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"Solastalgia": An Environmental Malady of the Spirit

Posted Saturday April 02, 2016 At 15:43PM . Artists, Blog

The word 'solastalgia' has not yet appeared in any dictionary, but that omission is likely to be rectified when the next editions are produced. The word was invented by Glenn Albrecht, a Professor of Sustainability at Murdoch University in Perth. Specializing in the intersection of ecosystem and human health, he had no word to describe the unhappiness of people whose landscapes were being transformed by the damage wrought by contemporary technologies and human behaviors. Thus, he invented one. "Solstalgia" describes this new version of homesickness.

Robert Macfarlane, in an article in today's Guardian, provides a compelling explanation of the word's timeliness. He states, "Where the pain of nostalgia arises from moving away, the pain of solastalgia arises from staying put. Where the pain of nostalgia can be mitigated by return, the pain of solastalgia tends to be irreversible.....Solastalgia speaks of a modern uncanny, in which a familiar place is rendered unrecognisable by climate change or corporate action: the home become suddenly unhomely around its inhabitants." In other words, the new wor connectis ecosystem distress and human distress.

 

How To Become Dirt

Posted Tuesday March 15, 2016 At 15:15PM . Artists, Blog

The innovation is not being presented as an example of eco art. It is not even associated with art, and its inventor probably never heard of Jae Rhim Lee's decompoculture burial suit, yet it carries all the hallmarks of today's ventures into creative thinking about death as an opportunity for environmental enhancements.

This innovation is a process called promession. It adds yet another alternative to methods that are available to every living human for disposing of itself when he or she becomes a corpse. This one is ideal for the ecologically minded supervillain.

Devised by Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, who is trained as a biologist and has a personal passion for gardening. Her innovation is the culmination of a 20 years of R & D. Promession is an elaborate decomposition system that takes a body, freezes it, vibrates it to dust, and dehydrates it. It can then be used as a fertile and sanitary growing medium.

 

Helen and Newton Harrison ARE a "Force Majeure"

Posted Saturday February 13, 2016 At 15:34PM . Artists, Blog

Sontemporary art critics and historians scurry to identify living artists' predecessors and influences. In an article published yesterday in KQED Arts, a reverse tactic was taken. It identifies two artists, currently active, as art "parents". Helen and Newton Harrison were awarded the distinguished honor of being the progenitors of today's thriving eco art movement.

It is not merely their early entry into art addressing environmental concerns that is being acknowledged. It is the ambitious breadth of the Harrison's initiatives that astonish. They explain, “These are million-square-kilometer problems,” says Newton of the issues that he and Helen address with their work. “What we have to be concerned about is what is happening to the entire planet.” Helen adds. “What we are concerned about is the survival of the people and all living things.” 

Currently, the Harrisons are collaborating with a team of UC Berkeley scientists and members of the Washoe Tribe on a 50-year-long project. The Tribe, that has occupied these lands for tens of thousands of years, are contributing ancestral knowledge of the local ecosystem.

The project involves physically moving groups of plant species to higher ground to allow seedlings to acclimate to the warming effects of climate change. This investigation is part of an even bigger project, Force Majeure, which seeks solutions to two global problems - which is why they are conducting these experiments in four different parts of the world: encroaching water levels and rising temperatures.

 

harrison future garden jpegFuture Garden

Monsanto Generosity

Posted Sunday February 07, 2016 At 23:39PM . Artists, Blog

After hearing my daughter's description of the aquaponics system she and her environmental studies students at Ithaca College will be installing in an elementary school, I asked how this ambitious and innovative educational project was being funded. Her answer: "Monsanto!"

Monsanto is an unlikely donor. The company has long been demonized because of the "short term gain/long term loss" equation that their controlling agricultural tactics generate.

An article entitled "Why Does Everyone Hate Monsanto" sums up the many reasons and the many results: "Over the past decade, Monsanto has become a pop cultural bogeyman, the face of corporate evil." The company's tactics and its genetically modified seeds have been the subject of searing documentary critiques (“Forks Over Knives” and “GMO OMG“), global protests, and “The Colbert Report.” Social media has hashtags such as #monsantoevil. Monsanto has been blamed for the decline of the monarch butterfly, bee colony collapse, and increased incedence of cancer in humans....Contemporary artists factor into this indictment. Besides Critical Art Ensemble, there is this sculpture by Steven Ledba entitled Monsanto (2010-2011), for example.

Another instance of Monsanto philanthropy was in the news today. It appears in a New York Times story about the resurgence of a pre-industrial method of enhancing soil fertility by adding carbon to the soil and helping the beneficial microbes, fungus, bacteria and worms to thrive.

The article lists the philanthropies that are supporting this strategy, which includes this statement, " Monsanto, together with the Walton Family Foundation, recently put up the money to support the Soil Health Partnership, a five-year project of the National Corn Growers Association to identify, test and measure the impact of cover cropping and other practices to improve soil health."

Is it shame or is it pandering? I don't know, but it seems Montano profits are beginning to support child enducation and environmental health.

From Artistic Vision to Industrial Production

Posted Wednesday February 03, 2016 At 03:37AM . Artists, Blog

"First test-tube MEATBALL revealed: Startup claims lab grown meat will be on shelves within three years and says raising animals to eat will soon be 'unthinkable'."

With these words, the victimless meat experiment that Catts and Zurr conducted as an art project is poised to become a common commodity in supermarkets.  The firm confirms the artists' predictions that this technique can drastically reduce the energy consumed and the wastes produced by conventional cattle growing and butchering.

When art featured self-expression, the popularization of an artist's innovation would have been condemned as a violation of an artist's rightful domain. But eco artists rarely lay claim to their creative efforts because they are designed to solve real world problems and serve real world interests. I suspect Catts and Zurr are rejoicing.

Memphis Meats CEO Uma Valeti declares, "We plan to do to the meat industry what the car did to the horse and buggy." He then explains, "We love meat. But like most Americans, we don't love the many negative side effects of conventional meat production: environmental degradation, a slew of health risks, and food products that contain antibiotics, fecal matter, pathogens, and other contaminants."

Its first line of products will include hot dogs, sausages, burgers and meatballs, which will all use recipes developed by award-winning chefs.

'Our concept is simple. Instead of farming animals to obtain their meat, why not farm the meat directly? To that end, we're combining decades of experience in both the culinary and scientific fields to farm real meat cells—without the animals—in a process that is healthier, safer, and more sustainable than conventional animal agriculture.' 

A Historic Tragedy Repeats, and Again Repeats: Lead Poisoning

Posted Tuesday December 29, 2015 At 15:52PM . Artists, Blog

What is Mel Chin thinking today when he reads about the massive occurence of lead poisoning that began a year and half ago, and is just now being disclosed?

While we can all share in the distress that is afflicting the residents of Flint, Michigan where this latest devastating example of lead contamiation targeting childlren is occurring, Chin must also be frustrated, due to his long commitment to solving a form of contamination that afflicts the least defensive members of the population. Lead poisoning irreversibly thwarts children's life prospects. It is known to cause permanent problems, from aggression to stunted growth to reduced cognitive ability.

Flint's lead infiltration, that arrived via contaminated drinking waters, is described as "the biggest scandal in America, staggering in its scope and impact." Flint residents were served this toxic leaded river water even after dozens of people showed up to Flint meetings with brown gunk from their taps.  This false information was delivered by authorities at all levels of government. Evidently, the problem was caused when the government changed the source of the water from lake to river to save money. http://www.abladeofgrass.org/FIELDWORKS

Domestic (Meaning the Entire Planet) Catastrophe: HeHe

Posted Thursday December 17, 2015 At 19:13PM . Artists, Blog

Imagine an aquarium containing a rotating plastic globe, a motor to turn the globe and electronic valve which releases a fluoresceine tracing dye onto the sphere. As the sphere turns, the green dye wraps itself around the sphere, enveloping Earth and filling the atmosphere in a lurid green gas. Created by the collaborative group HeHe, the work presents an actual example of a human-induced emission in the context of global disaster, linking what many believe to be a 'cause' with its 'effect. The work is entitled "Domestic catastrophe #3 La Planète Laboratoire, 2012.

