William Shaw

Land Art Internet Coma

Thanksgiving long past, and holiday feasts ahead, but I’m already stuffed, thank you, with this years’ steady eco-art diet of Land Art adventures and COP15 coverage. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed with art-nerd-glee. There is such a thing as an information coma, I swear.

The art-and-landscape dishes started churning out of the Nevada Museum of Art kitchen with its LAND/ART symposium way back in June: that event kicked off a summer-into-fall series of lectures, performances, exhibits and tours that made NMA the best excuse to want to go to Nevada since Burning Man. Later in the year Land Arts of the American West, a field program directed by Chris Taylor, took some lucky followers on a tour of renowned site-specific installations and Land Artworks. Unfortunately, some of us had to stay at home with our Winnebagos, experiencing most of the glory over the internet.

This month, while the delegates at COP15 tried to negotiate our way into a non-binding middle ground, Ian Garrett and William Shaw told us what artists were doing to mitigate the damage. There’s great coverage of actions, protests and memes by Shaw on the RSA blog– Garrett did comprehensive exhibition coverage and interviews for CSPA. It seems the artworks that struck the most resonant chord were also political actions: New Life Copenhagen, The Yes Men’s fake press release, actions that addressed COP15’s inaccessibility and ineffectiveness. Comedian Eugene Mirman voiced a couple of unanswered questions. The philosophical culmination is GOOD COP, an alternative Bella Center installed at Gallery Poulsen Contemporary Fine Arts in Copenhagen, where everyone from Daryl Hannah to Bill McKibben got some time on the mic to make their international declarations. If the dialogue keeps running this fierce, I’m not worried. That is to say: Burp.

Go to the Green Museum

Help us choose the best art of 2009

Still from Flooded MacDonalds, Superflex, 2009

It has been an extraordinary year for art that responds to issues surrounding the environment. In the (almost) five years since we have been operating, there has never been so much great work being produced. Art never speaks with a single voice, but there has been an increasing cluster of activity around climate change, politics and the enviroment.

It’s time to compile our annual list of the best of the year. We have an embarrassment of riches to chose from. Radical Nature at the Barbican; 100 Days at the Arnolfini; Denmark’sRETHINK; Steve Water’s The Contingency Plan at the Bush Theatre; Artsadmin’s 2 Degrees; Heather and Ivan Morison’s The Black Cloud; Franny Armstrong’s The Age of Stupid, Manchester’s Environment 2.0 at Futuresonic 2009, Superflex’s Flooded McDonalds Petko Dourmana’s Post Global Warming Survival Kit or one of the Yes Men’s interventions – like their one yesterday at COP15 which proved so embarrassing to the Canadians … that’s just dipping our toes in the water.

What were your highlights of the year – and why? What have I criminally overlooked in that above list? What were the best books and stories – the best films? We want to include your comments in the piece which we’ll put up on the main RSA Arts & Ecology Centre website.

Tell us in the comment field below – or email me at william.shaw@rsa.org.uk.

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What is Arts for COP15?

Here’s some information that is being sent out to explain the aims of Arts For COP15.

Please pass it around if you can.

You may not be involved in anything that’s directly relevant, but maybe someone on your networks is.


Arts for COP15 is a web-based network of artists and arts professionals who are producing work in the run up to and during the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 09.
It is a place to:

  • Publicise arts events that relate to COP15 both on the site, and through the networks of other artists and organisations
  • Avoid duplicating work where possible
  • Share knowledge and resources with other artists and arts professionals
  • Discuss how arts strategy around climate and social change can evolve
  • Discuss how effective we are in passing messages on to our audiences
  • Research into the range and success of these projects
  • Find COP15-related material to pass on to audiences
  • Use arts to increase the noise around COP15
  • Encourage artists and arts professionals who are producing work that is about the environment over the next few months to consider using the event as a way of discussing COP15 with their audiences

Please go to www.arts4cop15.org and create your own profile.

If you would like to find out more about Arts For COP15 please emailwilliam.shaw@rsa.org.uk. Arts For COP15 is an open network created by the RSA Arts & Ecology Centre. The RSA Arts & Ecology Centre is an RSA initiative in partnership with Arts Council England.

For further information about the RSA Arts & Ecology Centre go to:www.rsaartsandecology.org.uk.

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No Really Now.

Really. It’s a common blip for the wordpress theme to get all aggressively defaulty, but hopefully now it is fixed. We hope. We are hoping. ‘Cause the blips and farts are really exhausting.

In the meantime, some really awesome stuff has been going on.

