Fritz Haeg

Thoughts on TJ Demos’ Art after Nature

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Art after nature: TJ Demos on the post natural condition, in Artforum (April 2012) is, as Suzaan Boettger pointed out, important because it represents a key moment demonstrating that ecoart is impacting on mainstream contemporary art’s discourses (maybe).

Perhaps more importantly, the piece concludes with the work of artists who are at this moment, as has happened at key points in the past, choosing to position the focus of their work outside the artworld. Artists such as Nils Norman, whose work Demos focuses on, as well as Fritz Haeg, Superflex, Marjetica Potrc, Art not Oil, Allora & Calzadilla and The Yes Men all engage directly with the biopolitical and the eco-financial (though the work of many of these can be seen in galleries and museums pretty regularly, e.g. Haeg’s Animal Estates 1.0 was included in the Whitney Biennial in 2008). It would be trite to say that economic crisis turns art away from the market, and in any case it wouldn’t be true of the artists profiled in this article, most of whom have been pursuing critiques of markets for decades.

This isn’t Demos’ first foray into art and ecology: he wrote one of the introductory essays for the 2010 Radical Nature show at the Barbican and has also written about the work of Nils Norman in other contexts.

The double entendre in the title Art after nature, alluding to both Timothy Morton‘s Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics and also to art chasing nature, signals the philosophical and phenomenal complexities of the issues he is engaging.

He opens with a discussion of the installation Black Shoals Stock Market Planetarium (Autogena and Portway, 2001/04) and, through unpacking the denatured core of this work, frames the challenge through Frederic Jameson‘s challenge to the naturalisation of finance. Is the market part of human nature? Jameson argues that the naturalisation of the market “cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged.” This is of course a key theme of the moment, demonstrated not least in the occupy movement.

Curiously Jane Jacobs, who, whilst not being a Marxist, you might assume to be on the same side of the argument, made a case for economics precisely as natural. Her text, The Nature of Economies, argues that economics works in the same way as natural systems, not metaphorically, but literally. Jameson is directly challenging the consequences of this line of thinking. Whether Jacobs is right in her argument (see here), the wider issues of the naturalisation of economics and in particular markets is deeply problematic.

Demos summarises the relationship between economics and environmental crisis, and uses key art works to frame questions around whether environmental crisis should be understood wholly within economic terms (as it is in the Stern Report of 2006, commissioned by the UK Government).

Dave Pritchard’s comments based on a deep understanding of environmental policy and politics, (previously highlighted here) also question this assumption. Pritchard highlights the trajectory of environmental thinking from the emergence of deep ecology through the increasing reliance on the economising (for instance as ecological services) of the environment as a tactic adopted by the environmental movement to engage politicians and economists.

This double process of economising, by both the mainstream culture and the environmental movement, provides a context for recent statements from George Osborne, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the UK cannot afford the green agenda (“…environmentally sustainable has to be fiscally sustainable too…”). He couldn’t make this argument effectively if it was not already accepted that economics was the ‘natural’, or pre-eminent, mode of assessment.

Demos highlights Amy Balkin’s Public Smog (2006-11) which provides another point of critique of the financialisation of the environment and raises some deeply ironic moments in relation to assumed value. The reportage of a conversation with a bureaucrat around the need for international agreement on the “outstanding universal value” of the atmosphere in order for it to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, is frankly, priceless.

Demos next turns to the 2007 Sharjah Biennial entitled Still Life: Art, Ecology and the Politics of Change, and in particular Tue Greenfort‘s work Exceeding 2 Degrees (2007). Demos, framing it as an evolution of current tropes of contemporary art, introduces the idea of eco-institutional critique. Greenfort’s work draws together a number of elements globalised production framing environmental crisis through an installation comprising room temperature and furniture. A thermo-hydrograph installed in the gallery demonstrates that the air conditioning of the museum has been reduced allowing the space to be warmer by 2 degrees Celsius (the target maximum increase identified in the Stern Report as a limit around which Climate Change Policy should be constructed). The thermo-hydrograph sat on a table made in Japan out of Malaysian wood and sold in Dubai. The money saved by reducing the cooling of the Art Museum was donated to a Danish environmental organisation to protect an area of two square miles of rain forest in Ecuador. The work is fully entangled in the complexities and paradoxes of globalisation and environmental crisis. Demos says, “…although it rescued only a tiny plot of land, Greenfort’s work successfully demonstrated the connections between economic, ecological, and institutional systems.”

Demos tips his hat to the pioneers who were, from the late 60s, creating works “within a ‘mesh’ of social, political and phenomenal relations.” His list includes Joseph Beuys, Agnes Denes, Peter Fend, Hans Haacke, Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, and Alan Sonfist. He draws out a key point: they go beyond the simplistic glorification of nature which tended to “posit nature as a separate realm of purity needing protection from industrial degredation, pollution and economic exploitation.”

The question of positioning, framed in terms of creative practices, is in Demos’ interpretation a microcosm of the larger arguments around the status of ‘nature’. Those who argue against, for instance, GM crops (e.g. Vandana Shiva) are according to Demos, “necessarily maintain[ing] a nostalgic belief in the natural and defend[ing] it as a sphere in need of protection.” Demos seems to miss the real territory of debate: he refers to the argument for naming the reality of the ‘Anthropocene‘, but he misses the argument from Deep Ecology for the valuing of all living things and the acknowledgement of interconnectedness. This is a critical issue, because environmental philosophy is not polarised around those who are nostalgically arguing for the protection of nature, versus those who embrace the human shaping of the whole world. Rather the key is to challenge human hubris. The argument for the current geological age being called the Anthropocene is that human activity is affecting all aspects of the planet and that evidence of human activity is manifest in all environments: plastic particles in the oceans, CO2 levels in the atmosphere, consequent mass extinction. In this respect the naming is accurate. But humanity has sought to control the environment through the modern period, shaping it to suit our convenience, first in relation to habitation, but increasingly in relation to all our desires. If the conceptualisation of Anthropocene reinforces an assumption of ‘use’ rather than, for instance, ‘stewardship,’ or if it underestimates our capacity to precipitate broad-scale accidental calamity, then it is in significant danger of reinforcing the destructive aspects of human culture. Does using the term ‘Anthropocene’ sharpen the question around our place in the world, or does it re-package an existing assumption of dominance?

But returning to Demos’ narrative, he concludes by focusing on the ways in which some practices of art and ecology move beyond the tropes of institutional critique. In this he picks up on remarks made by Nils Norman (e.g. on the Bad at Sports interview), in which Norman questions the effectiveness of institutional critique and suggests that artists need to reduce their mobility and focus on development of work in particular locations. This is a practice adopted by others (including PLATFORM who take great care in judging where to travel, using trains even when travelling to the Middle East, and only travel when the reason includes practical ways of engaging with local activists and artists).

Demos draws out the implications of Norman’s project Edible Park, undertaken with Stroom den Haag, initially by juxtaposing with the previous proposal for the site developed by Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). Where OMA developed a masterplan for the Binkhorst area of the Hague incorporating an Formula 1 racetrack, skyscrapers, a beach, amusement park and leisure facilities, “Norman’s low-tech ‘counter master plan’ joined organic agriculture and practices such as rainwater harvesting, forest gardening, and composting to craft his model of eco-communalism and bioregionalism, realised in collaboration with a local group of permaculture activists. Norman also worked with Dutch architect Michel Post to build a central place-making structure, a “roundhouse” with passive solar front windows and strawbale construction.”

Demos relates this project as an initiative which responds intelligently to the crisis in the economics of capitalism. His juxtaposition of Edible Park with the OMA masterplan highlights its function as embedded or durational critique, not merely an ecological version of institutional critique. The contrast with Tue Greenfort’s Exceeding 2 Degrees for the Sharjah Biennial is informative. The latter is the tactics of the avant garde attempting to shock the audience through the cleverly formulated and intensely referential highlighting of weakness (mea culpa, mea culpa). But it never leaves the artworld. In contrast Edible Park is a durational and engaged work which negotiates between local ambition and critical positioning, seeking ways to draw attention to alternative configurations of the city, within the city and through the city.

Norman raises the question clearly in The Guide to This World & Nearer Ones (2009), Creative Time’s temporary public art project on New York’s Governors Island. He’s quoted saying,

“I’ve been looking at the history of bohemian artist movements to find a possible place of dissention. Is Bohemia still a place where artists can experiment and develop strategies outside the mainstream? The normalising effect of the market makes this now almost completely impossible, and Bohemia has been instrumentalised by people who make direct links to ‘creatives,’ bohemian lifestyles and a new class of urban entrepreneurs through city regeneration. Where can alternatives be developed? Where is it possible to drop out and develop new languages and codes.”

From this perspective, is it good that Artforum is paying attention to ecoart?

Thanks to Dave Pritchard for additional comments.

