Sierra Nevada, 2011
(installation view south gallery)
aerial photograph, digital mapping, pastel, oil, and ink
42 feet long x variable width
If you are in New York in the next month, this is a â€˜must seeâ€™ show.
January 11 â€“ February 8, 2014
[The Harrisonsâ€™] work is a prime example of the potential of ecoart to create knowledge that promotes cultural change. Ruth Wallen, Leonardo XLV, no. 3, 2012
Helen Mayer Harrison & Newton Harrison are the first recipients of the Corlis Benefideo Award for Imaginative Cartography, presented at the Annual Meeting of the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS) on October 9, 2013 in Greenville, South Carolina.
Ronald Feldman Fine Arts will exhibit Global Mapping, an overview of the life-long work of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, pioneers of ecologically-oriented art, whose visionary proposals have influenced long-term public policy in the United States and abroad. For more than forty years, the Harrisonsâ€™ expansive practice, realized in collaboration with experts from other disciplines and often commissioned by government and art institutions, has been to map out specific geographical areas at ecological risk to encourage public discourse and community involvement. Their impassioned works serve as both a meditation on global ecology and also as a futuristic vision, often with proposals for environmental change and recovery.
The Harrisonsâ€™ mapping â€“ on large wall panels and synthesized with aerial photographs and narrative text of Socratic reasoning â€“ dominates the exhibition space. The artworks are selected from large-scale installations of projects from the early seventies to the present. Similar in appearance to the wall panels, a floor panel allows the viewer to walk on a topographical map of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, a work from Force Majeure, the Harrisonsâ€™ current on-going series which addresses the effects of global warming on an unprecedented scale.
Earlier works, From The Lagoon Cycle (1974-1984), Law of the Sea Conference from the 1976 Venice Biennale, and Baltimore Promenade (1981), focus on watershed restoration, agricultural and forestry issues, and urban renewal, as well as providing a history of the Harrisonsâ€™ engagement with the topic of global warming.
Reflecting the Harrisonsâ€™ international perspective and the scale of their research, the exhibition includes projects that study the eco-systems of large bodies of water from around the world: the Sava River in former Yugoslavia, the Yarkon River in Israel, and the Salton Sea and the Bays at San Francisco in the state of California. Their titles often incorporate visual metaphor to define and unify the large geographical areas under consideration: A Vision for the Green Heart of Holland, Peninsula Europe, Greenhouse Britain, and Tibet is the High Ground.
Helen Mayor Harrison and Newton Harrison, Emeriti Professors in the Visual Arts at the University of California at San Diego and currently research professors at University of California at Santa Cruz, have been represented by Ronald Feldman Fine Arts since 1974. The recipient of numerous awards, they delivered the convocation address at the College Art Association 100th Year Anniversary Conference in 2011. They have exhibited internationally, and their work is in the collections of many public institutions including The National Museum of Modern Art, The Pompidou Center, The Museum of Modern Art, and The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art.
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 Harrisonâ€™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
â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦.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. Â 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 callÂ (current deadline 6 Jan 2014) for visual works for the next two editions, â€œIs there an aesthetics of uncivilisation?â€
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 â€˜form following functionâ€™, 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 artistsâ€™ 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 Longâ€™s fellow walking artist Hamish Fulton says, AN ARTWORK MAY BE PURCHASED BUT A WALK CANNOT BE SOLD. Charlotte cites Derek Jarmanâ€™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. Itâ€™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 PLATFORMâ€˜s compelling analysis of the â€˜social license to operate,â€™ the oil industryâ€™s programmes to ensure that they can continue to do business regardless of the environmental and social destruction.
On the reopening of Tate Britainâ€™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 â€œperformed rising carbon levels to the chronology of the Tate Britain re-hangâ€ sponsored by BP, paralleling the history of British Art with the increasing level of CO2 in the atmosphere. The performance started in the â€™1840â€² 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 Clare â€“ Chris Dooks drew attention to her work and has included it in his forthcoming Phd. Pennyâ€™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 â€“ 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 artistâ€™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 Pennyâ€™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 artistsâ€™ 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. Â Some art can reframe our experiences and reconnect our emotions to our understandings. Â 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 â€œproductâ€ of art. He was interested in the meaning-making between people more than the object or activity that is usually identified as â€˜the workâ€™. Â 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. Â 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.
The question of what artists do is a subject of interest for ecoartscotland and weâ€™d like to highlight two pieces of evidence.
