A Piipaash song cycle and dance recently filled the Arizona State University Art Museums Ceramics Research Center during an intervention by Postcommodity, an interdisciplinary indigenous artists collective. Postcommoditys installation, “Do You Remember When,” is part of the museums exhibition “Defining Sustainability,” August 28-November 28. The artists cut a square hole in the gallery floor, exposing the earth beneath the institution, and displaying the block of removed concrete, standing upright, on a pedestal. Its “a spiritual, cultural and physical portal,” say the artists, contradicting the rigid Western scientific world view of our environment. Postcommoditys Kade Twist Cherokee makes it clear that the piece was a collaboration with the museum – not the university. The show parallels ASUs October global sustainability conference. “Sustainability has become an academic gold rush; its been turned into a commodity,” Twist told the Phoenix New Times 8/30/09. “The university is having this discourse without including any indigenous people in it.”
Today has been a bit slow at EMOS for me. I did attend the 2pm matinee of the University of Oregon’s student production of Metamorphoses in the Robinson Theatre, however, and even though I happened to see the Tony-award winning Broadway production in 2002, I was mightily impressed with the production here. It helps, of course, when the show is lined with a cast of beautiful teens and twenty-somethings. (makes even a late thirties [nameless]theater artist and blogger feel old!)
I sat with Moe Beitiks of the Green Museum Blog for the performance, and you may or may not be happy to hear that prior to the show she convinced me why she thought ecoTheater remained valuable to the ongoing “green art” discourse. Thanks, Moe: after some thought, I’ve realized that I needed to hear that — especially in the way you put it.
Speaking of which…
It’s been nothing short of a pleasure to have met and spent time with both Ian Garrett of the CSPA and Moe. I’ve corresponded and followed their work closely over the last two or three years, and though their reputations preceed them, they have been entirely pleasant, and wonderful, articulate, honest sounding boards. Artists in America — indeed, across the globe — are lucky to have them working so tirelessly.
I’m sure I’ll have yet more to say tomorrow about my entire, albeit abbreviated, EMOS experience as I travel back to the Midwest. Until then…
Okay, so I can’t keep my nose out of it…
I’m here in beautiful Eugene, Oregon attending the 2009 Earth Matters on Stage: A Symposium on Theatre & Ecology at the University of Oregon. Last night was the official beginning of the event with keynote speaker Una Chaudhuri giving a talk on what she has dubbed Zooesis, or the discourse of animals (or, rather non-humans) in the media.
As I emerged from the talk I looked at Ian Garrett of the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts and Moe Beitiks of the Green Museum Blog and said: “I’m not smart enough to be here.” Which is to say if the opening moment of EMOS 2009 is a reliable indicator, it will be a highly academic affair. Chaudhuri was followed by obligatory phases of mingling with strangers (not my forte) while smugly observing the corn-based disposable cups, paper plates and napkins, an engaging, often heart wrenching (though also quite academic) play by EM Lewis called Song of Extinction, and the most structured post show discussion (aka talkback) I’ve ever participated in, led by Cal State LA professor and playwright Jose Cruz Gonzalez. Part of me thought, “oh, I shouldn’t have stuck around for this.” It had the effect of stifling the power of the play, and its masterly intertwined themes. I jotted on my program during the talkback this tidbit: “Robbing the visceral through incessant deconstruction.” But that’s my own problem, right?
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’.
I’m stealing this post wholesale from Jamie Young’s RSA Design & Behaviour blog. Let’s call it recycling:
Last year I read a report published by the IPPR that made me think. It was called Warm Words, and analysed the language and discourses used in the media and campaigns to talk about climate change.
The authors identified several discourses at the time of publication (August 2006 – so it’s a bit out of date now) that fell into three main groups; alarmism (we’re doomed), “settlerdom” and “British comic nihilism” (climate change is just too fantastic to be true), and “small actions” (messages that encourage people to beat climate change by doing little actions like turning off lights). I thought this was all fascinating, coming at the same time I was getting slightly power crazy after being exposed to the sort of sneaky public engagement strategy that campaigning organisations use, and the ideas behind social marketing and population segmentation models.
The report suggests most of these discourses are pretty ineffective, and among its recommendations are to improve the way the media uses the small actions discourse:
As mentioned earlier, populist climate change discourse (for example, in magazines) tends to put together alarmist and small-action repertoires, through features such as ‘20 ways to save the planet from destruction’. In bringing together these two repertoires without reconciling them, these articles feed a notion of asymmetry in human agency with regards to climate change.
This, the report says, is pretty disastrous, and makes people think that while their actions are responsible for climate change, they are also powerless to do anything about it. How can turning off my telly make any difference to rising sea levels and ecosystem collapse?
Their conclusion is to create a new discourse which they call “ordinary heroism”, an attempt to create a (very British by the way) language about climate change (more about heroism in another post soon). Their explanation of what makes this unique isn’t entirely clear from the report to be honest, but the examples they quote of early uses of this discourse in the media all have in common that little changes from lots of people add up to be significant.
This is absolutely one of the reasons that technology and the internet is so crucial to helping us change our behaviour. My own energy saving rituals (nothing odd, I promise) seem negligible until I’m connected to everyone else, when I realise that the cumulative effect of my and our small actions are beginning to bring about significant change. This, as well as the competitive and social proofing reasons, is why it’s great that socially-networked energy displays/smart meters are beginning to find their way on to the market.
But what else can we come up with?
Ps. Here’s a couple of other things that do this too: