In this book, the reader is challenged to suspend the cultural habit of thinking ABOUT the material components of the world. Instead, we experiment with thinking AS a material component.
Imagine yourself comprised of substances and energies continuously circulating among other collections of substances and energies. This mental image represents a radical revision of the historic conception of humans as discreet entities existing in an environment occupied by entities (living and nonliving) that are stable, knowable, and controllable.
A perplexing conundrum accompanies this simple narrative. It involves the baffling question of determining how to distinguish ‘you’ from your surrounding ‘environment’.
The following narrative exemplifies this complexity.
Imagine a slice of pizza, just the way you like it.
You salivate in anticipation of biting into a slice. Is this the moment the pizza stops belonging to the ‘environment’ and becomes part of ‘you’?
You lift a slice, savor its smell, feel its warmth, and absorb its oils in your fingers. Is this the moment the pizza stops belonging to the ‘environment’ and becomes part of ‘you’?
You take a bite. A morsel enters your body through the port of entry known as your mouth. Is this the moment the pizza stops belonging to the ‘environment’ and becomes part of ‘you’?
You chew, altering the pizza’s chemistry and transforming its molecular identity so that it can be absorbed by your cells. Is this the moment the pizza stops belonging to the ‘environment’ and becomes part of ‘you’?
You swallow. The ingredients of pizza begin their journey through the dark interior of your digestive tract. Some components are absorbed by your cells. Is this the moment the pizza stops belonging to the ‘environment’ and becomes part of ‘you’?
You expel unused solid components of the pizza through your body’s exit portal. Is this the moment ‘you’ become part of the ‘environment’?
These perplexing questions suggest that no precise border exists between ‘you’ and the ‘environment’.
How did I choose the artists and the artworks that readers will encounter on the pages of my book?
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HUMANITY as ‘POWER TOOL’
To build, plow, pave, dam, mine, dig, pump, smooth, separate, lift, sort, rotate, slice, adhere, mix, reach, crumble, measure, align, stack, stir, and probe are just some of humanity’s tooling capacities that have been treated to perpetual upgrades of precision and power. In the 12,000 years since ‘tool’ referred to a stick used for prying roots, humanity’s brawn and brain powers have extended the reach of its operations far into the lithosphere, atmosphere, biosphere, and hydrosphere. Today, few Earth contours, textures, colors, sounds, smells, or tempos escape the virtuoso skills and extraordinary acumen of the human species.
The ingenious devices we devised for performing feats of manipulation have earned renown for their inventors, fortunes for their distributors, and gratitude from their beneficiaries. Nonetheless, evidence is emerging that all three groups may ultimately be found ‘guility’ because so many of our proud achievements are accompanied by disruptions, depletions, squandering, and polluting.
The debris of our lavish lifestyles, for example, does not merely clutter the litterer’s back yard. Migrating on air and ocean currents, it settles far from its place of origin. Even remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are not immune to such intrusions. Divers from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently collected 114,000 pounds of trash on these islands in just one month. This is a staggering figure because these islands are uninhabited!
Wikipedia definitions of Ecological art and Environmental art succeed in representing the vastness and diversity of these areas of artistic exploration. This success, however, is accompanied by a failure to make eco art activity manageable to readers seeking clarity. These definitions packed with references. The breadth and diversity they intentionally incorporate overwhelm rather than clarify.
Wikipedia definition of ecological art includes:
….preserve, remediate and/or vitalize
….life forms, resources and ecology of Earth,
….lithosphere, atmosphere, biosphere, and hydrosphere
….wilderness, rural, suburban and urban
….restoration, socially engaged, activist, community-based.
….politics, culture, economics, ethics and aesthetics
….artists, scientists, philosophers and activists
Wikipedia definition of environmental art includes:
….historical and more recent
….ecological and politically motivated
….science and philosophy
….traditional media, new media and critical social forms of production
….rural to the suburban and urban as well as urban/rural industrial.
In consideration of the reader’s preference for doling out these options at a pace that matches learning capacities rather than onslaughts, the introduction to my eco art textblook, TO LIFE! Eco Art in Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet begins by identifying one issue: the differences between ‘ecology’ and ‘environmentalism’. It proceeds, chapter by chapter, to represent the multiplicity of creative options that the Wikipedia definitions include. My hope is that these definitions will become understandable by the time readers arrive at the last chapter.
Here is a wonderful Norwegian book entitled by Jan-Erik Sørenstuen e provides compelling insights into discovering nature through art, and art through nature. The PDF of the English translation, entitled ‘Dancing Flowers, can be downloaded here: http://home.uia.no/janes/Dancing-ny.pdf Here is my review of this inspiring book:
‘Dancing Flowers: To Discover Nature Through Art and Art Through Nature’ by Jan-Erik Sorenstuen is a lavishly illustrated text, elaborately documented text that addresses the current, crucial, and urgent challenge of the contemporary era. Its fundamental thesis confirms the claim by the renowned eco-philosopher, Arne Næss, that through spiritual and psychological development humans can recoup the intimate identification with other humans, animals, plants and ecosystems that our ancestors once enjoyed. Sorenstuen goes further. He introduces a methodology to activate this process.
In the hypothetical manual that details the principles of ecosystem dynamics, equal space is allocated to increases in organization and increases in disorganization. Ecosystems depend equally on progressive and regressive dynamics to sustain the cycles and trajectories of energy transfers. Thus ecosystems build and dismantle structures. They concentrate and disperse energies, They organize and dishevel forms. Building, concentrating, and organizing are functions of life. Dismantling, dispersing, and disheveling are processes related to death.
Matter and energy undergo an inexorable process of unraveling. All organized structures, living and dead, biotic and abiotic, eventually dissipate until they succumb to disorder. Evidence of entropy is apparent in aging bodies, corrupted computer files, rotting tree trunks, and rusting cars. Even organisms that enjoy optimal conditions carry death sentences. But time is not entropy’s only warden. Disease, as well as too much or too little of the very ingredients that spurred growth can cause degeneration. Extreme moisture, warmth, and nutrients kill.
If exotic journeys excite your imagination, the project I am conducting at CHRCH Project Space may be intended for you.
Since it is likely that you have already mastered electronic data-gathering and manipulation, the workshops I am conducting might lead you as far from familiarity as Rembrandt sitting in front of a computer console.
The workshops venture into the domain of personal, sensual interactions with moss, seeds, twigs, bark, mushrooms, pollen, feathers, and innumerable other ingredients that account for the wondrous uniqueness of the planet you call home. Each of these materials unleashes dramatic narratives of relationship that can transform the bland landscape you observe out a kitchen window into a thrilling pageant, and reduce dazzling digital graphics into passing entertainments.
Such direct interactions strip the filters, buffers, and amplifiers that intervene when you rely on text and graphics. Direct multi-sensory engagement offers the surest route to membership in the emerging environmental era because it transforms abstract data and virtualized experiences into personal realities as they ensue in real time.
Environmentalists, including eco artists, work on behalf
of the their ecological ‘home’ – planet Earth.
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What’s Next? Is the title of the book I am currently writing. The project has steeped me in a quest for the elements of ‘now’ that are likely to be projected as conditions of ‘later’. I use the words ‘pioneer’, ‘venture’, ‘avant-garde’, and ‘new’ so often, I fear I may tumble into the future unknown. Thus, I am hoping to regain my balance by pursuing a comparable exploration backwards in time.
Please join m in imagining the wondrous time, long ago, when the impulse to create an image first arose in the minds and spirits of early humans. The French artist, Hubert Duprat, believes this breakthrough predates cave art, despite the fact that painted depictions of animals on the walls of caves comprise the introductory chapter of most art history surveys. Duprat surmises that prior to rendering with pigment, early humans created images by arranging their hands near a blazing fire to produce animal-shaped shadows on the opposite wall. This manner of artistic depiction required no tools, no mediums, and no technical knowledge. Yet the willful construction of a two-dimensional image to represent an entity that occupied three dimensions marks humanity’s auspicious entry into the world of art. Duprat revived this tradition by sculpting animal-shaped shadows in flint that he chipped in the manner of early humans.