In a time of global uncertainty and dark ecology, how can artists bear witness through creative practice?

Kate Paxman (Plymouth University, Plymouth, UK) :


This work seeks to explore the uncertain nature of our current economic and ecological moment: our political and social climate of neoliberalism, austerity and the privatization of art, culture and education, and the ecological crisis we are facing from climate change.

The research is located in the creation of a new body of work in response to Torbay’s Marine Conservation Zone (designated 2013) and in particular its submerged or partially submerged (infralittoral) sea caves, which extend from Mackeral Cove in the north to Sharkham Point in the south.1 The dynamic environments of shallow water marine caves and their biotopes are especially vulnerable to changing  weather patterns. Subject to frequent strong wave surges, intertidal marine caves are at risk of  complete destruction from extreme storm damage.2

The focus will be on the inter-relation between people and place and will employ a cross-disciplinary approach, working with specialists outside the field of visual art, for example, marine biologists and geologists and experts from local conservation groups and charities. The work will look at the negative effects of environmental change on people and the “modern uncanny”3 of solastalgia, “a new concept developed to give greater meaning and clarity to environmentally induced distress.”4

  1. McLeod, CR, Yeo, M, Brown, AE, Burn, AJ, Hopkins, JJ, & Way, SF (eds.) (2005) The Habitats Directive: selection of Special Areas of Conservation in the UK. 2nd edn. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.
  2. Connor, D.W., J.H. Allen, N.Golding, K.L.Howell, L.M. Lieberknecht, K.O. Northen and B. Reker (2004) The Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland Version 04.05. In: JNCC (2015) The Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland Version 15.03 [Online]. (2017, February 10). Available from:
  3. MacFarlane, Robert. (Fri 1 April 2016). Generation Anthropocene: How Humans Altered the Planet Forever. The Guardian [4] Albrecht, G. (2007). Solastalgia: the distress caused by environmental change. Australas Psychiatry 2007;15 Suppl 1:S95-8.


One of the starting points for the research alongside the practice led approach is Timothy Morton’s concept of ‘Dark Ecology’ and his proposal for a new approach to environmental thinking.1 In this approach, in order to have a properly ecological view, Morton proposes that we must relinquish the idea of nature once and for all.  I will be considering Timothy Morton’s ‘Dark Ecology’ in the context of Tim Ingold’s writing in Being Alive.2 I will also be looking at artists from the 3-year Dark Ecology Project – a journey through the Arctic regions of Norway and Russia.3

In looking more closely at contemporary multi-media responses to current ecological thinking, I am interested in exploring ‘sonic atmospheres’, informed by Affect Theory.4

Another starting point is the term solastalgia which “speaks of a modern uncanny, in which a familiar place is rendered unrecognisable by climate change or corporate action: the home becomes suddenly unhomely around its inhabitants.”5 In order to explore the sensation of solastalgia, I would refer to the writing of Dylan Trigg on melancholy, space and nostalgia, 6 and to  Juhani Pallasmaa’s notion of peripheral perception.7

  1. Morton, T. (2007). Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England. Harvard University Press.
  2. Ingold, T. ( 2011). Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description. London and New York. Routledge.
  3. Hilde Methi. (2014). Dark Ecology. Retrieved from
  4. Deleuze, Guattari. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus. USA. University of Minnesota Press.
  5. MacFarlane, Robert. (Fri 1 April 2016). Generation Anthropocene: How Humans Altered the Planet Forever. The Guardian
  6. Trigg, D. (2012). The Memory of Place: A Phenomenology of the Uncanny. Ohio University Press
  7. Pallasmaa, J. (2014). Space, Place and Atmosphere: Peripheral Perception in Existential Experience, in Architectural Atmospheres: On the Experience and Politics of Architecture ed Christian Borch. Basel. Birkhauser.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHIE(S) (ready for dissemination. 200 words maximum):

Kate’s work explores the nature of site, archaeology and heritage, and the image of the changing landscape in relation to contemporary practice. Working across-disciplines, her outcomes often take the form of moving image and sound installations re-situated in the places they were made.

A sensitivity to place and fragile habitats has been developed through recent projects including Hengistbury Overture (2016), commissioned by Activate Performing Arts for the 2016 Inside Out Festival, Dorset; Mutability and Beaten Earth (2015) for the Smooth Space-Torre Abbey Residency Project and Inner Quarry (2012) for ‘over the horizon’, Berry Head NNR, Brixham, Devon, a Smooth Space, Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust partnership project. Kate is currently undertaking a practice-led Ph.D with the art+sound research group, School of Art, Design and Architecture, Plymouth University.

In 2011 Kate co-founded artist-led initiative Smooth Space with fellow artist David Harbott. They develop artist residencies in a range of locations, always outside the gallery environment and often working in partnership with non-arts organizations.

smooth space “always possesses a greater power of deterritorialization than the striated”1

[1] Deleuze, Guattari. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus. USA. University of Minnesota Press.

Balance-Unbalance 2017

Balance-Unbalance (BunB)
is an International Conference designed to use art as a catalyst to explore intersections between NATURE, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY and SOCIETY as we move into an era of both unprecedented ecological threats and transdisciplinary possibilities.

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