Material, Economics and Ecology Symposium

Date and time
Wednesday, 6 July 2022
10.30 - 18.00

Museum of Making, Silk Mill Lane, Derby, DE1 3AF

Event overview

'Material, Economics and Ecology' at Derby’s Museum of Making is a symposium sharing the interdisciplinary practice-research of five guest speakers whose work contributes to contemporary dialogues concerning human and non-human ecologies, labour, trade and material resources. As a place of material, economic and ecological significance, Derby’s former Silk Mill has been chosen as a significant place to hold the event: a former factory which sits at the southern end of the UNESCO Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.

To open the event, an introductory Welcome Address will be given by Tony Butler, the Executive Director at Derby Museums Trust. A Q&A chaired by Dr Victoria Sharples will follow the presentations, and screenings of Jumana Manna’s award-winning documentary film 'Wild Relatives(2018) and Laura Wilson’s 'Deepening' (2020) will be screened in the morning before the day’s proceedings. Tickets for the screenings and Symposium are free but need to be booked in advance. Refreshments will be available onsite at 'The River Kitchen' and a cash bar in the 'Italian Mill' will be open following the Q&A. 

The symposium will take place in Museum’s Italian Mill on 6 July 2022, from 10.30 am – 6:00 pm.

The Civic Hall Waterwheel at the Museum of Making, tables and chairs surrounded by red brick walls
The Civic Hall Waterwheel

Schedule of the day

Please join us at 10.30 am for our welcome film screenings shared by Jumana Manna and Laura Wilson.

10.30 am - 11.45 am Jumana Manna film screening 
11.45 am - 12.00 pm Laura Wilson film screening
12.00 pm - 1.00 pm Registration
1.00 pm - 1.30 pm Welcome address with Tony Butler
1.30 pm - 2.00 pm Presentation by Dr Onya McCausland
2.00 pm - 2.30 pm Presentation by Rafael Pérez Evans
2.30 pm - 3.00 pm Presentation by Laura Wilson
3.00 pm - 3.30 pm Intermission and coffee break
3.30 pm - 4.00 pm Presentation by Sonia Levy and Associate Professor Heather Anne Swanson
4.00 pm - 4.30 pm Presentation by Ravi Agarwal
4.30 pm - 5.00 pm Q&A session chaired by Dr Victoria Sharples
5.00 pm - 6.00 pm Event close and networking (Cash bar open)

Guest Speakers

Dr Onya McCausland (South Wales and London) is an artist and academic at the Slade School of Fine Art. Their practice involves collaborating with the UK Coal Authority (a non-departmental public body of the government), to generate new uses for mine water waste ‘ochres’ as usable coloured pigment for paint. The research repositions ‘waste’ ochre as a significant cultural material that can be used to change perceptions of the ‘post-industrial’ landscape sites they belong to. McCausland is working to designate five selected Mine Water Treatment Schemes as public spaces that perform the production of ochre, producing high-quality pigment for exterior-grade wall paint while generating an income for the local economy.

For Material, Economics and Ecology, McCausland will share conversations on this research, which is supported by the Leverhulme Trust. The work has led to a local production facility making the first ever exterior grade wall paint made from mine ochre. The first edition of Six Bells Red is made in the former mining village of Six Bells, Blaenau Gwent, South Wales.

Find Onya McCausland on TwitterFind Onya McCausland on Vimeo

Rafael Pérez Evans (Spain, London) has been exhibited internationally with solo exhibitions including ‘Handful’ at The Henry Moore Institute, UK (2021), ‘Pavo Realengo’ at Nogueras Blanchard Gallery, Barcelona (2017); ‘Pararrayo’ at Abierto Theredoom Gallery, Madrid (2017). Pérez Evans’s artworks are usually associated with questions about sculpture, rurality, and the urban conditions of the South. Oscillating between bare, futile, and humorous forms, he reconfigures ready-made live materials and gestures into places of paradox and disorientation. Evans looks into shame in queer and rural communities, drawing out evocative installations which are often charged with anger and hope.

For Material, Economics and Ecology, Pérez Evans will share their practice research through the presentation Cheapening, market shockwaves and protest through produce. In particular, they will be presenting documentation from three installations that they have produced since 2019, titled: Thief-Invigilate, 2019. Grounding, 2020 and Handful, 2021. They will share research focusing on material gestures and processes from sites in Southern Europe, specifically sites and lands connected to agriculture which have been pushed by market fluctuations and devaluations. As Pérez Evans notes: These fluctuations send shockwaves that directly affect minoritarian communities and generate workers’ mobilizations. How these mobilizations are aided by material gestures is one of the focuses of my practice. Much of my studio time is dedicated to finding ways for these gestures to become sculptural propositions that can enter public and institutional sites. I look at these physicalities as generative of a non-verbal vocabulary which offer new ways of thinking about voice and visibility in oppressed communities. Overall, I ask what can be learned from erased agricultural workers’ struggles, voices and mobilizations and how can these become more central in current ecology and human-soil conversations.

Further to this, Pérez Evans will be sharing new work being developed as part of a PhD at Oxford University. This research is titled: Bending, spilling, dumping. Soil, rural resistance, and queer futurity. This project departs from a place of urgency with a focus on corporeality. It foregrounds the experiences of oppressed bodies in queer history and those who passed from AIDS. It centres on subjugated histories and overlooked sites including Southern European farming communities that use protest as a tool for survival. These orientations are given precedence in calls for ecological change and transformations in human-soil relations. The project asks how we might reorient ourselves by learning from agricultural movements and queer phenomenology, finding alignment between queer activism and stewardship of the land. The forms of solidarity that arise trespass the usual complexities of an urban-rural divide, offering hypotheses towards future forms of coexistence functioning as modes of action that resist necropolitical regimes by recruiting advocates for the soil.

Find Rafael Pérez Evans on Instagram

Laura Wilson (Belfast, Northern Ireland, lives and works in London) is interested in how history is carried and evolved through everyday materials, trades and craftsmanship. She develops research-led projects, working with specialists and experts to communicate relationships between materiality, memory and tacit knowledge. Wilson’s work has been exhibited widely including at: The Collection Museum, Lincoln with Mansions of the Future, UK; First Draft, Sydney, Australia (2021); 5th Istanbul Design Biennial – Empathy Revisited: Designs for More than One; Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Norwich, UK (2020); The British Museum, London, UK with Block Universe; Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, UK; and The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London, UK (2018); SPACE, London, UK; V and A Museum, London, UK; and Invisible Dust at Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull, UK (2017); Delfina Foundation, London, UK (2016 and 2017) Site Gallery, Sheffield, UK (2016); Whitstable Biennial, UK (2014); Camden Arts Centre, London, UK and Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK (2013); W139, Amsterdam and De Warande, Turnhout, Belgium (2012). A Churchill Fellow, Wilson was awarded the inaugural Jerwood New Work Fund 2020 and the Dover Prize 2021. She is currently the MIMA Kitchen and Garden Artist in Residence and co-curating an exhibition at Site Gallery, Sheffield opening Autumn 2022.

For Material, Economics and Ecology, Wilson will talk about her interest in trades, materials, collective memory and embodied knowledge within the context of her practice, including discussing recent projects: Old Salt (2021), a sound installation, display of objects and text-based artwork inspired by the traces left from salt-making along the Lincolnshire Coast; the performance Deep, Deepen, Deepening (2019) and moving image work Deepening (2020) developed through her research into Must Farm, a Bronze Age settlement located on the edge of a working brick quarry in the Fenlands. Old-Salt, 2021 was co-commissioned by Mansions of the Future and The Collection Museum, Lincoln. Deepening, 2020 and Deep, Deepen, Deepening, 2019 were co-commissioned by New Geographies and Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

Find Laura Wilson on Twitter

Sonia Levy's research-led practice considers shifting modes of engagement with other/more-than-human worlds in light of prevailing earthly precarity. Her work operates at the intersection of art and science, a co-becoming of practices tending to the reweaving of multispecies worlds.

She is the 2022 recipient of the STARTS4Water’s “The Future of High Waters” residency hosted by TBA21, and she was the 2021 commissioned artist at Radar Loughborough and Aarhus University’s Ecological Globalization Research Group. Levy was a participant in the 2020 Artquest’s Peer Forum ‘Rewilding’ at the Horniman Museum and Gardens. She has exhibited in the UK and internationally, including shows and screenings at Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Paris; Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris; ICA, London; BALTIC, Gateshead; Obsidian Coast, Bradford-on-Avon; Goldsmiths College, London; The Showroom, London; Pump House Gallery, London; ZKM Karlsruhe, Art Laboratory Berlin; HDKV, Heidelberg; Futura/Karlin Studios, Prague; Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cambridge MA; Verksmiðjan á Hjalteyri, Iceland; and The Húsavík Whale Museum, Iceland.

For Material, Economics and Ecology, Levy will share dialogues on Creatures of the Lines, an artist film and collaboration with anthropologist Heather Anne Swanson. The work explores how desires for economic growth and linear progress has produced straightened forms in England’s watery terrains and asks what risks are associated with the conversion of once-curvy and braided worlds into a linearised landscape. Drawing on their longstanding research interests and conversations exploring the risks to and in aquatic ecologies with academics from Loughborough University, the film explores how English waterscapes have been transformed via the construction of canals. As arteries of the British Empire, canals linked Indian cotton fields to domestic textile mills, facilitating vast ecological transformations from monoculture agriculture in the colonies to industrial discharges in England’s waters, soils, and air– and thus serve as a key site for exploring often-overlooked histories of colonial capitalism and their material presences in contemporary worlds.

Attempting to work from within muddy, submerged sites, rather than from grand narratives or “god’s-eye” viewpoints, the work begins inside canals, telling stories from within the lines. Making use of the open-ended sensibilities of ethnography and natural history, it raises questions about ecological transformations and their ties to infra/structures of global political economy.

Heather Ann Swanson is committed to describing entangled human and nonhuman lives in times of anthropogenic disturbance and environmental damage.

One of her long-term research projects focuses on tracing changes in salmon worlds in the North Pacific region. As part of this project, she has conducted fieldwork in Hokkaido, Japan, with shorter stints in Chile and the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Her work has largely focused on the making of salmon populations in Hokkaido, a region cast as “Japan’s frontier” and widely compared to the American West. Bringing together environmental history, political ecology, and evolutionary biology, she has asked how Japanese desires for legibly “modern” landscapes literally make their way into the bodies of fish. In short, she has explored how Japanese approaches to fisheries management and salmon populations have co-evolved. At the same time, she has also tracked how globally circulating discourses of “wildness,” indigenous rights claims made by Japan’s Ainu people, and international trade in farmed salmon affect the evolutionary trajectories of Japanese salmon and the watersheds they inhabit. Lastly, this project has also probed how practices of cross-cultural comparison shape salmon lives and landscapes. You can learn more about this research via her book, Spawning Modern Fish: Transnational Comparison in the Making of Japanese Salmon, which is forthcoming from the University of Washington Press in the Summer 2022.

Ravi Agarwal (New Delhi, India) has a long-standing interdisciplinary practice as a photographer, artist, environmental campaigner, writer and curator. Bridging the divide between art and activism, he addresses the entangled questions of nature and its futures using photography, video, text and installation. The book Down and Out (OUP 2002) was the first major photographic work on migrant labour in India. His work has been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade (2021) and at the Biennials of Havana (2019), Yinchuan (2018), Kochi (2016), and Sharjah (2013), Indian Highway (2009), Documenta XI. His work is in several private and public collections, and he has edited books (The Crisis of Climate Change, Routledge, 2021; Embrace Our Rivers – Kerber, 2017), journals (Marg- Art and Ecology issue – April 2020, IIC journal Spring 2020), and writes and publishes regularly on art and sustainability (Alien Waters in The Routledge Companion to Contemporary Art, Visual Culture, and Climate Change, 2021). Alongside, he is the founder-director of the leading environmental NGO Toxics Link and has been the recipient of the UN-IFCS Award for Chemical Safety, as well as the Ashoka Fellowship.

For Material, Economics and Ecology, Agarwal will talk about the ecologies of landscapes, labour and livelihoods. Their presentation will, through artistic explorations of landscapes of labour of small farmers on rivers, and fishers on the sea, present the entangled ways in which ideas of nature are intertwined with livelihoods and traditions.

Find Ravi Agarwal on Facebook Find Ravi Agarwal on Instagram

Jumana Manna is a Palestinian artist working primarily with film and sculpture. Her work explores how power is articulated through relationships, often focusing on the body and materiality in relation to narratives of state-building, and histories of place. Manna received a BFA from the National Academy of Arts in Oslo and an MA in Aesthetics and Politics from the California Institute of the Arts. She has participated in multiple festivals and exhibitions, including the Viennale International Film Festival, BAFICI, IFFR Rotterdam, Tate Modern, Marrakech Biennale 6 and The Nordic Pavilion, 57th Venice Biennale. Her 2015 documentary ‘A Magical Substance Flows Into Me’ (premiered in Berlinale Forum, 2016) won the Films on Art Competition, at the New Horizons International Film Festival, Wroclaw. Manna was awarded the A.M. Qattan Foundation’s Young Palestinian Artist Award in 2012, the ArsViva Prize for Visual Arts and was nominated for the Preis der Nationalgalerie für Junge Kunst in 2017.

For Material, Economics and Ecology, Manna’s documentary Wild Relatives will be screened. Following the transportation of seeds between the Arctic and Lebanon, Wild Relatives unfold a matrix of people and plant lives between two distant spots of the earth. Deep in the earth beneath Arctic permafrost, seeds from all over the world are stored in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault to provide a backup should disaster strike. Wild Relatives starts from an event that has sparked media interest worldwide: in 2012 an international agricultural research centre was forced to relocate from Aleppo to Lebanon due to the Syrian Revolution turned to war and began a laborious process of planting their seed collection from the Svalbard back-ups. Following the path of this transaction of seeds between the Arctic and Lebanon, a series of encounters unfold a matrix of human and non-human lives between these two distant spots of the earth. It captures the articulation between this large-scale international initiative and its local implementation in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, carried out primarily by young migrant women. The meditative pace patiently teases out tensions between state and individual, industrial and organic approaches to seed saving, climate change and biodiversity, witnessed through the journey of these seeds.

Supported by: Arab Fund for Arts and Culture - AFAC, Henie Onstad Museum Norway, Public Art Norway – KORO, Vestnorsk Filmsenter, Fritt Ord, Kulturrådet, Fogo Arts Residency, Jeu de Paume, Paris, Fondation Nationale des Arts Graphiques et Plastiques, CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux.

Convenor: Dr Victoria Sharples – Derby Scholar

Funds: Material, Economics and Ecology is supported by the URKEO Early-Career Researcher Development Fund 

Contact: If you have questions about the event, please contact Dr Victoria Sharples at V.Sharples@derby.ac.uk

a group of people in neon yellow clothing moving around in a cirlce with wooden brooms

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