New Zones for Critical Art Practice
LITTORAL is an arts research and development Trust which promotes new creative strategies, artistic interventions and cultural partnerships in response to issues about social, cultural and environmental change.
The Trust is interested in stimulating new creative responses to real-life problem contexts. It seeks to promote and develop alternative critical art practices, aesthetic strategies and cultural initiatives more sensitive to social, cultural and environmental issues arising from radical and accelerated change in both rural and urban areas.
The trust has adopted the notions of ‘deep practice’, the ‘immersive aesthetic’ and ‘art and the policy sphere’ as alternatives to current public art, relational aesthetics and art in the public sphere practice and theory. Littoral also seeks to promote cultural equity for marginalised rural communities and other culturally under-represented groups in society, employing a range of curatorial and organisational strategies in support of this work, including organising conferences, exhibitions, artists’ commissions, publications, and research.
Littoral tends to focus on creative issues that fall outside the remit of the art world, and involve the structuring of grassroots solutions in 'immersive' long term partnership with community groups, trade unions, health care agencies, culturally diverse organisations, farmers, artists and rural organisations. It is our view that in the ‘littoral zone’ there ought to be no professional boundaries, hierarchies of knowledge, or limits on creative action.
Working in the Littoral zones - life beyond the art world
Originally called ‘Projects Environment’ the Trust changed its name in 2000 to LITTORAL. This was partly to attempt to communicate a sense of the precariousness, fluidity, permeability, and provisional nature that characterises our work, and also our preference for working in areas of social, cultural, political and environmental instability.
'Littoral' is also a geographical term meaning the inter-tidal zone, an ever-changing interface in which land, sea and airare in flux, and where new life forms evolve. These we see as analogous to the new intellectual, ethical, aesthetic and philosophical areas of inquiry accompanying environmental, economic, cultural and social change. Often regarded as intractable 'wild zones' (Urry) these littoral areas may be characterised by their dynamic complexity, political instability, economic chaos, cultural disenfranchisement, social marginality, and environmental degradation; they tend to be resistant to professional problem solving strategies.
Under certain circumstances these problem zones may give rise to new creative insights, cultural perspectives, or artistic interventions. Working with unstable life-world problems and dynamics requires artists to improvise new practical strategie, but can also prove personally and professionally challenging, involving extended experience of anxiety, disorientation and psychological stress or uncertainty. Working in the Littoral zone is not for the faint-hearted, or for artists interested only in pursuing art world careers.
Twin Flowers - critiquing the aesthetics of ecology and empathy
The work of LITTORAL is also informed by the theoretical writings of philosophers Jürgen Habermas, Critical Theory, Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic, and John Berger on rural culture, art and society and alternative aesthetics. We also admire the work of sociologist John Urry (Lancaster University), Ulrich Beck’s ‘Risk Society’, and Milhalyi Csikzentmihalyi’s theories of ‘Flows, Learning and Creativity’. Also the work of historians and critics such as Rosalyn Deutsche, Hal Foster, and Lucy Lippard on ‘Art, Community and Spatial Politics’. For promoting new thinking about environmentalism, ecology and sustainability we admire ecologist Felix Guattari’s ‘Three Ecologies’, Arne Naess’ ideas on ‘Deep Ecology’, John Thackray, and Murray Bookchin’s‘Social Ecology’.
We also acknowledge the need for artists to develop a more environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive aesthetic, and supporting critical art practice, the 'Twin Flowers' of ecology and social empathy. These coincide neatly with art critic Grant Kester’s proposals for a ‘dialogic aesthetic’, Bruce Barber’s work on a ‘Littoralist aesthetic’, and landscape theorist Jusuk Koh’s proposal for an ‘ecological aesthetic’. Inspired by these and other sources we are currently pursuing a parallel programme of theoretical enquiry and project work aimed at mapping out the co-ordinates of an new ‘immersive aesthetic’ and critical art practice ‘Deep practice’, which we hope will be of interest to artists and curators interested in working in the future ‘littoral zones’.
However, these raise many interesting aesthetic and ideological problems which as practitioners we will also need to address, and learn to critique more rigorously.
Fellow Travellers - a critical genealogy of Littoral practice
Working in the littoral zone, we acknowledge the influential work of John Latham and Barbara Stevini (APG/O+I) <http:// www.flattimeho.org.uk/project/47/>, Stephen Willats <http://www.stephenwillats.com/>, Hans Haacke, <http://slought.org/content/11208/>, Agnes Denes, Alan Sonfist, <http://www.alansonfist.com/>, Betty Beaumont, Viet Ngo, and artists Helen and Newton Harrison <http://theharrisonstudio.net/resume.html>.
Other organisations that continue to inspire us include: PLATFORM London <http://www.platformlondon.org/>, Wochenklausur, Vienna <http://www.wochenklausur.at/>, PEERGroup in the Netherlands <http://www.peergroup.nl/informatie/english-information/>, Critical Art Ensemble <http://www.critical-art.net/>, Common Ground <http://www.commonground.org.uk/>, Aune Head Arts Devon <http://www.auneheadarts.org.uk/dartmoor/index.html>, Deveron Arts <http://www.deveron-arts.com/>, KULTIVATOR Sweden <http://kultivator.org/>; and also the magazine projects VARIANT <http://www. variant.org.uk/office.html> and MUTE <http://www.metamute.org/>.
LITTORAL is a non-profit arts trust which promotes new
creative partnerships, critical art practices and cultural
strategies in response to issues about social, environmental
and economic change.
LITTORAL 42, Lodge Mill Lane, Turn Village, Ramsbottom
BL0 0RW, UK
Tel/Fax: +44 (0)1706 827 961
Reg. Charitable Trust No. 1002365;
Pivate Limited Company No. 2526443