This year’s climate camp turns out to be on Blackheath. They’ve been pouring onto the site for the last two hours after the secret location was finally disclosed. Reading Twitter gives you a great sense of the infectious drama of the moment, and why it has such momentum.
Why Blackheath? Proximity to the city? Joan Ruddock’s constituency – Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Department of Climate Change? Or, as the rapidly updated Wikipedia entry for Blackheath suggests, because this was the site of the Peasant’s Revolt. Let’s hope it’s not the latter as that particular popular movement was spectacularly sold down the river.
This quote from Olafur Eliasson put me in mind of the New York Waterpod project I mentioned last week. “Water,” says Olafur Eliasson in the excellent TED Talk he did last month, “has the ability to make the city negotiable.” In a talk calledPlaying with space and light, he was discussing his Green River project, in which he dyes the water of rivers flowing through a city a bright, startling, green, cajoling citizens to notice the flows and eddies around which their cities grew up, and asking them to reconsider their relationship to water. (Just in case you’re alarmed, the green is non-toxic).
Eliasson is that rare thing, an artist who is beautifully articulate not only in his work, but in what he says about his work. He talks about how his art is about changing people’s relationship with what they see, and about with how a piece of work allows the viewer to renegotiate his or her position in relation to what they see. This, he says, means that art has a role in democratising the space that art exists in:
What the potential is, obviously, is to move the border between who’s the author and who’s the receiver, who’s the consumer and who has the responsibility for what one sees. I think there is a socialising dimension in moving that border; who decides what reality is.[…] What consequences does it have when I take a step? Does it matter if I am in the world or not? Does it matter whether the actions I take filters into a sense of responsibility? Is art about that? And i would say yes, it is obviously about that. It is obviously about not just decorating the world and making it even better or even worse, if you ask me… it is obviously about taking responsibility.
Tucked away in the talk is the notion that this kind of art embodies not just a political position, but a unique one:
Art addresses great things about parliamentric ideas – democracy, public space, being together, being individual,… How do we create an idea which is both tolerant to individuality and also to collectivity without polarising the two into opposites? Of course the political agenda in the world has been very obsessed with polarising the two against each other in different, very normative ideas, and I would claim that art and culture – and this is why art and culture are so incredibly interesting in the times we are living in now – has proven that one can create a kind of space which is both sensitive to individuality and to collectivity.
At the very least this seems to be a nice distillation of the intentions of much of the best contemporary art…
Photo: Green river by Olafur Elliason, Moss, Norway, 1998
Excerpt from centraljersey.com: “Off the Grid, on the Fringe” by Ilene Dube, August 26, 2009
Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental, the creators of The MeLTING Bridge, Flamingo/Winnebago,¡El Conquistador!, and Red-Eye To Havre De Grace & Lost Soles, present a new theater festival to be powered entirely by renewable energy. Titled Off The Grid, the festival will take place concurrent with the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe and will feature three world premiere theater works and a hybrid performance concert. Off The Grid will be powered by solar panels, a wind turbine and bicycles and will take place in the heart of Old City, Philadelphia, at the Painted Bride’s new studios at 230 Vine St. The festival was conceived by Thaddeus Phillips and Tatiana Mallarino, co-artistic directors of Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental.
The program includes new work from Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental, New York based Magician Steve Cuiffo, Miro Dance Theater and a concert by the Mural & the Mint. Each work will be powered by a different renewable source — the only thing these artists promise to be plugging into is creativity.
Mr. Phillips, co-organizer of the festival within a festival, says “After creating two works that dealt with current environmental problems — Flamingo/Winnebago and The Melting Bridge — we wanted to create a work that explores solutions to those problems. We thought we would try something that has never been done before: create a visual theater work without plugging into the power grid. Realizing that it could be virtually impossible, we took it to the next level and decided to make a whole festival of it, and challenge other artists to create work “Off the Grid,” to make and perform multimedia pieces using only sustainable energy.”
Performances will rotate on a nightly basis. Mr. Phillips will perform in Microworld(s) Part 1, a world premiere and solo theater work set in Tokyo and played within a 3-foot-by-3-foot-by-8-feet white box. The play is about a man named Milo who is fascinated by Nikola Tesla, the comedian Bill Hicks and Fumio, his rubber duckie. Milo does not see the need to leave the self-contained world he lives in until he loses everything. This live action piece claims to be the first theater work constructed only out of recycled materials and special low-energy LED lighting.
Digital Effects will be powered by solar panels, Generate. Degenerate. will be powered by bicycle and the Mural & the Mint will be powered by solar, bike and “weza.”
…talking of taking art to the waterfront, this looks like fun. Hinterland 2009, a season of site-specific projects alongside the River Trent, Notts, curated by Jennie Syson opens on Friday night with a cycle-powered cinema located somewhere on the banks of the river. Annexinema features a mixture of new and old work by John Cage, Margaret Tait, Fernando Sanchez, John Smith, Mischa Leinkauf & Matthias Wermke, Chris Marker, John Chapman & Frank Simeone, Ben Rivers, George Barber, Emily Richardson, Matt Hulse & Joost Van Veen plus live music from Zelig. The event is preceeded by a foraging walk and talk led by artist/activist/gardener/cook Rebecca Beinart.
For lovers of sustainability communications, viewing this award program (and past year recipients) doesn’t get much better!
Check it out: The GREEN AWARDS™ recognizes excellence in 16 categories in 2009. The awards set out to illustrate the crucial role that needs to be played by communications in informing people about green issues, products and lifestyle choices.
As American writer Barbara Ehrenreich suggests in her book Bright-Sided, it’s now OK to say that optimism may be over-rated. If a relentless economic positivism led to the economic crash, I’d also say that an instituational inability to say how dire things really are environmentally must now be seen as one of the contributing factors to why the public are reluctant to back the kind of radical measures we need from COP15.
In private, climate experts often admit they’re scared silly about what the future’s going to be like; in public they maintain a more positive face. There are, of course, very good reasons for this. Conventionally, we assume that people don’t change unless there’s something in it for them. But what if the climate crisis doesn’t fit this paradigm for cultural change? What if we actually need to start to panic to achieve change?
A slightly comic tussle took place on Monday in the Guardian between two people – both climate campaigners – who hold opposing views on this. The new British bugle blower for looking apocalypse in the face has been the writer and activist Paul Kingsnorth, who, along with his friend Dougald Hine, established the anti-modernist Dark Mountain Project to urge us to embrace the end of civilisation, (see this blog from a few weeks ago). Kingsnorth’s radical view is that civilisation is the disease, not the cure. Any efforts civilisation makes to combat climate change are doomed to failure, and will only prolong the descent.
Kingsnorth and the Guardian’s climate rottweiler George Monbiot went to head on this, Kingsnorth belittling Monbiot’s efforts to browbeat us to reform ourselves:
We still believe that we will be able to continue living more or less the same comfortable lives (albeit with more windfarms and better lightbulbs) if we can only embrace “sustainable development” rapidly enough; and that we can then extend it to the extra 3 billion people who will shortly join us on this already gasping planet.
It’s an odd situation for Monbiot to find himself in. Monbiot is more accustomed to coming under attack from the denial-bots of the conspiracist fringe. Now activist Kingsnorth himself is attacking his friend Monbiot forbeing a denialist. You have to feel sorry for the man. Interestingly poet and author Kingsnorth comes at the issue as much as an artist as a camaigner – and as noted earlier – art often scratches at the apocalyptic door.
Monbiot’s obvious defence is to point out that Kingsnorth’s millenarianism has a lurid seam of misanthropy to it:
I note that you have failed to answer my question about how many people the world could support without modern forms of energy and the systems they sustain, but 2 billion is surely the optimistic extreme. You describe this mass cull as “a long descent” or a “retreat to a saner world”. Have you ever considered a job in the Ministry of Defence press office?
Monbiot is right of course. Kingsnorth’s world is a dark one. It’s just whenever I hear Monbiot arguing like this, there’s something about the primness of his tone, the convolutions of his clauses and the use of words like “surely” that always makes me think of Miss Jean Brodie.
But despite the misanthropy of Kingsnorth’s position, he has hit on a real achilles heel of the climate change movement. It’s never healthy to believe one thing and say another.
By the by, Kingsnorth himself refers to Monbiot’s love of McCarthy’s The Road as evidence of Monbiot’s own millenarianism. Kingsnorth and I have been disagreeing about that book (see comments); he doesn’t think it’s about climate change at all. It’s one of those arguments where the only solution will be to pull McCarthy off the sidewalk and ask him himself:
EDIT. Coincidentally, Bill McKibben and Steven Colbert also danced around the same maypole on the Colbert Report, with Cobert adopting a slightly lighter form of millenarianism: “It’s game over. We should all have end of the world sex, right now. We’re all going to die!”
