CLIMAVORE: On Tidal Zones
‘It’s advocating about concerns and issues on the island – awareness-raising, moving minds and empowering people to become involved in a civic process.’
Shona Cameron, Producer ATLAS Arts
In 2017 ATLAS Arts commissioned artist duo Cooking Sections to deliver a project on Skye that explored aquaculture, diet and environmental regeneration by working with the public and local businesses.
CLIMAVORE: On Tidal Zones saw artists Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe, who work together as Cooking Sections, take a highly participatory approach to stimulating debate about food production and consumption.
As part of the project they built an art work, in an intertidal zone, which was an oyster table when submerged but could become a dining table when the sea was out.
Each day at low tide, from 14-24 September 2017 they invited the public along to eat and take part in workshops, performances and conversations at the installation at Bayfield, near Portree.
At one level the award-winning project addressed worldwide concerns about food production, consumption and climate change. At another it looked at specific issues, such as the impact of salmon farming, on an island where harvesting the sea has been fundamental to life and the economy for millennia.
The ingredients they used, such as oysters, clams, mussels (bivalves that act as natural water purifiers) and seaweeds, were chosen for the positive part they can play in responding to the environmental challenges confronting Scottish waters. The one thousand oysters living on the table were a prime example, each filtering 125 litres of sea water a day when submerged.
‘The artists had the capacity to imagine something that has a dual function – that operates as a real oyster table and functions as a place where people could meet, eat and talk. They created a unique experience that people crossed a small river to get to; they had to wear wellington boots and if they didn’t have them they had to take their shoes and socks off to get to the table, and then they’re sitting in this big bay in Portree.’
Emma Nicolson, former director of ATLAS Arts
The CLIMAVORE concept developed by Cooking Sections is about the politics of food production and the economics of agriculture. Where debates over being a carnivore, omnivore, vegetarian or vegan tend to be about the origin of ingredients, CLIMAVORE is very much about the impact of food production and our diet on climate change. It is also about providing a flexible and effecting response to localised events, such as water pollution and acidification. In the case of CLIMAVORE: On Tidal Zones it was also supporting the promotion, growth and economic development of the use of bivalves and seaweeds that once had a significant role in the aquaculture of Skye.
The project took place at a time of debate about the impact of salmon farming on the marine ecosystem – in part due to the continued problems in tackling parasitic sea lice. Skye has 22 fish farms. According to the Scottish Government the aquaculture industry, including shellfish production, contributes over £1.8bn annually to Scotland’s economy and supports around 8,800 jobs.
ATLAS and Cooking Sections both recognise the economic benefits of the salmon farming industry. At the same time, they both wanted to look to the future and ask if there are other more sustainable approaches to aquaculture that complement and help support the regeneration of the area’s diverse seascape.
‘We wanted to use the visual arts to bring together different disciplines, from farming or small businesses to other forms of employment that could help to think about the ecology of the place.’
Alon Schwabe, Cooking Sections
‘As an organisation we wanted to remain neutral within the salmon farming debate; we certainly understand the value of the jobs it creates here and how important that employment is to the fragile economy on the island. But we wanted to be able to facilitate a debate and discussion around possible alternatives.’
Emma Nicolson, founding director of ATLAS Arts
In order to look at how Skye’s aquaculture might evolve CLIMAVORE: On Tidal Zones saw Cooking Sections work with local chefs to replace the farmed salmon on their menus with alternatives, such as bivalves and seaweed, that were not only healthy and delicious but also have a positive effect on the local environment. The 10 places that took part ranged from a café to a now-Michelin starred restaurant. Dishes included Climavore cocktails at The Ferry Inn, Dulse Soup at the Black Sheep food truck, and oysters and scallops served at Raasay House.
‘For the restaurants it really invigorated or reinvigorated some of their relationships and connections with the place and with the practices.’
Daniel Fernández Pascual Cooking Sections
‘When people asked why isn’t smoked salmon on the menu, we could tell them a bit of the educational side of the whole project. We also used a bit more seaweed and we’re now selling seaweed in the shop because of that.’
Freya Rowe, Raasay House
The project had a wide and continuing impact, with many people keen to remain involved in the future. In the 10 days from 14-24 September 2017 there were 4,016 direct participants. The team also worked closely with the local history society, the press, the University of the Highlands and Islands, and primary and secondary schools to encourage a longer-term legacy for the project. This has been realised in a number of ways including long-term changes to menus and to the cooking practices of chefs who feed thousands of customers a year.
The project has won numerous accolades including a highly commended Innovation Award, Nature of Scotland Awards, 2018. It was shortlisted as one of ten global projects for the prestigious Visible Award, which celebrates art projects bringing about responsible change and social transformation. It was shortlisted for Vibes (Scottish Environment Business Awards) – Adaptation to Climate Change Award, 2018 and a finalist in Scottish Rural Awards, Conservation and the Environment Category, 2018. CLIMAVORE was selected as one of the 100 most influential projects of 2017 by ICON Magazine. Cooking Sections was awarded a Special Prize by the 2019 Future Generation Art Prize whose jury said, “Cooking Sections proposes a better future and successfully engages a broader public to increase awareness of such issues.”
The ultimate goal is to have a permanent CLIMAVORE station in Skye. The next phase will be to further develop its advocacy and work with schools, colleges and restaurants. The hope is to create a new generation of chefs that are keen to use alternative and mores sustainable ingredients in their dishes.
ATLAS Arts, which specialises in commissioning artists to explore issues and concerns that relate to everyday contemporary life in Skye, reports that the intertidal installation had a demonstrable impact on visitors.
Many people became more engaged with the conversation about current approaches to food production. Some have changed their views on salmon farming, with some saying they now no longer eat farmed salmon. One participant to the project evaluation said: “The event gave me a better understanding of the adverse environmental impact of salmon farming and the potential economic benefits which could be accrued from promoting and producing locally sourced and sustainable seaweed and shellfish products.” (Project evaluations are anonymous)
‘Bringing [stakeholders] down to that environment – being in that space and talking about aquaculture – there’s that creative imagination that makes people think about things in a different way which wouldn’t be possible if you were reading a book or reading an article.’
Shona Cameron, ATLAS Arts
To find out more:
Contact ATLAS Arts on: 01478 611143 | atlasarts.org.uk
PO Box 6318, Portree, Isle of Skye, IV51 OAF.
Watch the film! Drone footage of the preview event of CLIMAVORE: On Tidal Zones
Acknowledgements: SCAN would like to thank ATLAS Arts and colleagues for taking part in this Case Study, including Emma Nicolson (Founding Director, ATLAS) and Shona Cameron (Producer, ATLAS), Cooking Sections (Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe – Artists), and Freya Rowe (Raasay House proprietor).