Blog

Andy Gracie - Humanity's Fate Determined by a Fly on Saturn's Moon?

Posted Saturday February 07, 2015 At 18:57PM . Artists, Blog

'Far out' is a phrase that accurately describes the place in the cosmos where Andy Gracie's ongoing project, "Drosophila Titanus", is destined. It also applies to Gracie's attempt to merge the outer reaches of scientific exploration and its rigorous methodologies, with the unbounded imagination of an artist. 

Gracie has undertaken a bold initiative to breed a species of fruit fly that is theoretically capable of living on Saturn's largest moon, Titan. His process of experimentation he employs is artificial selection.While Gracie concedes that the scientific component of his endeavor is a "virtually impossible project to 'successfully' complete", this doomed experiment has produced a very successful work of art in terms of artistic metaphor, poetry and ambiguity, the creative aspects of this project that are not constrained by professional protocols.

Gracie-drosophilia-fly

Gracie explains, "Concurrently the work embraces several interwoven narratives and concepts related to issues of species, artificially created organisms and the disquieting quest for biological perfection."

Within the context of contemporary eco art, the work is a sobering reminder of desperate circumstances that my drive humanity to seek refuge on an alternative planet, and the unlikely possibility that such efforts will succeed.

TWO RISKS: Ethical Limitations and Scientific Advances.

Posted Saturday February 07, 2015 At 17:20PM . Artists, Blog

Leonardo dissected animals, yet it is mostly now that ethical misgivings regarding artists tampering with biology is being debated. This indignation is directed at the presumptions of human dominion that are exhibited by artists tampering with biology through tissue, cellular, and molecular laboratory maniplations. Such misgivings were recently expressed on an eco art list serve in response to a post announcing the establishment of 'Biofilia – Base for Biological Arts', launched in 2012, that claims to be the only fully equipped biological lab that is operated by an art school. Its website explains its mission, "It provides artists, researchers, students and scholars with the ability to engage with the life sciences and their applications within an artistic and cultural context, thus creating creative and critical links between biosciences, engineering and the arts."

One objection to artists adopting living matter as an art medium focused on the assumption of hierarchies of life and that these hierarchies are measured against a human yardstick. Another was sadness that artists seem to manipulate life just because they can, ignoring the rights of small organisms, fungi, or other non-humans. The unknowns associated with such explorations were referred to as 'terrifying', and the absence of joy, connection, or knowledge passed down from our ancestors was described as 'distressing'.

It is not suprising that Ionat Zurr and Oron Catts, artists and founders of the SymbioticA – Centre for Excellence for Biological Arts in University of Western Australia are affilitiated with this new program. What may be surprising is that they do not defend themselves against such accusations. Indeed, they dwell upon them, write about them, and stimulate public debate about them.

Tissue-Culture--Art-WORRY-DOLLS

China: OLD and reFASHIONED

Posted Tuesday February 03, 2015 At 23:05PM . Artists, Blog

Let us place Yun-Fei Ji's  quiet protest against the construction of dam  into two categories: China past and China present.

CHINA PAST: For 2,000 years, China's villages were unchanged. Wooden buildings everywhere manifested ancient skills related to carpentry, lacquer, paint pigments, resins, textiles, etc. That ended at the turn of the 20th century when the ancient Confucian social  system began to crumble. It precipitated an assault on China's ancient art traditions and architectural heritage when China began the process of Westernization. The 1949 Communist Revolution hastened the process. Then, during the Cultural Revolution of 1966–1976, Mao waged a national campaign against "the Four Olds"—old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas.

CHINA PRESENT: China abandoned extreme communism and adopted extreme capitalism.  Johnson Chang, an art entrepreneur/curator, decided to redeem the past. He began by choosing attire consistant with his mission. He wears traditional Chinese peasant garments - a black cotton jacket with a Mandarin collar, loose trousers, and handmade leather slippers. His fierce commitment to reviving  ancient Chinese culture is also evident in an ambitious curatorial project.  Working with a group of artists, he is creating an entire traditional Chinese villagein a ruined factory zone on the edge of Shanghai. Ancient building methods that were almost lost to living memory. The village is not a commercial tourist destination. He intends to use it as a working center for traditional Chinese artists, craftsmen and musicians.

Jinze-detail

Michael Heizer's 'Land'

Posted Monday January 05, 2015 At 20:51PM . Artists, Blog

‘Land’ connotes soil to a farmer, property rights to a lawyer, commodity to a developer, voting district to a politician, habitat to an ecologist, yard to a suburbanite, resource to an economist, playground to a child, overburden to a miner, resource to a farmer, scenery to a tourist, etc. What is ‘land’ to an artist?

Michael Heizer is not typically associated with the long history in Western art of landscape painting that first appeared in the frescoes from Minoan Greece around 1500 BCE. Within this tradition, artists approach 'land' as scenery. Such artists  frame a vista and meticulously record its visual contents.  Land, thereby, is a rich repository of optical evocations. It provides ready-made compositions consisting of spaces, lines, symmetries, balances, textures, colors, and shapes. Heizer's 1971 photographic installation, "Actual Size: Munich Rotary", not only continues this tradition, it interrogates it. Heizer-actual-size

Ballengee and Jeremijenko: Amphibian Rescue Mission

Posted Monday December 08, 2014 At 17:33PM . Artists, Blog

ballengee-ghost

 

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected British Petroleum's claim that it had wrongly been forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in claims to businesses whose losses were not caused by the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, for which they accept responsibility.The justices' refusal to hear the case was a resounding defeat for the embattled British oil giant which has paid $28 billion in claims and cleanup costs. This defeat came on the heal of a September ruling by a federal judge that found BP grossly negligent in the spill, subjecting the multinational corporation to another $18 billion in civil penalties.

This news coincides with the announcement of an exhibition that represents an artist's response to this disaster. Brandon Ballengee will be exhibiting "Ghosts of the Gulf", organized by Amy Lipton, at the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries. A public reception will take place on Saturday, December 13 from 5 – 7 pm.

Both Natalie Jeremijenko and Brandon Ballengee are artists who apply their extensive training in the sciences to the critical declines in amphibian populations. Jeremineko manifests this mission in a work entitled "Salamander Superhighway", 2012. The ‘highway’ is actually an enclosed tunnel made of cast iron pipe, a material chosen because it is strong enough to withstand the weight of cars, trucks, and buses. It is laid in an orientation that matches the treacherous path of migrating salamanders as they cross a road. This occurs each year in early spring, on a rainy night, when they emerge from hibernation and assemble to search for the moist, wooded habitats they require for spawning. Because roads fragment forest habitats and interrupt their migration pathways, mortality rates are staggering. Salamander Superhighway not only provides safe passage, it ensures that that salamanders’ trip will be pleasant by piercing the pipe to resemble a summer solstice star map.

Ballengée focuses his artistic and scientific inquiry on the rapid decline of amphibian populations around the world and the occurrence of developmental deformities among amphibians.

Pride and Prejudice Against the Bison

Posted Saturday November 08, 2014 At 18:28PM . Artists, Blog

During the past half-billion years, there have been just five global mass-extinction events. For example, the impact of a comet crash likely extinguished dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Maya Lin is documenting the sixth extinction event which is occurring today. According to the renowned Harvard biologist, E. O. Wilson, 30,000 species are vanishing from Earth each year. They are all eligible for representation in Maya Lin's ambitious project, "What is Missing". This 'map of memory' presents species, places, and natural phenomenon that have vanished, or are disappearing.While Lin often features micro and macro views of the earth that are registered through sonar resonance scans and aerial and satellite mapping devices,  straightforward photographs are still powerful conveyors of the extent and magnitude of this disturbance. No computer graphics or photo manipulations are required to transmit the devastation of the bisons on this continent in the 1800s.

bison-extinction-pdf

HeHe and Claude Monet

Posted Thursday October 16, 2014 At 17:38PM . Artists, Blog

"Without the fog, London wouldn’t be a beautiful city.” These words were written by the French painter, Claude Monet. Between 1899 and 1901, the beauty of his renowned Impressionist paintings was a product of skies that were unnaturally colorful  because the city was choked by the smog of the Industrial Revolution. Two environmental scientists, Jacob Baker and John E. Thornes of the University of Birmingham, are rewriting art history by claiming that Monet’s atmospheric images of London were not artistic imaginings; they were the products of accurate observation. In fact, Monet's impressions seem so accurate that the scientists are examining them as a source of information regarding London air quality during this period. “We believe,” Thornes says, “that we can basically deconstruct the images to work out how much smoke would have to be in the air to create that visibility and those colors in, say, February 1900.”

