This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog
This week, the Jan Van Eyck Academy, a post-academic institute for art, design and reflection in the quaint town of Maastricht (Netherlands), opened a Lab for artists to do Nature Research. In additionÂ to offering a range of (amazing) facilities that can support woodwork, (RISO) printmaking, photography, video, and metalwork,Â the institute now acknowledges that nature is not only a great inspiration for artists, but the lack of it is a growing concern for many. The Van Eyck is positioning itself on the frontline of international pioneering art institutions that are enabling artists to explore in depth, through their work, their relationship to nature. The playground for this new Lab is a studio, garden, and greenhouse. Named after Jac. P. Thijsse, a famous Maastricht ecologist, the Lab gives artists an opportunity to do active research (get their hands dirty) and to consider the subject of nature in relation to ecological and landscape development issues. Itâ€™s supposedly a place to build bridges â€“ between humankind and nature, but also between art and other disciplines, including agriculture, biology, botany, and (landscape) architecture.
The Jac. P. Thijsse Lab launchedÂ during the Van Eycks annual Open Studios with two works, including one by artist Marcus Coates who will be aÂ Van Eyck advisor this year. Outside in the gardens, people could hear birds enthusiastically singing, ready for spring. Inside the Lab studio, however, it was revealedÂ that the cheerful chirping outside wasÂ human voices replicating bird songs. Coatesâ€™sÂ Dawn Chorus (2007) features individuals sitting in their own habitatsÂ â€“Â a car, an office, a bedroom, a school staff roomÂ â€“Â singing bird songs. For this project, Coates recorded birdsong of individual birds and then digitally slowed down the songs by up to 20 times.Â Singers from amateur choirs were asked to mimic this slowed down sound, which is similar in tone to the human voice. The recordingÂ was then sped up to the original speed of the birdsong, creating a magical transformation of the human voice into that of a bird. The work shows us a new way to look at nature and highlights our interconnectedness. Solely by changing the speed of the sound, we end up speaking Â the same language.
In the greenhouse, a mysterious installation by artists Fabio Roncato (Van Eyck participant of 2016/2017) and Ryts Monet was found. ItÂ consisted of original bricks from the greenhouse, infused with a bright blue Yves Klein-esque pigment that reminds us of chapel ceilings in small Italian towns.Â AÂ galvanised meteorite seemed to have crashed on the floorÂ amongÂ the blue bricksÂ â€“Â an invitation from the artists to reflect on the topic of the unknown landscape and the outer space.Â Their work shows that a greenhouse in the context of the Van Eyck is not just a place to grow plants; itÂ is really a laboratory for ideas, questions, experiments, and reflections on the landscape in the widest sense of the word.
The van Eyck is not the only art institution that has picked up on artistsâ€™ growing interest in growing. Other great European places that accommodate artists unafraid to get their hands dirty include Prinzessinengarten (Berlin, Germany), ZKU (Berlin, Germany), Pollinaria (Abruzzo region, Italy), Grizedale Arts (Lake District, UK) and AtelierNL (Noordoostpolder, Netherlands) amongst others. In the lastÂ few years, even upmarket commercial gallery Hauser and Wirth re-purposed an old farm and garden in rural Somerset (UK)Â into anÂ artist residence, complete with restaurant andÂ exhibition space (see photo at the top of the page).
We live in times that force us to formulate a response to aÂ wide range of serious environmental challenges: mass extinction,Â loss of biodiversity, climate change. However, these crises arenâ€™t just disasters. Theyâ€™re also great opportunities to demand and help build new systems that serve people and planet more equitablyÂ than neo-liberalism has. Moving away from the oldÂ systems requires a new mentality, which includes a big re-think of our relationship to the natural world. Is nature solely a resource for us to enjoy and plunder? Or are we nature? We are stuck in the idea that the world revolves around humans. This is why, not so long ago, we refusedÂ to believe Galileo Galilei. We, humans, want to be at the epicenter of it all. The potential for non-human narratives has barely entered our consciousness.
Moreover,Â weÂ have become so addicted to fossil fuels and raw materials that humankindÂ isÂ now aÂ climatic and, some scientists argue, geological force. AÂ new geological epoch called the Anthropocene â€“Â which marksÂ the commencement of significant human impact on theÂ Earthâ€™s geologyÂ andÂ ecosystemsÂ â€“Â hasÂ now replaced the Holocene. This shiftÂ comes with a responsibility to ourselves, nature, and other species, and with plenty of new questions to grapple with. If art spaces that provide time for nature research can helpÂ artists to engage with some of these questions, we might be moving towards interesting answers.
About Artists and Climate Change:
Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.