Exeter Green Fair on 5 September saw the debut of my new “Up in the Air” pop-up. Under a blue gazebo (the sky), I suspended eight pale blue hula hoops (clouds), and from these the eight greenhouse gases. I turned it round so the (0,0,0) of the axes was at the front-bottom-left, and the posters stuck to a panel at the back. The inflatable globe hung centrally, and the carpeted and cushioned games area was off to one side. Thankfully it didn’t rain, and the gusts were manageable!
I had loads of conversations with passers by, from the children who were drawn to the globe and the swinging particles (“be gentle!”), to a former colleague in the Met Office climate business, to scientists and knitters and people who were just interested.
The pop-up was kindly supported by the Relight My Fire festival of energy and arts. Its next outing will be at the festival, which will be happening across Exeter during 18-21 September.
Greenbelt is a Christian festival “Where faith, arts and justice meet”. Since 1974, it has brought people together to explore these issues, “to ask questions and suggest answers, to find moments of joy in art and music, and moments of celebration in our daily lives.”
In 2015, the Festival theme was The Bright Field, the title of a poem by RS Thomas. The programme included two Pecha Kucha events, each with six talks given by mostly visual artists. I was second in my set, sandwiched in between Katie Duxbury’s amazing costumes, and Kay Morrisson’s talk about paying tax forward and her very new project that may or may not be @TaxitForwardUK. As I said, mostly visual artists.
Pecha Kucha is a new way of doing Powerpoint presentations. There are 20 slides, which must be images only, no text, although one can cheat and have images of text. I also passed around a carbon dioxide molecule as a prop. The slides change automatically every 20 seconds, so the talk is 6 minutes 40 seconds in total. It becomes more of a performance than a presentation, and there was a lot of good energy in the tent. Most importantly for me, the audience laughed at the right places!
As part of the publicity for “Up in the Air” in July, I gave away my prototype for Particulart, the carbon dioxide that ended up a bit too big and time-consuming to knit. It was a bit of a wrench! But I took the opportunity to piggy back on the Free Art Friday movement, and set up Free Art Friday Exeter, with its own Facebook page. The worldwide free art movement has existed for many years. Artists leave pieces in public places to be discovered and taken for free. There’s a much longer explanation below.
The lady on Reception in the Exeter Civic Centre couldn’t quite grasp the point of Free Art Friday (“It’ll disappear within 5 minutes”… well, yes) and thought it better if I didn’t leave my carbon dioxide molecule there. So I took it to Exeter Library instead. Here it is in the entrance and café area. I asked whoever found and took the molecule to let me know, but sadly received no response. Maybe it ended up in the bin. Still, it was worth trying, and I may well again. I need to get more artists involved too, so if anyone is interested, please see the Facebook page and get in touch.
The long explanation
By MyDogSighs ’07, from the Flickr page for the original Free Art Friday
Artwork placed on the street for any member of the public to enjoy and take home — go on, make someone’s day! Post only pictures of free art please.
Free Art Friday is not an original concept. There are many artists across the world making art and leaving it out on the street.
There are no rules. That’s the joy! In order to keep a record of exclusively free art you need to make sure the work is easily removable and does little or no damage to its environment.
Some put out canvas. Others use materials found on the street. Cardboard is popular but your imagination is your limit.
P.S. It doesn’t have to be Friday!
The concept of Free Art Friday has many strands.
For the artist, it is an opportunity to create work free from the constraints of commerce, to voice an idea, shout a political message or just amuse and confuse the viewer.
Art is so often tied to a need by the artist to ‘make a living’ and constrained by gallery and dealer issues. FAF focuses the artist on the act itself, giving complete artistic freedom as opposed to considering financial and commercial limits.
Many Free Art Friday participants’ work is humorous and good natured, hoping to cheer up the walk to work of the viewer. Hoping to make them question everything. To expect the unexpected and realise that along with the need to sell, promote, fight the system and rebel, there is also a need to embellish and entertain in a non profit way without the need to cause damage to property.
The act of removing the work intrigues. Almost an act of situationist art itself. Is there guilt? Why is it taken – as part of a street cleaning operation, consigned to the rubbish heap? or coveted and displayed? Are they artists themselves? Kids, willing to steal and destroy purely for the act of rebellion or someone never faced with something completely free, not promoting or selling? After all how many things do you know that are completely free, no strings attached?
All street artists, whether producing static or removable art, hope to promote discussion in one form or other: “Talk about me and my work”, “Question the images thrown at you”, or “Use your political power”.
I didn’t know whether ‘Up in the Air’ would be picked up by the local press, but the 23 July edition of Express and Echo gave it a couple of inches in What’s On, just before the end of the show.
On the same day, Chemistry World published an article entitled “Weaving is believing”, which mentioned Particulart among other means of representing chemistry in yarn. Chemistry World is published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, “bringing you the latest chemistry news and research every day”. Can’t get much more illustrious than that!
If you’re still inclined to see knitting and needlework through that stereotypical prism – all Women’s Institutes and tea cosies – you’d better wake up. Knitting is radical. Just look up guerilla knitting, or yarn bombing: textile-based graffiti of a sort that deserves to give street art a good name. Its potential to register gently subversive protest has inspired two artists in the West Country [alright my luvver!], under the name Particulart, to knit molecules implicated in air pollution and climate change: you can download the patterns and make your own cuddly molecules, should you wish.
