“Human activity endangers entire species, yet human culture is profoundly rooted in nature. The loss of a species is also a loss of the images, stories, symbols and wonders that we live by – to call it a cultural loss may sound too cerebral: what we lose when we lose animals is the very meaning of life…The range of animals and plants threatened by the sixth extinction is such that it menaces the foundations of culture as well as the diversity of nature. We are part of nature and it has always fed our imaginations. We face the bare walls of an empty museum, a gallery of the dead.”
“ashdenizen blog and twitter are consistently among the best sources for information and reflection on developments in the field of arts and climate change in the UK” (2020 Network)
ashdenizen is edited by Robert Butler, and is the blog associated with the Ashden Directory, a website focusing on environment and performance.
The Ashden Directory is edited by Robert Butler and Wallace Heim, with associate editor Kellie Gutman. The Directory includes features, interviews, news, a timeline and a database of ecologically – themed productions since 1893 in the United Kingdom. Our own projects include ‘New Metaphors for Sustainability’, ‘Flowers Onstage’ and ‘Six ways to look at climate change and theatre’.
Although many would consider art that has been composed within the last few years as modern, that is incorrect. Art that is being or has been created since 1960-1970 is considered Contemporary Art. Modern Art is art that was created from around the late 1860’s until the 1960’s or 1970’s.
Dubbed “Modern Art” due to the experimentation with paints and other mediums, Modern Art did away with the past reflections and considerations as to what constituted Art. One major characteristic of Modern Art was the use of abstraction. Although their works are not considered Modern Art, the Romantic and Impressionist artists of the earlier 1800’s are thought to be the pioneers of Modern Art. Although Modern Art is considered to have started in the late 1860’s, the term was not used until 1939, when American art critic Clement Greenburg coined the phrase while referring to a piece of art by Jackson Pollack.
Modern Art is also referred to as the art of the -isms. Examples include cubism made popular by Pablo Picasso, Fauvism, created by the young, hedonistic artists in Paris, such as Matisse, and Surrealism, the art that scared and surprised, by such artists as Munch.
Modern Art is not simply exemplified in paintings, but was also shown in free formed abstract sculptures, papier mache, and steel workings. Popular in Europe at the end of the 19th century, the United States did not become a center for Modern Art until after artists moved to America after World War l.
I have a Pulmonaria ‘Glacier’from Brantwood in my garden; it comes up perennially in early spring with a pale white-blue flower. When it flowers, I think of the large house and rambling garden beside Coniston Water, the former home of writer, thinker and art critic John Ruskin.
In 2001, I created a site-specific performance project there. Brantwood is a significant tourist attraction with its open house and gardens, and I wanted to make a something unusual for the visitors that unravelled some of Ruskin’s philosophies and ideas, and to both work with, and challenge, the tourist culture. So I created a ‘tour’ of Ruskin’s Dining Room.
Visitors coming to Brantwood were offered the chance (free of charge) to come to a ‘special guided tour’ of the Dining Room, overlooking the lake. I began as an ordinary tour guide would, speaking about the objects and features, but over the 20 minutes, I evoked some of the extraordinary events that had occurred in that room, using three ‘elements’: salt, money and flowers.
Ruskin had published a book in two volumes in the late 1800s about plants and flowers called Proserpina. It went largely unrecognised at the time due to its eccentric collection of intensely detailed observations of plants and their processes, woven with passionate prose.
‘The flower exists for its own sake. The production of the fruit is an added honour to it – is a granted consolation to us for its death. But the flower is the end of the seed – not the seed of the flower.’
Ruskin’s writing was rich with religious and moral beliefs, with flowers as the emblematic fulcrum of beauty and resonance.
‘You think that the use of cherry blossom is to produce cherries. Not at all. The use of cherries is to produce cherry blossom; just as the use of bulbs is to produce hyacinths.’
I scattered flowers – collected and dried from both Brantwood and my own garden – around the edge of the dining table. As I introduced Ruskin’s Proserpina, their perfume filled the room: roses, marigolds, camomile. Pinks, reds and yellows. Flowers normally contained and organised in vases now strewn over the table.
I invited the ‘audience’ to consider this: Charles Darwin had dined there in 1879. He was 70, Ruskin was 60. The discussion was probably rich, with Darwin speaking about the recurring struggle for existence, the mechanical process that had little or no reliance upon soul or will. And Ruskin passionate about his beliefs that nature did not exist by competition alone, that co-operation and ‘soul’ played crucial parts.
As the content of a conversation over 200 years old was evoked, next to the flower petals, I placed a circle of one pound coins: money laid down for Ruskin’s criticisms of capitalist ideology, of mechanisation and loss of craft. His highly influential writing on ‘value’ was laid out in his book Unto This Last. Gandhi had read this on a train journey in South Africa; it inspired him to direct action, to the Salt March and the collapse of colonial India. So into the centre of the table, I poured salt. Normally contained as a condiment, now salt was spilling over, the grains scattered on the money and in with the flowers.
At the end of my ‘tour’, I offered a ‘souvenir’ of the dining room to each member of the audience – a small bag containing either salt, a pound coin or some dried flowers. Not only did this reverse the usual order of purchasing a memento of the house, but it provoked a complex choice for each visitor: each one had value, significance, a use even, and each object was imbued with meaning. Most visitors I remember, chose the flowers.
On Sunday February 22nd, Amy participated on a panel discussion, Art in the 21st Century- Expanding the Artist’s Role. The other panelists included Joseph Meisel from the Mellon Foundation; Beth Wilson, art critic and history professor at SUNY New Paltz and Brian Wallace, Curator at the Dorsky Museum. The panel was moderated by artist Simon Draper and held at Van Brunt Gallery, Beacon, NY in conjunction with the Habitat for Artists exhibition. The gallery was filled to capacity. One topic of discussion was the reaction to Holland Cotter’s NY Times article, “The Boom is Over. Long Live the Art”and the heated response elicited from it both positive and negative. Many artists argued that they already have “day jobs” – always have had them and didn’t like being told it was day job time again. Brian Wallace wondered why it falls to the artists to be the do-gooders in communities when hard times hit? Artist Susan Magnus spoke about the fact that many artists are involved in “real world” issues whether their work reflects those issues or not -that the idea of the isolated artist, alone working in the studio is no longer relevant. One positive suggestion was for artists and creative “think tanks” to emerge. Artist Karen Dolmanist spoke about her work reflecting her core values of sustainability and contemplation as opposed to market based values. Beth Wilson spoke about the possibility of heterotopias, as defined by Michel Foucault in a 1967 lecture.
In this lecture, Foucault sketches out a notion of how certain spaces exist for the negotiation of power relations, – places where for various reasons, individuals are set aside from the mainstream of everyday life. In the act of this setting aside, there is inscribed a “web of relations,” according to Foucault.
ecoartspace has been championing ideas related to the web of existence as per ecological systems, collaboration, collectivity and sharing for nine years now and they haven’t been as popular during the boom – maybe the recession will be a good time for us? Since ecoartspace is opening a new project room next week in NYC -we certainly hope so. The Habitat for Artists Collective project is an exciting beginning to this chapter.
HFA artist Chris Albert captured the event live and it can be watched on his blog, MAYKR.