Friday, 18 January 2008

wild and free

Since mid-November when my car went back on the road I've been sampling the delights of driving again. Visiting petrol stations with an empty tank is not a delight. The concentration needed for driving after being a passenger only for a year is not a delight. Not being able to gaze out across the fields, daydreaming, is not a delight. The knowledge that driving pollutes is definitely not in the delight column.

But the feeling that I can get on and do things, can get places, can get to events whenever and wherever they are, can visit people anytime... this is wonderfully liberating!


Of course it's not sustainable both ecologically and economically. A 1.4 litre Peugeot 306 doesn't generate carbon as bad as some other cars but nor is it in there with the least worst. But the independence! So what is the solution, where is the right balance?

In my year of not-driving the few weekday buses from the village instilled some discipline in me – shopping lists probably being the most practical. But I no longer need the extreme of planning my route around the town in order to get everything done in time, or if seeing a friend or acquaintance saying a rushed "hello, sorry can't chat gotta catch a bus". Awkward was when additional extras came up, like needing to browse for a present for someone, or trying on clothes, or getting back already outdated library books. But I did manage to evolve shopping (and banking) to one half day a fortnight, a habit that seems to remain.

Impossible was trying to get anywhere independently other than Launceston. Of course there are onward buses to Camelford, Bude, Exeter, Plymouth, and Liskeard and getting to these places was there for the taking. Getting back in the same day would mean leaving the village on the 9 am bus, and getting back at 6 pm – all for about an hour in the intended end destination and much loitering in Launceston waiting for connections. That's when you're lucky – other places like Bodmin, Truro, Redruth, Penzance and Falmouth pretty well require an overnight stay.

A-ha! What about my shiny new bicycle? Well yes, I cycled to Camelford, Callington, Launceston, and the coast a few times. But not across the moor on the A30 to only-14-mile distant Bodmin. It's a good quality dual carriageway but chocka with trucks, caravans, cars being driven at 100 mph, and cross winds. There's a 40 cm wide rough hard shoulder when you're lucky.

The ever-present reliance on friends to take me places became humiliating and sometimes brought its own unimaginable difficulties such as a driver's last minute decision to alter their timing – throwing your careful logistics planning into disarray.

During the summer I gave up trying to exhibit. Most of my work is in my work storage unit in Launceston, and I needed to get it back here and checked over before sending out anywhere. One lift. Next lift to deliver. Final lift to collect at show's end (usually best to assume no sale!). It all becomes too much.

It's strange, once the pattern is lost the momentum goes too. I am having to make super effort to feel inspired to exhibit again. I hadn't realised how much public feedback actually boosts an artist's... confidence? Or maybe it's that the exhibitions/organisers seem oblivious to sustainability issues, while I am thinking about number of journeys/fuel costs.

It may also link to the unproductive time I had over the second half of the car-less year. I produced no new batik. This is scary, you start wondering if 'it', the motivation, will ever come again... Of course I was doing a lot of research into sustainability, and writing this blog and other articles. But starting the blog was mostly a tool to keep me focused, to give me purpose and direction while I was feeling exceptionally dependent and hopeless and frustrated. It gave me short term deadlines. Although I originally had loads of other plans for my 'year out', few were fulfilled.

But now I am frustrated at not creating. The blog now needs to take backstage and give me a chance to get going again. I now want space without 'public' commitments (for that is what it now seems), and definitely time with less computer. I may be away for a while but be assured I will still be working on sustainability and reporting findings.

The bird image that started this article is – as you can see – a work in progress (as we are to call unfinished pieces). I am going to start on completing this. It's hung around so long because this, the final stage of adding pond water, is going to be even more complex than the rest. I am really done with complexity... "Wild and free", the title of this post, refers to those birds with no inclination to interest in being fed bread.

asking the right questions

I went to a Transition Town event in Wadebridge on Wednesday to hear both Rob Hopkins, the founder of Transition Totnes and the wider Transition Towns movement, and Anthony Gibson, Communications Director of the National Farmers Union and founder of Taste of the West, speak about Peak Oil and the future. Without digressing too much I already felt that Transition seems the only way forward for western culture, and certainly for those of us at the geographic/geopolitic margins – never mind that rural areas are the food and water providers.

