‘Environmental Resilience’ – Taking the Conversation Forward

New content is added at the end of the page: See our latest contribution, from poet and artist Jennifer Leach.

As with our page ‘Environmental Justice’ — Taking the Conversation Forward, which offered creative and reflective responses to the ‘Justice’ theme explored in our first blog post in the Environmental Keyword series, this page is a space for members of ClimateCultures — as artists, researchers or curators — to share short pieces or extracts of their own work thinking on ideas of ‘Resilience’ in environmental thought and action. 

‘Resilience’ was the second of three keywords explored at workshops developed by the University of Bristol’s Centre for Environmental Humanities in March 2022, and ClimateCultures editor Mark Goldthorpe looked at the reflections offered to him by participants in our post Growing With the Word ‘Resilience’. Here, we take an opportunity to build the conversation — not just between people or ideas of ‘resilience’, but of creative ways to address them. 

This page remains open for new contributions from our members, so do send in yours! And anyone can Leave a Reply at the bottom of this page, of course. 

Many thanks to our contributors so far: Hayley Harrison, Alan J Hesse, Bill Jackson, Neil Kitching, Ivilina Kouneva, Jennifer Leach, Rosalind Lowry & Indigo Moon.

Creative contributions from ClimateCultures members

Artist Ivilina Kouneva uses painting and cut-out compositions to deepen understanding of the fragility of life in current times, and works with communities to ‘de-pollute’ our minds. Ivilina has shared three images from her recent series of 100 drawings for her project #DearDarlingByTheSea, which are now live on her website as DearDarling Drawings. The project ran from Valentine’s Day until Mother’s Day 2022 and was a collaboration with WayfinderWoman Trust, a women-led charity in Eastbourne, England. 

I have always been thinking of my work as inspired by female resilience to brave their way through the uncertainty of life [and now] found new connections with nature, as well as with our past (Ancestry Tree, in itself, is resilience to survive through time).
Click on the images to view full size.

Indigo Moon is a queer creative, writer, artist, poet, witch, activist and founder of Creative Being, a platform and community using creativity to inspire change and amplify marginalised voices. Adding to the poem, A Brush to Fingertip, that she contributed to our ‘Justice’ theme, Indigo offers another short poem, Threads. This and her poems offered for our ‘Justice’ and ‘Resilience’ pages are part of a selection of six recent poems Indigo has now published here on ClimateCultures – see Only Star.

Threads

Birds, bumblebees, blossom, 
Distract me now
or confront the wind
and tell it of home
Fair – in case of this thread
and glimmer peace in my sacred bed.


Alan J Hesse is an author-illustrator, educator and conservation biologist inspired by nature’s majesty and fragility and the need to protect it and who believes that education should be fun. Responding to the theme of ‘resilience’ with three examples from his series of educational graphic novels, The Adventures of Captain Polo, Alan says:

 

I’m always amazed at just how resilient people actually are when pushed. Perhaps it’s because they have no choice — necessity is the mother of invention, I think the saying goes. This is particularly visible among people who have very little. In fact, I would venture to say the least a person has in terms of basic needs, the more resilient they become. Opulence brings comfort and a relaxation of the drive to ensure basic needs are met, and lowering one’s guard swiftly becomes a habit, and from there an entire way of life. This is the daily existence most of us in the developed world take for granted. In contrast, for those who have very little — and this includes homeless people in the UK for example — a life on the edge sharpens the wit and toughens the body. 

The ancient Spartans knew this of course. And so do people today living on the raw edge of climate change. The overriding priority for them in the international climate agenda is the term ‘adaptation’: an application of resilience that, given the outcome of the latest IPCC report, most of us will all need to embrace regardless of who we are and where we live. This is a piece of insight strongly impressed upon Captain Polo during his travels around the world, as can be seen below. 

Click on the images to view full size.


Neil KitchingNeil Kitching is a geographer and energy specialist who has witnessed climate change’s creeping effects and whose book Carbon Choices addresses common-sense solutions to our climate and nature crises. Based in Scotland, Neil responded to our theme of ‘resilience’ by suggesting thatMany of us might think that the impacts of climate change will fall primarily on developing countries, but life is more complicated than that.”

 

In Scotland the main direct risks are rising sea-levels, inland flooding, wild fires and more pests and diseases.This will disrupt transport infrastructure and our lives. Our native forests will be subject to devastating fires and pests. Similarly our precious nature reserves will be in the wrong place in the wrong climate.

Scientists tell us that the climate will continue to warm, and change, even if we meet net zero targets — not a comfortable message. We need to transform our infrastructure and spending commitments. Think of the A83 Rest and be Thankful road, constantly prone to closure by landslips. But, I think of the bare hills rising above the road and wonder if planting trees could be part of the solution? Such nature-based solutions can have multiple benefits. Tree planting can help to stabilise the soil, prevent erosion, capture carbon from the air and helps to restore a habitat for wildlife that has been lost. 

I am a great fan of restoring and rewilding our moorlands, wetlands and rivers. Sheep and deer graze our uplands, preventing the natural forest from regenerating. Uplands are criss-crossed with agricultural drains.A side effect is that peat dries out, and then degrades releasing ancient stores of carbon. Meanwhile, most of our rivers have intensive agriculture right up to their banks, and/or have been straightened or canalised.All of this speeds up the flow of water downstream, leading to more damage from flooding.

Coastal flooding is an even greater risk and is an unstoppable force. We need to take difficult decisions whether to build hard infrastructure defences, invest in soft defences such as planting sea-grass or leave areas to be abandoned to the sea. These choices will be a balance of cost, human priorities and consideration of the impacts on wildlife.


