Sustainable Cyprus – The Journey

Earlier this year eight Professional Members of Applied Arts Scotland travelled to Cyprus to participate in an Erasmus training placement. Over a week Hannah Ayre, Lorna Fraser, Katy Galbraith, Siobhan Healy, Lar MacGregor, Deirdre Nelson, Carol Sinclair and Clare Waddle of Yellow Broom worked with traditional materials learning traditional techniques which they then used to collaboratively create a functional structure that will be used as a children’s reading room. Lar MacGregor shares her experience and gives an insight into their activities.

Walking is a type of process-based research which informs my practice. I use walking alongside other social modalities, such as writing, to document relational knowledge, and to consider how place is historically determined, invented and retold. My walking engenders a visual legacy that is closely intertwined with my search for home; a compact between a literal sense of place and how it relates to people, and where the age of loneliness transects with making, in the fight to maintain happiness, health and hope.

In her book Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes, ‘Mosses and other small beings issue an invitation to dwell for a time right at the limits of ordinary perception. All it requires of us is attentiveness. Look in a certain way and a whole new world can be revealed.’ A very dear friend spoke of this book, and this quote is at the heart of the story of eight artists and makers, that dared to believe that walking a different path, would lead to a new world being revealed for their respective creative practices. Sustainability and circular economies offer adventures, and this is my telling of the tale.

Allow me to explain. Grampus Heritage & Training Ltd is a non-profit making organisation based in the North-West of England. Since 1997 they have been involved in the management and promotion of European projects concerned with culture, heritage, archaeology and the environment. They are promoters of the Erasmus+ Programme and until September 2023 they have also been able to offer opportunities for staff placements under the PRIDE4 programme. AAS’s Closing the Loop Group were invited to undertake a training placement in Pano Lefkara (Πάνω Λεύκαρα in Greek) from 26 April to 3 May 2023.

Somewhere between take off and landing, the enormity of this opportunity we have is presented in the form of a vision: below us, the time-worn ridges of mountain peaks peer through the clouds, and I hear laughter from the some of the women in our group; the macro and the micro in a harmonious rendering of happiness. Life is good.

Cyprus is located in a quiet corner of the Mediterranean, somewhere between Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and Pano Lefkara, our home for the next week, sits high in the Troodos Mountains. It is not too far from the ocean, yet it is located high enough for the moist air coming in from the coast to become dry by the time it reaches the village.

The old olive mill Photo: Lar MacGregor

With so much scope for collaborative working, we naturally gravitated towards people, task and inclination. There is a strange awareness that creeps over you when you are amongst creatives. Creatives in general are a ‘lone wolf’ in their day to day existence; working long lonely hours on a solo preoccupation with their chosen materials.

The name of the village derives from the colour of the surrounding calcareous rocks: ‘White rocks = Lefkara’. Here, we are introduced to the heritage of an area that is home to Lefkara Lace (Lefkaritiko). Lace-making was always at the centre of daily life for the women of Lefkara, and a proud symbol of their identity. The older generations proudly maintain this custom.

‘in these skilled hands, the story of an age’ Photo: Deirdre Nelson

Silversmithing, was another heritage skill that is synonymous with the area and it dates back to around the 18th century. The region and evidence of their craft can be clearly seen in the Ecclesiastical items in their churches, as well as the adornments on their inhabitants and tourists alike.

Silvermaking Photo: Siobhan Healy

Being surrounded by so much culture and tradition, having such a breadth of experience and such a varied skill set amongst the artists and designers within our group, the creative energy, joy and inspiration was present from the first day. Excited chatter bubbled out from every work space. Initial plans were drafted and copious amounts of tea and coffee was consumed.

Martin Clark, founder of Grampus Heritage, had a dream. In one week, it was our hope, to make his dream a reality. Feverishly, we sketched out his idea: a reading room for visiting young people, made with locally sourced materials, hand-crafted using traditional crafting methods, that would meet with the aims and objectives of our residency and Martin’s structured course Pride 4 and combine natural and recycled materials with traditional skills to create functional art.

Detailed blueprint Photo: Lar MacGregor

There are methods of measuring the carbon footprint of an individual, a product or process, and each of us strive to both raise awareness, and to attain sustainability, within our own practices and/or business. Environmental sustainability is the responsibility to conserve natural resources and protect global ecosystems to support health and wellbeing, now and in the future.

Many of the seemingly unrelated decisions we make impact the environment and are not felt immediately, a key element of environmental sustainability is its forward-looking nature. An olive tree can live for several hundred years or more and each olive tree becomes a work of art in its own right; the older a tree becomes the more intricate and interesting its appearance. This beautiful, enduring tree represents peace, fruitfulness, purification and also strength, victory and reward and we were to learn how to safely prune enough branches to meet our purposes, without damaging the trees within the olive grove.

Ceramicist Lorna Fraser learning hurdle making techniques with Martin. Photo Hannah Ayre

Knowing that these carefully selected branches would become an integral part of the reading room, added to the sense of awe that was palpable within the ancient grove of olive trees. Hannah Ayre, a participatory artist based in Edinburgh, seen here with loppers in hand said, “I feel utterly privileged to have been given such an incredible opportunity”.

Social sustainability is about making sure that communities and societies can thrive and continue to exist in a healthy, fair, and equal way. It focuses on improving people’s quality of life, fostering strong relationships, and ensuring everyone has the chance to fulfil their potential.

Working collaboratively can be challenging: different methodologies, new materials, unfamiliar tools and equipment, all make for tension within and the potential for tremors without. Having equal opportunities, and being a part of a supportive community, is what enables this process to develop relatively pain free.

Peg looming collaboration with Carol, Lorna and Lar Photo: Lar MacGregor

I have learnt over the years spent getting to know myself that maintaining a balance between tension and peace is achieved by placing equal value on both emotive responses. Looking around, taking in the joy that is apparent in our workday, enables me to breathe away doubt and swim in a current of creative wonderment. This place, these people, here is where happiness lives.

Organisations such as Grampus, make it their business to understand what people need from where they live and work, and they encourage combining the designs of the physical realms in which they work with the heritage and culture that exists in the social worlds in which they can play, learn, grow and live. They add to the infrastructure to support social and cultural life, social amenities and systems for locals and visitors to engage freely, without judgement.

People and place then evolve in subtle but rewarding ways.

One of the advantages of these subtle learning experiences, is discovering the joy in something that was previously avoided. Learning some new skills from a younger student that was on placement at the Old Olive Mill, Lorna Fraser, a ceramicist that works predominantly with porcelain, commented that “The biggest surprise was how much I loved learning macramé! I am ashamed to say that I always viewed macramé as a bit naff, but I left Lefkara with my eyes opened”.

Macrame accomplishments of Lorna Fraser and Lar MacGregor Photo: Lar MacGregor

This example of intergenerational learning refers to the passing of knowledge and skills between generations for the benefit of each other as well as of society. Learning about each other whilst gaining a better understanding of ourselves and other generations, observing cultural strengths and individual fears or weaknesses, is a gift that we can unwrap incrementally for the rest of our lives.

The main goal of economic sustainability is to create a balance between economic growth and the development of positive change for the environment. The arts are an important part of a strong economy and in addition to building and amplifying the success of innovative industries, an accessibility to the arts makes a region a more attractive place for people to live.

Collage by Carol Sinclair

In a world scarred by cynicism and overwhelmed by devastating news, to find joy for oneself and ignite it in others, to find hope for oneself and ignite it in others, is nothing less than a countercultural act of courage and resistance.

Art and craft has the profound ability to change our social consciousness, to inspire real change and have impact on cultural sustainability. There has been a growing shift to view art and craft through an ecological, sustainable lens and to see the affect that it has on climate change, as well as its role in protecting and benefiting communities large and small.

With a grounded past and an increasingly fast paced, globalised future, balance becomes a necessity. Together, we can build a sustainable future that is slower paced, interconnected, enriched and fed by our own individual mental and physical universes. These universes are full of enchantment, happiness, tragedy, humour and creativity. Transforming space and place, sharing, supporting, encouraging and valuing each and every contribution in its evolution.

The reading room Photo: Lar MacGregor

Our ‘Sustainable Cyprus’ journey was just the beginning of the extraordinary effort that will be required to charm the many into travelling their own path to sustainability and big picture thinking. I think Siobhan Healy, Glasgow based glass artist, summed my feelings up when she shared her thoughts: “I learnt ways of teaching that were kind, gentle, inclusive and mindful of the various group needs. I genuinely feel like a better person after experiencing this way of living and learning”.

So keep in mind the words from Robin Wall Kimmerer: ‘All it requires of us is attentiveness. Look in a certain way and a whole new world can be revealed.’


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