Monthly Archives: February 2009

What if?… James Lovelock and the five in six

This week James Lovelock was in conversation with the journalist and writer Tim Radford in front of a packed audience at the RSA. His latest book The Vanishing Face of Gaia is currently 22 on Amazon – a remarkable achievement for a book which is not exactly a laugh a page.

In fact both James and Tim were full of humour at the RSA event, so it’s a moment before some of the facts sink in. People next to me suck in their breath at Jim’s prediction of one billion people on earth by the end of the century. We are around six billion at the moment. I join the breath suckers. Five in six of us. I’m pretty sure I heard him say that India will pretty much be gone entirely. If he’s right.

If he’s right – this is left hanging in the air and hanging in the balance.

Today a headline in The Guardian reads “Obama pulls back on early climate change legislation”. I see this just as I’m trying to write a positive statement for the Business Council for Sustainable Development, ten years focusing on the practical implementation of sustainable development values. There’s so much progress that has been made and now is the time to build on that, rather than gloom up on the worst case scenario. But nor should we forget it. Just as apathy had terrible consequences for so many in the Second World War, so could complacency in the face of this century’s challenges.

Note to self, get on and see how you’re shaping up Crimmin before tub thumping any further.

Photo: Gansu Province, China, 2007 by Susannah Sayler, used courtesy of The Canary Project. Photo taken following the 2006 drought, China’s worst in 50 years. This is the former site of Qin Tu Hu Lake.

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Atelier Bow-Wow at REDCAT

{The BBQ House, part of Atelier Bow-Wow’s Small Case Study Houses at REDCAT in LA}

On Friday, I had the opportunity to check out Tokyo-based Atelier Bow-Wow’s installation at REDCAT. Made of recycled wood, the exhibition consists of three contraptions based on the famous Case Study Houses. It includes The BBQ House, (above), a Hammock House, and a Sunset House.

Part light and space (like Turrell, Eliasson or R. Irwin), part relational aesthetics and also an architectural experiment, these pieces are big, fun and worth seeing in person. Here’s hoping that they end up in a park or some other public space after the exhibition ends on March 29.

> Read more at or, see some pics of the installation on flickr.
> Atelier Bow-Wow has an extensive website as well.
> Atelier Bow-Wow has many books, such as Pet Architecture Guide Book Vol 2.

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Land Subsidence in the San Joaquin Valley

{Evidence of land subsidence in California’s San Joaquin Valley from 1925-1977. From the USGS}

The picture above tells the story of about 30 feet. That’s how much the ground has subsided in parts of the San Joaquin Valley (at least through 1977) because of water withdrawls and the resulting soil consolidation.

Recently, the LA Times reported that the ongoing drought in California might result in no agricultural water being delivered to more than 200 water districts in California.

I’m no expert on California water policy so I’m going to keep my comments brief. But to me, a system where we are growing cotton and rice with irrigated water doesn’t make much sense. Here’s hoping some smart people some where will figure this out, because I know artists are going to be limited to doing things like reposting ominous photos (see above) of what is going on.
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Eco-Artist Catherine Pears Puts a Green Twist on her Mardi Gras Float : TreeHugger




Artist Catherine Pears certainly sees the benefit of recycling, but to her, the most obvious way to be green is to reduce and reuse. She reuses everything and when she was commissioned to build a float for this years Mardi Gras, she carried those practices over into designing the float. See how she turned what some would consider trash into a stunning Mardi Gras float.


via Eco-Artist Catherine Pears Puts a Green Twist on her Mardi Gras Float : TreeHugger.

Homophobia, literary censorship and selling books

The hoo-ha over the Dubai EAIFL literary festival  grows. Geraldine Bedell had been due to launch her romantic comedy The Gulf Between Us there. After reading the manuscript, the festival’s organiser Isobel Aboulhoul pulled the title from the programme, citing “cultural sensitivities”. The book apparently includes some discussion of Islam and features a gay character.

This week Margaret Atwood withdrew the festival saying that as a vice-President of the writer’s organisation PEN, she couldn’t attend an event that censored work, and yesterday the children’s author Anthony Horowitz said he was considering joining her. Activists have started a campaign to blacklist the festival, on blogs and a Facebook group.

Geraldine Bedell aks: “Can you have a literary festival and ban books because they feature gay characters? Is that what being part of the contemporary literary scene means? The organisers claim to be looking for an exchange of ideas – but not, apparently, about sex or faith. That doesn’t leave literature an awful lot of scope.”