HeHe-Domestic-Catastrophe-1

A second ‘catastrophe domestique’ was entitled Plane Jam, is a site-specific art project by HeHe in which a miniature airplane flew out of the Theatre Royal in the historical centre of town. The small plane emitted a tremendous amount of white smoke, a disproportion of scale that always evokes alarm.HeHe-Domestic-catastrophe-2

Plane Jam, a site-specific art project by the Paris-based collective HeHe. It involved flying a miniature airplane out of the Theatre Royal building in the historical centre of Norwich. The small plane emitted a disproportionate cloud of white smoke. The project belongs to a series of HeHe works entitled ‘catastrophes domestiques'.

These works encapsulate the two great catastrophes that are looming prospects in the current era: global climate change and global terrorism. HeHe insinuates both of these gigantic threats into the lives of individual citizens by using the word ‘domestique’ in their titles.

 

 

 

Plane Jam, a site-specific art project by the Paris-based collective HeHe. The plan was, as promised by the press release sent out in advance, to fly a miniature airplane out of a theatre building, the Theatre Royal in the historical centre of town. The small plane was to emit unusually big — for a plane that size — clouds of white smoke, thus producing a strange and possibly estranging variation on what must be a pretty routine occurrence in a town like Norwich as in many other places, the passing of a plane. The project was intended as a next chapter in a series of HeHe works provisionally called ‘catastrophes domestiques,’ a title whose meaning wasn’t exactly clear to me, but which invoked a range of things, including a number of publicity campaigns initiated by governments and business in recent years, which sought to bring global crises like climate change down to the level of everyday experience, in the process ‘taming’ or ‘domesticating’ these crises, robbing them of their more disturbing features, as well as, quite possibly, their capacity to disturb. (One recent example is a Renault tv commercial which features various very mundane scenes – a dinner in a restaurant, a trip to the supermarket – except that all appliances featured in them – the portable PIN machine; the cash register – are powered by small combustion engines emitting small clouds of smoke.) But HeHe’s project had caught my attention also for a more specific reason, namely as a possible instantiation of a technique that I call – for the moment – ‘environmental method.’ - See more at: http://www.csisponline.net/2012/03/05/on-hehes-environmental-method/#sthash.T4yTkd3l.dpuf
Plane Jam, a site-specific art project by the Paris-based collective HeHe. The plan was, as promised by the press release sent out in advance, to fly a miniature airplane out of a theatre building, the Theatre Royal in the historical centre of town. The small plane was to emit unusually big — for a plane that size — clouds of white smoke, thus producing a strange and possibly estranging variation on what must be a pretty routine occurrence in a town like Norwich as in many other places, the passing of a plane. The project was intended as a next chapter in a series of HeHe works provisionally called ‘catastrophes domestiques,’ a title whose meaning wasn’t exactly clear to me, but which invoked a range of things, including a number of publicity campaigns initiated by governments and business in recent years, which sought to bring global crises like climate change down to the level of everyday experience, in the process ‘taming’ or ‘domesticating’ these crises, robbing them of their more disturbing features, as well as, quite possibly, their capacity to disturb. (One recent example is a Renault tv commercial which features various very mundane scenes – a dinner in a restaurant, a trip to the supermarket – except that all appliances featured in them – the portable PIN machine; the cash register – are powered by small combustion engines emitting small clouds of smoke.) But HeHe’s project had caught my attention also for a more specific reason, namely as a possible instantiation of a technique that I call – for the moment – ‘environmental method.’ - See more at: http://www.csisponline.net/2012/03/05/on-hehes-environmental-method/#sthash.T4yTkd3l.dpuf

Marjetica Potrc - Take Only What Conditions Provide

Posted Friday December 11, 2015 At 16:51PM . Artists, Blog

'On demand' conveniences that our ancestors could never have imagined are becoming the norm. Pervasive demands are regularly applied to quantity, tempo, duration, design, and quality. The principle driving many new technologies asserts the assumption that we humans can and should always get what we want. Two projects are bucking this trend by only providing what the fluctuating conditions of an eco system can supply. This means that when the ecosystem is allowed to dictate the resources available to us, we may not always get what we want. 

