Rannoch – The Breadalbane Deliberation

The Breadalbane Deliberation   – Comh-Chomhairle Bràghad Albainn

The historic district of Breadalbane was described by Frances Groome, in the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, 1882-1884.

Exhibition Dates:       2 August through 8 August 2015
Workshop Date:          Saturday 8 August 2PM
Location:                     Dall Mill Chalet, Rannoch, PH17 2QH
Hours:                        11-5 or by appointment
Contact:                    Anne Benson 0778 606 3678

This is a week long exhibition with our friends Bob and Annie Benson, at their home at Dall Mill in Rannoch. They have given us the ‘chalet’ for a week to work on the large 3 meter x 3 meter map of the Region north of Loch Tay and South of Loch Ericht.

Our focus for the week will be developing discussion about the place names of Rannoch. We are working with Annie Benson and anthropologist Jo Vergunst and others up in Rannoch. This of course links to the work done recently in Edinburgh. http://www.summerhall.tv/2015/the-breadalbane-deliberation/

Tim Collins's photo.

Plein Air Exhibition/Performance in Cologne Germany

At the end of August we will present/perform another iteration in the development of Plein Air; in the series ‘VISUAL SOUNDS – BIOAKUSTISCHE MUSIK,  curated by Georg Dietzler in Cologne.

Opening August 26th, 7pm, 2015

“tree sound study room, Cologne 2015″
can be visited 27th – 31st of August from 4-7 pm and by appointment.

Collins & Goto Studio, Glasgow Scotland (Reiko Goto & Tim Collins) // Chris Malcolm sound design & software programmer // Baumklangstudien Zimmer, Köln 2015

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Camp BREAKDOWN BREAK DOWN at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop

The Fox the Deer and the Black Wood

Brett Bloom and Nuno Sacramento asked us to talk about the artwork that we do in relationship to the human and non human communities that are found in the ancient semi natural forests in Scotland. Camp Breakdown Break Down was a gathering at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop, it ran From July 6 through July 13, in Lumsden, Scotland.

Building on the talk we prepared for the Muir and Environmental Values workshop,  Reiko and I rewrote the presentation to make a point for the assembly of arts and humanities based environmental activists… that theory and practice are necessarily integrated when ethics and aesthetics are part of the intention of a sustained creative inquiry. We referenced the practices that led to exhibitions like ‘Sylva Caledonia’.

Brett Bloom from Chicago (organizing the project with Nuno Sacramento from the  Scottish Sculpture Workshop) talked about ‘petrosubjectivity’. Other speakers included the noted author and land ownership researcher and activist Andy Wightman, and the author and BBC commentator, the social ecologist Alistair MacIintosh speaking about land and spirituality. Charlotte Du Cann and Nick Hunt were in to talk about the evolution and direction of their amazing Dark Mountain project. Nuno Sacramento talked about reorienting himself to a changing landscape, Karen Grant spoke about to what some call the ‘hutopian’ movement in Scotland, the creative ‘reverse migration’ that intends new social relationships with the land!

Good stuff…

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John Muir and Environmental Values Workshop

The Fox the Deer and the Trees

Philosopher Emily Brady asked us to put together a presentation that referenced Muir while talking about our research on the Black Wood at Rannoch in Highland Perthshire. We worked from a paper that Reiko had drafted “Perceptions and symbolic relationships in a Caledonian pine forest.” We rewrote it with the intent to close the workshop by offering a counterpoint to Muir, beginning with a reference to Duncan Ban MacIntyre’s ‘Song to the Foxes as a way to talk about the often conflicted relationship, but the fundamental social and cultural interrelationship with nature in Scotland. We also tried to provide some insight into how we work from a philosophical and experiential point of view to conduct a deep reading of place and its historic and contemporary meaning.

This was a brilliant series of presentations with each speaker adding another layer to how Muir is understood across the shifting sands of time and how it informs (and at times misinforms) what we understand today. The breadth of the presentations were as inspiring as the depth of connected issues and meaning that could be drawn through them all. We also had the benefit of a great discussions with philosopher and performing arts critic and theorist Wallace Heim who traveled with us on the way home.

John Muir and Environmental Values

Old Library, Geography Building, University of Edinburgh
Friday, 3rd July 2015


Workshop welcome

Simon James (Philosophy, Durham)
Nothing Truly Wild is Unclean: Muir, Misanthropy, and the Aesthetics of Dirt


Emily Brady (Geography, Edinburgh)
Muir and the Sublime


Fraser MacDonald (Geography, Edinburgh)
Scotland After Muir

Jeremy Kidwell (Divinity, Edinburgh)
Muir the Presbyterian: Reading the book of nature, eco-piety and modern ecological action.


Reiko Goto and Tim Collins (Collins-Goto Studio)
The Fox the Deer and the Trees

Closing discussion

Location: The Old Library is in the Geography Building, on Drummond Street (EH8 9JX) within the High School Yards area of the University of Edinburgh campus.

We are grateful to the Institute for Geography and the Lived Environment, University of Edinburgh, for supporting this event.

Sylva Caledonia at Summerhall

Sylva Caledonia was an exhibition and seminar series held at Summerhall, Edinburgh, in Spring 2015. It was developed and funded by the Edinburgh International Science Festival. Our participation was initiated by James Howie of ascus. Holly Knox Yeoman curated the installation.

Participants included ourselves with studio associate Sara Ocklind, Gerry Loose and Morven Gregor and Chris Fremantle. We presented ‘living sculptures’, videos and the large map of Breadalbane; developed over a number of years working in the Black Wood of Rannoch. Gerry and Morven presented concrete poetry, photographs, sculptures and selection of small hazel trees developed over years working in the Sunart Oakwood on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. Chris presented the current development of his extensive ecoart portable library in an adjoining study room.

Chris organized a great series of discussions for the exhibition.

  1. The first was a discussion between the artists and Paul Tabbush Chair of the Landscape Research Group.
  2. The next one included philosopher/artist Beth Carruthers, author and curator Amy Cutler and the noted historian of Scottish art Murdo Macdonald.
  3. The third talk included representatives from Forest Research David Edwards and Bianca Ambrose-Oji, Richard Thompson and ecologist from Forest Enterprise and Rick Worrell a consultant with a wealth of experience working in ancient semi-natural native forests.
1 catalogue cover

Reiko’s Reflections on ‘Conversations with Water’ (More than Human Research)

The More than Human Project was organized by PI Michelle Bastian, with Co-I’s Richard Coles, Phil Jones and Owain Jones. This is the fifth in a series of reflections on the workshop, written byReiko Goto Collins.


Co-design with water: an aesthetic conceptual provocation


Originally published: On the more than human research website.

At the end of the workshop Michelle asked us how a new language might emerge from this workshop. I have been thinking about this question in relation to “empathy” that is my research interest and practice. Empathy is an act of perceiving in which we reach out to the other to grasp his/her state or condition. It consists of one’s emotional and physical experiences.The workshop was an experience-based enquiry. I did not know much about the workshop area, its landscape or catchments. I knew only a few of the people from previous conferences..The workshop really began over dinner, with information shared by experts. Then the next day we would have an expert tour of the Culm a unique ecosystem, at the top of the catchment basin. We then had a boat ride in the estuary guided by a fisherman. We felt the landscape changes from the mouth of the river (with its old industrial structures, and new summer homes) to the wooded upper river that came alive with wildlife. Meanwhile Antony was checking the conductivity in the saline water, everyone was taking pictures and talking together. The last day of the workshop we were asked to go into the Torridge River. In early October it was a cloudy day. I did not bring my swimming suit. Niamh was impressive, she jumped in the Torridge River first, then others followed little by little. François said something touched her foot in the water. Was it fish? This encouraged me to follow them. The middle of the river was deeper but people could stand on the smooth riverbed. The water was cold. I put my face down to float. I felt little fear until suddenly I felt a sharp pain on my shoulder. (I am being treated for a bad shoulder.) But when my body started floating, I became relaxed. I could see under water. It was greenish brown. The colour of the water reminded me of similar experiences in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.  Tim and I worked on a research project called 3 Rivers 2nd Nature (3R2N) between 2000 and 2005. It was one of the summers we were on the project boat. Tim and I had dived in the Allegheny River. The water was warm but refreshing, it felt endlessly deep and big, it felt wide and very long. I could not see much, just greenish brown colour. We had spent years learning everything we could about the ecological recovery of nature and culture. I still hear the voice of that place, its experts and communities. And in my mind I still see myself going through the landscape, with millions of Mayfly in the air, and schools of fish cfollowing and playing with our boat.

Empathetic experience moves towards something foreign rather than something familiar. In this workshop the greenish brown coloured water was something familiar and the coldness of the Torridge River was the foreign experience for me. I was surprised when I did not become panic in the water when I could not rely on my arm because of the shoulder pain. I sat on the anchor of the bridge to watch other people. It was another foreign experience to be in the water together. I thought about the last two days talking, eating and doing things together with a respectful manner, but we did not know each other much. We kept smiling at each other. After we dressed again, we became a little more playful. We dropped twigs from the bridge to see which one could go through the bridge first. Owain’s fern won.


Touching the water in the Torridge River was important. In this case asking the water by touching it. It was a trigger for an “empathised experience” that would come from real life or form within ourselves, our inner perception.Any one can touch the water of the river. It is quite possible a person does not have any memorable experience of a river. Then, the experience becomes foundational; but this is not likely. Everything we do is a learning opportunity that may expand experience it may not prove to be meaningful until some time in the future. How about people who have had a water epiphany already? Touching water is a beginning of the discourse to listen to others including people, things and the environment in deeper level. After the workshop some people submitted their reflection writing. Different individuals experience and expertise result in diverse stories. Each of us is connected to different parts of the world. Each of us shuffles the words and re-constructs the story for the new audience. In this repeated process a little schism occurs. Empathy tries to fill the gap between familiar and foreign, known and unknown within new experience, and perhaps with other people’s voice. If we meditate well in this process we may understand others a little further. New language can emerge when we understand the other and find the reason why it as important us, as other people are.Reiko Goto Collins, 30 November 2013





Tim’s Reflections on ‘Conversations with Water’ (More than Human Research)

Workshop – 2013 October
The More than Human Project was organized by PI Michelle Bastian, with Co-I’s Richard Coles, Phil Jones and Owain Jones

Our fourth workshop took place on the 1-2 of October at/on/in the River Torridge. We worked with artist Antony Lyons and members from the North Devon Biosphere Reserve and the Devon Wildlife Trust  to explore whether the recent Connected Communities-funded Ethical Guidelines for Community-Based Participatory Research might be extended to working with non-humans, specifically water. This is the first in a series of reflections on the workshop from our participants and is written by Tim Collins.

In an age when man has forgotten his origins and is blind even to his most essential needs for survival, water….has become the victim of indifference.

Rachel Carson, the Silent Spring


Going into this I thought about what I know. I am a water being, nurtured in the amniotic sea then born to the Pawtuxet River Watershed. I know water as an image that can be re-presented through a range of art media. I know water as an idea and a poetic reverie through thinkers like Bachelard. I know water as a requirement of life, delivered, purified and putrefied as it passes from watershed through potable systems and back out again to the world as sewage and waste water. I know water as the substance that dissolves all things, that picks up traces of everything it comes into contact with. I know water in terms of its relationship to the air, and the airs relationship to it; I have seen its breath in the fall.  I know water in terms of its process of erosion and deposition. I know water as a physical chemistry, as a nutrient laden fluid that dissipates its own life giving oxygen content, as a bearer of pathogens and toxicants. I know water in its freshwater forms and saltwater forms, its densities shaped by both minerals and temperature. I know water as Mother Ocean; her tides and waves, the source of fog, wind and life on earth. I spent years chasing swells and tides, reefs and sand bars, peaks and troughs. I know water as the home of creatures that have played along side of me, otters, dolphins and seals that take the same pleasures in engaging that environment with others. I know water as the miraculous expanded gas that collapses into liquid then a solid that miraculously floats. This latter fact is an odd essential material condition of life on earth; otherwise the ice sinks and overwhelms the warmth of the sun.  Three days, maybe five without water and I am dead, this is all that I know about water as a human on planet earth.

“Water is the one substance from which the earth can conceal nothing; it sucks out its innermost secrets and brings them to our very lips”

Jean Giraudoux (1882-1944), “The Madwoman of Chaillot”

As an artist I know that a drop of water in an overhead pool produces shadows that levitate from a spot on the floor that rises up the walls in concentric circles. I know chemicals that burst into flame with a drop of water. I know that if I place ten quail’s eggs into an aquarium filled with salt water and fresh, at least six of them will settle in the middle of the tank, suspended on the salt water. I know how much water it takes to counterbalance myself ten feet out a third story window, raising questions about water within and water outside the body, questions of balance and flow, public and private, nature and culture. I know that the water system of the City of San Francisco was purchased from private industry for the same price paid for the entire state of Alaska. I know that Kana Wai, is the law of water, the Hawaiian alternative to the law of the land. Curiously it demands equitable co-responsibility and sharing of the resource versus private ownership and property rights. I recognize water as material, as phenomenon and as ecological system in the work of the grandfathers and grandmothers in my field of research, practice and creative inquiry. I recognize water it recognizes me, maybe this is why dowsing works.

The fairies who have just surprised a boor who has polluted their spring are in secret conference: “What do you wish for the one who muddied our water, my sisters?” “That he become a stammerer and never be able to articulate a word.” “And you my sister?”  “That he always go about with his mouth open and stand gaping in the street.” “And you my sister?” “That he never take a step without, all due respect to you….breaking wind.

A legend from Lower Normandy recorded by Paul Sebillot in “Le Folklore de France”

As a Workshop Participant
As we say in Scotland, there were times I was lost in the blather. Wondering why we were sitting on our asses when there were springs to be hunted, to be chased on muddies knees, to listen to the spot where water emerges from the soil… but I learned that was not what we were about. At least not logically. Clara on the way would say… “‘Look’ the landscape has changed what is that?” It was the colm (culm) we were searching for. But we were prepared for a landscape survey, a visual relationship rather than the mud and boots, body, mind and soul, the sound and the mud variation of spring hunting that I prefer.

At least not to start, but… the boat trip changed that, a long reveries, a Conradian adventure, where we were not so much lost, but dazed and confused in the depths of the land, steered by a waterman who I think drank to our madness that night. Starting from where the social/cultural infrastructure had collapsed at the mouth of the river, from when we began, to the trip toward the headwaters where the hand of man faded, then the riparian forest dipped in. The saline flood of the tide, manicuring that forest to create an exquisite line, above the air began to fill with the birds and we all – sensed this IS the right place. The salt water / sweet water experiments entertained me to no end, its important when mucking about in boats to have a reason to put your hand in the water!

But the kicker was the immersion; Reiko and I didn’t believe that British researchers would do it. When we realized it was so we were down to our underwear (one does not skinny dip in Britain, despite the sensibility of it). In we went, a ponderous swim for me who is usually the water person. I was worried (Reiko has a bad shoulder and struggled to clear the bridge abutment) and as a result distracted and cold, but nonetheless managed a stream-addled version of ‘Breath’ by Birago Diop under the bridge.

Listen more to things                           Than to words that are said   

The waters voice sings                        And the flame cries     

And the wind that brings                     The woods to sighs

                        Is the breathing of the dead

—Birago Diop–


That dip in the water reminded me that it is only in immersion that we can hope to have any clarity about a relationship with a non-verbal thing. The river speaks to all of us. It shaped our emotions and perceptions, it threatened us and embraced us. We swam despite passer-bys warning us not to… but more importantly as we stood in the stream we realized that beneath the surface was an incredible life force as living things rolled across our feet. Picking up a rock, I found the caddis fly chamber I had been looking for, Reiko said ‘them’, they –are- here… ; )

Eutopia versus Utopia: Issues of the Regional Imperative:

When Patrick Geddes coined the word Eutopia, meaning “good place,” in his address to the Sociological Society in July 1904, he proved too much for some of the intellectuals of London. In comparing it with the commonly understood Utopia coined by Thomas More, a word derived from the Greek “no place,” he summed up a fundamental tenet of the regional imperative: that it makes sense to design with the forms and cultural and ecological processes already present in a location rather than to force an idealized, preconceived plan upon a site. Eutopia is assured when culture and ecology become part of the design thinking. Utopia is the consequence of ignoring them.

Michael Hough “Out of Place; Restoring Identity to the Regional Landscape”

Why work together, with water?
I don’t think that we can simply work together with water; it works through us, it is us. ‘Why listen to it?’ and ‘What can it tell us?’ might be better questions.  When we link human to communities of ecology and the complex material/life interactions in place we have to remember to think differently and reshape our ethical parameters. To listen to water takes all the skills and ability, tools and technology, chemistry and attention that we can muster; in which case, simply put, it tells us everything about the world around us.  The fundamental question is how is an artist or humanities scholar’s method differentiated from that of a scientist? Traditionally it’s through looking, but a gaze is not enough anymore, it requires sustained being-with, it is about intimate inter-relationship over time so that we begin to see a normative aesthetic, a condition of baseline health which allows us to see the signs that tells us that something has changed. To do this work well (which we have in common with science) we must love the subject of our inquiry. Differentiating the arts and humanities, it is what we want to know, what we need to experience, the purpose of aesthetic empiricism if you will. We are not looking for definitive reproducible answers; we are looking for core experiential truths that dip below the surface, that engage the heart, the mind, and the soul at the same time. But at the end of the day, we have to work with water on its own terms.Thoughts on the Community-based Participatory Research Guide.
[In our last session of the workshop we worked through core questions from the  Guide to Ethical Practice in Community-based Participatory Research to explore how they might apply to research with water – Ed.]

“Water is the principle, or the element of all things”

Thales of Miletus

Who should be involved?
Anyone who has spent the time to develop an empathic relationship with living water in that place should be engaged. Empathy only emerges in place over time, it is recognition of the normative health of a living thing that leads to attention to those things that indicate disruption. The question is can we see pleasure and joy in living things that have neither language nor eyes with which to speak to our ears or our heart.

“In the dialectical theme of the purity and impurity of water, the fundamental law of material imagination acts in both directions, guaranteeing the eminently active nature of the substance: one drop of pure water suffices to purify an ocean; one drop of impure water suffices to defile a universe.”

Gaston Bachelard “Water and Dreams; An essay on the Imagination of Matter”

What are the Aims and Objectives of the Research?
Funny questions: Surely we all realize that the objective is to trust ourselves as we strive to hear things from something that does not speak, to find emotional communion with a living thing that has no eyes. Our goal is to find our health and wellbeing in it, and it in us; to recognize the ethical principles that underpin this endeavour.

…Water is the only substance on earth that naturally occurs in all three states at temperatures we normally experience: solid, liquid and gas.  “No scientist ancient or modern has ever managed a quantitative description of the thermodynamics of water, it is to the structural analyst what Waterloo was to Bonaparte. Tens of thousands of years ago our wise forbearers shared myths wherein water was said to be the primal, chaotic substance from which all forms proceed. It is clear that our forbearers have not been refuted, clarified or improved upon. ”

Titus Irving Gerrad speaking about the structure of water in the monograph; “What is Water?”

How to analyse and interpret data?
Honestly, with humility and attention to the role that the arts and humanities play in the conception, perception and experience that leads to a critical understanding and potential evolution of human values through a reflective relationship with water. Water speaks to us through its component parts, its dissolution and erosion, its non-structural integrity, by its ability to flow around and about, through all things, to embody the lightest breeze, the smallest drop and the wildest gale, taking the form of the force which engages…Fini: Tim (with Reiko in mind, although she has her own notes.)


Spirit in the Air at the Tent Gallery


Creative Carbon Scotland, Collins and Goto Studio with Chris Malcolm, ecoartscotland and Art Space Nature are pleased to invite you to

Spirit In The Air
Opening: Friday 2 August 6-8pm
at the Tent Gallery, Edinburgh College of Art, Westport, Edinburgh EH3 9DF
(refreshments will be provided)

Spirit in the Air is a visual art, technology and performance project exploring the impacts of the Edinburgh Festivals on climate change. Working with ground-breaking technology generously supplied by Gas Sensing Systems and Envirologger to measure real-time carbon dioxide (CO2) levels when Edinburgh is packed to bursting with artistic activity and people, eminent environmental artists Tim Collins and Reiko Goto will work with Chris Malcolm to ask ‘Can art change the climate?’

‘Carbon Catchers’ will roam the streets and parks of Edinburgh to seek out CO2 hotspots whilst the artists at the Tent Gallery use the measurements to make the invisible comprehensible through visual and sound works.

Spirit in the Air is part of the Edinburgh Art Festival and will be open Monday to Friday, 12 noon-5pm, from 2 – 22 August at the Tent Gallery on Westport, Edinburgh EH3 9DF. For more information click here.

In addition to the exhibition, a discussion programme curated by ecoartscotland will consider questions of art, science, activism and environmentalism in a Festival-long conversation.

Wednesday 7 August 3-5pm, Tent Gallery
Bringing the emotion of the arts to bear on the rigour of the sciences

Saturday 10 August 1.30 – 4pm, Tent Gallery
Art, technology, activism and knowledge in the age of climate change (book here for this event)

Wednesday 14 August 3-5pm, Tent Gallery
Environmental monitoring: Tracking nature in pursuit of aesthetic inter-relationship?

Wednesday 21 August 3-5pm, Tent Gallery
Going beyond the material: Environment and Invisible Forces in the literary, performing and visual arts

For more information contact ben@creativecarbonscotland.com
Please forward this invite to anyone who might be interested.

S.Bergmann Workshop – Human Encounters with the World

Workshop – Spring 2014, Sweden or Germany.
Organized by Sigurd Bergmann, prof. dr. theol. Department of Archaeology and Religious Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Trondheim.

Six to eight philosophers, biologists, geographers, and theologians, will gather to discuss the human encounter with the world.  Exploring the creation of artifacts and works of meaning that re-imagine and re-interpret our sense of the world. Our perception of the world—our aesthetic engagement—provides the much-needed groundwork for understanding our physical, intellectual, cultural, and spiritual location. Insofar as perception is not mere reception, but equally an active engagement and possible transformation, we seek an aesth/ethics of nature and culture as an intertwining of both theory and practice.

Questions: How might the work of art facilitate our interpretation of the meaning of environments? If humans seek meaning, how do the arts provide a reflexive way of perceiving the meaning of the world? How can “the spiritual in art” invigorate our power to anticipate sustainable environments?

S.Read Seminar – Activating the gap between knowledge and imagination.

Seminar – 2013 April 23-25
Activating the gap between knowledge and imagination.
Organized by Simon Read, Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Middlesex University, Sue Tapsell Principal Lecturer and Head of the Flood Hazard Research Centre, Middlesex University and Professor Chris Wainwright of Chelsea College of Art, University of the Arts, London.

The event is an enquiry into the efficacy of current environmental change policy and reflects the need for a broader disciplinary spectrum in the policy development process. Collins and Goto will contribute to the first workshop,  then Collins will stay involved through the last three as well.  The workshops to explore the potential for the arts to enter into partnerships with:

  • scientists and flood risk and environmental management communities.
  • social science and cultural geography communities,
  • local, regional and national governmental organisations

Spirit in the Air, CO2 Edinburgh

Exhibition and Performance – 2013 Aug 1-23
Spirit in the Air, CO2 Edinburgh
Collins & Goto with ASN Collaborators
For the Edinburgh Festival
The Tent Gallery, in Art Space and Nature, with Creative Carbon Scotland.

Spirit in the Air: CO2 Edinburgh is a development of the Eden3 project; an art-based climate initiative developing critical methods and artwork that encourage new, empathetic ways of thinking about the inter-relationships in our changing environment.  For the festival, the artist partnership Collins & Goto will work with colleagues in the Art Space and Nature MFA programme, using the Tent Gallery as a base of operations and performance to explore the actual rate and flow of CO2 in the environment in Edinburgh.  This project asks the question If humans produce gas in cities and there are no trees around to breathe it, does anyone care?  

The artists will approach the problem as one of hot air (sourced through indoor gallery goers, performers and the politicians at Scottish Parliament) and hot smoking air from cars, taxis and buses in the city. 

Trees are the Language of Landscape

Lecture/Discussion -2013 May 16
Trees are the Language of Landscape
The Tent Gallery, in Art Space and Nature
Edinburgh College of Art, Evolution House

With Reiko in Japan for a family matter Collins spoke about the evolution of the work in an illustrated talk that closed with two videos with Goto speaking about empathy and working with trees.


Eden3: Trees are the Language of Landscape

Exhibition – 2013 April 22 to May 25
Eden3: Trees are the Language of Landscape

Collins & Goto Studio with Chris Malcolm.
The Tent Gallery, in Art Space and Nature
Edinburgh College of Art, Evolution House

The Collins & Goto Studio with Chris Malcolm presents an on-going series of works with trees, including Eden3 an installation of trees and technology that provide an experience of photosynthesis through sound, and Caledonia: The Forest is Moving a series of expeditions and related inquiry about specific forests.  The exhibition includes a brief overview of previous work from Pennsylvania and California to provide context for the current creative inquiry.

Dialogue – T.Collins and E.Brady for Imagining Natural Scotland

Lecture/Dialogue – 2013 April 6,
Tim Collins with Emily Brady
Creative Scotland: Imagining Natural Scotland Workshop, Dumfries Scotland

Proposed as a discussion about Arts, Culture and Environment in Scotland.  Collins and Brady concur that the the arts and humanities are uniquely situated to explore future imaginaries and potential virtues where nature is concerned. It is important that this work is informed by science, but also that it acts through critical aesthetic and ethical relationships to practical decision making and consideration of long term policies. As an environmental aesthetic philosopher Brady spoke about the way that artistic and cultural response shapes perception, value and human response to the natural  and ‘real’ nature considering what the imaginary offers to the environmental discourse which is largely defined by historic and scientific inquiry. As an environmental artist Collins spoke about the challenges and opportunities when artists are in an interdisciplinary relationship to environmental science and communities as they process planning and history; providing examples of contributions artists have made to environmental futures and virtues.

The talks were documented on video

INS Emily Brady from Imagining Natural Scotland on Vimeo.

Emily Brady is Reader in Aesthetics in the Institute of Geography and the Lived Environment and an Academic Associate in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. She has a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Glasgow and taught previously at Lancaster University and Brooklyn College-CUNY.

Here Emily talks about why arts and humanities informed by science are uniquely situated to explore future imaginaries and potential virtues where nature is concerned.

Tim Collins Presentation Part 1 from Imagining Natural Scotland on Vimeo.

Tim is an artist working in the public/environmental art tradition interested in the changing ideas about all aspects of environment, nature and society; he principally works with his partner and colleague Reiko Goto Collins. They work within an art tradition to explore questions of aesthetics, planning, democratic discourse, freedom and empathy in relationship to people, places and things.
TC2 https://vimeo.com/64325348

Tim Collins Pt 2 from Imagining Natural Scotland on Vimeo.

