Mandiberg -Communal Values and Gender Balance

 Two of the projects that have kept Michael Mandiberg fully occupied last year might be categorized as ‘social ecology’ since they both address cultural conditions that reflect crucial environmental issues.The first involves replaced individualisms with communal values.

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On Kawara Died

On Kawara died yesterday. Based on my single, singular encounter with him, I can attest that he lived as he worked – with uncanny precision and determination and individuality. Months of appeals to his gallery preceded the interview I required. My qualifications and intentions were interrogated by his gallery with CIA-like scrutiny before I was granted permission to conduct my interview.

I was instructed to arrive at his favorite dusky bar in SoHo and immediately announced that he does not permit note-taking. I never posed a single question. Instead, he launched into a monologue – an onslaught of fascinating observations and uncanny theories. After three hours, I begged him to stop, since my mental storage capacity was crammed to capacity and I feared total collapse.

Embalming: Pre and Post

Technologies devised by humans to retard or halt the decomposing of organic material have been serving a double purpose since ancient times. On the one hand, by preventing foods from spoiling, they prolonged life. These technologies also ‘prolonged death’ by preventing bodies from decaying. Thus, the evolution of techniques utilized in burial parallels the history of food preservation. The kitchen technologies that were duplicated for the graveyard include salting, pickling, freezing, drying, honey curing, flaying, bleedings, and eviscerating. They  were all practiced by the earliest Mediterranean civilizations to preserve  both meats and the dead.

From Sun Dials to Robots

Amy Franceschini applies her knowledge of sophisticated technologies to undermine contrasting relationships between humans and the technologies we have devised. On the one hand she nullifies the possibility that as humans become increasingly dependent upon them, these technologies will become our masters instead of our servants, entities to be feared instead of exploited. franceschini---photo-robot

“Photosynthesis Robot”, for example, is a real, functioning robot. However, instead of asserting its independence, Franceschini focuses on the robot’s reliance on human tending for its survival. Despite the fact that the robot even generates its own energy by conducting photosynthesis, it is totally dependent upon humans to provide its requirements for ‘survival’: water, light, and space. The duty this robot is designed to perform fulfills the most utopian vision of robotic service. This one conducts a chore that is described as oppressive and dangerous, but benefits both society and the environment. It chases after SUV’s capturing CO2 emissions! Thus, this robot’s capabilities will not threaten human supremacy and control. 

Jackie Brookner Now. Herbert Bayer Then.

The legacy of Herbert Bayer is being maintained and expanded by Jackie Brookner. Like Bayer’s Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks, Brookner’s Fargo Project will be sited in a stormwater detention basin that prevents flooding from rainstorms. Brookner, Fargobruckner-fargoIn both instances, this basin is transformed into a multifunctional neighborhood commons. However, Brookner’s inclusive manner of accomplishing this goal diverges from the singularity of the modernist master’s approach. Her method reflects current art practices in which artists invite community involvement in the creative process.  Brookner’s work is ultimately collaboratory. She has invited representatives of the city of Fargo, its residents, and local artists to help devise a program and design for the site.

As a result, the project is certain to reflect Fargo’s cultural diversity. Its population includes Native Americans from many different nations and immigrants from over 20 countries. Members of all these groups are joining together and pooling their ideas about how to feature stormwater as a shared community resource. Brookner describes this ambitious project by stating, “Over several months our ecological artist team and other volunteers engaged over 400 people of all ages and backgrounds in the initial visioning outreach.

Beautifying Cities with Unwanted Weeds and Discarded Textiles.

When Nicole Fournier established InTerreArt, I wonder if she consciously chose a title that is resonant with layered meanings.

“Inter-Art” (integrated arts) is a term that refers to the merging of formerly distinctive art forms. Fournier combines installation, performance, and social practice. However, she expanded the typical application of the term ‘inter’ in a work entitled “Companions and Transformations“. Instead of combining diverse forms of artistic expression, she combined two kinds of human disdain: weeds and discarded textiles.

Fournier assigns value to each. The plants are actively ‘rewilded’. The process involves creating protective containers so that plants can thrive on the cement surfaces that prevail in urban settings. She accomplishes this by gathering discarded coats, covers, sheets and other used textiles, using them to create protective containers so that the perennial root systems of wild edible plants can prosper.

“InTerreArt” (terre = terra= earth) provides an opportunity to add two additional meanings to her enterprise. On the one hand, terre indicates that earth (soil) is key to Fournier’s installations, performances, and social practices. She emplys earth as a medium of transformation and productivity.

Eco Art: Interdiscipline. Interaudience.

“Interdisciplinary” is an acknowledged component of eco art. It factors significantly in eco art discourse where the term is applied equally to the thematic, procedural, and material components of eco art. In each of these instances, eco art is leaping across conventional art borders and landing on turf that had formerly been claimed by fields as diverse as waste management, agriculture, biology, and energy production.

Less attention has been paid to an equally significant ‘inter’ component of eco art. That is “interaudience,” the diversity of recipients for this genre of art. Eco art’s remarkable inclusiveness is decisevly transforming the nature of contemporary art practice and contemporary art criticism.

Brandon Ballengee provides a case-in-point. Since January, nine media outlets have requested interviews with him. They include:

Marina Zurkow Offers a Taste of Hydrocarbons

Outside the Work: A Tasting of Hydrocarbons and Geologic Time” dinner. This recent headline in the Houston Chronicle announced that Marina Zurkow served approximately 50 guests a seven-course dinner hosted by the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences at Rice University.hydrocarbon dinner


The Gulf Coast location provided most of the ingredients. It included jellyfish and Japanese knotweed, both invasive nuisances that are known to contain health properties.

Zurkow commented,”It’s a trope in foodie culture: Eat your enemies, the invasive species, to get rid of them.”

Each of the seven courses (prepared for the event by Lucullan Foods) was served on a different reusable placemat. Dishes from previous courses were piled onto a centerpiece sculpture of Styrofoam packing materials. With each course, diners peeled off layers of reusable place mats that doubled as a geology lesson.

Zurkow explains, “I’m not blaming anybody but looking at the role of petroleum usage in anthropogenic changes.” 

Averters of a Water Crisis: Regulators, Designers, Users. Artists.

“I tied water in plastic bags to create the impression of rain drops. From afar you begin to see it as rain falling, but you sense this scary image, because I added some substance. Initially I used aluminum chloride, the dry cell batteries.” Bright Ugochukwu Eke filled over 6000 bags with water fouled by battery acid, bound them with string, and hung them at different lengths to create a major installation entitled “Acid Rain”.

The cluster of polluted water packets, each resembling an (acid)raindrop, assumed the shape of a single, large water droplet. The bags were visually alluring and thematically terrifying. Their color varied from clear, to grey,to black, indicating the ominous reality it was revealing – the water in the installation, like the water falling as rain in the delta region of Nigeria, and all other locations where massive oil exploration is taking place, contained the carbon dust that is choking the inhabitants.  

Saraceno is Air-Borne

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.