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Environmental and ecological readings

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Philippe Laplace

Part II. Nature, the Environment and the Posthuman: Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

Basho Borne on the Carrying Stream: the Word-Mapping of Scotland and the Ecopoetics of Wind Power in Alec Finlay’s The Road North and Skying

Stewart Smith

Texte intégral

1Alec Finlay is a poet and artist whose work explores cultural relationships with the landscape. Finlay describes the area in which he works as ‘shared consciousness’. This ‘sharing’ incorporates both his collaborative and generative practice and his creative dialogue with tradition and past voices. Two of these voices are his father, the poet, artist and ‘avant-gardener’ Ian Hamilton Finlay and the poet, songwriter and folklorist Hamish Henderson. From Ian Hamilton Finlay he gets a grounding in interdisciplinary practice and avant-garde poetics, while from Henderson Alec Finlay gains the idea of a social art and an open-minded vision of Scottish culture. Therefore, I felt it was apt to link Henderson’s metaphor for the living folk tradition, the ‘carrying stream’, to Alec Finlay’s wider explorations of shared consciousness in recent projects such as The Road North, The Bee Library and Skying.

  • 1 Louisa Gairn, Ecology and Modern Scottish Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008), (...)
  • 2 ‘The plane is clearly not a program, design, end, or means: it is a plane of immanence that constit (...)
  • 3 Hamish Henderson, Collected Poems and Songs, ed. by Raymond Ross (Edinburgh: Curly Snake Publishing (...)

2Finlay’s focus on landscape invites an ecocritical reading. His work constitutes what Louisa Gairn calls ‘an ecological “line of defence”, providing a space in which the reader and author can examine their relationship to the world around them’.1 Finlay’s experiments in shared consciousness bring forth a series of becomings: creative and artistic methods of co-production and engagement with the environment which open up new ways of thinking about naturecultures. I draw this idea of ‘becomings’ from the geophilosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Their conceptualisation of the earth as a ‘plane of immanence’2 ties in poetically with the process described by Henderson in his poem ‘Under the Earth I Go’: ‘Remake it, and renew... Tomorrow, songs | Will flow free again, and new voices | Be borne on the carrying stream.’3

  • 4 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massami (London: Verso, 2003 [ (...)

3I do not see this carrying stream of shared consciousness as a single line or some undifferentiated lava mass. Rather, it is something that flows in multiple directions and, crucially, does not come from any single source. As such, it can be described as rhizomatic, after Deleuze and Guattari’s famous concept of difference. The rhizome, I argue, provides a useful and creative model for thinking about Alec Finlay’s multi-faceted ‘microtonal’ projects such as The Road North. In botany, the rhizome is a horizontal subterranean stem of a plant which produces roots and shoots from its nodes. It contrasts with vertical root systems such as the tree, which Deleuze and Guattari associate with hierarchical and centred, or ‘arboreal or ‘arborescent’, ways of thinking. ‘Rhizomatic’ thought follows the principles of multiplicity and heterogeneity. The rhizome has no central line of thought and has multiple entry points. In the rhizome any point can be connected to another point, while arborescent shoots are deterritorialized by escaping through ‘nomadic movement’ on lines of flight. The rhizome provides Deleuze and Guattari with a model for understanding the book, and by extension, culture and politics.4 If we think of the carrying stream as rhizomatic, we can imagine it flowing across a landscape, spreading, intersecting and forming new lines of thought across a horizontal plane of immanence.

  • 5 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 85.
  • 6 Sheri Benning, ‘Claybank, Saskatchewen’, Rhizomes, 15, Winter 2007, ed. Dianne Chisholm <http://www.rhizomes.net/issue15/benning/index.html> [accessed </http> (...)
  • 7 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 85.
  • 8 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What Is Philosophy, pp. 109-10

4The rhizome is related to Deleuze and Guattari’s wider project of geophilosophy, in which ‘thinking takes place in the relationship of territory and the earth’.5 As Sheri Benning writes, geophilosophy is a philosophy of immanence, ‘denying appeals to transcendence, essence, or universal principles’. They eradicate the dichotomy between humanity and nature by ‘stretching out a plane of immanence that absorbs the earth (or rather, “adsorbs” it)’.6 Deleuze and Guattari describe how ‘the earth is not one element among others but rather brings together all the elements within a single embrace while using one or another of them to deterritorialize territory’.7 Thus we can see how geophilosophy incorporates ecology’s interest in the interconnectedness of all things, while embracing experimentation and ‘the multiple possibilities of becoming’.8

  • 9 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 21.

5Alec Finlay’s ‘microtonal’ projects are gatherings of several smaller elements within a wider field. The process begins with Finlay setting the parameters for a project then inviting others to join him in the sharing of consciousness. Yet unlike some contemporary artists for whom the resulting situation is the end result, Finlay sets himself lyrical tasks, writing poems and creating artworks which convey his own thoughts, experiences and responses to other voices. These responses, and those of his companions, are gathered into a word-map, rhizomatic assemblages of blog posts, interventions, artworks, poems and books. The open-ended and collaborative nature of these projects represents a move away from centred and hierarchical notions of authorship towards a rhizomatic state of immanence. The rhizome, write Deleuze and Guattari, ‘pertains to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable, and has multiple entryways and exits and its own lines of flights.’9 Therefore, we can think of a microtonal project as a map with multiple entryways and numerous lines of thought.

I. The word-mapping of Scotland in The Road North

6It is as a journey poet that Finlay, alongside his regular collaborator Ken Cockburn, has created his richest and most ambitious microtonal projects. One such project is The Road North, a word-map of Scotland which Finlay and Cockburn completed in 2011. The inspiration for this project was the travel journal of the seventeenth century Japanese haiku master, Basho, Oku-no-hoshimichi, or Backroads to Far Towns. Finlay and Cockburn roughly followed the great poet’s north-west trajectory, matching his 53 ‘stations’ (temples, mountains, the homes of fellow poets) with equivalent places of personal and/or cultural resonance. At each station, they would drink tea and whisky and write haiku, leaving a copy of the poem in situ. They were often joined on their travels by other artists and writers, as well as folk singers, musicians and ecologists. At the final station, Glasgow’s Hidden Garden, they held a matsuri (local) festival, inviting the public to participate in singing, haiku writing and tea-drinking. Each visit was blogged by Finlay, Cockburn and others as they went along, presenting prose and poetry alongside audio-visual material. Finlay’s is a social art, one which invites others to share in the act of creation. In the process, literary and artistic assemblages enter into relationships with social assemblages, bringing forth a series of becomings.

  • 10 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 14.
  • 11 Calum Rodger ‘Poems of the Infra-Ordinary: Alec Finlay’s Question Your Teaspoons’ <http://glasgowreviewofbooks.com/2013/05/28/poems-of-the-infra-extraordinary/> [accessed 25 Feb</http> (...)

7In The Road North, Basho’s Oku-no-hoshimichi is a frame for viewing Scotland anew, combing East and West, past and present. This corresponds with Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of maps and tracings. While the map is rhizomatic, the tracing is like the leaf of a tree, relating to an existing, hierarchical structure. However, by plugging ‘the tracings back into the map’ the roots or trees are connected ‘back up with a rhizome’ thereby ‘opening them up to possible lines of flight’.10 Viewed in this context, Finlay and Cockburn are literally deterritorializing Basho from Japan, tracing his journey and laying it over Scotland in order to make connections and open up new lines of thought. This process also applies to the other voices who appear in The Road North. As Calum Rodger notes, Alec Finlay’s poetry establishes a dialogue with the past, ‘augmenting old voices with phenomenological reflections from the imagistic... to the corporeal... breathing life into both by means of quiet reverence and unadorned formal exactitude.’11 By visiting places associated with writers such as Sorley Maclean, James Boswell and Dr Johnson, and Ian Hamilton Finlay, Alec Finlay and Ken Cockburn enter into dialogue with the past voices, engaging with the cultural associations of an environment and opening up new lines of thought through their own lyrical responses.

  • 12 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’ <http://www.company-of-mountains.com/p/overview.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

8Finlay and Cockburn came to call their lyrical approach in The Road North ‘Bashoing’, ‘writing in places’. As Alec Finlay puts it, they were written ‘in the space between Basho’s text and our locations’. Working in these locations led to a change in their poetics, recalibrating ‘the conventional brief of landscape poetry as recollective description’. Their poems, often composed in situ ‘during a brief visit, with little time for revision’ were sewn into the blog’s ‘patchwork of poem-labels and retrospective reflections’,12 thus continuing the tradition shaped by Basho in Oku-No-Hosimichi. The constricted space of the poem labels – simply traditional luggage labels with a rubber-stamped rectangular frame – ensured that the poems would be brief. It also meant that the poems could be left in situ, tied to the branch of a tree, propped up against a rock, and photographed against the settings that inspired them.

  • 13 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’.
  • 14 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’.

9The poems in The Road North blend found texts and literary allusions with Alec Finlay’s own impressions of place. As Alec Finlay notes, he is ‘drawn to a tradition that equates poetic forms with natural elements’.13 In addition to using forms traditionally associated with nature poetry – the haiku and the lyric – Finlay has developed concrete poems which take their visual forms from natural elements such as flowers and mountains. A post-concrete form often associated with the composer and writer John Cage, the mesostic in Alec Finlay’s hands takes on a mimetic quality, as seen in the 2004 project Mesostic Herbarium where the poet presents ‘word-branches growing from a name-stem’ :14

10This poem is one of a series presented on tree-plaques in Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The phonetic qualities of the name-stem ‘ash’ help evoke the sound of the wind through its branches, which itself recalls that of the sea. Finlay’s mesostic not only puts a name to the tree, but places it in a context, inviting the reader to roam imaginatively in the space between the poem and the ash.

  • 15 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’.
  • 16 Alec Finlay and Ken Cockburn, The Road North, Station 40: Berneray <http://the-road-north.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/40-berneray.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

11Designed to ‘catch the flux of time, tide or season’,15 the circle poem’s circular form invokes a cyclical sense of time. Take this poem (‘Swans float on the loch | Geese fly over the loch’), from station 40, Berneray:16

12The words float in space, like the swans on the loch and the geese in the air. The circular form gives a sense of the season cycle, while also evoking a body of water and the flow of currents. Freed from vertical verse form, no one phrase is strictly the ‘beginning’ of the poem; the order of the two phrases can be swapped without changing the meaning. By allowing the reader to enter at any point, the circular form invites rhizomatic play. The reader can transform the poem into a series of absurdist commands (‘Fly over the loch [, ] swans | float on the loch [, ] geese’), and surreal inversions (‘over the loch swans float | on the loch geese fly’). Here is a form which evokes nature, while standing apart from it. Its unconventional structure invites the reader to roam imaginatively between word and object, even to the point where conventional meaning breaks down.

13Also evoking natural forms, while standing apart from them is the wrd-mntn. Sketched out on graph paper, the first word-mntn, ‘offered themselves as models of the hills’ writes Alec Finlay. Here is his take on the Skye Cuillin, Sgurr Nan Gillain:

  • 17 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’.

14As Alec Finlay notes, ‘Their schematic letters formed triangular summits but, being dictated by language rather than geology, they diverged from the “true” shape of their “home” mountain’. This reminds us that ‘the hill is not its name’ thus maintaining ‘the distinction between names and things’.17 This corresponds with Deleuze’s ideas about language and representation. The world is not a blank canvas, waiting to be given meaning. The world already has meaning and the act of naming or tracing does not erase this.

  • 18 Basho, Back Roads to Far Towns, Basho’s Travel Journal, trans. Cid Corman and Kamaike Susumo (Buffa (...)

15While such poems are phenomenological, capturing immediate experiences in an imagistic manner, they often have a sense of a greater whole. As Cid Corman writes, Basho’s poems ‘are not isolated instances of lyricism, but cries of their occasions, of someone intently passing through a world, often arrested by the momentary nature of things within an unfathomable “order”’. Everywhere Basho goes, Corman continues, ‘one feels a sounding made, the ground hallowed, hardwon, endeared to him, and so to us, through what others had made of it, had reached, discovered.’18 This desire and need for context is shared by Finlay and Cockburn, who as noted previously, engage with ‘what others had made’ of these places. The blogs for Stations 14 and 15 show their engagement with both Basho and figures closer to home.

16The first part of Oku No Hosimichi documents Basho and Sora’s journey from Edo (now Tokyo) to the Shirakawa Barrier, the crossing point to Oku, the north country. As Alec Finlay and Ken Cockburn set out from their Edo, Edinbugh, their idea is that the Shirakawa Barrier corresponds with the Lowland-Highland divide: somewhere in Perthshire. Ken Cockburn’s poem, which alludes to Gary Snyder’s translation of Han Shan’s Cold Mountain, suggests that Shirakawa is as much a state of mind as geographic reality:

People ask us
the way to Shirakawa Barrier?

  • 19 The Road North, Station 14: St Fillans Hill <http://the-road-north.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/14-saint-fillans-hill.html> [accessed 25 February 2015]. Basho’s text is richly al</http> (...)

our reply: take it easy
there are Shirakawa Barriers
everywhere.19

17In Oku No Hosimichi, Basho and Sora, having crossed the Shirakawa barrier, arrive at station 14, Sukagawa, the home of haiku poet Tokyu, with whom they spend several days. He asks them if anything has come of crossing the Shirakawa Barrier. In response, Basho composes this beautiful haiku, describing a summer scene of country-women planting in the rice fields:

  • 20 Basho, Back Roads to Far Towns, p. 25.

natural grace’s
beginning found in Oku’s
rice-planting singing20

18Finlay and Cockburn also mark their crossing with song: Basho’s ‘moment of transition, beyond the capital, through Shirakawa and on into the hills, is our moment to hear an old Gaelic song’. They ask their Tokyu, the Perthshire-based singer, storyteller, writer and folklorist Margaret Bennett, for the most appropriate and she chooses ‘Gradh geal mo chridh’, ‘Dear love of my heart, I would plough with you and reap’, also known as the ‘Eriksay Love Lilt’. They play her beautiful recording of the song at the top of St Fillan’s Hill, their No.1 Shirakawa. There is a sense of circular time to this pairing of Scottish and Japanese songs, as the eternal themes of love and harvest play out across culture, place and time.

  • 21 The Road North, Station 14: St Fillans Hill.

19Yet there is also a sense of difference, not only in terms of landscape and agriculture, but in the way themes are expressed culturally. Rather than suggest that Scotland and Japan share some essential being, or transcendent truth, Finlay and Cockburn’s pairing places both nations on a plane of immanence where becomings take place.21

20In the entry for their station 15, Dunira, Alec Finlay roams the ‘estate’ of their Tokyu, Margaret Bennett, which also happens to be somewhere his father, Ian Hamilton Finlay, lived and took much inspiration from. Alec Finlay draws parallels between the world of Basho and that of his father. Here is Basho’s original journal entry for his 15th station:

  • 22 From Corman’s notes: Gyogi Bosatsu, ‘high priest in the Nara period […] Bosatsu (Boddhisatva) is an (...)
  • 23 Basho, Back Roads to Far Towns, p. 26.

Off on the edge of town in the shade of a huge chestnut tree, a priest, completely out of things. Perhaps “in the mountain depths gathering chestnuts” referred to such an existence, or so to my imagination it seemed... Gyogi Bosatsu,22 they say, during his lifetime used it [the chestnut] for his walking-stick and the posts of his house.23

21And now Alec Finlay and Ken Cockburn’s station 15, Dunira:

Our huge chestnut in a corner of Tokyu’s estate is the great sycamore on the estate at Dunira

Our off on the edge of town… a priest, completely out of things, is Ian
Hamilton Finlay, painter, playwright, poet, who lived here in the early 1950s

Our chestnuts are the Quebecois buckwheat pancakes that Margaret cooked for us, with a wee glass each of our whisky, Tullibardine 1993

  • 24 The Road North, Station 15: Dunira <http://the-road-north.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/15-dunira.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

Our walking-stick is the hazel walking-stick made by Margaret’s uncle in Balquhidder24

22‘A priest, completely out of things’, Ian Hamilton Finlay worked as a shepherd near Dunira in the late 1940s, and his memories of the area provided images for stories and poems he created many years later: the little burns and windmills of his concrete poems, and the sheep pens and ruined formal garden which are both referenced at Little Sparta. These visits are not just retrospective explorations of landscape and memory, with Alec Finlay tracing his fathers’ footsteps. The tracings are plugged back into the word-map of contemporary Scotland, providing different frames for viewing these locations as they are now, and creating new work.

  • 25 The Road North, Station 15: Dunira.

23At his father’s old house above Dunira, Alec Finlay ties two poem-labels to the trees. The first of these homages to his father reads ‘pastor of pines | shepherd of rocks || Druim na Cille | St Fillans Hill’. The places are named so as to claim them for Ian Hamilton Finlay – not an act of ownership, but an act of remembrance for one of the voices who has shaped this cultured landscape. There is an echo of Basho’s ‘a priest, completely out of things’ in ‘pastor of pines’, while ‘shepherd of rocks’ evokes not only the elder Finlay’s actual work as a shepherd on these hills, but his life’s work as a maker of poem-objects at Stonypath and elsewhere. In the second homage-label Alec Finlay links the natural burns and rills of Perthshire to the man-made ones at Stonypath: ‘pool | fall | pool | fall | pool | fall | pool | fall | rill || Druim na Cille | Stonypath.’25 Both poems give a sense of a creative rural ecology in which processes, both natural and (agri) cultural, leave an imprint on the landscape. The poems memorialise his father, but they are also becomings, projecting past voices into the future.

  • 26 The Road North, Station 15: Dunira.

24Alec Finlay’s dialogue is not just with past voices, however, for Margaret Bennett’s own experience as a long-time resident of Dunira, as refracted through her deep knowledge of folk culture, brings further layers of meaning. She takes Finlay and Cockburn to a special spot in the woods, only to find that ‘Narnia’ has lost its green spell. But then she finds ‘a new magical spot, a rowan and a holly both growing out of the bole of a gean’.26 It’s a perfect image of nature’s cycle of decay and growth, and an apt metaphor The Road North’s fostering of new lines of growth from old roots and radicles. As a singer and folklorist, Bennett is also important to the project’s sense of a social art. It is worth noting that Bennett and Henderson were fellow travellers on the carrying stream. Her involvement in the project therefore links it to Henderson’s values where the living folk tradition is part of a broader artistic movement that is modernist, left-wing and internationalist. Finlay’s idea of art as an invitation, a social assemblage, is bolstered by her contribution.