Video “Plein Air” with the new programme by Chris Malcolm

Below are a couple of brief videos shot today by a young artist Named Sara Ocklind, who is enrolled in the Masters programme at Art Space and Nature, Edinburgh College of Art. I had to compress the file quickly tonight so its not as good as it was – as delivered to us by Sara. But it gives a nice sense of the project and how Plein Air ‘performs with a tree and its leaves’.

Chris Malcom has been great to work with! He is an incredibly talented musician, sound designer and programmer. He has been in the studio with us almost every Sunday (tree church). Trying things out and working to get the data/sound relationship to track while making sure the layers of sound are clearly separate. He used some initial insight about bass tracks to great effect here. He is of course also responsible for the graphic – trying to get something that would reinforce the experience w/out complicating the perception of sound with data. This is part of the obsession we have linking quantitative and qualitative experience, one reinforcing the sensual understanding and over time hopefully engaging empathic sensibilities. The other validating that experience with a mathematical record of flow, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide over time. Two separate sensor systems, one for atmosphere the other for the leaf itself. By comparing leaf to atmosphere we begin to get the actual response of the tree to changing environmental conditions. Everything is processed in real time with high grade sensors and proper equation based computer analysis.

The Tent Gallery, ASN, ECA, “Plein Air” clip 1.1 from timothy collins on Vimeo.


The Tent Gallery, ASN, ECA, “Plein Air” clip 2.1 from timothy collins on Vimeo.

You will see two videos of the Plein Air sculptural interface,  as installed with a birch, an aspen, a rowan and a Scots pine. In the background are images from work with version 2.0 of the system created for an exhibition at Peacock Visual Arts in Aberdeen, 2010. They provide a nice backdrop. Of the two videos, one has very active response on photosythesis and transpiration. By following the leaf images, you will start to track the various base/chord relationships that differentiate one from the other with photosynthesis on the top in green. The shot with the window open you will see that photosynthesis is very quiet but the transpiration response is incredibly active! The sound here is only as good as the in-camera mic. We will come back in a week or so and get some proper video/sound work done. But this gives a very good overview of what we have been chasing these past years… Thanks Sara for the rapid video response! ; )

UPCOMING EXHIBITION: EDEN3: Trees are the Language of Landscape

Eden3 Trees are the Language of Landscape

By Tim Collins and Reiko Goto

with Chris Malcolm, Sound Design

The Tent Gallery, in Art Space and Nature
Edinburgh College of Art Evolution House
University of Edinburgh, 78 Westport,
Edinburgh, EH1 2LE, Scotland
Phone: 0131 221 6000
Hours: M-F 12 to 5pm or by appointment.

The Collins & Goto Studio presents Eden3, an on-going series of sculptural works with trees that provides an experience of photosynthesis through sound. They will also present Caledonia-Tomorrow, which entails expeditions to specific forests resulting in the development of ideas and artefacts that explore a critical forest-art practice. In the room behind the Tent Gallery they present a brief overview of previous work to provide context for the current creative inquiry.

This work has evolved through collaboration with other artists, musicians, scientists and technicians.The exhibition is partially sponsored by Trilight industries. Engineering support for the development of Eden3 is provided by Solutions for Research.

Exhibition – April 22 to May 25, 2013
Opening – Thursday April 25, 4 to 6 PM

Artist’s Talk – Thursday May 16, 4 to 6 PM

Collins and Goto will host an open discussion with friends and colleagues about their work and the role of art in relationship to a changing environment.


Note: as space is limited please RSVP if you are interested in attending.

A Tree at Loch Lomond

Walking with trees.

Walking with trees.

A Tree along the shore of Loch Lomond                   

A week before the winter solstice Tim and I decided to spend a day walking amongst the trees on the east side of Loch Lomond in the Trossachs National Park. It is about forty minutes away from the city of Glasgow where we live. We stopped at a visitor centre in Balmaha (from the Gaelic for St Maha’s Place) and asked the National Park Ranger where was we might see some older native trees. The lady said the trees were not very old in this area but there was a path along the loch that would go through an oak wood that was mixed with hazel.

We parked the car at the Millarochy Bay beach. The sky was a deep greyish blue but not windy. After a bitter cold start of December, the snow and ice had melted. It was a good day to be outside. The path was covered with dark brown oak leaves. The cliff along the shoreline was held by large the roots of oak trees, which were exposed and the tree trunks were bent as they struggled to balance and hold the slope over time. The cliff was made of red sandstone and the beach was the same although studded with green serpentine pebbles; indicating proximity to the Highland Boundary Fault. Tim and I enjoyed this natural beauty and marvelled at the cause and affect relationship between time, geology, the soil and the trees over time.

The Trossachs National Park is one of the world’s newest National Parks; it opened in 2002. It is a landscape in transition, sheep are off the land for the first time in centuries, deer fences protect new planting of native Scotts pine and broad leaf trees. Small thick birch trees with strong roots have grown in the bracken areas, cut back each year by the sheep yet they survived. These strong bonsai like trees are part of the spirit of a future forest. One of many cause and affect relationships which shape the aesthetic perception of landscape in Scotland.

As we walked in the cool air, heading south, the lake on our right; there was a spot on the path where we had to climb from a beach up to a ledge.. We found ourselves touching a great tree next to the path. It was an old sycamore covered by beautiful lichens and mosses; it caused us to pause and look more closely. The tree roots had developed as staircase that fit our feet perfectly. Tim said, “This tree has been touched by everyone, everyday who walks along this path.” The shape of the tree is the result of case and affect relationship between the tree and the people. The tree seems to accept human interaction. If the interaction was difficult for the tree, it would grow in a different direction, or whither and die back; yet this tree seemed to prosper with the attention. We went back and forth many times to experience the tree and talk about conjoined relationships between people and trees.

The sun was going down at a half past three. We had to keep going, but we left with the feeling of that tree firmly planted in our hearts and minds, our passions engaged through experience.


Reiko Goto and Tim Collins

December 15, 2012



Getting Over Art and Science

Nice Topic, Getting Over Art and Science

Posted in: “Art Meets Science: Get Over It”
In the Linkedin  Scientist Artists Collaborations Group
T.Collins, 2012 August

When given a chance I often ask people how they would define Leonardo da Vinci, as an artist or scientist? Of course academia has come a long way since the 16th C. We have developed robust disciplines and now embrace inter and intra disciplinary approaches to increasingly complex and ‘sticky’ problems. We increasingly offer dual degrees and some cases art/science degrees to foster new strengths and potential leadership. Over centuries we have refined knowledge through the development of separate disciplines. Results include incredible human advances but also a troubling separation between knowledge, power and impact. Some would argue that the current age of the anthropocene is one result. This issue, along with climate change are amongst the dominant emergent issues of our day… with a potential relationship to art and science.  (I’ll suggest a specific cultural aspect in my conclusion.)

In the late 20th C aesthetic philosophy and cultural theory moved art towards the social and environmental complicating ideas of aesthetic beauty, the sublime, (and the artists relationship to the spiritual). At the same time science has embraced ideas about ecosystems, complex systems and social science in the past century.  And in every case the work is refined and extended by new computer tools. It is important to move across these boundaries of art and science with modesty and attention to where we make our primary contribution and our secondary contribution. I am an artist and make no claim to ‘doing’ science. I can interrogate and contribute to the cultural issues, the values that emerge when science and its methods engages society and environment. I can use scientific tools and follow scientific method. But my voice is not authoritative in science; I work in the realm of art and culture primarily by shaping aesthetic perception.

The question we have been asked is ‘does art and science matter?’ The arts bring an open ended (yet methodical) critical approach to questions of culture and value while science brings a structured approach that seeks to isolate questions for definitive analysis. (Both disciplines benefit from slightly different forms of peer review and validation.) There is productive tension embedded in the difference between the disciplines that is worth attending to.  There is new knowledge and resources in the interstitial spaces between disciplines. However the art/science cross is problematic in that there are issues of authority (lack of PhD’s) and resources (lack of research funding) in the arts. This skews potential relationships in significant ways and sets up art to serve, interpret or communicate scientific outcomes rather than to shape the methods and analysis of an integrated approach to art and science.

The supernatural was leveraged into the mix as an example of something art does that science doesn’t do. While the enlightenment has moved us beyond kings, the gods still lurks amongst us and shape problematic ideologies and actions world wide. This is an area with great polemic value. I would ague that an alternative path into this realm would be through ideas of historical vitalism, Berkson’s ideas about ‘Elan Vital’ and on a slightly different tack Marturana’ and Varela’s ‘Santiago Theory of Cognition’. An organizing principle would be the differentiation between the soul as a personal possession (shared with god) versus the vital forces and decisions that shape life. Of course this latter point brings the spiritual (along with the moral and ethical) back to nest amongst all living things on earth. If we are going to survive the 21st C we need to begin to rethink the limitations of anthropocentric ethics and politics. This is another cultural  polemic that I would argue is essential to the art/science discourse.

I am of course presuming that the aesthetic integrates the ethical and the political.



Thinking Art and Bio Remediation

Thinking Art and Bio-Remediation an American perspective.

T.Collins, In a conversation recently with Tim Joye  in Flanders, we got to talking about remediation art.  2012, July

First a few references:


http://greenmuseum.org/c/ecovention/, and


There is a lot of potential for artists to work on these issues, although I have argued in the past that it got significantly more difficult in the 1990’s with increased regulation driving much of the work into engineering firms, undermining major art and design projects (that were not able to bring in the engineering expertise) around the US.

