Timothy Morton

Sense of Planet: The Arts and Ecology at Earth Magnitude

This post comes to you from Cultura21

NIEA Symposium

Saturday, 25 August 2012, 9:30–6:30pm

The acceleration of climate change, species extinction, and other ecological crises enjoins us to find ways of grasping historical and evolving circumstances at earth magnitude. The Sense of Planet symposium concentrates together an international array of artists, eco-theorists, and scholars to address the issues and activities of representing the earth in its entirety, and of representing and self-representing regions or localities amid the complex global systems in which they are enmeshed. The symposium follows the lead taken by Ursula Heise in her book Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global to investigate the possibilities and difficulties of sensing the planet, in all senses of sense.

Invited speakers

Ursula Heise, Professor of English and Director of the Program in Modern Thought & Literature,

Stanford University

The Database and the Ecological Imagination of the Planet

Marko Peljhan, Professor in Art and Media Arts & Technology, University of California at Santa Barbara, Co-director of Arctic Perspective Initiative

One Degree At A Time – Creating Systems of Systems for Interpolar Constructiv(ist)e Engagement

Jennifer Gabrys, Convener of the MA Design and Environment at Goldsmiths, University of London

Environmental Sensor Technologies and the Arts

Nicholas Mirzoeff, Professor of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University

Anthropocene Aesthetics

Timothy Morton, Professor and Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English, Rice University

Of Planet-Sense

Panel discussion

Terry Smith (Professor at Pittsburgh and NIEA, UNSW), Douglas Kahn (Professor of Media & Innovation, NIEA, UNSW), Jill Bennett (Professor and Director, NIEA, UNSW), and others. Convened by Douglas Kahn and Jill Bennett.

Click here to go to the Registration page.

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

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

Two environmental philosophy blogs

This post comes to you from Cultura21

The following two environmental philosopher’s blogs provide regular posts with interesting views and analyses on themes such as emergence, ecocriticism, ecocinema and others:

  • Adrian J Ivakhiv’s blog “immanence – thinking the form, flesh & flow of the world: ecoculture, geophilosophy, mediapolitics”: http://blog.uvm.edu/aivakhiv/

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

Unruly ecologies: Biodiversity and art

A SymbioticA Symposium

November 26 to 28 2010

A symposium exploring the possibilities and difficulties of the diversity of life through critical investigations in art, ecology and activism.

The ecology of biodiversity is based upon an uncertain definition, incomplete statistics and the need to act in a world without balance. While multiple flora and fauna databases have being established and are being coordinated, there is an urgent need to engage even more proactively with complex ecosystems and human responses. Artists, scientists, humanities scholars and conservationists will come together to talk of the ‘matters of concern’ around the potentials and futures of biodiversity.

Confirmed Speakers include Professor Bruce Clarke (Professor of Literature and Science, Department of English, Texas Tech University), Professor Timothy Morton(Professor of English (Literature and the Environment), Department of English, University of California, Davis), Associate Professor Anas Ghadouani (School of Environmental Systems Engineering, The University of Western Australia), Greg Pryor (Artist and Lecturer, School of Communications and Arts, Faculty of Education and the Arts, Edith Cowan University), Dr Lesley Instone (Lecturer, School of Environmental and Life Sciences, Faculty of Science and
Information Technology, Newcastle University) and British Artists Dr Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson.

Dates: Friday 26 November to Sunday 28 November

Locations: Perth and Mandurah, Western Australia

Registration: Symposium sessions free but please RSVP for catering purposes sym@symbiotica.uwa.edu.au

Call for contemporary artworks for a survey of examples:

Artist whose work explores the idea of biodiversity are invited to post links to their work under the following categories or email an image and paragraph of text to: perdy@perditaphillips.com

  • 1. as a concept or idea (eg taxonomy and classification, issues of scale in ecology, resilience)
  • 2. as an issue (habitat loss, over-exploitation of resources, alien species, pollution and climate change)
  • 3. as a way of thinking — diversity (human/nonhuman), complexity and interconnectedness, compositionist strategies (Latour), resilience

Encouragement of the Arts

I’m wildly excited about two books, one coming out this month the other next year – both are radical insights about what environmental change means for the human relationship to the planet. One is Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto and the other is Timothy Morton’s The Ecological Thought.

What I find so vital in their work is that they are strongly against the misanthropy that seems to underpin much of the dominant narrative around the environmental movement. To my mind, the idea that humans are stupid, indifferent and deliberately destructive is not only an inadequate account of human nature it is heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking because it is debilitating at every level. At a time when we most need compassion and creative thinking the very sentiments that block these – pervasive cynicism and conservatism – are prevalent. (I’ve used too many words beginning with ‘c’ in that sentence, I’ll move onto the letter ‘R’ for a while).

What roots the rigorous accounts given by ecological experts such as Brand and Morton is that people are hugely capable of complex thinking, adaptive living, resilience and resourcefulness. We have created this situation of environmental change so now we must rise to challenge of transforming how we think and behave in response to it. And when I read documents like Peter Head’s Entering an Ecological Age, and see speakers at the RSA like Graciela Chichilnisky, not only do these extraordinary changes feel crucial they appear do-able.

Drawing on Brand, Head and Morton, I have written a short essay for the Copenhagen exhibition RETHINK: Contemporary Art & Climate Change.
Here’s a bit of it:  Art and ideas are not timeless, they are historically specific. The uneasy realisation of our current situation is that we are part of an ecological system that we influence more than we previously thought was possible. We are not outside observers, we are participants; we engage and affect systems whether we intend to or not. … we are the co-creators of our environment. Yet we do not yet fully recognise ourselves as such. This is a revelation awaiting to be fully explored through the arts.

It is the beginning of some work I’m developing for the Arts and Ecology Centre on what the arts may contribute  in moving us towards an ecological age.  Some of the ideas are controversial. And as part of this, writer Josie Appleton has been commissioned to write an essay for this website, as her work sets out to explore fresh thinking about human capability.The Challenge of Climate Change: Towards a New Human Consciousness – is a ‘thought experiment’, as she says in her blog – so comments are welcome.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology