INTRODUCTION: Recorded history is typically charted through the deeds of great individuals. Complex narratives of conquests, revolutions, discoveries, and accomplishments are encapsulated in the biographies of prominent personages: Atilla the Hun, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln, Dante, Leonardo, Goethe, Ben Franklin, Pablo Picasso, Florence Nightingale, Genghis Kahn, and so forth.
While exceptional individuals dominate humanity’s historic annals, ‘individualism’ is a modern concept that is largely absent from ancient and medieval civilizations. It is not until the early nineteenth century that asserting one’s independence and uniqueness, as opposed to contributing to the common good or the collective interests, was introduced.
Alexis De Tocqueville (1805-1859), the French political historian, described the emergence of ‘individualism’ by stating, “Our fathers did not have the word ‘individualism’, which we have coined for our own use, because in their time there was indeed no individual who did not belong to a group and who could be considered as absolutely alone.”
Today I posted a new essay entitled “A DEFENSE of FUNCTIONALITY and DIDACTICISM in CONTEMPORARY ECO ART”. This defense was necessitated because contemporary eco artists, unlike those celebrated by the star-studded ‘artworld’, are inventing new definitions of progress, health, success, and productivity. Such values necessitate including factors that have long been alien to fine art values – functionality and didacticis.This essay is offered to loosen grips upon the cultural ideals that comprise the status quo.
If society was envisioned as a living organism, artists would serve as its sensory receptors (gathering inputs issuing from their surroundings) and its brain (bringing key concerns into consciousness and filtering out extraneous data). That is how the history of art came to be a rich repository of cultures as they evolved through the history of civilization. This ongoing account reveals if people, at a particular time and place, were captivated by the afterlife, or a new technology, or social inequity, etc.
Tomas Saraceno creates inflatable airborne biospheres. These futuristic models for human survival may become essential if current environmental jeopardies continue to mount. The alternative ways of living he invents are adaptations of the morphology of soap bubbles, spider webs, neural networks, and cloud formations.
The complex geometries and interconnectivity that these habitations display seem neither to be art, architecture, technology, nor science. Perhaps even the nature of his art practice is futuristic. On December 9th of 2014, his “Museo Aero Solar” landed in Toulouse as part of a symposium on the new “Anthropocene” era.
Saraceno proposed it as an Anthropocene Monument. The solar sculpture flies by capturing the short waves of the sun during the day, and infrared waves from the Earth at night. This lighter-than-air monument is capable of riding thermals, vortices and convection currents. As it responds to these atmospheric forces, the structure actually takes the “shape” of the atmosphere.
It was always the intention of SUPERFLEX to maximize the distribution of their artworks, rather than conform to the old fine art adage that values is a product of ‘uniqueness’ and ‘rarity’. Their project “SUPERGAS” seems to be heading in precisely this direction. Malmo Sweden recently announced that its organic waste will now be turned into biogas. It anticipates that 66% of the fuel for the city bus system (and lots of fertilizer) will be produced in this manner. The goal is to achieve 100% which became possible when separating waste became mandatory this year. Signage on buses announce that personal waste = civic fuel. Malmo is also converting waste to energy for the district heating that serves most of the city.
Meanwhile, if you can be in Brooklyn on the weekend of April 26th-27th,you could take a biogas workshop with David House, the author of The Complete Biogas Handbook
While bio-techno-wizardry supplies the reason Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr typically receive acclaim in the contemporary art arena, they might also be celebrated for assuaging humanity’s psychological dilemmas. Sources of guilt and insecurity are the ostensible reasons for culturing leather and meat. They also explain a 2006 work entitled “DIY DVK”: “Do It Yourself De-victimizer Kit.” In each of these instances the artists seek to provide their fellow humans with an easy escape from feelings of shame.
DIY DVK m1 was undertaken to allay the guilt many people feel when they consume parts of dead animals, either by eating them, or using them for clothing, or applying them to some functional purpose. This guilt may also arise when someone causes the accidental death of an animal. This may be the result of a car accident or a lawnmower running over an animal.
Tissue Culture & Art’s kit reduces the resulting guilt by maintaining the life of parts of the deceased animals’ bodies. These body parts can remain ‘alive’ until the grieving period is complete and the guilt recedes.
