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, 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.
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.
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.
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Today I learned two botany lessons. The first lesson came from a veteran farmer. He told me that the first root developed by every plant points north! He said that if, when that plant is transplanted, it is placed in the ground in a manner that deviates from the original orientation, the plant behaves as if it is disoriented throughout its life. Such a minor modification of the plant’s inherent mode of operation causes stress. We humans may be clever. We certainly are willful. Nonetheless, he insisted, plants are most likely to thrive if their care-givers yield to the plant’s own ways of conducting the affairs of its life: growing, resisting blight, managing insects, utilizing nutrients, blooming, etc.
The other botany news was a featured report on NPR that Van Aken, a New York artist, planned to graft 40 different fruits on a single tree as a work of art. Further evidence that this story was considered ‘newsworthy’ is that six different friends forwarded it to me.
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 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.”
“3RV” is a visible reminder to reduce ‘residual’ waste that appears throughout the world. The three ‘R’s are lined up in a meaningful sequence, beginning with the most desirable environmental outcome and ending with the least. The first ‘R’ stands for reduction at the source; the second for reuse; the third for recycling. While recycling waste is the least beneficial, it monopolizes the attention of environmentally-conscious municipalities and good Samaritan consumers everywhere; neither seems inclined to reduce consumption or seek new uses for unwanted objects.
As an example, it is common for consumers to assume that once a book’s reading appeal has been exhausted, it is automatically reclassified as trash. To them, if a book is not going to be read, it no longer has value. Even channeling unwanted books into recycling programs is not a solution, since recycling procedures are often costly and wasteful. Landfills are heaped with the products of such narrow-mindedness.
In contrast, re-users are creative thinkers who approach a book that is not going to the read as a material object with potential for alternative forms of service. They disregard its intended function. Instead, they highlight its physical attributes: books are sheets of paper bound between covers. Their pages are modular and pliable. Stacked, these pages are as solid as a brick. In addition, books are flammable; absorb water; open and close; and fit in the hand. By concentrating on these material traits, re-users can discover multiple new employment opportunities for discarded books:
Use them as door stops; dig them into a compost pile; stack them to create a table; burn them to generate warmth and light; use the pages to wrap sandwiches or as toilet paper; grind the pages to make new paper; crumble the pages to insulate a wall; gold the pages into envelopes; tear the pages for mulch, etc.
Nicole Fournier, a resident of Quebec, designs her creative art practice around the second ‘R’.
The Beehive Collective would probably heartily agree with the Reverend Billy Talen, “Our Devil is Monsanto and our Hero is the Honey Bee.” Talen is staging his protesting antics against
neuropathic pesticides called “neonicotinoids” that short-circuit the bees’ navigation. This disorienting drug means they can’t find their way home to their hive. Talen imagines them flying round and round carrying heavy sacke of flower pollen, lost! He is waging a counter attack on their behalf. It is a new video entitled, “Monsanto is the Devil.”
Talen is planning to ‘swarm’ at Monsanto headquarters in St. Louis!
He has announced, “The Honey Bee is our teacher. We learn to swarm and sting. We travel long distances to our sweet destination. We cover ourselves with bees. We brush wild honey on ourselves and stick to Monsanto’s walls.” He reminds us that self-interest is another reason to protest the bees’ plight. If they can’t return to their hives, we can’t survive well either!
Two of the projects that have kept Michael Mandiberg fully occupied last year might be categorized as ‘social ecology’ since they both address cultural conditions that reflect crucial environmental issues.The first involves replaced individualisms with communal values.
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On Kawara died yesterday. Based on my single, singular encounter with him, I can attest that he lived as he worked – with uncanny precision and determination and individuality. Months of appeals to his gallery preceded the interview I required. My qualifications and intentions were interrogated by his gallery with CIA-like scrutiny before I was granted permission to conduct my interview.
I was instructed to arrive at his favorite dusky bar in SoHo and immediately announced that he does not permit note-taking. I never posed a single question. Instead, he launched into a monologue – an onslaught of fascinating observations and uncanny theories. After three hours, I begged him to stop, since my mental storage capacity was crammed to capacity and I feared total collapse.
Technologies devised by humans to retard or halt the decomposing of organic material have been serving a double purpose since ancient times. On the one hand, by preventing foods from spoiling, they prolonged life. These technologies also ‘prolonged death’ by preventing bodies from decaying. Thus, the evolution of techniques utilized in burial parallels the history of food preservation. The kitchen technologies that were duplicated for the graveyard include salting, pickling, freezing, drying, honey curing, flaying, bleedings, and eviscerating. They were all practiced by the earliest Mediterranean civilizations to preserve both meats and the dead.