How do communities of humans and non-humans** collaborate to shape common environments? What kinds of diverse world-making practices and varied ways of knowing can we draw from in order to organise ourselves differently?
Posing the question, ‘what might a symbiotic institution look like?’ Arts Catalyst is embarking on a series of artist-led inquiries into how institutions might be rethought and recreated with and through the diverse needs and desires of the human and non-human communities with whom they co-exist.
Symbiosis — a close relationship between two different organisms — encompasses a spectrum of interactions where one or both organisms provides the conditions necessary for the other’s continued existence. Over the next two years, Arts Catalyst will operate as a distributed organisation, inhabiting different places such as wetlands, wellbeing and community spaces, riverbanks and landfills, as a way to think with the city and its various human and non-human residents.
Our economic and political systems, and the institutions which uphold and enforce them, predominantly reproduce power structures that work against the regenerative potential of certain kinds of symbiotic cooperation. According to Environmental Anthropologist Veronica Strang, “there is a need for radical reform in how large societies think about and engage with non-human beings and ecosystems” in order to “envision human–non-human relations in more holistic and egalitarian terms.”
Taking South Yorkshire, home of Arts Catalyst, as a starting point, Emergent Ecologies brings together artists, communities, researchers, organisations and local knowledge to creatively intervene in the multilayered ecologies of the region. The region is shaped by histories and practices of extraction, agriculture and industrial production, alongside current modes of land management and environmental regeneration. This will provide the context for communal ecological thinking, speculative practices and artistic experimentation that resonates with the locality as well as with planetary challenges.
**Communities of non-humans include plants, animals, insects, organisms, chemicals, rivers, etc.
The programme will unfold across various sites in South Yorkshire through workshops, radio broadcasts, performances, commissions and site-specific public artworks.
Projects within the co-inquiry:
(Between Bogs and Bodies)
Wetlands are complex environments, and their loss inextricably connects the legacy of imperialist expansions with current environmental challenges. Up to 75% of the world’s wetlands are now lost, and so is the rich biodiversity that inhabits them as well as the histories that they carry.
Situated across Shire Brook Valley and Woodhouse Washlands in South Yorkshire, Wet / Lands / Dwellers brings together communities, scientists, environmentalists and artists to interrogate the specificities of these sites through a critical spatial art practice.
By navigating local stories, their trajectories and multiple histories (social, ecological, political, geological) and expanding the view to a planetary dimension, collapsing other places, knowledges and concerns (extraction, mining, waste, contamination), the project explores how communities understand their relation to wetlands, and how they could be the site of new social/ecological relations.
In dialogue with an evolving group of human and non-human collaborators in Sheffield, Bahbak Hashemi-Nezhad's designer-led inquiry will draw on fields such as aesthetics, anthropology and play, to engage publics within design processes that respond to local social and environmental challenges. Through a programme of experimental workshops and radio broadcasts, Co-Hostings seeks to open up conversations to devise and test out ideas, actions and spatial structures to facilitate mutual exchange in the region.
Throughout 2022, Harun Morrison will repair, re-design and replant Sheffield Mind's Garden with combinations of herbs and flowers that can function as natural medicine and notes in perfumes. He will work with service-users to co-design garden furniture, wind-chimes, charms and new scents.
The artist will conceive the garden as a site of collaboration between human and non human beings that inhabit its space. An accompanying programme will be co-devised by the artist and the curatorial team at Arts Catalyst, opening up wider access to the garden for the local community and stimulating conversations around ecology and healing.
Rachel Pimm will get up close and familiar with the South Yorkshire landscape and its inhabitants, combining and re-mixing components of its ecology via language – from the magnetic legacies of Sheffield steel industry, to the life of organisms that populate its waterways. By adopting text, sound and durational approaches, they will question the use of metaphors in nature writing and current narratives around ecology as a way to examine life cycles in the history of the region and its surrounding areas.
Over the next year Luiza Prado will collaborate with plants associated with histories of migration and reproduction; plants whose ancestors expanded horizons, and gestured towards fertile futures. The project will culminate in an installation conceived as a discursive space for human and plant beings in Sheffield. In promoting these encounters, the work means to nurture discussions around questions of decolonisation, care and affect, commons, reproductive labour and community-building in times of extreme uncertainty and instability.
Emergent Ecologies borrows its title from anthropologist Eben Kirksey’s publication of the same name.