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Health of the Sublime in the Mearns

I'm so excited. After more than a year of working on the application, Health of the Sublime in the Mearns has been awarded the funds to begin. It's a two year project making an interactive map online, in VR, and in real life of the lived experience of wellbeing and the sublime in the natural world and the threat to that posed by climate change. The project has received funding for year one from Creative Scotland. Partner organisation I've partnered with Mearns and Coastal Healthy Living Network (MCHLN) to bring a programme of arts activity to their clients, volunteers, and staff. The remit of MCHLN is to support the wellbeing of people age 50+ in Kincardineshire and the Mearns. Clients range in age from early 50s to early nineties. Background My experience of shielding and isolation from other people in the North and Highlands of Scotland for most of the past two years has mostly been spent in total sensory immersion in nature. Incremental changes in water, plants, animals, atmosphere, and most especially sound, highlighted gains made when humans drastically changed their behaviour, forced by Covid-19. I was without a usable studio for most of that time and was so fortunate to spend the first lockdown on a 13,000-acre, nearly human-less remote landscape in the Highlands. This experience has formatively changed my practice and life. I have since relocated to rural Aberdeenshire, surrounded by animals, birds, trees in a pastoral idyll. One that is being fast destroyed by frequent winds 40-50+ miles per hour and frequent storms completely decimating woodlands. The woods and mountains are where my experience of wellbeing is at its apex. I want to share this heightened experience of wellbeing in the natural world and bring focus to the threat to this experience climate change poses. And thus Health of the Sublime in the Mearns was born. The project Participants will be able to join five programmes of tuition. The creative activities give participants tools, skills, and heightened awareness to document their well-being experience through audio, video, writing, making, and for some, virtual reality. Some housebound clients will be given training in making their own immersive experience of the natural world in virtual reality as a basis for their documentation. An interactive map based in online and VR is made of these participant-generated artworks. This map informs my own new body of multi-disciplinary work in video, performance, virtual reality, sound, installation, and sculpture. I will develop site-specific artwork inspired by the lived experience of wellbeing and site-specific climate crisis threat to these participant decided sites. Performances, installations, and sound works will be inspired by, made with, and potentially participant-made, will further poetically articulate the lived experience of wellbeing from immersion in the natural world. Delivery of the programme largely piggybacks on current methods MCHLN has in place already to deliver services, with additional methods where needed. This year-long programme of creative activity will be offered to staff, volunteers, as well as clients of MCHLN, helping to achieve one of MCHLNs goals of providing more opportunities and well-being for their volunteers. In the second year a new interactive overlay map, of the exact same area in the year one map, will show the direct threat from climate change to these specific sites of well-being with performances, video, and other artistic outcomes informed by data in map 1 and 2 as clickable links, immersive experiences, existing online, in VR, and a physical manifestation to be exhibited. The aims I hope through this project to foster skills to heighten awareness of wellbeing so clients can access those feelings more often, in the natural world and outwith it; to bring new means of connection between clients, staff, and volunteers of MCHLN and the wider community focusing on our individual and shared experiences of the world and our interdependence with each other and the planet; to empower each participant with respect for, to have confidence in, and value their distinct voice and experience by helping them hone multiple expressive skills, including self-critical assessment, as well as digital skills, and multiple methods of sharing that voice and experience with other participants and more widely. Climate change is affecting the livelihoods of Mearns people now. This area is highly agricultural, has nearly 30 miles of coastline, forests, and mountains. It is hoped this project will lead to less impactful, wasteful, and carbon-heavy behaviours and activities in participants lives, and also larger organisations, companies, farms, and ideally governmental change.

The gratitude

This project would never have gotten off the ground without help from so many people and organisations. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone at Creative Scotland, the very wise Suzy Glass/Digital Pivot, Applied Arts Scotland for making a paid opportunity for us to play with an ideal community of fellow novices in virtual reality, our tech guru Steve Colmer, previously of Soluis Heritage, now of Lateral North, everyone at Mearns and Coastal Healthy Living Network for being so innovative in leading the way to support the wellbeing of people 50+ in the Mearns. I am so grateful. And now we start.


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