what’s all this eco-art stuff then?!

a timely but virtual recapitulation…

Before I run away with myself, elaborately following a theoretical furrow to a field of academic un-eventuality, it is maybe time to check myself, to redress the questions pertaining to an always-questionable practice, to reevaluate the efficacy of the unempirical and to tease out some meaning where there is too often none. After all, this is a self-confessed practice of practicality, a means towards an indefinable end, a gesture of integrity and hope in this ecological hinterland of increasingly dramatic consequence…

 cross, worthygate wood (pward 2012)

Ecological Art or “Eco Art” is a contemporary form of environmental art created by artists who are concerned about local and global environmental situations, and who take art making to a functional format.Cynthia Robinson[i]

So I have heard the blather of the long-bearded professors, (the pessimistic prophecies of Doctor Doom), seen the footsteps of our forefathers and mothers, blazing the trail towards an art with purpose[ii], an art for ecology, placed firmly within the processes of nature, unambiguously offering opportunities for resilient resolution or reconciliatory remediation with our posthumously ill-considered behaviours, hand-in-hand with all our relations…

But,

Does it work? Does it actually do exactly what it says on the tin?! Is my well-meaning propaganda appropriately effective or not? Or is it just another purposeless plaything for the privileged, wrapped in academic self-adulation as a momentary means to alleviate our guilt-ridden consumption?

And if it does do as it says it does, just how does it do it? What are the means of my altruistic interactive intervention, if that is what it is? What technological advances does my knowledge base implicitly employ? And how might I better become what brings me such joy, and share the shapeless form of circumstantially inspired intention with those of us who need it most? Thankfully we all have our own way, our individual reaction to our intrinsic responsibility, all as apt as the next (or not)…

 branch support 1, birdhill (pward 2012)

I have recently taken part in an exhibition (in case you hadn’t noticed)[iii], in a place that many aspiring environmentally inspired artists would more than likely envy. But as I stood quietly invigilating, listening to the disinterest and disaffected opinions of an already sensually overwhelmed passing audience, of how ‘art is just a nonsense’, how all this is ‘a waste of time’ or quite simply ‘boring’, I wondered whether all the effort was worthwhile!? To my mind the work was maybe misplaced or underrepresented amidst the ensuing noisy circus round about, and it merely confirmed my growing unease and inner sense that such traditional expressions of artfulness are simply (self-indulgent and costly) celebrations of our innate aesthetic dexterity, rather than a means to honestly question and possibly transform our socially destructive paradigm. It also occurred to me how miniscule and insignificant our efforts seem within the massive churning machine that is our society. While I would not deny the pleasure of such affirmative events and the essential networking that may take place, and despite the inspirational happenings that had given rise to the work on show, and the tasters of our interactive talent shared among those who attended the private view, such decontextualised, 2-dimensional appropriations of practice can no more than scratch the surface of an artist’s political intent – a passionate desire to engage him or herself and others in meaningful creative discourse and action; to learn through experiential means and manipulation of the matter in head and hand. But then again from tiny acorns mighty oak trees grow…

Many of the ways through which we are presently exploring this multi-dimensional means of communication, this propaganda pedalo, are leading the past makers of marketable things, things once wanted and appreciated in a world of plenty, of profit and unproblematic consumption (or so it seemed) to a practice of curation (of a kind). The skills now deemed necessary in this artful emergence are those of composing situations[iv], of manipulating experiential space (and the animate influences within) to guide another and ourselves into a rapidly shifting land of altering perspectives, of new matter dressed in ever more elusive garb (rather than just saying it how it is), in an effort to deceive the unwary skeptic toward open-minded interaction. But then no one wants it to be easy do they? Where’s the fun in that?!  Where’s the oh-so-very-clever ‘money’s worth’ over-educated elitism there?! Where’s the mystery, the sleight-of-hand, the search and seek, the free time well spent, the carefully crafted subversive means, and where’s the freaking reward?!?! Is the only way we can get ‘Jane and Joseph public’ to really stop in their tracks, to sit up and listen, to spend some quality time with a well-crafted and superbly spirited object of our carefully refined imaginations, shocking enough of ourselves awake, to heartlessly corrupt our own sensibility of security and comfort? But then all to often these are the very proper means towards our physical or imaginative participation[v].

 stick form 1, birdhill (pward 2012)

Obviously they aren’t the only means by which we may approach our aspirations, the self-sustaining path towards a meaningful and long-lived career. There are of course more subtle and charismatically intelligent responses to the problem at hand. It sometimes all seems to be a ridiculous game of who-knows-who, of biased evaluations of worth and value, of twisted logic and a retarded sense of power and purpose. But then how do those with integrity disengage themselves from those without? How does the ‘genuine’ overcome the reputation of diseased economic deception imposed by the media of our disenchantment, the cynical job’s-worthys, the absolutely no-common-sense brigade, if that is actually the way things are?

Lou Reed once sang, “You need a Busload of Faith to get by”[vi]. I must say I would have to agree. That, and a belief that truth will shine through, that purpose and spirit will disentangle us from the mythical monstrosity that is our modern age.

 split stone, northam (pward 2012)

So, to return to the original question, ‘what is all this eco-art stuff then?’ …

It is quite obviously not the traditional (or contemporary) means by which artists may make a living, selling their skillfully and intelligently crafted wares and services to any who may afford them, or entertaining the masses with outrages of the imagination and exquisitely fashioned indulgence. It is however formed through a similar process but disseminated and received through quite another. The motivation behind an art of ecology is for reconciliation with our own nature within the universal abundance, rather than an acquisition of material for our selfish ends. It is an art for the world and all its creatures, for its soil and seas, its mountains and molehills alike. Its form is not determined by style, fashion or marketability (although such matters may still influence any available funds), but by sense, purpose and meaning, by practicality and suitability, by ethic and empathy and wonder. It is often created in consultation with others whose knowledge is in some ways greater but whose shared aims inspire generosity, whose integrity engenders selfless reciprocity.

 human interference 2, northam (pward 2012)

It is, by nature, the embodiment of its aims, aligned through process with the means of its own fruition, able to admit its own failure but progressing all the same, with humour and goodwill despite the odds against it. It is servitude beyond ambitious originality. It is facing things head on, not avoiding responsibility, but maybe approaching them ‘at a slant’. It is hope and resolution in the face of disaster[vii].

So I best get on with it!

PW 2012


[i] from www.cynthiarobinson.net/ecoart.html

[ii] For an in depth account of the hopeful march away from meaningless Modernism read The Reenchantment of Art by Suzi Gablik

[iii] https://intim8ecology.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/3-colours-to-save-the-world/

[iv] SITUATION – Edited by Claire Doherty (LONDON; Whitechapel Gallery; 2009)

[v] PARTICIPATION – Edited by Claire Bishop (LONDON; Whitechapel Gallery; 2006)

[vi] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtTNrHAVwOM&feature=related

[vii] For more discussion and insight into the practical and theoretical manifestations of eco-art see http://www.ecoartnetwork.org/

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2 Comments on “what’s all this eco-art stuff then?!”

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