Friday 30 August, 2013, Navigating Ecological Times, Whitechapel Gallery, London
A study afternoon of presentations and discussion on art practice and sustainability with artists Lise Autogena, Fernando Garcia-Dory and Tamás Kaszás and led by curators by Maja and Reuben Fowkes. This symposium looks at the challenges of living in ecological times and the sense in which the current political, economic and environmental predicament might also offer opportunities for a sustainable transformation of global society. How have artists sought to navigate the dilemmas of living and working in a world system that seems chronically out of touch with ecological realities and can they, through their practice and approach to the world, act as guides during times of crisis?
‘Navigating Ecological Times’ is realised through the River School and supported by the EU Culture Programme. Maja and Reuben Fowkes are art historians and curators whose interests in the field of art and ecology are manifest in their curated exhibitions, symposia and writings, which have explored key ideas and practices around green curating, environmental art history and the sustainability of contemporary art. Their work also focuses on the theory and aesthetics of East European art from the art production of the socialist era to contemporary artistic responses to the transformations brought by globalisation.
Cultura21 is a transversal, translocal network, constituted of an international level grounded in several Cultura21 organizations around the world.
Cultura21′s international network, launched in April 2007, offers the online and offline platform for exchanges and mutual learning among its members.
The activities of Cultura21 at the international level are coordinated by a team representing the different Cultura21 organizations worldwide, and currently constituted of:
– Sacha Kagan (based in Lüneburg, Germany) and Rana Öztürk (based in Berlin, Germany)
– Oleg Koefoed and Kajsa Paludan (both based in Copenhagen, Denmark)
– Hans Dieleman (based in Mexico-City, Mexico)
– Francesca Cozzolino and David Knaute (both based in Paris, France)
Cultura21 is not only an informal network. Its strength and vitality relies upon the activities of several organizations around the world which are sharing the vision and mission of Cultura21
Image left: Bidon arme (Loaded Drum), 2004 Romuald Hazoume Right: Treebike – image from the International freecard alliance for World Environment day, 5 June 2009
An exhibition that I stumbled upon accidentally a few months ago has stayed with me. On a visit to the Irish Museum of Modern in April 2011 I came across African artist Romuald Hazoume’s very thought provoking and surprisingly enjoyable installations of ‘masks’, sculptures, documentary film and photography work.
"Mon Général", 1992 by Hazoume
Romuald Hazoumè, one of Africa’s most important visual artists, creates playful sculptures and masks made from discarded plastic canisters commonly found in his native Benin (a small country neighbouring Nigeria) for transporting black-market petrol (known as kpayo) from Nigeria. As can be seen in his image (above left) these jerry cans are expanded over flames to increase their fuel-carry capacity, sometimes to excess resulting in fatal explosions. Hazoume’s work richly references mask making culture from his African heritage to commenting on his country’s predicament of being caught up in the day-to-day and often unacknowledged misery of the global fossil fuel industry. His work is engaging on very many levels and to a wide audience; from children who love the use of his found objects to adults that can see the political concerns in his work, to others who see a continuation of identity expressed in local materials made into masks. ‘Hazoumé has used the cans as a potent metaphor for all forms of slavery, past and present, drawing parallels with the vessels’ role as crucial but faceless units within commercial systems, dangerously worked to breaking point before being discarded (Tate Modern, 2007)
From across this side of the planet my own work attempts to touch some of these concerns too. My long term project the hollywood diaries to transform our conifer plantation to a permanent forest has real long term energy returns as we are very shortly to discontinue use of oil for our home heating (a common and increasingly expensive form of domestic heating in Ireland) and use our never-ending supply of forest thinnings. In fact, I was startled to learn recently from my forestry contacts, that our ongoing selective harvesting to keep the forest vibrant and encourage the native tree seedlings to flourish, will mean that we’ll have 70 tonnes of wood every three to four years from our small two acres!! Crikey!
The image on the above right, Treebike, is a pointer to this month’s global day of cycling, Moving Planet lead by Bill McKibben and his global 350.org organisation to invite us all to get on our bikes this Sept 24th, 2011. I’ve always been amazed at the huge response to these events and how often the arts help mobilise such activities.
‘Circle September 24 on your calendar–that’s the day for what we’re calling Moving Planet: a day to move beyond fossil fuels…
On 24 September we’ll be figuring out the most meaningful ways to make the climate message move, literally. We’ll show that we can use our hands, our feet, and our hearts to spur real change. In many places, people will ride bicycles, one of the few tools used by both affluent and poor people around the world. Other places people will be marching, dancing, running, or kayaking, or skateboarding. Imagine the spectacle: thousands of people encircling national capitals, state houses, city halls.
But we won’t just be cycling or marching–we’ll also be delivering a strong set of demands that can have real political impact.”
Note: some of you might be aware that I have returned to art college to undertake in-depth research on experimental film and ecology in the last year – if you want to follow along, my research site is www.ecoartfilm.com
I’ve recently created a small film sketch on how our small conifer plantation is being transformed, comments welcome!!
An Arts & Ecology Notebook, by Cathy Fitzgerald, whose work exists as ongoing research and is continually inspired to create short films, photographic documentation, and writings. While she interacts with foresters, scientists, and communities, she aims to create a sense of a personal possibility, responsibility and engagement in her local environment that also connects to global environmental concerns. Go to An Arts and Ecology Notebook
If, like me, you are the sort of person who would run a mile rather than listen to Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4, take courage and think again. This week the programme is dramatising John Christopher’s classic science-fiction thriller No Blade of Grass. (It’s kind of John Wyndham on steroids: it also became a fairly dire movie). In it, an unknown virus wipes out all the west’s staple crops, leaving Britain starving. The country quickly descends into murderous anarchy.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out why the apocalyptic meme is so strong right now. It’s there in art, clearly, in movies and in BBC remakes like this and Survivors. Interestingly, just to underline the fact that the long cultural history of apocalyptic visions is not unrelated to our current environmental predicament, there’s a new edition of the book being published, with an introduction from cultural historian and ecologist Robert MacFarlane.
Listen to the drama – this week only – on BBC’s Listen Againhere.