“Last week, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, who is the first and, to date, only artist in residence in the history of the New York City Department of Sanitation (a title she has held since 1977), was speaking at the Brooklyn Museum’s daily staff roll call. She told the museum’s crew of maintenance workers—among them window washers, security guards and floor sweepers—that even though their work can seem boring and repetitive, what they do is “the first kind of culture.”
Archive for the ‘Public Art’ Category
In 2007 the artist Eve Mosher, interested in climate change, followed the 10ft elevation above sea level around Brooklyn and then Manhattan. She called the work High Water Line. She used one of those push along carts that are used to mark football, baseball, rugby and other pitches with chalk (in the US called a heavy hitter, believe it or not). The New Yorker magazine carried the story post-Sandy.
Greenhouse Britain: Losing Ground, Gaining Wisdom started from the question, “The waters are rising. How can we retreat gracefully?” and the first works that the artists produced were the re-drawing of the UK coastline at the 5m, 10m and 15m marks.
Artist Chris Bodle did a similar exercise in Bristol – you can see documentation here.
Bill McKibben recently said that where artists cluster around issues you know something important is happening.
He’s been quoted as describing artists as ‘the antibodies of the cultural bloodstream”.
“Artists”, he says “sense trouble early, and rally to isolate and expose and defeat it, to bring to bear the human power for love and beauty and meaning against the worst results of carelessness and greed and stupidity. So when art both of great worth, and in great quantities, begins to cluster around an issue, it means that civilization has identified it finally as a threat.” (thanks to Roanne Dods/Clare Cooper for this quote)
Please comment with other examples of artists marking high water lines.
Heliotrope is a 12 minute audio and light experience about the seasons. It has been created by a team of artists, designers and scientists, working together to explore the impact of light on minds and bodies.
It’s taking place in the Kibble Palace, Glasgow Botanic Gardens on four days at the end of November 2012 (24-27) in the late afternoons and early evenings. It will then go on tour. It’s free. To book free tickets, go to Trigger » Heliotrope.
PLATFORM, the interdisciplinary social and enviromental practice working across arts, activism, education and research are in Scotland next week contributing to the Human Rights Documentary Film Festival in Glasgow as well as the Radical Independent Book Fair in Edinburgh.
Review of The Time Is Now: Public Art of the Sustainable City
There is no question that energy generation impacts on landscape, both urban and rural. It always has. The current re-engineering of systems towards renewable energy is, on one level, not different. Wind turbines are just one example around which there is a very polarised debate. As a result there has been considerable work done in Scotland on the visual as well as environmental impact. Sophisticated modelling of proposed installations in landscape contexts has become a normal part of public consultation processes. There is now for instance a mobile virtual landscape theatre, developed by The James Hutton Institute. Behind the issues of visual and environmental impact there is a significant public policy commitment in Scotland. This public policy commitment drives funding and decision-making to deliver on the targets. It is intended to shape or focus the market on agreed public priorities.
The Land Art Generator Initiative comes at these issues from a different perspective. The initiative seeks to engage artists, architects and designers in the development of mid and large scale renewable energy infrastructure. The first international design competition focused on the United Arab Emirates and was sponsored by Madsar, “Abu Dhabi’s multi-faceted initiative advancing the development, commercialisation and deployment of renewable and alternative energy technologies and solutions”. The Time Is Now documents the winners and runners up, and a total of 51 of the hundreds of entries.
The Foreword argues that there is a fundamental shift taking place, moving energy generation into a prominent position within our lived environments, which presents new challenges. They say,
As the days of the gas or coal fired power plant at the farthest outskirts of the city come to a close, we will find more and more integration of energy production within the fabric of our communities. Because the renewable forms of energy generation such as solar and wind do not pollute in their daily operations, they are more likely to find their way into proximity with residential and commercial neighbourhoods. (p.16)
This articulation of the challenge does not perhaps fully recognise the complexity of the issue in, for instance, Scotland. As suggested above, and we’ll return to below, it is not merely in proximity to neighbourhoods that the challenge arises: wind generation installations even in fairly remote locations will stoke the debate.
There is also precedent for the involvement of architects, artists and designers in mid and large scale energy infrastructure. Tate Modern was a power station located in the heart of London, and there was considerable debate about the location, which in the end was driven by an energy crisis. The reason why the new use was sought for the Bankside Power Station was precisely that it was a building of considerable architectural merit. Bankside was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who was also the architect of Liverpool Cathedral as well as the eponymous red telephone box. Whilst it is perhaps self-evident that at various points in history artists and designers have been asked to address large scale energy generation installations, it is interesting to think that the best examples are of such importance that they become art galleries.
