Human Nature

Where Have All the Flowers Gone

This post comes to you from EcoArtSpace

ecoartspace has a current exhibition of works by 32 artists on view at The Paramount Hudson Valley in Peekskill, NY through October 6th. Many of the works included are inspired by the Pete Seeger song Where Have All the Flowers Gone? on the occasion of his September 8, 2013 “Return to Peekskill” concert at the Paramount in partnership with WAMC radio. The exhibition is jointly organized by Amy Lipton of ecoartspace and Simon Draper, founder of Habitat for Artists. To read the full blog post and view the artworks for sale please click HERE.

ecoartapace ecoartspace is a nonprofit platform providing opportunities for artists who address the human/nature relationship in the visual arts. Since 1999 they have collaborated with over 150 organizations to produce more than 40 exhibitions, 100 programs, working with 400 + artists in 15 states nationally and 8 countries internationally. Currently they are developing a media archive of video interviews with artists and collection of exhibitions ephemera for research purposes. Patricia Watts is founder and west coast curator. Amy Lipton is east coast curator and director of the ecoartspace NYC project room.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

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HighWaterLine ACTION GUIDE available for download

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8fa08275b39fbedc48673341a0921de4ecoartspace is excited to present Eve Mosher’s HighWaterLine ACTION GUIDE, the first in a series of ten art and ecology learning guides presenting replicable social practice public art projects. In 2007, Mosher spent the summer marking the ten feet above sea level line throughout Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn to make visible for residents living along the coastline what scientists had been projecting as an increase in sea level in the next century. Little did she know when she conceived of this project that in 2012 Hurricane Sandy would pound the east coast with storm surges in some places beyond what anyone thought was possible.

With this guide we are inviting educators, organizations and individuals to replicate what Mosher did in New York City anywhere in the world, to tell her story and to mark a line as appropriate for each individual locale. In the guide, other waterline marking materials and examples are provided, as well as Mosher’s step-by-step process involved in developing and performing the project. Plans are in place to create a website portal where this guide and others can be viewed online and downloaded for FREE by anyone in the world to use.

For now we invite you to download the PDF from DropBox and distribute freely, as well as create your own HighWaterLine in your communities and neighborhoods where climate change has and will be impacting your natural environment in the future.

DOWNLOAD GUIDE HERE

ecoartapace ecoartspace is a nonprofit platform providing opportunities for artists who address the human/nature relationship in the visual arts. Since 1999 they have collaborated with over 150 organizations to produce more than 40 exhibitions, 100 programs, working with 400 + artists in 15 states nationally and 8 countries internationally. Currently they are developing a media archive of video interviews with artists and collection of exhibitions ephemera for research purposes. Patricia Watts is founder and west coast curator. Amy Lipton is east coast curator and director of the ecoartspace NYC project room.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

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It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine)

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It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine) curated by Amy Lipton, opened on January 31st at Ramapo College Gallery in Mahwah NJ and will be on view through March 6th. The exhibition explores contemporary views of nature and habitat expressed through landscape painting and drawing. The artists included; George Boorujy, Adam Cvijanovic, Peter Edlund, Joy Garnett, Kimberley HartEve Andree Laramee, Sarah McCoubrey, Jason Middlebrook, Aviva Rahmani, Lisa Sanditz, Charlotte Schulz, Eva Struble, Sarah Trigg and Marion Wilson envision the natural world in relationship to pressing environmental issues.

Taken from a 1987 song by the band R.E.M., It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine) this somewhat ironic title suggests the possibility that by avoiding complacency and with awareness, intelligence, compassion and activism, solutions to environmental problems will be found to avoid potentially catastrophic results. The works attempt to meet the challenges of the new ecological imperative by bringing attention to the viewer of the need for protection, preservation and action.  Artists often have a prophetic role and throughout history have alerted us to problems that are unforeseen or overlooked. Using realism, fantasy or process as a source for imagination and transformation, they seek to create an awareness of loss and beauty in the marginal, the overused and the threatened.

