Sierra Nevada, 2011
(installation view south gallery)
aerial photograph, digital mapping, pastel, oil, and ink
42 feet long x variable width
If you are in New York in the next month, this is a ‘must see’ show.
January 11 – February 8, 2014
[The Harrisons’] work is a prime example of the potential of ecoart to create knowledge that promotes cultural change. Ruth Wallen, Leonardo XLV, no. 3, 2012
Helen Mayer Harrison & Newton Harrison are the first recipients of the Corlis Benefideo Award for Imaginative Cartography, presented at the Annual Meeting of the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS) on October 9, 2013 in Greenville, South Carolina.
Ronald Feldman Fine Arts will exhibit Global Mapping, an overview of the life-long work of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, pioneers of ecologically-oriented art, whose visionary proposals have influenced long-term public policy in the United States and abroad. For more than forty years, the Harrisons’ expansive practice, realized in collaboration with experts from other disciplines and often commissioned by government and art institutions, has been to map out specific geographical areas at ecological risk to encourage public discourse and community involvement. Their impassioned works serve as both a meditation on global ecology and also as a futuristic vision, often with proposals for environmental change and recovery.
The Harrisons’ mapping – on large wall panels and synthesized with aerial photographs and narrative text of Socratic reasoning – dominates the exhibition space. The artworks are selected from large-scale installations of projects from the early seventies to the present. Similar in appearance to the wall panels, a floor panel allows the viewer to walk on a topographical map of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, a work from Force Majeure, the Harrisons’ current on-going series which addresses the effects of global warming on an unprecedented scale.
Earlier works, From The Lagoon Cycle (1974-1984), Law of the Sea Conference from the 1976 Venice Biennale, and Baltimore Promenade (1981), focus on watershed restoration, agricultural and forestry issues, and urban renewal, as well as providing a history of the Harrisons’ engagement with the topic of global warming.
Reflecting the Harrisons’ international perspective and the scale of their research, the exhibition includes projects that study the eco-systems of large bodies of water from around the world: the Sava River in former Yugoslavia, the Yarkon River in Israel, and the Salton Sea and the Bays at San Francisco in the state of California. Their titles often incorporate visual metaphor to define and unify the large geographical areas under consideration: A Vision for the Green Heart of Holland, Peninsula Europe, Greenhouse Britain, and Tibet is the High Ground.
Helen Mayor Harrison and Newton Harrison, Emeriti Professors in the Visual Arts at the University of California at San Diego and currently research professors at University of California at Santa Cruz, have been represented by Ronald Feldman Fine Arts since 1974. The recipient of numerous awards, they delivered the convocation address at the College Art Association 100th Year Anniversary Conference in 2011. They have exhibited internationally, and their work is in the collections of many public institutions including The National Museum of Modern Art, The Pompidou Center, The Museum of Modern Art, and The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art.
At Carrying the Fire, which was held at Whiston Lodge last year, Dougie Strang had asked me to contribute to the discussions, and I read a section of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison’s Lagoon Cycle (1985). The poem evokes the world-wide changes resulting from the increase in heat and consequent decrease in ice. The text ends,
And in this new beginning
this continuous rebeginning
will you feed me when my lands
………….can no longer produce
and will I house you
when your lands are covered with water?
So that together
we will withdraw
as the waters rise?
The Harrisons combine poem and image in artworks that speak to eco-cultural well-being: social and environmental justice. A larger part of this poem and the associated image, a world map where the seas have risen as a result of total ice melt creating a coastline redrawn at the level of 300 feet, is here, and the whole of the book of the Lagoon Cycle is here.
The Dark Mountain project, of which Carrying the Fire is a Scottish branch, seeks ways to speak about collapse: the collapse of our civilisation, the fragile world we live in, the need for a different type of civilisation. And whilst that collapse might seem distant living in Scotland, it is a constant state for people and ecologies in other places (in the last ten years, Haiti, New Orleans, New York, Fukushima, Sri Lanka and the Philippines).
Dark Mountain publishes edited volumes of writing and visual material, providing a space for thinking and speaking about collapse, not hysterically, but thoughtfully and with care. Charlotte Du Caan has joined the Dark Mountain project as Arts Editor and asked in an introductory blog and call (current deadline 6 Jan 2014) for visual works for the next two editions, “Is there an aesthetics of uncivilisation?”
This is not simply a question of the aesthetics of desolation, of abandonment, an aesthetics well explored particularly in photography. Perhaps what we are looking for is a wider aesthetics of a different future. The Dark Mountain project, a project of uncivilisation (a term it seems they coined), suggests that it is precisely the thing we normally call civilisation that needs to be called into question. The civilisation being addressed is that which separates us, makes us think we can control and consume the ecological systems that we are in every conceivable way part of and from which we are literally inseparable.