The metaphor employed for the design of power stations at the time was the cathedral of power, intending to emphasise the prestige and modernity of electricity (see the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society papers for references).
The metaphors that drive these proposals are relevant to reflect upon. Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By (2003) clearly articulates the importance of not just those rhetorical metaphors such as associating power stations with cathedrals, but the more embedded metaphors of architecture and conflict that underpin so much language and thought, and therefore planning and action. Beth Carruther’s essay ‘Possible Worlds’, included in The Time Is Now, addresses this important point.
Within the suite of proposals included in The time is now there is a cluster of power metaphors: the winning team’s proposal Lunar Cubit uses the form of pyramids; there’s a team who’s proposal Solar Eco System uses a depiction solar system (arranged as it was at the point that the United Arab Emirates came into existence in 1971).
There’s another cluster of nature metaphors: the second placed team’s Windstalk proposal looks very much like a field of grass; Solarbird references sea waves, birds, fish and trees; Fern (future/energy/renewable/nature) also applies a natural form to a photovoltaic array. A significant number of proposals explored the shape and pattern of dunes in their proposals.
And there is a cluster of indigenous culture metaphors: Solaris deploys the photovoltaic array referencing decorative patterns in local culture – the blue colour of the panels accentuates the reference, and this patterning also appears in PV Dust. Another team also named their proposal Solaris, but drew on a tent metaphor.
Whilst The Time Is Now is full of illustrations, almost all using the same sorts of landscape visualisation tools mentioned above, there are other aspects of impact, in particular cultural impact that cannot be effectively captured through architectural and landscape design technologies.
Robert MacFarlane, one of those currently reinvigorating landscape writing in the UK, unpacks the complexity of cultural impacts in his essay A Counter-Desecration Phrasebook (2010). His subject is the Brindled Moor on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The context of his writing is the proposal for a wind ‘power station’ of 234 turbines each 140 metres high with a blade span of 80 metres (the terminology of ‘farm’ seeks to elide the reality: these installations are dispersed power stations). MacFarlane reports that each turbine required a foundation of 700 cubic metres of concrete and goes on to note that, “5 million cubic metres of rock and 2.5 million cubic metres of peat would be excavated and displaced”.
The arguments for and against this development rotated around issues of landscape value, not merely visibility. On the one hand MacFarlane quotes the writer Ian Jack, in support of the installation, described the interior of Lewis as, “a vast, dead place: dark brown moors and black lochs under a grey sky, all swept by a chill wet wind”.
MacFarlane highlights the cultural value and complexity of the landscape, challenging its dismissal as a ‘dead place’. He explores in detail the richness of language associated with this landscape, his starting point being to challenge the idea that this is terra nullius. Of course one of the key points he is making is that most colonisation is based on the principle of terra nullius, and that one of the key forms of counter by indigenous peoples in, for instance, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, is to demonstrate the deep connection to land. MacFarlane goes on to argue that this landscape of “…peat-bog, peat-hag, heather, loch and lochan…” has a rich and deep language associated with it. He directs the reader’s attention to the text Some Lewis Moorland Terms: A Peat Glossary prepared by Finlay MacLeod, and containing 126 terms. MacFarlane celebrates the saving of the moor and the rejection of the energy generation installation which would have, in his view, desecrated the place.
If we are to make intelligent decisions about how and where to build mid and large scale renewable energy installations, then we definitely need artists, architects and designers to contribute to the development of schemes that acknowledge the aesthetic impacts, and actively seek to create beauty as well as functionality. But we also need to assure that the locations are not treated as terra nullius or without cultural meaning. The tools are not just those of landscape visualisation, they are also of landscape language and lived experience. Engaging and embracing cultural meaning, perhaps in deeper ways than simple symbolism, could lead to imaging more interesting solutions, whether that’s for a piece of desert, moorland or for a settlement – village or city.
The Land Art Generator Initiative operates on a biennial cycle, and the current round focuses on Fresh Kills, a former landfill site on Staten Island in New York City. This location is now of deep cultural significance, being the place that the remains of the World Trade Center was deposited post 9/11. It’s also a place that has been the focus of work by the artist Merle Laderman Ukeles for many years.
You can purchase your copy of The time is now here http://www.kinokuniya.com/sg/index.php/fbs003?common_param=9789814286756 .
Land Art Generator Initiative. (2012). The Time Is Now: Public Art of the Sustainable City. Page One: Singapore
Evans, G. & Robson, D. (2010). Towards Re-Enchantment: Place and its Meanings. ArtEvents: London.
Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (2003). Metaphors We Live By (2nd Edition). University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London.
Matt Ridley is the author of a number of books on the subjects of evolution, genetics and society, and has been variously a scientist, journalist and businessman. There was an article in Saturday’s Times and the full version is on Matt Ridley’s website. It’s worth reading.
His family leased land to a mining operation in the North East of England and have sponsored Charles Jencks to create Northumberlandia, the latest of Jencks’ earthworks.
When the Banks Group approached my family to dig out coal from under farmland we own, creating 150 local jobs, they also came with an imaginative suggestion. Instead of waiting ten years to put the rock back and restore the surface to woods and fields, which is the normal practice, why not put some of the rock to one side to make a new landscape feature that people can use long before the mine is restored?
Ridley makes an argument around energy and land. It’s an economic argument about fossil fuels and land use.
The replacement of muscle power, burning carbohydrates, with fossil power, burning hydrocarbons, has been one of the great liberators of history.
Unfortunately the argument doesn’t look to the future. It is true that fossil fuels have transformed society, but that’s the transformation of the industrial revolution. The current transformation is focused on renewable energy and the need to massively reduce our footprint.
And in terms of art practices, this is not innovative, just large. Cutting edge art practices look to integrate the future into the landscape, not just shape it aesthetically. Whether it’s AMD&ART addressing Acid Mine Drainage, or the Land Art Generator Initiative bringing together at scale renewable energy and art, or any of a number of other artists working on energy and land futures (see greenmuseum.org for examples), Northumberlandia misses a trick and a big one. The creation of new public space is important, but the use of that process to exemplify new futures is vital.
How can a social cultural organisation take on issues that are creating social unrest? Earlier this year Indonesia experienced demonstrations and clashes between protesters and police over proposed price hikes in fuel. Indonesia, like most of the rest of the world, is highly dependent on fossil fuels. Whilst the immediate crisis was averted by a the Government withdrawing the price hike, the challenge remains.
HONF (House for Natural Fiber) in Yogyakarta, Indonesia has responded to the energy crisis and the results are presented at the Langgeng Art Foundation. The project draws on local knowledge of plants as well as ways to use new media and technology. They have framed the project as follows:
The presentation—as a sustainable design prototype—consists of 3 core components: a) Installation of a fermentation/distillation machine to process hay (raw material) into ethanol (alternative energy to substitute fossil fuel); b) Satellite data grabber: to obtain data related to agricultural production (weather, climate, seasons); c) Super-Computer: to process data (weather, seasons as well as ethanol production capacity), which is also capable of predicting when Indonesia can reach energy and food independence if this MICRONATION/MACRONATION sustainable project design were to be implemented as a public strategy and policy to achieve the condition of energy and food independence in Indonesia.
This presentation is a good opportunity for us to reassess basic performative premises of various practices combining science, technology and arts. HONF’s project—as with their previous projects—actually blurs the boundaries that have thus far been setting apart science, technology and arts. They combine all three, which to us brings home the question: where is the boundary between aesthetic experience and function? What possibilities could the relationship among science, technology and arts bring when confronted to actual problems in today’s communities?
Scottish Natural Heritage publishes a guide to various funding sources for natural heritage projects – included are schemes that support on the ground action as well as communication and education. This guide covers EU, Public Sector, Lottery as well as Trusts and Foundations and can be found here.
Also worth checking out is the website of the Environmental Funders Network, and in particular their publication, ‘Where the green grants went.’
Received this email from Dee Heddon:
What book would you take for a walk…?
In 1794, John Hucks and Coleridge walked to North Wales. Hucks carried with him the poems of Thomas Churchyard.
In 1802, Coleridge walked through Cumberland, carrying with him ‘a shirt, a cravat, two pairs of stockings, tea, sugar, pens and paper, his night-cap, and a book of German poetry wrapped in green oilskin.’ He apparently read the Book of Revelations in Buttermere.
In 1818, Keats travelled the Lake District and up to Scotland with his friend Charles Brown. Keats’ carried Dante’s Divine Comedy, Brown the works of Milton.
In 2012, Dee Heddon and Misha Myers will walk across Belgium, carrying Werner Herzog’s Of Walking in Ice, Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost etc. etc. …
During August and September, Dee Heddon and Misha Myers are joining the Sideways Festival, walking from the West to the East of Belgium. For the length of the walk, they will carry a walking library – rucksacks filled with books that are good to take on a walk. The library will support a peripatetic reading and writing group and will be donated to Sideways at the journey’s end.
Dee & Misha are in the process of building the library. They welcome suggestions of books to take on a walk (including details of books taken on a walk by illustrious walkers/writers).
Please email suggestions to Deirdre.Heddon@glasgow.ac.uk
Dee & Misha
Dr. Deirdre Heddon
Theatre, Film and Television Studies, University of Glasgow, G12 8QQ
0141 330 6286
Dean of Graduate Studies, College of Arts