A Night of Rain Sleeping Place An 8 Day Mountain Walk in Sobaeksan Korea Spring 1993 by Richard Long, 1993 Courtesy Kunstverein Hannover © the artis
There’s a good article by Robert MacFarlane on Richard Long on Tate Etc, the Tate’s magazine, that attempts to see beyond the usual assumptions people make about Long’s work as “romantic” :
“I feel I carry my childhood with me in lots of aspects of my work,” [Long]remarked. “Why stop skimming stones when you grow up?”
Why indeed? It’s a lovely question – innocently seen and innocently phrased. And Long has never stopped skimming stones, artistically speaking. His hundreds of circles – made around the world in stone, sand, wood, grass and footprints – can be imagined as the ripples of these skimmed stones. To my mind, his work is best understood as a set of persistently childish acts: the outcomes of a brilliantly unadulterated being-in-the-world. The word kindergarten was coined in 1840 by the German educationalist Friedrich Froebel (1782–1852). Kindergarten, literally “a children’s garden”: a school or space for early learning. Froebel (less remembered now than Maria Montessori or Rudolf Steiner, for he didn’t lend his name to his method) wanted to create an environment in which children could be childish in the best sense of that word. Banished from his kindergartens was the Gradgrindian sense of the infant as a vessel to be filled with facts. Instead, he fostered an ideal of the child as micronaut – an explorer of the world’s textures, laws and frontiers, who should be left to make his or her own discoveries through unstructured play. Froebel wanted children to “reach out and take the world by the hand, and palpate its natural materials and laws”, as Marina Warner observes in a fine essay on play, “to discover gravity and grace, pliancy and rigidity, to sense harmonies and experience limits”.
A nature-lover and walker from an early age, Froebel had a passion for the patterns of phenomena, and in particular for what he called “the deeper lying unity of natural objects”. It was for this reason that the early Froebelian kindergartens had few figurative toys. Instead of trains, dolls and knights, there were wooden cubes and spheres, coloured squares and circles, pebbles, shells and pick-up-sticks. Children spent their days singing songs and playing games, arranging the pebbles in spirals and circles, balancing blocks and picking up sticks. This open play was, as Froebel imagined it, the means by which “the child became aware of itself, and its place within the universe”.
Long is a childish artist in the Froebelian sense, and the wild world is his kindergarten. When Clarrie Wallis, curator of the new Tate exhibition, observes that his work is about his “own physical engagement, exploring the order of the universe and nature’s elemental forces… about measuring the world against ourselves”, she could be describing the Froebelian method. For more than 40 years Long has been using his moving body to explore limits, sense harmonies and apprehend balance and scale. His materials and his vocabulary have always been uncomplicated and childish. “I am content with the vocabulary of universal and common means,” he wrote quietly in 1982, “walking, placing, stones, sticks, water, circles, lines, days, nights, roads.” Again in 1985: “My pleasure is in walking, lifting, placing, carrying, throwing, marking.” In 1968 he showed a sculpture of sticks cut from trees along the Avon and laid end to end in lines on the gallery floor. Five, six, pick up sticks. Seven, eight, lay them straight.
It is the play of “the solemn child”, as MacFarlane says. Read the whole article on Tate Etc’s website.
It’s been three months since I had major surgery to remove half of the lymph nodes in my abdomen (about twenty) to clear out the final vestiges of my cancer — a thing that no longer lurks within me, but has forever changed me physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Some for the better, some for the worse.
I’m back in my life now, and I’ve been thinking a lot about ecoTheater and how it might come back, how it might fit itself into the new life I’m trying to forge for myself. Many times over the last several months I’ve thought about writing a post about this or that, and aside from a couple that I couldn’t let lie (such as the passing of Rosemary Ingham), I just couldn’t figure out what to write. Then the stories, the news, the ideas kept piling up, and I couldn’t figure out how to get myself back into the room of green theater — the door to which I like to think I helped pry open a bit. And then, the other day I read this:
White Way Gets ‘Green’ Theater
Henry Miller’s Theater, the first newly built Broadway house in more than 20 years — and the first so-called green theater on the Great White Way — has completed major construction and is set to open in September with Roundabout Theater Company’s revival of the musical “Bye Bye Birdie.”