I think it is important to differentiate what we do – from what scientists do. The artist’s job (as I understand it!) is to mobilize human values. To create the potential for new ideas to reshape human perception and normative experience – from here new values emerge. Artists give form and shape to ideas through text, images, symbols, narrative and material objects. Artists engage the world from a critical cultural perspective, revealing constraints and at times real opportunities. Scientists on the other hand solve problems with facts and intentional certainty.

Remediation is a complicated bio-science. There are plants that ‘transform’ toxicants into other compounds which is great, real bio-magic! There are many others that are bio-accumulators (Much of John Todd’s work is done this way.) In his case the plants in his ‘living machines’ can accumulate heavy metals and precious metals, which then need incineration or possibly post-processing.

As you know artist such as Mel Chin and Buster have touched on terrestrial approaches in the past, Georg Dietzler was deeply into it. On the aquatic side John Todd and Nancy Jack Todd are pioneers, with their ‘living machines’.  Some of this work has been applied at the level of a small city in Eureka California. Jackie Brookner and Betsy Damon (amongst others) work in variations on this theme.  Various landscape architects groups such as James Corner’s group ‘Field Operatons’ are noted for some of this work. Keith Bowers of ‘BioHabitats’ takes a science/engineering approach to restoration and remediation.

We (Reiko and I) have spent a good bit of time with scientists (and some of these artists and designers) and have a good sense of what can and cannot be done. Much of the work by artists ends up being demonstrators or prototypes that help the general public and local decision makers see a different way of working. However… the ‘real work’ needs to be done with scientists with few exceptions.

For artists there are many ‘practical’ constraints (regulations) on the toxins and processes,  making this hard work to sustain. When we worked at Nine Mile Run what we thought to be a plant toxicity question, proved to be a problem of material condition. The ‘soil’ was dark, very hard, with little vegetative matter and a low pH. The sunlight would heat this ‘soil’ very quickly so that any moisture would evaporate and surface temperatures were significantly higher than ‘natural soils’; this made it very difficult for seeds to sprout or small plant to survive the first year.


A Conversation: Art with Living Things

Camperdown Wildlife Centre, June 2012 Organized by Jonathan Baxter, Dundee, Scotland

A Conversation: Art and Life with Living Things
Reiko Goto Collins and Timothy Martin Collins, June 2012

Art is the practice of creative inquiry. It is about knowing the world by wrapping body and mind around it, by putting your hands, heart and soul into it. It is about giving shape to our own thoughts and values, with potential impact upon others. Over a period of forty years the project of environmental art has moved from a material/physical engagement with landscape, through relationships with natural systems and then to a sense of our own inter-subjectivity; how we relate to the natural environment. As the world becomes increasingly aware of the significance of human impact and the limitations of our conception of nature one question to consider is – what can artists do today that makes a difference?

Reiko Goto and Tim Collins are environmental artists, working together since 1985. They embrace an ecosystems methodology, collaborating with a range of disciplines, communities and other living things. They are interested in the ways that art and imagination contribute to practical wisdom and democratic discourse. The work primarily focuses upon natural public places and everyday experience of environmental commons. An ethical-aesthetic impulse permeates the artwork. Goto orients herself through an experimental practice of empathic exchange with people, places and things. Collins seeks transformative experience and ideas that can leverage small creative freedoms for people, places and things. They are known for a phenomenological approach to site conditioned public art and a radical democratic approach to post-industrial landscape and ecological restoration. Since 2007, they have been immersed in an experimental approach to the perception and understanding of the relationship between individual trees, greenhouse gases and climate change. They have also begun some new work that examines forests in the 21st Century. They have worked in North America, Europe and Asia.

Abstract: Over the next thirty minutes or so we will talk about how we extended our artwork by learning from wildlife and the environment in California and how this prepared us for immersion in interdisciplinary research as artists working with scientists in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Embodied in this process is an evolution of understanding about the relationship between theory and practice. The work was informed by the history of environmental art practice, but also the radical ecologies in relationship to ideas about the public realm, the commons and Frankfurt School discourse theory. Moving to the UK we became immersed in ideas about subjectivity and our relationship to living things. Through Reiko’s work on empathy we began to see new ways to address the tensions between subjects and objects, natures and cultures. This brought a wider philosophic framework into play including historic phenomenology and the critical response to Descartes and Kant that challenged the enlightenment precepts that put body, mind and environment into separate camps.

San Francisco, California – Learning from wildlife and the environment
Between 1987 and 1993 while Tim was thinking about water, Reiko was deeply involved in work with living things; multi-year creative inquiries that explored the life cycle of common urban creatures including butterflies and pigeons. We were exhibiting on the west coast and securing residencies at prestigious venues such as Capp Street Project and the Headlands Center for the Arts. We developed significant public artworks for the Yerba Buena Gardens and the San Francisco Water Department. During this time Reiko would become involved in wildlife rehabilitation as an ethical response to experience adding depth and opening up the practice.

Reiko: Between 1987-1993, I volunteered at the California Wildlife Center once a week to take care of injured wild birds and animals. I swept cages, fed mammals and learned to handle injured creatures. I soon met Jane Oka, who asked me to participate in a home-rehabilitation program caring for and feeding baby animals until they were weaned. Once these creatures left us, they went to a larger forested property with a stream in Marin County for final care and adjustment to the need to gather food and learn skills necessary to prosper in outdoor conditions. As long as they were with us, they had to be fed every four hours. As this was very demanding Tim helped a lot, we both worked with jack-rabbits, opossums and raccoons. Tim spent a lot of time with the raccoons; he was good at teaching them how to catch crayfish in running water and how to climb up a tree. There are always limitations when caring for wild animals. We could not teach them what was dangerous and indeed our presence encouraged a familiarity with people that at first consideration seems inappropriate. Everyone in the programme, was concerned about how these creatures would survive after release. However, over time we realized that as they got older and became weaned, their untamed nature seemed to take hold; they didn’t need or want human attention, they were increasingly wild, willful and difficult to manage. When problems arose we learned that it meant they had been with us too long. We learned a lot at that time, Tim and I were fascinated by this special opportunity to be with them and share our lives together. They seemed to differentiate Tim and I from other humans. When I returned these animals to Jane she was always pleased if they growled and snarled at her; she said it was an indication that we did a good job, they had not become tame or adjusted to having people around.

Tim: There are other stories worth telling here. Reiko has always been empathic with wild things from plants to insects and other creatures. At one point after working on a series of projects about butterflies and caterpillars for the Headlands Art Centre she came into contact with urban butterfly advocate Barbara Deutsche who would introduce her to a curator at Golden Gate Park. They would all work together on a range of projects from a stage set for a dance troupe that would travel across the US to a public art, habitat-garden for the City of San Francisco.

But it wasn’t all straight artwork. One day I came home to find that every horizontal surface in our art studio/workshop had become a resting place for cages holding baby pigeons. I sat there drinking a coffee in the waning light wondering what was going on. When Reiko returned she explained that she and her mentor Jane had intervened in a plan to euthanize almost 100 baby pigeons. The priority wild bird population was at its peak at that time and resources for care and feeding at the Wildlife Center were stretched beyond limits. Reiko explained that she and I would be feeding them every four hours until they started to eat solid food (Reiko would learn that the ideal food for wild pigeons was raw grain). Once they demonstrated some ability to fly they would be released. Over the ensuing weeks it was interesting to watch the squabs grow and gain strength, we began to recognize a process of testing and exercising the wings while they held tight to the cage with their feet until they felt the lift which would take them aloft. It was curious to watch some of them beat their wings then release one foot and lift sideways, or release both feet and as often as not frighten themselves to they point that they would close their wings and fall back with a crash. It never occurred to me how clumsy a young bird might be… as it learnt to fly. It was during this time that we realized we had a blind pigeon in our midst that could not be released, we kept him for many years, Reiko named him Oedipus. He was untamed and hard to keep until we met a woman who bred parrots and had a way of sitting with a bird and massaging its neck. This became a regular practice, the basis for a relationship that would last fifteen years. He inspired a major artwork on pigeons and a performance with “Oedie’ which Reiko presented at Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco.

We began to think deeply about why these wildlife come into our life, and where they will go after the rehabilitation is done. Does it relate to art practice? We began to think about the public realm. We began to understand it as a wider context that consists of human beings in relationship to silent beings such as plants, insects, wildlife, soil and air in a dynamic natural/cultural environment.

People consider some living things to be intolerable, we kept asking what is a proper ethical-aesthetic relationship to a living thing? A key question as we migrated east was how do we perceive and understand these silent beings? Is our role as artists to represent, to critique or should we work toward ideas of interface with people, places and things that may be known yet misunderstood? What is the meaning of strategic knowledge, or strategic experience, what can artists do in the world that has potential to change human experience and its related values?

