Eco Art Space – Sustainability & the Studio

In the Autumn of 2023, I enrolled on an Eco Art Space course entitled ‘Sustain(ability) & the Art Studio’. Having been working in an off-grid environment for over a decade, I was fascinated by how I could further improve the sustainability of my practice. The course proved that engaging with a community, whether local or online is part of this sustainability.

We discussed the concept of post-humanism and eco-feminism, as well as process focussed practice. Artist presentations during the course inspired conversations around collective solitude and community engagement, as well as the ‘Eco-self’ replacing the ‘Ego-self’. With a strong sense of territory, locality and place, we were encouraged to ‘feel more’.

To this end, I focussed on the fig tree, which has been a source of inspiration for works previously including ‘Calvari’ and ‘Inside the Forest’, using plaster cast leaves within sculptural installations. All narrative is light and shade, black and white, so I look at what is bleak, dark and melancholy, hopeless and move through it to the light. Monochrome drawings of dead fig leaves become alive again within the art object. The futile act of studying fallen fig leaves for hours on end knowing their fate within a performance of ruin and destruction only reinforced the sadness I felt at the fruitless fig tree. This was the beginning of the project for this course. Below is the text I read for the presentation, followed by the slides and an edited video of the live performance. The final image in the video shows a self seeded fig, which I am currently nuturing through the winter months, with hope for its survival.

Resilient, Sarah Misselbrook.

The lone fig tree, isolated, drought-resistant and forest fire resilient, stands as a symbol of endurance in challenging environments. For me, it’s an inspiration and source of natural materials in my practice.

In addition to its ability to thrive in arid conditions and withstand forest fires, it possesses the unique characteristic of not requiring external pollination. This self-sufficiency adds to its resilience and makes it a fascinating testament to nature’s adaptability.

However, this year it has been fruitless, for the first time in over a decade, and that has been the inspiration for this project. At time of sorrow, loss and failure, could I lean into this feeling of hollowness and produce something from the darkness?

Pruning branches from the leafless tree to make charcoal, compressing life into the material. Studying the fallen, dried leaves to create a series of charcoal drawings and then taking these elements into the gallery space as the backdrop to a live performance.

The performance, entitled ‘Resilient’ created for ‘Cultura Verda’ included a spoken word reading, using words created during this course. Using natural materials – the fig leaves and branches, I knelt within a branch structure, breaking the leaves into dust. With themes of death and destruction, the charcoal drawings were presented in the space and then removed, ruined and added to the pile.

Live performance has become a way of producing work providing a rich source of concept and presentation and, thanks to this course, I have been thinking about the sustainability of the artwork in the realm of live performance. The documentation is a crucial element, as the work is ephemeral.

So, what I would like to show you now is the beginning of this thinking. How can I sustain this ‘of the moment’ feeling, using this documentation as an ongoing part of the artistic process and practice?

Also, something that has been discussed previously and mentioned by Anna: departure. For me this is a crucial part of the process. How could I complete the circle? Post performance, all materials were returned to the farm, torn drawings and crumpled leaves were burned to make new charcoal. The resulting ash from the fire was then used to enrich soil in the hope of cultivating a new fig tree.

Ok, so, now I’d like to show you this circular process. It includes an edited video of the live performance. following this there should be a few minutes for feedback and questions.

Below is a copy of the spoken word performance.

They bear witness to the pain,
As frenzied winds whip, they hold steadfast,
unwavering, evolving and relentless,
In this fertility of life’s mystery, do they search for meaning?
For they are not barren.
They find themselves forlorn in an unachievable quest for perfection,
Is this futile, this failed fruitlessness?
It seems pointless, like parched, papery prunings,
Lifeless, they long for longevity, feeling a void, an emptiness,
Entangled in a cycle of despair, the depth of darkness.
They look lost, like lifeless compost under the weight of seasons,
They are dry, fragile, fallen failures, in a circular system of sadness,
They find hope from the heavy hollowness,
A longing for, a yearning for transformation.
For they are not barren.

Despair may whisper in their ears, urging them to repent,
But they choose a different path, Embracing their melancholy misery at the parched, scorched soil,
They find the strength to rise, to sow, to grow, to mend.
With agency, they urgently break free from isolation,
Resilient, they make amends, healing, kneeling,
Offering reparation, preservation, shelter and refuge,
A source of inspiration, devoted and penitent.
For they are not barren.
Resilient, new life emerges, a hopeful path, showing, sowing and growing,
In this transient world, they persist.

For they are not barren.
For they are not barren.

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