Sunday, 17 May 2009

Under Way

The exhibition began on May 8th with a short guided meditation session in the cloister.

Each day there were 20 minute guided sessions, and spaces with cushions provided for individual contemplation at other times.

Since I was not there in person I wasn't able to keep an accurate record of how many participated, although I can work out approximate totals. The plan was to keep an exact note of how long people stayed, so a notional 'total' could be calculated of the amount of CO2 exhaled, but my on-the-spot helpers had exams and classes. So we will have to compromise this time with an approximate calculation based on the classes run.

Thanks to Cris Guell for this photo.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

On the hidden costs of digital media

For another article on the hidden costs of our electronic media click here

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Internet Footprint

I read this article in yesterday's Guardian

Guardian Online Link

which gave me pause for thought.

According to the article, the energy footprint of the web is growing by 10% a year, and will soon overtake aviation as a source of CO2 emissions. The data centres that store the billions of pages of information which we view online are enormously energy-hungry. According to this article, it is estimated that US data centres alone used 61bn kilowatt hours of energy in 2006 - enough energy to supply the whole of the UK for two months. It is estimated that every Google search has a carbon footprint of 0.2g CO2, which doesn't sound like much, but when there are 200 million Google searches per day it starts to have a real impact.

And that doesn't take into account the footprint of the physical materials of the billions of computers, or the domestic energy used to power them.

So even the decision to use Skype and email to collaborate with local partners in Girona, and to set up this blog, has a definite and definable impact. There is no room for feeling righteous.

Sometimes all this feels like a profound loss of innocence. There is so much I would rather not know, and now that I know it, I don't really know what to do with the knowledge. At the university where I work, I mention to colleagues that I'm working on a project in Girona, and they assume I'll be flying over - it seems to be expected of academics that we clock up airmiles as a token of professional acheivement. When I say I am not going, and that is the point of the exercise, I feel like a crank, or a spoilsport. And on a day like today, when a cold, wet front is blustering in from the west here in Glasgow bringing driving rain and a leaden sky, while Girona basks in spring sunshine, and I could be hanging out there with some new friends, I think I probably am a spoilsport.

But on the other hand, challenging my own assumptions about how I work, and how I want to operate in future, is a good shakeup.

I've been reading Suzi Gablik 'The re-enchantment of art' again. Published in 1991 it now seems extraordinarily prescient. Writing more about this is for another day, however.

Monday, 27 April 2009


This way of working 'remotely' is quite challenging for me - I have to learn to let go of the kind of control I would have if I were present and I have to trust that things will get done even if I'm not there.

The students I am working with in Girona are really the people making this happen. They are busy making phone calls, visits, meetings, sourcing materials, finding cheap and ecological ways to do things that require ingenuity and calling in favours, and all of this in between classes and exams. Contacts have been made with local yoga and meditation centres and we will be able to have several free sessions and classes running every day, with a whole range of techniques and approaches.

So a big thank you to Elisa Brandi, Serena Dandrea, Anna Simon Olle and Cristina Guell Agut, who are the people who are really making this project happen.

Friday, 24 April 2009

The Carbon Connection

Click here to view a short film made by communites in Brazil and Scotland who are at opposite ends of the international trade in carbon emissions.

And click here to find out how to offset your sexual infidelities with 'Cheat Neutral'

Rising Tide Conference

Rising Tide : The Arts and Ecological Ethics

California College of the Arts and Stanford University are hosting this conference on the intersections between ethics, aesthetics and environmentalism. Speakers, events and exhibitions are taking place on both sites, and Natural Balance projects are currently featured in an exhibition at Stanford University.

click here for info

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Cloister of San Domenech

The Cloister

Serena and Anna, two of the students who are helping make this project happen, sent me some photos today of the space we will be using. It's a beautiful mediaeval cloister now part of the university.

We are thinking and emailing each other about what we need to prepare the space. It's quite big, and at first rather daunting as we don't have a huge budget and there is very little time.

But I am reminding myself that this project is not about 'doing' and 'things' and 'stuff'. And really we are returning this space to something very close to its original purpose. The architecture was designed to enclose a sheltered space, for peace and contemplation.