Although both speakers had areas of common ground (eg locally produced food, return to importance of British farming, great need for re-skilling people) they diverged strongly over the sourcing of energy beyond peak oil. Rob believes in addressing a powerdown, there being no serious feasible option to provide a fuel replacement to oil (petrol) to give us and our culture the mobility it has become accustomed to. Anthony is still selling biofuel as the future solution, though I don't feel he is as strong an advocate as he used to be. He indicated that second and third generation biofuels should overcome some of the problems of currently produced biofuels. He believes that British farmers further in the future may not be producing crops for biofuel (other than for farm use) and instead will be producing high quality food for domestic consumption with biofuel being imported from developing countries. But for now he encourages farmers to go for growing biofuel crops, even where it displaces food crops, as it's where the market is at now.

The market? As a member of the audience pointed out, the market, the existing economic system, seems to be causing the problems as it doesn't recognise that nature and the planet are finite, and can the answer really be to chase money all the time. Frustratingly this economics discussion often and did also on Tuesday lead to the dead end/let's-not-go-there-now of if not the market then there is only state control. When really we need another system, one that looks beyond GDP and competition or quota and control to... something modelled on nature's patterns, planetary capacity. Yes I'm no economist and I don't know the answer except change is needed.

As events are meant to, it got me thinking. Certainly I am looking to make my practice sustainable and ecologically sound, but is attempting to use quantitative measurement the right way? After all, the tipping point for irreversible climate change cannot be proved without actually going there, which only apocolyptickers would advocate doing. I am attempting to use carbon equivalent emissions as a measurement tool, which I still think is OK. But can I really pitch a petro-chemical method with no conceivable long-term future against one of renewable abilities? Do I really need to prove it? Have I been asking the right question?

Shouldn't I instead be asking:

How should I be making batik in a transition culture?

What purpose will batik hold for my community? What can batik give?

Or even:

Should I be making batik? Or something else?

Yeah yeah, sounds a bit drastic eh. But as a Transition Network leaflet says:

"The need for change is urgent and these profound changes can't happen overnight. We still have some time - if we act now. By thinking and acting together, the transition to a way of living that consumes substantially less carbon energy yet is a happier, more fulfilling and abundant place will become much more achievable."

loose dye update

The Procion samples had two excursions into the washing machine. First in a pillow case then, as I felt they wouldn't have had suitable exposure to the elements, in onion etc plastic mesh bags. No apparent change in colour intensity. That was before Christmas.

After three weeks 'airing' in my studio, I dropped them into tubs of just-boiled water. Or rather the second lot went into partially cooled boiled water, as I could smell the first lots' plastic tubs rather more keenly than desired. Yes, a lot of dye came out, immediately. I agitated them often, with a hazel stick (in case it's relevant!). The amount of loose dye after an overnight soak was close to the same amount as came out after the first wash/soak. I am bewildered!

They have been rinsed three times (collectively), with plenty of agitation and kneading incorporated. The final rinse/soak water hinted pink. I didn't rinse again, but hung them to dry.

And now dry, there is still no perceivable colour loss. And so...

- If the dye was excess or loosened in the washing machine then why wasn't it all rinsed out there too?

- Has three weeks exposure to air loosened the dye? Impossible surely. But also among my first posits.

- Does Cornish water affect the dye? It's mildly acidic. Perhaps I should alkalise the water and try rinsing again?

- Why, how, can water rinse clean (or nearly clean) and then time after time after drying release more dye when re-wetted?

Thursday, 10 January 2008

art before art

"Before there were art galleries, art was a song of the soul..."

Read the full article by Paul Devereux, in Resurgence 246.