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Saraceno: Lighter Than Air?

While most predictions of Earth conditions are characterized as laments weighted with despair and anxiety, Tomas Saraceno is revelling in the utopian possibility he discovered when studying Alexander Graham Bell’s explorations with aviation at the beginning of the last century. While Bell is best known for inventing the telephone, he also experimented with ways to make manned flight a reality.

Saraceno returned to Bell’s prototype and added a futuristic conception of floating buildings. Bell’s century-old flying machine was a tetrahedron-shaped to maximize surface area and minimize weight through the use of pyramid-shaped sails.  Saraceno’s structure retains Bell’s frame construction but updates. Working with the Aerospace Engineering Faculty at Delft University in the Netherlands, he decided to use carbon fiber tubing for the framework and flexible, paper-thin solar panels as the sails. He named it “Solar Bell“. The structure is lighter than air!!saraceno-solar-bell

Landscape Words that Speak to Us

We have forgotten 10,000 words for our landscapes, but we will make 10,000 more, given time and inclination.” This statement was made by Robert Macfarlane, a  leading nature writer who has been collecting unusual words for landscapes and natural phenomena. The extraordinary richness of the forgotten words from the English language is a clear indicator of our culture’s disregard for the non-built environment, and the bankruptcy of the spiritual depths and sensual pleasures these words once afforded. They once belonged to the language of ordinary life experience. By contrast, the expansive poetry inferred by single words reveals the uninspiring banality of contemporary modes of speech.

Here are some examples:

Caochan is a slender moor-stream obscured by vegetation

Feadan is a small stream running from a moorland lake

Fèith is a fine vein-like watercourse running through peat that is often dry in the summer

Rionnach maoim refers to the shadows cast on the moorland by clouds moving across the sky on a bright and windy day

èit refers to the practice of placing quartz stones in streams so that they sparkle in moonlight and thereby attract salmon to them in the late summer and autumn”

Eiscir is a ridge of glacial deposits marking the course of a river that flowed under the ice of the last glaciation.

Smeuse means the gap in the base of a hedge made by the passage of a small animal.

Ammil is a Devon term for the thin film of ice that lacquers all leaves, twigs and grass blades when a freeze follows a partial thaw, and that in sunlight can cause a whole landscape to glitter.

Marjetica Potrc Travels a Lost Highway

For a month last summer, more than 200 people from Europe and the US travelled the Western Balkans as a collective artwork. Its goal was to anticipate the economic, political and cultural geographies of Eastern Europe in the coming years. Marjectica Potrc was one of the participants in “The Lost Highway Expedition”. Other participants represented an international group of architects, artists and urbanists. The expedition will generate an exhibition and a publication that poses new questions and research directions.

As in all of Potrc’s projects, this one dispenses with separatist tactics by circumventing mute audiences and neutral sites. By accessing the creativity of the audience as well as the artist, it approached the art audience as an opportunity for dynamic engagements that are complex, collaborative, and adaptive. It incouraged interactive principles that are non-controllable, non-predictable, and non-immediate.

 
lost-highway-expediitonThe journed proceeded over an actual highway that was built to connect the major cities of Yugoslovia’s republics. It stands as a failed effort to overcome national differences in the pursuit of utopian unity. The collapse of Communism explains the title. Now the highway is ‘lost’.  The Lost Highway Expedition also hopes to establish new networks exploring shared meanings for the future of Europe. Each location initiated new research because each intervention explores a cultural topic that was unique to that locale. The programs of lectures, workshops, seminars, master-classes, and research studios ultimately generated cultural projects such as artworks, performances, exhibitions, architecture interventions, critical writing, etc. These diverse activities were undertaken to open unexpected paths of dialogue among individuals who would not otherwise work together toward a common goal.
 
Each project phase built upon the base for the last one, thus posing new set of questions and determining new research directions. In this manner, ”Lost Highway Expedition” explored such timely themes as native/alien, risk/opportunity, immigration/migration, etic/emic methodologies, political/physical obstacles, etc.

Andy Gracie – Humanity’s Fate Determined by a Fly on Saturn’s Moon?

‘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.

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TWO RISKS: Ethical Limitations and Scientific Advances.

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.

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China: OLD and reFASHIONED

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.

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Michael Heizer’s ‘Land’

‘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

Opti-mysticist? Pessi-mysticist? What is the Fate of Planet Earth?

Has the apogee of human ‘progress’ coincided with the collapse of civilization?

Is the imminent collapse of global ecosystems accompanied by a comparable collapse of the human spirit?

The immense roster of international artists who are addressing prospects for the future of planet Earth demonstrate that there a manifold answers to these questions. Since they are based more on belief systems than verifiable facts, those at one end of the spectrum might be called “opti-mysticists” and those at the other “pessi-mysticists”.   It is yet to be determined which side will win the tug of war between those who cite promising behavioral reforms and beneficial new technologies and those who focus on evidence of mounting system failures.

Paul Crutzen, who was awarded a Nobel prize for research on depletion of ozone layer, coined the term “anthropocene” in 2000 to identify the most distinguishing characteristic of the current era – humans have become most powerful geological force on planet. Human-induced events occurring at the present time loom as the dominant forces on planet Earth. In other words, humanity’s impact on sedimentation, for example, causes more geological shifts than the oceans’ tides or the movement of mountains.

Furthermore, humanity’s impact is not limited to global warming and climate change. Global geological conditions are also being affected by deforestation, acidification of ocean, mass extinction, urbanization, relocations and dislocations of living populations, homogenization of environments.

Ballengee and Jeremijenko: Amphibian Rescue Mission

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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.

Soil Connoisseurs

Happy World Soil Day!

Today the United Nations launched the International Year of Soils 2015. The formal launch event will occur during the 69th session of the UN General Assembly to coincide with the first official World Soil Day. Concurrent events will take place around the world.

It seems timely that soil is finally receiving worldwide recognition. Cosmic travel and undersea adventures have inspired theme parks, computer games, and Hollywood films, but the dramatic invasions, combats, and reconciliations that transpire under our feet have mostly been ignored. Few current humans pay heed to soil, and they are even less likely to relish soil.

Despite our dependence upon soil for survival, most contemporary humans are oblivious of its elaborate structure, diverse populations, and multi-millennial history. This underground universe exists ‘out of sight’ and ‘out of mind’. No 4-H Club provides ribbons to youngsters who raise excellent breeds of dirt. There is no holiday honoring the founder of soil science. If Muhammad, the Buddha, Jesus, and Moses are revered for saving peoples’ souls, it seems Vasily Vasilievich Dokuchaev (1846 – 1903), the pioneer soil scientist, merits veneration for his role in saving life on Earth.