RSA Arts & Ecology

10 YouTube videos from artists responding to the environment

Gemma Lloyd has put together this list of 10 artists responding on the Respond! site, which includes Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, a slightly scratchy talk on Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field, film of Aleksandra Mir creating her First Woman On The Moon and this one by Tomas Saraceno:


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John Kinsella/Melanie Challenger | Travelling by other means

I’m really pleased to say that the RSA Arts & Ecology site is hosting a new artwork. It’s a collaborative piece of poetry created by Melanie Challenger and John Kinsella called Dialogue between the body and the soul.

The idea came from a reading that both poets were invited to in New York in 2007. Though they had worked together — John had edited Melanie’s debut collection —  they’d never actually met, so the event would have given them both that chance. Kinsella lives in Australia; Challenger lives in the UK. But both were becoming increasingly uneasy about the idea of artists travelling internationally just to give readings of their own work.

In the end, neither travelled to New York. Instead, they’ve decided to create this collaborative work which comes from their decisions to eschew air travel for such events.

The first poem arrived in my email box yesterday; it’s posted on the site today, initiating the exchange. Take a look. I’m loving the idea of seeing a piece of work like this evolve in my email inbox.

You can link to the poems here

Photo: Roger Bishop

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Dialogue between the body and the soul

The poets Melanie Challenger and John Kinsella have vowed never to take transatlantic flights to promote their work. For practitioners of a form which often struggles for wider attention, to restrict themselves this way has been a difficult decision. In this new commission for RSA Arts & Ecology, they are collaborating over the next few weeks in an extraordinary exchange of poems that explores their decision. The poems are published online as they arrive.
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Emotional Appeal

Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink – there needs to be more promiscuity across different disciplines if there’s to be more fruitful solutions to environmental change. On Earth Day, Seed magazine published a well-toned article about economist Ben Ho, and suggested a need for joined-up thinking on climate change between behavioral economics (hence the reference to ‘Nudge’) and social sciences (erm… ‘winking’ is anthropological). And these latest understandings from the sciences about human behaviour bring big questions into focus for art practioners.

Do the arts understate their potential role in generating a more holistic understanding of contemporary life? And what are our expectations of art? What kind of insights do artists bring about in relation to social change and environmental change…? (The most talked about art book on this is Bradley and Esche’s ‘Art and Social Change’, which is worth reading in conjunction with Mute magazine’s in-depth discussion).

The idea that people’s decisions are governed more by their subconscious emotional responses than by an impartial rationality is well argued by behavioural economics (and the RSA projects, Social Brain and Design & Behaviour). And that the social sciences grew from analysising how and why people behave they way they do, prompted Ho to reiterate the ol’ ecological adage: “The only way to get anything done is a holistic approach,” but then he emphasises the need for productive argument “We’re all speaking different languages, and that leads to conflicts. But that has to be the way forward.”

And this is surely the way forward for the arts too – art benefits hugely from engaging with other disciplines and there is real need for productive honest progressive debate about the ‘use’ of the art in relation to contemporary environmental change, without returning to the entrenched positions of instrumentalism v art for arts sake. Isn’t it the case that speaking provocatively about personal ethics and politics enhances our understanding of artists’ work?

And if emotional appeal is now regarded, by the natural sciences, as a highly persuasive human resource, why has visual art appeared to move so far away from ‘emotional expression’? And if it hasn’t really moved away from emotional expression – but has transposed it into provocative gestures , such as Jeremy Deller’s work (see Michaela’s blog) – should artists feel any responsibility to make their own position explicit as part of a public debate? Art should still infuriate and delight us – so isn’t it time for the arts, and the discussion that surrounds it, to get more overtly passionate, excitable and intellectually promiscuous again? Wink, wink …

“Human beings’ decision-making processes, as individuals and collectively, are probably at least as complicated as the climate system itself,” Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change. From

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Jeremy Deller: how art “digs into public life”

We have had my brother-in-law staying Jeremy Deller’s latest project, It is What It Is. We have been working with Jeremy on the Bat House Project. Both works provide a mechanism, a vehicle (literally in the case of ‘It is What It Is’) to encourage debate and engagement with particular issues.

