Superflex

[UN]NATURAL LIMITS – Austrian Cultural Forum New York

This post comes to you from Cultura21

Jan 23 – April 1, 2013

Austrian Cultural Forum New York 11 East 52nd Street – New York, NY 10022

Artists: Desire Machine Collective, Thomas Hirschhorn, Mathias Kessler, Superflex, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Lois Weinberger
Curated by Dieter Buchhart & Arnaud Gerspacher
Curatorial Advisor: Mathias Kessler

The new international group exhibition [UN]NATURAL LIMITS, which opened on January 22nd, gathers together different artistic reactions to the alienating effects of the unfettered global exploitation of resources, and offers insight into the denial and myopia of current political responses to what increasingly appears to be a perpetual crisis.
It focuses on the environmental relays sent back in response to our human activities (or failures to act), while giving voice to various groups, thinkers, and artists who seek to interrupt narcissistic and destructive self-involvements in society.

The exhibition, which was commissioned by the Austrian Cultural Forum’s director Andreas Stadler and curated by the Viennese-New York team of Dieter Buchhart and Arnaud Gerspacher, maintains a deep ambiguity towards the modernist legacies of endless expansion and selective prosperity, as our social and political systems slowly begin to confront the limits of growth and sustainability. Each artist or collective poses a challenge to the perceived limits that condition our understanding of the world: on the one hand, the limited prospect for action, compassion, and change, while on the other, the limitless drive for resources and capital in all its forms. A reversal is necessary: it is compassion that should be limitless.

The show will include an installation by Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn titled Resistance-Subjecter (2011), which was first shown as part of his Crystal of Resistance at the Venice Biennial 2011. The bodies of the eight mannequins have seemingly been infested and corroded by 1 million year-old crystals. We are left to guess whether the crystals were produced in the body and stand for a material resisting cultural, economic, social, ecological, and aesthetical habits, or whether the body was produced by the crystals, now hosting them in order to resist the jaded times we live in.

Austrian artist Lois Weinberger’s Invasion (2005/2011) also plays with the limits of the organic and inorganic. The installation consists of a group of mushrooms that climb, protrude, and seem to grow from the Austrian Cultural Forum’s gallery walls. The work is a striking confluence of nature and artificiality, though the limits between the natural and unnatural are not as clear as they may first appear: the walls themselves were once organic growths in a forest and the artificial lighting is itself produced by natural sources of energy.

Equally engaged in uncovering the often-arbitrary limits between ecology and the economic functioning of the urban landscape, Mierle Laderman Ukeles has been committed to interrogating the social role of art within these processes. Her Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969! (1969) states that art should be concerned with maintaining life, its systems and environments. In her yearlong performance documented in Touch Sanitation Performance (1977-80), Ukeles shook hands with 8,500 sanitation employees, while sharing and documenting their stories, and thereby drawing attention to the ecological underbelly of New York City and its often socially stigmatized workers.

In Experience Climate Change As… (2009), the Danish collective Superflex advertises a series of hypnosis sessions offered in conjunction with international global climate change summits. The first one took place in 2009 at the UN Global Climate Summit in Copenhagen, and future events are planned through the year 2050. These hypnosis sessions allow participants to experience climate change as a specific animal, in a relatively playful gesture that nevertheless points to the serious relationship between the natural limits of global ecosystems and the seemingly limitless capacity of world powers to defer action due to realpolitik and economic reasons.

The rapacious capacity to excavate natural sites is documented by Mathias Kessler in his piece,Jarrells Cemetery, N37o53.96’ W81o34.71’. Eunice Mountain. West Virginia. (2012). The artist traveled to a commercial surface mining site in West Virginia to document the operation and the local stories mourning the lost landscape, the political situation, and the area’s history. Verbal accounts are audible to visitors outside the gallery, before they are confronted inside by a massive wallpaper depicting the carved out hillsides which appear overwhelmingly dry and diseased. In serious irony, the only remnant and survivor in an otherwise lifeless scene is a cemetery, now even more cut-off from the living.

Finally, [UN]NATURAL LIMITS includes a documentation of Periferry – An incomplete Balance Sheet (2013), a nomadic space for hybrid art practices mounted and maintained by Desire Machine Collective. Located on a ferry barge on the Brahmaputra River in India, this project provides a space for experimentation and new media approaches, public and community arts, which are relevant to immediate local concerns and aim at the empowerment of the community and reclaiming the public space, while at the same time connecting with the global.

