Adorning our new biosphere:

how to love the postcarbon world

November 7-9, 2018

Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon TQ9 6EA, UK

@artdotearth | #postcarbonworld



art.earthPlymouth University’s Sustainable Earth Institute and Science Walden at Ulsan National Institute of Science & Technology 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.






This is Clayhill. The UK’s first subsidy-free solar farm, opened here in the UK in September 2017 and with its use of farmland and extensive battery storage, touted (arguably) as state of the art technically and politically.

But this is clearly a scar on a loved landscape, as much as the causes and impacts of climate change are a scar on our psyches and consciences.  This is not a design borne of caring for its landscape; a metaphor for the lack of care that has brought about climate impacts first on those who can afford it least and who have been the least responsible for its manifestations. 

In learning to love the postcarbon world, we must first learn to love and care for the carbon-dominated world we are attempting to heal. Above all, the global climate crisis is a moral issue – perhaps the defining moral issue of the 21st century (McMichael et al 2012).

In our shiny new post-carbon world what of justice? what of beauty? (How can we have a beautiful world that is not also just?) What of art itself? Surely the artist’s ability to stir up and question societal thinking, challenge preconceptions, and assert new forms of beauty and aesthetic reasoning must play a role. Part of the argument against many renewable technologies in the UK has been on aesthetic grounds, based principally on an 18thC view of an ideal ‘natural’ landscape. Although we need to continue to poke that particular model with a sharp stick, new technologies are also revolutionising what power generation looks and feels like.

But beauty is more than skin-deep. Climate change is also an ugly scar on our social consciences. The environmental and health consequences of climate change, which disproportionately affect low-income countries and poor people in high-income countries, profoundly affect human rights and social justice. This, too, is familiar territory for artist-activists whose role is to challenge, question, and subvert.

So this is a call to action for artists, designers, engineers. ecologists, policy-makers and other thinkers to turn their attention to a world in need of a change of argument, one that can adorn our new biosphere not only with aesthetic pleasure but with a beauty of equality and social equity.


Carbon is uncool

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 (nuclear deeply frozen). 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 irretrievably cast. 

Ripples remain. Although easier to accept than large wind turbines, solar farming garners stiff resistance, particularly on aesthetic grounds. Perhaps the nay-sayers have a point. Solar panels may not change the visual contour, the long view, but they undoubtedly remain a visual scar. Renewables in the shape of solar farms are spreading fastest in the very places with protected landscape status where conservative views of countryside linger longest and loudest. Power is dirty and noisy and should be sent to us from some kind of semi-mythic metaphoric northland; it should not be made in our back garden. Communities are rarely involved in their energy choices, and as a result demand it comes from ‘elsewhere’, becoming wasteful and ill-informed centres of resistance to new renewable developments.


Yesterday’s models

Solar panels being installed in Rema, Ethiopia. [© Solar Energy Foundation]

The monolithic industrial model that provide the framework for large solar farms is as outdated as these solar panels soon will be themselves. The prevailing model is still a distributive one causing a kind of visual desertification and still requiring injections into a national grid where a good percentage of energy will simple dribble away.

But no longer: a quieter revolution is happening.  Energy capture is becoming freed from the superimposed rigid frame and transmuting into bendy materials, fabrics, transparent coloured glass, even paint. Many of these emerging technologies are suited to the small-scale and perhaps operate best at local, community 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 absurd Hinkley Point C is a bloated absurdity and almost as obsolete as coal before it has begun to materialise in the Somerset countryside. The monolith is beginning to look somewhat risible. 


Climate is a human right

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights agreed in a time of emergent optimism by the re-formulated United Nations in 1948 encapsulates the basic needs – and rights – of every living human: the right to security, to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, including food, clothing, housing, medical care, and necessary social services.

The wealthy western world of 2018 is so far from these ideals that they would seem oddly quant were it not for their inherent power as a statement of ideal. What we have done to our climate, to our planet, lies at the heart of the political and social problems we face. We seem incapable of addressing this wicked problem partly because we tend to look inward rather than outward, because we are careless rather than caring. 


Postcarbon models

So perhaps solutions lie (should we allow their moral ascendancy) in countries and communities where the monolith has never taken hold (despite the intentions of modernising aid-providing countries). New distributive networks work perfectly in places where the old networks barely exist; the newest materials can be introduced more easily in places where early stumbles have never been tried.

A radical socio-political model calls for radical new materials: 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, and challenges assumptions that only rich nations can have access to them.

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.



But what of the artist in all this? 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. 

We need a new conversation: welcome to our new biosphere.



Armstrong, John. The Secret power of beauty. London: Penguin, 2005.

C. McMichael, J. Barnett, A.J. McMichael An ill wind? Climate change, migration, and health Environ Health Perspect, 120 (2012), pp. 646-654

‘Portugal runs for four days straight on renewable energy alone’ The Guardian, May 18, 2016

‘Power to the people’ The Economist, 2 Sept 2010




  • Alexandra Wanjiku Kelbert & Natasha Mumbi Nkonde
  • Ellie Harrison


Organising Committee


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 to energy generation
  • the power of community
  • invisible technologies / visible technologies
  • role of the artist in community energy projects
  • energy generation as act of resistance
  • art and energy as a metaphor for localism
  • phenomenology and postcarbon aesthetics
  • a new rural postcarbon sublime
  • new models for owning energy / ultralocalism
  • climate change and social justice
  • artist as technician
  • artist as non-technician
  • brokering power; challenging the monolith
  • large-scale, small-scale, micro-scale
  • the ir/relevance of art in facing global challenge
  • (re)claiming beauty
  • fighting for a new aesthetic
  • restoration and reclamation: rediscovering lost knowledge
  • 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. You can become part of the published record of the event and there will be a special reduced registration fee.



The deadline for submission is 22.00 BST on Thursday June 7, 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.