Form is constructed out of three components: shape, organization, and relationship. Western artists have exploited all three aspects of form to convey their moods, emotions, beliefs, and/or insights. Such artists conjure form in their imaginations, and then produce a visual record of it with the flick of a wrist and a sweep of the brush. Within this art context, form is so malleable, and its variability is so limitless, that the only laws it obeys are those erected by the artists autonomous impulses, ideals, anxieties, observations, etc.
In nature, form is not so simply constructed. Shape, organization, and relationship are all products of circumstances that lie outside of the human imagination. They even extend beyond the bounds of culture. Art that acknowledges the shaping forces of eco systems embraces such sculpting mechanisms as molecular cohesion, electrical connections, chemical interactions, genetic transfer of information, and gravitational forces. In each instance, shape, organization, ande relationships develop in accordance with life maintenance and enhancement.
In eco art, as in eco systems, shapes are not invented abstractions. They are visible evidence of functionality specific to bacteria, shells, sponges, human bodies, clouds, crystals, lakes, moss, and so forth.
Shape in eco art is always derived from function.Such aesthetic considerations relay nature’s wondrous resourcefulness.The shape that assures the growth of an organism differs from the shape that optimizes the transport of nourishment and waste. Likewise, a shape that serves as a membrane is not an appropriate shape for a skeleton. Size matters. Large entities are products of gravity, while microscopic entities are shaped by chemical and electrical forces. Shapes convey the ongoing drama of dynamic transformation that is inherent to ecosystems and the complex forces that impinge upon them. In sum, it is only within the imaginative realm of art that shape is formal. Within an ecological system, form always exhibits the irrepressible shape-changing forces in its midst .
An article today in the Huffington Post provides a stunning example of artworks that produce resources instead of consuming them. In this instance, the artist is Jason deCaires Taylor. The resources he is augmenting are located in the ocean depths. That is where he installs masses of human forms that he carves and then submerges for the purpose of providing an inviting habitat where aquatic life can find protection and reproduce. Thus, the active components of his artistic process occur in two complementary phases. One begins and ends whtin his studio where he fabricates the thirty or forty figures that comprise each work of art. The other begins, but never ends. It occurs when fish and algae and seaweed and crustaceans begin to occupy the surfaces of the sculptures. If the work is successful, the artist’s contribution will be completely obliterated.
A few months ago, Jason asked me to write an essay about an art installation with a stridently political message. Here is an excerpt from it:
Midway through my new book exploring ecological materialism I feel compelled to assert that the materialist perspective does not strip living matter of its ability to evoke wonder. This materialism is not related to Karl Marx. It is the opposite of consumerism. Despite its avowed pragmatic commitment to environmental reform, it is also fostering spiritual attunement with non-human realms of existence.
For example, current materialist explorations are disclosing the profound intelligence, sophisticated strategies of defense, and complex languages of communication where they might be least expected – within the botanical world. Armed with new technologies and a desire to reach across the species divide, new materialist researchers have begun to listen in to conversations among plants and to decipher their meanings.
The triadic rotations of the earth, the sun, and the moon command the temporal dimension on our planetary system. No material object on earth can escape them. These rhythms include the daily gravitational dance of the sun on the earth, the monthly gravitational pattern of the earth to the moon, the daily light pattern of the earth to the sun, the monthly light pattern of the earth to the moon, and the annual light pattern of the earth to the sun. Thus, units of time are composites of these five rhythms as they occur at any point on the surface of the earth.
What are ‘the most serious crimes listed by the International Criminal Court under Article 5 of the Rome Statute – which has authority over and above all other laws?
To date, there are four and they all are designed to protect humans:
1. The Crime of Genocide
2. Crimes Against Humanity
3. War Crimes
4. The Crime of Aggression
A fifth is currently under consideration. The crime of ECOCIDE! Under this provision, non-human life forms and non-biological conditions are elevated in value and are deemed worthy of protection by the highest court among nations.
Ecocide within international law “prohibits mass damage and destruction of the Earth and creates a legal duty of care for all inhabitants that have been or are at risk of being significantly harmed due to Ecocide.” What is ‘the duty of care’? It involves preventing, prohibiting and pre-empting human and natural environmental catastrophes.
If a crime of Ecocide is committed, punishment will be imposed through national courts and the International Criminal Court (ICC) or a similar body.
Let us not be timid regarding eco art and aesthetics. It is through aesthetics that eco artists can rise above the roster of today’s hot artists and assert their eligibility for acclaim in the future annals of art history. Why? Because most of the artists attracting market hoopla are merely perpetuating the speed, power, and convenience of push-button technologies that originated fifty or more years ago. This is old news. By addressing this era’s key concern – the faltering of the planet’s systems and functions – eco artists are truly eligible for master-status. They fulfill a hallowed qualifier of ‘great’ art by creating art that is not only innovative; it is also timely.
Switching metaphors from Mother Nature to Lover Nature indicates a radical shift from relating to nature as a provider, healer, and comforter, to relating to nature as recipient of protection, augmentation, and attention. This supremely special lover thrives on adult mutuality, as opposed to infantile dependence and lack of responsibility.
According to biologist E. O. Wilson, humans are entering an “Age of Loneliness” because we are not only losing the companionship of non-human species, we are converting opportunities for love into acts of warfare.
Wilson notes, “Step into places of diversity, complexity and abundance and you find yourself going straight into the heart of eros. You encounter love, and from love one is moved to care, and from care to action, and from action to imagining a world without all this violence.”
The drama that is currentlyunfolding is being played upon a planet-wide stage that reaches far into the atmosphere and into the depths of the seas. It engages the mighty forces of raging winds and torrential rains, shattering earthquakes and collapsing towers of ice, flushes of invasive populations and witherings of beloved species. Consensus holds that the future will not resemble the past. But it is not known if we are heading toward a worldwide ecosystem adjustment or an epic terminous!
The works of art being created by contemporary eco artists present compelling samplings of material conditions and options. This is an emotional narrative, as fraught with dread and uncertainty as it is invested with optimism and humor. However diverse the outcomes they are imagining, none anticipate a return of the Medieval belief that Paradise on Earth that they envisioned as a congenial climate, abundant vegetation, and perpetual daylight seven times brighter than a sunny day.
At the same time, eco artists hope to avoid updating the mythic tales that describe disasters wrought by angered deities to punish humans for their wanton ways. The international precedents for this tragic scenario include:
Greek: Zeus sent a flood to destroy humans.
Lithuania: the supreme god Pramzimas saw nothing but war and injustice among mankind so he sent the giants of water and wind to destroy earth.
Egypt: people had become rebellious so Atum destroyed all he made and returned the earth to the Primordial Water.
Humans evolved late in the lengthy, intricate, and wondrous progression of organisms that inhabit the Earth. To this day, evidence of our connection to our less complex ancestors is imbedded in our bodies and brains. But humans are not merely archives of evolutionary history. We have also evolved life-styles that resemble a grand experiment in expanding capacities to remember the past, to analyze the present, to anticipate the future, and to manage the materials that realize these conceptualizations in the physical environment.
The history of strategies humans have devised to provide for their sustenance range from prying out roots with a stick, to excavating millions of cubic feet of earth with giant bucket-wheel excavators. The vast majority of the entries in this diverse accounting of material interactions have either been motivated by self-interest or undertaken to benefit other humans. Such anthropocentrism has been the cultural norm since pre-history. Self-interest, as a driving force, is not unique to the human species. Nor is it necessarily objectionable. Self-interest is a biological imperative shared by humans, lions, dandelions, and every other form of life. Lions are not venal and greedy when they devour their prey. Likewise, dandelions are not intrusive and imperious when their seeds float on breezes and flutter down on a well-tended lawn. However, humanity’s self-interest seems to earn the adjectives ‘venal’, ‘greedy’, ‘intrusive’, and ‘imperious’ by exceeding its survival needs. The checks and balances of entire eco systems have been thrown out of whack by the unique abilities of people to surpass their biological imperatives.
Noise is ‘too much’ when it exceeds annoying and becomes debilitating. Noise is ‘too little’ when it appears on lists of environmental concerns. Both terms apply to artists who address noise pollution. Art abounds that offers analysis, reports, and solutions regarding air pollution and water pollution. But noise is missing from their accountings. Air pollution is typically associated with emissions of harmful chemical gases like carbon monoxide and particulates like soot. Water pollution is typically associated with harmful changes in its physical, chemical and biological properties caused by the release of waste, oil spills, and atmospheric deposition. The racket bombarding the air and the water that is being generated by current technologies is missing from these equations.
Humans have been creating bothersome clamor for a very long time, at least since 1700 BCE when a Babylonian text was written on a clay tablet. The poem relays that the gods were angered because humans were making such a racket, it prevented them from sleeping. The poem, entitled ‘Atrahasis’, intones, “The country was as noisy as a bellowing bull. The God grew restless at their racket” These celestial beings were so outraged the rude noisemakers that they created an epic flood that they followed by famine and plague.