I am Roxane Permar, an artist living and working in the Shetland Islands.
Landscape in Pain is a series of digital drawings and films which I have been making since March 2021 in response to the on-going construction of the Viking Energy Wind Farm (VEWF) on Shetland’s Mainland. This wind farm is industrial scale, and it will become one of the largest onshore wind farms in Europe. Construction commenced in September 2020, after many years of public debate and local dissent. It coincided with lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Construction is due to be complete in 2024, and thus this work represents a small beginning to a larger project.
Lockdown restrictions have enabled me to refresh my connection to Shetland. The experience of staying in one place with limited movement over a prolonged period of time has helped me reacquaint with the Shetland landscape more deeply and has brought sharp focus to my view of it. As I adjusted to the pandemic restrictions on mobility, my understanding of landscape has been challenged, and my perception of our relation to landscape has shifted. How can we achieve sustainability in our lives, and leverage renewable energies, without causing harm?
In particular I have experienced increasing despair about our relation to the environment. It has been painful to watch the VEWF construction make visible inroads to the landscape, like an occupying force, violating our land, which has been made vulnerable and helpless in the face of the human hand of destruction. Diggers and trucks, with their flashing lights and clouds of dust, swarm across the landscape, like armies of ants along the horizon, busily digging, excavating, displacing peat, blasting bedrock, filling pristine waters with silt. How can the removal of vast quantities of deep carbon storing peat possibly make a positive contribution to the global climate crisis?
I am not alone in my pain. It is felt by many in Shetland. The VEWF has severely divided the Shetland community, and is a cause for collective pain. In 2008 the group Sustainable Shetland was formed in response to plans to build the wind farm. The group has advocated persistently against the VEWF, voicing many community members’ concerns, asserting that a wind farm of this scale is wrong for Shetland’s diminutive land mass. The Mainland Island is barely 65 miles from north to south, less than the number of estimated miles of new roads being built through moorland and bog, through deep peat and blanket bog in order to build this massive intervention. While the number of turbines has been reduced from over 200 to 103, the height has been extended, to 155 metres combined tower and blade length. The VEWF will be visible from almost all of Shetland and cover most of our north central mainland. (Sustainable Shetland, 2014).
Collective concern is caused not only by the disproportionate scale of the project and the daily violation and physical destruction of our environment that is now so blatantly visible, but equally by despair for the environment for future generations, the financial risk and human impact. We feel deep pain for the damage to the landscape in the long term and the negative impact it is already making on people's mental health and well being, and that it will continue to have on the health and well being of people in Shetland once construction is complete.
In the face of strong environmental arguments, it sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of Scotland. The electricity generated by the wind turbines was not even intended for Shetlanders, but to be sent to mainland Scotland. Moreover, the expected life span of the wind farm is only 25 years. (Sustainable Shetland, 2014).
I equate the pain caused by the VEWF, especially the daily destruction, with the nature of physical suffering that Elaine Scarry explores in her landmark book, The Body in Pain, and from which I have derived the title of this body of work. She highlights the complexity of pain, the fact of pain's inexpressibility, and how it is not possible to know another’s pain (Scarry, 1988). Her consideration of the political ramifications of deliberately inflicted pain brings the experience of pain into a political and social domain, which is relevant to the VEWF. The lack of a public referendum about the development contributes to ongoing pain within the public sphere which is visible across social media and local press. It is apparent in the objections raised to Viking Energy planning applications by individual members of the public and organisations, complaints to local government and environmental agencies as well as questions raised by local community councils, all of which remain ongoing.
This body of art work is open-ended. It is in an early stage of what I see as a long term project, and therefore I have not yet formed specific intentions for its future development.
I am very much indebted to the on-going dialogue with Dorothea Rust which the exhibition Hidden flowers bloom most beautifully (August 2021) has directly enabled. It has enriched, guided and inspired development of my work, to the point that I feel it is a kind of collaboration. While the title, Landscape in Pain, pre-dates our dialogue, we quickly agreed to talk about the subject of pain. We have considered the idea of pain in relation to the land through writing and image making. We are reading Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain, scrutinising definitions of pain and sharing our thinking and creative processes. We agree that pain is a complex condition, way of being, and it is felt in many different ways.
“These images which we are creating are an attempt to give form to pain, to a violation we see done to the landscape. Through our art, or with art, we are mending, treating the scars done to the landscape, to the land, the soil and its inhabitants [plant and organisms] … We can't live with the pain, we don't want to put up with it.” (Rust & Permar, 2021)
This text is taken from the exhibition catalogue Hidden flowers bloom most beautiful, published in August 2021.
I am grateful to Sustainable Shetland for permission to use some of their photographs.
Rust, D., & Permar, R. (2021). Hidden Flowers: Dorothea and Roxane in Conversation. https://padlet.com/roxane_permar/12iduinzs2utdwnn
Scarry, E. (1988). The body in pain: the making and unmaking of the world. Oxford University Press
Sustainable Shetland. (2014). Supreme Court appeal. Sustainable Shetland - Home. http://www.sustainableshetland.org/