Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Systems and Collectives

“We have to work with systems.” -Newton Harrison

Humans work best when they work together. Collectives and communities achieve more than any individual ever could. In art, in life, and in the future of our species, our collective nature is the key to our survival. The planet itself does not operate in pieces, it is a vast and intricately connected system supporting every living organism. Collectively, we must decide how we will shape our future. We must nurture those things that allow for our systems to survive. What we do on a global scale must mirror the way we interact within our own micro-communities and collectives. It is only together that we will find a way forward.

Peter Dickinson is an artist and curator in Bath, England. About five years ago, along with three colleagues and friends, Dickinson began an art collective known as Artbar. The four first sought out a venue for their collective, going around to various bars until they found the right space. Artbar at The Raven was born. On the third Tuesday of every month, Artbar brings in guest speakers to talk about art and culture. The symbiotic relationship joins patrons, there for the draft beer and The Raven’s famous pie and chips with collective attendees. Over the years Artbar has hosted notable guests such as Professor Mike Tooby, also a founding member of the collective, artist/architects Sophie Warren and Jonathan Mosely, and even Clive Deamer, a drummer known for his work with the bands Portishead and Radiohead. The collective has grown and continues to grow. Guests appear pro bono and the lively atmosphere of The Raven’s upstairs barroom makes for unpredictable results.

Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison are two of the early pioneers of eco-art. For 40 years the pair often referred to as simply “the Harrisons” have taken on major issues such as the sixth extinction, global warming, and drought. Presently the work focuses on what are known as Future Gardens. The Future Gardens project seeks to identify and propagate those resilient species that have lived through temperature rises in the past in order to preserve them as our planet heads into another period of rapid warming. “50 or 75 years from now, if you have done your work right, you have the scaffolding for an ecosystem to move in as many species die from heat, disease, drought, and erratic rains.” The business of saving the planet comes with a hefty price tag. Among potential supporters is Angela Merkel who, during the mid-90s helped open the Endangered Meadows of Europe. Helen, now 90 and unwell, was a Chaucer scholar and educational theorist at U.C San Diego where Newton was department chair. Together they decided to channel their work solely into helping the ecosystem. Their efforts and education are chronicled in the book The Time of the Force Majeure. Force Majeure refers to the reality of the work. Newton Harrison says, “we have to work with systems.” Patchwork ecology simply won’t work, if we hope to rescue what’s left of our ecosystems, we must learn to work with whole systems.

A Few Words to Keep in your Pocket:

No one thrives in a vacuum. Each of us requires the life-breath of connectivity.

Additional interviews include Cheryl McGinnis and Michelle Lai.

Interviews are available on iTunes as podcasts, and for Android please click here. All weekly essay pieces in a shareable format are here. The full archive of interviews here.

Books to Read

What are you reading? Add your titles to our reading list here.  Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison’s book, The Time of the Force Majeure is available through Prestel Publishing. User Rick Garcia has been reading A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.

Opportunities / Open Calls

Randall Frank Artist Grants offer financial support for residencies, exhibitions, and artist-led lectures. The current deadline for submissions is December 1.


Weekly Edited Grant and Residency Deadlines – review the list here.



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