Hehe Champs-dozone

"Champs D'Ozone"

ALERT: Beware of Reverend Billy

Posted Sunday October 12, 2014 At 15:38PM . Artists, Blog

Billy-Talen-in-airport-1

On Saturday, October 11, the Reverend Billy Talen and his crew landed in St. Louis. They texted their Ferguson friends as they walked from the gate. Ferguson was recently the site of major protests against police who had shot a young African American male who was unarmed. Billy and his friends went to the baggage claim and kept waiting for the old duffel to roll down the conveyor belt. But it didn't appear. Then they noticed that police and a sniffer-dog were approaching. The police claimed his bag!

 

What does Billy say about this situation?

"Of course it hadn't occurred to me, coming from the World Bank protest in Washington, DC, that my little duffel bag on wheels has what looks like a START-UP ACTIVIST KIT: a bullhorn, double AA batteries, elvis hair goop and make-up, "Tree Spiker" the memory by Earth First founder Mike Roselle, and spare clothes and Theo's seven foot collapsible camera tripod."

BioDigester As Art / Biodigester as NonArt

Posted Friday October 10, 2014 At 15:07PM . Artists, Blog

"My 3 Cow Biogas Digester Creates Enough Gas for 6 People" is the headline announcing a new instructional video being produced by Geoff Lawton Lawton, the brawny, charismatic star of the film series he produces to disseminate Permacutlure eco-system enhancement strategies. Good ideas get around. SUPERFLEX has been developing, promoting, manufacturing, and marketing such units since 1997. In that year,  Bill Mollison, the Permaculture guru, asked Geoff to establish and direct a new permaculture research institute on the 147-acre Tagari Farm in Australia. Since then, The Permaculture Research Institute has grown into a global networking centre for permaculture projects.

In the video, Lawton visits Permaculture Designer, Tom Kendall’s farm where his three cows supply enough cooking gas to suit a family of six people. Tom’s dairy is designed to capture all the manure (including human manure) and direct it to an underground chamber where methane gas is fermented. Excess manure is then directed to his vegetable garden or through his a reed bed filtration system.

Comparing the two projects provides a challenge for justifying the 'art' in SUPERFLEX's version that is easily met by considering the aesthetic and psychological components that are missing from Kendall's version where there is no metaphor (biodigester = luxury good), no aesthetic consideration (large scale to signify importance and orange color to maximize the unit's visual appeal), and psychological persuasion (comic books created that include caricatures of the villagers themselves discussing the merits of the units).

Academy-Superflux

Posted Sunday September 07, 2014 At 02:32AM . Artists, Blog

Introduction: Didacticism has been embraced by eco artists with the passion of past artists who adopted Romanticism or Impressionism. Unlike these historic approaches, the new Didacticism is ideally suited to documenting the severity of environmental conditions, exposing the perpetrators of environmental offenses, or transmitting strategies to resolve them.  While utopia may not appear on didactic agendas, striving for improvement does. Toward this end such artists offer statistical evidence, or strategic designs, or tactical interventions to benefit ecosystems and their diverse populations. Such tasks are not suited to soulful explorations (Romanticism) or spontaneous observations (Impressionism). They require rigorous research.

 

superflex iota

In early 2012 Superflux developed the concept for a project that epitomizes these characteristics of didactic eco art. "The Internet of Things Academy" (IoTA) is part of Sony’s Futurescapes project. SUPERFLEX is collaborating with the Forum for the Future to facilitate the generation and exchange of new information. The artists explain the unique feature of this initiative, "Much as different plug sockets or memory cards can make life difficult, a wide range of proprietary 'makes' of hardware and software are often an obstacle to creativity. We envisaged IoTA as an updating of the 20th-century telephone switchboard, enabling end-users to link different products and components, creating systems that better suit their needs."

The project will accommodate different types of users – from those with no experience to advanced 'hackers'.

The artists explain, "As part of our design process, we are conducting a series of iterative tests and small-scale experiments, to understand how various users will use the site. ...As the user starts a new project, and adds information about what they want to make / build, we are exploring ways in which it might be possible/useful to nudge them to think about not just what they want to build, but why they want to do it, and what change will result from that project."

Libraries Come Alive

Posted Sunday August 31, 2014 At 14:51PM . Artists, Blog

I am pleased to share this update on the ever-expanding projects being conducted by Bonnie Sherk. It was prepared by the artist:

I have been engaged for many years in San Francisco working to create a consciousness of whole watersheds, and in particular the Islais Creek Watershed, the largest of seven in SF.  I have been developing ecological artworks in this Watershed for decades: (Sitting Still 1-1970, The Farm - 1974-80; OMI/Excelsior Living Library & Think Park with three schools - 1995 to Present; Bernal Heights Living Library & Think Park at two schools -2002 to Present).

sherkSherk---Living-Library

Since 2002, I have also been developing the Bernal Heights Living Library & Think Park Nature Walk that is linking multiple public resources:  schools, parks, public housing, streets, other open spaces all leading to the currently hidden Islais Creek at the south side of one of the parks - St. Mary's Park - through planting a new, narrative, expressive landscape with CA native trees and understory, interpretive signage, and integrated community programs.  This Nature Walk is a prototype for what could be occurring throughout the Whole Watershed to interconnect all eleven neighborhoods and daylight the Creek where it is feasible. 

I am also proposing the creation of Northern & Southern Gateways to this Watershed incorporating two major freeway interchanges with alot of "dead", open space land and much Creek water below grade.  Needless to say, this is a long term initiative.  This work has been funded over the years by Mayor's Office of Community Development (master plan), SF Foundation (design development master plan), California Department of Forestry (2 grants for planting trees & establishment), and currently, CA Strategic Growth Council (further design, planting trees & understory, plant establishment).  To date, over 1000 trees and hundreds of understory plants are in place and some of the signage.

Telling Time the Biocentric Way

Posted Friday August 29, 2014 At 17:50PM . Artists, Blog

Allan Kaprow, an esteemed originator of Happenings, is associated with the motto, “art as experience.” John Dewey’s (1859-1952) book by this title was read and re-read by Kaprow when he was a student at NYU , as evidenced by the surviving copy from Kaprow’s library which is filled with his scribbled notes and questions.  Its contents articulated the arch principle of eco art. Dewey explains, “To see the organism IN nature, the nervous system in the organism, the brain in the nervous system, the cortex in the brain is the answer to the problems which haunt philosophy.”   

Thus, he articulated the ‘metaphysics’ of nature as a web of relations that pertained to growth processes, mechanical processes, and mental processes. This biocentric unification  replaced the anthropocentric dualism that prevailed in mainstream culture has become the refrain of environmentalists ever since, believing that when humans relinquish their separation from their physical environment, they are less likely to degrade it. 

Although Dewey never addressed actual environmental conditions, his writings helped formalize the actions of environmentalists, the research of ecologists, and the Happenings of Alan Kaprow. They all challenged the dichotomies that are entrenched in Western philosophies by manifesting events and processes in constant flux. Within Happenings, as in all dynamic systems, effects are also causes, ends are also means. This reality is not suited to paintings in frames and sculptures on pedestals.

 “Time Piece (1973),” for example

Poles Apart: Eliasson and the Harrisons

Posted Sunday August 24, 2014 At 22:54PM . Artists, Blog

Poles apart, two works of art that relocate materials from the landscape exemplify the extraordinary range of approaches taken by artists whose themes revolve around human relationships to the non-human environment. A precedent was established by the Land Art artists in the 1970s. The grandiose scale of their manipulations of the landscape are typically associated with arrogant assertions of power. Contrasting interpretations are required by subsequent transpositions and relocations of materials found within the landscape. 

 

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One pole includes actions that seem equally arrogant. In this instance, the materials collected from the landscape are deposited within a gallery. This pole is represented by Olafur Eliasson whose current exhibition at the Lousiana Museum consists of relocated rocks, pebbles, and soil that were used  to recreate an Icelandic landscape within an architectural space.

Trickling water runs through a riverbed that actually meanders through the galleries. It is surrounded by mounds of rocky earth. Indignant commentary already surrounds this work, many colleagues protesting that "Riverbed" required a massive expenditure of machine time, fuel, and labor to haul the many tons of rocks and earth needed to recreate the landscape, not merely represent it. Although I have not experienced this work personally, the impression conveyed by the images is that the work commemorates the human vision, energy, guile, and zeak required to accomplish this feat. The barren installation, devoid of any signs of life, appears like the background for this human achievement.  With a reputation of being a titan in the art world, Elisasson has previusly created the sun in The Weather Project that filled the vast void of Turbine Hall at the Tate with a representation of the sun and sky.

The other pole is occupied by Helen and Newton Harrison. In 1996 they dug up and replanted an entire 400 year-old meadow in Bonn, Germany and transplanted it onto the 1 1/2 acre roof of the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle museum. "Future Garden, Part 1, The Endangered Meadows of Europe",diverted the focus away from artistic expression. The Harrison's had a much more urgent and pragmatic motive. They were carrying out a rescue mission, since the featured meadow was about to be destroyed due to urban development.

harrison future garden jpeg

 

Monsanto - A Laughing Matter?

Posted Thursday August 14, 2014 At 13:03PM . Artists, Blog

The Critical Art Ensemble would probably agree: Monsanto's influence is seeping into distinguished settings it never intended, including a graduation ceremony! It inspired  Jim Carrey who recently served as the guest speaker for the graduating class at Maharishi University of Management (a consciousness university) in Iowa. His sly comments were greeted with enthusiastic laughter and applause. The source of this merriment was the potential environmental disasters of genetically engineered seeds. Iowa is the epi-center of this global problem.  

Carrey, "I am here today to plalnt a seed, a seed that will insppire you to move forward in life with enthusic hearts and a clear sense of wholeness. The question is.... will that seed be able to take root? Or is it forced to use other seeds which may not be ayervedic?"

Here are other occasions where Monsanto was the brunt of the joke:

Herbert Bayer - updated

Posted Thursday July 31, 2014 At 16:59PM . Artists, Blog

Evidence that T. Allen Comp utilizes the knowledge he acquired to earn a Ph.D. in the History of Technology and American Economic History is evident in the following quote that pays tribute to Herbert Bayer:"When I first started talking about this idea that eventually became AMD&ART and won a national EPA Phoenix award among others, I’d show slides of the standard Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) treatment system, basically a series of rectangular ponds, and suggest we might be able to do more. Then I’d show Buster Simpson’s River Roll-Aids, Mel Chin’s Revival Fields and the Richards/Oppenheimer/Hargraves Bixby Park – but it was the images I had from Herbert Bayer’s Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks that finally got through to the audience. Here was a real problem with a real and art-full solution – it worked to solve the environmental problem and it worked to address something in the human soul as well. I showed Earthworks empty and I showed it full of people and, finally, my audiences started to understand how we might start with rectangular ponds to solve an environmental problem and grow that idea into a 35-acre park that treated acid mine drainage, created new wetlands and a new active recreation area while also addressing a need for deeper historical understanding and a more humane connection between past, present and even future. It was Herbert Bayer’s pioneering Earthworks that opened the door for AMD&ART."

AMD--ART-1

AMD&ART was created by T. Allan Comp for the purpose of "artfully transforming environmental liabilities into community assets." Emphasis is on the word "comnmunity". Comp explains, "A lasting solution to the complex problems of environmental reclamation must be cultural and environmental. A scientific solution may clean the water, but a multidisciplinary solution has the power to both clean the water and to revive community spirit."