Images of the exhibition taken by Joy Garnett can be seen HERE.

ecoartapace ecoartspace is a nonprofit platform providing opportunities for artists who address the human/nature relationship in the visual arts. Since 1999 they have collaborated with over 150 organizations to produce more than 40 exhibitions, 100 programs, working with 400 + artists in 15 states nationally and 8 countries internationally. Currently they are developing a media archive of video interviews with artists and collection of exhibitions ephemera for research purposes. Patricia Watts is founder and west coast curator. Amy Lipton is east coast curator and director of the ecoartspace NYC project room.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

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Shifting Baselines exhibition close Feb. 6th, 2013

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The Santa Fe Art Institute has extended Shifting Baselines with installations by Cynthia Hooper and Hugh Pocock through Feb. 6th, 2013. Here is a sneak peak of the exhibition:


ecoartapace ecoartspace is a nonprofit platform providing opportunities for artists who address the human/nature relationship in the visual arts. Since 1999 they have collaborated with over 150 organizations to produce more than 40 exhibitions, 100 programs, working with 400 + artists in 15 states nationally and 8 countries internationally. Currently they are developing a media archive of video interviews with artists and collection of exhibitions ephemera for research purposes. Patricia Watts is founder and west coast curator. Amy Lipton is east coast curator and director of the ecoartspace NYC project room.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

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Hello 2013 from EcoArtSpace

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Amy Lipton and Patricia Watts of ecoartspace would like to wish you all a transformative 2013! Since 1999 we have worked with hundreds of artists to bring art and nature programming to both traditional and alternative venues across the globe. We have recently updated our 2011 and 2012 projects pages and are looking forward to upcoming programs this year. We will continue to interview artists for the ecoartspace video archive and have residency/exhibitions opening this winter including Shifting Baselines at the Santa Fe Art Institute in New Mexico opening January 7th, and It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I feel fine) at Ramapo College, New Jersey opening January 30th. And, this spring at the World Financial Center in conjunction with the Festival of Ideas and the New Museum Ideas City in New York City we will curate an outdoor shipping container project titled “Untapped Capital.” More information on these shows coming soon!

ecoartapace ecoartspace is a nonprofit platform providing opportunities for artists who address the human/nature relationship in the visual arts. Since 1999 they have collaborated with over 150 organizations to produce more than 40 exhibitions, 100 programs, working with 400 + artists in 15 states nationally and 8 countries internationally. Currently they are developing a media archive of video interviews with artists and collection of exhibitions ephemera for research purposes. Patricia Watts is founder and west coast curator. Amy Lipton is east coast curator and director of the ecoartspace NYC project room.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

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Works on Water at the Marin Community Foundation

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Works on Water opened at the Marin Community Foundation on October 5th and will be up through February 5th, 2013. This is the second of three exhibitions curated by Patricia Watts of ecoartspace for the foundation over a year period. Included are 30 artists and 120 artworks that address water issues in a wide range of media and focus. To see a list the artists and images of the works please go HERE. Given the extreme water scenario we find ourselves dealing with here in the USA with Hurricane Sandy on the East coast and a severe drought in the Southwest, this exhibition could not be more timely. The foundation offices are open Monday through Friday 9-5pm and admission is FREE. For more information and directions to the foundation please visit the Facebook event page HERE.

ecoartapace ecoartspace is a nonprofit platform providing opportunities for artists who address the human/nature relationship in the visual arts. Since 1999 they have collaborated with over 150 organizations to produce more than 40 exhibitions, 100 programs, working with 400 + artists in 15 states nationally and 8 countries internationally. Currently they are developing a media archive of video interviews with artists and collection of exhibitions ephemera for research purposes. Patricia Watts is founder and west coast curator. Amy Lipton is east coast curator and director of the ecoartspace NYC project room.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

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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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TURF: Ecological activism and Art

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Through December 1st at Diablo Valley College Art Gallery in Pleasant Hill, California (Bay Area) is a terrific little show organized by artist and educator Hopi Breton. Included are twelve artists, mostly from the Bay Area, with Vaughn Bell from Seattle, Michele Brody from New York, and Northern California’s Cynthia Hooper who is currently working with ecoartspace on a water show in Stockton titled Delta Waters.

Many of you who know Cynthia’s work as a video artist may not be familiar with her landscape paintings(2000-2008). These small exquisitely painted works, eleven total for TURF, are from an ongoing series that evokes a “Sunday painter” vernacular cataloging human impacts on the land. Instead of ignoring the industrial detritus for these beautiful crafted landscapes, she includes it all just as she sees it, just like the wildlife and elements that also have to work with human impediments on the land.

