Guest blog: Artists Jonathan Mansfield and James Aldridge reflect on the role of visual art in responding to the climate and ecological emergency

Salisbury Plain Walking Bundle, James Aldridge

Between January 8th and February 8th 2020, we are holding a joint exhibition at The Pound arts centre, Corsham, exploring the theme of ‘Interbeing’. This concept combines nature, art, anthropology, psychology and philosophy into a single (and simple) premise: that everything is both connected and dependent upon everything else. The much revered Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, explains Interbeing in the following passage:

“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot

Humanity’s evident disassociation from the ‘natural’ world is a crisis that we both see and feel. Individually, we explore artful ways in which we can experience our continuity with the ‘more than human’ world. Whether through painting, photography, drawing, making, film, or writing, the threads of connectivity and of Interbeing, weave through our works.

Exaltation, Jonathan Mansfield

In Jonathan’s paintings he explores the sensation and results of losing completely his physical body; becoming like a vessel that is guided by something ‘other’ – a spirit of place. Remembering family: parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, who also lived on this land. Feeling their connection to him; their breath in his breath. Memories that feel as if they have been passed down hundreds of generations enfold him when he’s painting.

James works with a highly-attuned sensitivity to place (both rural and urban), prioritising embodied ways of knowing. He walks, cycles and collects, documenting these journeys through making. Walking Bundles evolve through the collecting of found materials; sticks, leaves, plant or animal matter, and discarded man-made items. These found objects become three dimensional records of a journey through a place in time.

River Avon Water Body, James Aldridge

James also draws, layering sketches, photographs and writing together onto handmade Walking Pages. This layering is again evident in his photographs and films. The animals, whose tracks appear on James’s path; the birds calling and moving in the hedges; the wind and the trees talking; and the nighttime animals – unobserved by most humans in the dead of night but glimpses captured by him through the use of a camera trap. Observations, feelings, questions, all underpinning a new way of ‘seeing and being’ with the world.

We both believe that humanity urgently requires new ways of seeing and being in this world, if we wish it (and us) to survive climate breakdown and ecological collapse. In 2019 James declared an emergency through Culture Declares Emergency (see James’s blog post for more detail), using the declaration to consider what areas of his practice he needs to change. Not just to limit the harm caused by transport etc, but to support the development of practices which leave behind a positive legacy within local communities and ecosystems.

Second Skin, James Aldridge

As part of his declaration, James attended and supported the Culture Declares Emergency National Assembly at The Roundhouse in London, exploring together with other artists and cultural organisations what it means to declare an emergency. James is now keen to come together with others in the South West to support the development of regional CDE networks. Within Wiltshire, The Pound arts centre and Town Hall Arts are amongst others who declared a climate and ecological emergency last year, whilst Nationally and Internationally at the time of writing, numbers have reached 733 individuals and organisations (including museums, dance and theatre companies as well as the visual arts).

It would be fantastic if others could join us in Wiltshire, and help develop the local arts scene as a means by which we can reflect on and develop actions in response to the challenges that we all face. We hope that the Interbeing exhibition can provide such a space for reflection, and in addition to the Preview event on 9th January, are inviting people to join us for an informal talk/Q&A at 6pm on Wednesday 22nd January, which will be followed by a screening of ‘An Ecology of Mind’.

This short documentary made by filmmaker Nora Bateson, tells the story of her father, the naturalist-philosopher Gregory Bateson, and offers new ways of thinking and being, to approach the enormous challenges confronting the human race and the natural world. There is a £5 charge for the talk and film.

Please search for #Interbeing2020 on social media to follow the progress of the exhibition and associated events, or to share your own thoughts/feedback, we’d love to hear from you.

James Aldridge and Jonathan Mansfield

http://www.jamesaldridge-artist.co.uk/ | https://jonathanmansfieldart.com/

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