The first is the submission to the Environmental Audit Committee Inquiry onÂ Energy Subsidies in the UK. Â This submission has been made by PLATFORM whoâ€™s strap line is arts, activism, education and research. Â PLATFORM understand these aspects of their practice as a collective to be integral to each other, and that artists should engage with public policy and politics. Â The public hearing was broadcast by the UK Parliament and you can watch it here. Â PLATFORM understand this to be part of the programme of a social and environmental arts organisations.
The second is the essay on biodiversity by Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, which although it includes a number of their texts/poems and references their images, is a strategic argument about biodiversity and land management. Â It offers a set of conceptual tools that they have used for conceiving of ways to build stability in biodiversity, using economic, cultural and conceptual arguments. Â The Harrisons also believe that it is the role of artists to engage with public policy and politics.
Cathy Fitzgerald has just blogged about the The Green Party in Ireland who have just launched itâ€™s Forest Policy (read the press release here). Â This new Policy argues that
â€œIrelandâ€™s public forests are at a point where, non clearfell, continuous cover forest systems need to be introduced and supported to fully realise the full long term economic, environmental and amenity values of Irelandâ€™s forests.â€
Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison would, we are sure, endorse this â€“ itâ€™s the sort of Policy that they were proposing in amongst other works, the Serpentine Lattice.
If practitioners of environmental and ecological arts have become expert in the critique of spatial politics and practices, should they also be able to develop and use critiques of time?
ecoartscotland is a partner in an AHRC funded workshop programme entitled Time of the Clock, Time of Encounter. This forms part of a cluster of research projects focused on the theme â€˜Connected Communitiesâ€™.
The â€˜Time of the Clock, Time of Encounterâ€™ project has been put together by:
ecoartscotland, Woodend Barn, Encounter Arts and Holmewood School are community partners.
The aim of the project is to destabilise assumptions about temporality and to activate alternatives. The group believe that the arts and humanities have particular forms of knowledge around temporality that are of potential use to communities (e.g. those directly involved as well as in the wider sense).
There are some key experiences related particularly to the arts which are known, but perhaps not activated as tools of critique, such as â€˜nunc stansâ€™ (the experience of time standing still), â€˜flowâ€™ time when the process takes over all sense of time. But we should also note Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrisonâ€™s use of â€˜the urgency of the momentâ€™, that sense of a particular time when culture is maleable, when new stories of futures can be imagined. In contrast Elaine Scarryâ€™s discussion of pain and the loss of any sense of time is also relevant.
Perhaps one of the key cultural projects which focused on temporality was Futurism, and we now have its corollary, the Slow movement.
Amy Lipton recently posted a question to the ecoartnetwork asking artists to highlight projects which are open to the public during June 2012. Her intention was to make this information available to the Outreach Officer at the Environmental Protection Agency for inclusion in a calendar associated with the White House Initiative â€˜Great Outdoors Monthâ€™.
The question is of course driven by â€˜The Time of the Clockâ€™ (or at least the calendar), but the example provokes reflection on temporality in relation to ecoart projects.
We might offer a number of other questions which might relate to clock/calendar as well as encounter:
How long did the project take?
What experience of time does the work encourage in the minds of those involved?
Ecoart projects tend to assume the wider agency of other species and systems â€“ what is their relationship with temporality?
Did any of the artists in any way attempt to use creative strategies to affect community sense of temporality?
Are these projects ever â€˜closedâ€™ in other than a practical sense of visiting them?
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.
In the eco-art world there are few folks as significant as the collaborative duo of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison (known generally as The Harrisons). Originators of a whole systems perspective in the eco-art movement, they have worked for the past four decades with biologists, ecologists, architects, urban planners and other artists to initiate collaborative dialogues to uncover ideas and solutions which support biodiversity and community development. They work within systems for systems. Itâ€™s the future folks and their ideas, while fresh, are as old as humanity.
Can we survive and thrive with beauty and grace?
This is part of a theme that really interest me. The very oldest of human concepts informing our new and unsettling future. Wednesday, June 10, 2009, for example, [sorry: mini plug] the very cool folks at The Long Now Foundation and the new sparkly green David Brower Center in Berkeley, are hosting a talk with the Harrisons (introduced by futurist Paul Saffo). Itâ€™s a look at The Harrisons from a 10,000 year perspective. Most art today will be dust or landfill, which is fine, but what did it accomplish that the Earth would notice? Was it worth the big holes dug into hillsides and the CO2 and toxic effluents, fuel and resins? Lots of people beginning to picture what this new world would look like in every discipline and long term planning as art to knit it together is essential. We need more long term art and itâ€™s not about using Archival materials.
Paintings by Chuck Forsman with essays and poems by Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, Patricia Nelson Limerick, Roger C. Echo-Hawk, Gary Holthuas, and Charles Wilkinson. Go to RSA Arts & Ecology Reading List