Field Notes: Art on an acre of land

by | Feb 11, 2022 | Arts and Ecology, News & blogs, News & blogs: Arts School

In this piece we explore the dramatic potential for ecologically-minded art in an acre field. Inspired by the announcement that students on our MFA Arts and Ecology will work in an open air studio space right here in the middle of the Dartington estate, we consider what it means to make art in this way, collaboratively, intrinsically tied to place, and with respect for the local ecosystem. 

Field on the Dartington estate

How will this space be transformed in a year’s time?

The phenomenon of outdoor sculpture parks in recent years has seen many people enjoying art outdoors, with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park perhaps the most well-known example in the UK, and smaller but no less interesting more local collections popping up at Devon Sculpture Park near Exeter, for example, or Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens in Cornwall. Though not the main feature by any means, the formal gardens here at Dartington could, at a pinch, fall under this banner too, home as they are to one of only two outdoor stone sculptures by Henry Moore in the UK, as well as fascinating pieces by Willi Soukop and Peter Randall-Page amongst others. There’s no doubting the pleasure and delight in being able to experience sculpture en plein air like this, where there is scope for much larger structures often made of durable, permanent materials that it’s possible to interact with in a way you might not with art in a white-cubed gallery.

At Dartington Arts School we are interested in art that goes a few steps further than this in consciously exploring its place in and relationship to the environment. The climate crisis has brought into clear view the fact (which was there all along) that everything we do has an impact, everything that exists, has some sort of bearing on the local ecosystem, whether positive, negative or keeping it the same. Art-making is no different, of course, and so a growing awareness of how choices of material, process, and presentation and so on will effect the local context has risen to the top of the agenda in the sector.

To explore this in real terms, we’re turning over an acre of land right in the middle of the Dartington estate to artists on our new Arts and Ecology programme. Starting in April this year, students will be encouraged to explore how the art they make here will not just be in response to the place itself, but in collaboration with it. We hope this open air studio model will turn things around and ask how a work of art will be received by a place and the effect its existence will have on the local environment. We are not alone in this of course. Other fascinating examples include the Future Library project in Norway, in which the action of planting one thousand trees has been woven into a 100 year creative writing project. Established in 1965, Alan Sonfist’s Time Landscape is one of the oldest living art projects, a precolonial forest in a densely populated part of Greenwich Village, New York. There are similar living projects and acre spaces springing up around the world, as artists and collectives continue to reshape what art means in the context of the climate crisis, and build on the legacy of land art practices made famous in the 60s and 70s by the likes of Nancy Holt and Richard Long.

Natasha Rivett-Carnac, curator of our Arts and Ecology programme here at Dartington, has said of the field: “We are very excited to offer an acre of land for our Arts & Ecology students. This ‘open air studio’ will be a place for students to explore, collaborate, and create whilst here at Dartington Arts School. Throughout the course we’ll be exploring how art-making is always tied to not just the social or historical context, but also the ecological community within which it is conceived, created and presented. I can’t wait to see how our students will develop new work in symbiosis with this specific local environment and the biodiverse ecosystems that thrive on the Dartington estate.”

The idea feeds into a broader theme which invigorates everything here at Dartington, a kind of radical collaboration. An artist making work today must by definition be a radical collaborator, working with other artists, working with exhibition spaces, working with non-human materials, you could even say collaborating with the very ecosystem in which the art comes into being. As well as this there is the impact of the human audience for a given work, how the visitors coming to see a piece of art will impact on the place, and beyond that what you might call the non-human audience, and those creatures, plants or other entities whose lives will be changed by the existence of the work.

In the forthcoming book Regenerative Learning edited by Satish Kumar, Alan Boldon refers to the fact that “we are always in the field, the field is the place of learning, and we are the field”. Across the community here at Dartington we are fostering the sense that we are always immersed in the ecologies of place. Through this we can come to appreciate our own role within systems, recognise that we are a contributory part of something bigger and so take up the task of properly addressing the great challenges of our time.

 MFA Arts and Ecology starts in April 2021 and is led by Alan Boldon and Natasha Rivett-Carnac.  For more information and to apply, click the button below.