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
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A + E Conference at the Nevada Museum of Art: Day One

Can a thing be both cuddly and epic? So far, the A + E Conference is. For while the lecture hall at the Nevada Museum of Art is intimate, folks are friendly, and there’s that slight taste of eco-art kumbaya in the air, there’s some giant figures in the room. Chris Jordan is one of them: you’ve seen his photos everywhere. The Harrisons are two more. Greenhouse Britain sums up their combination of systemic thinking and storytelling.  Fritz Haeg and his Edible Estates. Geoff Manaugh of BldgBlog. And while you might be so familiar with the work of the presenters you could have practically done their powerpoints for them, it’s still a bit dizzying. In fact, the lights went out towards the end of the day and a backup generator kicked on. They say it was lightning but I’m betting on a joyous collective mental short-circuiting.

However epic the conference, the issued raised today were not unique. They were issues that might be discussed at a conference about Climate Change and Journalism, for instance. Or a conference about Healthy Parks and Healthy People. Or about Theater and Sustainability. I kinda know because I’ve attended conferences on all those themes in the past year. The issues being raised include: how do we comprehend the vast level of ecological disaster we are now experiencing? How do we organize information in a manner that is digestible, accessible, valid and thought-provoking? How do we culturally deconstruct the paradigms that got us here– especially when we live ‘here’? How do we move forward to create a healthier population and planet?

This speaks more to the level of disciplinary blending and silo-destroying that’s happening all over. In the meantime, there’s no shortage of voices exploring answers, not here, not this weekend. There are three floors of installations and exhibits. There are new books and archives of those exhibits. And there is a whole second day of talks still. More to come, stay tuned. Should be cuddly. And epic.

New Exhibition at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum! Fritz Haeg

The Aldrich is pleased to announce the opening of a new exhibition

Fritz Haeg: Something for Everyone

June 27, 2010, to January 2, 2011

Experience Fritz Haeg’s unconventional exhibition, Something for Everyone, a series of participatory projects for plants, animals, and people presented in the Museum’s grounds and atrium. One component, Edible Estate #9, places a productive garden on the Museum’s pristine front lawn in Ridgefield’s historic district, where the Museum staff will grow their own food and create compost, transforming this longstanding symbol of the “American Dream” and questioning definitions of agriculture and art. For updates about programs and events related to the exhibition, as well as time-lapse photographs of the installation, please visit:

www.fritzhaeg.com/studio/projects/aldrich.html

Exhibition Opening

Sunday, June 27, 2010; 2:30 to 5:30 pm

Join us at the reception; explore the work on view; and meet the artist!

New Exhibition at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum! Fritz Haeg.

ecoartspace NYC 2010 benefit “What Matters Most”

ecoartspace invites you to participate in our first NYC benefit exhibition titled What Matters Most? The show and benefit party will be hosted by Exit Art in NYC from April 15 – 28th, 2010.

What Matters Most? will begin with responses to this question posted on Monday February 15th on Andrew Revkin’s NY Times blog, Dot Earth by leading environmental experts, writers and readers. Participating artists will have the option of creating an original artwork related to the blog entry of their choice or donating an existing work.

All proceeds from this fundraiser will support ecoartspace activities and programs. ecoartspace has been operating as a bicoastal nonprofit platform for artists addressing environmental issues since 1999. In our ten years of programming we have worked with over 400 artists, curated 38 exhibitions, 70 programs and collaborated with over 140 organizations. To celebrate our achievements as well as raise money for future programs we recently held our first benefit auction at Mina Dresden Gallery in San Francisco on December 4th, 2009.

What Matters Most? begins Thurs April 15, 2010 and ends with our Benefit Sale: Thursday, April 28th , 2010. Please click on the image above for more detailed information.

Artists participating as of 2.13.10 include:

Joan Bankemper, Andrea Reynosa, Joy Garnett, Chrysanne Stathacos, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Diane Burko, Sandy Gellis, Fritz Haeg, Steven Siegel, Joanne Greenbaum, Lisa Hoke, Dove Bradshaw, Jaanika Peerna, Chris Kennedy, Paul Miller aka DJ Spooky, Teri Hackett, Elizabeth Demaray, Robert Lobe, Kathleen Gilje, David Schafer, Claudia Hart, Lori Nozick, Christy Rupp, Kathe Burkhart, Joanne Howard, Abigail Doan, Alan Wexler, Charles Goldman, Marion Wilson, Emily Brown, Katie Holten, Robin Kahn, Nina Yankowitz, Carter Hodgkin, Geoffrey Hendricks, Nina Katchadourian, Hunter Reynolds, Erik Hanson, Janet Pihlblad, Kunie Suguira, J.J. L’Hereux, Austin Thomas, Mikael Levin, Rhona Bitner, Michael Somoroff, Sandi Sloane, Jill Levine, Steve Keister, Alison Moritsugu, LC Armstrong, Stacy Levy, Jan Harrison, David Webster, Simon Draper, Mary Mattingly, Susan Leibovitz Steinman, Ann Rosenthal, Steffi Domike, Mary Ann Strandell.


