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One month long residency at The Daniel Shand Gallery in Bethnal Green, London in 2007

The Ecology of Making a Cup of Tea


How can an artist who likes to make things: sculpture, installations, books and pictures on paper and canvas, operate in a way that works towards a culture of sustainable consumption? How can an artist operate and be aware of the problems of unsustainable consumption, on an individual and global level, and not be complicit in encouraging and profiting from that same unsustainable consumption?


If we think of ecology as ‘the study of relationships between an individual and their cultural, social, economic and natural domains’*, then I’m trying to look at the systems and links that make up the ecosystem that I have currently found myself in.


The ecology that is ‘man made’, ‘unnatural’ or ‘synthetic’ is endlessly complicated with layers of detail which, fractal like, on further inspection reveal further layers of detail, and those details themselves have details on their details. I started investigating the resources used during a day in my life, this turned out to be a massive task so I decided just to concentrate on 10 minutes. This again, a large undertaking has now been whittled down to the simple act of making tea.


Where did the tea bag come from? How was the milk produced? Where will the tea bag go once it is thrown away? Was any of the energy reclaimed when methane was produced from the decomposing tea bag when it went to the landfill near Skipton in West Yorkshire? How on earth do you make chrome and where did Russell Hobbs get it from? 


The paradox of making things in order to explore the harm of making things is reflected in the conundrum that arises in attempts to ‘get back to nature’. In paradise we are at the mercy of our environment, and things we may do to make ourselves more comfortable may move us away from paradise.


‘It’s the hell that you have to have to make heaven what it is. Valdamar checks under the hammocks for spiders and snakes. It’s the rain forest, so it rains. …. The perfect world turns a blind eye for the night. Nothing to do but hit the sack, lie still, wait for morning and paradise.’ Simon Armitage, describing his time spent in the Amazon,  ‘All Points North’, 1998.


To look at how we relate to nature, where we have come from and why, can that give us a way towards sustainable consumption? A way of going about that doesn’t deplete things? I will be working for a month in the Daniel Shand Gallery, please come and visit on the weekends to see what’s being found out and measure all the resources I needlessly waste in the process.


‘I am talking about a dialectic of nature that interacts with the physical conditions inherent in natural forces as they are – nature as both sunny and stormy. Parks are idealizations of nature, but nature in fact is not a condition of the ideal. Nature does not proceed in a straight line; it is rather a sprawling development. Nature is never finished.’ Robert Smithson, ‘Documenta 5’, Kassel, 1972.


Kathryn Cooper, 2007



* Michaela Crimmin and Bronac Ferran, ‘Land, Art: A Cultural Ecology Handbook’, London, 2006

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