  • 27 The Road North, Station 53: The Hidden Gardens <http://the-road-north.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/53-hidden-gardens_07.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

25At the final station, The Hidden Garden in Glasgow, Finlay, Cockburn and a number of the poets, artists and singers who had joined them on their travels, gathered, alongside members of the public, for a masturi festival. Following an opening ritual where the Tibetan singing bowls were played, their resonant drones ‘clearing the air’ as it were, Bennett sang ‘Gradh geal mo chridh’, inviting all to join in an act of shared consciousness.27 Here is a perfect example of Finlay’s rhizomorphous practice, a generous social artwork which brings a range of voices, past and present, together in order to experience a place. It is through this social, experiential dimension that the literary and artistic assemblages of The Road North enter into a number of social assemblages, connecting different lines of thought and opening new ones. Finlay’s commitment to shared consciousness animates his engagement with ecological issues. His mapping of place through poetry, prose and art events, constitutes an experimental environment praxis, which aims to foster a creative and sustainable relationship with the natural world and its resources.

II. Skying and the ecopoetics of wind power

  • 28 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’.
  • 29 Alec Finlay The Bee-Bole, <http://www.the-bee-bole.com/> [accessed 25 February 2015].
  • 30 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’.

26This experimental environmental praxis is explored further in The Bee Bole and his exploration of renewable energy, Skying. In addition to mapping the inanimate and elemental in natureculture, Finlay has explored the relationship between the human and non-human in The Bee Bole (2010- 2011), which addresses the cultural history of bees at a time when the species is endangered. Perhaps the most affecting aspect of this microtonal project is the ‘Bee Library’, which represents the gesture of giving a feature of nature back to its ‘home’.28 Finlay would convert books on bees into shelters for wild bees. Each Bee-Library29 becomes a metaphor for the cyclic interaction of the human and non-human world. A book about bees is of course a human representation, a tracing, of the non-human. Furthermore, the materials from which the books are made have been taken from nature. By recycling these books as Bee Libraries, Alec Finlay plugs them back into the map, giving their content and material back to the non-human world, hanging them from trees and providing sanctuary for the bees. The project succeeds in transcending the duality of nature versus culture and raising awareness of an important environmental cause. It is also an active intervention in the environment, an experimental and creative meeting of aesthetic and ecological solutions to issues of sustainability. As he writes, ‘there is... no quarrel between these aesthetic solutions. All we can share is care for the places we love, and the allowance we make, that anyone shall belong, as long as they do no harm.’30

  • 31 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’.

27Aesthetic and ecological solutions are also explored in Skying, a microtonal project on renewable energy. Finlay takes a particular interest in how wind turbines relate to the human and non-human. He is broadly prowind, but takes a pragmatic approach, asking how turbines can best be used so as to benefit people and place. Issues of who owns the land and its resources are raised – Alec Finlay favours models of community ownership and challenges ‘the foul wealth of entitlement’ that sees a rich minority owning the majority of the land.31 As he writes, ‘In the Highlands, the sense of belonging is pinched by history, land ownership, the contested values of marginal crofting, tourism and wilderness’. However, he sees hope in the ‘new approaches to commonality’ he discovers on Skye:

  • 32 Atlas Arts, the Skye-based organisation who commissioned A Company of Mountains.
  • 33 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’.

co-operative wind-farms, the stewardship of the John Muir
Trust in Torrin and Strathaird, Staffin’s Urras an Taobh
Sear Eco-museum, the continuing influence of the Gaelic
College, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, and, indeed, the work of Atlas,32
exploring new approaches to culture and memory.33

  • 34 Alec Finlay, Skying, ‘Whitelee’ <http://skying-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/whitelee_13.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

28He finds similar projects on the mainland and it is to wind-farms that this final section turns. Skying (2011-12) saw Finlay and a number of collaborators surveying renewable energy, with a particular focus on wind-farms. In a correspondence with the poet John Burnside, a vocal opponent of wind-farms, Finlay sets out his position. While acknowledging the issues of access and ownership that come with corporate wind-farms, Finlay argues that ‘of all the current power sources renewable energy points most clearly to social, community or national ownership – or reminds us of that principle’. He stresses that common ownership of energy enables us to take responsibility for our own consumption.34 Renewables, and wind-farms in particular, differ from other power sources in that they encourage us to think about our relationship with the environment. Some commercial wind-farms, such as that at Whitelee, Lanarkshire, suggest ‘the potential of public access as a given’, a marked contrast with the fenced-off plants of nuclear or coal:

  • 35 Alec Finlay, Skying, ‘Whitelee’.