We give thanks to the Exit Art staff for their support. This event is a continuation of our relationship with their Social-Environmental Aesthetic (SEA) program including our participation in The Drop exhibition in 2006 and EPA in 2008.

Amy Lipton and Patricia Watts

Go to EcoArtSpace

ecoartspace fundraising efforts

Happy Holidays from ecoartspace . . . .

On the eve of COP15 we are asking for your support!

ecoartspace has been operating as a bicoastal nonprofit platform for artists addressing environmental issues since 1999 (founded 1997 in Los Angeles). In our ten years of programming we have curated 38 exhibitions, 70 programs and have worked with over 400 artists. And, we have collaborated with over 140 organizations. To celebrate our achievements as well as raise money for future programs we recently held a benefit auction in San Francisco on December 4th. This event, although short in planning, was well attended and over twenty works of art were sold to help raise funds for projects planned in 2010. Examples include commissioning artists to create site-specific works in the public sphere, an artist in residency, development of an archive, and video editing for taped interviews with eco-artists.

There are more works available for purchase which you can view HERE and which can be purchased online through the end of this year, 2009. We invite you to consider either buying a work of art or making a donation of any size to ecoartspace today.

Thanks for your support!

Patricia Watts, founder and west coast curator

Artists who have donated include:

Amy Franceschini, Andrea Polli, Fritz Haeg, Craig Roper, Stephen Kaltenbach, Ned Kahn, Kim Abeles, Samantha Fields, Lisa Adams, Kim Stringfellow, Josh Keys, Nils-Udo, Roy Staab, Christopher Kennedy, Mark Andrew Gravel, Gary Brewer, Aline Mare, Alicia Escott, Judith Selby Lang, Vaughn Bell, Basia Irland, Besty Damon, Robin Lasser and Marguerite Pao, Abigail Doan, Beverly Naidus, Shai Zakai, Lillian Ball, Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao, Mark Brest van Kempen, John Roloff, Ed Morris and Susannah Sayler, Tao Urban, Linda McDonald, Christy Rupp, Karen Reitzel, Philip Krohn, Jorge Bachmann, Kim Anno, Sarah Pedlow, Kathryn Miller and Michael Honer, Marksearch, Aviva Rahmani, Virginia Stearn, Ann Rosenthal, Therese Lahaie, Ruri, Raheleh Zomorodinia, Shan Wells, and Seth Kinmont.

Go to EcoArtSpace

350.org’s International Day of Climate Action at ecoartspace NYC

On October 24th in conjunction with 350.org’s International Day of Climate Action, ecoartspace NYC will screen 3 films on a rotating schedule between 12 – 6pm.

Eva Bakkeslett‘s Alchemy: The Poetry of Bread
A poetic evocation on the alchemy of b
read brings the act of baking the most basic of staples, into a high art form.

Jacinto Astiazaran & Fritz Haeg

The Sto
ry of Mannahatta and the Lenape Edible Estate: Manhattan
As told by Eric San
derson of the Mannahatta Project.
Ever wondered what New York looked like before it was a city? Welcome to Mannahatta, 1609. Now, after nearly a decade of research, the Mannahatta Project at the Wildlife Conservation Society has un-covered the original ecology of Manhattan.

Lenore Malen & The New Society for Universal Harmony
I Am The Animal That I Am
Narrates the grave threat to the bee population including “colony collapse disorder” from the perspective of 6 Hudson Valley Beekeepers.

Go to EcoArtSpace

Non-Toxic Eco-Art Roundup

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Since it’s recently been made public that supposedly “inert” ingredients of pesticides like Roundup are not, in fact, not so very intert, we thought we’d celebrate (hem hem) with a short overview of detoxifying eco-art events.

You might have seen the buzz for it, but the LAND/ART symposium just passed.  We were forced to miss it this year, but there are some riveting descriptions on the Smudge Studio Blog. Especially check out CLUI’s Bus Tour of New Mexico’s Superlative Ground-Sky Resonances. The title is super-intellectual: the journey is all about enchantment and the atomic bomb. Feeling detoxified yet?

