Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Don Quixote revisited in the age of climate change...

Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, “Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless."

“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.

“Those you see over there,” replied his master, “with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.”

“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills.”

Miguel de Cervantes (1615) Don Quixote

Part 1, Chapter VIII. Of the valourous Don Quixote's success in the dreadful and never before imagined Adventure of the Windmills, with other events worthy of happy record.

This piece takes as its starting point one of the most famous images from literature – so embedded in etymology that it has come to define futile or unrealistic behaviour towards wrongly perceived enemies. Quixote is the epitome of the foolish hero or heroic fool. So too then, the NIMBYs who, seemingly unaware of the unfortunate analogy, protest against the conveniently physical presence of wind turbines in the landscape on aesthetic or noise-pollution grounds, when the real enemy is the less visible but equally tangible and much more destructive force that is climate change. A force which may play a significant role in modifying landscapes (or how we use them) in its own way. Climate scientists talk about the need for mitigation and adaptation so what is landscape if not a playground (or battleground) for our ingenuity? It was certainly this – humans responding to challenges of survival and efficiency – that has shaped many landscapes into what they are now, landscapes some people are seeking to mummify even in the face of a pressing need for change.

This is one perspective. (Mine.) There are many others. While they broadly fall into the over-zealous-macho Don Quixote or rational-placatory Sancho Panza camps, both sides have a point and a passion. Technology is an intrinsic part of our lives but are we attempting to counteract this increasing dependency with a desire to keep it and its traces out of our rural spaces? Are wind turbines really destructive, inefficient monsters; a tokenistic attempt to assuage a guilty carbon conscience? Or is sentimentality for landscape the convenient cloud shrouding uncomfortable (inconvenient) truths?

Art has a long history of engagement with landscape and environmentalism (Andrews 1999) and my interest here is in using movement practice to present an alternative arena for these conflicting views (Etherington 2009, Monbiot 2008) to be seen and heard; a fresh perspective for debate that moves it away from the charged environment of the village hall or the political chamber. Through using a long-distance walk (walking is itself an artform and a means of protest (Solnit 2001)) as a way in to an embodied engagement with land and people, I will collect sound and image from/of people and landscape. These recordings will then be edited to form a score that will direct the making of a film. I will revisit one or more sites identified as significant during the walk with my collaborator, the film-maker. Responding to the sound score with camera we will attempt to either reinforce or counterpoint the spoken text with image. The sound score or other recollections from the walk may invite a performative response to the vocal or visual stimuli on site; these will also be filmed. Other notes, observations and detritus from the walk will be collected and (re)presented in an artist’s book.


  1. Your project sounds very interesting - thanks to sharing it with us. I'm also thinking of launching a project about urban space / urban landscape (of course with the fokus of green roofs) combined with performance (also the us of movement practice ... with Monique as a dancer, performer) and my idea is also to present an alternative arena to sensibilise citizens for the urban space and its biodiversity but most of all for those surfaces which can't be seen .... so that's still "a large" idea of it, but I need now sometime to make a concept and to develope creative strategies ... because it's the first time I'm doing such kind of project but I'd love to go on in this field because I would like to combine my performance (background and activities) and my profession as a urban ecologist ... so we'll still keep in touch and I'll follow your project with big interest ... big hug ms howies-merino&rice-cakes ;o)

  2. Your project sounds amazing - I very much like the idea of making visible or tangible or useful the urban surfaces that can't be seen - so many analogies within the body/memory but also, in some ways to my response to wind turbines, which is a sense of the invisible (power of the wind) being made tangible.... turbines give me a frisson of excitement-fear but also, as you say a sense of pleasure that we are doing something positive (or working in that direction at least)... thank you again and look forward to hearing more about your project :) xx