Environmentalists, including eco artists, work on behalf
of the their ecological ‘home’ – planet Earth. They conduct ‘home-making’ by optimizing diversity and biological vigor. This new form of ‘house-keeping’ beautifies and functionalizes this shared ‘household’.
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The word ‘solastalgia’ has not yet appeared in any dictionary, but that omission is likely to be rectified when the next editions are produced. The word was invented by Glenn Albrecht, a Professor of Sustainability at Murdoch University in Perth. Specializing in the intersection of ecosystem and human health, he had no word to describe the unhappiness of people whose landscapes were being transformed by the damage wrought by contemporary technologies and human behaviors. Thus, he invented one. “Solstalgia” describes this new version of homesickness.
Robert Macfarlane, in an article in today’s Guardian, provides a compelling explanation of the word’s timeliness. He states, “Where the pain of nostalgia arises from moving away, the pain of solastalgia arises from staying put. Where the pain of nostalgia can be mitigated by return, the pain of solastalgia tends to be irreversible…..Solastalgia speaks of a modern uncanny, in which a familiar place is rendered unrecognisable by climate change or corporate action: the home become suddenly unhomely around its inhabitants.” In other words, the new wor connectis ecosystem distress and human distress.
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.
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 .
The innovation is not being presented as an example of eco art. It is not even associated with art, and its inventor probably never heard of Jae Rhim Lee‘s decompoculture burial suit, yet it carries all the hallmarks of today’s ventures into creative thinking about death as an opportunity for environmental enhancements.
This innovation is a process called promession. It adds yet another alternative to methods that are available to every living human for disposing of itself when he or she becomes a corpse. This one is ideal for the ecologically minded supervillain.
Devised by Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, who is trained as a biologist and has a personal passion for gardening. Her innovation is the culmination of a 20 years of R & D. Promession is an elaborate decomposition system that takes a body, freezes it, vibrates it to dust, and dehydrates it. It can then be used as a fertile and sanitary growing medium.
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.
Sontemporary art critics and historians scurry to identify living artists’ predecessors and influences. In an article published yesterday in KQED Arts, a reverse tactic was taken. It identifies two artists, currently active, as art “parents”. Helen and Newton Harrison were awarded the distinguished honor of being the progenitors of today’s thriving eco art movement.
It is not merely their early entry into art addressing environmental concerns that is being acknowledged. It is the ambitious breadth of the Harrison’s initiatives that astonish. They explain, “These are million-square-kilometer problems,” says Newton of the issues that he and Helen address with their work. “What we have to be concerned about is what is happening to the entire planet.” Helen adds. “What we are concerned about is the survival of the people and all living things.”
Currently, the Harrisons are collaborating with a team of UC Berkeley scientists and members of the Washoe Tribe on a 50-year-long project. The Tribe, that has occupied these lands for tens of thousands of years, are contributing ancestral knowledge of the local ecosystem.
The project involves physically moving groups of plant species to higher ground to allow seedlings to acclimate to the warming effects of climate change. This investigation is part of an even bigger project, Force Majeure, which seeks solutions to two global problems – which is why they are conducting these experiments in four different parts of the world: encroaching water levels and rising temperatures.
After hearing my daughter’s description of the aquaponics system she and her environmental studies students at Ithaca College will be installing in an elementary school, I asked how this ambitious and innovative educational project was being funded. Her answer: “Monsanto!”
Monsanto is an unlikely donor. The company has long been demonized because of the “short term gain/long term loss” equation that their controlling agricultural tactics generate.
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“First test-tube MEATBALL revealed: Startup claims lab grown meat will be on shelves within three years and says raising animals to eat will soon be ‘unthinkable’.“
With these words, the victimless meat experiment that Catts and Zurr conducted as an art project is poised to become a common commodity in supermarkets. The firm confirms the artists’ predictions that this technique can drastically reduce the energy consumed and the wastes produced by conventional cattle growing and butchering.
When art featured self-expression, the popularization of an artist’s innovation would have been condemned as a violation of an artist’s rightful domain. But eco artists rarely lay claim to their creative efforts because they are designed to solve real world problems and serve real world interests. I suspect Catts and Zurr are rejoicing.
Memphis Meats CEO Uma Valeti declares, “We plan to do to the meat industry what the car did to the horse and buggy.” He then explains, “We love meat. But like most Americans, we don’t love the many negative side effects of conventional meat production: environmental degradation, a slew of health risks, and food products that contain antibiotics, fecal matter, pathogens, and other contaminants.”