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Joshua Richards

In T. S. Eliot’s Ascetic Ideal, Joshua Richards charts an intellectual history of T. S. Eliot’s interaction with asceticism. This history is drawn from Eliot’s own education in the topic with the texts he read integrated into detailed textual analysis. Eliot’s early encounters with the ascetic ideal began a lifetime of interplay and reflection upon self-denial, purgation, and self-surrender. In 1909, he began a study of mysticism, likely, in George Santayana’s seminar, and thereafter showed the influence of this education. Yet, his interaction with the ascetic ideal and his background in mysticism was not a simple thing; still, his early cynicism was slowly transformed to an embrace.

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George Steinmann

Abstract

This artist’s talk reflects on Art without an Object but with Impact, a project realized by the Swiss artist George Steinmann together with Bauart Architects Ltd Bern for the ARA Region Bern Ltd. The transdisciplinary process for the new headquarters of Switzerland’s leading wastewater treatment facility (each day 90 million liters of wastewater is cleaned by the wastewater treatment system before it is returned to the river Aare) began in July 2008 and ended in December 2011. The artistic project was based on two interventions. In Intervention A, water from three curative mineral springs of the Engadin valley in Eastern Switzerland has been added to all water-based material and elements used for the construction of the building. Although the effect of this step remains immaterial and invisible, the mineral water itself and its energy are in the building as ‘information’, which penetrates the material and creates a resonating space. In Intervention B, a Water Advisory Board (Wasserbeirat) has been convened to discuss the various problems pertaining to water in a roundtable. Resulting from the roundtables, a “Forum for Water” (Wasserforum) was established in the new building. The close cooperation of all participants, including the construction workers, as part of the artist’s strategy, neutralized the traditionally decorative role of the artist and leads to a critical examination of the artist’s role in building-site art projects in general. By combining sociopolitical, aesthetic, natural scientific, and communicative elements, Steinmann presents a transdisciplinary contribution to the field of art as research.

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Karolina Sobecka

Abstract

Sobecka suggests the need for an atmospheric turn, which requires we think with air as well as think about air. She focuses on the air and its non-visuality, which prevents it from capturing our imaginations. The unseen has to be invoked conceptually, and this requires distance. At the same time, the imperceptibility of the air is in part due to the fact that it is everywhere: if it disappeared, we would notice its lack instantly. So what are some strategies to bring the atmosphere into focus, to wrestle a bit of tangibility out of the vastness, invisibility and complexity of this abstraction? What could be some experiments on the materiality of the air that would help us shape its imaginary? Sobecka explains further using examples of her artistic work, such as her ‘CloudServices’ projects, which propose using the atmospheric clouds and the microorganisms in them as the material substrate for data transfer and storage, and a series of workshops with geoengineers on our relationship with the atmosphere.

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Tim Ingold

Abstract

Over a forty-year career in environmental anthropology, I have found myself drifting inexorably from an engagement with science to an engagement with art. This was also a period during which science increasingly lost its ecological bearings, while the arts increasingly gained them. In this paper I trace this journey in my own teaching and research, showing how the literary reference points changed, from foundational texts in human and animal ecology, now largely forgotten, through attempts to marry the social and the ecological inspired by the Marxian revival, to contemporary writing on post-humanism and the conditions of the Anthropocene. For me this has been an Odyssey – a journey home – to the kind of science imbibed in childhood, as the son of a prominent mycologist. This was a science grounded in tacit wonder at the exquisite beauty of the natural world, and in silent gratitude for what we owe to this world for our existence. Today’s science, however, has turned wonder and gratitude into commodities. They no longer guide its practices, but are rather invoked to advertise its results. The goals of science are modelling, prediction and control. Is that why, more and more, we turn to art to rediscover the humility that science has lost?

