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From Sun Dials to Robots

Amy Franceschini applies her knowledge of sophisticated technologies to undermine contrasting relationships between humans and the technologies we have devised. On the one hand she nullifies the possibility that as humans become increasingly dependent upon them, these technologies will become our masters instead of our servants, entities to be feared instead of exploited. franceschini---photo-robot

“Photosynthesis Robot”, for example, is a real, functioning robot. However, instead of asserting its independence, Franceschini focuses on the robot’s reliance on human tending for its survival. Despite the fact that the robot even generates its own energy by conducting photosynthesis, it is totally dependent upon humans to provide its requirements for ‘survival’: water, light, and space. The duty this robot is designed to perform fulfills the most utopian vision of robotic service. This one conducts a chore that is described as oppressive and dangerous, but benefits both society and the environment. It chases after SUV’s capturing CO2 emissions! Thus, this robot’s capabilities will not threaten human supremacy and control. 

Jackie Brookner Now. Herbert Bayer Then.

The legacy of Herbert Bayer is being maintained and expanded by Jackie Brookner. Like Bayer’s Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks, Brookner’s Fargo Project will be sited in a stormwater detention basin that prevents flooding from rainstorms. Brookner, Fargobruckner-fargoIn both instances, this basin is transformed into a multifunctional neighborhood commons. However, Brookner’s inclusive manner of accomplishing this goal diverges from the singularity of the modernist master’s approach. Her method reflects current art practices in which artists invite community involvement in the creative process.  Brookner’s work is ultimately collaboratory. She has invited representatives of the city of Fargo, its residents, and local artists to help devise a program and design for the site.

As a result, the project is certain to reflect Fargo’s cultural diversity. Its population includes Native Americans from many different nations and immigrants from over 20 countries. Members of all these groups are joining together and pooling their ideas about how to feature stormwater as a shared community resource. Brookner describes this ambitious project by stating, “Over several months our ecological artist team and other volunteers engaged over 400 people of all ages and backgrounds in the initial visioning outreach.

Artists’ Tools and The Cultural Messages They Convey

In ancient times, finger nails, teeth, fingers, and tongues comprised the anatomical tool chest that performed every life-sustaining function. Humanity might have remained dependent upon this set of tools were not for the existence of  human cognition which soon invented ways to expand the tool kit with sticks, stones, plant fibers, hides, sinew, and bones. The work performed by tools received a massive boost when the mind’s analytic powers discovered mechanics, levers, screws, gears, wheels, and pulleys.  Even greater tooling potentials were unleashed when the mind’s inventive powers harnessed non-human sources of power. That is when cattle, water wheels, wind mills, steam engines, internal combustion engines, electricity, jet engines, rocket technologies, and nuclear power were successively enlisted to serve the human demand for tools. By augmenting both precision and power, these energy upgrades extended the range of human manipulation both microscopically and macroscopically. Today, robots assist micro-surgery, rigs drill two miles into the earth, cranes lift massive weights into the air. The stirring narrative of humanity’s tooling history can be summarized by comparing the carving potential of finger nails, stone flakes, metal blades, power saws, dynamite, sand blasting, pneumatic chisels, hydraulic excavators, and laser beams.

A Few Words About a Big Subject: Art and Material Ethics

STRATEGIES FOR ACQUIRING

STUDIO ART SUPPLIES

       –    RECIPE – several ingredients are combined in precise proportions and manipulated, either ground, distilled, heated, evaporated, stirred, etc.

       –    FORMULA – laboratory concoction with ingredients that have been removed from their original context and are no longer distinguishable

      –    PRESCRIPTION – use of art medium generating strategies that simultaneously cure an environmental malady

 

        ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF ART MEDIUMS

      –     BAD = purchasing most commercial art products. 

      –    LESS BAD = purchasing products manufactured to minimize waste, reduce toxic by-products, and avoid depleting resources.

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Beautifying Cities with Unwanted Weeds and Discarded Textiles.

When Nicole Fournier established InTerreArt, I wonder if she consciously chose a title that is resonant with layered meanings.

“Inter-Art” (integrated arts) is a term that refers to the merging of formerly distinctive art forms. Fournier combines installation, performance, and social practice. However, she expanded the typical application of the term ‘inter’ in a work entitled “Companions and Transformations“. Instead of combining diverse forms of artistic expression, she combined two kinds of human disdain: weeds and discarded textiles.
http://nicolefournier.blogspot.com/Fournier---Emballe-Toi-201

Fournier assigns value to each. The plants are actively ‘rewilded’. The process involves creating protective containers so that plants can thrive on the cement surfaces that prevail in urban settings. She accomplishes this by gathering discarded coats, covers, sheets and other used textiles, using them to create protective containers so that the perennial root systems of wild edible plants can prosper.

“InTerreArt” (terre = terra= earth) provides an opportunity to add two additional meanings to her enterprise. On the one hand, terre indicates that earth (soil) is key to Fournier’s installations, performances, and social practices. She emplys earth as a medium of transformation and productivity.

Eco Art Criticism. Eco Art History

The arts are making increasingly important contributions to envisioning sustainability and implementing the means to attain it.  In order to fulfill this challenging environmental mandate, these artists are boldly revamping art’s traditional themes, mediums, aesthetics, processes, roles, and skills. In the process, aspects of art that have been cherished for hundreds of years are being discarded as irrelevant and replaced with unprecedented alternatives.
 
Eco artists may, for example, disrupt conventions in art by rejecting rarity, craftsmanship, authenticity, stylistic consistency, and aesthetic appeal in order to defer to natural forces. They may adopt nature’s manner of recycling materials by selecting mediums that are materially unstable, or they may disregard or reject the intention to produce an enduring art work in order to harmonize with such dynamic conditions as growth and decay, weather, and geological cycles. Furthermore, eco artists may replace static arrangements of discrete objects in space to envision the vibrant interconnectedness of all living beings.  Ultimately, eco artists’ concern for the welfare of Earth systems and their diverse populations subsumed the age-old association of the artist with self expression.

Eco Art: Interdiscipline. Interaudience.

“Interdisciplinary” is an acknowledged component of eco art. It factors significantly in eco art discourse where the term is applied equally to the thematic, procedural, and material components of eco art. In each of these instances, eco art is leaping across conventional art borders and landing on turf that had formerly been claimed by fields as diverse as waste management, agriculture, biology, and energy production.

Less attention has been paid to an equally significant ‘inter’ component of eco art. That is “interaudience,” the diversity of recipients for this genre of art. Eco art’s remarkable inclusiveness is decisevly transforming the nature of contemporary art practice and contemporary art criticism.

Brandon Ballengee provides a case-in-point. Since January, nine media outlets have requested interviews with him. They include:

Marina Zurkow Offers a Taste of Hydrocarbons

Outside the Work: A Tasting of Hydrocarbons and Geologic Time” dinner. This recent headline in the Houston Chronicle announced that Marina Zurkow served approximately 50 guests a seven-course dinner hosted by the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences at Rice University.hydrocarbon dinner

zurkow-hydrocarbon-dinner

The Gulf Coast location provided most of the ingredients. It included jellyfish and Japanese knotweed, both invasive nuisances that are known to contain health properties.

Zurkow commented,”It’s a trope in foodie culture: Eat your enemies, the invasive species, to get rid of them.”

Each of the seven courses (prepared for the event by Lucullan Foods) was served on a different reusable placemat. Dishes from previous courses were piled onto a centerpiece sculpture of Styrofoam packing materials. With each course, diners peeled off layers of reusable place mats that doubled as a geology lesson.

Zurkow explains, “I’m not blaming anybody but looking at the role of petroleum usage in anthropogenic changes.” 

Averters of a Water Crisis: Regulators, Designers, Users. Artists.

“I tied water in plastic bags to create the impression of rain drops. From afar you begin to see it as rain falling, but you sense this scary image, because I added some substance. Initially I used aluminum chloride, the dry cell batteries.” Bright Ugochukwu Eke filled over 6000 bags with water fouled by battery acid, bound them with string, and hung them at different lengths to create a major installation entitled “Acid Rain”.

The cluster of polluted water packets, each resembling an (acid)raindrop, assumed the shape of a single, large water droplet. The bags were visually alluring and thematically terrifying. Their color varied from clear, to grey,to black, indicating the ominous reality it was revealing – the water in the installation, like the water falling as rain in the delta region of Nigeria, and all other locations where massive oil exploration is taking place, contained the carbon dust that is choking the inhabitants.  

Myopia Among the Ranks

While contemporary art is being invigorated and reinvented by throngs of eco artists worldwide, distinguished art professionals like the chief curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston remain oblivious of their contributions.  Helen Molesworth revealed her myopic assessment of contemporary art in an analysis of this year’s Whitney Biennial that appears in the current issue of ARTFORUM. She wrote “…in today’s hypermediated art scene, no one actually expects to be bowled over by anything “new.” This makes a kind of sour sense, since the new as a value was pretty thoroughly debunked in the twentieth century and, well, here we are in the twenty-first.”

It is only fair to note that Molesworth has earned her esteem within contemporary art circles by looking backward to the 1960s and the 1980s, not forward. She is acclaimed for curating “Dance/Draw,” which traced the origins of today’s performance art in the intersection between dancing and drawing since the ’60s,  and “This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s.” Molesworth confirmed her historic orientation in a talk at the ICA where she announced, “I’m not known in the field for being the discoverer of new talent.”

Nonetheless, Molesworth is misrepresenting and belittling contemporary art accomplishments. Because her opinions are supported by impeccable credentials, they carry the weight of authority. Readers are likely to agree with her assessment of contemporary art as a paltry version of reruns, and not challenge her blatant disregard for the bold explorations of contemporary eco artists that are authentically ‘new’.
While contemporary art is being invigorated and reinvented by throngs of eco artists worldwide, distinguished art professionals like the chief curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston remain oblivious of their contributions.  Helen Molesworth revealed her myopic assessment of contemporary art in an analysis of this year’s Whitney Biennial that appears in the current issue of ARTFORUM. She wrote “…in today’s hypermediated art scene, no one actually expects to be bowled over by anything “new.” This makes a kind of sour sense, since the new as a value was pretty thoroughly debunked in the twentieth century and, well, here we are in the twenty-first.” 

 
It is only fair to note that Molesworth has earned her esteem within contemporary art circles by looking backward to the 1960s and the 1980s, not forward.
She even admitted, when speaking at the ICA, “I’m not known in the field for being the discoverer of new talent.”