When Radical Nature opened, some critics bemoaned the fact that the exhibition was cloistered away from both the environment it discussed, and the audience that it deserved to reach. EXYZT’s wonderful Dalston Mill project was a clear answer to those critics
In New York, The Waterpod – pictured above – has been slowly circumnavigating Manhattan. Conceived by artists Mary Mattingly and Mira Hunter as a literal platform for art, it brings New Yorkers to the water that surrounds their island. Like Dalston Mill it provides not only a space for performaces, artworks and discussions, but it creates a triangulation between food, community and environment. This live-aboard ark grows at least some of its own food and includes its own henhouse.
For a taste of what it’s like to live and work aboard The Waterpod, try this NY Times article, which reveals that the floating pod was built from a variety of donated materials, including metal railings used in a Broadway production of Equus, and foliage print wallpaper recycled from the US soap As The World Turns.
It’s currently moored at Pier 5, Brooklyn Bridge Park but will be moving on to Staten Island after the 17th. Have any readers visited The Waterpod? Did it work?
The signature on an email from Terry Hazen is a paragraph long. It has to be- it lists a multitude of titles. He’s the Head of the Ecology Department at the University of California at Berkeley. The Head of the Center for Environmental Biotechnology. The Lead of Microbial Enhanced Hydrocarbon Recovery at the Energy Biosciences Institute. The list goes on. Hazen is, therefore, the perfect man to talk to about our current attempts to correct massive ecological f-ups, and what that means for artists.
Hazen’s world is inhabited by mircoorganisms, or, as he colloquially refers to them, “bugs.” There are bugs that eat pollution, bugs that chemically reduce uranium, bugs that feed on hydrocarbons. ” I still feel a lot of people are amazed that there’s a bug out there that can degrade just about anything, ” he says. While the idea of the “magic bug” is sometimes helpful to the remediation industries, there is, he cautions, no bug without context.
“It’s so easy to sell bioremediation, ” he says. “It can completely degrade contaminants in laboratory settings, (but) in the environmental settings it may not work as effectively, or make it worse.” He cites the example of arsenic, which actually becomes more soluble– and likely to contaminate the water table– when reduced.
“Some companies will go for the quick fix, not realizing that in cleaning up one contaminant, they exacerbate three others, ” he laments. “They often don’t look for a complete solution.” Hazen’s work is dedicated to more of a “complete systems biology” approach. Sometimes, he argues, the best thing for a polluted site is to just leave it alone. You can see one of his excellent and comprehensive lectures here.
While navigating the maze of invisible bug-land, Hazen keeps environmental art within reach. On his office wall hangs a piece of artwork by a 10-year old girl, depicting storks in the Danube river riparian zone. He obtained it while in Serbia for an Environmental Remediation meeting.
“Art that educates or just inspires people to reuse, recyle, reduce, and remediate, to make our land and water less toxic and less toxic for generations to come makes us all better doesn’t it,” says Hazen. He would know: he spends much of his time managing the methods that attempt to clean up our mistakes.
Check out these amazing ONLINE sustainable design classes from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) . If you want to learn more about sustainability, design and art, there are no more excuses!
Many thanks to everyone who came to the event, ran around forming adaptive eco-systems and generated new design possibilities. (And sorry to those who couldn’t get in because the event sold out).
Biomimicry is a new discipline that consciously emulates life’s genius.
It’s a design principle based on the genius of nature. The idea is not simply to utilise the natural world, but to learn from the exceptional aspects of its design.
It is the most radical approach to problem solving I have heard of.
And when architect Michael Pawlyn (FRSA) told me about it, I thought: ‘ Hmmm, it’d be good to learn how that works – not just ‘hear about it’ as something interesting – it would be great to understand the principles of it, then find ways to apply it.’ Then I drifted off into a daydream about the possibility of applying biomimicry in the arts….
So Michael has been developing games that can teach the principles of how biomimicry works – and we g0t to try them out with him and ecologist Dusty Gedge (FRSA).
The event is part of the Barbican exhibition Radical Nature – Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969–2009.
The genius behind the genius of biomimicry is Janine Benyus – she is an Ada Lovelace for the 21st century. If you want to see a short introduction to Benyus’s work, her latest TED talk is now online.