Tag Archives: art

Green art – from collapse to resilience?

In the Economist, Robert Butler writes that GOING GREEN is about artistic change as much as technological change, and that green art is moving away from themes of doom and collapse and towards themes of resilience, survival, adaptation and improvisation.  He writes:

Every big scientific moment is also a cultural one. The Lisbon earthquake that killed an estimated 30,000 people in 1755 gave birth to the science of seismology. It also inspired writings by Kant, Rousseau and, most famously, Voltaire, who describes the earthquake in “Candide”, and the impact it had on the notion that there was a benevolent God watching over “the best of all possible worlds”. A century later, the ideas in Darwin’s “Origin of Species” would be played out, absorbed and contested in the novels of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. Fifty years after that, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity paved the way for modernism in all the arts. …

This may be the moment, in my last Going Green column, to spell out this column’s idea of going green. It is not first and foremost about changing to low-energy lightbulbs, driving a Prius, cutting back on flights, insulating your loft or growing vegetables on your roof. All these are worth doing, so long as you remember the words of the British government’s chief scientific adviser, David Mackay—“If everyone does a little, we’ll achieve only a little.” Going green is more about absorbing the scientific consensus that has emerged over the last 50 years: resources are finite, the planet is fragile, our activities are having a dangerous impact on the atmosphere. To take this on board is to change the way you see the world. Even people who resent the sanctimonious tendencies of the greens can see that a great cultural shift has taken place; one that, in the opinion of Tim Smit, who founded the Eden Project in Cornwall, may turn out to be as far-reaching as the Renaissance or the Reformation.

Does that mean that art-lovers and theatre-goers are in for many more gloomy, doom-laden paintings and plays? Perhaps not. The response from artists is moving rapidly away from the clichés of collapsing icesheets and polar bears perched on lonely icebergs. More and more, playwrights, directors and artists talk about approaching this subject through ideas of resilience, survival, adaptation and improvisation. They want to move audiences through stories of hope, endurance and resourcefulness. And that takes us back to the beginnings of narrative art, to Homer and his hero, Odysseus the Cunning.

Links: ECloud, wikipedia, housing bubble, Vaclav Smil, CO2, and ice

Recent links that I liked.

1) Video of ECloud sculpture at San Jose airport.

2) Academics working with wikipedia from Chronicle of Higher Education.

3) Interactive graph of Case-Schiller house price index for 20 cities in USA, showing the continued deflation of the housing bubble from New York Times.

4) Andrew Revkin has an hourlong interview with Vaclav Smil about global sustainability on TV O.

5) Canada emits 3 times the CO2 per person as does Sweden.  Sweden has slightly lower emissions per person than China.  A visualization allows you to see global data and trends.

6) Mapping land ice loss in the Canadian arctic from NASA.

7) Mapping groundwater depletion with satellites from New York Times.

Carl Folke On Resilience

In Seed Magazine my colleague Carl Folke writes On Resilience:

In the 1930s the American art collector Albert Barnes commissioned Henri Matisse to produce a major painting for his private gallery in Merion, outside Philadelphia. Matisse was ecstatic: He rented an old cinema in Nice, where he lived at that time, and spent the entire next year completing the work, a dance triptych. He was pleased with the result. But when the piece arrived in Merion, Barnes wrote to Matisse explaining an unfortunate oversight: His collaborators had taken the wrong measurements, so the painting did not fit on the gallery wall. The difference in size was marginal, and Matisse could easily have tweaked the triptych to fit the wall, a technical fix. But instead he rented the cinema for another 12 months to complete a new painting with the right dimensions. Moreover, since he felt that mindless duplication was not real art, Matisse considerably changed the concept, effectively creating a whole new design. And in this process of reworking the piece, as he experimented with forms that would capture the dancers’ rhythmic motion, he invented the famous “cut outs” technique (gouaches découpés), what he later labeled “painting with scissors.” Whether consciously or unconsciously, Matisse turned a mistake into an opportunity for innovation. The new triptych not only pleased Barnes, but also served as the stylistic starting point for what would later become Matisse’s most admired works.

The French master’s ad hoc ingenuity captures the essence of an emerging concept known as resilience. Loosely defined, resilience is the capacity of a system—be it an individual, a forest, a city, or an economy—to deal with change and continue to develop. It is both about withstanding shocks and disturbances (like climate change or financial crisis) and using such events to catalyze renewal, novelty, and innovation. In human systems, resilience thinking emphasizes learning and social diversity. And at the level of the biosphere, it focuses on the interdependence of people and nature, the dynamic interplay of slow and gradual change. Resilience, above all, is about turning crisis into opportunity.

Resilience theory, first introduced by Canadian ecologist C.S. “Buzz” Holling in 1973, begins with two radical premises. The first is that humans and nature are strongly coupled and coevolving, and should therefore be conceived of as one “social-ecological” system. The second is that the long-held, implicit assumption that systems respond to change in a linear—and therefore predictable—fashion is altogether wrong. In resilience thinking, systems are understood to be in constant flux, highly unpredictable, and self-organizing with feedbacks across multiple scales in time and space. In the jargon of theorists, they are complex adaptive systems, exhibiting the hallmark features of complexity.

Wilderness Downtown

Google Creative Lab has collaborated with the Montreal band, Arcade Fire to create a interactive web movie “The Wilderness Downtown” using Google earth.  Director Chris Milk combines the nostalgia of the new Arcade Fire song “We Used to Wait” with Google maps and street view images of the streets where the viewer lived to produce a very impressive combination of art and technology.

Wired blog Epicentre has an article that gives some background on the project:

The project came about one day when [director] Chris Milk and I were talking about Chrome Experiments and what can be achieved through a modern web browser and with the power of HTML5 technology,” said Google Creative Lab tech lead and co-creator of the project Aaron Koblin. “We were excited about breaking out of the traditional 4:3 or 16:9 video box, and thinking about how we could take over the whole browser experience. Further, we wanted to make something that used the power of being connected. In contrast to a traditional experience of downloading a pre-packaged video or playing a DVD, we wanted to make something that was incorporating data feeds on the fly, and tailoring the experience to a specific individual.

“One of the biggest struggles for a director is to successfully create a sense of empathy with their characters and settings. Using Google Maps and Street View we’re able to tailor the experience to each person. This effect is a totally different kind of emotional engagement that is both narrative and personally driven.”

…“Experiences” such as this will evolve to look much slicker in the future, but already, they’re capable of some fairly incredible maneuvers, integrating Arcade Fire’s stirring music with data from Google Maps and Google Street View, topping it all off with input from the user.

We’re impressed, but some streamlining will be required if bands that aren’t big enough to play Madison Square Garden, as Arcade Fire is, are going to be able to offer it. We counted a full 111 names in the credits.

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Reflecting the Niger Delta: Tolu Ogunlesi on Tings Dey Happen

On 3 Quarks Daily Tolu Ogunlesi writes about American Dan Hoyle’s Tings Dey Happen.  Dan Hoyle was inspired to write a one man play about Nigeria and the oil industry after being a Fulbright scholar in at the University of Port Harcourt, in Nigeria’s oil and conflict rich Niger delta:

TINGS DEY HAPPEN is in Pidgin English. When I heard Hoyle was going to be performing in Nigeria, at the invitation of the State Department, I decided I had to see the show. More than anything, I was curious to see what Hoyle’s idea of pidgin amounted to. There is so much contrived stuff that passes for Pidgin English in popular culture, that I really didn’t have any significant expectations.

By the end of the 75 minute performance, which took place at the heavily guarded American Guest Quarters on the Ikoyi waterfront in Lagos, I was more than impressed. Hoyle’s pidgin is impressive, as authentic (I hesitate to use that word) as it gets.

Hoyle cuts right through to the occasionally dark, often comical heart of Nigerian society. Early on in the one-man show (Dan plays all the voices, and they are myriad), a Nigerian explains that in Nigeria there are “no friends, only associates.”