Rosalind Lowry is an artist who works with a range of media to create site-specific land art, installations and sculpture. Offering her image ‘Seedbank’, from an installation on Derrytresk Peat Bog in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland — as part of her residency for Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership and UK Heritage Lottery — Rosalind says:

 

I’ve long been fascinated with Seed Banks and the process of preserving the historical and cultural value of a seed. Everything from endangered wildflowers to the common tomato seed has been saved in various seed banks, of various scales, around the world.

An action of being resilient, and conserving the future, and the ability to continue to feed the earth’s population, despite threat of flood, bombs, radiation, disease, war and ‘natural disasters.’

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from threats, and to return to a pre-crisis status. To rinse and repeat the whole story over again, or to use our resilience to change what led to the crisis in the first place.

Environmental resilience: Showing 'Seed Bank', an installation by artist Rosalind Lowry, installation in the peatlands of County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, created while Artist in Residence on the peatlands.
‘Seed Bank’: installation, peatlands of County Tyrone, for the UK Heritage Lottery, created while Artist in Residence on the peatlands
Rosalind Lowry © 2021

Hayley Harrison is an artist working with people, text, forgotten spaces and abandoned materials (human and non-human) to start unromanticised conversations about our connection to ‘nature’. Here, she offers ‘how did we become so resilient’, work that was developed during her Developing Your Creative Practice project ‘Practicing Outside’, funded by Arts Council England.

Environmental resilience - showing Hayley Harrison's ‘how did we become so resilient’
‘how did we become so resilient’ (red and green kindling sacks, plants, pigeon feathers, fox faeces, and leaves:
August 2021- Present) Artist: Hayley Harrison © 2021

‘how did we become so resilient’ is installed in the grounds of Phytology: Bethnal Green Nature Reserve until the end of spring 2022. It was placed in a space I cleared of ivy in August last year.

It is part of a series of interactive questions and ongoing conversations for non-humans. The questions are woven into green and red plastic kindling-sacks placed on the ground or suspended under trees. So far responses have included ivy and plants regrowing up through the question, fallen autumn leaves, and pigeon feathers left from a sparrowhawk’s dinner. These dialogues aim to widen our relationship with ‘nature’ by embodying the spaces between language.

I have interpreted the responses to the question ‘how did we become so resilient’ as follows:

we shat
we fought
they died
we ate
we stood in the rain

and we grew

and the leaves did fall

 


Bill Jackson is a photographer, filmmaker and sound artist for whom issues of climate change are implicit, mapping his surroundings using sound and vision with a variety of approaches. He has shared this photograph he captured of an ancient oak in Suffolk, saying: “A double oak, identified as ‘one tree immeasurable old’. Over 1,000 years old — one has split and fallen at some point. I think it is an excellent example for resilience.” Bill has also provided an additional quote from the owner of the land:

“Oliver Rackham, the country’s expert on ancient trees, when he came to visit said that the double oak was of immeasurable antiquity. He explained that it was over a 1,000 years old. The reason being at the time, which was before the 1987 storm which blew one of the two sides down, he took samples of the acorns and discovered they were the same tree. So that meant that the tree had this enormous girth that had spilt but had continued growing. Other stories about it was that there army camps had been built around it hence the water trough. So yes an example of resilience when half of you has gone and you continue to flourish.”

You can see a video that Bill made from his images of trees during a residency at the Timberyard estate in Suffolk on his site. The film was commissioned by the estate of English singer-songwriter and musician Nick Drake as an official video of his song Pink Moon – and was recently featured in this article about that 1972 album and song in The Guardian: ‘I knew this was different’: Nick Drake’s producer on misunderstood classic Pink Moon


Jennifer LeachJennifer Leach is a poet, writer, performer and storyteller whose wild work, forged in the fantastical reaches of deep imagination, brings to life new stories for our strange times. Here, she shares an original poem, specifically created for our series, adding: “I think this is what I want to say on ‘resilience’. As with all words, it is nuanced, and so context and attitude alter its meaning. A wise, informed, compassionate person speaking about resilience will offer rich insights into the word, many of which I would endorse. However, the aspect of resilience I have chosen to focus on is the shadow side of the word and one which, I believe, needs to be faced.”

           Resilience
(keep on keeping on, keep calm and carry on)
            has coated wounds that needed bleeding,
                               hardened griefs that needed weeping
          offered endlessly 
                     compromised promises 
                     of resolution
                     and a halt-legged future
(never say die, it’ll be alright)
I would like to propose
(put a brave face on)  
                                 that this be a time for non-resilience
not to be embarked upon 
(come now)
                        with fingers crossed
                                     and side eyes watching
                                                for what comes after – 
(no worries, no problem, hakuna matata)
I would like to propose
(we’ll get through this) 
                        that this be a time for hope to die, effort to cease,
                                    dreams to fold, 
            and for the last crashing wave of lightlessness
(hey cool it, keep the faith, chin up!) 
                      to swamp the final act of dreaming. 
I would like to propose
(life…goes on)
                       that this be a time for full collapse 
                                   and absolute downfall. 

                                   I am being personal about this.

(but…never say die?)

                                   The death star in the apple
                                   holds the seeds.
                                   Full capitulation alone
                                   allows for their release 

                                    all else is
                                    resistance.

.

















 blossom
and releasing
Image for 'resilience', Jennifer Leach
Art: Jennifer Leach © 2022

You can see more of Jennifer’s work at her website and at Outrider Anthems. And her recent contribution for our Creative Showcase is Standing Tall, 2022, a photographic and video work that witnesses creative community resistance to the corporate felling of 112 trees and the sacrifice of a city’s green lung for more concrete.


Don’t forget to Leave a Reply below. Members, do send in your Creative Contributions on environmental resilience.

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