Holistic Approach

Investigating the Aesthetics of Ecological Design and Eco-scenography with Dr Wallace Heim and Tanja Beer at WSD2013

Sustainability-Tanja-Beerweb1Thurs 12 Sept 16.30 – 18.00

The Willow Theatre

What are the aesthetics of sustainable design? New ways are needed of appreciating ecologically valid design that can incorporate the artistic dimensions with the material effects. This presentation will explore the application of ecological design in the Performing Arts as it creates new sensibilities, new dramaturgies and new forms of experience throughout a range of theatre productions. These aesthetics expand on existing design critiques and offer ways to consider the relations between the content of what is performed to the ecological and artistic dimensions of stage design. Starting with a philosophical perspective, this session will talk through examples with focus on the emerging paradigm of ‘eco-scenography’ – a movement that seeks to integrate ecological principles into all stages of scenographic thinking and production. Taking a holistic approach to materials and resources, this approach asks “can we create designs that enrich our environment and community, as well as our audience?”

The presentation includes a live and interactive showing of Tanja Beer’s “STRUNG”, an eco-scenographic investigation that merges the boundaries between performer and designer, installation and costume, site and material.

Open to all.

Price: £6

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Key contributors

Dr Wallace Heim – http://www.wallaceheim.com

Tanja Beer – http://www.tanjabeer.com/

IHOPE

Image from NASA's online history of Apollo 11

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

The Journal of Ecology and Society frequently has interesting papers, and the current issue includes “Toward an Integrated History to Guide the Future”.

Abstract:

Many contemporary societal challenges manifest themselves in the domain of human–environment interactions. There is a growing recognition that responses to these challenges formulated within current disciplinary boundaries, in isolation from their wider contexts, cannot adequately address them. Here, we outline the need for an integrated, transdisciplinary synthesis that allows for a holistic approach, and, above all, a much longer time perspective. We outline both the need for and the fundamental characteristics of what we call “integrated history.” This approach promises to yield new understandings of the relationship between the past, present, and possible futures of our integrated human–environment system. We recommend a unique new focus of our historical efforts on the future, rather than the past, concentrated on learning about future possibilities from history. A growing worldwide community of transdisciplinary scholars is forming around building this Integrated History and future of People on Earth (IHOPE). Building integrated models of past human societies and their interactions with their environments yields new insights into those interactions and can help to create a more sustainable and desirable future. The activity has become a major focus within the global change community.

Key words: agency; anthropocene; backcasting; causality; contingency; holistic approach; integrated history; long-term perspective; resilience; social and ecological systems

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.
Go to EcoArtScotland

Green LDI & Aquila’s “Enemy”

LDI

Got a nice email from Annie Jacobs over at Showman Fabricators yesterday about their effort to add some green to this year’s LDI. “Showman Fabricators has teamed up with LDI to try to bring the issues of sustainability in our industry to the forefront,” Jacob wrote.

You can check out info on this year’s greener LDI here.

Aquila Theatre presents a Green Tour

I’ve been working on a piece for Jacob Coakley over at Stage Directions about Aquila Theatre’s upcoming touring production of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. I’ve spoken with both Peter Meineck, the company’s AD, as well as their Production Manager Nate Terracio. I’ve been very impressed with both of them and their honest, holistic approach to the idea of greening a touring production to the best of their ability. Look for the piece in SD soon, and keep an eye on Aquila’s tour — they might be bringing Enemy to your town. If they do, I’d check it out. 

Go to EcoTheater

Theater Matters – Notes from EMOS 2009 Part II

It’s 11am where I’m from (9am here on the west coast), and I just woke up. The schedule so far this weekend for EMOS coupled with my determination to get everywhere on a bike while I’m here has added up to the biggest physical challenge I’ve undertaken since my chemo and surgery. At about six o’clock this morning I woke up with a painful cramp in my right calf. I was determined to sleep as long as my body needed. So I did.

I wanted to write more yesterday about EMOS, but my day was so full with the goings-on here, I never got a chance. I arrived at the University of Oregon yesterday morning and began a solid, nearly twelve hour marathon of stuff.

It began by sitting in a classroom, listening to theater scholars describe their work. “Theater scholars,” I thought when I heard the term spoken from behind the lectern for the first time yesterday. “Not theater artists?”

Within the several scholarly talks I listened to yesterday there were a few that stood out, and rose above the scholarly drone. Downing Cless of Tufts University spoke interestingly of how he has directed classic works to draw out their Ecological themes; Heather Barfield Cole (who told me this morning that she’s dropping the Cole from her name soon) of UT Austin described a handful of examples of successful activist theater, including the street theater of Bread & Puppet and even the work of ACT UP — her presentation was refreshingly free of the seemingly typical readerly drone of such things.

The highlight of my day, however, was unexpected: Anne Justine D’Zmura gave a presentation to an entirely too small audience on her experience of producing a work called Green Piece where she is a professor at Cal State Long Beach. Her work was one of the best examples yet of this genre of so-called EcoDrama that I have encountered. Why? It was a completely holistic approach to the problem that we (I think) hope to address when producing work on the environment, sustainability, et cetera. She not only created an original work that thematically addressed the issue of nature, ecological destruction, and social injustice (to name a few), but also took the idea of the thing to heart and made sure to use the work to educate her students (and herself) on the core issues, as well as — and here is where you know I get excited — making a concerted effort to create a piece that tread as lightly as possible on the environment by considering its use of resources carefully. Thank you, Anne. (here is a link to Anne’s study guide for Green Piece.)

Next came Rachel Rosenthal. The now 83-year old performance artist and activist was in good form, and showed excerpts from her works Gaia, Mon Amour (1983), Rachel’s Brain (1986), and L.O.W. in Gaia (1986) — all overpowering examples of her presence on the stage. She struck me as one of the most quotable speakers I’ve ever listened to. Some examples:

“Artaud saved my life.”

“I do love some people, but I love all animals.”

“I hate being old, because I want to see what happens.”

The evening ended with a staging of C. Denby Swanson’s Atomic Farmgirl, a retelling of Teri Hein’s memoir of the same name which details her experience growing up on a farm in Washington state that was repeatedly contaminated with radiation leaking from the nearby Hanford Nuclear site. It was a play in three acts, with two (did I say two?) intermissions. And I have to say this too: as someone who has dealt with cancer directly over the past two years, I was a bit unnerved that the 1st and 2nd place winners of the EMOS play festival both dealt with cancer in a very real way.

Oh, and I almost forgot: I met Theresa May yesterday too, and she was incredibly kind. For all of the nit picking I am capable of, I cannot forget (and won’t let you) that she has undertaken this festival and is obviously a friggin’ force of nature herself. She is to be congratulated for her fortitude and drive — she is asking us to think about these things as theater artists (and scholars), and that in itself is crucial to our future.

Of course, folks never fail to disappoint:

Garrett points at the strange use of the garbage can outside UO's Miller Theatre ComplexGarrett points at the strange use of the garbage can outside UO’s Miller Theatre Complex

It may be difficult to tell in the photo above, but it was surprising to see how so many people at a festival concerned with the environment and our behavior towards it could be so clueless about what to NOT throw in the trash. Behind Ian are a string of recycling options, as well as a yellow bin for compostables — all items used for eating at the festival are designed to be compostable except (I’m not clear on why this is) the forks. But, nearly everyone threw their stuff right in the trash — even the paper plates and seemingly clean napkins. As we walked away from this, Ian and I had a discussion about the need to eliminate sorting at the consumer end of recycling. It confuses, is inefficient, and generally redundant, as most municipalities sort the recycling anyway.

Go to EcoTheater

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  Seed.com

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology