One way in which we sought to stimulate the network’s discussions was through reflecting on the actual sites of our three workshops, which were chosen for their iconic status as locations that embody (and perform) contrasting types of environmental stress.
To what extent can the specific features and histories of a given site/environment be used as a mirror or metaphor for thinking about environmental change? For example, where a landscape is visibly the product of human intervention/engineering in the past, can this be used as a way of conceptualising present human impacts on the environment through site-based performance? And to what extent do such historical interventions—insofar that they have shaped our present-day horizons of possibility—impact on our ability to perceive or comprehend our current relationship with (and responsibility for) environmental change?
The network’s three key meetings were convened in contrasting locations reflecting differing types/degrees of human intervention in the environment, and varying histories of cultural-natural, urban-rural, and human-animal interaction:
1. Fountains Abbey, near Ripon, North Yorkshire (October 16th & 17th, 2010). Operated by the National Trust, this World Heritage Site demonstrates many contrasting forms of interaction between humans and environment taking place over centuries. The largest medieval abbey ruins in the country sit alongside England’s most spectacular Georgian water gardens. Landscaped grounds give way to working farmland. The River Skell has been redirected for both pragmatic and aesthetic purposes. In the medieval deer park, “wild” animals are managed as livestock. Fountains Abbey represents some of the most treasured aspects of English heritage, yet such delicately maintained sites are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
2. Cove Park artists’ centre, Argyll & Bute (February 12th & 13th, 2011). Situated on a fifty-acre site overlooking Loch Long, on the fringes of the “Loch Lomond and the Trossachs” National Park, Cove Park lies in an area of outstanding natural beauty, where the mountainous landscape has prevented excessive human exploitation. The site has a history as a conservation park, dedicated to the preservation of indigenous plants, flowers and wildlife, and also grazes highland cattle and sheep. A few miles along the Loch is Coulport naval base, a storage site for nuclear missiles since the 1960s. The larger
base at Faslane is also nearby.
3. Anatomy Theatre and Museum at King’s College, London (May 20th and 21st, 2011). Now used for a variety of cultural and research events, this “site” is entirely human- made, in the heart of one of the world’s most densely-populated urban environments. Its history is rooted in the enlightenment project of categorising and (literally) anatomising the natural world, as a means of bringing it under “rational” control. Located on the Strand, the venue is close to the hub of London’s commercial theatre district, and to the headquarters of global oil companies such as Shell and BP, whose business “performance” depends upon the exploitation of fossil fuel resources, often in environmentally sensitive areas of the planet. London’s role as a key centre in such global networks is echoed by the Anatomy Museum’s state-of-the-art technical facilities, which permit multi-screen video-conferencing with respondents across the globe.
Although practicalities intervened (as they always do), the original sequence for these meetings would have followed a south-to-north trajectory – London to Yorkshire to Scotland – tracing a pattern of diminishing human settlement, and ghosting the anticipated northern migration pattern of key British wildlife species as the climate warms. But perhaps it was appropriate that we end up at the start, in the belly of the beast…