‘Sulphur hexafluoride’, ‘Tetrafluoromethane’ and ‘Fluorform’ [sic] might not be words you expect to see as part of your everyday art exhibition, but then again, Clare Bryden is not your everyday artist (if there even is such a thing!). With a background in science, economics, energy and the environment, Clare’s ‘Up in the Air’ exhibit is one with a very particular message about our climate. Below, I speak to her about it all – including the importance of squishy knitted molecules.
Diana helped with a workshop mid-exhibition. We had a great time learning a few new knitting stitches and techniques, and though we didn’t finish a whole knitted carbon dioxide molecule, we did manage to make one out of pompoms!
The conversation flowed over a whole range of ideas and issues. Chloe Uden from RegenSW told us about the SWIMBY musical about the Transition movement. It’s going to feature someone knitting in a corner throughout!
Composer Emma Welton brought some hi-tech equipment to record the sound of knitting. Her interest is also in energy generation, so she has been recording wind turbines, hydro-electricity, and large-scale power stations. Looking forward to hearing what she creates out of it all.
Photos of the exhibition in the Glorious Art House, Exeter, from 11-24 July 2015.
The gallery on the second floor became the Earth’s atmosphere, as particles hung in space around an inflatable globe. But the particles were also hung according to three pieces of data. So the gallery was also effectively a 3D graph. It even had axis labels, because if one is going to be a data geek, one may as well go the whole hog!
The posters around the room supplied the salient data about each particle, and the particle structures and the data also provided the material for some games – Turn Up Trumps and Fair Weather Friends – based on a couple of family favourites. There was a wordsearch too, all available to play nestled among the cushions in the games alcove.
And finally, there were leaflets about the exhibition and knitting patterns available to take away. You can find out more about the issue of climate change and what you can do, and download the patterns and games, on the “Up in the Air” exhibition page.
Amidst all the excitement of “Particulart: Up in the Air”, let’s not forget our origins, critiquing the Incinerator. In the 16th July edition of Express & Echo, there was a short update on Recycling in Exeter.
Diana and I couldn’t let this pass. I was particularly struck by the nonsensical “contributing 3MWh per hour of operation to the National Grid”… which just means the Incinerator’s generation capacity is 3MWe, and tells us nothing about the number of hours of operation and how much electricity it has actually generated. Diana is currently trying to get hold of some data for generation and operating costs. In the meantime, I have compared it with the capacity and cost of wind generation.
OK, so according to its communications [http://www.coastmarcoms.co.uk/The-Exeter-Energy-From-Waste-Plant.html is now broken], the Incinerator was expected to cost £45m, and has a capacity of 3MWe. That’s £15m per MWe. The cost of generating each kWh is to be determined.
So the Incinerator has a smaller capacity than one wind turbine, and costed 7.5 times as much per MW!!
Here’s the Incinerator equation for garbage in, garbage out:
(carbon content of waste + rest of waste) + oxygen + other reactive gases → carbon dioxide + other flue gases + flyash
Some estimate the carbon content to be 27% of the total waste, which means that incineration of 1 tonne of waste would produce approximately 1 tonne of carbon dioxide. Others put the carbon content at nearly 50%, which means 1 tonne of waste in, nearly 2 tonnes of carbon dioxide out.
The Incinerator is designed to accept up to 60,000 tonnes per year of waste. That means 60,000 to 120,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year. Exeter has a population of about 120,000. Ignoring the carbon footprint of building the Incinerator and offshore wind, and of other operations such as waste delivery, flyash removal and maintenance…
The Incinerator adds 0.5 to 1 tonnes of carbon dioxide to every person’s annual carbon budget. Offshore wind is zero carbon.
Furthermore, that is 60,000 tonnes of waste that has not been reduced, reused or recycled. It is not very surprising that recycling rates in Exeter have gone down, since the Incinerator needs feeding.
Now let’s turn to Diana’s main concern…
Food waste makes up about 36% of the waste input to the Incinerator, and it could instead be be composted or processed more efficiently in a anaerobic digester to produce biogas. The point about the garden waste scheme is not relevant regarding food waste, as the scheme really does only collect garden waste.
Diana thinks the point about the cost of food waste collection is a cover up for the fact that Exeter City Council’s negotiations with Teignbridge and East Devon District Councils on food waste collection have recently collapsed.
Here’s another article from Monday’s Express & Echo, which makes the arguments over the cost of collection academic.
So if food waste is rightly diverted away from the Incinerator, where will all the waste to feed it be sourced?
Clare managed to get in to the Glorious a couple of days early, so has already set up. Difficult to take photos of the whole room with only a smartphone – need a proper camera with a fish-eye lens! But hopefully these give a flavour of the transformation of the gallery into the Earth’s atmosphere and a 3-dimensional graph via the medium of knitting and chemistry!
As part of the Up in the Air exhibition, Diana Moore of Particulart and Knit-Stop will run a free knit-your-own carbon dioxide workshop.
It will be held on Saturday 18 July from 10am-12 noon, in the gallery on the second floor of the Glorious Art House at 120 Fore St, Exeter EX4 3JQ. Refreshments will be available for purchase from the café.
Materials will be provided, but do bring your own needles and yarn if you would like. You can view and download the patterns used to create the particles in your own time.
Places on the workshop are limited, so please let us know you’re planning to come.
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