Meet A+E Collective, a multidisciplinary group of young Glasgow-based creatives working for a better future
Originally formed from the Glasgow School of Art’s Ecology Society back in 2017, the “playful, zany, and chaotic” A+E Collective is a gathering of creatives working to create visual and physical work centred around ecological futures and the climate crisis.
- Joey Levenson
- 3 November 2021
Made up of Glasgow-based Finn Arschavir, Ane Lopez, Maria Sledmere, and Lucy Watkins, A+E was first founded by Ane and former collective member Jessica Piette after hosting a panel discussion and viewing of Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Red Desert for their ecology society at GSA. “We wanted to offer an informal, open and playful space for those students whose work was ecologically minded and consequently seen as incredibly uncool,” Ane tells It’s Nice That. “We were frustrated with how the climate and biodiversity crises were represented in art and the media in general and felt a responsibility and compulsion to represent it in a way that wasn’t tokenistic, tainted with greenwashing, or overly sentimental,” Finn adds. “In the midst of not only ecological but also post-graduation anxiety, forming a collective felt like the right thing to do, and still does,” Ane concurs. By creating a sense of community, A+E is able to tap in to the collective general sense of precarity in young people right now to pursue a more sustainable future in their art.
After self-publishing an “eco-anxiety” newspaper laid out to represent rising sea levels (But There Is No Land Near The End, funded through Kickstarter), A+E was officially birthed. The newspaper “allowed us to make a public-facing statement: a curated publication of responses to the concept of disconnection,” explains Ane, gathered from more than 20 local and international artists and then presented at an immersive event at Glasgow’s Art School venue. Now, A+E is an exciting combination of art, design, poetics, praxis, and critical thinking. “Most of our members come from a communication design background whereas I’m from a literature and creative writing world,” says Maria, pointing to one example of the collective’s diversity. “I would say throughout the three or more years I’ve been a part of the collective, almost all my own thinking around ecology has filtered through the conversations sparked by A+E projects — whether we’re working on speculative aesthetics, dark mycology or dream imaginaries.”
The collective are always cautious to invite negotiation and response into all their projects, opening up space for dialogue and communication. It’s a refreshing transparency, which allows A+E to avoid pretension. “We quickly found that our attention to design goes hand-in-hand with running more participatory and reciprocal events such as reading groups, workshops and public talks,” Maria adds. In this way, the collective itself runs as an ecosystem. With Ane’s work around film festivals and photography, Lucy’s work to help promote climate positive objectives in organisations, Finn’s work with the Goethe-Institute around fungi and weather systems and Maria’s work on lyric architectures for anthropocene thought, the four of them come together to “learn new skills, hold each other up in the face of climate anxiety and material precarity, extend our network of comrades and collaborators, and deliver playful, engaging and digestible work to a varied audience,” Maria explains. They’re symbiotic in practice, successfully working in different combinations and sometimes as an entire group. Finn and Maria, for example, worked on an experimental epistolary review of a Sternberg Press book, The Book of Wild Inventions, which was commissioned by MAP Magazine. Finn, Lucy and Ane, for example, worked on a series of concept-based fantasy cards for the artist/musician Livia Rita, touching on themes of utopia, ritual, magical thinking and elements. “As a result A+E is the complete entity which creates projects and outcomes which we could never have created individually,” Lucy explains.
Now, A+E’s projects are almost entirely commission led, apart from the publication Monte Carlo 1. “We enjoy being responsive and having the prompt and constraint of commission to focus what is otherwise quite a sprawling list of research interests,” Lucy says. But overall, A+E “don’t provide answers or solutions to the climate crisis,” Lucy clarifies. Instead, “we hope to ask and invite more questions on how to be a kinder, resilient and open ecological being.” Under all their aesthetic work remains an ethical underpinning, one that centres on a “postcapitalist version of pleasure, desire and intimacy,” that makes room for the difficult realities of any given environment.
On providing examples of the kind of collaborative, curatorial, and deeply ecological work the collective produces, Lucy refers back to Monte Carlo 1, “a publication we put together to document the collective’s work from the beginning, to create an abstract archival collage/experimental CV which brings together all our projects and collaborations,” she explains. The project is a frantic compilation of conversations, photographs, illustrations, poetry and theory that documents responses to the climate movement in the current moment. “We’ve worked alongside such a huge variety of inspiring individuals and organisations, and with everything sitting digitally these days we were pining to produce something physical which brings to life all those email chains, google docs and folders which would have otherwise been lost to the ether,” Lucy explains. “And it was important that we kept our raw material consumption to an absolute minimum and print in the most ecological ways we could.” Avoiding any needless addition to the saturated material world of the current environment, A+E made use of surplus paper stocks left from previous projects and requested friends and collaborators to donate any old material they had lying around. “And then when it came to printing, riso was a completely logical choice for as much of it as we could,” Lucy adds. Now as a print-on-demand publication, A+E can be certain every copy made is going to a home where it’s needed, not stockpiling into unnecessary quantities.
Maria’s example is Biosystems, which is “a platform for galvanising ecological thought through reading and discussion,” initially funded from their Kickstarter. Whilst not inherently visual, the reading group plays an important role in distributing texts and information on climate and ecology injustices around the world, and throughout time. “The idea is to provide a space of community while also encouraging members of the public to engage with key ecological ideas from various angles,” Maria explains. Now, Biosystems is far more than a reading group, and has taken on a huge life of its own. So much so, that it’s impossible to articulate here all the incredible, creative, and diverse amount of events they’ve put on under the Biosystems banner.
“I think there can be more done on waste reduction, finding more sustainable and less toxic processes, and supporting low carbon production,” Finn says on sustainability in the contemporary art and design world. “In our globalised world, materials and capital flow in incredibly complex and opaque ways, the more transparent this can be the more informed our choices.” Here, Finn is referencing the various ways in which the contemporary art world entrenches itself in actively harmful power structures, such as accepting sponsorship from fossil fuel money. “Having said that, we need to shift the focus away from individual consumer choices and onto the big polluters,” he adds. “I believe that as a whole, the contemporary art world is encouraging small changes within all of us to become a more considerate civilisation,” Lucy adds. “However, the climate crisis is a crisis for a reason, so creating these shifts in greater volumes of people is urgently needed.” Ane focuses on the evolution of transparency, holding out for greater environmental policies and funding in the art world, and “a transparency about issues that need to be addressed but are currently not met, and so on.”
Going forward, A+E set out to create work “that strives to set the tone for new, equitable structures of governance and ways of being that aren’t based on exploitation and extractivism,” Finn explains. “Where are the carbon negators? The biodiversity massives? The sustainable decelerators? I want to see more places such as art schools, galleries, DIY spaces, and for that matter banks, call centres, shops, farms, whatever, become beacons of innovative ecological and economic change. Being ecological shouldn’t mean scarcity or impoverishment, there are alternative forms of abundance and opulence that the creative industries and others can champion.”
Response & Responsibility – Cop26
During the next two weeks, over 120 world leaders are meeting in Glasgow to agree on the actions needed to pull the earth back from the brink of a climate catastrophe. The most important conference of our lifetime, in response, we are exploring creative responses to the climate crisis throughout the duration of Cop26.
A+E Collective: Letters for and Against Wild Invention review for MAP Magazine (Copyright © A+E Collective, 2020)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.