Gangs roam the delta, but in Hoyle’s world, criminal and crude are, quite refreshingly, not synonyms. Some of the militants speak good English. They even have a sense of humour. “There’s no sign that says ‘Welcome to Nembe Creek’, ‘cos if you haven’t noticed, you’re not welcome,” Hoyle’s white character is told. Not long after the militants add, perhaps tongue-in-cheek: “We are too intelligent to kidnap you.” Perhaps this is because they know that he is merely an academic, with little potential for generating a decent ransom.

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Ian McEwan’s climate change novel

Bestselling, and Booker prize winning novelist, Ian McEwan talks about his forthcoming novel on climate change in McEwan’s novel take on climate change:

“It took me a long time to find a way into this subject – I’ve been thinking about it for a number of years,” he says. “And then I spent some time in the Arctic, with a group of artists and scientists; we were living on a boat that was frozen in a fjord. One of the things that struck me about that was there was a sort of boot room, and one of the iron rules of this boat was we had to take off all our outer clothing – boots, goggles, balaclava, skidoo suits – and over the week, the chaos of this boot room grew more and more intense.”

These eminent inhabitants of the Cape Farewell project’s vessel the Noorderlicht began to decline into a kind of genteel chaos. Someone mislaid his boots and, not wishing to delay the departure of a party itching to head out on an exploration, grabbed the nearest pair of a similar size he could find. A domino-effect of similar “borrowings” ensued. Good people, McEwan wrote at the Time (this was March 2005), were impelled to take what was not their own: “With the eighth Commandment broken, the social contract is ruptured too. No one is behaving particularly badly, and certainly everybody is being, in the immediate circumstances, entirely rational, but by the third day, the boot room is a wasteland of broken dreams.”

“I thought ‘well, this is a highly self-selected group of climate change people’,” he says now. “In the evenings we were discussing how to save the planet, and a few feet away through a bulkhead was this utter chaos! And I thought ‘that’s perfect, that’s the human angle on this that I want’. If one thinks of literature and novels in particular as investigations of human nature, then human nature suddenly became at the centre of our problem about climate change: that we’re sort of cooperative but selfish, we’re not used to thinking in long-term eras beyond our own lifespans or immediate spans of interest.

“So I devised a character into whom I poured many, many faults. He’s devious, he lies, he’s predatory in relation to women; he steadily gets fatter through the novel. He’s a sort of planet, I guess. He makes endless reforming decisions about himself: Rio, Kyoto-type assertions of future virtue that lead nowhere.”

Vienna Zoo: Wildlife and Humanity

(Photo by Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf.)

Sculptor Christoph Steinbrener and photographer Reiner Dempf have modified the animal enclosures of the Vienaa Zoo for summer 2009 (June 10 – October 18) for their show Trouble in Paradise. Their show transforms the idealized wild setting in which animals into settings that contain some our activities that are endangering animal populations outside of zoos.

The artists describe their show as:

… A sunken car wreck at the rhinos, railroad tracks in the bison pen or toxic waste in the aquarium are unexpectedly interfering with our notions of idyllic wildlife. The viewer is forced to reconsider traditional modes of animal presentation and simultaneously to question the authenticity of concepts which are restaging ‘natural’ environments while they are increasingly endangered.

…Present-day conceptions of zoological gardens aim at the presentation of animals in an idyllic and apparently natural environment, untouched by civilization. But this is a contemporary conception, since courtly menageries and kennels were adapted to the exposure of animals as decorative objects. Until the early years of the 20th century, animals were part of a preferably spectacular and exotic staging, to the entertainment and amazement of the public. The artificial and the sensational were foregrounded, without creating a realistic setting of the natural environment of the animals.

(Photo by Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf.)

(Photo by Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf.)

(Photo by Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf.)

All photos by Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf from their webpage.

via Pruned.

Neo-biological art

Artists whose work captures some of the complexity of nature.

Canadian artist and architect Philip Beesley‘s  Hylozoic Soil, an  sculpture whose shape memory alloy arms move in response to the movement of people.

Hylozoic soil

Hylozoic soil

Here is a video.

Reuben Margolin, dynamic wave sculptures.

Jen Stark‘s fractal paper sculpture:

via BoingBoing and We make money not art