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Reiko Goto and Tim Collins

Abstract

How do ideas and aesthetic experience affect our understandings, imaginations and future visions of a forest environment and culture? This article focuses on two years of artist-led research and an art exhibition about an ancient Caledonian pine woodland, located on the south shore of Loch Rannoch in the southern Highlands of Scotland. The artists were interested in the relationship between cultural value and biodiversity and how they might contribute to the well-being of the forest, and promote a range of meanings amongst its communities of interest. Securing funding from Creative Scotland and the Landscape Research Group, the artists organized three residencies: beginning with the community and working within the forest itself; then another at the regional art and natural history museum in Perth; the final one was at Forest Research outside Edinburgh. Art-led methods included walking and talking in the forest, consideration of the extant history and forestry commission management records and various interdisciplinary and multi-community discussion groups; the artists sought to uncover social and cultural relationships to a forest that had been managed for biodiversity and conservation value for fifty years. The chapter begins with initial work from David Hume's idea of `relations' to explore integrated conceptual and experiential forms of aesthetic perception. A relational approach between people and trees is navigated by Edith Stein's theory of empathy.

Conclusion: The Aesthetic Roots of Environmental Amnesia

The Work of Art and the Imagination of Place

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Forrest Clingerman

Abstract

In the context of hypermodernity – a world found between the secular, sacred, global, local, economic, scientific, and technological sphere of human existence – should we dwell on the meaning of our surroundings? On one hand, the human understanding of environments requires the connection between who we are and where we exist. On the other hand, there also exists a tension between an immediacy of environmental experience and our mediating interpretation of environments, which creates a “crisis of meaning.” We have lost a sense of “the space that I am,” and thus we have become unable to find an adequate sense of how to dwell in places, landscapes, and environments. This chapter suggests that this crisis of meaning has aesthetic roots, and in turn, how the arts might serve as critique and antidote. The argument proceeds in four parts. First, part of the current crisis is the result of environmental amnesia, or the lack of understanding the temporal and spatial thickness of our surroundings. This amnesia is not merely a forgetfulness of how to encounter environments in general; it is equally a loss of home and place. Second, environmental amnesia is partially rooted in the breakdown of our aesth/ethics of place. There are aesthetic roots to our environmental amnesia, especially when we understand aesthetics as related to perceptual interactions. A local ethics is needed. Lest this ethics becomes mired too deeply in the past, so too imagination is a tool for understanding a place-focused ethics. Third, our experience of the arts – as perceptually penetrating our relationship with space and time – becomes an imaginative practice. Finally, visual artworks are shown to serve as an antidote to environmental amnesia, using examples by contemporary artists George Steinmann, Tim Collins and Reiko Goto, and Gregory Euclide.

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Edited by Sigurd Bergmann and Forrest Clingerman

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Arto Haapala

Abstract

Environmental aesthetics has been traditionally divided into two areas – natural environment and built environment. A paradigmatic case of the former is architecture, of the latter an area of wilderness. But there are interesting cases which fall somewhere in-between human design and nature – gardens and parks are prime examples. In this chapter the author studies aesthetic problems of managed nature. There are two sets of principles that can be applied when appreciating gardens and yards aesthetically: those drawn from nature, and those drawn from built environment. Unlike many contemporary aestheticians, the author argues that there is no uniform concept of the ‘aesthetic’. This can be shown by looking at the ways in which our aesthetic judgments of nature differ from those of artifacts, including works of art and architecture. He argues against those theorists who claim that the aesthetic appreciation of nature is somehow conditioned and ruled by concepts and categories from natural sciences. Instead he focuses on ‘functional aesthetics’ in assessing parks and gardens. There are four aspects of this aesthetic: immediate sensory pleasures, historically and theoretically informed satisfaction, enjoying the functionality of an object, and the unnoticed smoothness and rhythms of our daily existence. All four have a role to play when assessing urban nature aesthetically. These considerations are brought to bear on the example of Observatory Hill Park in Helsinki.

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Sigurd Bergmann and Forrest Clingerman

Abstract

Humans are meaning-making animals. This introduction explains how this insight can serve as a starting point for explorations into the connections between art, nature, and spirituality.

Series:

Edited by Sigurd Bergmann and Forrest Clingerman