Ackroyd+Harvey: The Lark Descending

Art has the capacity to scare me. Ridiculous I know. But it's true.
I think it’s because I don’t know what, or how, I’m supposed to think. I don’t know the lingo. I don’t have the knowledge. I’m afraid of sounding silly.
So when I was asked to do a podcast with local artists Ackroyd + Harvey, I wasn’t quite sure if I was up to it. All I really knew about them was that they grew grass on vertical surfaces, and that they’re dedicated campaigners against the proposed oil drilling on Leith Hill, an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty just to the south of Dorking. I’d met them at various protesting/protecting events….
But Heather (Ackroyd) and Dan (Harvey) are just so lovely, and their exhibition (of which the grass is a major part), and the way they talk about it, so fascinating, that, from the start, it was all fine. Silly me....
Their exhibition, The Lark Descending, is part of Surrey Unearthed, a programme of 10 linked projects exploring the natural world beneath our feet, through sculpture, installation, film and writing. Ackroyd+Harvey’s is the first, and runs until 27 May 2018 in St Martins Walk in Dorking.
So, the grass.
They’ve pioneered a technique which involves projecting a negative image onto a grass seed-covered canvas to produce what looks like a photograph in different shades of green, the chlorophyll which makes the grass go green, responding to the amount of light it gets. Heather says ‘you could see it as a bizarre horticultural experiment, or you could see it as art’.
In their hands, it’s certainly the latter.
The result is….well, as previously mentioned, I don’t have the lingo…so all I can say is I found it utterly mesmerising and very beautiful. I'm a lot less scared of art now, and I couldn’t stop asking questions.
Which, thankfully, is extremely useful for an interview….

From Activist.

This summer I was asked to chair a panel on Climate Change at the Greenbelt Arts Festival – the festival has been our family home over the August Bank Holiday weekend for more years than we care to remember, so that bit was fine, and chairing the panel didn’t worry me unduly, but I did feel ever so slightly ill-equipped for the subject in hand.

Truth is, embarrassingly, I’ve fairly successfully stuck my fingers in my ears about the whole issue, at most I’ve changed our light bulbs to energy efficient ones and been better about recycling….and momentarily been sad about lonely polar bears on shrinking ice floes. Then I’ve got on with my life.

One of the people on the panel was the bestselling author and global environmental activist Bill McKibben who in 1989 wrote the first book for lay people about the imminent dangers of climate change. It’s clear that, back then, he didn’t remotely imagine that nearly 30 years later the planet would be in its current pickle.

Bill McKibben is inspirational. And he’s angry (albeit in an often fairly measured Methodist way).

I won’t go into the main issues here, but in listening to Bill, and to the UK Policy Advisor for Christian Aid, I realised that I can’t…don’t want to….put my head in the sand any longer.

Climate change is the enemy of development… of the big reasons the world’s poor are getting poorer.

And I’m the mum of a 9 year old. I want him to have a healthy functioning planet on which to live and bring up his children. I don’t want him to turn round in 15…20 years time, when things are even worse for the earth and its people, and ask why I didn’t do more.

So, this ostrich is having a go at becoming an activist!

Step 1 was surprisingly easy. I changed my energy supplier to Ecotricity

(Concentrate now….here comes the science bit…)

As I understand it, my electricity still comes off the National Grid, like everyone else, but the money I pay for it enables Ecotricity to buy 100% renewable electricity to feed into the grid. As more people do that, more and more of the available electricity will be renewable. Marvellous.

Gas is trickier, but at the moment, through Ecotricity, the percentage that’s renewable is currently around 5%, I think the highest of all the energy companies. They do this by bringing in gas created via anaerobic digestion, and have plans to create gas themselves, by growing a particular type of grass on fields farmers can’t use, and breaking it down in one of the 3 Green Gas Mills they have planning permission for. They're aiming to hit 12-15% with these first 3 mills and expand on that in the future.

Honestly, I don’t entirely understand the finer points, but it all feels pretty cool.

And a sensible first response.

And it’s nice to be able to say my studio is powered by 100% renewable electricity!

Step 2 is to have a go at persuading others to join me on the journey.

With a neighbour, I’m trying to do that in our street. A few people are interested, but not much enthusiasm yet. I get that. It’s taken me a long time.

But in the midst of discussions with this neighbour, he asked me to clarify something.

‘You’re a Christian, right?’ Yes.

‘So you believe that God created the world?’ Also, basically, yes (though 6 days is pushing it…..)

‘So, if that’s the case, why aren’t Christians and the churches at the front of this whole campaign?’

Er….. good point….it’s a fair cop.

The church should absolutely be leading the charge on this one. It’s….we’re….not, and frankly, it’s embarrassing.

So, donning my newly fitted (if slightly skewiff) ‘woman of action’ hat, I find myself leading the charge to become an Eco Church

More on that another time.

I know what I’m doing constitutes just the tip of that poor old polar bear’s iceberg. But now I’m taking hold of some of the issues, and of their urgency, I’m aware that I can’t stick my head back in the sand. This is one road I’m going to have to keep walking.