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.
Mathematical Nature Painting: Nested, 2008 by Keith Tyson
Contemporary art about climate change is still sometimes seen as the frivolous dilettante who has showed up late to what it thinks might be an interesting party.
Writing about both the Royal Academy’s Earth: of a changing world and RETHINK Contemporary art and climate change exhibitions in today’s Guardian in an article titledThe Rise of Climate Change Art, Madeleine Bunting states, “Some activists have wondered why the art world has been slow to grasp the significance of climate change.”
Actually, activists think everyone is slow to grasp everything, but anyway… It’s less that art has been slow to grasp the significance, more that art rarely produces the kind of loud kazoom that activism does – or wants it to.
To many this remains a source of huge frustration. James Mariott of Platform, which programmed the lively 100 Days strand at the Arnolfini in the run up to COP15, expresses continued frustration at the artworld’s timidity.
“The arts stumble along the fault line between representation and transformation,” Marriot said to Bunting. “But, until 50 or so years ago, all art was about transformation and persuasion. Look at Goya: he wanted to persuade you of the horrors of war.”
Almost the polar opposite view comes eloquently from artist Keith Tyson. Tyson told Bunting how he had gone to a lecture on climate change at Cern, Swizterland. To hear scientists talking baldly among themselves about the true graveness of our situation was an experience he recalls as “terrifying”. But still he does not quite see himself as one of Marriott’s more focused “persuaders”:
“[The role of art] is not to advocate solutions. It is something much deeper and more subtle – to make us reflect and rethink what it is to be a human being in the 21st century. We don’t have that much power. It’s nature that creates us. That’s the kind of education too subtle to put on a syllabus: that’s the important role of art.”
Earth: Art of a changing world was also on this morning’s Today programme, there reporter David Sillito gave a third view of what art could be doing at the party, claiming: “For those who are immune to debates in science and politics, culture – art, songs, stories jokes – can have a power far greater than any scientific paper.”
Art, Sillito seems to be saying, has the disruptive power to reach the mass unconverted by activism and reason.
You see, it’s not so much that art is even late to the party. But it is true that at times art is not exactly sure what it is doing there.
In a few days the Culture|Futures symposium kicks off in Copenhagen. The symposium, led by the Danish Cultural Institute and a partnership of arts organisations from around the world, is based on the premise that the scale of the transition to the environmental age is so massive that just waiting for the right technological or political solution to show it self is not enough. It requires fundamental cultural change, and very fast change.
It’s a chance for the symposium to start asking those pesky student union bar questions that could help us understand what, if any, art’s role in int he transition is going to be. Does the kind of activist art James Marriott has curated at Bristol actually change any minds – if so, where’s the evidence for that? Do “deep and subtle” explorations make any difference outside a gallery or theatre? Is art really a shortcut to the unconvinced? Do we even have the time to be “deep and subtle?”
Apologies for the hiatus over the last few days: swine flu.
Click here to read about what PLATFORM and Arnolfini are doing this season to help fight climate change. 3 October – 29 November, 2009: discussions, courses, installations and more. www.arnolfini.org.uk
Countdown to Copenhagen at the Arnolfini galleryThe 100 Days exhibition at the Arnolfini gallery in Bristol marks the countdown to the Copenhagen climate conference in December by hosting a series of exhibitions, performances and talks highlighting climate change, social justice and art and activism
PLATFORM: ‘C Words’ – 3 Oct-30 Nov
at Arnolfini’s ‘100 Days’ to Copenhagen – 29 Aug – 6 Dec
Marking the countdown to the 15th United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 15), opening in Copenhagen on 7 December, the artist-activist group PLATFORM and their collaborators are presenting ‘C Words: carbon, climate, capital, culture. How did you get here and where are we going?’ from 3 October – 29 November at the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol.
The PLATFORM events are the centrepiece to the Arnolfini Gallery’s 100 Days, from 29 August to 6 December, a season of exhibitions, performances, screenings and debate around issues of climate change, social justice and the relationship between art and activism.
C Words is a two-month investigation into carbon, climate, capital and culture. PLATFORM and their collaborators will hold over 25 events, installations, performances, actions, walks, courses, discussions and skills-sharing.
C Words cross-examines the present and looks to the next two decades. It investigates how everything from carbon offsets and transport, to racism and bank accounts play their part in the carbon web. How will culture be produced in a low ene rgy future? Can we imagine our way from here to there?
PLATFORM members will be in residence at Arnolfini throughout the project. The season will build towards a public departure to COP 15.
Seven new commissions are part of C Words:
Ackroyd & Harvey: The Walking Forest – In the spirit of slow travel, people are invited to bring a small tree or sapling to add to The Walking Forest, Ackroyd & Harvey’s Bristol time-based artwork.
African Writers Abroad: All Change! – African Writers Abroad (PEN) presents new commissioned work and workshops from poets Dorothea Smartt and Simon Murray on climate change and justice.
Hollington & Kyprianou with Spinwatch: Adams and Smith – Adams and Smith are auctioneers of late capitalist period artefacts, with provenance and history provided by Tamasin Cave and Spinwatch. Live auction included.
Institute for the Art & Practice of Dissent at Home’s Half-Term Holiday – Two adults and three children will set up a homemade activist cell to take action against Carbon, Climate Chaos and Capitalism. Join them for their half-term holiday.
Trapese Collective: Experiments against Enclosure – Tools to reclaim the Commons – The Trapese Collective present dayschools, film nights and an installation for your participation.
Virtual migrants: The Centre Cannot Hold – Multimedia installation, live dialogues and music performances explore the racial underpinnings of climate change, and the potential for a super-holocaust in the global south.
Also collaborating are Amelia’s Magazine, Art Not Oil, Carbon Trade Watch, The Corner House, Feral Trade, FERN, Greenpeace, Live Art Development Agency, new economics foundation & Clare Patey, Sustrans – Art & the Travelling Landscpae, Ultimate Holding Company and other artist and activist ‘co-realisers’.
Arnolfini’s ‘100 Days’
The title ‘100 Days’ refers back to the project for Documenta V (1972) by Joseph Beuys, the influential artist/activist, as well as aiming to give a sense of urgency in the lead-up to the Copenhagen conference. In addition to the PLATFORM events, the season includes exhibitions by Ursula Biemann, Ocean Earth and Barbara Steveni of the Artists Placement Group, and an ongoing Speakers Corner.
www.100days.org.uk has details of events and how to get involved, either by attending or posting news of other events and comments.
‘C Words: carbon, climate, capital, culture. How did you get here and where are we going?’
Sequelism Pt 3: Possible, Probable or Preferable Futures opens this weekend at the Arnolfini in Bristol featuring work by Heman Chong, Haegue Mariana Castillo Deball, Graham Gussin, Victor Man, Francesc Ruiz, Jordan Wolfson and Haegue Yang, with events by Neil Cummings & Marysia Lewandowska, Roy Ascott and Will Holder
Via Latitudes blog, here are images of the installation in progress: