Holly Owen – artist in residence

Artists close up-1

Holly Owen, environmental artist, came to live at the Centre for Alternative Technology seven months ago as our artist in residence. Holly’s time here has been inspiring, not just for her artistic practise, but for all the staff that have been a part of her continuing journey into low impact art.

“Playing with materials bound to the earth lifts us out of the commonplace and into a world re-imagined. Art has the ability to re-enchant our consciousness with the world when the facts and figures of climate change leave us numb.”

Holly Owen, 2016

Bees

Holly’s art and climate change journey started eight years ago, when she began to explore natural, low impact materials and processes in her artistic practice.

Experimenting with golden-yellow Dartmoor beeswax, Holly began to unravel the ecological mysteries surrounding the decline of the honeybee during her residency at Buckfast Abbey. This was the first step in an ongoing journey, exploring local and global environmental issues that affect humanity in both subtle and devastating ways.

“In the first week of my residency at the Centre for Alternative Technology, I realised how surface level my knowledge was about global climate change. This was going to be a sharp learning curve from the ground up.
Thankfully my residency was connected with CAT’s education department, so alongside many groups of school kids I spent my first few months eagerly absorbing the wealth of knowledge that this enthusiastic team have to share,” said Holly.

Holly joined CAT in the summer of 2015, in months before COP21 in Paris. It was then that she realised the significance of the timing of her residency.

“Two years prior to my CAT journey I began working with digital artist Kristina Pulejkova on a multi-media project entitled Switching Heads-sound mapping the Arctic.
The project took us to a community deep within the Arctic Circle where we worked alongside local people to collect the sights, sounds and stories from one of the most endangered environments on earth.
We were invited to take the resulting film to the art and culture festival ArtCOP21 that ran in conjunction with COP21 in Paris.
As our anticipation of this important global event grew, so did the atmosphere at CAT. Embracing the opportunity to delve into the political world that CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain programme resides in, and encouraged by the active work of groups such as Reclaim the Power, Kristina and I hurtled towards COP21 fully fuelled with knowledge and a sense of people power.
I feel proud and humbled to have had the opportunity to play an active role in the events surrounding COP21, made even more poignant by the timing of my connection to CAT.”

Switching Heads (Llwyngwern slate)
Switching Heads (Llwyngwern slate)

Inspired by this life changing foray into international climate talks and activism, Holly’s piece Switching Heads (Llwyngwern slate) looks out through the withered leaves of the sparse winter beds of CAT’s central polytunnel. A life-sized head, formed from slither-thin shards of CAT quarry slate, blends organically into its surroundings.

In April, Holly will be making a welcome return to CAT, with fellow artist Kristina to record a second film for their on-going series Switching Heads – sound mapping the […] – exploring climate change through the voices of people who live and work in places of environmental significance.
Their current films – and the adventures they had making them – can be seen here.

Allotment, by Holly Owen, 2015

Holly’s piece Allotment uses the Fibonacci sequence to showcase seeds collected from CAT head gardener Roger McLennan’s historic seed bank. Using a pattern that appears regularly in natural forms – think sunflower seed heads, trees branches, an artichoke flower, an unfurling fern – this piece shows the seeds oscillating out from the center of a disc painted in Llwyngwern slate pigment.
Allotment spans a UK food-growing year challenging food production, food miles and waste and encouraging locally grown, organic, seasonal produce that can give extra enjoyment to the food we eat and share.

My Earth, 2015

explores CAT through the infinite colours, tones and textures under our feet. Thirty two different postcard sized swatches were painted with mud pigments map the site, each accompanied by an individual story of discovery. It is a snapshot of Holly’s seven months at CAT, her journey and the re-enchantment of finding beauty in the mundane and overlooked.
Accompanying this work, stories from CAT’s passionate, skilled and creative community are shared, demonstrating why CAT is so important to them. These stories create a colourful, unique and positive patchwork of individual journeys that collectively form a community like no other.

As this phase of Holly’s work comes to a close, and she is set to embark on another adventure curating art for a festival in the Severn valley, Holly reflects.
“The months that I have spent living and working in this reclaimed Welsh slate quarry amongst the ancient history, the realised dreams and the shared futures has focused my creativity in ways unimagined. As my art and climate change journey continues, it has been enriched with a deeper focus for an alternative way of life, imagined through the arts and made possible by all of us.”

Thank you for helping us here at CAT appreciate what we have under our feet, Holly. We are looking forward to sharing a Welsh Spring with you when you return.