From not being described as “the first true literary festival in the Middle East” the Dubai event now finds itself being portrayed as a hotbed of Islamic homophobia.  Finding herself at the centre of this storm Isobel Aboulhoul issued a counter-statement which suggests, wryly, that she’s fallen into a subtle trap by censoring the book:

“I did not believe that it was in the Festival’s long term interests to acquiesce to her publisher’s (Penguin) request to launch the book at the first Festival of this nature in the Middle East. We do, of course, acknowledge the excellent publicity campaign being run by Penguin which will no doubt increase sales of her book and we wish Ms Bedell the very best.”

On another statement on the main site Ms Abouhoul points out that the decision had been communicated to Geraldine Bedell in September; she is curious why this matter has only come to the public’s attention in the month that Bedell’s novel is being published.

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Finding unforbidden fruit in Los Angeles

It’s eleven years since I lived in Los Angeles. Something subtle seems to have shifted here, and for the better. One example of why is Fallen Fruit, a collective of two artists and a writer who live in the Silverlake district who started to map all the fruit and trees in their neighbourhood, the ones which had branches hanging over onto sidewalks so you can pluck their oranges or figs for free.

I’m here for a couple of days researching art projects that are about growing food and about the places where you grow it so I’m due to meet them later in the day. In the morning I check out their website, For the last couple of years they’ve been holding Public Fruit Jams – communal jam-making sessions -  handing out free fruit trees for people to plant next to their fences, or encouraging others to make fuit maps of their neighbourhoods.

I notice that there’s a map for where I’m staying – Echo Park, made by someone who’s taken up their enthusiasm. After a couple of minutes trying to figure it out I notice there’s a group of fruit trees right next to my friend’s house. I walk 30 yards out of the door and there they are, just as they are shown on the map, right next to each other. A lemon tree overhanging the pavement, fat with ripe yellow fruit, and right next to it a small fig tree, figs just a few weeks away from  being ripe. I stand there, smiling, ridiculously happy to have found them.

They’re by no means the only example of this kind of strangely unironic sincerity that has taken root among some of the art projects here. I’m also here to see the artist Fritz Haeg whose Edible Estates Attack on the Front Lawn has been encouraging people to replace the uniformity of grass with fruit and vegetables.

I reach up and pluck a lemon from the tree. I doubt I’d have even noticed these trees  normally.

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Interspecies @ Cornerhouse, Manchester

Artists exploring gray areas: Interspecies at Manchester Cornerhouse until March 22. Four new pieces that attempt to work with animals, not as subjects of their art, but “as equals”. The artists involved include performance artist Kira O’Reilly, whose piece involved 36 hours living, sleeping and eating, with a pig called Delilah. You can read  O’Reilly’s blog about the experience on her site here.

It’s not the first time O’Reilly has worked with pigs, though last time it was with a dead one, and the Daily Mail was incensed. “IT’S ART SAYS THE NAKED WOMAN WHO’LL HUG A DEAD PIG ON STAGE” ran the headline to a piece that accompanied her 2006 performance in Newlyn.

Interspecies has been curated by Arts Catalyst, an organisation that works in that strange but sometimes extremely productive space of the Venn diagram between arts and science. They partnered with us to run the Nuclear Forum at the end of last year with Gustav Metzger and James Acord – exploring the depths of another subject that often goes undiscussed.

The power of the subject of Interspecies is the way in which it encounters our increasingly uncomfortable relationship with animals. As any anthropologist will tell you, animals have always been the subject of taboos – which ones you should eat, and which ones you should stroke.

Post-industrial society assumes it’s past such primitive notions as taboos. OK, sex is everywhere in these days, but try asking people when they last saw a dead body? In our society death, as natural a process as sex or birth,  has become invisible. Victorians used to hold dinner parties in graveyards; you’d get arrested if you tried that now.

I was talking to the designer Julia Lohmann recently; she is the creator of the cow bench – a single cow’s hide stretched over a wooden skeleton that ends up looking uncomfortably like the animal that surrendered its skin for us. It’s physically uncomfortable to sit on too, but that’s the point. Lohmann is in fact a passionate animal lover. When she returned from a spell working on a farm to London she saw an advertisement for dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets that so disturbed her that she set out on a process that ended with making a sofa that looked like what it really was.

And, as O’Reilly’s work suggests, our relationship with meat has never been stranger.

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