Yearly Archives: 2009

RETHINK-ing perspectives: art and climate

burns
Safety Gear for Small Animals, 1994 by Bill Burns, featured in RETHINK

If you haven’t found them yet, the people behind RETHINK, Contemporary Art and Climate Change have set up a number of debate pages on their website athttp://www.rethinkclimate.org/.

There is also plenty of extraordinarily rich material on the site to debate. Take this essay fromSøren Pold which starts by namechecking Petko Dourmana’s Post Global Warming Survival Kit (mentioned round these parts earlier this year):


Digital media art like Petko Dourmana’s installation offers the opportunity to experience another, new nature, or at least it gives us a new and up-to-date perspective on nature. In addition to being a crisis for the globe and for humanity, the climate crisis is also an epistemological crisis, and we need to change our perception of our environment in order to better understand and deal with it. In other words it is also a cultural, epistemological challenge.

The nature, the weather, that previously we have regarded as something out there simply beyond our reach, as something that was in opposition to culture when we analysed poetry in high school, this has now turned into yet another structure of signs to be read and interpreted. We cannot see the greenhouse gasses or their effects directly with our senses so our understanding of the climate challenges are very much based on climate models, and we must act on this background in our daily lives as well as, obviously, politically and culturally. The climate crisis introduces us to the fact that our immediate surroundings are being mediated by complex visualisations, interfaces, statistics and carbon quotas – thus an imaginary computer interface lurks in the blue sky, even deep in the country with no computers in sight!

This isn’t the point that Pold is trying to make but there is also an inescapbable sense in which our vision has become polluted by the science we now need to understand it.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Impact by Degrees: COP15 art in Washington

Waiting_Room

Waiting Room, by Justine Cooper, New York 2005

This strangely haunting image is part of a series of photos by interdisciplinary artist Justine Cooper, created during a residency at The American Museum of Natural History om New York. Her work “questions whether we should be relying on advancements in DNA technology to bring extinct species back to life, or whether we need to address the impacts that have led to their disappearance in the first place.”

Waiting Room is one of the works featured in Impact By Degrees currently at the Australian Gallery of the Australian Embassy in Washington DC. It’s an exhibition of art by Australian and Australian-American media artists responding to climate change and it’’s one of the events featured on the Arts For COP15 network.

http://www.impactbydegrees.net/

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

“Art has been slow to grasp the significance of climate change…”

Mathematical Nature Painting: Nested, 2008 by Keith Tyson

Contemporary art about climate change is still sometimes seen as the frivolous dilettante who has showed up late to what it thinks might be an interesting party.

Writing about both the Royal Academy’s Earth: of a changing world and RETHINK Contemporary art and climate change exhibitions in today’s Guardian in an article titledThe Rise of Climate Change Art, Madeleine Bunting states, “Some activists have wondered why the art world has been slow to grasp the significance of climate change.”

Actually, activists think everyone is slow to grasp everything, but anyway… It’s less that art has been slow to grasp the significance, more that art rarely produces the kind of loud kazoom that activism does – or wants it to.

To many this remains a source of huge frustration. James Mariott of Platform, which programmed the lively 100 Days strand at the Arnolfini in the run up to COP15, expresses continued frustration at the artworld’s timidity.

“The arts stumble along the fault line between representation and transformation,” Marriot said to Bunting. “But, until 50 or so years ago, all art was about transformation and persuasion. Look at Goya: he wanted to persuade you of the horrors of war.”

Almost the polar opposite view comes eloquently from artist Keith Tyson. Tyson told Bunting how he had gone to a lecture on climate change at Cern, Swizterland. To hear scientists talking baldly among themselves about the true graveness of our situation was an experience he recalls as “terrifying”. But still he does not quite see himself as one of Marriott’s more focused “persuaders”:

“[The role of art] is not to advocate solutions. It is something much deeper and more subtle – to make us reflect and rethink what it is to be a human being in the 21st century. We don’t have that much power. It’s nature that creates us. That’s the kind of education too subtle to put on a syllabus: that’s the important role of art.”

Earth: Art of a changing world was also on this morning’s Today programme, there reporter David Sillito gave a third view of what art could be doing at the party, claiming: “For those who are immune to debates in science and politics, culture –  art, songs, stories jokes – can have a power far greater than any scientific paper.”

Art, Sillito seems to be saying, has the disruptive power to reach the mass unconverted by activism and reason.

You see, it’s not so much that art is even late to the party. But it is true that at times art is not exactly sure what it is doing there.

In a few days the Culture|Futures symposium kicks off in Copenhagen. The symposium, led by the Danish Cultural Institute and a partnership of arts organisations from around the world, is based on the premise that the scale of the transition to the environmental age is so massive that just waiting for the right technological or political solution to show it self is not enough. It requires fundamental cultural change, and very fast change.

It’s a chance for the symposium to start asking those pesky student union bar questions that could help us understand what, if any, art’s role in int he transition is going to be. Does the kind of activist art James Marriott has curated at Bristol actually change any minds – if so, where’s the evidence for that? Do “deep and subtle” explorations make any difference outside a gallery or theatre? Is art really a shortcut to the unconvinced? Do we even have the time to be “deep and subtle?”

Apologies for the hiatus over the last few days: swine flu.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Climate denialism and Žižek’s fear of the future


Slavoj Žižek by Hendrik Speck

If there is a star philosophy turn, it’s  Slavoj Žižek. Last night he spoke at the RSA to a packed Great Room and justified his star status with constantly dazzling performance, which will beonline here soon. As Nigel Warburton, the event’s chair, remarked, what’s thrilling about listening to him talk publicly is the way he develops ideas in mid-sentence. Asides suddenly become new ideas, and even his asides seem to have asides.

One of his asides was a meditation on who would be the figures of the current era who would still be having statues built to them in 100 years time.

Žižek suggested Lee Kuan Yew, the reforming but authoritarian leader of Singapore,  who turned the island city-state into one of the wealthiest economies in the world. And who more importantly provided the model for Deng Xiaoping’s modernisation of Communist China.

Why? Here he took an easy kick at Fukuyama’s idea that liberal captitalist democracy was the last word in history, pointing out that the winners in capitalism’s latest race appear to be not the liberal capitalist states, but the authoritarian ones like China. And (I’m writing from memory here) his real fear is that this is the successful model that we’re all heading towards. More authoritarian capitalist states, not fewer.

Every now and again I try and take on a climate denialist. It’s a fairly stupid, self-destructive thing to do, and leads to really, really, really silly arguments about whose scientists have bigger graphs, and talk of hockey sticks and mad petitions, but occasionally I think it’s worth doing to discover if you have any common ground at all, and to try and understand how the thinking behind this weird group of misfits with such extraordinary political power.

One thing that’s obvious. Denialists like James Delingpole and Nigel Lawson really aren’t interested in science. You can’t be interested in science if your method is to seek out the few dozen science names who put up serious arguments against the thousands and thousands who stand behind the conclusions of the 2007 IPCC report.

What denialists are really afraid of is the self-righteous authoritarianism that global warming brings. They are fundamentally libertarians. We may think they’re delusional libertarians, but what really concerns them is a fear of a future that actually looks much like Žižek’s.

Anthony Giddens in The Politics of Climate Change sees it as inevitable that the green-left’s dream of grass roots localisation is not up to the task of reform. Likewise he sees that broad international agreements of the kind that COP15 seek are too easy to fracture. That leaves nation states as the main actors in climate change – and the levers they have are inevitably based around carbon taxes. In Gidden’s world, (though he wouldn’t put it like this) the state will inevitably meddle in our lives more not less in the future.

Žižek’s fears, Gidden’s rationalism, and denialists’ libertarianism all find their way to the same place. So is there an alternative? One that will calm the fears of the less-mad denialists? Does climate change inevitably lead to a more authoritarian state?

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

December BGA Green Sheet

BGA_Logo_ColorMichael Crowley just sent over the December issue of the Broadway Green Alliance “Green Sheet.”

He asks that we please stay tuned to www.broadwaygreen.com, as the new BGA website should be going live next week.

As always, please keep him abreast of green practices that are helping your organization save money and instill environmentally sound thinking into staff, artists and audiences. The BGA is eager to share better green practices from across the country.

Dec 2009 BGA Green Sheet

Native Flags project in Miami


Miami-based artist Xavier Cortada will present his artwork Native Flags at the Verge Miami Art Fair Dec. 3–6. The goal of the project is reforestation and awareness of global warming and its impact on political jostling for control of the Northwest Passage. Cortada planted his green flag at the North Pole this past summer, essentially claiming the territory for reforestation rather than global shipping routes.

More about the project at the ecoartspace blog and xaviercortada.com.

Go to Eco Art Blog

New Life Copenhagen: hospitality as art

new life copI am soon to be assigned to a guest house in Copenhagen by the remarkable New Life Copenhagen art project. For five days people I don’t know, who don’t know me, will put me up durng my stay in Copenhagen.

Everything I hear from them, while I wait, makes me more and more admiring of this enterprise.

The Danes feel they have a reputation for being an unhospitable place. New Life Copenhagen has decided to turn this reputation on its head with a phenomenal act of generosity, opening the doors of their homes to 3,000 activists, NGO workers and delegates who are arriving in Denmark over the coming weeks to attend the pivotal COP15 conference.  It’s a spirit of openness you can only hoped will be matched by the governmental delegates.

In this act alone,  Woloo.org’s  Sixten Kai Nielsen and Martin Rosengaard, who created New Life Copenhagen may have already created the most significant artwork to align itself with the COP15 process:

The explain themselves: Instead of inviting artists to contribute art for a traditional museum exhibition, we have chosen to utilize hospitality and the human encounter as an exhibition platform. The purpose of the festival is to create a breeding ground for alternative ways of living together. Individual solutions are not enough. In order to stop climate changes, we have to rethink our way of life collectively.

The artists SuperflexSigna and Marisa Olson are also creating work as part of New Life Copenhagen. Olson will host a live event at Copenhagen’s City Square, Signa are going to produce a guest book in which we can all evaluate each others’ lifestyles, and Superflex are going to ask all of us to commit to a climate-friendly burial in the case that we die during our visit to Copenhagen.

Which is one of those committments I kind of hope I’m not going to have to live up to.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Video Chat in Artistic Endeavors

skype-iconIt goes without saying that the travel associated with our artist endeavors is not the most sustainable. I’ve been to so many conferences this last year, mostly traveling by plane. Next week I’m off to Europe where I’ll be staying in Copenhagen for COP15 and Wooloo.org‘s New Life Festival, but I’m also headed to London for the Future Arcola Launch and, it’s looking like Prague as well, to check in with a project for the next PQ in June of 2011.

I personally love traveling. I feel guilty, yes, but I love going places. I also feel there is no substitute for in-person discussions. The spontaneity and intimacy of direct contact is important and this is easiest to accommodate face-to-face and in the flesh. And, even when it’s not about having a one-on-one, there is also that just showing up most of the time is a big deal. I maintain that our “success” with the CSPA is due to persistence and “showing up”.

Two weeks ago, I was in Orlando for LDI for a full day of Green Sessions for the show technology crowd put together by Bob Usdin and Annie Jacobs from Showman Fabricators. There I had the chance to meet Bryan Raven of White Light in the UK again. We had been on a roundtable panel at the Theatre Materials/Material Theatre conference at the Central School of Speech and Drama‘s Center for Excellence in Theatre Training in April of 2008. That previous conference was also when I was able to meet, and have a drink with, Ben Todd from Arcola. Ben, who was not able to come to Orlando, and was instead in Stockholm (maybe you saw his post early this week) , was present via a video chat to talk about Future Arcola.

With the ubiquity of broadband connections, more and more people seem to be relying on video conference/chat technology to get other busy, high profile, greener guests to be able to be in two spaces at the same time. And, as it tends to shake out, the resident technophile/ show technologist, I get the pleasure of making a lot of them work.

Google_Talk_icon_by_hungery5Last night, at California Institute of the Arts I set up a video chat audition for guest artists that will be in residency at REDCAT, CalArt’s downtown LA space. The Artists of Invasion from the Chicken Planet, are based in New York and, though of no sustainable intention, weren’t going to fly out to audition some of our actors to use in their residency for two hours.

The day before, we had tested the connection. We used the same computer with the same software on the same network (hardwired into the wall) that we’d use the next day. We tried Skype, which was too choppy, garbled and had a couple seconds delay that made it less than ideal. We then switched to iChat with AOL Instant Messenger accounts and after realizing another computer being connected was preventing a decent video link, it proved the smoothest and most immediate.

So last night, when we moved the computer into the room that we would be conducting the auditions in, we configured the machine the same way, but were not able to make a connection on iChat. Skype had the same issues. At the prompting of a student director who was assisting, we tried Gtalk Video chat. It ended up working immediately and with excellent quality.

Earlier in the year, at Earth Matters on Stage (EMOS), when Moe Beitiks had tried to link up Brent Bucknum to present his bio-remidative work via video chat, we tried ooVoo, which we gave up on in favor of iChat again. We had almost just given up, but I only thought to use iChar from the decent chats I had experienced with my brother-in-law who was living in Edinburgh at the time. Also at EMOS we had a video conference in the University of Oregon library with a panel in London arranged by the Ashden Directory, which used their dedicated video conferencing package.

aim_logo_2.jpgIn both situations the video wasn’t great, but we could sort of communicate. The Ashden Session involved each end of the discussion/video conference going into another room to watch a video and then coming back to discuss together. But there was lag and the video wasn’t particularly clear. The Brent Bucknam session was not bad, but very one-way. For Green Day at LDI, the audio was great, but in one session, with Seema Sueeko from Mo’olelo Performing Arts, the video was minutes behind the audio connection.