Dragging a wrecked car from Iraq across the States is simply not art, said my brother-in-law very firmly, fixing his attentions solely on the object rather than the discourse generated.

An alternative to the car being in the States, it could have been on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square instead of Antony Gormley’s forthcoming project. But both works pull us members of the public into art that ultimately is process not product.

Why is it that many people just won’t have it that the purpose of art is to elicit participation from us, to open up thinking, to encourage us to review the human condition and to nudge or provoke a response? Why can’t they relax and just accept that artists can use whatever materials they damn well choose – be that the human body, a urinal, oil paint or bronze or a cork screw to actify that purpose.

The site is still up of the road diary by Nato Thompson that is part of It is What It Is, although the trip ended on 17 April 09. I urge you to read it and see what, as Thompson says, “digging into public life”, has revealed.

Meanwhile off line It is What It Is has provoked more conversation in our house than any more conventional piece of art over the past two weeks. This is far more important to me than convincing my brother-in-law that it is art. I did get a rueful smile from David when I noted that having argued for half an hour the night before, he came down to breakfast the next morning wanting to begin all over again. And then seemingly tangentially, we started talking about war.

After all the second part of the work’s title is ‘Conversations about Iraq’.

EDIT. William Shaw adds: Here’s one interesting example of the conversation started by the Deller artwork, nicely reported by The Artblog.

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Art, religion and shock

Paul Fryer’s Peita, installed in a cathedral in the French town of Gap has been raising a few eyebrows among church goers. It  shows Christ Electocuted, arms semaphored, looking much like a victim of Abu Ghraib. Parishoners have protested, say repoorts. The statue has been robustly defended by the Cathedral’s Bishop Jean-Michel di Falco;

“The scandal is not where one believes it to be. I wanted the provoked shock to make us once again conscious of the scandal of someone being nailed to a cross. “Usually, one does not feel any real emotions in front of something really scandalous: the Crucifixion. If Jesus had been sentenced today, he would have to reckon with the electric chair or other barbaric methods of execution. Scandalous is therefore not Jesus in the electric chair, but the indifference to his crucifixion.”

Enterprisingly, Paul Fryer’s local paper the Waltham Forest Guardian jumped at the chance of a local angle: “LEYTON: Christ Sculpture Provokes Fury”. But to be fair, it also snagged an interview with the artist in which he expresses gratitude for di Falco’s defense.

Mr Fryer said he was pleased to have the support of the bishop, because his intention behind the piece, which is no larger than a small child and is made of waxwork and human hair, was to evoke pity for someone being persecuted by another.

Mr Fryer said: “The meaning is open to interpretation. But the original meaning of the Latin word Pieta is pity. To take pity is a crucial part of living, human beings taken pity others.

“Today people might be electrocuted or given the lethal injection, but it is all the same thing, someone ending another person’s life.

Art 21 | Blog ran a thread recently called What’s So Shocking About Contemporary Art which wondered if art could shock any more. Clearly it can, but I doubt if it did in this case, whatever the papers say. This isn’t exactly Piss Christ; it’s a work that blurs the line between the historically sacred and the contemporaneously secular, and doesn’t contain much that could possibly shock the modern European’s sense of religion, however devout. The shocking part, as the Bishop points out, is that the electric chair is still at use in the modern world. I wonder if any of the good citzens of Gap were actually shocked by Paul Fryer’s work. I somehow doubt it. This looks much like a French slow news day story.

Photo by Sjoren ten Kate

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Public art: Jaume Pensa’s big Dream

Michaela Crimmin: “I have just been to the launch of the extraordinary – the wonderful – new work by Jaume Plensa outside Runcorn in Cheshire, part of Channel 4’s Big Art Project.This has been commissioned by a group of ex-miners wanting to commemorate the heritage of their previous industry; but with a positive rather than a nostalgic take. The artist and the miners worked with curator Laurie Peake and you could visibly see art expert, artist and local people thoroughly enjoying joining together to create something marvellous. “

For news of a panel debate here at the RSA around topics raised by this public commissioning initiative, featuring Grayson Perry, Munira Mirza, Andrew Shoben and Jonathan Jones, and hosted by Jon Snow see the main Arts & Ecology site.

Photo of Dream by Jaume Plensa courtesy of Channel 4

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