ECCI’s Artist in Residence

ECCI’s Artist in Residence, drawing and sculpture specialist Jennie Speirs Grant, spent 10 months working with the Edinburgh Centre to produce a series artworks that make a connection between art, culture, science and business, using ECCI’s work within the context of carbon, environment, innovation and sustainability as a guide.

The appointment came courtesy of an award to the University of Edinburgh from the Leverhulme Trust. The Trust supports the residency of artists in UK institutions to foster creative collaborations between the artist and staff and students. The scheme is intended to bring artists into research and study environments where their artistic form or creative art generally is not part of the normal curriculum or activities of the host department.

Carbon Narratives

During the ten months involved a first series of work has been completed under the banner Carbon Narratives, some of which is sited at ECCI's base at High School Yards.

An exhibition is planned in 2014 and further funding to extend the post and develop the work is currently been sought.

The Carbon Narratives series includes work referencing issues of biodiversity, and complex interactions between natural and anthropogenic forces – anthropogenic being those aspects created by human influence.

Current projects in hand awaiting development if the project continues includes a block of nine framed works representing a series of Carbon Narratives and the complex interactions discovered, further work with the Biochar team to detail the variables of anticipated field trials and a collaborative project concerning the visualisation of data being generated by sensors in the new building to make this more understandable and useful on a day to day basis. 

Artist & Funder Information

Jennie Speirs Grant (ba, mafa, mag, arbs) is an established artist with a practice based primarily in drawing and sculpture, involving a central interest in materiality and material processes. Combined with this is a long-term understanding of environment as source and origin of work and a number of projects specifically relating to carbon based contexts. These include landscape and industrial heritage works in Northumberland (“Stublick Bog”), a sculpture series entitled “Lost Landscapes”, a residency marking the closure of Blyth Coal fired power station, PhD research at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge ( archives, glaciation, work with the ice core team and study of the Arctic Tern) and establishing sustainable artist’s studios in Newcastle Upon Tyne (1986 – current). Studio practice includes public and private commissions, mainly sculpture, installation and exhibitions, most recently at the National Glass Centre. Additional activities include regular contact with students through teaching at further and higher levels, research outputs through conference presentations, and specialist teaching in perceptual areas.

The Leverhulme Trust was established in 1925 under the Will of the first Viscount Leverhulme. It is one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, distributing funds of some £60 million every year. For further information about the schemes that the Leverhulme Trust fund visit their website at /  

Artist in Residence Blog

Artist in Residence Blog # 3, September 2013

Carbon sequestration Sequestration 

Carbon sequestration Sequestration – the locking in of greenhouse gases (GHG) – forms a key part of strategies in combating climate change and has suggested a number of different connecting areas to develop further. 

Jennie created a notational drawing series tracking the origins of carbon as a physical substance laid down by sunlight.

Making such a drawing series amplified the difficulty, in the current age, of finding those conditions of prolonged bright sunshine and still air by which sufficiently strong shadow patterns could be traced. The unrepeatable conditions by which coal, in particular, was formed. 

In the Spring and early Summer some species of common plants – for example nettle, rosebay willowherb and Ladies Mantle – produce regular and repeating layers of foliage from sunlight, giving a particular rhythm to the visual field. 

Biochar Works

ECCI's Artist in Residence also created a work exploring the the less visible realities central to carbon accounting into a physical object as a means of applying more concrete consideration of the issues in a tangible form (biochar string- pictured).

The quantity of string required to delineate - as a continuous line in space – a cubic ton of CO2. An planned extension of this work is the further translation of this work, by pyrolosis, into Biochar - a fully carbonised sequestering of this hypothetical ton of Co2, completing the cycle of possibility.

Biochar is a solid material obtained from the carbonisation of biomass. Biochar may be added to soils with the intention to improve soil functions and to reduce emissions from biomass that would otherwise naturally degrade to greenhouse gases. Biochar also has appreciable carbon sequestration value. These properties are measurable and verifiable in a characterisation scheme, or in a carbon emission offset protocol.

Artist in Residence Blog # 2, March 2013

Measuring string and carbon accounting

AIR 2_1"Working broadly across the spectrum of ECCI’s includes coming to terms with the complex and abstract calculations of carbon accounting, something increasingly apparent to me following the ICARB conference in March (13/03/13).

This has required me to set up some initial frameworks by which to start approaching these specific issues within a studio context. For example in order to more easily visualise a tonne of CO2 I have been considering some basic calculations concerning weight to length, the price of string and the fluctuating values involved in Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Since 1 tonne of CO2 apparently occupies a space of 27 feet cubic feet, physically working with the same dimensions has helped get this key measurement into a more tangible form – hence the string – but is not as easy as it sounds….For example taking the Ultratwine Medium Ball of Cotton Twine (min 85% cotton) at a weight of 525metres per kilo at 60 grams per ball the calculation goes approximately as follows;

100 grams = 52.5 metres

10 grams = 5.25 metres

60 grams = 31.5 metres

60 grams = 31.5 metres = 134.5 feet.

It can therefore be stated that the actual length of a piece of string – a recognised and popular unit of measurement in the UK - should be 324 feet. However to maintain a single linear form by not involving any discontinuity caused by cutting and rejoining, needs a further 81 feet to allow for doubling back on the cube form.

The simple comparison between the linear qualities of string and the linear qualities of drawing in containing an imagined space produces a conceptual narrative that is both abstract and tangible. In drawing also distinguishing between the continuous and the broken or implied line contains an expressive significance, a type of information that belongs to the studio rather than the lab and is used differently.

The length - and consequently the price - of a piece of string may be rather simpler to calculate than the fluctuations in pricing a tonne of C02

So in studio practice the definitive length of the actual rather than the theoretical piece of string becomes 405 feet, with issues such as knots and stretch to be factored in, creating analogies with the known and unknown data within carbon accounting. The length - and consequently the price - of a piece of string however may be rather simpler to calculate than the fluctuations in pricing a tonne of C02. Currently the string in question can be bought for £4.40, sufficient to describe a tonne of CO2 easily.

By comparison the Floor Price for Co2 is currently set at £16 (set to rise to £30.00 in 2020) but the actual Trading Price for 1 tonne as given in January 2013 came in at under £4.00. (Source: However initial conclusions from this enquiry in which the framework (the string) and the content of the framework (CO2) are understood as being in constant flux suggests a need to simultaneously incorporate both the measurable and the un-measureable in order to work productively with complex information – aiming for certainty can in fact be counterproductive."


Artist in Residence Blog Post # 1, Feb 2013

Finding a route into the complexities

"Finding a route into the complexities....

involved in an artist’s residency with ECCI I seem to have spent a fair amount of my time during these first couple of weeks in an observer’s role, attempting to map out the range and extent of what the Centre is about and starting to meet people, organisations and departments.

Having just come to the end of a research project at the University of Sunderland focussed on the structures of drawing and their translation to sculptural glass I’m happy to be back in an environment where issues of complexity are welcomed. JenniestudioI’ve realised that desk sharing in the office may prove to be a little more problematic but probably fortunately for all my actual contact time at ECCI is mainly concerned with connecting up information and researching supporting material. This will of course be re-considered and worked with in a more physical studio context. JennieStudio6

Currently this process involves absorbing information ranging from the intricacies and variability’s of carbon accounting (ICARB), the underlying aims and philosophies contained within BREEAM building specifications, visualising information through core modelling and projections, and discussing cultural shifts in terms of landscapes, expectations and behaviour change.

Back in the studio the materiality of carbon based processes is already helping to anchor some of the more abstract concepts involved. I also find myself unexpectedly interested in measurements of time and space – of which more later… "