How do you illustrate complexity?

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Declaration of the Occupation of New York, 2011, Rachel Schragis (links to artist)

My Attempts at Being Green, Rachel Schragis

Artist Rachel Schragis created the Flow Chart of the Declaration of the Occupation.  The media keep criticising the occupation movement for not having a clear message.  That’s the media’s problem (always wanting to simplify everything, one message).  What Schragis has done is capture the complexity of issues underpinning questions of social and environmental justice.  She has succeeded in representing unintended consequences.  She has mapped the externalities associated with corporate greed.  The work below addresses the personal version of these challenges.

Heath Bunting explores issues of identity and also uses flow charts and diagrams in his STATUS project.

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.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
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Paul Kingsnorth’s new millenarian literary movement

Paul Kingsnorth, poet, environmentalist, journalist and author of Real England, attempts to kick off a ground-breaking new literary movement this month, The Dark Mountain Projectwith social-web frontiersman Dougald Hine. Its premise is a radical one;  if I represent it right, it’s that we are on the brink of catastrophe and it’s art’s reponsibility to face that, and to reflect it in its output. We have been telling the wrong stories. It is time to start telling the right ones:

We don’t believe that anyone – not politicians, not economists, not environmentalists, not writers – is really facing up to the scale of this. As a society, we are all still hooked on a vision of the future as an upgraded version of the present. Somehow, technology or political agreements or ethical shopping or mass protest are meant to save our civilisation from self-destruction. Well, we don’t buy it.

Kingsnorth and Hine have written a remarkable manifesto that’s well worth reading; it’s erudite, lyrical and, most of all,  apolcalyptic in an almost William Blake-ish kind of way, seeing civilisation treading on a “thin crust of lava” as the environmental catastrophe looms. Its eight principles of “Uncivilisation” include the following:

3. We believe that the roots of these crises lie in the stories we have been telling ourselves. We intend to challenge the stories which underpin our civilisation: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality, and the myth of our separation from ‘nature’. These myths are more dangerous for the fact that we have forgotten they are myths.
4. We will reassert the role of story-telling as more than mere entertainment. It is through stories that we weave reality.

There is a growing debate here at the RSA Arts & Ecology Centre about the role of apocalyptic art in changing minds. We are fond of quoting Raymond Williams here, “that to be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing”. If you want people to change, you have to offer them a way to a future that inspires them, rather than terrifies them. Pessimism convinces nobody.

But what if that act of making hope possible only bluntens the urgency of the situation, dissipates the urge to action?

Kingsnorth and Hine are looking for people to rally to the flag.

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Stuff gets Real.

The now-classic video Story of Stuff, a basic breakdown of our modern industrial-consumer system, recently came under fire on the now-classic Fox News Channel. Both Mike Maniates, who is on the Story of Stuff advisory board, and Christopher Horner, author of  The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming, took questions from reporter Jane Skinner for a segment called “Happening Now.”

Horner defined the video as “terrorizing children,” (not surprising, since he’s drawn thin parallels between the German head of the Green Party and Hilter) while Maniates defended it as a valid examination of our culture. Some 7,000 schools and churches have ordered copies of Story of Stuff, and though you can barely catch them through all the Fox-newsy shouting, Skinner attempts to make some valid points about conversation and context. Not spouting dogma, as it were.

Dang straight, skulls and crossbones are scary. So are most flame retardants. So is much of modern resource management. So, to many, is Fox News. Whether Story of Stuff is an effective cultural impetus to move us toward a more gorgeous green utopia or not, it’s definitely bringing the conversation into the public sphere. That’s nothing short of awesome.

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