Article report by Rahma Khazam
September 28th, 2010
Stavanger, 15 Sept – 15 Oct
The 2010 Article Biennial raised a number of pressing questions regarding art’s contribution to environmental issues, and particularly climate change. Is this growing trend known as eco-art merely jumping on the environmental bandwagon, or is it a more deep-seated phenomenon capable of modifying consumer behaviour? Does it redefine the artist’s role and responsibility? ARTICLE 2010 examined eco-art’s impact and its capacity to break down the divisions between art, science, environmental realities and daily life, in an international conference, a series of discussions and, most strikingly, an exhibition.
Taking the opposite tack to RETHINK, a concurrent exhibition on art and climate change comfortably housed in the city’s Kunstmuseum, Article reached out to wider audiences by installing its artworks in public space. Sophie Jerram’s Last Gasp addressed the current fad for bottled water – a fad that poses the problem of the production and disposal of millions of plastic bottles, while fuelling a growing distaste for local tap water. For this work, Jerram affixed stickers announcing that bottled water endangers environmental health on standard water bottles and put them up for sale in a number of shops in Stavanger. Highlighting as it did the commodification of an increasingly scarce resource, her piece did not fail to have an impact on local shoppers.
Nele Azevedo’s Minimum Monument was an ephemeral work consisting of innumerable diminutive ice sculptures in the shape of human figures that were placed on the steps of Stavanger’s City Square, where they melted within an hour. This ephemeral anti-monument questioned the solidity, grandeur and sense of heroism implicit in the conventional monument. It also alluded to the fragility of human life and civilization, which could vanish without a trace in the event of an environmental disaster. Meanwhile, Andrea Polli’s Ground Truth, a video installation on the working methods of weather observers and scientists stationed in extreme environments, constituted a prime example of how to make scientific data “intimate” – as Roger Malina puts it – even though, like many examples of eco-art, it was somewhat didactic in its approach.
Works such as Karolina Sobecka’s Puff redressed the balance between creativity and environmental awareness. Offering a new perspective on our contemporary lifestyle, this device in the shape of a cartoon cloud can be attached to the rear of a car, where its colour gradually changes from green to red in accordance with the amount of pollution produced in its vicinity. Both comical and functional, Puff is a potentially desirable consumer gadget that highlights the capacity of objects to convey attitudes, ideologies and ideas. Likewise subverting marketing techniques, media activists Ubermorgen.com presented a typically overblown publicity campaign for a new brand of fuel. Centered around slogans such as “It takes a hard to be soft” and “Soft is the relentless pursuit of a regret-free life”, and targeted at “wild and untamable” consumers, it was announced on their website and via a sticker campaign in the streets of Stavanger. Mimicking Italian clothing company Diesel’s “Be Stupid” advertising campaign, it presented a warped, dystopian vision of the future that took the commodification of natural resources to absurd and fantastical limits – but could conceivably become reality.
Along with a follow-up session called Camp Article, the two-day conference took a more detailed look at the relationship between art, nature, scientific research and environmental awareness via lively albeit largely uncritical discussions and project presentations. A notable exception was Stavanger-based artist Randy Naylor ’s presentation of his self-organizational project in Mandal, Norway. Naylor emphasized the importance of sustainability, pointing out in passing that by largely disregarding local artistic activity, Article itself was not a sustainable organism. Focusing like a number of other speakers on the art-science nexus, Andrea Polli stressed that artists should have an understanding of ecological concepts in order for them to be able to engage in in-depth discussion with scientists. Tapio Makela presented his ongoing project M.A.R.I.N, a residency and research initiative integrating artistic and scientific research into marine ecosystems, the aim being for artists to avoid spectacle by devising complex interventions addressing localized phenomena. In a recent interview, Makela evoked the parallels between art and ecological research: “In a way, ground research that opens up different ways of seeing ecologies, and art that does the same for perception and understanding of them are closer to each other than one would think. I would like to disturb this binary, where art is perceived as useless and science useful.” Yet even though researchers come up with environmental innovations, political and economic considerations are the deciding factor, as he went on to point out: “Think about the climate change debate in relation to politics and public opinion formation… Rather than giving answers, artists may offer ways of reformulating the questions.”
Following up on the exhibition and discussions, sustainability expert Scott Kellogg led a hands-on workshop on “Sustainable Technologies for Ecological Regeneration”. During the course of this day-long event, participants were taught to grow oyster mushrooms in bags, build rainwater-watering systems and make compost tea to detoxify and refresh plants and soil. With oil depletion looming on the horizon in the not so distant future, Norway’s petroleum capital has more to learn from Article than it may think.
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The article is also published at PNEK webpage www.pnek.org
Rahma Khazam is a freelance writer and journalist based in Paris, France. She has published numerous articles on music, sound and art in magazines, journals and anthologies and given lectures on the role of sound in contemporary art. She is also the editor-in-chief of Earshot, a British journal addressing the relations between sound and architecture. Recent activities include curating a sound programme at Palais de Tokyo in Paris, organizing an international symposium on sound, art and architecture arranged July 2008 and the preparing of a conference on the use of sound as a weapon.