In Seattle, artist Mandy Greer has just unveiled the installation Mater Matrix Mother and Medium at Camp Long in Seattle, Washington. It’s a lot of yarn. A lot of yarn in deep dark to bright lights blues, twisting and spazzing and coughing its way through a series of urban trees. Water. On its opening night it danced with performer Zoe Scofield.

Trees are growing sideways in the exhibition Radical Nature: Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969-2009, on display at the Barbican Art Gallery in London. They’re part of a massive retrospective of environmental artwork, ranging from Beuys to Smithson to mounds of grass. Trees also paraded through London to celebrate the opening of the exhibit.   William Shaw gives an excellent overview on the RSA Arts & Ecology blog: there’s a video of the exhibition from them below. Monumental, both in the comprehensive gathering of significant artworks, and in the diverse reactions from the critics.

And sadly, the environmental art gallery Collectively Grasp will be closing its San Francisco doors in August. For those of you in the area: they’re having a closing party August 15th. Check it out.

The Bay Area Air is alternately hot, stale, and rich and creamy like ice cream. Here’s RSA Arts and Ecology’s video of Radical Nature. Enjoy.

Radical Nature | Barbican 2009 from RSA Arts & Ecology on Vimeo.

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The Fourth Plinth: a call to artists

This is my blatant call to artists to use the Fourth Plinth – particularly with respect to bringing fresh ways of exploring social issues in what you could argue is the country’s most central space of debate – Trafalgar Square. I’m not at all sure I want to see myself as the Linda Snell of the RSA but I have a similar yearning for public performance and spectacle – but by artists!

Go to www.oneandother.co.uk and press the “Register your interest” button.

It’s interesting to see that Antony Gormley’s Fourth Plinth project is rapidly becoming a lobbying prospect. The idea of using the plinth as a site for contemporary art was initiated by the RSA , no mean feat as it turned out and we learned a lot about the complexity and the ambiguities of the word “public” with respect to both public space and public art.

William Shaw will shortly be interviewing Bob & Roberta Smith for the website. His idea for the Plinth was shown at the National Gallery last year – very much referencing environmental issues, as does his current work at TATE’s Altermodern exhibition. I went round this yesterday. Bob is having a weekly conversation with the show’s curator Nicholas Bourriard and then makes a new work replacing the previous week’s piece. This latest work addresses climate change and as ever his work debunks – it puts the public into art with no affectation and no patronising – with a directness that is exhilarating.

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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.

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Drowning in information: MMR and climate

WILLIAM SHAW: This morning comes the news that measles is on the rise in the UK, predictably so as MMR vaccination rates dropped. The question is why so many people chose to disregard good information and clung doggedly instead to bad science or anti-establishment dogma. There's a parallel here with the science of climate change. From reading the media – new and old – you'd never know that the scientific community have reached a broad consensus that climate change is man-made. A Clive Thompson article in this month's Wired talks to Robert Proctor, a science historian at Stanford who coined the word antology to describe the concept of "culturally produced ignorance".

"People always assume," says Proctor, "that if someone doesn't know something it's because they haven't paid attention or haven't figured it out. But ignorance also comes from people literally suppressing the truth – or drowning it out – or trying to make it so confusing that people sto caring about what's true or what's not."

The information revolution has led to a civil war of beliefs in which half-truths are brandished indiscriminately. We drown in information; the science is lost. Just as, in the UK, the Daily Mail played a key role in muddying the waters around MMR, now  Christopher Brooker gives faux-legitimacy to climate scepticism in the Daily Telegraph. Brooker's arguments circulate on the web as gospel.

The facts one choses to see become increasingly an issue of culture, and the danger is that cultures are now digging themselves in increasingly doggedly. Example: Thompson points out that the numbers of Republicans who believe in anthropgenic global warming has declined from 52% to 42%.

Image: Still from Sandman by Patricia Piccini 2002, one of the films at Figuring Landscapes at Tate Modern, London from today 

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Welcome to RSA Arts and Ecology

We are now synidcating the feeds from the RSA Arts and Ecology Centre. 

From the RSA Website:

The RSA Arts and Ecology Centre is an organisation whose role is to catalyse, publicise, challenge and support artists who are responding to the unprecedented environmental challenges of our era. Using their inspirations, RSA Arts and Ecology aims to create a positive discussion about the causes and the human impact of climate change through commissioning, debate, interdisciplinary discourse and a high-profile website.

The RSA Arts and Ecology Centre was set up by the RSA in 2005.The centre’s head, Michaela Crimmin, says “Artists have always had a powerful relationship with the natural environment. Equally artists continually question and re-examine society’s notions of progress. We need their unique perspective on the enormous challenges ahead – on the relationship between environmental issues, and not least climate change, and people.”

For over 250 years the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress.  Our approach is multi-disciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting edge research and policy development with practical action. Find out more…