Another artist from Oakland,Alex Jackson, who created “Our National Scenic Resources” while in graduate school in 1992, recently revived this work for TURF. The original installation included a replica of a National Parks wooden Information station with volunteer style designed pamphlets that incorporate collage of images and text that the artist has assembled through the years about how we relate to and interact with nature. Titles include: Interpreting Scenic Beauty Estimates, Nature As Logo, Ornamental Palms in California, and Understanding Bears, Alcohol and Human Nature. Jackson includes content taken from government and trade publications, advertising and academic articles pointing out the structures we impose on nature in our efforts to manage and conserve it. He included three new pamphlets for this recent iteration and has continued to place them in racks at park visitor centers and other tourist information sites unauthorized through the years as his creative expression.

Also included, a photographer from San Francisco Christina Seely, who has captured stunning imagery, almost painterly, of major cities at night. Three works included that are from her series “Lux,” capture the oddly alluring artificial glow produced by urban lights. The three largest illuminated areas that are seen from NASA’s satellite mapsof the world at night are the United States, Japan, and Western Europe. Her work is inspired by the beauty the lights present, although at the same time begs the viewer to question our dependence on energy that has a huge impact on our planet.

Vaughn Bell‘s portable landscapes, or “Pack of Forests” with accompanying water bottles and a portable “surrogate” mountain, each with attached walking leash, added a layer of interactivity making for a playful atmosphere. And, Stephen Galloway‘s unique photographic scans of rhizomes were blown up and floating in space, nature observed, examined in parts.

Get out to see the show if you are in the area before it closes on December 1st. You won’t regret it. And, thanks to Hopi Breton who shared with ecoartspace that she was inspired by our work to curate this exhibition. She also noted that her art students were interested in environmental issues which also led her to TURF. It is rare that an artist curates a show for others and does not include their own work. Kudos Hopi!

 

ecoartapace is one of the leading international organizations in a growing community of artists, scientists, curators, writers, nonprofits and businesses who are developing creative and innovative strategies to address our global environmental issues. We promote a diverse range of artworks that are participatory, collaborative, interdisciplinary and uniquely educational. Our philosophy embodies a broader concept of art in its relationship to the world and seeks to connect human beings aesthetically with the awareness of larger ecological systems.

Founded in 1997 by Tricia Watts as an art and nature center in development, ecoartspace was one of the first websites online dedicated to art and environmental issues. New York City curator Amy Lipton joined Watts in 1999, and together they have curated numerous exhibitions, participated on panels, given lectures at universities, developed programs and curricula, ad written essays for publications from both the East and West Coasts. They advocate for international artists whose projects range from scientifically based ecological restoration to product based functional artworks, from temporal works created outdoors with nature to eco-social interventions in the urban public sphere, as well as more traditional art objects.

ecoartspace has been a project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs in
Los Angeles since 1999.
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Cross-Cultural Ecocriticism(s)

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Waves and Undertows – a major conference taking place at Rutgers, NJ, on 25th Feb seeks to highlight key strands in contemporary ecocriticism framed by the following statement:

The Conference will reflect on the gains and shortcomings of the so-called “third wave ecocriticism,” or the current rise of approaches which transcends national and ethnic boundaries and compares the cultural aspects of the human-nature interaction across cultures. More specifically, the conference will focus on the rise of postcolonial ecocriticism, the impact of new varieties of ecofeminisms and popular environmentalisms (including the environmental justice movement) throughout the world in literature and film; and the contributions and challenges posed by another emergent field: critical animal studies. As ecocriticism spreads across cultural traditions, it is restating the need for expanding further its object of study to new forms of textuality and discourse in different media. Overall, therefore, the conference will explore too current rethinking of environmental aesthetics and ecological thought in the Humanities.

CrossCulturalEcocriticismsConferenceFeb2011.pdf (application/pdf Object).

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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Representing the Natural World

by Ian Garrett

Published in the Winter edition of the CSPA Quarterly, which was focused on the 2009 United Nations Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen.  To view or order back issues, visit http://magcloud.com/browse/Magazine/38626.  To subscribe to the CSPA QUARTERLY, join us! http://www.sustainablepractice.org/join-the-cspa/

While political demonstrations traditionally pit two opposing ideologies against each other–think World Trade Organization meetings and anti-globalization activism–the demonstrations and activities around the 15th annual Conference of the Partners (COP15) were surprisingly complimentary to the talks themselves. The grassroots activists were not opposed to the political maneuverings, but rather wanted to see them go farther. This “will to move forward” allowed for creativity in demonstrations and amplified artistic activism. Curation at local museums and art sites took advantage of the agreed-upon topics of COP15, setting programming well in advance. The more guerilla forces of the art world seized the collective momentum, and artistic presentation during the two-weeks of the climate summit spanned from museum gallery to street happening. While the politicians represented their national agenda, the artists represented the natural world.

HISTORICAL REPRESENTATION

The Nation Gallery of Denmark laid the ground work for understanding the environment through artistic representation with their exhibition “Nature Strikes Back: Man and Nature in Western Art”. The aggressive titling is meant to communicate the show’s theme of man seeking dominance over nature. It focuses on how nature in art is rarely a direct representation, but a symbol for itself and man’s relationship to it. This relationship is articulated through five themes:  Exploitation, Human Nature, Order and Systems, Landscape and Disaster.

Within the exhibition, “Nature Strikes Back” offers a picture of nature that highlights a clear separation between man and the natural world. A significant point is made to articulate the significance of the landscape conceptually. Having not  appeared in European language until the late 16th Century, the word ‘landscape’ has a loaded history of invoking ownership of that which is depicted. This exhibition also clearly addresses the issues of where the border between our inner and outer natures lie, our sense of the idyllic and edenic paradise, as well as our attempts to organize. The story here is one of control and mastery of the physical world and its latter-day break down. The strike which is being made in return is one that equates judgement day to severe climate changes as retaliation against our enclosure and exploitation. This conclusion keeps man at the center of the issue though, which is problematic. It continues to define nature as a logical system to which we stand opposed and from which we will see active retaliation against our harmful activities, missing the mark on man’s inclusion within natural systems.

“Nature Strikes Back”, and its importance, is clearest when its relationship to another exhibition called “Rethink: Contemporary Art and Climate Change” is considered. “Rethink” is an extensive exhibition of installations displayed across four institutions in three spaces and the virtual world. This exhibition was also divided thematically, though perhaps more opaquely by its titles: Rethink Relations at the National Gallery of Denmark, Rethink The Implicit at the Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art, Rethink Kakotopia at the Nikolaj Contemporary Art Center, and Rethink Information, which was on the Internet at a satellite exhibition at the Moesgård Museum (in Århus) and as public performance throughout Copenhagen.

Man at the center of natural representation, as found in a traditional gallery format, provides the historical background of “Rethink” both in the sense of nature in art and traditions in presentation. This exhibition of contemporary pieces focuses primarily on generative and phenomenological work, with many articulating systems through demonstration and/or dramatization instead of classification. Programmed into a heavily ambulatory, semi-public space, without a fee, dynamically connected to its other locations through virtual space, “Rethink” is not just contemporary work, but contemporary presentation. The work not only speaks to being connected to natural systems like in Thomas Saraceno’s “Biospheres” and Olafur Eliasson’s “Your Watercolor Machine”, but is placed in shared open space diminishing barriers to access and the creation of connection to the work.

Together, these exhibitions, including the other locations of “Rethink”, serve as a history and foundation for looking at other artistic endeavors in Copenhagen. Individually they look at representations of our understanding of the natural work. “Nature Strikes Back” represents it as something to be classified and contained, while “Rethink” represents it as something to be experienced and studied. Paired, they reflect what has changed in our perceptions over time. And, while they inform one another, they inform the less mainstream exhibitions outside of curated space even more.

REPRESENTING THE PRESENT

Millennium Art’s “CO2 Cube”, featured in this issue of the quarterly, uses a methodology befitting inclusion in “Rethink”. It is a 27 square foot cube, reflecting the volume of one ton of carbon dioxide, and floated in the lake adjacent to the Tycho Brahe Planetarium. It features current data and video about climate change, pulled from the internet that day, streaming across its two faces which are closest to shore. While its form articulates a natural relationship of man in the contemporary world (this volume of CO2 is what the average american produces in two weeks), the media reflected on its service aims for immediacy even with the lag created by the curatorial impact of the projects relationships with the United Nations, Google and YouTube.

