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.

Tourist (Andy Goldsworthy). Residents (Omo People)

The beauty of Andy Goldsworthy‘s outdoor constructions, as they appear in photographs, may not be debateable. As much as anyone, I delight in the formal arrangements of petals, twigs, icicles, and stones he creates. But there is far more than meets-the-eye in these images. Their unintended message conveys a compelling realization. I believe their appeal epitomizes the alienation of contemporary (sub)urbanites from the materials and conditions he adopts as his medium and studio.

Goldsworthy’s constructions and photographs are devoid of evidence that we humans belong to nature as much as nematodes and antelopes.
Extolling Goldsworthy’s site-specific work reveals a delight in beauty based upon abstracted mental principles, not intimate experienced actualities. Their formal elegance mirrors the sensibilities of people who satisfy their survival needs through elaborate technological, mediated, global interventions. Their relationship to the habitats they occupy is so remote; they behave like tourists in their own homeland, not residents.
Goldsworthy’s version of artistic beauty confirms the ‘unnatural’ status of the life he and his many admirers live. Today I discovered photographs of artistry by the Omo people of Ethiopia. They offer a penetrating and in-dwelling version of beauty.


Omo People:Omo-people

Steiner Lenzlinger – Homage As Growth and Decay

he exhibition NATIONALPARK was orchestrated by Gerda Steiner & Jörg Lenzlinger as a grand and final tribute to the Sulserbau that served as “Naturhistorisches und Nationlparkmuseum” from 1960 to 1989, and then as the Bündner Kunstmuseum. This popular building is going to be torn down to make room for a large extension. Their installation paid homage to the original function of the building by reintroducing growth, decay, and the glorious displays of forms and colors that intervene between these states of matter.Their “park” constantly changed as its plant and crystal components evolved from the longest to the shortest days of the year.

The artist duo transformed the Sulserbau from the basement up to the gables. They tore out the fixtures and used them to build a mountain landscape; diverted the roof water to form streams;  opened the museum windows to welcome the sun, wind and rain into the interior. They also planted an array of crops that the artists hoped would attracts many insects and animals.



Tue Greenfort and $5 billion

$5 billion dollars is the staggering sum that Tue Greenfort, working with long-time artist activist Peter Fend, are allocating for their project that promises more than mitigating the devastating effects of climate change in Jamaica Bay, Manhattan that was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy. They also promise to reverse it. The proposal is directed at the source of the area’s warming waters – far, far fropm Manhattan in Greenland!

The Labrador Current, the artists discovered, is extremely fertile; but it now sinks into a cold, deepwater current moving to Antarctica. Jamaica Bay is a way station for the largest concentration of biological wealth in the East. It is a wildlife mecca. The artists propose undertaking a continuous harvesting/dredging program taking advantage of the colossal natural abundance of incoming Arctic waters. 

Where will they get this massive investment?

Shitake or Truffle? John Colbert Spoofs Jae Rhim Lee

“I would not be found dead in this suit!”

“Speed up decomponsition??!! Is not my dead body decomposing fast enough for you??”

John Colbert extracted every ounce of the comedy from Jae Rhim Lee‘s Infinity Burial Suit, and never compromised the integrity of her pursuit.  All this happened on Comedy Central on November 6.

The audience chuckled as they were introduced to a pragmatic and ethical alternative to conventional burial and cremation.

Beuys/Hockney – Art’s Role in the Global Water Crisis

Joseph Beuys and David Hockney occupy the opposing responses to the massive scale of squandering and abuse by humans who have stripped water of its powers to heal and nourish. They provide vivid accountings of the contrasting ways artists can approach humanity’s relationship with the fluid that makes all life possible on Earth.

Once honored as the sacred source of creation among the ancient Babylonians, Pima Indians, Hebrews, Greeks, Aztecs, Egyptians, East Indians, Chinese, etc., the waters that course through contemporary lives has either been demoted to a formless, colorless, tasteless, and odorless liquid that flows predictably from a tap, or it looms into consciousness as a fearsome toxic menace.  An arsenal of purifying treatments has been developed to decontaminate this former symbol of purity. They include filters, ultraviolet zappers, ionization, chlorination, etc.

De Maria’s Dirt: Visual Abstraction. Gardener’s Dirt: Functional Substance

WALTER DE MARIA died on on July 26. He was 77. Despite his penchant for constructiing monumental outdoor installations out of shiny geometric shapes and mathematical configurations.”The Lightning Field” epitomizes the grandeur of his reputation. DeMaria was known to be reclusive and uncomfortable with media attention. He seldom gave interviews, disliked being photographed, and often avoided participating in museum shows. Yet he became celebrated as “one of the greatest artists of our time” according to LA County Museum of Art director Michael Govan and many other influential contributors to contemporary art discourse. Govan described the singular quality of deMaria’s work as “sublime and direct.”


Meanwhile, Jerry Saltz summons a slew of ecstatic adjectives that seem more likely to appear in the work of a romanticist, not a minimalist like de Maria. He is particularly enraptured by The New York Earth Room. This permanent DIA installation fills the entire second floor of a large loft space in SoHo, NYC. This interior earth work consists of 250 cubic yards of black soil filling 3,600 square feet at a depth of 22 inches. Entry is barred by a sheet of glass only a few inches higher than the dirt. It weighs 280,000 pounds and has been exhibited in this location since 1980. Saltz declares the work fills him “with ecstatic quiet, and quivers of the surreal sublime, implacable force of nature, nobility of architecture, and acuteness of the human senses.”


Dieing as a Civilization

Yun-Fei Ji may have accomplished a more encompassing depiction of the dire state of humanity than he consciously intended when he portrayed the villagers dislocated by the Great Gorges Dam. His mournful depictions of masses of forlorn and displaced persons seems to provide a glimpse at the toll that scientists are predicting will be shared by all humans.

Roy Scranton is a veteran who confronted the reality of his death throughout his tours of duty Iraq. But having returned a survivor of daily attacks has not provided him comfort and security. Scranton has diverted fear of his personal demise toward the demise of civilization itself. The danger, he claims, is self-inflicted, caused by humanities profligate and short-sighted greed.

Scranton quotes Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, the commander of the United States Pacific Command, who states that global climate change is the greatest threat the United States faces. Upheaval from increased temperatures, rising seas, and radical destabilizatiom he believes, is more dangerous than terrorism, Chinese hackers and North Korean nuclear missiles.

We face the imminent collapse of the agricultural, shipping and energy networks that will result in a massive die-off in the biosphere. This includes human populations. If homo sapiens survives, it will inhabit an environment that is totally unlike the one we currently know.