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – art & science to emancipate people, places and things.
Between 1997 and 2005 both Tim and Reiko were working at Carnegie Mellon University as Research Fellows in the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry. We were involved in research that dealt with the aesthetics of restoration ecology and its relationship to post-industrial waterfront lands. They had begun to think about the relationship between culture and nature within a landscape of industrial collapse. An aesthetic sense of industrial failure dominated the foreground, while a green forest mantle began to take hold in the background. Economic slowdown and failure meant changes to industrial impacts, the curtailment of historic pollutants, which created a respite that had allowed nature to return. An aesthetic renaissance was taking hold through the agency of living things that while ignored – had begun to prosper; an environmental-ethical responsibility was recognized. During this time we developed projects in San Francisco, Germany and New York we were also invited for residencies and workshops in Israel and South Korea. We had moved to Pittsburgh with two lovebirds, Oedipus our pigeon and a rabbit named Hazel.

Reiko: While I was in San Francisco I had worked with some scientists and professionals, but moving to Pittsburgh I was working with Tim and others on large scale research projects and committed to long-term deep dialogues with botanists and entomologists from the Carnegie Museum. They had a big effect on me. Much of this was about learning how knowing shapes my aesthetic understanding of things. It also has something to do with a careful observation that is not all that different from the observations I would make as an artist. Scientists begin with observation but quickly develop what they call a protocol. This is the process and method used to assess a site and make a recommendation that might shape how you plant, manage or treat a landscape.

At one point working at Nine Mile Run we were interested in two sides of the stream valley, one facing south was primarily a dumped steel slag soil, the other facing north was a mix of natural soils and industrial waste. I worked with a botanist moving from the top of the valley to the edge of the stream, marking out a five meter transect with the botanist. We were measuring the circumference of tree trunks and identifying the species of every tree, trying to understand the relationship between significant native and desirable introduced species. We wanted to know what sections were in the best shape and why. As we came to plateau areas with a better soil mix and then got closer to the stream we realized that the tree cover improved. This lead to further work with a soil scientist running a 100 day germination test of seed/soil amendments and protocols. The result of that work was that consistent watering was more important to germination and leaf production than amendments. This proved that the industrial soil while alkaline, its porosity and exposure created dry conditions that made it hard for plants to grow.

On the next project 3Rivers 2nd Nature, I was working with scientists from the University of Pittsburgh. I began to learn about plant communities and their relationship between wetland soils and upland soils. This was a move from individual species to ecological communities. We worked on the Allegheny and the Monongahela Valleys and began to understand the rivers drained different regions. The Monongahela had a fragile small particle shale soil it was a muddy river virtually without islands as a result. The Allegheny ran clearer as it drained an old glacial valley of large stones, this resulted in many islands forming where the river ran slowly. Working with the botanists we began to map and evaluate woody species, identifying plant communities as we went – and marking transition points. It became increasing clear each river had similar problems, as well as some species and high level communities in common. However they were also significantly differentiated with some species present on one river and not on the other. This was a lot to take in, I understood it over months and years of work. However once this was understood intellectually it was easier to see it in the landscape, an aesthetic sensibility began to emerge.

We would run a ‘river dialogue’ two or three times each year, bringing people to the rivers for a day on boats, then an afternoon talking about issues and opportunities trying to get a sense of the future of thee rivers. Everyone working with us began to develop some clarity, a vision of what the rivers were, and what they were becoming over time. There was a sense of responsibility for the hard won recovery that had emerged while no one was paying attention after the economic downturn. There was also a sense of excitement, an aesthetic appreciation for something that had been taken for granted. This emergent aesthetic clarity opened up imagination and an opportunity for many of us working and talking about the rivers in Pittsburgh. It would inform a lot of work after we left by people that found value in the maps and plans. This is of course grounded in ideas of dialogic and relational aesthetics argued by Bourrriaud, Bishop and Kester. Kester would curate the final ‘Groundworks’ Exhibition. Kester’s critical method includes a focus on empathy in discourse between people, which became a core question for future work.

Tim: Pittsburgh reshaped our thinking about landscape and its evolution. We gained clarity about the meaning of preservation, conservation and restoration and added significant depth to our understanding of environmental aesthetics. Pittsburgh focused our attention on the transformation of land through the agency of plants and trees. Where we formerly understood some of this in terms of weeds and abandoned plots in San Francisco; we were looking at miles of waterfront in Pittsburgh. A stream biologist spent hours with us teaching us to ‘see’ benthic organisms such as the gammerus, one of the insects and larvae that live amongst the mud and gravel in streams. These ‘bugs’ are bio-indicators, each of them have different tolerances for changes to water quality. So some initial understanding about the health of a stream can be found by standing mid-stream and flipping rocks, looking for worms, insects, shrimp like creatures and lovely stone encrusted larval tubes. We began to understand that along with aesthetics of form, we were beginning to see an aesthetics of systems that included physical chemistry and flow conditions, the relationship between water and things. In the inter-relationships between living things at the bottom of a stream we experience something about water that is hard to see, but in the end is an essential aesthetic factor. A core knowledge that once embodied in a process of sensual interaction and experience of the stream it adds truth and a depth of meaning to aesthetic perception.

Post-industrial culture had been built upon ideas of resource extraction and the production of toxic wastes that were dumped into the air and soil. We had been focused upon a project of emancipation and advocacy bringing art and science to bare on questions of nature in the context of the post-industrial public realm.

As we left the science and mapping of Pittsburgh behind us we were struggling with ideas about our fundamental relationship to nature. The key question ahead of us was how to create meaningful relationships with plants and trees? We recognized a need to experiment with the limitations of perception and our own subjectivity to find new ways that art might let us approach the tree as a tree. Not as an object, an illustration or a narrative, but as a discursive subject with its own unique response.

Trees in the UK – empathy is a better step towards freedom.
Between 2006 and the present we have been living and working in the UK. We first moved to the Midlands then to Scotland. After working at a planning scale with scientists on streams, trees and ecosystems in the US we decided to focus on individual trees while in the UK. We remained very interested in the ways that trees interact with the atmosphere. This was initiated through work with scientific sensors that would tell us how trees react to changes to light, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide. We spent almost three years monitoring trees and experimenting with sounds system that would let us perceive physiological changes, without viewing a graph on a computer. While science was still a strong current in the work, it had begun to shift from a process of observation and creation, to learning, counting and taking the time to embody knowledge about trees. In the UK we had an interest in long-term sustained inter-relationships with trees. Reiko was the first to fully understand that what we were doing was developing sculptural systems and day-to-day practices that might support or enable an empathic relationship with trees. Extending Kester’s ideas of empathy beyond human to human subjectivity. During this time Tim completed his PhD and Reiko completed her in Feb 2012. We were also writing chapters and publishing in journals. We took up residencies in California, Taiwan and Okinawa to either apply current ideas or develop new work. We were resident in an agricultural lab in the West Midlands for six months. We have lived and traveled with eight trees for a period of four years now. We planted five of them last year three remain with us in Glasgow.

Reiko: In 2006 we chose trees as the subject of our enquiry. They are important living things for humans and other creatures they are the most significant living things in any environment. Trees have different systems they respond to their environment, to local atmospheric conditions and changes to light, temperature and moisture. Much of these action and reactions are invisible, silent and hard to perceive. I went back and forth between ideas, across my cultural background and back to the foreground of western culture and dug into my practices and training to find a way forward.

From the Asian perspective, understanding ecology takes the brain (knowledge) and the heart. I interpret “heart” as empathy. Empathy is related to feeling and memories. Humans have an ability to understand the other through empathy. It is different sympathy and again different from knowledge-based understanding. I have studied Edith Stein who was a phenomenologist in the early 20th century. She explains that empathy is related to our perceptions such as vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch. We sense brightness, dimness, loudness, softness, sweetness, heaviness and lightness. Empathy is related to emotions and feelings: joy, sorrow, anger, comfort and discomfort. People understand each other through shared experience. For example a child’s laugh can cause another to laugh without any specific reason. This kind of experience seems to be simple and but it is embedded in our nature. Another example we are watching a child who plays joyfully but does not know that the child has been diagnosed with a serious illness. Understanding the other person’s condition our mental activities involve at a deeper level in different time and space. These observations make me think we understand the other (people, plants, animals or trees) in two ways: one is through reflection and projection of knowledge-based understanding, and two is through empathy that is an act of perceiving the other to grasp his/her state or condition. It consists of one’s emotional and physical experiences. Empathy (like aesthetics) is not based on self-interest. Empathic experience is detected towards something foreign rather than something familiar. Then, a question arises in terms of how we interpret and understand the other, how to go beyond verbal inter-relationship.

A previous experience is relevant
In 2000, Tim and I went to see a Duke University forest research facility in North Carolina. The scientists were wiring the forest to test the reaction of the trees to future levels of carbon dioxide. A scientist invited us to climb a forty-foot high structure that was built among pine trees. He showed us portable equipment that would measure the amount of photosynthesis from the tree leaves. He carefully pulled a branch of the pine tree towards the platform. He carefully placed the tree needles into a leaf chamber that was connected to a measuring device. When the sun emerged from a cloud, the photosynthesis rate went up. Later a large delivery truck showed up and was left idling the tree again showed a physiological response. This time the tree reacted to the carbon dioxide that was suddenly in the air. In a moment our understanding of trees as slow moving living things that only respond to changes of seasons, all of a sudden included a sense of the tree breathing.

Tim and I wanted to recreate this astonishing experience, to develop an artwork that revealed what was invisible and silent through a mix of technology applied through skillful gesture, embodied in a sculpture that projects metaphorical meaning and intent. Tim wrote a small grant, to purchase plant physiological sensors to observe various tree species reacting to changing atmospheric conditions. The data from photosynthesis and transpiration were translated into sound. The sensing equipment system and the computer sound system were embedded in a painting easel structure. We chose some native broad leaf trees to test: maple, oak, aspen, birch and hazel. We entitled this sculptural form “Plein Air”. We consider this project to be still ‘in-process’ it is a sculpture that is in a working prototype stage but the solution is not yet as simple, portable, nor is it as elegant as we would like it to be.

We recognize that it is possible to recreate an empathic experience with non-verbal things. We know this first by spending time with non-verbal living things, secondly with the support of the technological interface. We have to stretch a bit to imagine the trees’ (invisible) response to atmospheric changes. The experience of Plein Air is not only about individual trees but also the relationship to the sunlight, clouds, moisture, temperature, the exhale of the breath of mammals and the by-products of carbon based energy. Each tree is related to all of these elements.

Tim: It may come as no surprise that we have become interested in forests again. Working in terms of ecology, culture and aesthetics, we are interested in the nature of individual relationships and the values people embrace when they think about or experience trees. We have spent the past year visiting the remnants of the Caledonian forest. We are thinking about seminars, workshops and experiences that might enable the development of new imaginative forms of the Caledonian forest in the 21st Century. Our key research questions are: (1) what is the Caledonian forest and how might new understandings of aesthetics and creativity contribute to communities of interest in Scottish land? (2) How might the arts and humanities contribute to the meaning, form and value of the Caledonian Forest in the future? We are of course interested extent to which aesthetic and productive values of native forest in Scotland may be mediated by empathy from people towards the living trees.

In the near future the hills of Scotland will be very different from what they are now. In the simple act of reducing sheep subsidies numerous small birch trees with thick roots emerge in open areas. With deer fencing the landscape reveals its potential becoming. We do not notice the slow growth of trees in everyday life. But a process is happening between the trees, the new environment and people who value that relationship. Scotland is a place on the verge of momentous change.

Reiko: Our creative practice towards ecology and environment began with simple curiosity and inquiry. It has developed in relation to scientific knowledge, and theories of imagination and empathy. Through these mental activities we shape and develop our practice to understand the uniqueness of each living thing and the environment. Our creative practices today increasingly focuses upon a new activity as we seek conjoined experiences with other living things. We have begun to develop a framework for ethical-aesthetic exploration in forests, although there are still un-answered questions as we work through the method and practice.

Methodological components

I. Aesthetics           III. Ethics v. Ecological community                  VII. Theology

II. Empathy           IV. Freedom vi. Physiological interaction        VIII. New Vitalism

Hypothetical statement.
1. Extraordinary living things stop us in our tracks and capture our aesthetic attention.
1.1 But what makes us stop?
1.2 What are the components of our aesthetic attention?
1.3 What differentiates this living thing from others?
2. Can a tree engage us with unexpected imaginative and aesthetic force?
3. How do we know when the idea of a thing (such as a tree) has been re-energized?
3.1 When a core concept has been reshaped by what we see in front of us?
4. Do we know ourselves differently for having engaged with this unique living thing?


An Artist’s Ecological Biography

Timothy M Collins, An Artist’s Ecological Biography

Summer, 2012
After nine months adrift in the great amniotic sea, I emerged cold and wailing on the shores of the Pawtuxet River. In a place that is notable as it was once the site of such salmon runs that separatists from Roger Williams’s original band of religious immigrants found a sustaining valley with a river full of salmon where they could realize their own form of free religious expression. The salmon were long gone before my ship docked. My first memory is dad (Henry J.) teaching me to hold my breath underwater in the tub with my sister (Elizabeth M.) so we would have no fear of the sea that summer. My dear mother (Mary E.) brought me to the library and had me reading before I got to school. I grew up well, with no lack of love with tolerant parents that believed in a very long leash. As a boy, the 19th Century mill-yard was a playground with many wonders: the frogs in the wetlands, black ducks at the bends, and special places with raccoons and muskrats. Yet this was a mill trench with its old water wheel and island separating it from the river, which ran green, then yellow, and sometimes red with the dyes. The old stone mill was a site of dereliction and trespass; we wandered the six floors with remnant shafts and pulleys, bits of the old hydropower transmission system still present. It was mostly empty though, a great place to be chased by security guards. Later Hoechst chemical settled in upstream and the fish found a different relationship to water, mostly swimming upside down or gasping for air. I experienced Rhode Island as a series of ever-expanding concentric circles that I understood over time. From wandering the Pawtuxet River to fishing the Big River, and hunting in the Great Swamp, then knowing the estuaries, the bay, then my favorite ocean reefs at Matunuk and Point Judith and then Block Island. I moved from high school to a shipyard, out to California, then back to Rhode Island where I got into University through the wonders of a Pell Grant where I learned that a life of creativity and inquiry was possible and water could continue to be a topic of intense inquiry. I put myself through school by working nights, make much artwork, geting great grades and surfing every swell summer, spring, fall and winter. I was nurture by Richard Frankel and Margie Keller and others while being very productively provoked by Ron Onorato.

The circles of perception and appreciation would then swing to San Francisco Bay, where I was unexpectedly locked behind gates at sunset while surfing at Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge, and as a result late for my first graduate school classes. I showed up for the SF stars showing in New York but quickly gravitated to people like Al Wong and others who embodied the culture of the city and its conceptual and cultural underpinnings. I made a lot of work, and tended bar or waited tables to make ends meet most nights during the week.

I lived in a warehouse with fifteen people, donating my time weekends at the ‘Farm’ where I found myself slam dancing to Flipper on my 30th birthday. I would sink a boat—a very fast small experimental dinghy with two masts; in the middle of the Bay on my 35th birthday; and have many, many ‘Pacific’ adventures in between. West meets East, I fall in love with Reiko. We find a commonality in nature and making artwork and living a life as artists.  I would provide an interface between city and sea, bay and shore, water and light, water and well-being. At one point I cut a hole in the roof of my studio to create an installation of light, shadow, sand and dynamic water an idea that would sustain five years of work. She was interested in the relationship between us and them; the winged, the furry the loved, those that are ignored, hated and reviled all had a home in her arms and in her artwork. Once summer eve I come home to 86 baby pigeons in my studio.  I learn to feed them every four hours (they were destined to be euthanized) each night more are freed. We wandered the empty lots of the city, the hills of Marin together. We went to Japan to ask permission, we were married in a civil ceremony Nadia Scholnick standing for us at City Hall, then in a garden under the freeway with blue tattooed wedding rings. My friends (Jeff Brown and Dave McMahon) took me salmon fishing as a means of feeding those that thought they were simply coming to a party. We made art as we lived life, adjusting everything to that focus and purpose. Life was good we had many projects and opportunities but little or no money. My friend Jim Schaeffer sends me a short note about living in the land of time versus living in the land of money the exchange from one realm to the other is always unfair, I have time and am stingy about its exchange, he has money and no time, we each commiserate with the plight of the other.

It was then back east again to the confluence of the Monongahela and the Allegheny Rivers where the muddy southern shale soil river meets the island studded glacial drainage to form the Ohio at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We agreed to split one full time position. Three years teaching then we both made lives as researchers in the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University. Pittsburgh was a wonder with people, places and things dancing in a new post-industrial relationship of recovery and care. I developed deep and long relationships with Bob Bingham and John Stephens, the Merriman’s Tom and Connie, Kirk Savage and others that worked with us such as Noel Hefele and Priya Lakshmi. I would benefit from the experience and care of Bryan Rogers, Joel Tarr, David Lewis, Lowry Burgess, Indira Nair and Marge Myers. We had incredible opportunities and experiences. First an aesthetic engagement with a mountain of steel waste for three years, then a five-year project focused on the rivers working with scientists. (Mary Kostalos, Mike Koryak, Kathy Knauer, Henry Prellwitz, Sue Thompson and Sue Kalisz help us to see things differently.) We learn that to know it is to love it.  Our friends teach us to touch it and see what is otherwise unseen. The scientists count it to evaluate it, where we consider its relationship to perception and value. The aesthetic shift is not an act of man; it occurs on the vacuum left by industry. In the industrial downturn the agency of trees over a period of thirty years had reshaped the form, function and the view. We realize that artists need collaborators if they are to affect things at a landscape scale; we commit ourselves to trees and decide to attend to water to ‘see’ what happens when water drains from industrial soils that are compromised by aging infrastructure.  We spend three years working on a shit filled stream, with fish, turtles and beavers that show when the decision makers walk it, a flock of turkeys and herd of deer waiting in the forest for anyone that says ‘nothing could live here’. We realize that the movers and shakers suffer from panoramic myopia, green river valleys viewed from hills and over 700 bridges—all green, but assumed to be a useless remnant of the industrial past. Big steel, big glass, so much coke that Henry Clay Frick found his oil paintings deteriorating in that toxic air; but smoke was money.  The ‘Deer Hunter’ was shot upriver at Clairton works the largest coke works in the USA. Three steel works left of 15 in the County, coal fired power plants and an island of toxic chemical production—the island once considered the richest farmland in Allegheny County. Filthy rivers too, but upon careful examination even the director of the Microsoft foundation, in the middle of a rant about ‘real nature’, spots the Osprey from our boat and realizes the fish have returned to the river in that moment.  The Japanese call it Kami, the Shinto name for spirit/life force. As she says, ‘they’ are always with us… they know even if we don’t. We have learned that they always show when important disbelievers who can make a difference are present. (And no, we did not get that grant.)

As I finish a PhD the STUDIO begins to change with new agendas and policies.  The winds blow me to the University of Wolverhampton as an Associate Dean for Research. This is a post-industrial city like Pittsburgh in the heart of what is still known as the ‘Black Country’, (Tolkien would use it as a model for Mor-dor.) I would benefit from the experience of mentorship of Bryony Conway and Jean Gilkison coupled with the support and care of Trisha Cooper and Mike Fullen. I work with an amazing group of colleagues to establish the Black Country Centre for Art, Design, Research and Experimentation (CADRE). I walk from one end of the seventh floor of the art building to the other. I see conurbation, industrial ruins and poverty to the east and the wealth and agriculture arrayed around the Wrekin in Shropshire to the west. I sit in my office and marvel as I hear the young peregrines leaping off the ledges above me – I look up just in time to see them flash by. One night, after everyone is gone, one bounces off the window and sits on the ledge recovering his wits staring at the admin staff. An ecologist from York (Ian Truman) takes us walking amongst the bluebells, helps us see things in postindustrial grasslands that are invisible without him to help us see properly. We make friends with a plant physiologist (Trevor Hocking) who helps us to understand the science behind our goal to see and hear trees breathe. We learn about the Black Country Forest. The Eden3 project is off and running. A geologist (Mike Fullen again!) shares ideas about soils in China and his favourite translation of the Tao Te Ching. Meanwhile I am settling in with the Landscape Research Group and spend a weekend in Wales amazed by the obsession with a treeless landscape devastated by the wooly hooved locusts. This is a land economy with few people, a bio-industrial wool and meat machine by my way of thinking.  As we view a sheep exclosure with an ecologist passionate advocates of the view argue that forests would ‘ruin the agricultural landscape of Wales’. Some claim that any restoration targets are irrelevant due to the ice age, which makes it impossible to define ‘original and authentic nature’ on this island anyway. As tensions rise an old land manager talks to us about his native Welsh language and the differences between a traditional Welsh land holding and the realities of predation supported by government subsidy. He tells us the people and critters of this land, once shared a sense of ‘kinneven’ or the scope and limitations of the area necessary to sustain their livelihood. All were ‘hefted’ to the land, aware of the boundaries of their landholding the baseline conditions of family, herd and flock prosperity. We returned time and time again to the valley and coast around Cadr Idris. Where we find the city and the stresses of academia blow off us like leaves from a tree in the fall. In some places the coast looks like Northern California. During this same time, we lose all of our parents; Mary in the first year, and Chiyoko in the third, Tadao passes with Reiko providing hospice support in the last year in the Midlands. My dad is the last and he is strong, we think he might live forever.

I leave Wolverhampton for a Great job in the South West. Reflecting upon our new life in Cornwall we agree the coast is lovely (I am surfing again) but we can’t find a proper home and the workload is devastating. A few months later we travel for the holidays and celebrate New Year’s Day in Japan where a process of reflection is traditional. Reiko takes me by the hand and says, ‘I married an artist and love the researcher this administrator fellow… he has to go.’ The decision coincides with other things in the wind in that place at that time. We move north to Scotland where I secure a visiting research fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, at the University of Edinburgh. We rented a house in Stonehaven’s Old Harbour where we could see the sea, and she could focus on her own PhD. I would write and make artwork again. The sky in this part of Scotland is dynamic and expressive, I walk some mornings to touch the sea, check the waves and watch the sunrise. We watch the sunset together.  We immerse ourselves in work on Eden3 practicing and refining the equipment with trees in the city, then refining the system with musicians. We work out of our backyard (which borders the sea) with a greenhouse as studio. Some days we travel to Fowlsheugh to watch thousands and thousands of birds mating and hatching chicks on the cliffs, we are immersed in the space of a significant other that pays no attention to us as we lie on the cliff and listen to the raucous sounds of this avian city. Our sense of species dominance and appropriation takes a body blow. We begin to think about being in new ways.  This takes us into the Ballochbuie forest, to engage the idea and experience of a Caledonian forest and begin to ponder the application of ideas about extraordinary living things and the role of empathy in the process of freedom and emancipation of people, places and things.  She is working to finalize her own PhD.

I get a call from Rhode Island; dad is tired and ill with cancer. I then spend six months providing hospice care for him in Rhode Island. I find myself thinking about the trees in the yard and the wildwood that borders the river that lies over that fence. I have had a relationship with these trees and woods since birth. Listening to the breath of my dad in the room next to me and awakening at dawn to open the window and listen to the trees in the cool morning air I realize I have a sustained emotional attachment to the man as well as the trees and that land.  As he fades I accept a temporary position in Glasgow, we move three weeks after his death. I am in love with the city, the place and the people. Two months in the work-load starts to ratchet up, I am cancelling projects and meetings that are important to me. I am working hard, but… I walk away from what I hope to be my last administrative position in the early spring in time for the trees to bloom. We consider moving back to San Francisco or possibly Japan, but then decide to make an application for long term leave to remain in the UK. We like Glasgow, and decide its best to ‘be’ were you are at, and we are here lock, stock, body and soul.

I write a bid to explore the future meaning of forests with Reiko. Her PhD is complete and we begin working on a range of projects and publications. We travel once a week conducting initial research immersing ourselves in the Caledonian forest first nearby to the Trossachs to walk Glen Falloch, then multiple trips to the Blackwood of Rannoch, then we begin to engage the Abernathy Forest in Speyside and Glen Affric which is west of Loch Ness.  Reiko volunteers a bit with Trees of Life at Dundreggon Estate. We travel through the spectacular hills of the west coast, then out to Skye. She spends two days a week being mentored by a mature Icelandic mare in the Pentland Hills. This is an experiment in empathy and ‘thinking with’ another living thing about what it means to engage topography and landscape.

We are well grounded in Scotland; although we still dream of San Francisco, she remains connected to Japan; I retain a sense of attachment to Rhode Island.  We have made art and installations and experimented beyond the realm of things. She says it is simply about them, the living things that have no name. We live a life of creative inquiry and listen to trees and immerse ourselves in forests and writing and begin to reconsider a creative relationship with rivers.

After twenty -five years of marriage I ‘hear’ my dear partner more clearly than ever and we are finding new ways to make artwork and we are seeking a better balance to our lives. We are more or less financially secure for the time being as we consider the processes, methods and relationships necessary to enable creative inquiry. We came to England for stability and income to enable us to support our parents as they concluded their lives. This period of our lives is complete and the income and travel has changed our lives. This year on New Year’s Day she asked me to think with her about what it would have meant to set a tap root in San Francisco rather than leaving in 1993, we talked this through at length and agreed that we continue to grow and learn with every rotation of the wheel, seeds of change travel across oceans on the wings of birds. But we agree that we share a ghost root with its tendrils in the bedrock of the Bay Area.

I am back to being an artist and a researcher working full time with Reiko. We have just opened a studio here in Glasgow, Scotland. We work together on new variations on Eden3, and are busy writing and making and chasing projects. We have begun to immerse ourselves even deeper into both the idea and experience of the Caledonian forest, the first bid failed. No matter, all lines are in the water again, to fish is to love the passage of time and the experience of moving water. Having completed some reading and research while In Rhode Island I am now trying to secure a publisher for a book on art and environmental change. She has just completed a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and is finishing a chapter on empathy, landscape and conjoined experience with horses. I have a journal publication in the works and a conference article working for a Paris conference we are excited about. We have colleagues and authors in London, Berlin and Australia asking about old work. Otherwise we are working into a business plan for the studio.

We remain what a friend calls ‘albatross’ at the edge of the sea, as we sit with wings outstretched waiting for the next gust. If it takes us aloft it maybe to the next place that we need to be, or it could be a momentary gust that sets us back on Scottish soil. Time will tell. We have applied for UK citizenship, we are bidding for funding and projects to get some proper work in to get the studio back up and running we seek every opportunity possible. A professorship or some other as yet undefined research position would of course always be welcome, but we have decided to open ourselves up to the full range of life’s possibilities.

Living in Glasgow is good, people are friendly and Scotland is an amazing place with an impressive environmental arts tradition, new National Parks and an exciting future environment agenda. We are clear again that we have to focus upon gathering the temporal and material resources necessary to work together and alongside one another to immerse ourselves in the natural, the cultural and the social with the intention to make the best work possible. So at age fifty-six, I am once again considering what it means to be at sea with ones creativity and wits tempered by preparation and supplies for an adventure.


 The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand, but in which direction we are moving. To reach the port of heaven, we must sail, sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it, but never adrift and certainly never at anchor.”     

Oliver Wendell Holmes


T.Collins  2012.