Firstly we must understand that the aesthetics that Charlotte and the Dark Mountaineers are calling is a new sort of aesthetics, not an aesthetics of decoration, or of ‘form following function’, but an ethical-aesthetic dimension added to the fundamental characteristics of sustainability, of doing nothing that diminishes eco-cultural well-being for future generations (of all living things).
The idea of an ethical aesthetic relationship with all living things is developed by the Collins and Goto Studio in their current project The Forest is Moving. The Black Rannoch Woods are the southern-most significant remnant of the Caledonian Forest which used to cover Scotland. Black Rannoch is an incredible complex ecosystem from the bugs to the granny pines, but it is also culturally significant as a future indicator as well as a remnant of the past. It could get larger, it could join up to woods in Glen Lyon and further across Highland Scotland. This revitalised Caledonian Forest could provide a different form of landscape experience for people in Scotland. It could inform and address urban challenges such as nature deficit disorder. But the Collins and Goto Studio are also provocatively interested in technology and their work Plein Air uses a range of sensors to enable us to experience trees breathing in a gallery space mediated by audio driven by complex algorithms.
Plein Air, Collins and Goto Studio, 2006-ongoing. With artists’ permission
A key aspect of the aesthetics we might be looking for is focused on reconnecting with nature. Charlotte Du Caan highlights the work of artists including Richard Long, who makes art from walking, art which is not first and foremost about ownership. In fact Long’s fellow walking artist Hamish Fulton says, AN ARTWORK MAY BE PURCHASED BUT A WALK CANNOT BE SOLD. Charlotte cites Derek Jarman’s Garden near the nuclear power station at Dungness, as well as jewellery made from lost keys found on the banks of the Thames, furniture made from scrap metal, but also artists who focus specifically on the detail of plants and patterns of growth. It’s an eclectic mix which might or might not sell and be collected, but speaks of deep and personal explorations of the interrelations of the artist and their environment(s).
Another quite different aesthetic might be exemplified by the recent action by Liberate Tate, a group of activists and campaigners for divestment from fossil fuels by the cultural temples. Liberate Tate have been campaigning for the Tate, the national museum of contemporary art in the UK, to cease to take sponsorship from in particular BP, but more generally from the fossil fuel industry. This work builds on PLATFORM‘s compelling analysis of the ‘social license to operate,’ the oil industry’s programmes to ensure that they can continue to do business regardless of the environmental and social destruction.
On the reopening of Tate Britain’s galleries of British Art, a large group of activists created an unofficial performance, Parts Per Million, of real power and affect. Dressed in black, as attendees at a funeral, they “performed rising carbon levels to the chronology of the Tate Britain re-hang” sponsored by BP, paralleling the history of British Art with the increasing level of CO2 in the atmosphere. The performance started in the ’1840′ room, representing the period when the CO2 generated by the Industrial Revolution in Britain started to make a measurable impact on global CO2 levels. Characterised by choreographed movement reclaiming public space, voiced in the same manner as the Occupy mic-check (one person says something which is then repeated by the collective), this work speaks directly to our relationship with Nature. It disambiguates the historical as well as contemporary connections between art and industrial culture.
The final aspect that might be relevant to an aesthetic of uncivilisation is the work of Penny Clare – Chris Dooks drew attention to her work and has included it in his forthcoming Phd. Penny’s photographs are taken by her in bed in the darkness. The text that goes with the images on the Pheonix Rising website says,
I was mostly confined to bed in a dark room – for years, and years, and years. At some point, in this isolated sea, I started taking photos. From my bed, in the dark. And my relationship to my illness and circumstances took on a different meaning and found creative expression. It was my way of creating movement.
Bed Deconstructing into its elements, Penny Clare, with artist’s permission
They are not only very beautiful, but also represent an interesting point, being works made with very low energy, in her case low energy resulting from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but perhaps indicating that low energy might be an interesting wider experience. ME/CFS is a form of personal collapse and Penny’s response is a clue to a wide society experience of low energy or collapse.
All art is a form of mediation and also transformation of the artists’ experiences. We need to be careful in assuming that art has some special ability to bring us closer to nature. In the first instance it brings us closer to art. Some art succeeds in renewing our senses, making us look at the world around us anew. Some art can reframe our experiences and reconnect our emotions to our understandings. One characteristic of an aesthetic of uncivilisation might be that it incorporates a new sort of ethical dimension, not necessarily in a simplistic or didactic way, but fundamentally in the interrelation between people, art and environment.
The aesthetic of uncivilisation might also take up some of the characteristics that Suzanne Lacy attributes to the work of Allan Kaprow. He emphasised the importance of process as the “product” of art. He was interested in the meaning-making between people more than the object or activity that is usually identified as ‘the work’. Ambiguity and questioning are central to the structure of his works, and for Lacy this is a way to balance dealing with prominent issues and distinguish art from politics. Finally, the blurring of art and life in its various manifestations denies the artist recourse to the assumed authority of talent, or recourse to claiming value simply because it is art.
I hope this last point might be a defining characteristic of the aesthetic of uncivilisation.
The question of what artists do is a subject of interest for ecoartscotland and we’d like to highlight two pieces of evidence.
The first is the submission to the Environmental Audit Committee Inquiry on Energy Subsidies in the UK. This submission has been made by PLATFORM who’s strap line is arts, activism, education and research. PLATFORM understand these aspects of their practice as a collective to be integral to each other, and that artists should engage with public policy and politics. The public hearing was broadcast by the UK Parliament and you can watch it here. PLATFORM understand this to be part of the programme of a social and environmental arts organisations.
The second is the essay on biodiversity by Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, which although it includes a number of their texts/poems and references their images, is a strategic argument about biodiversity and land management. It offers a set of conceptual tools that they have used for conceiving of ways to build stability in biodiversity, using economic, cultural and conceptual arguments. The Harrisons also believe that it is the role of artists to engage with public policy and politics.
Cathy Fitzgerald has just blogged about the The Green Party in Ireland who have just launched it’s Forest Policy (read the press release here). This new Policy argues that
“Ireland’s public forests are at a point where, non clearfell, continuous cover forest systems need to be introduced and supported to fully realise the full long term economic, environmental and amenity values of Ireland’s forests.”
Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison would, we are sure, endorse this – it’s the sort of Policy that they were proposing in amongst other works, the Serpentine Lattice.
If practitioners of environmental and ecological arts have become expert in the critique of spatial politics and practices, should they also be able to develop and use critiques of time?
ecoartscotland is a partner in an AHRC funded workshop programme entitled Time of the Clock, Time of Encounter. This forms part of a cluster of research projects focused on the theme ‘Connected Communities’.
The ‘Time of the Clock, Time of Encounter’ project has been put together by:
ecoartscotland, Woodend Barn, Encounter Arts and Holmewood School are community partners.
The aim of the project is to destabilise assumptions about temporality and to activate alternatives. The group believe that the arts and humanities have particular forms of knowledge around temporality that are of potential use to communities (e.g. those directly involved as well as in the wider sense).
There are some key experiences related particularly to the arts which are known, but perhaps not activated as tools of critique, such as ‘nunc stans’ (the experience of time standing still), ‘flow’ time when the process takes over all sense of time. But we should also note Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison’s use of ‘the urgency of the moment’, that sense of a particular time when culture is maleable, when new stories of futures can be imagined. In contrast Elaine Scarry’s discussion of pain and the loss of any sense of time is also relevant.
Perhaps one of the key cultural projects which focused on temporality was Futurism, and we now have its corollary, the Slow movement.
Amy Lipton recently posted a question to the ecoartnetwork asking artists to highlight projects which are open to the public during June 2012. Her intention was to make this information available to the Outreach Officer at the Environmental Protection Agency for inclusion in a calendar associated with the White House Initiative ‘Great Outdoors Month’.
The question is of course driven by ‘The Time of the Clock’ (or at least the calendar), but the example provokes reflection on temporality in relation to ecoart projects.
We might offer a number of other questions which might relate to clock/calendar as well as encounter:
How long did the project take?
What experience of time does the work encourage in the minds of those involved?
Ecoart projects tend to assume the wider agency of other species and systems – what is their relationship with temporality?
Did any of the artists in any way attempt to use creative strategies to affect community sense of temporality?
Are these projects ever ‘closed’ in other than a practical sense of visiting them?
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.
In the eco-art world there are few folks as significant as the collaborative duo of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison (known generally as The Harrisons). Originators of a whole systems perspective in the eco-art movement, they have worked for the past four decades with biologists, ecologists, architects, urban planners and other artists to initiate collaborative dialogues to uncover ideas and solutions which support biodiversity and community development. They work within systems for systems. It’s the future folks and their ideas, while fresh, are as old as humanity.
Can we survive and thrive with beauty and grace?
This is part of a theme that really interest me. The very oldest of human concepts informing our new and unsettling future. Wednesday, June 10, 2009, for example, [sorry: mini plug] the very cool folks at The Long Now Foundation and the new sparkly green David Brower Center in Berkeley, are hosting a talk with the Harrisons (introduced by futurist Paul Saffo). It’s a look at The Harrisons from a 10,000 year perspective. Most art today will be dust or landfill, which is fine, but what did it accomplish that the Earth would notice? Was it worth the big holes dug into hillsides and the CO2 and toxic effluents, fuel and resins? Lots of people beginning to picture what this new world would look like in every discipline and long term planning as art to knit it together is essential. We need more long term art and it’s not about using Archival materials.
On Tuesday January 13th,
ecoartspace NYC curator
Amy Lipton hosted an Artist’s Talk with Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison. The artists led a gallery tour with over 100 in attendance through their new exhibition Global Warming at the Ronald Feldman Gallery. The Harrisons havebeen working together as a team since the early 1970’s and are two of the most influential living artists working today on ecological issues. They are considered to be pioneers in this field along with artists Robert Smithson, Han Haacke and Alan Sonfist and have been exhibiting artists at Feldman Gallery since 1974. Their practice is one of scientific inquiry, dialogic process, community engagement and collaboration. They work with biologists, ecologists, architects, urban planners and other artists to uncover ideas and solutions, which support biodiversity and community development. Working well ahead of the curve, their work must now also be considered within the context of relational aesthetics, though their revolutionary concepts proceeded the coining of this term by over two decades.
The walk-through of the Global Warming exhibition focused primarily on the Harrison’s new multi-media installation Greenhouse Britain, which toured the UK in 2007/8. The work consists of video, large panels comprised of text, mapping, photography and architectural models. It proposes an alternative narrative about how people might withdraw as waters rise due to sea level change, what new forms of settlement might look like, and what content or properties a new landscape might have in response to the global warming phenomenon. It also demonstrates how a city might be defended.Greenhouse Britain includes 5 components, the first being, On the Island of Britain: The Rising of Waters. This large-scale model of the Island of Britain, rests on the floor, with six overhead projectors showing animated video of the rising waters, storm surges, and the redrawn coastline. A soundtrack of three voices accompanies the piece.
The next component includes 3 panels of maps and text and is titled, On the Upward Movement of People: A New Pennine Village. This work proposes a 9,000-person village where the land around it is eco-systemically redesigned to absorb the local carbon footprint of the village through the use of forest and meadow.
Part 3: In Defense of the city of Bristol is a three-minute video that proposesa defense and salvation from flooding for the city of Bristol. Part 4 consists of 3 large-scale maps and text panel, The Lea Valley: On the Upward Movement of Planning (in collaboration with APG architects) which takes issue with the existing development of the Thames estuary. The model shows this area covered by water, and proposes redesigning the l,000-square mile Lea Valley watershed, while at the same time suggesting how approximately one million people might be housed in ecologically provident high-rise structures with solar power, stilts, and hanging gardens, while also enhancing the water supplies of London.
The last component of the group is a large architectural model titled On Eco-civility: The Vertical Promenade (in collaboration with ATOPIA architects). Wherein the civil, social, and economic virtues embedded in a small town main street become the basis of design for a 150-story, 10,000-person, vertically-designed town, based on the concept of settlement, where eco-systemic thinking drives design as opposed to typical development models. Architects Jane Harrison and David Turnbull, from ATOPIA spoke at length about this model, their concepts and their collaborative process with the Harrisons during the creation of the work.
The Harrisons then moved into the smaller gallery of the two to discuss other works, dating as early as 1974; San Diego is the Center of the Worlddemonstrating the long history of their engagement with the topic of global warming. A new work from 2009, Tibet is the High Ground, Part II: The Force Majeur is a 7 x 7 ft. map of the Tibetan plateau showing the seven rivers flowing from that plateau that nourish 1.2 bilion people in ten countries who are endangered by the rapid melting of glaciers in the plateau.
A brief question and answer session concluded the tour with comments by artists Aviva Rahmani, Betsy Damon, Joan Bankemper, Jackie Brookner and others. The event illuminated the Harrison’s artistic process and history and exemplified the ways in which their art embraces a breathtaking range of disciplines. They are historians, diplomats, ecologists, investigators, emissaries and art activists. Their work involves proposing solutions and involves not only public discussion, but extensive mapping and documentation of these proposals in an art context. The talk was documented on video and will become available for viewing, please contact email@example.com for information.
Greenhouse Britain (greenhousebritain.greenmuseum.org/) was produced as an artist-led project by Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison and principles of the Harrison Studio and Associates (Britain) in collaboration with Tyndall Climate Center, Great Britain, designed by Westergaard & Harrison, and funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Exhibited at the Rotunda at London City Hall, Greenhouse Britain toured across England in 2007-08).
Photos top to bottom: Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison with Amy Lipton at Feldman Gallery, “Tibet is the High Ground, Part II: The Force Majeur” 2009, “The Lea Valley:On the Upward Movement of Planning” 2008 Go to EcoArtSpace
Paintings by Chuck Forsman with essays and poems by Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, Patricia Nelson Limerick, Roger C. Echo-Hawk, Gary Holthuas, and Charles Wilkinson. Go to RSA Arts & Ecology Reading List