On Saturday, October 11, the Reverend Billy Talen and his crew landed in St. Louis. They texted their Ferguson friends as they walked from the gate. Ferguson was recently the site of major protests against police who had shot a young African American male who was unarmed. Billy and his friends went to the baggage claim and kept waiting for the old duffel to roll down the conveyor belt. But it didn’t appear. Then they noticed that police and a sniffer-dog were approaching. The police claimed his bag!
What does Billy say about this situation?
“Of course it hadn’t occurred to me, coming from the World Bank protest in Washington, DC, that my little duffel bag on wheels has what looks like a START-UP ACTIVIST KIT: a bullhorn, double AA batteries, elvis hair goop and make-up, “Tree Spiker” the memory by Earth First founder Mike Roselle, and spare clothes and Theo’s seven foot collapsible camera tripod.”
“My 3 Cow Biogas Digester Creates Enough Gas for 6 People” is the headline announcing a new instructional video being produced by Geoff Lawton Lawton, the brawny, charismatic star of the film series he produces to disseminate Permacutlure eco-system enhancement strategies. Good ideas get around.
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Introduction: Didacticism has been embraced by eco artists with the passion of past artists who adopted Romanticism or Impressionism. Unlike these historic approaches, the new Didacticism is ideally suited to documenting the severity of environmental conditions, exposing the perpetrators of environmental offenses, or transmitting strategies to resolve them. While utopia may not appear on didactic agendas, striving for improvement does. Toward this end such artists offer statistical evidence, or strategic designs, or tactical interventions to benefit ecosystems and their diverse populations. Such tasks are not suited to soulful explorations (Romanticism) or spontaneous observations (Impressionism). They require rigorous research.
In early 2012 Superflux developed the concept for a project that epitomizes these characteristics of didactic eco art. “The Internet of Things Academy” (IoTA) is part of Sony’s Futurescapes project. SUPERFLEX is collaborating with the Forum for the Future to facilitate the generation and exchange of new information. The artists explain the unique feature of this initiative, “Much as different plug sockets or memory cards can make life difficult, a wide range of proprietary ‘makes’ of hardware and software are often an obstacle to creativity. We envisaged IoTA as an updating of the 20th-century telephone switchboard, enabling end-users to link different products and components, creating systems that better suit their needs.”
The project will accommodate different types of users – from those with no experience to advanced ‘hackers’.
The artists explain, “As part of our design process, we are conducting a series of iterative tests and small-scale experiments, to understand how various users will use the site. …As the user starts a new project, and adds information about what they want to make / build, we are exploring ways in which it might be possible/useful to nudge them to think about not just what they want to build, but why they want to do it, and what change will result from that project.”
I am pleased to share this update on the ever-expanding projects being conducted by Bonnie Sherk. It was prepared by the artist:
I have been engaged for many years in San Francisco working to create a consciousness of whole watersheds, and in particular the Islais Creek Watershed, the largest of seven in SF. I have been developing ecological artworks in this Watershed for decades: (Sitting Still 1-1970, The Farm – 1974-80; OMI/Excelsior Living Library & Think Park with three schools – 1995 to Present; Bernal Heights Living Library & Think Park at two schools -2002 to Present).
Since 2002, I have also been developing the Bernal Heights Living Library & Think Park Nature Walk that is linking multiple public resources: schools, parks, public housing, streets, other open spaces all leading to the currently hidden Islais Creek at the south side of one of the parks – St. Mary’s Park – through planting a new, narrative, expressive landscape with CA native trees and understory, interpretive signage, and integrated community programs. This Nature Walk is a prototype for what could be occurring throughout the Whole Watershed to interconnect all eleven neighborhoods and daylight the Creek where it is feasible.
I am also proposing the creation of Northern & Southern Gateways to this Watershed incorporating two major freeway interchanges with alot of “dead”, open space land and much Creek water below grade. Needless to say, this is a long term initiative. This work has been funded over the years by Mayor’s Office of Community Development (master plan), SF Foundation (design development master plan), California Department of Forestry (2 grants for planting trees & establishment), and currently, CA Strategic Growth Council (further design, planting trees & understory, plant establishment). To date, over 1000 trees and hundreds of understory plants are in place and some of the signage.
Allan Kaprow, an esteemed originator of Happenings, is associated with the motto, “art as experience.” John Dewey’s (1859-1952) book by this title was read and re-read by Kaprow when he was a student at NYU , as evidenced by the surviving copy from Kaprow’s library which is filled with his scribbled notes and questions. Its contents articulated the arch principle of eco art. Dewey explains, “To see the organism IN nature, the nervous system in the organism, the brain in the nervous system, the cortex in the brain is the answer to the problems which haunt philosophy.”
Thus, he articulated the ‘metaphysics’ of nature as a web of relations that pertained to growth processes, mechanical processes, and mental processes. This biocentric unification replaced the anthropocentric dualism that prevailed in mainstream culture has become the refrain of environmentalists ever since, believing that when humans relinquish their separation from their physical environment, they are less likely to degrade it.
Although Dewey never addressed actual environmental conditions, his writings helped formalize the actions of environmentalists, the research of ecologists, and the Happenings of Alan Kaprow. They all challenged the dichotomies that are entrenched in Western philosophies by manifesting events and processes in constant flux. Within Happenings, as in all dynamic systems, effects are also causes, ends are also means. This reality is not suited to paintings in frames and sculptures on pedestals.
“Time Piece (1973),” for example
Poles apart, two works of art that relocate materials from the landscape exemplify the extraordinary range of approaches taken by artists whose themes revolve around human relationships to the non-human environment. A precedent was established by the Land Art artists in the 1970s. The grandiose scale of their manipulations of the landscape are typically associated with arrogant assertions of power. Contrasting interpretations are required by subsequent transpositions and relocations of materials found within the landscape.