Anyone can participate. Tissue Culture & Art’s DIY DVK utilizes off-the-shelf items to construct a basic tissue culture facility. The only other component that is needed is nutrients to keep the cells alive. The artists admit that the inclusion of other animal-derived materials in the nutrients is difficult to avoid, which may, ironically, exacerbate the guilt for sacrificing the life of an animal for human benefit.
Reverend Billy concludes each performance and correspondence with the same exclamation: Earthalujah! The word rouses visions of glory and gratitude and celebration. This spring, he and the Stop Shopping Choir will bring their joyful version of environmental and political activism to Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in New York. They can be seen there on the outside and inside stages on Sunday afternoons through May and June. That is when we call all shout with glee “Earthalujah!”
Joy may be exchanged for indignation in the second event the Reverend is planning. This “HoneyBeeLujah campaign” will conduct “bee-swarmings” with the “Bee-stinger-singers” in and around the property of Monsanto, Bayer, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland. They will infiltrate big big box stores where bee-killing chemicals are sold to domestic gardeners. THey also plan to follow the “executives of the abominable monoculture” into whatever public spaces they travel – lobbies, parking lots, restaurants, etc. Billy is clear about his subversive intentions to save the honeybee populations from global collapse, “The workers in these hedge funds and chemical companies must be gently exposed to the truth about their pesticide poisons.
Bonnie Sherk‘s A Living Library has become an international movement. Recently she visited India to establish unique, place-based, Branch Living Library & Think Parks in Rajisthan and Udaipur. These projects are being organized in conjunction with the Big Medicine Charitable Trust, and with the Center of Environment Education (CEE) based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. These interpretation centers would link students throughout India with her existing school programs in San Francisco and New York City. In each location A Living Library cultivates human and ecological gardens.
“Legislative Theater” is a style of performance pioneered in Latin America in the 1960s to influence social change. Pedro Reyes is reviving this tradition to demonstrate how legislation on one side of a national border can have dire consequences for those living on the other side. The example that has inspired several of Reyes’ major projects involves the relationship between drug-related violence in his native Mexico, and lenient gun laws in the U.S.
“The Amendment to the Amendment,” for example, is a sculptural/performance artwork that refers to the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees the right to bear arms. The numerous murder victims in the border cities of Mexico provide grim evidence that this U.S. Amendment also impacts Mexican citizens. Reyes’appeal to his fellow-Mexicans to relinquish their guns and save lives comes in the form of an enticement, not a threat. He is dismantling a huge stash of guns (6,700!) that a government agency in Mexico confiscated from criminal gangs. Then he is reassembling them into guitars, violins, flutes, and percussion instruments that are played in concerts. This labor-intensive process carries an uplifting social message. Each instrument testifies to the possibility of transforming weapons of conflict into instruments for creating social harmony.
The following is an amusing news story that predicts this un-amusing fate for humans: “At the London Zoo, visitors can talk to the animals – and now some of them talk back.
Caged and barely clothed in a rocky enclosure, eight British men and women were on display beginning Friday behind a sign reading “Warning: Humans in the Natural Environment”. The inhabitants of the Human Zoo exhibition sunned themselves on a rock ledge, wearing fig leaves – pinned to bathing suits. Some played with hula hoops, some waved. A signed informed visitors about the species’ diet, habitat, worldwide distribution and the threats to its survival.” 7
In fact, on May 21, 2012 The Automatic Earth Community delivered a Petition for Listing of the Homo sapiens species as an Endangered Species Pursuant to Federal Regulation of the Endangered Species Act [50 CFR 424.14(b)] stating that, “Upwards of 50% of this species’ range has come under the threat of near-term (within the next 50 years) extinction due to economic growth (and it’s natural collapse), untempered development, severe resource mis-allocation, air/water pollution, ecosystem degradation, energy scarcity, climate change, potential nuclear war and a variety of inter-related factors.”8
The task of addressing today’s environmental challenges is daunting.
– Functional schemes for cycling wastes, renewing resources, conserving energy, and maintaining productivity have not yet been devised;
– Existing means of productivity may not suffice to support escalating populations of humans;
– Non-polluting and non-depleting technologies compete for resources that restore ecosystems beset with the accumulated ravages of past indiscretions.
The works of art that address these challenges are functional. They remediate soils, create habitat, remove litter, cultivate food, produce energy, and conduct a myriad additional environmentally responsible acts.
What special attributes do the artists’ versions of these utilitarian tasks distinguish them as works of art?