How art inspired by peatlands can help us face the climate crisis

How art inspired by peatlands can help us face the climate crisis

As environments, peatlands have undergone a remarkable transformation in recent decades from ‘Cinderella’ habitats, considered ecologically worthless in the 1980s, to today’s ecosystem superstars – crucial for biodiversity, carbon sequestration and regulation of water supply. This new estimate has seen a increased media coverage of these special places.

But peatlands all over the world have been huge injured of human activities such as drainage, agriculture and peat cutting. The latest COP27 At the conference, a UN environmental program, the Global Peatlands Initiative, was launched assessment. This initiative draws attention to the loss and damage of peatlands and the importance of rehabilitation and restoration to tackle global warming and the biodiversity crisis.

Peatlands are also important for culture and heritagepreserve sites and artifacts that are threatened by climate change if these wetlands continue to dry out and deteriorate. Recent excavations and analyzes at the Mesolithic peatland site of Agerod in Sweden has demonstrated significant deterioration of important archaeological remains over the past 75 years.

This scientific development and renewed focus has brought mosses into closer contact with other disciplines and especially artistic work, from poetry and prose to music and film.

Peatlands and culture

The place of peatlands in our cultural consciousness is hardly new: think Sherlock Holmes and Dartmoor’s treacherous Great Grimpen bog in The Hound of the Baskervillesor the unfortunate Dead ants in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

Indeed, once this fluid connection is discovered, peatlands emerge as a potent and unexpected metaphor in the works of perhaps less obvious authors such as Edna O’Brien, in whose work the bog is a place of danger, dark and forbidding. An interval of visual artists have also painted, drawn or used the imagery of peatlands in various ways.

Less traditional ways of engaging with peatlands are found in a new generation of writers, poets, musicians and filmmakers. Visual artist Nigel Rolfe produced a video piece with the title Into the bog, which shows the artist falling face first into the flooded peat sticks of an Irish bog. He describes the action as: “framing the ‘backyard mose’ of Ireland in terms of the country’s Euro-economic relations, the current poverty crisis and the impending failures of the geopolitical landscape” – literally a decline in the economic bog.

The transformative power of the bog, its uncanny ability to preserve but also change substances that come into contact with its acidic waters, is a theme favored by the Scottish composer Erland Cooper. In his composition from 2021 Carve the runes, then settle for silencehe imaginatively celebrated the centenary of the Oracdian poet George Mackay Brown.

Cooper left a series of clues to allow musical treasure hunters to track down the ¼-inch magnetic master tape of his work, which he had buried in peat soil in the Orkney Islands. The peat’s acidic water would affect the iron band, leading to deterioration of the recording. This artistic act thus made the turf as a non-human co-composer.

The tape was found Earlier this year and will travel to the Barbican, London, where the work will be performed in the form “just as it sounds from the earth”.

Preservation and memory

This ability of peatlands to preserve things, at least partially, buried or submerged and left behind for perhaps more unfortunate reasons, is a point of inspiration for some artists.

Artist, writer and academic Jools Gilson’s latest work Tempestries is based on the medieval Irish “bog body” it Cloonshannagh womanan archaeological find remarkable for the preservation of fragments of textiles representing the remains of the dead woman’s clothes. Ant bodies also continue to attract a large amount media attentionwhich further brings dark archaeological findings into contact with the wider public.

The bog has long played a role in literature, especially poetry. The link between Seamus Heaney and peatlands are permanent; the most famous in this context are probably the “moor poems” such as e.g The customs officerwhich is based on the famous Danish ant body of the same name:

But new poets have been influenced by these environments in different ways. Donegal poet Annemarie Ni Churreains 2017 collection Bloodroot contains the wonderful poem Ant medicine. This piece weaves in themes of the tension between traditional and ancient beliefs and identity in the (peaty) landscape: an appeal to the “pagan hill” that “…will answer in moorland”.

Other recent works have considered the bog as a metaphor; That’s what Derek Gladwin writes in his book Disputed terrains of the way some works of late 19th-century Irish literature use “…the bog’s destabilizing and haunting capacity provides a space for exploring historically fraught colonial tensions and social struggles through the Gothic form”. This can be seen in Bram Stoker’s Snake’s Passwhich partly revolves around a mysterious bog and deals with questions of who has rights to the land in an Ireland under British rule.

A practical aspect of the recent artistic flowering is the way in which exploring the idea of ​​the bog can open up conversations and discussions about the biodiversity crisis and the importance of peatlands and other wetlands, in both cultural and environmental terms.

The restoration of peatlands is not only a process that will protect or enhance ecological functions, but one that should ensure that the bog survives and maintains its place in society and culture across North West Europe as well as globally.

Ecosystems are, of course, never static, and ecological rehabilitation cannot restore damaged environments to their former, pristine state. But dynamism and change are also central to the human condition and the artist’s task may be at least in part to help us come to terms with this and to encourage us to face the global climate crisis.

Don’t have time to read about climate change as much as you want?

Get a weekly overview in your inbox instead. Every Wednesday, The Conversation’s environmental editor writes Imagine, a short email that goes a little deeper into just one climate issue. Join the 10,000+ readers who have subscribed so far.

Author: Benjamin Gearey – Lecturer in Environmental Archaeology, University College Cork | Maureen O’Connor – Lecturer in English, University College Cork | Rosie Everett – Lecturer in Forensic Science, Northumbria University, Newcastle The conversation


Related Posts: