Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Art, Sweet Art: Adaptive, Hybrid and Flexible, EcoART Moves Hearts, Changes Minds and Ultimately Alters Behaviour

Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Art, Sweet Art: Adaptive, Hybrid and Flexible, EcoART Moves Hearts, Changes Minds and Ultimately Alters Behaviour

Article excerpt

"WHAT THE WARMING world needs now," writes author Bill McKibben in Grist magazine, "is art, sweet art." Precisely because environmental problems are rooted in cultural practices and ideologies, it is artists, immersed in world and cultural practices, who are ideally situated to locate and develop effective responses. In fact, we've been doing it for decades. What is new, is an increasing acknowledgement of the role of art and artists in bringing about change.

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In 2006, I was part of a group of artists, scientists and funders brought together in Vancouver to participate in Art in Ecology--A Think Tank on Arts and Sustainability. The meeting was not so much a beginning of something as it was a recognition of something that has been taking place for some time: that there is a growing international body of collaborative art-based works and projects that directly address environmental concerns.

UNESCO commissioned a report, Mapping the Terrain of Contemporary EcoART Practice, in advance of the meeting, and a summary report, also entitled Art in Ecology--A Think Tank on Arts and Sustainability, resulted. These documents describe what EcoART is and point out its collaborative nature and grounding in place and community. They convey the diversity and significance of EcoART works and projects and the passionate commitment of those involved.

The roots of North American EcoART lie in the cultural revolution of the 1960s and '70s. In his introduction to the fourth edition of Environmental Philosophy, Michael Zimmerman reminds us that Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, published in 1962, helped generate both the environmental movement in North America and environmental philosophy. At the same time, and as part of this emerging environmental consciousness, a new form of Earth and/or Land art came into being. Artists such as Helen Mayer Harrison and her husband Newton Harrison, Alan Sonfist, Joseph Beuys, and others still practicing today, began turning their attention to the relationship between people and the land.

The Harrisons, writes art historian Arlene Raven in Two Lines of Sight and an Unexpected Connection, "work from their aesthetics, from which originates the impulse to restore the relationship between the physical ground and the physical humans inhabiting that ground.... [They] want to create actions that not only stand beside, but work to undo the domination and manipulation of nature in the service of man-made hierarchical systems."

The ethical dimensions of feminist thought have also greatly influenced contemporary EcoART practices, as have the actions of Greenpeace, the organization that pioneered "direct action" environmentalism in the 1970s. Tellingly, many contemporary EcoARTists define their works as both direct action and intervention.

Contrary to some early forms of land and environmental art, the term EcoART is intended to be more Earth-friendly or, in Canadian art critic John Grande's terms, a more "Earth-sensitive" way of working within an environment. Much environmental and/or Land art of the 1960s and '70s involved tremendous imposition on eco-systems. For example, for Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, bulldozers moved 6650 tonnes of basalt, limestone and earth, dumping it into a lake to form a huge spiral. Michael Heizer's Double Negative involved blasting 244,800 tonnes of earth and rock so the land itself was formed into a sculpture. A significant difference between these early works and contemporary EcoART is that EcoARTists are not working in or about, but with, in a collaborative, caring and dialogic sense, the natural systems and non-human constituents of a place.

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Contemporary EcoART practices, as compared to environmental or Land art, strive for balance in human/world relations and are often remedial in nature, frequently working to recover habitats damaged by industrial practices. …

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