Adorning our new biosphere:

how to love the postcarbon world

November 7-9, 2018

Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon TQ9 6EA, UK

@artdotearth | #postcarbonworld and Plymouth University’s Sustainable Earth Institute invite you to submit a proposal for participation in the forthcoming summit Adorning our new biosphere: how to love the postcarbon world to be held November 7-9 at Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon TQ9 6EA, UK.  This event is another in a renowned series of international symposia produced by, a family of artists and organisations focusing on the contemporary arts and the world around us.



Despite the (inevitably temporary) backsliding in a political world turned upside-down and back-to-front, carbon-derived energy is yesterday’s story. Carbon is uncool. In 2016 for the first time ever, an entire country ran on renewable energy for four consecutive days (The Guardian 2016), a combination of solar, wind, small- and large-scale systems and co-operative climatic conditions. As with all worn-out materials and worldviews, there will always be moments of regression, but the die is now firmly cast.

And behind the inevitable death of the predominant and insatiable consumption of our limited carbon-based fuels, there is a quieter revolution happening: we no longer need to rely entirely on the industrial-scale and the mega-corporation to satisfy our energy needs. Many of the new emerging technologies that harness renewable energy can work at local and even domestic scales. Monolithic technologies like nuclear energy are increasingly troubled; two of the world’s largest corporations have already suffered major financial trauma as forays into nuclear energy generation have threatened to become toxic assets damaging both share price and reputation. The monolith is beginning to look bloated, unwieldy, and even somewhat risible (rather like those who champion it above all else).

Even the monolith we never question –– national grids –– are not now the inevitable solution, particularly in places where it has to date proved unprofitable to build one. The solutions to bringing power to more remote communities in developing countries are of necessity local and small-scale (The Economist 2010).

The tiny community of Eigg in northern Scotland powers itself entirely through renewables on many days, primarily through small-scale generation. But this is not only about generation: each household on the island has a limit of 5kW at any given moment; each business 10kW. In a community where households relied on a generator in the back garden, this is no hardship – and means only that people need to think before turning on the kettle at the same time the washing machine is in a particular part of its cycle.  Here is a form of co-operative living that relies on each and every individual to take responsibility and play a part. This is a politics of hope.

Art and creative thought surely has its role to play as we urge this quiet revolution forward. On a material level, new innovations in renewable energy generation include blade-less turbines; solar cells like paper that can be printed on, are flexible and can be folded, and even simply pasted onto existing structures; optical batteries that can harness the power of light without semiconductor-based solar cells; capturing photosynthesis to produce power from plant-based materials; transparent solar panels that can be used domestically to replace windows; and all manner of experimentation around small-scale hydrogen production using the most fundamental and abundant of materials: water.  These are material wonders –– we must match their potential with equally wondrous thinking and action that challenges the resistance to such technologies –– usually the product of stodgy, unimaginative and sometimes deliberately obtuse thinking.

So what of the artist? What of art itself? Surely the artist’s ability to stir up and challenge societal thinking, question preconceptions, and assert new forms of beauty and aesthetic reasoning must play a role here? Part of the (increasingly weak) arguments against many renewable technologies has been on aesthetic grounds, based principally on an 18thC view of an ideal ‘natural’ landscape. If Armstrong (2005) can argue that the experience of beauty ‘consists in finding a spiritual value at home in a material setting and in such a way, that… the two seem inseparable’ then the ball seems to be sit firmly in our court.

This is, above all, a call to action for artists and other creative thinkers to turn their attention to a world in need of a change of argument. The technological argument has (largely) been won, or at least, has progressed beyond its tipping point. Now it is time for our hearts need to be persuaded.

We need a new conversation: about contemporary art for the post-carbon world.


Armstrong, John. The Secret power of beauty. London: Penguin, 2005.
‘Portugal runs for four days straight on renewable energy alone’ The Guardian, May 18, 2016
‘Power to the people’ The Economist, 2 Sept 2010



Keynote speakers are still TBC


Possible Topics

This list is absolutely not prescriptive or proscriptive and is here as guidance only. Please be free to submit any ideas you feel are relevant to the topic.

  • resistance and activism
  • low-tech and hacker approaches
  • aesthetics of post-carbon design
  • invisible technologies / visible technologies
  • role of the artist in community projects
  • resisting the power of the powerful
  • new models for owning energy
  • artist as technician
  • artist as non-technician
  • brokering power
  • large-scale small-scale
  • the ir/relevance of art in facing global challenge
  • claiming beauty
  • fighting for a new aesthetic
  • preserving the idealised landscape
  • art, heart, mind


Types of submission

Submit any ideas that inspire you and which you think may have a place during this event. There will be limited slots available, so please inspire us. We would particularly welcome proposals from artists, writers and other makers as well as panels or interviews or other discursive formats.

Please bear in mind that the event takes place in a particular environment: Dartington is a 900-acre mixed estate that includes modern and ancient woodland, riverside with swimming, open pasture, formal gardens, and other outdoor sites where people can meet and work in groups. We particular encourage proposals that take advantage of this context.

We are looking for submissions that utilise the following formats. Note that in each case we will add time for Q&A, but please think about how interaction with the audience can be built into your offer.


Formats might be:

  • academic paper presentations lasting no more than 20 minutes (with 10 minutes for Q&A)
  • panel discussions, live interviews, and other discursive formats, lasting 55 minutes. There is potential to broadcast these live.
  • presentation of artwork, indoor or outdoor
  • walking and other outdoor activities, particularly ones that engage with theoretical or philosophical thought in addition to their creative content
  • workshops, lasting 90 minutes (please indicate how many participants you can support)
  • if you are geographically distant and choosing not to travel you can indicate your willingness to present via video or Skype. If your proposal is accepted you will be asked to register as a Presenter.


Virtual presentations

A virtual presentation is NOT a live presentation via Skype (this is also possible), but is part of a programme of video presentations that will be on the website prior to the summit, and which will be included in the online publication.

Transcriptions or papers arising from these presentations can also be submitted for publication in the online publication and for consideration for inclusion in any journal or book publication.

As a virtual presenter you are listed as a contributor to the summit, but not programmed into the main programme of events.



The deadline for submission is 22.00 GMT on Sunday May 13, 2018. We are requesting 250-word abstracts or outlines, which must be submitted through the event website at We are unable to accept any submissions after the deadline.

Download the call for proposals (pdf)