Allotment, Holly Owen, 2015
Allotment, Holly Owen, 2015

Please donate to our ‘Gardening for the Future’ campaign

In light of this week’s conference in Turkey we urge supporters to donate to our ‘Gardening for the Future’ campaign at CAT.  Hosted by the IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecological Services), the talks focus on the value of soil and the revival of less intensive, ancient farming techniques which have been proven much more sustainable – many of which are taught here on site.

Students at CAT learning about garden diversity
Students at CAT learning about garden diversity

At CAT we know all too well the devastating effects that climate change and peak oil pose to our current food supply and prices. The addiction to and damage caused by petrochemicals currently used to transport and fertilise our food and control pests, make it absolutely essential that we develop and share alternative methods of farming.

Volunteers at CAT in the gardens
Volunteers at CAT in the gardens

We aim to teach, train and inspire people to use more sustainable methods of farming and gardening by demonstrating our more natural growing techniques. We are researching better composting methods, the use of green fertilisers, forest garden techniques, organic pest control and much more. We urgently need to raise £23,300 to keep this vital work happening. This will allow us to provide students, volunteers and visitors with the training and tools to become a new generation of green growers, helping to create a greener tomorrow.

Please follow the link to donate; we appreciate all your support.

Laura’s Larder: thinking about the greenhouse gas emissions connected to our food


Nowadays, many people think about the impact their food has on the environment, as well as how healthy it is. This goes beyond transport to encompass what goes into growing, preparing and packaging – as well as shipping – the food. It’s great that we’re becoming more and more aware of these issues, but it does lead to all sorts of questions:

  • Can I eat more chicken if I don’t eat lamb?
  • If I want to keep eating sausages, can I give up something else instead?
  • Is it okay to have ‘real’ milk in my tea, if I don’t have a biscuit with it?

 

These questions reflect the fact that we all have different tastes and that we all have foods that we would potentially prefer to sacrifice over others when push comes to shove.

But, as individuals who clearly care very much about making good choices with respect to our food, what we need is more information to help us. So, what I am working on now is an application called ‘Laura’s Larder’. This application will allow anyone who is interested, to input a diet – whether an accurate reflection of their own or invented – to see what impact that this diet would have on greenhouse gas emissions and on health.

Designing an application that tailors the results to each individual means that we can begin to help answer the sorts of questions that come up when we start to think about the food choices we can make – such as those outlined above. This means that if you are interested in reducing your food related emissions, but don’t fancy an immediate switch to veganism, you can design your own approach and tailor your emissions reductions in line with your own tastes and preferences.

I hope very much that the Laura’s Larder application will provide a helpful way of showing the sorts of changes that we can start to make to our diets today and that seeing the significance that those changes can have on our emissions and on our health, and how achievable those changes can be, will encourage the first steps towards a low-carbon future, such as the one that we have laid out in the latest Zero Carbon Britain report: Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future.

The launch of Laura’s Larder is still a few months away, but we thought we would get into the spirit of it by creating a series of festive recipes in the lead-up to Christmas. These recipes are all tasty, nutritious and healthy for both us and the planet. Each week we’ll post a new recipe with a breakdown of each meal’s greenhouse gas emissions, as well as tips on how to incorporate low-carbon food into your everyday lives.

The first recipe will be posted later today.

The Machynlleth Mini Maker Faire – Q&A with the Organisers

What is a ‘Maker Faire’?

Maker Faire is the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth—a family-friendly showcase of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement. It’s a place where people show what they are making, and share what they are learning.
Makers range from tech enthusiasts to crafters to homesteaders to scientists to garage tinkerers. They are of all ages and backgrounds. The aim of Maker Faire is to entertain, inform, connect and grow this community.
The original Maker Faire event was held in San Mateo, California and in 2013 it celebrated its eighth annual show with some 900 makers and 120,000 people in attendance. World Maker Faire New York, the other flagship event, has grown in three years to 500+ makers and 55,000 attendees. Detroit, Kansas City, Newcastle (UK), Rome, and Tokyo are the home of “featured” 2013 Maker Faires (200+ makers), and community-driven, independently organized Mini Maker Faires are now being produced around the world including right here in Machynlleth!

What is MAKE Magazine?

MAKE is the first magazine devoted entirely to Do-It-Yourself (DIY) technology projects. MAKE unites, inspires, informs, and entertains a growing community of resourceful people who undertake amazing projects in their backyards, basements, and garages. MAKE celebrates your right to tweak, hack, and bend any technology to your will.

