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Reverend Billy: Harrassed. Arrested. Arraigned.

Billy Talen has honed his skills and become a powerful disruptive force of social conscience, whether he is saving souls corrupted by consumerism, or pleading for mercy on behalf of bees, or condemning police sinners who use their arms against innocent victims. Recently, the system retaliated…..

Reverend Billy & The Stop Shopping Choir comprise a radical performance community of 50 performing members and a congregation in the thousands.

We are wild anti-consumerist gospel shouters and Earth loving urban activists who have worked with communities all over the world defending community, life and imagination. We compel action in those who have never been activist,  revive exhausted activists, and devise new methods for future activism. We also put on a great show.”

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Sometimes, performance antics collide with real-life threats and punishment:

January,  2015. Reverend Billy Talen was delivering one of his bombastic sermons during a 24-hour #BlackLivesMatter vigil at Grand Central Station in Manhattan. He and his congregationists were protesting the deaths of Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, and other African American youths who had been killed by police. Strewn about the floor at the event was an array of placards bearing the names of victims of police brutality. Minutes into his sermon police began confiscating the placards. Talen was arrested.

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

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

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.

Pride and Prejudice Against the Bison

During the past half-billion years, there have been just five global mass-extinction events. For example, the impact of a comet crash likely extinguished dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Maya Lin is documenting the sixth extinction event which is occurring today. According to the renowned Harvard biologist, E. O. Wilson, 30,000 species are vanishing from Earth each year. They are all eligible for representation in Maya Lin‘s ambitious project, “What is Missing”. This ‘map of memory’ presents species, places, and natural phenomenon that have vanished, or are disappearing.While Lin often features micro and macro views of the earth that are registered through sonar resonance scans and aerial and satellite mapping devices,  straightforward photographs are still powerful conveyors of the extent and magnitude of this disturbance. No computer graphics or photo manipulations are required to transmit the devastation of the bisons on this continent in the 1800s.

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HeHe and Claude Monet

“Without the fog, London wouldn’t be a beautiful city.” These words were written by the French painter, Claude Monet. Between 1899 and 1901, the beauty of his renowned Impressionist paintings was a product of skies that were unnaturally colorful  because the city was choked by the smog of the Industrial Revolution. Two environmental scientists, Jacob Baker and John E. Thornes of the University of Birmingham, are rewriting art history by claiming that Monet’s atmospheric images of London were not artistic imaginings; they were the products of accurate observation. In fact, Monet’s impressions seem so accurate that the scientists are examining them as a source of information regarding London air quality during this period. “We believe,” Thornes says, “that we can basically deconstruct the images to work out how much smoke would have to be in the air to create that visibility and those colors in, say, February 1900.”

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“Champs D’Ozone”