What is Green Criticism?

The last time I was purposefully academic was probably when I sat my finals. Even then, we were well-educated in the philosophical contexts of the writers we studied, but not in the theoretical context in which we ourselves were operating. Since then, I’ve taught at half a dozen universities at least, but always as a practitioner. Academically cutting edge I am not. The question ‘what is green criticism?’ is not rhetorical.

Around the time I did my English degree, there were some books emerging that used ecology as way to approach literature: Jonathan Bate’s Romantic Ecology springs to mind; I probably should re-read it. The aim of these books seemed to be to understand how writers related to nature: how ‘green’ they were. But that’s about ecology, not employing it as a critical tool. I wrote an extended essay in my third year. It was about depictions of landscape in landscape and painting at the time of the first generation Romantics. I was interested in the sublime and the beautiful, not out of any kind of swoony romanticism but because they suggest two ways of modelling our desire for the external. I don’t really want to get into this in any detail here, as I still haven’t got to the real point I want to make in this post. Suffice to say, I’d noticed how some writers saw nature as a force that transformed the tiny figures traversing its landscapes while some saw it as something that framed or provided a kind of extension to, or illustration of, heroic anthropocentrism. I was somewhat out on a limb, frankly. It probably wasn’t my best work.

So, what might real green criticism be? Is anyone writing about how ecology, or ecosocialism, or green thought (which are of course all different – but that’s for another time) could be useful ways to look at culture?  Continue reading “What is Green Criticism?”

Open Studio 2016: photos

My main occupation is scenography. I design sets, costumes and video for performance; mainly new writing and devised work. I love the collaborative nature of theatre but I think it’s important to maintain a personal fine art practice alongside it, not necessarily for public exhibition or sale but in order to keep asking myself who I am as an artist and what I have to offer my collaborators. So when it came to finding something to show at Bow Arts Open Studios 2016, I decided to share some of this work. Continue reading “Open Studio 2016: photos”

Dodgy Analogies, Dodgy Politics

The arts give society a space to think. Without them we are a golem: a figure of clay, subject to its master’s command, and deprived of the imaginative space necessary to relate meaningful to others and function in society.

OK. That’s an analogy with which you may or may not agree. It’s fairly useful as away to explain an idea that I personally find interesting. On the one hand, it’s way too reductive to be truthful in any philosophically helpful sense. It’s only of very limited use in explaining our need for the arts. Continue reading “Dodgy Analogies, Dodgy Politics”

A Bigger Splash: Painting after performance – a personal response

(Originally published in Blue Pages, the journal of The Society of British Theatre Designers)

Visiting A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance, currently at Tate Modern, is an odd experience for a theatre designer. The exhibition interrogates the relationship between performance and painting – and, in fact, other visual media – from a variety of angles, sometimes tenuously but almost always in a way that is engaging and thought-provoking. However, it does this entirely within the frame of reference of visual art. It is as if performance outside the art gallery either does not exist or is merely a cultural phenomenon to be knowingly referenced; not a major group of art-forms that have their own evolutions, their own traditions and their own avant-garde movements. Yet we, as theatre designers, are engaging with many of the same issues as the artists in the exhibition, and with no less professionalism and integrity.

Continue reading “A Bigger Splash: Painting after performance – a personal response”

Visual artists as Theatre Designers: a response

(Originally published in Blue Pages, the journal of The Society of British Theatre Designers)

The original Guardian article, to which this responds, can be read here.

“Why don’t more visual artists do theatre?” This was the somewhat alarming headline introducing a Mark Lawson article in The Guardian in July. The piece itself was more nuanced. Crucially, he accepts that “stage design is clearly a form of art” and narrows “visual artists” down to “full-time painters and sculptors”. Nonetheless, there is something very fundamentally wrong with the underlying assumptions. I would argue that this is because we see ourselves not as jumped up scene painters, out of our depth in complexities of visual art, but as amphibians – operating fully in both visual and performance environments.

Continue reading “Visual artists as Theatre Designers: a response”