How improbable it would be for any of the dominant power complexes of the carbon age to associate themselves with leisure, access to wild nature, or indeed the encouragement of any form of human activity that isn’t immediately productive of monetary value. Scuba diving under an oil platform? Geocaching in a nuclear power plant?35

29The potential for public access prompts Finlay to ask how the artist might use a wind-farm. Working with a number of collaborators, Finlay devises aesthetic solutions to deterritorialize the dominant idea of the commercial wind-farm as an economic enterprise. Instead of treating the wind-farm as a man-made blight on a natural environment, Finlay thinks of Whiteless as a natureculture, where the turbine becomes part of the local ecology. This rhizomatic thinking opens up the possibility of becomings. His starting point is to see the turbine as a form of public sculpture. As he explains to Burnside:

  • 36 Alec Finlay, Skying, ‘No More Windfarms’ <http://skying-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/nomore-windfarms.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

I have come to love turbines, as things, though not for every landscape, and not if they bring pylons in their wake. I think of them as symbolic monumental sculptures, in opposition to the ghastly monumentalism of Gormley, Plensa, et al, who conceive artworks which make a pseudo claim to represent ‘us’. At least a windmill is a sculpture which produces energy and illustrates the possibility we could all take responsibility for that scarce resource.36

  • 37 Alec Finlay, Skying, ‘Whitelee’.

30At Whitelee, one of Europe’s largest active wind farms, Finlay considers the relationship of its 140 turbines with the moorland plateau and peat bog it occupies. He maps the topography, noting how the farm embraces ‘Lochgoin Reservoir and Dunwan Dam, the heights of Drumdruff, Corse, Queenseat, Mid Hill and Green Hill’. He notes how the site is ‘fringed by another dominant influence on the Scottish wilderness landscape, the commercial sitka forest’. Set nine miles from Glasgow, the turbines are easily visible from the city they power. Thus, this commercial site ‘faces “outwards” in terms of the community’, as it has a visitor centre and offers outdoor pursuits such as hiking, cycling and horse-riding. Ornithologists can come to observe the pipits, grouse, skylark and peewit who live on the moor.37

  • 38 Alec Finlay, Skying, ‘Whitelee’.

31Finlay composes a mesostic to capture an impression of the blades slicing through the air. This effect is reflected in the form itself: note how the words on the horizontal axis slice through the vertical ‘Whitelee’.38

  • 39 Finlay is presumably thinking of Tarkovksy’s 1979 film Stalker, in which the camera meditates upon (...)
  • 40 Alec Finlay, Skying, ‘Whitelee’.
  • 41 Alec Finlay, Skying, ‘Whitelee’.

32He then composes poetic texts to accompany Alexander Maris’s photographs, ‘which catch the eerie Tarkovskian39 atmosphere of the array of white towers, against the bleached bog grasses and dark heather of the moor.’40 Rather than focus on the uncanny, the text of his proposal recognises the monumental form of the turbines, while capturing a sense of their movement, ‘a world of wavering forms | narrow the infinite moor.’41 The turbines ‘narrow the infinite moor’ by providing a sense of scale and becoming landmarks. This idea is developed in a blog for the windmills at Braes of Doune. ‘Our field of vision extends into the beyond, but we take comfort in the familiar measure of the near at hand’, writes Finlay, before offering a poem which captures this phenomenon:

over there
just a wee way
away
not far
now

  • 42 Alec Finlay Skying ‘Braes of Doune’ < http://skying-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/braes-odoune.html [ (...)

33‘On the scale of plane, vale or hill, which shape our horizons, the eye is irresistibly drawn to known verticals, ’ Finlay writes. ‘We navigate by natural and technological landmarks, seeing and saying that the far is coming near’. He describes how certain landmarks indicate that he is on familiar territory, ‘just a wee way away’ from home. Travelling through a land in which we know no landscapes, he adds, is quite different, ‘how rapidly do we grasp on to anything new that becomes known on such new horizons’. These landmarks help us orientate ourselves, proving, he argues, ‘that most of us will – whether willingly, or despite ourselves – grow used to and fond of windmills as landmarks: gnomons for places.’42

  • 43 Alec Finlay Skying ‘Lucky Windmills’ <http://skying-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/luckywindmills.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].
  • 44 Alec Finlay Skying ‘Windflowers’ <http://skying-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/elements-windflowers.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

34Another way of seeing the wind turbine is to compare its shape to natural forms: the leaf, the tree and the flower. A four-leaf clover becomes a ‘lucky windmill’,43 while a sycamore leaf becomes an ‘autumn windmill’. The most explicit example of Finlay’s pairing of flower and turbine forms comes with his ‘sketches of the elements of a windflower’, which break down the components of each, designating petals as blades, stems as pillars and so on.44 More poetic are the playful sketches incorporating text and line-drawings:

  • 45 Alec Finlay Skying ‘Sketches’ <http://skying-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/sketches.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

35The first poem ‘hard edges/soft paths’ refers to the sensation of blades cutting a ‘soft path’ through the air. The reader is reminded of the blade of a shovel digging a path through soil, locating wind-farms within the wider contexts of farming and gardening. The second poem realises the gardening metaphor on an industrial scale, with the construction of a monumental steel flower.45

  • 46 Alec Finlay Skying ‘Rousay and Billia Croo’ < http://skying-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/billia-new. (...)
  • 47 Alec Finlay Skying ‘Windmill for an Observatory’ <http://skying-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/windmill-for-observatory.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

36The monumentalism of the large commercial wind-farms is contrasted with the modesty of community owned projects. Finlay admires the smaller turbines for their perfect form and marvels at the ingenuity and wit with which local communities incorporate them into the environment. In the Shetland isles, he is particularly delighted by a wind-garden at Burra, an assemblage of model planes or wind-toys.46 Small turbines provide opportunities for the installation of poem-labels and other forms. At the Kielder Observatory, Finlay adds a poem to the blades of their wind turbine, likening the movement of the blades to the cosmic cycle of day and night: ‘space arcs | light eclipses | time bends’.47

  • 48 Sheri Benning ‘Claybank, Saskatchewan’, Rhizomes 15, Winter 2007, ed. Dianne Chisholm <http://www.rhizomes.net/issue15/benning/index.html> [accessed 25</http> (...)

37By envisaging wind turbines as sculptures, landmarks and flowers Finlay makes them beautiful as well as useful, relating functional objects to their environments. Community-owned wind-farms and turbines represent the future, by putting the responsibility for natural resources into the hands of the communities who use them. By exploring wind turbines’ potential as aesthetic objects, Finlay relates art to issues of environmental, social and economic justice. As Sheri Benning notes, Deleuze and Guattari suggest that ‘art creates aesthetic figures and unleashes percepts and affects which facilitate sensory becomings... Thus, artistic vision creates a plane of “composition” that destratifies conventional experience’. In the work of Alec Finlay, a becoming-art and becoming-ecology are closely interrelated, as he, to quote Benning, recouples ‘nature with human habitation for the sake of a new and thriving earth’.48

  • 49 Andrew Sneddon, Transmission: Host, Alec Finlay (London: Artwords Press, 2008), p. 12.

38It is now clear that some contemporary Scottish writers feel a sense of alienation from modernity and lament what has been lost through environmental degradation. A Deleuzian ecocriticism or poetics does not dismiss those perspectives, but tries to think beyond the duality of nature and culture by using experimental, rhizomatic thought to bring forth multiple becomings. Instead of a reactive ecopoetics that laments a lost world or seeks to uncover some primordial essence of being in nature, a Deleuzian ecopoetics is pragmatic, experimental, creative, even revolutionary. This isn’t to say it’s cornucopian, hoping technology will solve our ecological problems, but it offers a more pragmatic approach. As Finlay told Andrew Sneddon, ‘Art is about how you give and share memory, for the future. The world is poetic, if only you allow it to be.’49 Alec Finlay’s rhizomatic ecopoetics and generative, collaborative practice enact the sharing of consciousness, connecting multiple lines of memory and thought – artistic, scientific, political, ecological – to bring forth multiple becomings, allowing voices, old and new, to flow free on the carrying stream, into a better future.

Notes

1 Louisa Gairn, Ecology and Modern Scottish Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008), p. 156.

2 ‘The plane is clearly not a program, design, end, or means: it is a plane of immanence that constitutes the absolute ground of philosophy, its earth or deterritorialization, the foundation on which it creates its concepts.’ Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What Is Philosophy, trans. H. Tomlison and G. Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 41.

3 Hamish Henderson, Collected Poems and Songs, ed. by Raymond Ross (Edinburgh: Curly Snake Publishing, 2000), pp. 154-55.

4 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massami (London: Verso, 2003 [1980]), pp. 7-20.

5 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 85.

6 Sheri Benning, ‘Claybank, Saskatchewen’, Rhizomes, 15, Winter 2007, ed. Dianne Chisholm <http://www.rhizomes.net/issue15/benning/index.html> [accessed 27 February 2015].

7 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 85.

8 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What Is Philosophy, pp. 109-10

9 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 21.

10 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 14.

11 Calum Rodger ‘Poems of the Infra-Ordinary: Alec Finlay’s Question Your Teaspoons’ <http://glasgowreviewofbooks.com/2013/05/28/poems-of-the-infra-extraordinary/> [accessed 25 February 2015].

12 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’ <http://www.company-of-mountains.com/p/overview.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

13 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’.

14 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’.

15 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’.

16 Alec Finlay and Ken Cockburn, The Road North, Station 40: Berneray <http://the-road-north.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/40-berneray.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

17 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’.

18 Basho, Back Roads to Far Towns, Basho’s Travel Journal, trans. Cid Corman and Kamaike Susumo (Buffalo: White Pine Press, 2004), p. 10.

19 The Road North, Station 14: St Fillans Hill <http://the-road-north.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/14-saint-fillans-hill.html> [accessed 25 February 2015]. Basho’s text is richly allusive, quoting from and referencing past poets from Japan and China. In this spirit, Finlay and Cockburn’s poem ‘Shirakawa’ references not only Basho, but the famous Chinese poet Han Shan, another great traveller. Gary Snyder’s translation of Han Shan’s sixth ‘Cold Mountain’ poem precedes Finlay and Cockburn’s own on the blog. Finlay and Cockburn riff on the question form and the idea that a legendary place sought out by travellers is a state of mind as much as a physical entity: ‘Men ask me the way to Cold Mountain | Cold Mountain: there’s no through trail | In summer, ice doesn’t melt | The rising sun blurs in swirling fog. | How did I make it? | My heart’s not the same as yours. | If your heart was like mine | You’d get it and be right here.’ Han Shan, the ‘Cold Mountain’ poems translated by Gary Snyder. <http://www.hermetica.info/hanshan.htm> [accessed 25 February 2015].

20 Basho, Back Roads to Far Towns, p. 25.

21 The Road North, Station 14: St Fillans Hill.

22 From Corman’s notes: Gyogi Bosatsu, ‘high priest in the Nara period […] Bosatsu (Boddhisatva) is an honorary title conferred upon him by the Emperor Shomu’ (Basho, Back Roads to Far Towns, pp. 724-48)

23 Basho, Back Roads to Far Towns, p. 26.

24 The Road North, Station 15: Dunira <http://the-road-north.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/15-dunira.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

25 The Road North, Station 15: Dunira.

26 The Road North, Station 15: Dunira.

27 The Road North, Station 53: The Hidden Gardens <http://the-road-north.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/53-hidden-gardens_07.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

28 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’.

29 Alec Finlay The Bee-Bole, <http://www.the-bee-bole.com/> [accessed 25 February 2015].

30 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’.

31 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’.

32 Atlas Arts, the Skye-based organisation who commissioned A Company of Mountains.

33 Alec Finlay, ‘Overview: còmhlan bheanntan | A Company of Mountains’.

34 Alec Finlay, Skying, ‘Whitelee’ <http://skying-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/whitelee_13.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

35 Alec Finlay, Skying, ‘Whitelee’.

36 Alec Finlay, Skying, ‘No More Windfarms’ <http://skying-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/nomore-windfarms.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

37 Alec Finlay, Skying, ‘Whitelee’.

38 Alec Finlay, Skying, ‘Whitelee’.

39 Finlay is presumably thinking of Tarkovksy’s 1979 film Stalker, in which the camera meditates upon a mysterious landscape known as ‘The Zone’. Venturing through a forest, the characters come across an abandoned industrial complex. The contrast of the concrete buildings against the lush greenery and watery sky creates an eerie atmosphere, one which Finlay finds echoed at Whitelee.

40 Alec Finlay, Skying, ‘Whitelee’.

41 Alec Finlay, Skying, ‘Whitelee’.

42 Alec Finlay Skying ‘Braes of Doune’ < http://skying-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/braes-odoune.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

43 Alec Finlay Skying ‘Lucky Windmills’ <http://skying-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/luckywindmills.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

44 Alec Finlay Skying ‘Windflowers’ <http://skying-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/elements-windflowers.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

45 Alec Finlay Skying ‘Sketches’ <http://skying-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/sketches.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

46 Alec Finlay Skying ‘Rousay and Billia Croo’ < http://skying-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/billia-new.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

47 Alec Finlay Skying ‘Windmill for an Observatory’ <http://skying-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/windmill-for-observatory.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

48 Sheri Benning ‘Claybank, Saskatchewan’, Rhizomes 15, Winter 2007, ed. Dianne Chisholm <http://www.rhizomes.net/issue15/benning/index.html> [accessed 25 February 2015].

49 Andrew Sneddon, Transmission: Host, Alec Finlay (London: Artwords Press, 2008), p. 12.

Auteur

Is currently completing his PhD on the poetry and art of Ian Hamilton Finlay and Alec Finlay at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. His research covers their engagement with Scottish culture and the international avant-garde, using cultural materialist and ecocritical approaches. He has presented at several conferences and his research has been published in the journal Revista Canaria De Estudios Ingleses, no. 62 April 2011, pp. 55–70. He is also freelance music and arts writer for The Wire, The Quietus, The List and The Herald.

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