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  • Writer's pictureSofia Greaves

Arts @ Degrowth ESEE Conference 2024

“I have just gone on strike. I am only going to the arts sessions.”

         -   a real person at the conference


This is a fieldwork diary & personal reflection on the artistic components of the Degrowth/ESEE conference 2024.

I learnt a lot, and had the best time.

13/06/24 We tie 1200 QR codes onto blue and brown mugs with string, next-door to the university bagpipe rehearsal, three hours.

14/06/24 We are informed a beer tent is standing where the exhibition tent should go

  • do "visualise my greatness" meditation

  • Unholy voice-notes x 3; complain to Mario; find extension cord.

17/06/24 10.30am. Walk to give Phd symposium session on the arts.

17/06: Phd symposium: "What is arts based research?"

Arts-based research adopts tools from the arts to collect evidence, produce meaning, and convey it to broad, non-academic audiences. Here art is deemed equivalent and complementary to science as a mode of describing and transforming the world.

ABR: very relevant to degrowth.

This approach emerged in the 1970s during an economic downturn, privatization of public services and commodification of social relations. Artists responded by intervening and "performing and developing forms of 'common exchange' outside of, or in contradiction to, the depredations of the market" by growing vegetables for AIDS sufferers, for example [1].

Simultaneously, academia began to adopt tools from the arts to challenge expertism. ABR aims to “revolutionise institutionalized classist, racist, and colonializing ways of experiencing and discourse about human experience” [2]. 

11.30am. I run a workshop with 45 students aiming to collectively identifying types of ABR, develop critical vocabulary for talking about art, and think about strategies students can adopt in their work. It is structured around four questions: why do I research - what forms does art take - what does art "do"? - what does art "not do"?

Paradoxes I learn from students

·       Cooking is an art

·       But "art cannot make pancakes."

This format elicits common knowledge - most of us can name 5 types of art forms - links them up to our research motivations, addresses assumptions about art ("it won't write my thesis"), and facilitates discussion with peer-peer moderation. I focus on tensions and create a visual record of the conversation. We co-create a map of our thinking, how it evolved and changed through collective exchange. It went very well and I gain 6 fans.

18/06 the exhibition tent is put up

  • have purchased the wrong adaptor

  • there is only 1 screen

  • see a "deforestation poster" i can turn backwards and use as a 2nd screen

  • congratulate myself that I am degrowth

  • i learn that HDMIs are both male and female

  • i am told i have a female hdmi and it is "useless"

  • install exhibition, wind, rain.

  • Somebody asks me to fetch them a coffee with soy milk

  • Art mural wood delivered. Only half quantity ordered arrives.

  • Visualise my greatness

  • drill boards together

  • My trousers rip 30 mins before the plenaries

  • i put on a skirt

  • walk 18.75 km in one day


The exhibition didn't work as intended. I wanted to highlight alignments between artistic research and degrowth, and the potentials of artwork to convey messages through accessible and impactful forms. I wanted to show it in a small intimate tent where people could escape; in theory these videos would offer “softly fascinating stimuli” promoting relaxation, introspection and restoring attention for tired minds [3].

This exhibition of artists' work explores the practices, states, and cultures of water bodies impacted by lithium extraction and sea level rise, respectively. Before Air There Was Water, produced by artist Penelope Cain, documents processes of lithium extraction in the Atacama Desert from the non-human perspectives of water, soil bacteria and flamingos. Land Radius|2 produced by artist Dr. Laura Donkers in Aotearoa New Zealand is a collaborative audio/visual exchange on the subject of irreversible sea level rise which juxtaposes imagery of the rising tide with the knowledge, fears, frustrations, and teachings from the tüpuna (ancestors) as told by two Māori attestants.

In practice:

  • not that

  • Day 1: Not on anybody's agenda to visit an exhibition

  • I am carrying the projectors and screens to the tent before 9am sessions

  • Gale force winds hit small tent

  • Tent dwarfed by plenary tent

  • I am kicked out of my own tent by the security guard

    • he tells me i cannot possibly be an employee because i am not wearing a blue tshirt

    • I note that he is wearing a red tshirt.

  • Day 2: at the artist's suggestion we moved the videos to the plenary tent with beautiful sound, beautiful screen and all intended colours. excellent

    • Mostly, people want to eat and look at nature in real life. Reflection: Video format involves more looking and listening. I did not have the experience or budget to show the works in ways which diverged from conference norms. Engagement and meaning is created best via one-to-one explanation and discussion (preferably with the artist), and neither I nor they had capacity for that.

Research question: What is "the time & space" for art at an academic conference?

18/06: Opening night, music concert with Galician pianist Abe Rábade

- Arrive in skirt just before snacks.

The concert also involved listening and looking. It worked very well. Not only because Abe is, like Laura and Penelope, an excellent artist but also because we were able to discuss the artist's creative process in relation to degrowth creating a context for what we were about to see and hear. The discussion bridged academia, the arts and local culture. Abe Giorgios Kallis and I explored limits in nature and creative practice departing from the metaphor of the piano in Giorgios’ book Why Malthus was Wrong, which inspired Abe (highlighting that artists really do research/read books.)

We noted that music and degrowth are both like gardening, entailing a process of compositional choice, cultivation and restriction. Highlighting this similitude made Abe’s music relatable to degrowth in subject and form. If degrowth is like music, can degrowth similarly engage audiences (and gain fans) by adopting artistic forms which appeal to the emotions and senses? - is not the question i asked because i forgot it at the time.

Playing Abe’s music throughout the conference was a form of placemaking which built community by keeping this opening-night memory present and situating other convivial activities (eating, coffee, plenaries) with the local cultural context. I would say that the concert supported a collective experience of degrowth through musical form.

This can also be said of the mosh pit

mosh pit: good. expressing community through collision? experiencing very physically that we are present together as bodies of knowledge.

Day 2. The collective mural

  • i am no longer doing my yoga routine

  • Somebody emails me to ask where they might find freshwater swimming

  • Delighted to see neoliberalism represented as a red dot in an ocean of sound waves.

We organised the mural with local artist & activist Cuco who works with communities to express local struggles such as those of rural Galician women. Cuco linked the mural to over 100 Pontevedrans’ ideas about degrowth in their city. The forestry school was an ideal space for this activity because it had a foyer full of plants which made it a soft, liminal space requiring neither “entering” nor “exiting”, thus open for spontaneous participation, and free of pressure to commit.

Overheard at the mural

“What do you work on?”       

“I don’t want to ruin it”         

“This is the spaceship attacking neoliberalism”                                                           

"In academia a lot of the time we just make brown.”   

As a place where people could converse with researchers from outside of their circle, the mural also offered time for making without planning: for ideas to emerge, and visions to be negotiated. Discussions were held about encroaching onto one another’s space, what things “meant” and which shapes and colours were missing. On the second day, new layers were added to dried work. It was a joint exercise in deciding what to keep, adapting ideas, and seeing where things could go, as well as building confidence in non-written forms of expression. Equally, there were opportunities to paint within the lines and to paint in companionable silence both of which were meditative and relaxing.

Collective mural: creating images of degrowth.

Collective mural: good.


Cooking as an art

At lunch several people congratulate me on the talk. Conclude i have 10 fans.

Cooking is an art. Entering the food tent was like entering an exhibition.

This is slightly romanticising.

We queued with tickets. There were red velvet cords. The food was colourful. It was arranged. The outputs were a product of knowledge and choices made to produce something of high quality in ethical ways.

Equally, the food was informal, served on metal trays, on long wooden tables in a tent open to the river, with feet on the grass in a hybridisation of exhibition + festival logics.

Cooking is an art that we can appreciate because we understand that skill is involved, and we can directly engage with its outputs (food) through our senses: taste sight and smell. A great deal of our enjoyment of art comes from whether we can exercise our own skill in interpreting it. As Michael Baxandall has written, we want conformity between the discrimination demanded by a painting, and the skill of discrimination we possess [3].

Food, all vegan, was produced by Juan Bioco & team for about 500 people per day with vegetables grown by local Galician women (who are not given a space at the local market). We were able to distinguish that this was very good.

Food at the festival: degrowth, and art.

Finally, ritual and the body

Abe and I have been interviewing Galician menciñeiras (informally, witches) and making art in order to give voice to and valorise knowledges historically oppressed by science. Similarly, I saw “Witch Science” on the program, and Let the Magic Be”: “we are keen with our team to present to you a play which will stage the discovery of a priceless and unsuspected truth.”

I reviewed it an obvious 10.

We hope to open hearts with a song. We plan to end with a group song with the troupe and members of the public for maximum healing. Following this there will be an open exchange of ideas, free questions linked to the piece, and our simple human condition on earth, the idea being not a debate but a free and constructive exchange between those present. Finally, with a meditation, we will harmonize together in silence, letting ideas, feelings and emotions find their place.”

I reviewed nineteen proposals which used such art forms to research and express emotions and knowledges related to climate change; the great majority adopted theatre, dance and music, indicating the affinity of embodied art forms with degrowth values and objectives. One I liked very much:

  • Dance (Medo Azul): “This dance results from visits to 30 fishing communities in Mexico and Japan, and surveys over 500 fishermen and women. Data was collected on the environmental changes these communities perceived and how they have adapted to the changes brought by climate change. This dance is a way to express what data cannot and to share the different emotions that coastal communities experience when faced with the impacts of climate change.”

Similarly, the conference ended with a theatrical musical dance performance. There were 5 cauldrons on fire, we danced to the bagpipes with a man dressed in an animal skin whilst shouting (mostly without understanding) to banish “Satan’s Inferno” and “the dirty turf of the wicked born goat”.

The Galician “Queimada” brews an alcoholic beverage by casting spells to send away bad spirits and bestow powers upon its drinkers: E cando este beberaxe baixe polas nosas gorxas quederamos libres dos males da nosa alma e de todo ebruxamento / And when this beverage goes down our throats we will be freed from evil in our souls and of all hexes.

full lyrics available on Wikipedia.

Queimada: participatory art. An appropriate way to seal the conference collectively by getting out of our minds, performing and connecting to local knowledge traditions, whilst drinking.

So what

This reflection has explored how different forms can be considered both research and art, and the intrinsic importance of these apparently extra-curricular activities for to the practice and building of degrowth as a community and reality.

I want to end with a statement about what was “not” there. Many artists could not attend because they lacked institutional funding. I was sad not to see “Fueling up desirable futures" an exhibition by Sharp and Sour which imagines regenerative scenarios for 5 gas stations from different parts of the globe: as urban farming and social hubs, collectively owned workshops and waste management infrastructures

“As more and more cars will go electric or simply disappear, gas stations will become ruins of a happily forgotten past. This project adopts a unique perspective by envisioning these abandoned spaces not as remnants of an obsolete past but as opportunities for radical change. The project seeks to repurpose and communalize gas stations, turning those once gloomy symbols of the climate crisis into beacons of healing and regeneration in both ecological and societal contexts.”

How can we support the inclusion of arts-based projects in the degrowth research agenda? Or is it just a fact that all academics are underfunded and precarious? - are questions we explored in my session, the “Maniquesto” (a Modernist-style research agenda for the arts and degrowth - see Notes).

Presently these initiatives presently depend upon “institutional entrepreneurs” who are individually responsible for artistic components, and rely upon volunteers, but could be stabilised as integral parts of Degrowth/ISEE conferences and conferences in general.  

Which, incidentally is the subject of a paper I am writing with Mario Pansera and Javier Lloveras, TBC.

- Thank-you to everybody who gave time and energy to the arts @ Degrowth/ESEE 2024


[1] Roberts, J. 2015. "What do we have in Common(s)?" Paper given at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. December, 2013, and at Yale University, April 17-19, 2015: "No Radical Art Actions are going to help here': Political Violence and Militant Aesthetics After Socialism." 


[2] Finley, S. (2008). Arts-based research. In J. G. Knowles & A. L. Cole (Eds.), Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research (pp. 71–83). Sage. p. 72


Exhibition Process

I wrote a call in November, received 15 proposals, decided what might work at conference on low budget (2 video works), wrote emails, phone calls, etc. This was greatly helped by the artists and Mario, Cris & Carmen via emotional support, funding, and logistics. I am including several of the artists whose work I could not show in a Special Issue on the Arts in the Degrowth Journal (where I am Editor, and have capacity to push this agenda).

Basu, vik, Jason Duvall, and Rachel Kaplan. “Attention Restoration Theory: Exploring the Role of Soft Fascination and Mental Bandwidth.” Environment and Behavior.

The Collective Mural Process

Javier contacted us with a proposal to collaborate. We discussed and decided that a mural might work well. We visited various possible sites; Javier drew up a funding proposal and we visited the Council of Pontevedra to pitch the idea. The Council has a member who favours artistic initiatives. The mural was largely financed by the Concello, with the PROSPERA project providing additional money for transport costs. We proposed to regenerate the Café nearby but the owners disagreed. We next proposed to use the exterior white walls but the University of Vigo disagreed. The Forestais school agreed a mural could be made inside and deconstructed. For Cuco’s work at Reclamo Estudio see

Cooking as an Art

Quote from M. Baxandall (1972) Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Juan showed me and my friend the veg, March 2022


The music concert and Queimada were proposed by project P.I.s and financed by the PROSPERA Project. For myths and legends in Galicia see the blog linked at the bottom of this post.


For our project exploring Galician medicinal knowledges and witchcraft, also see "Commoning" blog linked at end of post.

Maniquesto session

If you would like to be involved in the Maniquesto please send in your email, thoughts and questions to the form @


The Maniquesto:


What is the importance of the arts for degrowth? What are the points of tension, contradiction and possibility? In this special session we will collectively explore and generate new questions about the intersections between art and degrowth by creating a “ManiQuesto”. Inspired by the modernist Manifestos (Marx, Dada, Futurism, etc), the Maniquesto does not dictate what is, and is not, degrowth art. Instead, we will seek to provoke reflections and inspire conversations. We will raise paradoxes and concerns like how can you “curate” if “curation” is elitist?" Rather than being dogmatic, the Maniquesto questions can continually be reformulated and realigned as debates evolve. To kick off the debate, we will hear presentations from artist Dr. Laura Donkers (New Zealand) on ecological curation, artist Penelope Cain (Australia) on documenting lithium extraction, and dialogue with Adriaan Eeckels, leader of the Science-Art project conducted by the European Commission, on the “Naturarchy” project which invited artists and scientists “to re-imagine the western relation of human and non-human, in an attempt to ensure juridical persona to Nature’s many wonders, be they stardust or DNA.” Participants will be invited to sign “The Maniquesto” which will be published by the Degrowth Journal in an upcoming Special Issue on the arts.


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