Visually it has this beautiful rhythm of the portico going around it, which is quite wide, with flagstone floor. There are three incredibly tall narrow trees like exclamation marks!!! They go quite beyond the frame of this shot and reach right up into the sky. And the little sapling just coming into leaf. And there is this square of bright green grass.
So we are thinking about how to work with this.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Grow Your Own Air

Have a look at this presentation

How to Grow Your Own Fresh Air

So, according to Meattle's study, we apparently each need about 4 good-sized Areca Palms and 6-8 big 'Mother-in-Law's' tongue plants to keep soaking up what we breathe out and pumping oxygen back into the air. And that's just for breathing. This presentation really brought it home to me how something we take so much for granted - the air we breathe - is being constantly generated by the plants around us.

I was reminded of a phrase written by Patrick Geddes over a hundred years ago (1854-1932) which I just looked up to quote in full here.

'This is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent on leaves. By leaves we live. Some people have the strange idea that they live by money. They think energy is generated by the circulation of coins. Whereas the world is mainly a vast leaf colony, growing on and forming a leafy soil, not a mere mineral mass; and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests'

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Carbon Calculus

I've been researching online carbon calculators to check how much CO2 they say my flight to Girona would emit. The figures range from 0.35 tonnes to as much as 6.35 tonnes return. I guess it depends on how guilty they want to make me feel, or how much 'offsetting' they want me to buy. If the highest ones are true, that's an awful lot of breathing - we'll have to extend this project to last 20 years!

Some of these sites will sell you a bunch of trees or something green to make you feel less guilty. How many trees depends on how much carbon you've pumped out. Here's one of them.

And here's a site that's done a pretty extensive survey

According to this survey around 30% of the sites actually underestimate what emissions will be - so it seems my year of breathing is too short after all! Twenty Years of Breathing is quite possibly nearer the truth.

Mindfulness of Breathing

The Mindfulness of Breathing is a very simple and profound meditation, practiced in many spiritual traditions. It is simply becoming aware of the breath as it moves in and out of our body. From the moment we are born to the moment of death we are in constant exchange with our world.

Working in collaboration with students in Girona, a meditation space will be set up in the cloister of San Domenec. We would like to invite the people of Girona participate in this project. Our hope is to create, for the week of the exhibition, a peaceful space into which people may come and sit. We hope that guided meditations will be run by local Buddhist and Yoga centres, and other local groups. Visitors will be invited to enter this space and spend a little time quietly observing the breath, and contemplating how they might bring their lives more into ‘natural balance’.

A record will be kept of the number of participants and length of breathing, which, at an average of 0.72g per person per minute, will be added up at the end of the exhibition.

Any remaining CO2 from the ‘Year of Breathing’ will be donated to the people of Girona for the purposes of meditation, jogging, singing, blowing up balloons, laughing or sex.

Thanks to Elisa Brandi for the photo of San Domenech Cloister - sorry you got locked out of your flat in the process!

How much CO2 do we each breathe out?

Using a standard online carbon calculator (the kind that sell you some trees to ‘offset’ your emissions, so you don’t feel so bad about flying) I worked out that my travel by air to Girona from my home in Scotland would produce 0.3 tonnes of CO2. Our own bodies are intimately involved with this process of exchange with the atmosphere. The National Lung Health Education Programme estimates that we each breathe out around 400ml CO2 per minute, net. When I added this up, it works out that a flight from Glasgow to Girona produces the same amount of CO2 emissions as one year of exhalations for one person.

So instead of using up a year of breathing by flying to install my work, I am donating my ‘carbon budget’ 0.3 tonnes of CO2 to the people of Girona for the purposes of breathing.

A Year of Breathing

We are all of us caught in a paradox. We know we need to change the way we live, to be in better balance with nature, but everything around us pulls us towards ways we know are unsustainable.
I felt this paradox very strongly when I was invited to make an artwork on the theme of ‘natural balance’ for Girona, which would use natural, recyclable materials. I thought ‘I am not a local material!'

I don’t believe that it is Art’s job to provide answers or to tell people what to think or do. I think Art’s job is to invite you into a ‘space’ in which you may think about questions in an open way, which recognizes the necessity of always remaining in doubt. So I decided to make a proposal which is about creating this kind of space, in collaboration with the people of Girona.