One can also look at the example of “7 Meters”, also featured in this issue. It is a project that’s primary visual impact was in the plentiful flashing red LEDs mounted at seven meters above the ground to reflect the anticipated sea level rise should the ice of Greenland melt. Using projected data, it creates an expansive experience throughout Copenhagen, representing the ghost of climates future by tracing a drastic change in the immediate surroundings. And there is also Mark Coreth’s “Polar Ice Bear”, a polar bear skeleton embedded within an ice sculpture of the same bear, left to melt in public. It     exchanges data for exposure to the elements. While it never completed melting due to sub-zero temperatures later in the conference, it combined a known symbol of climate change (the polar bear) with a phenomena of climate change (melting ice) to produce an effective and connective experience through its thematic representations. Both of these projects connect directly to both their immediate environment and larger environmental issues.

All three of these examples were presented in public, high traffic spaces. They focus on a human relationship by representing our downstream effects, both immediate in the sense of the cube as our CO2 output, and that which is more abstract, as with the Ice Bear’s melt created by ambient temperature (which we have a long term collective effect upon). And so, these factors articulate the next step beyond the exhibitions of “Nature Strikes Back” and “Rethink”. They continue the  narrative of natural interconnection and immediateness and highlight the core difference between those gallery shows. Whereas “Nature Strikes Back” articulates man vs. nature, “Rethink” and these public space exhibits articulate man with nature.

ACTING AS REPRESENTATIVES

The red-suited, fedora wearing Climate Debt Agents (who sing), the similarly attired, but otherwise hued Mr. Green of OxFam, the aliens of Azaaz.org, the awards-night ambiance of the “Fossil of the Day” awards. These costumed, theatrical performances infuse humor and inclusivity into the plain-clothed protesters and demonstrators. In these performative, engaging acts, once can see that the opposite of cataloging nature is taking action on its behalf. These creative, complimentary demonstrations blur protest and performance art, and exist in the realm of happenings.

The Yes Men, artists who practice ‘identity correction’ by appearing as high-powered spokespersons of corporations, were most noted for their series of press releases on Monday, December 14, 2009. Teamed with Thierry Geoffroy, a.k.a The Colonel, and headquartered at Gallery Poulsen, the Yes Men created what was likely the most effective and affective of actions, where this performance/protest integration was most clear. They called into question   Canadian environmental policy through a series of official-seeming statements that were authentic enough to fool news organizations for a number of hours during the day. This temporary hijacking of political identity no longer relies on the representational visual articulations we see in the National Gallery.  Instead this direct, subversive action on the behalf of the natural world–using the authentic voice of the Canadian government–represents nature back to man through advocacy, rather than through symbols.

The New Life Festival, organized by Wooloo.org, did not produce or display art itself, but enabled the hosting and accommodation of visitors in Danish homes. It arranged housing for over 3,000 artists and activists during COP15. This allowed many people who otherwise could not afford to be present to  observe this moment in history. The New Life Festival also addressed perceptions of Denmark’s closed-off society. Primarily documented with guest books meant to help the guests and host families get to know one another, this project has completely forfeited aesthetic representational work, symbolism or synecdoche. Instead it has enabled direct representation, articulating a peopled mass by enabling it to gather.

Along with the ambitious collection of interviews by Open Dialogues, a literary UK collective, the ecological burial contracts from the Danish art group Superflex, and the anti-Coca Cola campaign from the Yes Men, these projects define success through congregation and collective energy in defense of the natural world. Working in the name of art, they give voice to two key entities absent from COP15: planet and people.

REPRESENTING SUCCESS IN REPRESENTATIVE FAILURE

In light of what is widely regarded as the failure of COP15 itself, having been unable to reach a binding agreement politically, there is hope and elements of success to which the arts can speak. Closing the Bella Center to NGOs, and the addition of a second credentialing process (meant to remove non-political dialogue from the meetings), underscores this ‘success’. That decision reflects a perceived threat from those who did not represent a political body’s or a nation’s political interest: the people in support of the natural world itself. This group that threatens the political process is the success of these two weeks in Copenhagen. It is a group from around the globe, from all walks of life, which is made of people that are as varied as the ways a changing climate will affect them, and which is reified by gathering and identifying itself as a mass en masse.