Tuesday, September 28, 2010


The Global Warning Symposium that was put on during the Zero1 biannual was very timely for my purposes considering my work falls in the sphere of eco art and environmental art. I was able to go to most of the symposium. I missed the afternoon of Thursday, though I was told that I did not miss much. In my opinion the highlights were the two morning speakers on Thursday, and the keynote speaker on Friday. Though there seemed to be some complaining about Thursday being too intellectual, it was a symposium, which by their very nature are going to be somewhat academic.

The first speaker on Thursday morning, Dr. Kathleen Moore, is a philosophy professor at the University of Oregon. I found her presentation particularly interesting because she discussed the moral obligation of why we should strive to protect the planet, and how we as artists can help in the translation process of the hard science to the general public. This presentation particularly resonated with me because I often get sort of "why should we care" questions. For example, when I was doing research for a project about endangered species, I often would get the question "isn't extinction a natural process?" The answer I always give is yes extinction is a natural normal process, however we are a species are speeding up the process, which then brings up the moral (key word here) question of are we OK with being the cause? This goes well with Dr. Moore's argument that we have a moral obligation.

I will briefly discuss a point that I thought was interesting that the second speaker touched upon. Gail Wright did a fairly straight forward lecture of various different types of approaches to environmental and eco art by different artists. She got a variety of questions towards the end of presentation, many of which circled why it was necessary for artists to be doing many of their projects, and why they were working with scientists to put together many of their projects. One thing that Gail said that stuck with me was when she said that artists seem to be getting grants (which are sometimes government money) to be doing what the government should actually be doing.

Thursday started with the presentations and a panel from the Climate Clock artists. The Climate Clock project is an interesting project in so far as they are trying to address climate change by creating something that will last at least one hundred years. I had heard one of the groups talk about their presentation before, the Wired Wilderness project. They are taking a very different approach from the other two projects, which in some ways are more traditional in their approach to what will eventually be public art. The Wire Wilderness project is more of a platform for multiple art projects or events, one each year by a different artist for the next hundred years, dealing with data from a UC research center. All of the ideas were intellectually interesting, though I am not sure any of them really stood out for me. It was interesting because they get many questions about how they were dealing with the data, and how their projects were "iconic" (one of the things the project was meant to be). Like politicians, the artists would often dodge the question and in my opinion stay to their "talking points." I would be inclined to attribute that to the fact that all of these artist groups have been working on their projects for almost two years and are probably very close to their ideas.

After the presentations were over, a discussion of whether the money (an estimated 15-20 million dollars) would be better spent directly on schools, etc, to affect more direct behavior change. I have not come to a satisfactory conclusion for that question myself. I on the one hand come from a science background, and have worked in government. There is so much red tape and money chasing that it is a miracle that anything ever gets done. Therefore, being an artist does allow for freedom to play and be a cultural changer that being in government does not always provide. On the other hand, as an artist one has to be realistic about how many people outside the art community are aware of what is going on inside the art world. Unless it is public or commercial art, many people do not have access to much of the art that gets created. Another issue is that public art often gets so watered down that does it really get any worthwhile message across to the public? And as an artist dealing with complex scientific concepts, how much can you water them down before they are no longer valid? I think any artist who is dealing with climate change as their platform are going to run into all of these issues and more.

Maybe the solution is for the government to just be run by artists. Can't be any more dysfunctional than it already is.

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