One pole includes actions that seem equally arrogant. In this instance, the materials collected from the landscape are deposited within a gallery. This pole is represented by Olafur Eliasson whose current exhibition at the Lousiana Museum consists of relocated rocks, pebbles, and soil that were used to recreate an Icelandic landscape within an architectural space.
Trickling water runs through a riverbed that actually meanders through the galleries. It is surrounded by mounds of rocky earth. Indignant commentary already surrounds this work, many colleagues protesting that “Riverbed” required a massive expenditure of machine time, fuel, and labor to haul the many tons of rocks and earth needed to recreate the landscape, not merely represent it. Although I have not experienced this work personally, the impression conveyed by the images is that the work commemorates the human vision, energy, guile, and zeak required to accomplish this feat. The barren installation, devoid of any signs of life, appears like the background for this human achievement. With a reputation of being a titan in the art world, Elisasson has previusly created the sun in The Weather Project that filled the vast void of Turbine Hall at the Tate with a representation of the sun and sky.
The other pole is occupied by Helen and Newton Harrison. In 1996 they dug up and replanted an entire 400 year-old meadow in Bonn, Germany and transplanted it onto the 1 1/2 acre roof of the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle museum. “Future Garden, Part 1, The Endangered Meadows of Europe”,diverted the focus away from artistic expression. The Harrison’s had a much more urgent and pragmatic motive. They were carrying out a rescue mission, since the featured meadow was about to be destroyed due to urban development.
The Critical Art Ensemble would probably agree: Monsanto’s influence is seeping into distinguished settings it never intended, including a graduation ceremony! It inspired Jim Carrey who recently served as the guest speaker for the graduating class at Maharishi University of Management (a consciousness university) in Iowa.
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Evidence that T. Allen Comp utilizes the knowledge he acquired to earn a Ph.D. in the History of Technology and American Economic History is evident in the following quote that pays tribute to Herbert Bayer:“When I first started talking about this idea that eventually became AMD&ART and won a national EPA Phoenix award among others, I’d show slides of the standard Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) treatment system, basically a series of rectangular ponds, and suggest we might be able to do more. Then I’d show Buster Simpson’s River Roll-Aids, Mel Chin’s Revival Fields and the Richards/Oppenheimer/Hargraves Bixby Park – but it was the images I had from Herbert Bayer’s Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks that finally got through to the audience. Here was a real problem with a real and art-full solution – it worked to solve the environmental problem and it worked to address something in the human soul as well. I showed Earthworks empty and I showed it full of people and, finally, my audiences started to understand how we might start with rectangular ponds to solve an environmental problem and grow that idea into a 35-acre park that treated acid mine drainage, created new wetlands and a new active recreation area while also addressing a need for deeper historical understanding and a more humane connection between past, present and even future. It was Herbert Bayer’s pioneering Earthworks that opened the door for AMD&ART.“
AMD&ART was created by T. Allan Comp for the purpose of “artfully transforming environmental liabilities into community assets.” Emphasis is on the word “comnmunity”. Comp explains, “A lasting solution to the complex problems of environmental reclamation must be cultural and environmental. A scientific solution may clean the water, but a multidisciplinary solution has the power to both clean the water and to revive community spirit.”
“3RV” is a visible reminder to reduce ‘residual’ waste that appears throughout the world. The three ‘R’s are lined up in a meaningful sequence, beginning with the most desirable environmental outcome and ending with the least. The first ‘R’ stands for reduction at the source; the second for reuse; the third for recycling. While recycling waste is the least beneficial, it monopolizes the attention of environmentally-conscious municipalities and good Samaritan consumers everywhere; neither seems inclined to reduce consumption or seek new uses for unwanted objects.
As an example, it is common for consumers to assume that once a book’s reading appeal has been exhausted, it is automatically reclassified as trash. To them, if a book is not going to be read, it no longer has value. Even channeling unwanted books into recycling programs is not a solution, since recycling procedures are often costly and wasteful. Landfills are heaped with the products of such narrow-mindedness.
In contrast, re-users are creative thinkers who approach a book that is not going to the read as a material object with potential for alternative forms of service. They disregard its intended function. Instead, they highlight its physical attributes: books are sheets of paper bound between covers. Their pages are modular and pliable. Stacked, these pages are as solid as a brick. In addition, books are flammable; absorb water; open and close; and fit in the hand. By concentrating on these material traits, re-users can discover multiple new employment opportunities for discarded books:
Use them as door stops; dig them into a compost pile; stack them to create a table; burn them to generate warmth and light; use the pages to wrap sandwiches or as toilet paper; grind the pages to make new paper; crumble the pages to insulate a wall; gold the pages into envelopes; tear the pages for mulch, etc.
Nicole Fournier, a resident of Quebec, designs her creative art practice around the second ‘R’.
The Beehive Collective would probably heartily agree with the Reverend Billy Talen, “Our Devil is Monsanto and our Hero is the Honey Bee.” Talen is staging his protesting antics against
neuropathic pesticides called “neonicotinoids” that short-circuit the bees’ navigation. This disorienting drug means they can’t find their way home to their hive. Talen imagines them flying round and round carrying heavy sacke of flower pollen, lost! He is waging a counter attack on their behalf. It is a new video entitled, “Monsanto is the Devil.”
Talen is planning to ‘swarm’ at Monsanto headquarters in St. Louis!
He has announced, “The Honey Bee is our teacher. We learn to swarm and sting. We travel long distances to our sweet destination. We cover ourselves with bees. We brush wild honey on ourselves and stick to Monsanto’s walls.” He reminds us that self-interest is another reason to protest the bees’ plight. If they can’t return to their hives, we can’t survive well either!