Cambridge Sustainability Residency – research

In April I was selected to take part in the Cambridge Sustainability Residency 2016.
The theme of the residency was insulation and growth in relation to sustainability.
My proposal was to consider the psychological aspects affecting the responsibility (ie the ability to respond) to the specific issues on sustainability that I experience in the context of my practice, my immediate environment as well as the experience of knowledge about wider world issues and how that knowledge is distributed, encountered and processed. 
To also consider how guilt and shame disable and disrupt, and how other aspects of the mind affect ‘respons-ability’. 
There was no specified outcome or output.
Artists joined from around the world, I worked from Green Studios at the Sustainability Centre, East Meon, Hampshire. Maria Azcoitia facilitated links digitally with the group including live discussions, talks and film recordings. The artists also communicated on a closed Facebook and WhatsApp group sharing insights, links, photographs and organising sessions.
In preparation I met with Deborah Ravetz (artist, mentor and author ‘The Art of Being Human’) who gave me a framework to begin to understand what Social Sculpture is, and how to think about it in relation to my practice.
Deborah gave me three questions devised by Shelley Sacks to ponder:
What is hidden? What is ignored? What is denied?
Underpinning my personal motivation for this project was to look again at my own feelings around climate change and sustainability as a way to learn more about how to transform a sense of hopelessness to one of capacity.
In the 1990s I had given up a career in publishing to live a more sustainable lifestyle working for a ‘green’ business, setting up a local exchange trading system (L.E.T.S.), studying permaculture design and growing food to it’s principles.  I earned very little money but was living the ‘good life’. Caught up in the ideology my experience became a dis-heartening one in that for all the good intention of utopian green living the problems of people remained, that the world was set on a course of self-destruction, the greens had within a culture of infighting as much as any other group in society, and without the ‘belief’ and faith my contributions quickly became a futile sacrifice – hope was shattered and the shadow of grief around this fell deep within.
I had reconnected with this grief during a session led by Shelley Sacks at the White Wood Forum Gala Day, and made a commitment to not give up. I felt like Jonah escaping from the whale, and at the same time a friend shared a news article of a bloated whale carcass spotted floating off the coast of Australia. I’ve always been curious of coincidence, of how significance is placed and re-placed.
My approach to the research is self-inclusive asserting that what I experience on a personal level has a correlation to the wider world, micro and macro, a mirroring.


Technical difficulties on the first day meant very little connection to the group
I observed my own sense of isolation, questioned whether i had made the right decision
to work from a place close to home, close to communities at the Sustainability Centre rather than at Cambridge, like a satellite mediating between different places and groups of people
I felt unborn to both groups
but connected to something, a place, that was nurturing
of insulation and growth

In the evening the BBC Six O’clock news reported on climate change with facts displayed in a graph showing climate increases from low blue to high off the page and red, red for danger, alongside images of cracked earth under glowing red sky (like fire), of flooded houses, furniture torn by floods, people vulnerable, apocalyptic. (Images: computer screenshots

All of this delivered with no mode or tool to process it, no “if you are or have suffered from fears of catastophe, guilt, fear about climate change forecasts call this emergency number. Also, if you have withdrawn from your feelings of fear and are numb to the ideas of the impact of climate change call this number. If you know of anyone suffering in silence call this helpline”.


Artists taking part in Cambridge walked to a Leper Church and football stadium, whilst artists working remotely, like myself, walked in our environments. Maria filmed the walk which was uploaded the following the day.

In the film they heard stories of the great fair
of people coming from far away to sell – to market and trade
of alien plants brought in that took root, seeded and thrived on til this day (hops)
of the carnivalesque defining the time when people upturned hierarchies of role and stature with colour and noise and sedition
While they walked in Suffolk I walked in Sussex
I followed paths through the woods that run between the Sustainability Centre, the campsite and the burial ground. I found the eco-toilets, open air classroom, and that on the hottest day of the year so far, the path was soft and muddy not dry or cracked.
I came across some raspberries in the woods and stopped to pick and eat some. What came to mind was the value of keeping light-hearted, of enjoying the fruits found, of imagining someone else who had planted the berries and how wonderful to find so much edibleness and sweetness around. But that this sense of light-heartedness was important to return to when delving into weighty issues.


