What If? Looking Forward | Julia Barton

What If? Looking Forward | Julia Barton

In thinking What If we are essentially thinking about the future.
In looking back North Light Arts are learning in order to move forward, gaining insights into how we can better generate a creative culture, one that cares about the ways we can live more sustainably.

We continue to invite artists to respond to themes that demonstrate the power of the arts to inspire new skills and a better awareness of the world around us – to provoke both individual and collective activities and creative thinking.

The John Muir Open Exhibition ‘Tide: Dialogues of Change 2019, attracted numerous artists who appreciated the platform we were offering for environmental artists to practice in our special coastal environment. Eleven artists were selected to exhibit, create workshops and conversations: They exhibited painting to sculpture, film and sound and dance with talks and walks on the John Muir Way.  Our Bursary was awarded to Jenny Pope who produced intricate site-specific works that were intriguing and also brought a rye smile: inspired by the nature of our coastal location, she transformed useless found objects into fo-useful objects for coping in our changing world of global warming. |  https://northlightarts.org.uk/2019/03/tide-john-muir-open-2019/

Bodies of Water was a touring contemporary dance and community participatory piece.. The company walked participants along Dunbar High Street, had a mini residency at the West Barns Studios and in collaboration with North Light Arts and the Brunton Theatre performed at West Barns Hall. |  https://northlightarts.org.uk/2019/10/2437/

The landscape takes a central role in the practice of Julia Barton who, supported by the harbour Master Quentin Dimmer, set up her workshop for two days on Dunbar Harbour – bringing into sharp relief the problem of coastal plastics. She writes of her experiences of engaging with the community and the role they played in the production of her major artwork ‘Litter Cubes’:

Julia Barton of Littoral Art – Thoughts on working in Dunbar 2019 | https://littoralartproject.com/tag/julia-barton/

Much of my inspiration comes from my love of coastal ecology and my passion to protect its future. My aim is to highlight marine ecological issues in engaging ways. Last year Dunbar Harbour and North Light Arts together hosted one of my five #LitterCUBES events that took place around the Scottish Coastline. #LitterCUBES is a project which involved collecting, with the help of hundreds of volunteers, seven of the most common types of beach litter, drinks bottles, box strapping, mussel pegs, cotton bud sticks, prawn boxes, rope and fishing line. I have now constructed #LitterCUBES from each type, 20 in total. My aim is to show the direct connection between plastic beach litter and the waste of finite resources (eg oil) that plastic litter represents.

Public engagement is at the centre of my practice and working at the Harbour, during the Dunbar Civic Week, brought residents and visitors to my temporary ‘Dunbar work bench’.  The washed and prepared plastic bottles and fishing rope collected from the local strandlines were threaded and stitched together with the help of volunteers each day, to make up two Dunbar #LitterCUBES. The process of threading and stitching provided an ideal opportunity to listen to hundreds of observations about the health of the local marine environment, discuss how different litter items bleed into the sea, and how we can prevent it.  

Volunteers helped weigh the Dunbar plastic bottle #LitterCUBE, which enabled us to calculate its’ Embodied Energy content (EEc), converted to crude oil was 9.84 litres. Conversations evolved from here to thinking about the amount of energy contained in the huge amount of plastic that is floating in the sea and is being dumped on our shorelines with each tide. While the items we find, show us we are all responsible, it’s sad that much of what is found on our Scottish coast lines continues to be from the commercial fishing industry. 

Discussions triggered at the Harbour and at the ‘Tide|John Muir Open ‘Dialogues of Change’ event showed me that many people are beginning to think about our Climate Emergency and the need to urgently change our habits. My experience at Dunbar strengthened my conviction that Art more than ever must reach out to connect people and bring about change. I look forward to exhibiting my collection of 20 #LitterCUBES in tandem with the COP26 Climate Conference in 2021.