Why Eco Art???? Because the Brain is Like Culture is Like Art

The brain typically pays attention to one thing at a time. While this may appear to be a limitation, being able to focus attention is an extraordinary achievement of brain function.  Neither houseflies, nor humans, nor any other organism is equipped to process all the data that their sensory receptors collect.  Organisms focus on only those bits of data that are essential to their sustenance; otherwise their brains would be

For this reason, survival depends upon eliminating items from consciousness as much as absorbing them.

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Eco Art: Patience, Not Endurance

Long duration can mean ‘endurance’ = the ability to bear pain and hardships despite fatigue or other adverse conditions
The motive is defiance.
The methodology = accomplishing a feat.
The goal is personal achievement.
(e.g. Marina Abramovic)

Long duration can mean ‘patience’ = quiet attentiveness and steady perseverance
The motive is accord
The  methodology = acquiesence
The goal is harmonious relatedness
(e.g. Alan Kaprow, Helen and Newton Harrison, Herbert Bayer, Red Earth, and the many other eco artists who engage with naturally-occurring biological, geological, and meteorological events)


In Vitro Nuggets Please. No Ketchup.

Promises and fears are associated with food technologies producing fake meat. One method associated with biotech industries is termed, by the Australian-based artists Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, “victimless meat”; another is cloned cattle and goats that enter the food chain as a product of medical technology.

In the essay, “Tissue-cultured Meat, Genetically Modified Farm Animals, and Fictions,” Susan McHugh comments, “While outbreaks of viruses like swine and avian flu make headlines, more insidious threats like drug-resistant strains of bacteria quietly grow endemic within meat industries. With little hope of solving these problems through business as usual, proponents of the increasingly centralized and globalized meat-making industries focus
instead on mitigating a still more pervasive sense of discomfort with cross-species intimacies at the site of slaughter. Facing enormous pressures to meet rising consumer demands, producers pin their hopes on technologically reconfiguring meat itself through
tissue culturing, producing “real artificial meat” in vitro, in a Petri dish, rather than in whole-animal form.”

Is tissue-cultured meat (meat produced in vitro, in a cell culture, rather than from an animal) the solution?

Will fake meat reverse the eco-catastrophes wrought by modern meat industries?

Is laboratory meat-making more humane than conventional meat production?

A Vault for a Precious Asset

Alan Sonfist‘s efforts to ensure botanical propagation in his renowned artwork entitled “Time Enclosures” are being reinforced in a facility outside of London where scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, are preparing seeds for long-term storage. They have partnered with researchers at 48 institutions in 16 countries to collect seeds and send them to Kew, where the specimens are cleaned, dried, and stored in an underground vault, kept at a chilly -20 degrees Celsius, for perpetuity.

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A Major Counter Force

An enlightened principle runs through the past forty years of Helen and Newton Harrison’s work like a brilliant current. It can be simply stated: humans must establish new carbon sinks to replace melting glaciers. 

The recent retrospective exhibition at the Ronald Feldman Gallery in NY showed how the Harrisons applied this principle to Tibet, Laos, India, China, Kashmir, Pakistan, Vietnam, Burma, Tel Aviv, Nevada, Portugal, Holland, Germany, and the Sacramento Valley in California.  

This tidy thesis has sprawling implications.

Foremost -it reverses the fatalistic belief that the planet’s systems have been so drastically disrupted that it is no longer possible to restore balance. The artists provide a way of accommodating the changes. If only enough of us would attend to the achievable strategies the Harrisons have not devised. Their proposals are not merely artistic imaginings. The artists are conducting controlled tests to demonstrate the validity of the principles they advocate.


Untangling “Eco” from ‘Enviro”

How are these terms applied to art?

To artists, the adjective “environmental” is often associated with a particular manner of displaying sculpture (outdoors), a scale (large), and a time period (1960s-1970s). It does not infer a theme (concern for the well-being of eco systems).

To artists, the prefix “eco” infers a theme (concern for the well-being of eco system conditions, functions, and their inhabitants), and an intention (to remediate, preserve, and vitalize these systems). It does not indicate a particular manner of display, or scale, or time period.

Brandon Ballengee is an example of ecology.

The Beehive Collective is an example of environmentalism.


When Beauty Becomes Subversive

From the vantage point of ecology, beauty in nature is no longer located in formal cultivated gardens; or untamed wilderness; or picturesque country scenes. This is because gardens impose geometric regularity; wilderness instills fear and awe isolating people from natural systems; and pastoral scenes distract people from pragmatic responsibilities.  This is because, the notion of beauty is overhauled to embrace all aspects of the life cycle, and apply the outcomes to all living species now and into the future, it incorporates decay as well as growth and embraces death as well as life!

In this manner, eco artists are updating the concept of beauty so that it becomes resonant with an era beset by environmental blight and ecosystem exhaustion. It is propelled by a desire to ensure the continuity and interdependence apparent in cyclic patterns that comprise core ecological mandates.

Museums for Cross-Species

Empathy with non human species is a sentiment being cultivated by many contemporary eco artists whose work attempts to overcome the alienation between contemporary humans and the countless other species who share the planet with them.
But Terike Haapoja‘s empathetic art extends beyond cross-species identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings of non human life forms. Instead of ascribing her own emotions, needs, and attitudes to animals, Haapoja presents entire histories of these species from their own perspectives. She launcehed her new endeavor by creating the first museum for a non-human form of life. She describes it as “an institution that makes (the animals’) experience of this shared reality visible.”

The “Museum of the History of Cattle” opened on 1.12. 2013 in Helsinki.haapojahaapoja---museum-of-cattle

Alchemy and the Emergence of Eco Art

The implications of the context in which Hans Haacke first exhibited his “Condensation Cube” is discussed in Melissa Sue Ragain’s essay, “Homeostasis is Not Enough: Order and Survival in Early Ecological Art” . “Condensation Cube” was first exhibited in a curious exhibition entitled “New Alchemy: Elements, Systems, Forces (1971).Its curator, Dennis Young, explained that the works he selected slowed the process of perceiving and directed attention to neglected phenomena in our midst – developing an appreciation of the beauty inherent in the subjects, as opposed to being created by the artist.

Typically, these events transpire extremely slowly, almost imperceptibly. Young acknowledged the connection between these works of art to the occult by referring to the events as ‘alchemy’ and ‘transmutations’, and by differentiating them from scientific materialism.

Greatness In Contemporary Art

What issue will ultimately define the current era?

Health care, privacy, gay marriage, gun control, missile threats from Korea, nuclear weapons from Iran,  unrest in the Middle East , a dysfunctional congress may be contenders, but they seem trivial compared to super storms, water shortages,  pandemics, depleted aquatic populations, bee colony collapse, climate change, and the numerous other environmental predicaments that have arisen in recent times.

Greatness in contemporary art has always been earned by artists who visiualize their era’s distinguishing characteristics and primary concerns.