[Filmed presentation.]
Birdlife International connect organisations around the world
Bird tagging employed to observe bird migration around the world beautifully represented in a digital film
People in this Sussex landscape used to migrate moving to different communal pastures but once a group started settling then all had to settle as land became occupied, land became mine not ours. People committed to a place and life changed from nomadic to settler and farming.
People are still migrating but there is no longer the land to migrate to that is free, that is common land, nor a land to return to, these people are tagged on arrival, sent to migrant camps, migrant camps like countries within countries, people living intensely with tags and hopes

Migration continues in response to effects of climate change, effects of war.
Settler. Migrant. Nomad. in relation to land and resources.

Thoughts on the controversy of the RSPB
Of their fight with Ian Botham and the ‘You Forgot The Birds’ campaign, accusations against them at spending more money on advertising and legal cases than on wildlife, selling land bequeathed for wildlife to housing developers, and how people on social media have been mobilised into this fight, forgetting how both RSPB and gamekeepers all over the country support and conserve wildlife.
The similar fight with Chris Packham.
Fight and flight and fright….defence mechanisms
What are we defending against?
How does this fight, this defence, take attention away from what it’s about, ie wildlife and our role.


At the Studio I sat with my laptop outside the building to get a good wifi signal ready to connect with the Cambridge  group. As I waited I heard a rustle in the flower bed to my right, assuming it was another blackbird I carried on and then during the online video conversation a rat ran out in front of me towards an overgrown patch of bramble and bryony. There is a saying in the countryside that for every rat you see there are 30 more that you can’t see. I’ve kept chickens and the visible rat population grew. What do you do with the rats? What does the RSPB do with the crows? What do you do with the slugs? What do you do with the spiders or moths in your house?

Davide Natalini
Agent Based Modelling
“an Agent-Based Model (ABM) is a computational method that allows to investigate a given macro-level social phenomenon through the representation of micro-level behavioural rules. These will be followed by a group of agents which interact inside a bounded macro-environment limited by either geographical, spatial, structural and/or institutional boundaries” (Squazzoni 2012).

In his work he simulates and models social patterns of behaviour
Considers different scenarios, can test policy such as the effects of tax increases on environmental issues.
Group discussed the reduction in use of plastic bags since the 5p charge
Davide said people have specific characteristics and different groups of people have different sets of characteristics
He identifies groups and can see how they interact, learn and adapt
The Models are not perfect, you cannot forecast futures, you can see how situations could be improved
Two approaches, empirical and explorative
Empirical uses real data from databases
Explorative is an intuition that is then tested
My process is often the latter, I work intuitively and then may test the work with a group before developing it further. I questioned how using data might change this. So I returned to the BBC news broadcast and screenshot each change of scene in the article so I could see clearly the images, to pause and look, and to see each one in relation to the other. I’m curious to see how I could use data, what form data could be, and how relevant to process. (see above)

Considered trees as habitats for creatures, the trees on the brink of extinction and the relationship to creatures specific to those trees.
In the museum found specimens suspended in liquid and time – used images in light boxes for their exhibition Conflicted seeds and spirit
Spent time in Kenya, looked at the Frankinscence tree, the beetle larvae that causes resin to leek and the women that collect and trade it sensitively, powerfully
Visited the Cork Oaks in Portugal, witnessed the ‘cork strip’
4,700 species in critical danger of disappearing and rate accelerating at a vast rate
Species observed and mourned, named on the wall of their artwork
Loss and loss of ability to respond, to mend, repair that loss, repair that species,

Questioned their own dilemma about their carbon footprint in making the work, talked of their difficulties via Skype to us from their place in Italy, talked of feeling privileged, grateful, hoping that the work they do justifies this in some way but of it being a constant dilemma.

Thoughts of value of process of making, impact on resources, to what benefits. An equation perhaps? A methodology? What are the boundaries of practice…

In the group we talked of the role of the artist, research as looking – not illustrating a message. This question was interesting as my education was design based, and thinking how a piece of work can remain in ‘question’ and not in ‘answer’ mode.
Artists talked of working in partnership with scientists, of the equality of power. I’m curious to work with an Eco-psychologist, contacted Dr Paul Hanna, University of Surrey.
To have the courage to ask for help – one CSR artist approached the scientist asking for help, explaining what she wanted to do, reasons for doing it, creating a ‘marriage’ of art and science
Partnership work to be non-outcome dependent providing more scope for question than answer, of exploring rather than proving.
Scientists and artists are both seeking truth
Scientists repeat experiments – this ability to repeat validates their work
Artists validated by other artists, how else?

