Nationalism Under Attack by Localism and Globalism

Once again, national pavilions are featured in this year’s Venice Biennale,. While approximately 90 countries are participating in the most prestigious of all international art festivals, many of the artists selected to represent their homelands are dismantling conventional ideas about nationhood and national identity. The contribution by Tavares Strachan from the balmy Bahamas, for example, contains ice collected in the North Pole; Stefanos Tsivopoulos’s contribution to the  Greek Pavilion contains footage of an African immigrant pushing a supermarket trolley through the streets of Athens hunting for scrap metal to sell; and at the Pavilion of Chile, Alfredo Jaar has created a scale model of the Giardini (a site at the Venice Biennale)emerging from a large pool of sludgy-green liquid before sinking back into its depths.Nationalism is further tromped by France and Germany because they swapped pavilions. Of the four artists on display in the French Pavilion, only Romuald Karmakar was born in Germany, and he is the son of an Iranian father and a French mother.

Consumer Materialism / Bio Materialsim

I sometimes envy the ease with which Medieval painters and sculptors laid claim to the public’s attention. The only time people in this era encountered images (instead of tangible things) was during Sunday visits to church!

In an era characterized by a relentless barrage of depictions, two-dimensional renderings and sculpted representations are possibly the least optimal forms of artistic communication today. These conventional art genres and mediums are being trounced by imagery emblazoned on surfaces everywhere – commercial products, printed materials, storefronts, T-shirts, overlays on our computer screens, the walls surrounding baseball fields……A supersaturated public is not inclined to seek additional visual experiences.

Thus, every day contemporary artists face the problems that male cicadas confront just once every 17 years – how to make their presence known within the cacophonous din created by frenetic competition.

Many eco artists regain the impact that art enjoyed in Medieval times by offering today’s audiences experiences that are as rare to us as rendered images were 800 years ago. They are greatly expanding the inventory of art strategies to provide the opportunity for sensual and visceral encounters with the vast catalog of actual materials that abound on Earth.

Too Many Births Days

Increasing knowledge of animal behaviors has been eroding confidence in the uniqueness of the human species. While we  excel in our capacity for cognitive flexibility, innovation, and imitation, other categories of specialness are being discredited. We are not the only species that can make and use tools, nor the only animal with consciousness, with language, with emotions, etc.

But there are two factors that are securely unique to humans. One is that we are the only species that has domesticated fire. The other is that no other species on Earth REDUCE birth rates when food supplies INCREASE! This biologically baffling condition is purely voluntary. No governmental edicts are needed to produce a psychological switch regarding a couple’s desire for offspring. They happen automatically when standards of living improve.

Lower births rates across the globe have followed the course of prosperity from North America to Latin America, then to Asia, and most recently to Africa. In each location, increases in income and education resulted in fewer births and lower infant mortality. Unlike the material desires of the newly prosperous, when it come to the desires for children, ‘more’ is  is not better!

Oil and Water Don’t Mix

The following quote comes from an interview by Andrew Pendakis with the artist, Ursula Biemann who is contributing to the Maldives Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Both articulate the profound culture-shifting and potentially world-shattering impacts of two basic fluids: oil and water. I hope you will read it. The text brims with consciousness and conscienciousness.

“Oil and water, though not quite opposites, are anecdotally understood as chemically incompatible (‘they don’t mix’). This incompatibility mirrors a very strong associative or symbolic antagonism.

Updating the Hudson River School of Art

Sublime beauty is not the only reason why the wilderness inspired Thomas Cole’s most esteemed paintings. He also revered wilderness because it embodied the wondrous workings of nature and the sacred mysteries of God. Cole watched with consternation as the Hudson Valley’s rugged wildness was leveled by railroads, paved by roads, rechanneled by mills, deforested by tanning industries, and tamed by farms. His romanticized nostalgia epitomizes the art of the region, known as the Hudson River School of painting, in the early days of the Industrial Revolution.

Let us EatLet-Us-Eat-the-Colors-of-Na

Globalism vs Localism

Despite the surge of initiatives among environmentalists to establish locally scaled endeavors such as local currencies, community gardens, neighborhood recycling facilities, district-based material exchanges, and regional trading partners, contemporary cultural norms still cluster around the glamorous images evoked by being a jet-setting globe trotter. Globalism is apparent in world music, world cups, world wars, world politics, world premieres, the World Wide Web, the World Trade Organization, and the World Bank. It is less apparent, but equally present, in paper clips, shoelaces, peanut butter, and combs. In all these ways globalism evokes the inspiring vision of melding “the ends of the earth” and its “four corners” into a unified sphere.


‘Manifestos assert a call to action to overthrow the status quo and install a radical alternative. For this reason, I have written the following text in the form of a manifesto.


Artists’ commit to examining all by-products of their material manipulations:
GOOD: Reduce energy consumption and waste production during art production
BETTER: Reduce energy consumption and waste production during transportation, packaging, and display of art, as well as art production.
BEST:  Eliminate energy consumption and waste production during transportation, packaging, and display of art, as well as art production.

Artists accept responsibility for the environmental costs of maintaining their works of art after they leave the studio:
    GOOD: The art work minimizes environmentally costly investments in climate control, archival     papers, and storage.
    BETTER: The art work eliminates environmentally costly investments in climate control, archival     papers, and storage.
    BEST:  The artwork is either biodegradable or it is non-biodegradable but recyclable

The CIA: Patrons of Eco Art?

Eco artists are engaged in emergency rescue missions to save the beleagured planet. Most of these artist are self-propelled by urgencies that are both pragmatic and psychological. Their drive to heal and restore the planet, however, is frequently diverted by the need to seek funding and opportunities.  

The world would be so much more safe and secure if some enlightened patron provided the resources that would enable eco artists to fulfill their innovative enviornmental schemes.

I propose the CIA!

Is this idea crazy?

Not at all. It follows a documented precedent.

CIA officials just revealed that for more than 20 years the agency directed its vast resources to secretely promote Abstract Expressionism around the world!


The Ethics of Eco-Art Criticism

A critical ethical art question was raised in an email I received this Earth Day from my friend Ann Rosenthal: Should artists be held accountable for the waste, extravagance, or pollution associated with creating their works of art?

This question is particularly testy when it is applied to eco-artists who sometimes claim that the damaging impact of the materials used in their works is excusable because their art works awaken consciousness of irresponsible behaviors and may ultimately be redeemed by the reformed behavior of members of their audience.

Blackberry: The Bush is Omitted. The Device is Added.

Does anyone you know still doubt the severity and urgency of addresssing the seismic cultural shift away from engagement with life-processes and seasons and waterways and weather?

Does anyone still deny that these interactions with the non-human environment have been replaced by the wholesale adoption of experiences provided by electronics and the material products produced by mechanics?

The substitutions made in the latest version of the Oxford University Press Childrens’ Dictionary provides glaring evidence of this trend.