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Cultivating the Art of Noticing

Russell Beard

Cultivating the Art of Noticing

A series of small ecological sculptures have begun sprouting up at hidden locations throughout the Pitlochry Festival Theatre Explorers Garden…

Made with waste materials donated by Scottish Civil engineers Balfour Beatty including dozens of steel rivets from their on-going North Bridge restoration in Edinburgh the sculptures made by ecological artist Russell Beard celebrate the resilience and resourcefulness of fungi as ‘natures recyclers’.

Beard explains:

“I think fungi have a lot to teach us both as world-making ‘ecosystem engineers’ but also in a richly metaphorical sense… about communication and the art of collaborative survival in a changing world.”

Russell studied plant science in Sheffield before switching to film and fine art as a means of ‘enlivening the ecological imagination’.

He continued:

“Ecology is the scientific study of relationships while art has the potential to help people see and feel things on a different level, so the theatre explorers garden is a perfect location to make art that attempts to bridge the illusory nature/culture divide – helping us reimagine our place in nature not as lords and masters but as one species among many.”

Cultivating the Art of Noticing is the first phase of a semi-permanent site-specific work that will digitally link the sculptures with poetry and excerpts of longer form nature writing from the various nations and regions explored by Scottish plant hunters to create a virtual poetry park that will evolve over time.

The concept

From ‘enlightenment to entanglement’…

Cultivating the Art of Noticing is multi-site sculptural installation redolent of freshly sprouted fungi that that draws on a kind of poetic ecology – offering garden visitors a fun opportunity to forage for fine art.

With Cultivating the Art of Noticing I wanted to combine the excitement I feel when foraging for mushrooms with the experience of encountering art and its affective potential to change the way we see the world and our place in it.

Fungi have always held a deep fascination for me and ever since learning about their strange subterranean life-ways while studying for my BSc in plant science in Sheffield University in the 1990’s before terms like the ‘The Wood Wide Web’ and magical sounding words like ‘mycorrhiza’ became mainstream.

Part of the attraction is that these gregarious boundary crawlers confound categories around species and sex and much like artists – they thrive in inhospitable and disturbed terrain acting as kind of intermediary translators or currency converters – capable of transforming ‘waste’ into accessible, useful energy and information; redistributing it via multi-species collaborative networks that bridge cultural, geographic and socio-economic boundaries.

I love the fact that Symbioses – once seen as a parasitic relationship highly unusual in nature is now understood to be ubiquitous in the vast majority of life forms. It seems to me that in order to weather coming storms we need to identify and celebrate this mutualism or ‘Sympoiesis’ literally making or better yet becoming-with as a crucial means of adaptation and key to collaborative survival in a changing world.

The steel rivets used in the work were once key components of the North Bridge in Edinburgh – an iconic structure originally built during ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ when advances science, economics and engineering were being developed and disseminated across the world and would go on to drive the industrial capitalism that would have catastrophic consequences for life on earth.

Incorporating an actual physical connection to a synecdoche of the past socio-economic paradigm characterised by centralised production and hyper-consumption based on colonialism, exploitation and extraction was important to me while their reconstitution into these fungi-like clusters and their recombination with natural stone leftovers from the recent Pitlochry Festival Theatre amphitheatre build served as a neat metaphorical bridge to a more decentralised way of seeing and being in the world – emphasising reciprocal networked creativity founded on re-use, recycling, mutualism and interdisciplinary collaboration.

The process involved the salvage of waste materials donated by Scottish civil engineers Balfour Beatty including rusty rebar from their A9 motorway project in Perthshire and dozens of steel rivets from North Bridge in Edinburgh.  Components were welded and mounted in assortment of natural stone boulders left over from the building of the amphitheatre.

The outcome is intentionally open ended and will evolve over time with the initial phase being the installation of ten physical sculptures across each geographic zone of the garden. In time cultural content will be digitally linked to the physical sculptures via the Locatify app to create a GPS activated virtual poetry park allowing visitors the opportunity to go foraging for poetry and proverbs from the various regions of the world visited by Scottish plant hunters.

An artist biography

After studying Ecology and Landscape design at Sheffield University, Russell spent a formative few years teaching and traveling in Asia and the Americas before returning to Edinburgh to study advanced photography and film which led to over ten years on the frontlines of climate change for a global news network  making multiple award-winning solutions-focused environmental documentaries broadcast to over 300 million homes world wide. In 2015 Beard returned to full time education graduating in 2017 with an MFA Art, Space & Nature, (with distinction) from Edinburgh College of Art.

He stayed on as artist in residence and in 2019 was selected for the prestigious Robert Callender International Residency for Young Artists.  He has since completed residencies in Akita and various locations around Scotland and maintains creative partnerships with Lateral Lab in association with Zerodaté Japan and the UK Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World.

Artist Statement

Russell A. Beard MFA is an Indonesian-born Scottish artist, ecologist and broadcaster. His art work touches on themes of deep-time and the cyclical nature of materiality and emerges at the nexus of contemporary physical theory, dark ecology and the environmental humanities.

Arising from the social, geo-political and environmental uncertainty of the ‘Anthropocene’ Beard’s artistic practice can be seen as an extended exploration of the liminal space between order and chaos, growth and disintegration and the on-going oscillations between the creative, generative force of life’s perpetual becoming and the thermodynamic processes of entropy and decay.

Beard works primarily with intaglio etching, video and sculptural assemblage that incorporate salvaged materials and found objects in various states of decomposition. His work is four dimensional – imbued with a dark materiality and vibrant temporality as expressed in the spontaneous physical and chemical processes that deeply resonate with seismic societal and ecological transformations currently underway.