Of Soil and Water: King's Cross Pond ClubContemporary , London (building materials, soil, water, plants, natural filtration, 2015) was designed by Ooze Architectural Firm (Eva Pfannes & Sylvain Hartenberg) in collaboration with Marjetica Potrc. Located on a construction site, this temporary artwork is a micro-ecological environment with a natural swimming pond at its center. Visitors can take a swim in the water that is purified through a natural, closed-loop process using wetland and submerged water plants. But that opportunity is not provided for every visitor who may desire to take the plunge because the daily number of bathers is restricted by the amount of water the plants are able to clean. The project embodies the principle of living in balance with nature!! In this instance, the focus is directed to the delicate balance of conditions that emerge from the relationship between plants and water.

 

 

 

Guests? Competitors? Migrants? Invaders? Tue Greenfort Wonders

Posted Friday December 11, 2015 At 16:19PM . Artists, Blog

 

greenfort-worldly-house-2

 

Guests? Competitors? Migrants? Invaders?

How do you refer to the critters who comprise a succession of occupants of a humble shed that was constructed in the 1950s?

Black swans were the original inhabitants of this picturesque building in the Baroque Karlsaue Park in Germany? The shed was built just for them, despite the fact that they were far from their native habitat in Australia. Presumably these gorgeous birds were introduced as an ornamental feature for the park. The shed designers did their best to provide them with the wetlands they require. The shed is surrounded by water. Nonetheless, when Tue Greenfort arrived in Kassel to plan his contribution to the prestigious dOCUMENTA 13 exhibition in 20102, there was not a swan in site. The last one disappeared in the 1970s.

Since the swans were not native to the region, their disappearance constituted the elimination of an introduced, non-native creature. Was this a loss or a gain in environmental terms???

But the shed did not stand vacant all these years. The saying, "Nature abhors a vaccuum" was confirmed when wild raccoons moved in. According to the eminent environmentalist, Daniel Simberloff, even racoons are native animals. Thus, the question is complicated regarding how their presence should be interpreted. If they are invaders and interlopers, when did they acquire this status? Or, since they got to Germany before the swans, were they claiming their rightful space????

For the exhibition, Greenfort continued the line of succession by inviting humans to enter the shed via a wooden walkway.

 

Black Swan - Alistair Young

 



 

 

Simon Starling Radiates like the Desert Sun

Posted Monday November 23, 2015 At 15:42PM . Artists, Blog

The titles of artworks that are a little confusing are more likely to discourage viewers from prolonged consideration than those that are totally baffling. Simon Starling's installation entitled C.A.M. Crassulacean Acid Metabolism is an example. This baffling verbal construction sent me rushing to Wikipedia where I discovered that Crassulacean acid metabolism is an adaptation among plants to increase efficiency in the use of water. Thus, it is typically found in cactii and succulents growing in arid conditions. Specifically, C.A.M refers to the process of reducing water loss because the leaves of the plant curl up during the day, which helps them retain water, then open at night. This CO2 is then used during photosynthesis. 

simon Starling - Crassulacean acid metabolism

 

SUPERFLEX - Join a Cockroach Tour of a Science Museum

Posted Friday November 20, 2015 At 03:56AM . Artists, Blog

Would you like to take a look at contemporary humans from the wisened perspective of the planet's true survivors?

SUPERFLEX provided this opportunity by organizing "Cockroache Tours of the Science Museum" in London from 2011 to 2013. They announced, "Having outlived the dinosaurs, what will they make of our obsessions with speed, time... and burning things? Put yourself in their shells. Sign up with your friends and family for A Cockroach Tour of the Science Museum and get an inquisitive take on the human race."

SUPERFLEX cockroach

Mel Chin: From Determination to Despair to Hope

Posted Tuesday November 10, 2015 At 02:24AM . Artists, Blog

The following words appear in the title of a delicate and mysterious drawing by Mel Chin:

An endosymbiont is any organism that lives within the body or cells of another organism. This hypothesis was put forward by Lynn Margulis in 1970. It declares that communal and parasitic relationships among bacterial cells are responsible for the evolution of complex life on Earth, not competition. 

A polyp is an abnormal growth of tissue projecting from a mucous membrane.

Mel Chin, Endosymbiont Flight, Polyp Death, 2015. Graphite, colored pencil on paper. 10 1/2 × 8 inches. Courtesy the artist.

