Liberate Tate

Aesthetics of uncivilisation (call for visual works)

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

By Chris Fremantle

At Carrying the Fire, which was held at Whiston Lodge last year, Dougie Strang had asked me to contribute to the discussions, and I read a section of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison’s Lagoon Cycle (1985). The poem evokes the world-wide changes resulting from the increase in heat and consequent decrease in ice. The text ends,

And in this new beginning
this continuous rebeginning
will you feed me when my lands
………….can no longer produce
and will I house you
when your lands are covered with water?
So that together
we will withdraw
as the waters rise?

The Harrisons combine poem and image in artworks that speak to eco-cultural well-being: social and environmental justice. A larger part of this poem and the associated image, a world map where the seas have risen as a result of total ice melt creating a coastline redrawn at the level of 300 feet, is here, and the whole of the book of the Lagoon Cycle is here.

The Dark Mountain project, of which Carrying the Fire is a Scottish branch, seeks ways to speak about collapse: the collapse of our civilisation, the fragile world we live in, the need for a different type of civilisation.  And whilst that collapse might seem distant living in Scotland, it is a constant state for people and ecologies in other places (in the last ten years, Haiti, New Orleans, New York, Fukushima, Sri Lanka and the Philippines).

Dark Mountain publishes edited volumes of writing and visual material, providing a space for thinking and speaking about collapse, not hysterically, but thoughtfully and with care. Charlotte Du Caan has joined the Dark Mountain project as Arts Editor and asked in an introductory blog and call (current deadline 6 Jan 2014) for visual works for the next two editions, “Is there an aesthetics of uncivilisation?”

This is not simply a question of the aesthetics of desolation, of abandonment, an aesthetics well explored particularly in photography. Perhaps what we are looking for is a wider aesthetics of a different future. The Dark Mountain project, a project of uncivilisation (a term it seems they coined), suggests that it is precisely the thing we normally call civilisation that needs to be called into question. The civilisation being addressed is that which separates us, makes us think we can control and consume the ecological systems that we are in every conceivable way part of and from which we are literally inseparable.

Firstly we must understand that the aesthetics that Charlotte and the Dark Mountaineers are calling is a new sort of aesthetics, not an aesthetics of decoration, or of ‘form following function’, but an ethical-aesthetic dimension added to the fundamental characteristics of sustainability, of doing nothing that diminishes eco-cultural well-being for future generations (of all living things).

The idea of an ethical aesthetic relationship with all living things is developed by the Collins and Goto Studio in their current project The Forest is Moving. The Black Rannoch Woods are the southern-most significant remnant of the Caledonian Forest which used to cover Scotland. Black Rannoch is an incredible complex ecosystem from the bugs to the granny pines, but it is also culturally significant as a future indicator as well as a remnant of the past. It could get larger, it could join up to woods in Glen Lyon and further across Highland Scotland. This revitalised Caledonian Forest could provide a different form of landscape experience for people in Scotland. It could inform and address urban challenges such as nature deficit disorder. But the Collins and Goto Studio are also provocatively interested in technology and their work Plein Air uses a range of sensors to enable us to experience trees breathing in a gallery space mediated by audio driven by complex algorithms.

Plein Air, Collins and Goto Studio, 2006-ongoing. With artists’ permission

A key aspect of the aesthetics we might be looking for is focused on reconnecting with nature. Charlotte Du Caan highlights the work of artists including Richard Long, who makes art from walking, art which is not first and foremost about ownership. In fact Long’s fellow walking artist Hamish Fulton says, AN ARTWORK MAY BE PURCHASED BUT A WALK CANNOT BE SOLD. Charlotte cites Derek Jarman’s Garden near the nuclear power station at Dungness, as well as jewellery made from lost keys found on the banks of the Thames, furniture made from scrap metal, but also artists who focus specifically on the detail of plants and patterns of growth. It’s an eclectic mix which might or might not sell and be collected, but speaks of deep and personal explorations of the interrelations of the artist and their environment(s).

Another quite different aesthetic might be exemplified by the recent action by Liberate Tate, a group of activists and campaigners for divestment from fossil fuels by the cultural temples. Liberate Tate have been campaigning for the Tate, the national museum of contemporary art in the UK, to cease to take sponsorship from in particular BP, but more generally from the fossil fuel industry. This work builds on PLATFORM‘s compelling analysis of the ‘social license to operate,’ the oil industry’s programmes to ensure that they can continue to do business regardless of the environmental and social destruction.

On the reopening of Tate Britain’s galleries of British Art, a large group of activists created an unofficial performance, Parts Per Million, of real power and affect. Dressed in black, as attendees at a funeral, they “performed rising carbon levels to the chronology of the Tate Britain re-hang” sponsored by BP, paralleling the history of British Art with the increasing level of CO2 in the atmosphere. The performance started in the ’1840′ room, representing the period when the CO2 generated by the Industrial Revolution in Britain started to make a measurable impact on global CO2 levels. Characterised by choreographed movement reclaiming public space, voiced in the same manner as the Occupy mic-check (one person says something which is then repeated by the collective), this work speaks directly to our relationship with Nature. It disambiguates the historical as well as contemporary connections between art and industrial culture.

The final aspect that might be relevant to an aesthetic of uncivilisation is the work of Penny ClareChris Dooks drew attention to her work and has included it in his forthcoming Phd. Penny’s photographs are taken by her in bed in the darkness. The text that goes with the images on the Pheonix Rising website says,

I was mostly confined to bed in a dark room – for years, and years, and years. At some point, in this isolated sea, I started taking photos. From my bed, in the dark. And my relationship to my illness and circumstances took on a different meaning and found creative expression. It was my way of creating movement.

Bed Deconstructing into its elements, Penny Clare, with artist’s permission

They are not only very beautiful, but also represent an interesting point, being works made with very low energy, in her case low energy resulting from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but perhaps indicating that low energy might be an interesting wider experience. ME/CFS is a form of personal collapse and Penny’s response is a clue to a wide society experience of low energy or collapse.

All art is a form of mediation and also transformation of the artists’ experiences. We need to be careful in assuming that art has some special ability to bring us closer to nature. In the first instance it brings us closer to art. Some art succeeds in renewing our senses, making us look at the world around us anew.  Some art can reframe our experiences and reconnect our emotions to our understandings.  One characteristic of an aesthetic of uncivilisation might be that it incorporates a new sort of ethical dimension, not necessarily in a simplistic or didactic way, but fundamentally in the interrelation between people, art and environment.

The aesthetic of uncivilisation might also take up some of the characteristics that Suzanne Lacy attributes to the work of Allan Kaprow. He emphasised the importance of process as the “product” of art. He was interested in the meaning-making between people more than the object or activity that is usually identified as ‘the work’.  Ambiguity and questioning are central to the structure of his works, and for Lacy this is a way to balance dealing with prominent issues and distinguish art from politics.  Finally, the blurring of art and life in its various manifestations denies the artist recourse to the assumed authority of talent, or recourse to claiming value simply because it is art.

I hope this last point might be a defining characteristic of the aesthetic of uncivilisation.

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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Liberate Tate Stages Performance at Tate Britain

This post comes from Creative Carbon Scotland

liberatetatepartspermilliontatebritain2013-e1385473983967Fifty veiled figures dressed in black carried out a performance art installation entitled ‘Parts Per Million’ throughout a series of rooms in the ‘BP Walk Through British Art’ at Tate Britain during the art gallery’s official re-opening (Saturday 23 November 2013). The piece critiqued the role that Tate is playing in exacerbating climate change by bolstering the public perception of BP through its long-standing sponsorship relationship.

The art at Tate Britain was reordered chronologically this year. The Liberate Tate performance began in the ’1840′ room, when the industrial revolution started to significantly impact emission levels, to the present day room with contemporary art created as carbon dioxide levels reached an all-time high of 400 parts per million (ppm). Leading climate scientists consider 350 ppm to be what must be returned to in this century for earth to be safe for human life for generations to come. In each room the Liberate Tate performers arranged themselves in a different configuration and counted aloud en masse the increase in atmospheric carbon ppm during that time period.

‘Parts Per Million’ is the tenth performance at Tate by Liberate Tate: a group that has become internationally renowned for artworks aimed at ending the relationship of Tate and other cultural institutions with oil companies. One of the performers, Fiona Edwards said:

“Any celebration of British art that prominently bears the BP logo is also endorsing that company’s business model which explicitly involves the destruction of a safe, liveable climate. Tate Britain celebrates with a ‘House Warming Party’, but the presence of BP, one of the companies data shows is most responsible for climate change due to its carbon emissions, makes it more of a ‘Global Warming Party’.”

The national collection of British art housed at Tate Britain – art owned by the public – was rebranded the ‘BP Walk through British Art’ in May: in the very week it was announced carbon dioxide levels had reached 400 ppm. A report published earlier this week estimated that BP was responsible for 2.5% of global historic emissions.

Terri Fletcher of Liberate Tate said: “Tate’s vision statement says that it will ‘demonstrate leadership in response to climate change’. Yet oil companies like BP are actively looking for ways to expand their markets and find new reserves at a time when the world needs to be dramatically reducing the amount of fossil fuels that are being burnt. By actively promoting BP, Tate is positioning itself on the side of the fossil fuel companies that are actually creating dangerous climate change.”

There is growing alarm from artists, Tate members and visitors that Tate is providing support to a corporation creating climate chaos and forcing climate-conscious gallery visitors into an uncomfortable position if they want to enjoy art at Tate (the mission of the art museum is to promote public enjoyment of art). Last year Tate said in a reply to a freedom of information request that it had received more representations raising concerns about BP’s sponsorship than any other issue since the oil company became linked to the gallery in 1990.

Since 1990, when BP first attached itself to Tate and its collection, much has changed: the scientific evidence of climate change due to burning hydrocarbons and the negative social and environmental impacts of oil companies, BP in particular, is now clear and far more widely known amongst the public, including art lovers.

Tate has placed BP sponsorship “under review”. BP has dominated the Tate Members Annual General Meeting (AGM) for years. In 2012 Tate Director Sir Nicholas Serota promised Tate members ethical alternatives would be explored so that Tate trustees had a choice not to continue BP sponsorship. A progress report is due at the 2013 AGM on 6 December.

Liberate Tate (www.liberatetate.org) is an art collective exploring the role of creative intervention in social change dedicated to taking creative disobedience against Tate until it drops its oil company funding. Contact: email liberatetate@gmail.com twitter @liberatetate.

The post Liberate Tate Stages Performance at Tate Britain appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.

Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

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