Each month a member of the art.earth Board of Directors selects a member to feature, to become our Artist of the Month. What follows is a response from that artist to some questions and a discussion, together with some examples of their work.
This month (January 2021) our featured artist is James Aldridge selected by Mark Leahy.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve just come to the end of a year-long project called Ash Tree Stream, working with Andover Trees United and CAS (Chapel Arts Studios). The project focused on Ash trees and ash die back disease, the impact of the disease on our Ash trees, and the communities of life that they support. Through the project I was able to develop audio-visual work that used still photographs and video footage from camera traps, to document the animals that live in and around Ash trees. I also supported children from five Andover schools to get out and use arts processes to record their own experiences of Ash trees and their place in local cultural and ecological heritage.
Another project I recently worked on was Ebb and Flow with Wessex Archaeology, exploring the relationship between river archaeology and experiences of rivers in the here and now. In connection with this river-based work, I have set up a new research project called Queer River, through which I am meeting and walking with different people (artists, archaeologists, ecologists etc) along the River Avon in Wiltshire/Hampshire, and other rivers too.
Through Queer River, I want to consider how multiple perspectives and experiences of rivers, can come together and inform our understanding of what they need from us in the future. As part of this, I’m researching the relationship of the LGBTQ+ community to Climate Justice, and the impact that sea levels rises and flooding will have on homeless young people. LGBTQ+ people make up about a quarter of the total number of homeless people in the UK, whilst in other countries such as Jamaica, a significant number of young gay and trans people live in the sewers, after being rejected by their families.
2020 has been challenging in terms of changing plans to fit Covid19 restrictions, but it also gave me a push to explore different ways that I could engage with people online. In 2021, I’m going to be collaborating with older people who don’t have access to the internet, through Celebrating Age Wiltshire, using art to engage them in conversations on what they notice about their local environment. I’ll also be working with Doctoral students at Ashridge Business College, looking at the role of artful processes in organisational change.
2 What are the primary motivations behind your work?
I believe that artful processes and practices have a key role to play, in enabling ways of seeing and being with the rest of what we have come to call ‘Nature’, providing us with experiences of connection and belonging. Without such experiences Nature is seen as other, something we can choose to damage or to save. Through experiencing other organisms and materials through our bodies and imaginations, we can experience ourselves as an integral part of Nature.
Growing up Gay/Queer my artwork provided me with a way to carve out a little place in the world that was mine, and a means by which to share my perspectives on the wider world. I recently wrote a piece for the Climate Cultures site called A Queer Path to Wellbeing, that explored the value of Queer perspectives on climate and biodiversity in more detail.
3 Are there any people or ideas that particularly inspire you?
I’m a member of the team at Climate Museum UK, and my time spent with colleagues discussing and exploring ways to engage people in talking about and acting on the earth crisis, is a really important part of what I do as an artist. I’m also part of an artists’ collective called PaP (People and Place), coordinated by Laura Eldret of the New Forest based contemporary arts organisation More Than Ponies, and an Associate Artist with CAS (Chapel Arts Studios) in Andover. It’s really important for me that as well as the time I spend alone, walking or in my studio, I have these supportive networks of artists with whom I can explore new ideas and ways of working more collaboratively.
My work with children over the years with organisations such as 5x5x5=creativity (now called House of the Imagination) has been invaluable in developing my understanding of the role of situated and embodied learning, in enabling an individual to explore and learn about the systems of which they are a part. Children’s playful and imaginative investigations of place show me what many of us have lost, the innate capacities that we are born with, that many of us need to reclaim and put back into practice.
My good friend Dr Chris Seeley was a huge inspiration to me. Our conversations and collaborations energised and encouraged me to be bold with my thinking and to trust my intuition. It’s easy to dilute your ideas in the face of misunderstanding and resistance from those that don’t appreciate the value of what you do, or understand the privileged position from which they act, but she encouraged me to be fully myself, because that authenticity and vulnerability is so important when working with others to effect change. Sadly Chris died a number of years ago but her writing and other work is still online via the Wild Margins website for others to draw inspiration from.
Perhaps most importantly, I try to pay attention to non-human voices, to slow down and notice what the birds, trees and river have to tell me, and this is a key part of my Queer River research. I want to learn about and share ways of being with the land that are restorative and regenerative, and so seek out opportunities to develop my understanding, creating a short film recently for the Wildlife in the Red project with Salisbury Museum and The Great Bustard Group for example, and carrying out research into river restoration and species reintroduction, inspired by organisations such as The Beaver Trust.