Now, this was not exactly news to me. I’d heard about this project last year, and probably wrote about it on ecoTheater at the time. But it answered the question of ecoTheater for me. This green theater movement has moved beyond me — it’s moved into a realm of theater business that I think is fundamentally flawed, for I do not believe there can be such a thing as a “green” theater on Broadway. Not the Broadway that exists now. No way. You can use all the recycled materials and nifty LED lobby lighting you want, but it won’t change the underlying mode of production (I mean, seriously, Bye Bye Birdie?? As a friend noted on Facebook, reviving a fifty year old musical does not count as recycling). That is what needs to be fixed. Not just because it’s environmentally unsustainable, but rather because it is also financially unsound, utterly lacking in community interaction, culturally numb, and creatively depraved.
Whoa, Mike — them’s fightin’ words, you say? Well, maybe so. And believe me, I recognize that we live in an imperfect world, and the steps that Roundabout has taken are good ones. It’s better than doing nothing, that’s for sure. But I don’t think I can continue to expand my greenList by adding Roundabout’s name, or other similar organizations that meet one very narrow definition of eco-responsible theater. You simply cannot put Mo’olelo and Roundabout in the same basket. It doesn’t work, because one company is operating on a much smaller but infinitely broader scale, while the other is a borderline case of greenwashing.
The scope of ecoTheater was always meant to be wide and inclusive. But now, I must focus my energy more directly on what I think matters — what I think works. I believe my time will be better spent on my own efforts here in the little old Midwest, and leaving the up to the minute reportage of the major happenings in the “movement” to others. As I let ecoTheater continue to rust, I will instead be working on these projects…
Wisconsin Story Project
As some of you may recall, I started on the path to putting my creativity where my mouth is with the Cancer Stories Project — a connection between my life with cancer and my passion for creating a better model of theater production. Eventually CSP morphed into something much bigger that my co-founders and I have dubbed Wisconsin Story Project. It is a company that aims to follow the path of “solving for pattern,” a Wendell Berry idea that I first wrote about here on ecoTheater many moons ago when describing Mo’olelo in California. WSP hopes to solve for pattern because it is about more than just creating green theater, it’s about creating theater in a way that addresses all of the pressing issues and concerns of our community. It’s about connecting on a local level. And I’d like to think it is a company that will someday be worthy of someone’s greenList somewhere.
Madison Arts Production Cooperative
Recently, a very sad but telling thing happened here in Madison, Wisconsin: the forty year old LORT theater, Madison Repertory Theatre, closed it’s doors for good, laying off it’s entire staff and leaving truckloads of equipment and theatrical inventory in a handful of locations throughout town. When the company I work for, Children’s Theater of Madison, got wind of the impending auction and the apparent failure of the hired auctioneer to understand the value of the Rep’s stock, we set to work on a proposal to raise funds to keep the equipment and inventory in Madison in a way that would continue to make it available to arts organizations in the area.
One day my boss, Producing Artistic Director Roseann Sheridan, called me and said, “Remember when we were talking about what might happen to the Rep’s shop and you said you thought a co-op facility would be great? Can you write that idea up in a proposal and have it for me tomorrow morning?”
I took a deep breath, and started writing. I called my idea the Madison Arts Production Cooperative. The proposal sounded good to both the sellers (Madison Rep) and the people who could make it happen financially. Thanks to a generous (anonymous) donation, we were able to purchase the entire production inventory of the decades-old company, keeping it together, and giving us the opportunity to make it all available to the Madison arts community in a way that it has never been before.
The (Book) Project
Writing a book is not easy. Selling a book is even more difficult. I know this from experience. But that has not yet deterred me from my plans to write (or co-write) the next book about green theater. I have spoken to several people about this project, and soon I hope to have a more complete understanding of how this project may take shape. It is certainly a topic that will bring me back to ecoTheater to share news.
I’ll also continue to write on the subject of green theater for print publications whenever I can. I recently published articles on the subject in Theatre Bay Area and DramaBiz. And I will probably poke my head back in the ecoTheater door from time to time to rant or point out something I find particularly interesting to the topic.
Later this month, I will be attending the University of Oregon’s Ecodrama Festival and Symposium (at least the first weekend), and will write about the event for Dramatics. Ecodrama is hosted by Theresa May, a hero of green theater that I have had the privelige of interviewing for ecoTheater before, and co-author of Greening Up Our Houses.
And staying up to date on the green theater movement won’t be hard, as I’m sure most of you know by now. Since ecoTheater first showed up on the world wide web nearly three years ago, a lot has happened — and I was fortunate to have a hand in some of it. The best resources for staying up to date, and learning more about greening the theater are:
And check out the ecoLinks over on the right hand side of this page too.
Oh, and one last thing…
Thanks to all of you who have supported me and ecoTheater over the last few years — especially in my most difficult times. Your kind words were always sincere, heartfelt, and more appreciated than you can ever know or understand.
Thank you to Ian Garrett, Gideon Banner, Robert Butler, Kellie Gutman, Seema Sueko, Scott Walters, Michael Casselli (who helped provide ecoTheater with its most popular day ever!) and so many more of you for continually encouraging the debate and information I tried to provide on ecoTheater. With folks like you out there, hope remains.
Over the weekend I had a flurry of emails from John Kinsella and Melanie Challenger who are both racing ahead with the Dialogue between the body and the soul series of poems.
Not only are both of them being kind enough to share a great deal of knowledge about the historical background to this ancient “soul and body” tradition of poetry which goes back to the 10th century, I’m also learning about both of their aims for the piece. As a footnote to the work in progress, they’ve shared some of the emails they exchanged last year which discussed the idea of giving up flying. John, who is 100% committed not to flying except in emergencies, had said he wanted to press on with these poems as he’s planning on going fully off grid at the end of the summer.
Melanie’s off-grid too, living on a boat in East Anglia. In a kind of environmental keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, I ventured that I was editing Melanie’s latest contribution off-grid too. An attempt to impress, obviously. I do have a small shack in Devon; I harvest my own rainwater, heat it with a woodburner and have a photo-voltaic panel which powers a notebook and phone. And over the bank holiday weekend I was working from there.
I think I’ve given John Kinsella the impression I’m “one of them”. Now I feel like a fraud. I’m not sure though that I could ever be bold enough to go the whole hog. I spent a month down there last year. For a couple of weeks I was off-grid with three kids who, I’m proud to say, thoroughly enjoyed the situation. My excuse for not cutting the ties is I’m not convinced that it’s the answer in this crowded island though. I love being off grid, and I’m full of admiration for anyone who achieves it – plus I think it’s a great way to learn about how profligate we are in our day-to-day on-grid lives, but I think we also need more collective solutions.
Or maybe I’m just too much of a wuss.
“Greening” operations can reduce your carbon footprint while still delivering stellar productions—and help keep your audience and staff healthy
According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings are responsible for 72% of electricity consumption, consume 40% of our raw materials, spew 38% of all CO2 emissions, create 136 million tons of construction waste, and use 15 trillion gallons of water per year in the United States alone.
Green buildings, on the other hand, consume 26% less energy while emitting 33% fewer greenhouse gases. The USGBC also estimates that if “half of new commercial buildings were built to use 50% less energy, it would save over 6 million metric tons of CO2 annually for the life of the buildings—the equivalent of taking more than 1 million cars off the road every year.”
Now take a deep breath – because those are significant numbers that should give us pause. But it does not mean we should all go out and start looking for a green architect and a wealthy donor. Not yet, anyway. Rebuilding from the ground up is not the first step. Efficiency and green building experts agree that the first and most important thing you can do is improve conservation and efficiency within your current operation and facility.
Portland Center Stage, Theatre For A New Audience, and Theatrical Outfit in Atlanta have all taken the big step. Each of these companies work in what are known as LEED certified facilities. LEED – or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – is a certification program managed by the U.S. Green Building Council. The program works on a point system, with points awarded for things as diverse as proximity to public transit to how efficiently the building uses (and reuses) water and electricity. Depending on the number of points earned a building can receive one of three levels of certification from Silver to Platinum, with Gold in the middle. Theatrical Outfit, for example, produces in a renovated historical building with a LEED Silver rating and was the first performing arts facility to be LEED certified in the nation. Portland Center Stage also renovated a historical building in the heart of Portland, earning a Platinum rating from the USGBC. Their facility includes such eco-friendly features as a rainwater collection and reuse system, natural ventilation, extensive use of natural lighting throughout the lobby and administrative offices, and radiant heating in the lobby. The building also reportedly uses about 30% less energy than code requires.
Visit DramaBiz magazine for the entire article.
A show with six temporary installations opens this week in Girona, Spain. Coinciding with the annual Temps de Flors Flower Festival, the pieces all deal with natural balance. In addition, there’s a nice website where all of us online can get a good feel for the show.
Here’s a blurb from the show:
The concept of Natural Balance is central to any sustainable system. Creation and destruction are inseparable forces that often function simultaneously. Humans play an increasingly influential role in affecting ecological systems on a local and global scale. Artists, in particular, have an important role to play in transforming human perception and mediating our understanding of the urban landscape.
Curated by Lluís Sabadell Artiga, Yolanda de Zuloaga and Sam Bower.
> Read more at hibrids.net
In this age of environmental anxiety, the act of switching a light bulb on or of becomes increasingly meaningful. In that spirit, here are five pieces of art about using light switches:
This simple idea from Tiffany Holmes at ecoviz.org was displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicaco last month under the title darkSky. Viewers are encouraged to turn these salvaged lamps on or off as they please. The resulting electricity consumption is displayed on a screen nearby. I’m guessing the purists can’t resist turning all the lamps off, while the aesthetes can’t resist turning them back on again. Of course the really smart purist would turn the tv monitor off as well.
Tue Greenfort’s work has simple wit to it. Back in 2002 he created this untitled piece in Frankfurt [see right]. The switch gives people the ability to turn the street lamp off when it’s not needed. (Image courtesy of Johann Koenig, Berlin).
Robert Watt’s 1965 piece Lightswitch, played with the notion of a light switch as an instrument to turn on a light to illuminate a space. In this case, when the switch is flipped, a light turned on inside the switch box itself, illuminating the two screw holes of the lightswitch face plate.
In 2002 the Gorbet Art Collective, Professor of Electrical Engineering Rob Gorbet and and husband-and-wife Matt and Susan Gorbet created a piece of work called Power to the People or P2P to celebrate the 100th anniversary of a publicly-owned hydro electric company in Kitchener, Ontario. It consists of 125 light bulps and a panel with 125 switches on, each connected to one of the bulbs. The public can chose which light bulbs to illuminate.
Any other nominations?
GAS ZAPPERS is a series of interactive online art game that tackles climate change. The game’s protagonist is the polar bear—that victimized, yet cuddly symbol of global warming. Players embody the polar bear as it progresses through different climate change scenarios: Venice under water, a forest threatened by bulldozers, and an altercation with vicious oil derricks.
GAS ZAPPERS have different gaming scenarios with custom designed gameplay addressing the various components of global warming. Each scenarios embody a specific environmental identity addressing the causes, problems and possible solutions to the various scientifically proven contributors to elevated global temperatures. The project is made possible by Tribeca Film Institute.
Designing artwork from junked objects is nothing new for eco-minded artist Katherine Harvey, and she has thrilled one and all with the stunning pieces of art that promote recycling and environmental conservation.