 

The drawing accompanies a bleak elegiac tome written by Mel Chin that is titled, Before the Storm Clouds of the 21st Century.

In the essay, the language of rapture and the sublime is reconceived to describe the planet's dismal prospects as if they have already been fulfilled. Chin composes excrutiating descriptions of the sordid conditions that have emerged:

Back to the Drawing Board - Marjetica Potrc

Posted Saturday October 31, 2015 At 02:25AM . Artists, Blog

Philosophy. Ethics. Aesthetics. Utility. Instruction. Each of the preceding words applies to Marjetica Potrc's building and water reclamation projects. They coalesce in her drawings. A sample of these instructive and appealing works of art follows. They address such compelling topics as the dissolution of political borders, the collapse of modernism, the delusion of stability, and a borderless society.

Art. Science. Pigs Wings.

Posted Sunday October 18, 2015 At 16:05PM . Artists, Blog

A compelling argument advocating the dissolution of boundaries separating art and science was expressed by Oron Catts in an interview with Piibe Piirma. Catts insists that artists should not merely provide clever visualisations of scientific data and theories. He, for example, both practices and promotes the inclusion of artists within the laboratory where he participates in research and analysis. But he also issues a warning against artists working with 'wet' technologies if they are not sufficiently informed. What follows is a summary of the interview as described by Piirma who conducted in 2013. She begins by repeating a question she posed.

– What is the role of artists participating in fields that they actually don’t have a clue about? Can we deal with complex disciplines without the relevant education or prior in-depth studies?


Oron Catts thought that of course we must be specialists – i.e. artists must do a lot of homework before setting foot in a lab to start working. But above all, artists must remain artists, just like scientists must remain scientists. Any kind of strange spontaneous hybrid forms is not credible ... And we must not forget that there is another form who are engineers capable of creating almost anything without any remorse!

Oron Catts is concerned about the future, despite the very vivid sense of imagination of a creative person. He has been cited much in the art world as someone who raises significant questions related to bioethics. This means if engineering takes over all developments only for the goal of profit, we will be facing a big problem – we may have functioning artificial organs but we cannot grasp their role in the bigger context of life. Questions that we are posing now are much more complex than 10 years ago.

Catts Zurr Pig Wings 2011

If cellular biologists assert that they are capable of artificially producing the smallest particles of life, we as artists must be able to think along with them with regard to what benefit this entails in a cultural and broader human context. A genetic mapping program as it is operating in Estonia, for example, is not really sustainable. An impressive work will be done to map our population fragment on the genetic level but without seeing the broader context. Our body is not only home to our own cells, a large part of life is attributable to bacteria and various other micro-organisms and it no longer depends on the human system but instead the environment and correct decisions made with respect to the surroundings that we are capable of making on a regional and political level.

In conclusion – if a pig were able to fly, several issues important to humanity would be resolved! Thus, the art project by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr (The Pig Wings) manifests evidence that allows us to dream with increasing audacity and shows that poetic questions and their interpretations may have more important roles in the chaos of the intersections between disciplines than we dare to estimate right now. Naturally, a flying pig will not resolve our future concerns but it is excellent that a holistic worldview is resonating more and more in the developments of our culture and science. To what extent we dare to participate in dreaming by risking to be labelled insane in the modern world is another question entirely. (Catts, Piirma 2013)

 

Recreating Climate and Drone Bees

Posted Saturday October 03, 2015 At 15:41PM . Artists, Blog

John Roloff demonstrated an increasingly popular approach to environmental woes when he constructed Seventh Climate (Paradise Reconsidered) in 2006. The project was located under design for I-5 Open Space freeway site in Seattle, WA. Three freeways passed overhead. The artwork occupied 7.5 acres.  This zone has been blocked from all the elements that comprise the patterns of weather and diurnal rhythms since the 1960s when the freeway was constructed.   Roloff recreated these conditions by reintroducing the specific amounts of rain, light, shadow and topographic properties existing at that time. Roloff is repeating a long art tradition by ‘re-creating’ what actually existed in the physical world. This representational work of art simulates the external Seattle climate. Everything is artificial: rain, sun and even moonlight.

 

    Roloff - Seventh Climate Paradise Reconsidered