Having now had extensive experience with video conferencing in less than ideal situations, I do long for the day when we’ll be able to turn on whatever client we’re using to video chat and it works smoothly and immediately, let alone with high resolution. But, that day isn’t particularly close. There are a lot of variables in the way of making that happen. Network connections, equipment, client servers, client and local network traffic, sunspots, radio waves and the phases of the moon. Even when we tried to eliminate as many of those variables in Eugene as possible, it still didn’t work ideally. Or, what was ideally was not enough to convince.

Will our broadband video connections be able to save us the footprint of air travel for conferences and internationally collaborative meetings of the mind? Not yet. There might be some expensive corporate system out there, but we lowly green artists aren’t going to hold our breath waiting for that. Oprah’s skype seems to work fine, but I’ve never had such luck, so I leave that package just to replace my need for international phone calls.

I’d still rather sit and talk to you, especially when we aren’t both staring at our monitors in our Pajamas.

Also yesterday, Enci Box of Rebel Without a Car Productions came to speak to my and Leslie Tamaribuchi’s class, Sustainability Seminar. She can to talk about producing a short film as sustainably as possible. This included not using cars and transporting everything by bike with the help of the LA Greensters (green teamsters). She made the trip from East Hollywood, in the center of Los Angeles, to the edge of the county, where CalArts resides in Valencia, without a car. She came up on a Metrolink commuter train, biking from the station to campus. She and I had worked out the options for getting there and she had the time to dedicate to coming up. Also, she was lucky to had met a guy who regularly made that journey to visit his girlfriend at CalArts and could relay the benefit of his experience. She then went back home, via bike. all roughly 30 miles of the trip. Coming up to CalArts, it took 2 hours. Returning was supposedly going to be one and a half hours. All for a 45 minute presentation.

I suppose we could have had her “skype” in (even if we don’t typically end up on skype), but having her there in-person was a much greater thrill and much more in the moment for the students and for her. Instead it took dedication to not leaving a footprint, and finding alternatives to get to the class. I’m very much indebted to Enci for making the journey, which some might say was epic, to present for a fraction of that travel time. But, I think it far surpassed our alternatives.

New Mexico Art & Ecology BFA and MFA program

An installation being constructed by the University of New Mexico art and ecology students.

The University of New Mexico has a BFA and MFA program in art and ecology. I’m not sure when it started, but from their website, it seems that the program builds on previous eco-art classes and the university’s Land Arts of the American West program.

Read all about it at art.unm.edu/ecology.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to me is that if you go to the UNM Art and Art History homepage, the genres listed are:

  • painting and drawing
  • photography
  • ceramics
  • sculpture
  • art history
  • printmaking
  • electronic arts
  • art and ecology

I have to say that I’m surprised (and sort of enjoy) that this is an area or genre of study now. But I hope that it doesn’t result in other students thinking less about how ecology and environmentalism might play a role in their work.

From my experience, dividing students into specific genres has it’s positives and negatives. I’m thankful that I’ve studied in schools that are relatively open to interdisciplinary work while also engaging the medium-specific skills and information, if a young artist needs that in their work.

To a certain extent, any genre or “area” serves the needs of an academic institution, but I’ve always thought of eco-related art as spanning existing genres and would be hesitant to define it as its own medium. While eco-art may have its own concerns, I’ve been noticing that many young artists today—regardless of genre—think a lot about the environment and how artists can make work about it. As a result, much of the art that interests me isn’t overtly or obviously tied to environmentalism, but I believe it is there as an undercurrent.

Here’s hoping that this new program can help students find new and interesting ways to think about art and the environment, and that the “art and ecology” area adds to UNM’s other areas of study.

Go to Eco Art Blog

Did art help add the sheen to Dubai?


Rem Koolhaas at the Dubai Next exhibition

The party is over in Dubai. It was always based on a boom. And art is always there when there is a boom. It had its foot in the door of the contemporary art fair circuit. Christies had set up shop there.  The RSA Arts & Ecology Centre took part in the 8th Sharjah Biennial – leading a major symposium on arts and ecology….

Simon Jenkins excoriates those who took part in what was effectively a massive PR to suggest that Dubai was the city of the future, when its sustainability was always in question. As the debt bubble bursts, does the art world share some of that blame for joining in the party?

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology