Yearly Archives: 2009

Art, vandalism and the act of making good

At a conference on Friday I met a woman called Paivi Seppala who had been involved in an arts project in North Kent called Hei People. I hadn’t heard the story she told, but it was a great one. Hei People was originaly created by Finnish artist Reijo Kela. The idea is simple; a crowd of scarecrows suddenly appear in a field somewhere, dressed in off-cast clothes, all seeming to stare in one direction. Their heads are made of clods of earth from which sprout grass. There is no pre-publicity, or explanation for their existence; they simply appear – a throng of figures, all seemingly staring in the same direction, clothes flapping in the breeze.

Having previously installed the Hei People in two locations, Seppala moved them to a third location in the summer of 2007 on the Isle of Sheppey. It’s a deprived area; a bleak piece of bog sticking out into the Thames Estuary. Locals call themselves “Swampies”. It houses three prisons. London Mayor Boris Johnson recently proposed turning it into an airport.

In other locations, the Hei People had suffered small-scale vandalism, but when they reached Sheppey, catastrophe struck. The Friday night after they were errectd, the entire installation of 400 figures was destroyed. Not a single figure remained upright. Seppala was distraught. The installation was supposed to be there for weeks. It had been wrecked within a couple of days. She felt she had no option but to reinstall it, though funds were limited, and replacing 400 figures would be a labour-intensive task.

And then, on the following Sunday morning, just as she was about to make the journey back there to Sheppey to start the work she got a phone call from the farmer who had donated the land for the installation: “Well done for getting them back up so quickly,” he said.

Seppala was baffled. What? She travelled up there and indeed all 400 figures were standing again – a little broken and muddied, maybe, but standing nonetheless. Over the next few days the story emerged in dribs and drabs. The people of Sheppey are tired of their reputation as ne’er do wells. When they heard that the Hei People had been trashed, they were distraught. This act of vandalism would only confirm outsiders’ assumptions that the people of Sheppey were no good.

People started to put one or two back upright. Seeing them, others joined in in the task of rebuilding the Hei People. Within a day, all the figures, which had originally taken days to install, were back up again in an odd act of spontaneous, anonymous barn-raising. It’s an extraordinary example of the potentially potent relationship between art and community.

Like any other activity which drains the public purse, art must be expected to justify its existence. This is a case of how difficult that can be for the arts. On the one hand this is an exemplary project, a relatively cheap piece of work which drew in a community, took on a meaning for it and left it with something to be extremely proud of. On the other hand none of what happened to the Hei People on Sheppey was either predictable or even remotely planned for. It happened simply because it was a good piece of work that Seppala and others had faith in.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

How to stay afloat in the welter of data

This is a cross-post from John Thackara’s Doors of Perception newsletter – one well worth signing up to:

[…] I’m reading a fantastically useful new book:
Sustainable energy – without the hot air. Its author, David McKay, Professor of
Natural Philosophy at Cambridge University, has responded to an urgent global
challenge: how to make sense of the conflicting claims and information bandied
about on all matters eco. The book is filled with insights like this one:
“Leaving mobile phone chargers plugged in is often held up as an example of a
behavioural eco-crime. The truth is that the amount of energy saved by switching
off a phone charger is exactly the same as the energy used by driving an average
car for one second”. Prof McKay desevres a Nobel Prize for Usefulness. I boughbt
the hardcopy, but you can download the book free:

Don’t be put off by the vileness of McKay’s site design, though.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Lima and LA

Although Los Angeles is not quite the desert that Lima, Peru is, this event at the MAK center in Hollywood still looks interesting. More at


Los Angeles + Lima: Probing the Urban Desert
A conversation between UFI Fellow Alexia Leon and Christian Stayner

For the MAK UFI Public Forum, Leon and Stayner discuss their ongoing project on the “urban desert” (developed in collaboration with Peruvian art curator Jorge Villacorta). Leon and Stayner shall critically consider the role of the architect in shaping the future development of arid lands. They will also present their observations on the points of intersection between Lima and Los Angeles, both places that have sprung up from the desert. Leon and Stayner’s subject will take them into issues of urban settlement, population density, social transformation, and the use of history by architects and urban planners.

Tuesday, April 7
Reception at 6:30 pm
Presentation at 7:00 pm, followed by Q & A

MAK Center for Art and Architecture, L.A.

Schindler House
835 North Kings Road
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Go to Eco Art Blog

EcoArtTech launches Eclipse App

EcoArtTech has created a new web-based application for that mashes up Flickr photos of national parks with real-time air quality data. It’s a good effort and the air quality of national parks is something worth investigating. But as air-quality is beyond our individual control, I wonder what an effort such as this can accomplish. Yes, Ansel Adams photos led to the creation of new national parks in California’s Sierras, but what can we artists do today? Hacks of existing data seem to only corroborate what already know, or at least what those of us paying attention to the environment already know.

I’m not trying to bash EcoArtTech’s efforts, but a project such as this only makes me think of the bigger forces (i.e., government regulations) that need to be enacted to improve air quality. And personally, I’d rather see those efforts directed at the highly populated areas such as communities surrounding the Port of LA and Long Beach, where air pollution has serious, direct impact on hundreds of thousands of people.

If anything, a project such as this is a good representation of the futility I feel with so many of these issues. What can we do? At least a shout in the digital wilderness is a start.

> Experience the Eclipse project here.

> More by EcoArtTech here.

Go to Eco Art Blog

Up on the roof | JR’s photographs of a Nairobi slum

There’s a piece in 3/31’s Independent about the graffiti artist-turned-photographer JR’s installation in the Kibera slum of Nairobi. JR photographed the women of Kibera and installed the photos as roofs to the subject’s dwellings. The piece was also mentioned last month on the Wooster Collective site, who published some great photos of it. It does look impressive, and the material it’s printed on does help waterproof the roofs it’s installed on, apparenty, but I wonder if creating high tech art that’s best viewed from a helicopter is entirely sensitive its location in Africa’s biggest slum.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Rising Tide Conference, San Francisco: April 17th – 19th, 2009

The Rising Tide conference is a series of topically organized panels, seminars, and roundtable discussions, bringing together creative professionals, scholars and students to engage in conversations and debates about the intersections of ethics, aesthetics, and environmentalism.

The event includes panelsexhibitionsfilm screenings and satellite events. Rising Tide is jointly hosted by California College of the Arts, San Francisco, and Stanford University.David Buckland from Cape Farewell is one of the keynote speakers. Panel themes include politics and capitalism, mobility, cities, rivers and oceans and material culture.

This groundbreaking conference will be jointly hosted by California College of the Arts, San Francisco, and Stanford University this spring. Our audience and collaborators come from various disciplinary backgrounds. They are artists, activists, community organizers, venture capitalists, philanthropists, students, and faculty of Fine Arts, Design, Architecture, Writing, Criticism, Curatorial Practice and Environmental Sciences who are helping to push the green revolution to a tipping point.

The conference will convene on the San Francisco Campus of California College of the Arts on Friday, April 17th, on the Stanford Campus Saturday, April 18th, and at CCA on Sunday, April 19th. We are planning a series of satellite events (screenings, exhibitions, performances, lectures…) throughout the month of April.

Go to the Ashden Directory