Fellow eco-art blogger Abigail Doan altered us to the presence of Aviva Rahmani’s new booklet: What the World Needs is a Good Housekeeper. we just got it in the mail. It’s a small, bound overview of the Rahmani’s process, detailing some of her artistic work in collaboration with restoration ecologists, scientists and architects.  An instructional pamphlet, if you will. A quote: “The value of an artist’s eye is to see relationships that might otherwise be missed.”

Lastly: they are always having fun in the Netherlands. The image above is from Yang Zhichao’ s Planting Grass, currently featured in an exhibition called  Foodprint at Stroom in The Hague. Featuring works by Fritz Haeg, Agnes Denes, and Atelier Van Lieshout,  it examines our relationship with food and landscape. The artworks are paired with a timeline that parellels advances in industrial food production with the development of European and American art. Very mentally refreshing.

Go to the Green Museum

Jeff Koons and art as big bling

With reference to the post below on the value of art, The Art Newspaper reports that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is about to commission Jeff Koons to create a sculpture of a life size replica of a train that will dangle from a crane – commemorating the railroad’s part in 19th century America’s westward migration. “We’re talking about a $25m work,” says Koons.

Twenty-five million makes it the most expensive artwork ever commissioned by a museum – even more expensive than Richard Serra’s $20m commission for the Guggenheim, Bilbao. Talks between LACMA and Koons began two years go, in those long-gone days when it looked like the boom was going on for ever. In times like these, it seems absurd for an art institution to be shelling out this much for a single artwork. And you don’t even have to be of the Patti Smith opinion, that Koons’ work is “just litter upon the earth”, to think this kind of commission is a very bad idea right now.

I was in Los Angeles a couple of months ago. The nature of the city means that the larger art institutions like LACMA and the struggling MOCA seem to have so little connnection to the real life of the city.

The artist Fritz Haeg, who I interviewed for a piece in The Observer that’s coming up on April 18 talked about this. “The way LA operates is not in the way of a European urban system of a top-down institution. It’s much more networked. This is an artists’ town, and there are a lot of small artist-run spaces that people feel more connected to personally than they do the museums.”

In this climate, in that city, the Koons commission way looks too much like art as big shiny bling.

Photo of Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog (Yellow) 1994-2000 taken at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, by Ken Applebaum

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Digging for victory


Fritz Haeg
, Edible Estates regional prototype garden #2: Lakewood, CA, 2006, owners: Foti Family, produced in collaboration with Millard Sheets Gallery for the exhibition Fair Exchange and Machine Project, Los Angeles

There’s a fascinating article by Berin Golonu on artist Fritz Haeg’s Edible Estates and other similar initiatives online at Art Papers. Haeg famously believes in tearing up people’s front lawns to create something less dull and water-greedy and more productive from them. He created an intervention last year at the Tate’s Turbine Hall along these lines.

The greening of suburban American has become a major issue in the US, as Peter Head mentioned  in this recent Arts and Ecology interview. Art Papers also points to the work of John Bela‘s collabration with the US  Slow Food Nation on San Francisco’s wonderful Civic Center Victory Garden, which in turn drew inspiration from Amy Franceschini and the Futurefarmers organisation she founded. The article also namechecks NY architecture practice Work.ac and their ideas of the Public Farm.

 

Golonu gnaws briefly over the but-is-it-still-art question:

Scholar
Victor Margolin considers this question in his catalog essay for the exhibition
Beyond Green: Toward a Sustainable Art.
“How do we think about art that moves from discourse to action, art whose intent is to produce a useful result,” he writes,
and by what criteria do we evaluate this work?… In the never-ending
debates on the difference between art and design, the distinction
usually comes down to the primacy of discourse in artistic practice….
But when artists want to achieve social results without identifying
themselves as designers, how should the critical community respond?
“Once artists enter a realm of action,” he continues, “it is difficult
to characterize their projects differently from those of other actors
such as landscape designers or even architects… the discursive has
spilled over into the practical, and the practical has become more
discursive…” 

 

… but without getting anywhere much. The point isn’t whether it’s art or not, but the fact that it’s happening and as a movment appears to be reaching a kind of critical mass.

EDIT: 

In addition to the above, Michaela Crimmin reminds me of Jeremy Deller’s work on allotments in Berlin, which fits into the same picture… and looking at David Barrie’s most recent blog post, there’s also the example of Dott07’s City Farming project in Middlesborough:

In the project, people grew food in vacant public places across the town, took cookery classes in neighbourhood centres and then, come the final harvest, cooked a ‘town meal’, in an event attended by over 8000 people and curated by artist Bob and Roberta Smith.