Why have you decided to put on a Maker Faire in Machynlleth?
bloc wanted to bring the Maker Faire to the heart of rural Wales to attract Makers from right across the country and to promote the burgeoning DIY culture in the countryside.
The innovative concept is to celebrate creative technology within a rural context. There are urban-focused creative technology faires and festivals throughout the world though few are located in the countryside where there is a burgeoning DIY technology culture.

What can visitors expect from the event?
The Faire brings together Makers and Inventors from across Wales and beyond for a family friendly, interactive and inspirational day out. There will be loads of stalls in a village fete type setting, packed with hands on creations.

Learn about 3D printers

Expect:

Art/3Dprinting/RaspberryPis/Daleks/Opensource/Music/sound/Energymonitoring/Upcycling/

Robots/Animation/Space/Drones/Restartparties/Electricity/Sequencers/Kiteballet/Environmentalism/

Handcrankedbackpacks/Selfsufficiency/Engineering/Craft/Science/Education/Fixers/Sustainable/

Technology/Health

 

Learn how to:

  • Build your own Satellite!
  • Upcycle old floppy disks into something useful!
  • Make your own sequencer!
  • Bring inanimate objects to life with stop motion animation!

 

Experience:

  • The Restart Party brings a community Self Repair event to the heart of Wales
  • Paul Granjon presents the infamous Biting Machine and the cute Mofo humanoid
  • Trystan Lea showcases Wales’ own OpenEnergyMonitor
  • Andy Noyes invites us to meet Agnes Robotknit, a knitting robot.

 

What else is happening around the Faire?

A number of other fun and inspirational events are happening:

Reinventing Rural Services Workshop in Machynlleth – Friday 27th September, 10:30am – 4pm

Presented by Inventorium, in association with bloc. For full details and to book visit the website.

Idea Clinic at CAT – Saturday 28th September, 11:30am – 1:30pm

Get advice, support and direction on your ideas from the experts. A fantastic panel of innovation development organisations working in Wales are coming together to offer individuals and/or organisations a unique opportunity to gain advice, input and potential support for your ideas.
Participants are invited to present your ideas to the panel with a 5 minute pitch and get a 5 min response from the panelists in terms of quality and potential support.
To register and book an appointment please contact kathryn@bloc.org.uk and provide your name, project title, a project overview (no more than 30 words) and contact details.

The Restart Party – Bring Your Broken Technology! – Saturday 28th September, 10am – 4pm
The Restart Party is a community self repair event. We are inviting you to come along, bring your broken technology and get it mended for FREE!
To find out more visit http://therestartproject.org/

What are the aims of Bloc?
Bloc is a Wales based organisation and international hub of creators, producers, makers and thinkers supporting creative uses of technology. For over 12 years, we have been leading advocates of creative technology in Wales, producing a series of ground-breaking festivals, commissions, events, and research projects. We challenge and investigate innovative forms of artistic, business and social innovation that are enabled by technology and work with a wide variety of partner organisations to do this.
With Machynlleth Mini Maker Faire bloc aims to:

  • Inspire and celebrate a maker/DIY culture in relation to technology.
  • Trial a new creative technology festival concept within a rural context.
  • Explore the implications of DIY technology and creativity on society, education, culture and business by looking at the potential of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths).
  • Explore the social implications of self-reliance and collaboration towards a sustainable future.
  • Get Wales making again by inspiring people to create and share best practice in terms of technology.

 

Sign up for our monthly ebulletin at http://www.bloc.org.uk, make friends with us on facebook at bloc:Creative Technology Wales, follow @blocuk on Twitter and tweet #MakerFaireMach.

A knitting robot

Why is this event special?
Machynlleth Mini Maker Faire is the only Maker Faire in Wales. It brings together a unique programme of Makers, inventors and creative technologists to the heart of rural Wales and offers us an insight into an alternative future.
It will be a unique, hands on event that champions DIY culture in the countryside. The digital, to date, has been far more prevalent in urban environments with most activity and debate centred on the city.
Forget technology as expensive. This Faire is going to explore accessibility, reuseability and freeware. It will inspire people to get their hands dirty with technology in order to be self-reliant and celebrate art as a part of the new wave of the internet of things.

Why did you decide to hold the Faire at CAT?
There is no better place than CAT, to host an event that promotes an alternative future for Wales. bloc chose to site the festival at CAT not only because of it’s stunning landscape overlooking the scenic hills of Southern Snowdonia, but also because we share a common ethos concerned with the search for a positive and alternative view of the future. CAT’s search for a globally sustainable, whole and ecologically sound technologies and ways of life is shared by bloc and many of the Makers on show who have strong ‘eco’ credentials. For example, bring your broken technology to be repaired at The Restart Party , a community self-repair party and find out more about OpenEnergyMonitor, Wales’ own new opensource platform that monitors your energy use .

What does it cost?
Buy your Advance Faire tickets now and gain FREE entry to the Centre for Alternative Technology. £5 per adult, Children under 16 FREE or normal CAT entrance fees apply on the day. Book online now.

 

Sunshine and Soup: Using Our New Solar Oven

In May CAT was presented with a solar oven by the Spanish company Alsol. A solar oven cooks by turning light rays from the sun into heat. Reflectors on the solar oven direct the light towards a dark pot, which helps to absorb the heat and cooks the food.

Manolo Vilchez presenting the solar oven to CAT on behalf of Alsol

You can read the blog post about the presentation here. Since then we have been waiting for a sunny day in order to try it out! In July the opportunity presented itself when mid-Wales was bathed in sunshine for several weeks. The kitchen staff decided to experiment with heating up soup for lunch.

Alex setting up the solar cooker outside the kitchen

After just an hour the soup had reached a temperature of 58C. This is just a few degrees under the required minimum temperature for serving food to the public. As the lunchtime rush was about to begin the final few minutes of cooking were done inside.

Chef Christian checking on the progress

It was a rather unique and satisfying way of preparing lunch. Not one for use in Wales throughout the year however!

Growing in the Gardens

CAT is currently recruiting for some lovely long-term volunteers to join us here in mid-Wales. Are you looking to gain experience in woodland management, horticulture or marketing? CAT has five or six-month placements in these areas and we are recruiting in a rolling basis. We’re taking a closer look at the different roles over the next few days. If you are interested in applying then check out our volunteering website.

Yesterday we looked at the Water and Natural Resources Volunteers. Today:

Gardens Volunteer

Tending to the flowers planted to help support the bees and butterflies

Why volunteer in CAT’s gardens? Well first and foremost, because they’re one of the most important aspects of CAT. According to Roger, CAT’s main gardener, it’s the best place to be for a volunteer! By coming just before the harvesting season the new volunteer will be in time to reap the benefits of the spring and summer plantings.

Former gardens volunteer Drew had this to say about his time at CAT:

I came to CAT with very little knowledge of gardening, but with an enthusiasm to learn as much as possible. Some would say that’s a great attitude to have, but ask Roger, our Head Gardener, after a whole day of being barraged by questions from his wide-eyed, hungry for knowledge volunteers on all things horticultural and you may get a different response. He is a dedicated and passionate gardener and has been a joy to learn all things green fingered from.

As a long term volunteer you get the opportunity to immerse yourself in a way of living that is quite alien to many. The feeling of community within the surroundings of CAT and the local areas we find ourselves living in is a joy to be a part of. From sowing seeds to swing dancing, weeding in wellies to learning Welsh, pruning grapevines to preparing pot-luck dinners, it has been an incredible journey that has left me wanting more of the same. So much so that I have actually decided to lay some roots (excuse the terrible gardening pun) in Machynlleth and find work locally so that I can keep helping and learning from Roger on my days off. I also hope to get involved in a local Community Garden Project, something I would never have thought about before coming to CAT.

Visit the volunteering website for more information about this placement.

Working in the Woods

CAT is currently recruiting for some lovely long-term volunteers to join us here in mid-Wales. Are you looking to gain experience in woodland management, horticulture or marketing? CAT has five or six-month placements in these areas and we are recruiting in a rolling basis. Over the next three days we’re going to take a closer look at the different roles. If you are interested in applying then check out our volunteering website.

First up:

Water and Natural Resources Volunteers

Using a draw knife to make a traditional Welsh gate.

We’re looking for two people to work in CAT’s Water and Natural Resources department. This is a brilliant opportunity to learn about traditional coppice skills, correct tool use and care, sustainable woodland management, biodiversity survey work, land and estate management, wetlands and eco-sanitation. CAT’s woodland website has loads of further information about each of these areas.

The people we’re looking for may not necessarily have experience in this area, but they will:

  • have a genuine interest in woodland and natural resources
  • have practical skills
  • be happy to get a bit grubby
  • be flexible with an enthusiastic and positive disposition
  • be keen to learn
  • willing to complete physical work outside in all weathers

 

Iñigo, a previous volunteer had this to say about his experience: “I like being involved in the woodland and working outside, being in contact with nature through the work that we are doing and trying to preserve biodiversity. I think it’s a great experience to have and to take some skills and to develop a different view of what you can do with them, and to improve sustainability and to be a change maker in some way.”

Visit the volunteering website for more information about this placement.

Planting the New Green Roof Display

A few months ago we posted an update on the new green roof at CAT, made possible thanks to a donation from the People’s Postcode Trust. So far the roof has been rather more slate-grey than green. Today, however, the planting of the roof began!

Jony and Riccardo planting sedums

We chose to colonise the roof with sedums – hardy alpine succulents – that are also known as stonecrops due to their ability to adapt to extreme growing mediums. Up at CAT we have sedums growing naturally in the disused quarry on slate waste.

The plants chosen for the roof, however, came from the walls and roof of Jony’s – CAT’s Artist in Residence – house. They are, he explains, “a completely homegrown tray of sedum from mid-Wales […] We’re pit planting these in organic potting compost. The roof is like a scree slope of shale that’s falling down the mountain. The plants root themselves in this medium, and the slate also acts like a mulch to stop weeds growing. You need something completely inert that weeds won’t grow in.”

Over the next few years these small plants will slowly grow and spread across the roof until they cover it entirely.

One of the species of sedum being planted

A Green Roof (or Living Roof) is like a shallow box garden. The bottom and sides are lined with a waterproof covering, then with a special membrane with small pockets to collect water to allow for slower drainage. A growing medium (in this case slate chipping) is laid down and then the sedums are planted.

Green Roofs are an important example of the kind of technology that can help us adapt to climate change. They help reduce surface water flooding in cities by absorbing storm water quickly, but releasing it slowly. They also help reduce hotspots of overheating in cities, provide important habitats for biodiversity in urban areas and offer potential spaces to be used for growing food. In general, they don’t give much in the way of insulation, so a roof still needs to be properly insulated.

Although Green Roofs are not a modern invention, it is the recent advances in water-proofing technologies that have led to Green Roofs becoming more widely used in sustainable construction over the last decade.

Preparing a sedum for planting

 

Compost Toilets: a Grand Design or a Space of Waste?

Last week CAT headed to London for Grand Designs Live. We had been asked to provide live demonstrations as part of the ‘Natural Building Methods’ section – an area CAT has some experience in! After much discussion, we decided on glue laminating demonstrations for making arches for a Timber Arc construction. The Timber Arc is a beautiful example of timber frame building, using local and low-carbon materials. It’s also a dual-chamber compost toilet.

CAT's stand at Grand Designs Live

Our goal at Grand Designs Live was twofold: provide the public with an interesting demonstration of glue laminating, whilst also raising awareness of different methods of dealing with human waste. Compost toilets are not for everybody, if you are connected to a local sewage system then chances are you will not need to deal with your own waste. However, some off-grid locations mean that people have to be a little more creative in the sewage solutions.

Glue laminating at Grand Designs Live

During our time at Grand Designs Live, one thing that kept cropping up again and again was bafflement. People often asked us why we were making a compost toilet, especially one so beautiful. Well, compost toilets can be efficient and practical, resulting in nutrient-rich soil to be used in the garden. They don’t use any water or chemicals, although most types of toilet need a fair bit of room to allow composting to occur at a steady pace. We have several composting toilets up at CAT, working alongside our reedbed sewage system and providing us with fertiliser for our gardens. Furthermore, why not make a beautiful building to house your compost toilet? It’s a place you visit each day after all! We also liked how the idea of it fitted in with the ‘grand design’ aspect of Grand Designs Live.

Work on the arches for the compost toilet

People certainly seemed to agree with us, judging by the level of interest we received each day. Engaging with people on environmental issues whilst also showing how we go about dealing with these problems was wonderful. Moving people’s thoughts away from bafflement and towards more environmental ways of thinking is key. Hopefully in the future CAT will be able to visit even more shows to keep spreading the word.

For more information on alternative sewage systems check out CAT’s information page on the subject. We also run short courses on sewage and waste water management. Further info here.

To see more of the Timber Arc, head to Jules’ website.