted to set something up that has the potential to energise, motivate and provoke questions and ideas.

So here we are now: at the beginning.

We’re excited, eager to see what happens as the network grows and people from different interest groups bring ideas to the table. It might be, to start with, a conversation in a small webinar, or in a bigger online space; or there may be opportunities for performances in unusual places, for collaborative blogging or podcasts; or for extended research projects involving networks within and beyond Cumbria.

Running the Light of Things residency from a camping barn in the western Lake District

We’ve sowed the seeds … now let’s see what will grow.

We’ve quoted Olafur Eliasson on the home page of this website and we’d like to do so again. Here he is suggesting that artists have a responsibility, and we like that. Whatever profession or life situation, whatever any of us do, our actions have an impact, and it fires us up to see art in this context:

“I believe that one of the major responsibilities of artists – and the idea that artists have responsibilities may come as a surprise to some – is to help people not only get to know and understand something with their minds but also to feel it emotionally and physically. By doing this, art can mitigate the numbing effect created by the glut of information we are faced with today, and motivate people to turn thinking into doing.”

Olafur Eliasson

Archive of Lost Woods 2 – installation and poetry performance to mark the damage to ancient woodlands caused by HS2

This blogroll will grow with contributions from artist members and reflections on events – watch this space and please sign up if you’d like to keep up to date.

David Haley: Life Support System, 2012, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Bamboo Eco Pavilion, commissioned by Chinese University Hong Kong and Five Elements Project for the Kai Tak River Festival.

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