For more information, visit acfny.org

Reposted from eflux newsletter

Cultura21 is a transversal, translocal network, constituted of an international level grounded in several Cultura21 organizations around the world.

Cultura21′s international network, launched in April 2007, offers the online and offline platform for exchanges and mutual learning among its members.

The activities of Cultura21 at the international level are coordinated by a team representing the different Cultura21 organizations worldwide, and currently constituted of:

– Sacha Kagan (based in Lüneburg, Germany) and Rana Öztürk (based in Berlin, Germany)
– Oleg Koefoed and Kajsa Paludan (both based in Copenhagen, Denmark)
– Hans Dieleman (based in Mexico-City, Mexico)
– Francesca Cozzolino and David Knaute (both based in Paris, France)

Cultura21 is not only an informal network. Its strength and vitality relies upon the activities of several organizations around the world which are sharing the vision and mission of Cultura21

Go to Cultura21

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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.
Go to EcoArtScotland

Exhibition: “On the Metaphor of Growth”

This post comes to you from Cultura21

Until June 26, 2011 in Hannover, Germany

As a concept initially associated with biology, “growth” suggests something natural.  However, if one follows the concept of growth as a metaphor borrowed from biology, one additionally encounters a second side that usually negates the metaphorical use. Organic growth is consistently defined by a natural border; it knows a state of being fully grown and is determined by the cycle of growth and decay. Stagnation, transience and renewal are part of the “natural,” but hardly find any metaphorical acceptance. Economic growth or technical development, for example, knows no boundary and no saturation.

The international exhibition project “On the Metaphor of Growth” brings together various strands of artistic dealings with different phenomena of growth to construct a tension field out of positive and negative connotations of growing, occasioning fundamental reflections. In the process, the artists’ designs — their reactions and answers to specific consequences of the idea of growth — form a matrix that enables the central position of the concept of growth in the social self-image to be experienced.

“On the Metaphor of Growth” is a cooperation between the Kunstverein Hannover, the Frankfurt Kunstverein and the Kunsthaus Baselland. Each of the three exhibitions place a different accent on artistic dealings with the concept of growth, demonstrating its present-day ambivalence in economic, biological and social contexts.

Artists: Michel Blazy, Peter Buggenhout, Armin Chodzinski, Dirk Fleischmann, Tue Greenfort, Karl Hans Janke, San Keller, Dan Peterman, Reynold Reynolds, Mika Rottenberg, Julika Rudelius, Gerda Steiner & Jörg Lenzlinger, Superflex, Rachel Sussman, Andreas Zybach.

Venue: Kunstverein Hannover, Sophienstraße 2, 30159 Hannover, Germany.

Opening Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 12.00-7.00pm, Sunday and on holidays 11.00am–7.00pm.

Cultura21 is a transversal, translocal network, constituted of an international level grounded in several Cultura21 organizations around the world.

Cultura21′s international network, launched in April 2007, offers the online and offline platform for exchanges and mutual learning among its members.

The activities of Cultura21 at the international level are coordinated by a team representing the different Cultura21 organizations worldwide, and currently constituted of:

– Sacha Kagan (based in Lüneburg, Germany) and Rana Öztürk (based in Berlin, Germany)

– Oleg Koefoed and Kajsa Paludan (both based in Copenhagen, Denmark)

– Hans Dieleman (based in Mexico-City, Mexico)

– Francesca Cozzolino and David Knaute (both based in Paris, France)

Cultura21 is not only an informal network. Its strength and vitality relies upon the activities of several organizations around the world which are sharing the vision and mission of Cultura21

Go to Cultura21

Success for New Life Copenhagen Festival during COP15

Success for art festival during COP15

NEW LIFE COPENHAGEN was a great success and expects to continue during COP16 in Mexico

During COP15, the untraditional art festival NEW LIFE COPENHAGEN has hosted the free hospitality of more than 3.000 climate guests from 108 different nationalities. Activists, grassroots, scientists, diplomats and delegates have lived on couches and in guest rooms in Danish homes for the past two weeks. This vast cultural meeting makes NEW LIFE COPENHAGEN the largest free private housing project worldwide in relation to an international summit or conference.

The social success of the summit

The organizers behind the project, Wooloo.org, is very satisfied with the outcome. The large cultural meeting went by and large without problems, and the reactions from the participants have been overwhelmingly positive.  Wooloo.org states:

Most of the hosts chose to spend a lot of time with their guests. The hosts showed them Copenhagen, discusse climate politics, cultural differences, food and so much more. They sat and talked all night, and the younger participants went out at night – some of them even started dating. Others have already made plans to visit their guests in their home country next year.

A social experiment

The objective of the art festival was always to create something more than a free hospitality project. Wooloo.org says:

Instead of inviting artists to create art pjeces for a traditional museum, we have chosen guest hospitality and meetings between people as our exhibition platform. The purpose of the festival is to create a foundation for new ways of living together. Individual solutionas are not enough. As a society we need to live of lives radically differen if we are to succeed with the climate changes.

With this objective as a starting point, the artist group Superflex asked participants to make an absurd choice to decide if they wanted a climate-friendly death if they were to die during the summit. Signa made a special guest- and host book for all participants where particpants could evaluate each other’s lifestyle patterns, and the activist duo The YesMen encouraged everybody to take a pledge to never drink Coca-Cola again.

The success continues in Mexico

Already now, the world is looking ahead to the next climate summit in Mexico (COP16). And the organization behind is already very positive about implementing NEW LIFE as a way of welcoming climate guests and once again examine new ways of living together by the hand of a series of challenging choices and happenings developed by Wooloo.org and other artists.

NEW LIFE COPENHAGEN is the largest private and free accommodation project worldwide ever in relation to an international summit. NEW LIFE COPENHAGEN is funded by the Danish Arts Council, Nordic Culture Point, the Danish Arts Foundation, the City of Copenhagen, People’s Climate Action, Tryg Vesta and the Danish Society for Nature Conservation.

For more information:  www.newlifecopenhagen.comwww.wooloo.org

Inhabitat Interview – Ian Garrett Reports on COP15 and the Arts #COP15

Moe Beitiks of Inhabitat (amongst other things) conducted an email interview with CSPA Executive Director, Ian Garrett (Me).  You can see the whole things here:

INTERVIEW: Ian Garrett Reports on COP15 and the Arts | Inhabitat.

Some Excerpts:

INHABITAT: What were your cultural expectations for Copenhagen?

GARRETT: At this point, I don’t know what my expectations are. I’m a big fan of the idea that if you get a lot of people together in one spot, talking about a thing, things can happen. The feeling I have from the news out of here and being in the streets is that there is going to be more civilian change out of this than there will be government change. My hope is that, with this many people of divergent origins, with the efforts being made from a cultural end, that it will reify something at the grassroots level. I can only hope that it makes it upwards, because that doesn’t seem like the case at the Bella Center.

INHABITAT: What have been some standout experiences thus far? What artworks have struck a chord, and why?

GARRETT: It’s hard to tell right now, there is so much more to see in this next week, but if I chose now my vote is in for wooloo.org’s efforts and partnerships. They’ve got Superflex’s sustainable burial contracts, the Yes Men’s Coca-Cola Pledge and New Life Copenhagen. Everything they are doing is very much in the spirit of unity and many people doing small things towards a bigger goal. I think that’s a message in and of itself. And since all three of the projects I mentioned rely on documentation and masses of people as the documenters I think that it’s got the potential to show the most real human aspects of the issues being discussed and the opportunities to work together.

There is the common thread these days of “Changing light bulbs won’t save the world.” Which is true, but you know, ultimately if everyone change all light bulbs, sure it would do something about energy use. The point being that lots of people making small efforts aren’t to be scoffed at. It’s those sort of efforts, that when combined, lead to tipping points. We just aren’t there yet, and light bulbs have no future as a tipping point for the climate.

Superflex: rising levels of discomfort

My Arts & Ecology colleague William Shaw, editor of our site, interviewed Superflex on the eve of their work opening at the South London Gallery.

I went to see their film on Sunday afternoon. It took us, me and my
16-year-old son, well over an hour to get there so we were muttering
“it better be worth it” under our breaths as the rain drizzled down…

Please update your links and feeds.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology Blog

Superflex

From January 16,  Superflex will be showing their new work Flooded McDonalds at The South London Gallery. Superflex are the radical Danish threesome who create a wide range of interventions they describe as “tools”;  with Rirkrit Tiravanija a few years ago they created Social Pudding – in which communities or gallery-goers “manufacture” and then eat a pudding together. 

This is low-res version of their last film, Burning Car:

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology Blog