Kelcy shared advice from her science partner:

1. When you are experimenting only choose one variable at a time
2. know how you will make your decisions (ie ‘spontaneity based on x y z)
3. Reflections – get a system

Emma commented how individual belief can become group belief, looked at self and belief, views on borders

Q: How do A&H engage with success when dealing with depressing issues?
A: they work on 6-8 projects at a time, some are stark, others bring light, it keeps a balance “we are in perilous times….find the power to enter into the subject…bring it to a personal level”
“it’s important to keep alive this question…” (carbon footprint and toxicity of materials in making) and hypocrisy

Talked of moving an ancient olive tree, that the trees can live forever, but that the demands of economic growth and production require that the trees are positioned in lines such that machinery can attend and harvest. Mechanism to produce more for less money, less work for people, loss of heritage of tree and tree knowledge (see film on mycelium). Continuation of growth = continuation of loss


‘to mend – to bring to the correct position, or position where needed
a broken object calls our attention to it
complicated attitudes of repair’

‘group acts of repair connecting people to people to capability and personal autonomy’

‘tools for repairing’

‘spiritual act of mending’

‘repair what is cared for, not out of necessity, the importance of caring
of remembering that we are essentially loving creatures’

‘we cover a stain so the stain no longer shows’
Thoughts of my belly stretched and scarred by childbirth, my hair streaked with grey and all the warm colours stripped dully. Of acceptance and mending in the mind changes how I see both.


‘accused of being a ‘professional encourager’’

‘volunteering is mutual aid’

‘generosity over-writes scarcity’

“the jumper knits me as much as i knit the jumper” on darning, remaking with a different, and disobedient, colour wool

‘Japanese believed that discarded objects come back to haunt us
At what point did it become cheaper to buy than repair?’

at what point did/do we give in and in that what did we give up?

“Not all art is ethical
Not all art considers ethical issues
What is the intention?
Be honest about where you are coming from, what moves and motivates you”
“everything you do is unimportant but it is important that you do it because nobody else can do it” someone wrote this to Marieke within a project

“how healing it could be if we all gave time to repair”

For me it’s about considering the correlation between the repair of the mind affecting relationship to self, others and nature

The repair tools use metaphor,
Experience of forgiveness to repair capacity

George Marshall

Refers to ‘norms of attention’
we know about it but don’t want to talk about it

images of climate change look like hell
cracked earth
fear and guilt don’t sell behaviour change
people in fear don’t act rationally or well

“When people are reminded that they might die they try to re-establish their identity – they will reassert their dominant aspects of how they see themselves as being”

“fear is counterproductive
every strategy to motivate people has been counterproductive
doom story then solution, eg drive 5 miles less a week, people may do it one week but become less susceptible to do anything
if you downgrade the effects of climate change people also don’t bother”

“How to make it a social norm to be carbon neutral
In Doon Village Scotland Emily works with groups, eg rugby teams, knitting circles, badminton clubs.”

“In USA carbon footprint is double…people have climate change fatigue”

Appeal to communal values
(see Natural Change group, WWF Scotland, personal development and social change via a deeper connection to the natural world)

Suggested correlation between a disconnection with our values and to nature, they take people out to re-engage with both and with self.
Talked about the question of having the communication without the polarisation (I find it easier to do this by asserting that i won’t try to change the other person’s mind or opinion, and to get through the ‘fight’ to understand and hear why and what the story is behind their choice

Talked of the problem of the identity of being ‘green’ – it’s only for ‘green’ people and of course polar bears.

Language – the word ‘global warming’ has become toxic because people switch off, withdraw, found that the word ‘deteriorating atmosphere’ worked best and that the average person could accept pollution (if not climate change).
That people associate climate change and global warming with austerity, which returns me again to this idea of the call helpline. Help to break the defense mechanism to see, to feel, to respond. That it’s not about what we have to sacrifice to do the “right” thing, to be ‘good’, but instead about what we can do instead that meets our values so we feel more capable, effective, free.
Bridget Harvey mentioned “generosity beats scarcity”, that if we can give we will feel rich.  How to look at the truth of the problems of climate change, feel our feelings of fear, overwhelm, grief, etc to feel through them and be willing to see what I can do, who’s help I can call on, what I can give, to talk to others about their values and this issue. The defense mechanism of avoiding feelings, of withdrawal from them, also withdraws me from my self, intuition, there is no insight in withdrawal, and withdrawal is withdrawal, from everything. It numbs and paralyses.
C.Spezzano tells the story of the boy on the beach, the beach is covered with thousands of starfish washed ashore and the tide is out. There are so many starfish it’s hard to see the sand but there is a boy throwing them one by one back to the sea. The man sees the boy and asks him what he is doing, the boy says he is saving the starfish. The man says but how can you possibly even think you can save all these starfish, I mean there are so many and they are dying it’s impossible? The boy looks at him, picks up a starfish, throws it into the sea, and says ‘well i saved that one’. He throws another and says ‘and that one’, and keeps on throwing the starfish back into the water.
I can feel like that man, overwhelmed, but the boy just sees the issue, knows what he can do and gets on with it.
As with the quote the student left Marieke “everything you do is unimportant but it is important that you do it because nobody else can do it”

How can art processes show personal responses and mechanisms to keep looking at dark issues and of how people otherwise respond to them?

Talked of framing being key, that USA strongly associate being ‘green’ with political left. But isn’t this just another way of creating a dilemma to avoid picking up the starfish?


RL’s asks:

How often do we NOT act on what we care about?
We can have multiple cares and values
How do we awake our capacity for innate care and unlimited creativity
Our brains are wired for compassion, we have an innate need to feel creative
what happens with climate threat is it short circuits our capacity to access these deep feelings of care, capacity and creativity.
How to mobilise our capacity to repair, to fix, to heal, to restore, to create.

Referred to Lakoff and metaphor as central to thought
and Katherine Hayhoe – climate scientist, faith and values

Identified core question as ‘How to mobilise using the power of framing’
‘What the role of identity plays’
Talked of the emotional domain and what it means to come to terms with these issues – how it is processed at an emotional level, experiential level.
Talked of conversation workshops, the context for people to talk to one another, and of the ‘carbon conversations’

Talked of understanding how we manage stressful information, greater avoidance means greater resistance to change, and of working with resistance.

Interested in personal resistance.

Renee suggests working with resistance, bring it into the centre because these are distressing issues, people want the positive, she said they ricochet between bad humanity  and positive success stories, greedy selfish, stupid, short-sighted acts of government and positive acts of community, planting of trees, (throwing of starfish into the sea)

Talked of the three ‘A’s – that ALL THREE must be considered
Anxiety = it’s always there in climate change conversations, solutions
Ambivalence = where people are pulled in different directions, driven to opposites, eg our identity is invested in the kind of person that has foreign holidays so trying to save the climate negates who we are. A split mind.
Aspiration = the need to contribute, to belong, to be part of something
All the A’s to be acknowledged and integrated.

Renee suggests listening to people to:

understand where their anxieties or ambivalence might be
consider how we talk
how we listen
what is the experience
what are you concerned about
what would support you

and less about:

how do you feel about this issue and will you support this XXX campaign/cause/idea

to stay curious
if you become too upset to stay curious acknowledge that experience

Her book: Environmental Melancholia: psychoanalytic dimensions of engagement.

A key point was that when our anxieties are raised we get defensive, and the question is how to navigate defences, to dis-arm them.

People want:
listen to me
acknowledge me
engage me – genuinely

the idea of ‘guide me, don’t right me’
let people own their own process
more questions, less judgement or suggestion

don’t patronise
be compassionate
feel with others and with ourselves
remember none of us intended the damage or deforestation
we thought we were doing what was right, we were doing our best
and that being compassionate is not the same as giving in, we can be compassionate and warrior-like
create awareness

Referred to Dan Pink’s RSA animation on ‘Drive’, autonomy, purpose and mastery

Don’t look to the incentive, give people autonomy, mastery and purpose

APATHY as a defence mechanism.
Look at the mechanism you reify it
look at the cause, which is often pain at a deep unconscious level and then a withdrawal, the positive stuff cannot penetrate to the pain because of the withdrawal, ie we need to feel our feelings

Guilt and shame – referred to work of Brenee Brown and internalised transgression and work on healing/assuaging guilt, not by ignoring what we have done

Alliance for Climate Change ACE encourages school children to have ‘the talk’ with their parents on climate change, trains them on how to have the talk.
Suggests stop trying to persuade, acknowledge how hard it is, how messed up it is, acknowledge the mess and move on, (pick up a starfish and throw it into the sea).

Value and essential resources
Bottle deposit schemes – to what extent does economics and market influence how we motivate people?
Acknowledge the market but it’s just one part, there is also human creativity

The model of validation and sharing, that scientists collaborate across fields, that one lot of research evidence shared in a journal can transform and make more sense of that of another researcher.
They can either take sets of experiments and repeat them over and over,
Sometimes you have a set of results that you have to find ways to make sense of
Sometimes you have a rough idea at the start but don’t know the outcome
Sometimes the work of other researchers makes sense of your results, allows a pulling together and making sense

Interesting correlation to arts practice…


Communicating climate change adaptation – A practical guide to values-based communication