Sunday, March 29, 2009

Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe- Week 9

  In her essay The Comprehensivist: Buckminster Fuller and Contemporary Artists  Elizabeth Smith states, " the wide range of ideas and achievements associated with Buckminster Fuller- Utopian, visionary thinking about systems and their interconnectedness, the structural and aesthetic manifestations of integrity, the relationship between pragmatism and abstract concepts, and the potential of human beings as driving forces of change-resonates in current and recent contemporary art practice." In this essay Smith considers several examples of shared intuitions and/or affinities between Fuller and various artists including: Olafur Eliasson, Irit, Batsry, Pedro Reyes, Josiah Mcelhney, Andrea Zittel, N55, and Sarah Sze. 

Click image to enlarge

The one thing that I find most interesting about Buckminster Fuller as well as the work of several of the artists listed above is their constant inquiry and investigation into certain ideas and questions about human existence, in which the end result is less about a finished piece of "artwork" and more about the process of discovery.  I am most intrigued by the work of Andrea Zittel and her commitment to using her life as the model for her designs. Unlike  the artists mentioned in this essay Zittel takes a documentary/performative approach to her work, in which she actually "uses her body to test the authenticity of her art to the world." Zittel's work seeks to understand human needs and investigates the psychological/emotional effects that are associated with living in these minimal spaces. This work raises the question, " Is it possible to create one piece/space that can satisfy all human needs? 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Manifest Destiny / Manifest Responsibility - Week 8

This Weeks readings from the Manifest Destiny/Manifest Responsibility: Environmentalism and the Art of the American Landscpae exhibition and catalogue "traces the links and transitions between the various ideas about the land that have most shaped American History from first contact to the present." In The Cultural Reputations of Nature in American History Michael S Hogue states, "our changing ideas about nature, and the various ways we have given form to those ideas, are key to understanding our history and our national character...Nature and nation mutually implicate one another in American History." Hogue goes on to quote environmental historian Roderick Nash who argued that "Wilderness was the basic ingredient of American Culture. From the raw materials of the physical wilderness , Americans built a civilzation. With the idea of wildereness they sought to give their civilization identity and meaning." I found this statement to be particularly compeling because it suggests that nature is more than just a backdrop that history takes place on but rather that nature itself is apart of our history. Thinking of nature as more than merely a backdrop suggests a shift from the notion, of  "humans apart from nature" to "humans as apart of nature."  

Below is a map of humans response to Nature throughout History 

click image to enlarge

Monday, March 9, 2009

Week 7- Presentation

For two years I have been photographing my father, sister and two brothers as they cope with my mother's depression. Not once in those two years have I ever thought about nature, nor did I think that I would ever actually address anything pertaining to nature within the images. However after reading the Edward O. Winston and Stephen R Kellert articles on Biophilia my whole notion of what nature is shifted. What I have realized is that this whole time I have been photographing my families relationship to nature without even knowing it. For my presentation I will discuss my work as it relates to the biophilia hypothesis. 

While gathering research  for this presentation I came across some great books/articles on biophilia and mental health which I was very excited about because of my personal interest in mental illness. These findings have lead me to want to explore the relationship between biophilia and mental illness for my final paper. 

I don't want to give away my presentation, but here are some of the photographs I will be discussing. 

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Death of Environmentalism - Week 6

Children rummaging through garbage in the slums of India,  Environmental issue? 

In The Death of the Environmentalism Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus challenge the modern environmental movement and create a new dialogue to help advance the future of environmentalism. The first issue they challenge is the narrow defining of what is "environmental."  Shellenberger and Nordhaus suggest that the problem is that "the environment" is defined as a "thing" that needs protecting, they state: "thinking of the environment as a "thing" has had an enormous implications for how environmentalists conduct their politics. The three-part strategic framework for environmental policy-making hasn't changed in 40 years: 1st define a problem as "environmental", 2nd craft a technical remedy, 3rd sell the technical proposal to legislators through a variety of tactics, such as lobbying , advertising, and public relations." They go on to argue that this narrowing defining of "the environment" as a thing that needs to be fixed leads to equally narrow solutions, such as energy saving light bulbs, hybrid cars, and more efficient appliances. However these things do not advance the worldview of environmentalism or solve any issues.

Shellenberger and Nordhaus suggest that we should challenge what does and doesn't get counted as "environmentalism." They raise the questions "why is a human-made phenomenon like global warming -which may kill hundreds of millions of human beings over the next century-considered "environmental"? Why are poverty and war not considered environmental problems while global warming is? What are the implications of framing global warming as environmental problem-and handing off the responsibility for dealing the it to environmentalists?." (pg.12) Susan Clark states, "when we use the term environment it makes it seem as if the problem is out there and we need to fix it...The problem is not external to us; it's us. It's a human problem having to do with how we organize our society. This old way of thinking isn't anyones fault, but its is our responsibility to change." (pg.12)

It is this questioning that I found to be the most interesting and thought provoking in the article because it suggests that environmental issues are not purely based on "sound science" but rather on culture. Shellenberger and Nordhaus include a great quote by the Sierra Club founder John Muir, which also appears in the article Every Corner is Alive, that reads, " when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." This quote articulates Shellenberger and Nordhaus argument that "environmental" have more than just one cause but are rather the result of many things that are connected, they write: "the problem is that once you identify something as the root cause, you have little reason to look for even deeper causes or connections with other root causes." (pg.15)

One issue that is stressed throughout the article as well in contemporary media and writings on the environment is Americans disinterest in "environmental" issues.   However it is not that people don't care about the environment but that they have so many other things that need immediate attention in their lives. Many of the green solutions don't apply to most middle to lower-class Americans because of the high costs of these "gadgets" and the inaccessibility of them. Money appears to be one giant issue when dealing with shifts in helping to protect the environment, but how do we overcome that? I found the amount that G.M. pays for health care a year was astounding ($4.8 billion) and the suggestion by Shellenberger and Nordhaus that if there was free health care G.M. could put that money to creating a more eco-friendly industry. This examination proved that everything is linked and if we want to save the "environment" we must stop defining it so narrowly and look at the larger issues. In many ways health care, and poverty are just as much of environmental issue as global warming because they are all effecting the environment in which we live.    

After reading this article its interesting to think about arts role in environmental issues because they are so much more complex than I think art could ever reveal. I do however believe that art can expose/question some of these issues. Eliot Porter and Edward Burtynsky are a good comparison because of the different approaches they take towards exposing environmenatl issues. Where Porter photographs the landscape as an attempt to preserve/protect its beauty, placing emphasis on the ordinary,  Burtynsky photographs the landscape to expose the effects of man and places the emphasis on the extraordinary. It is interesting to see how similar their style is, both make use of the full frame "in which there is no subject and background, every corner is alive." (Every Corner is Alive, pg .241) In Every Corner is Alive Rebecca Solnit suggests that this what an ecological aesthetic might look like because it refers back to the first principle of ecology that "everything is connected to everything else, all parts of a system have equal value." The form of Porter's and Burtynsky's photographs mimic this notion. I think that both Porter's and Burtynsky's photographs have had a significant effect on the way that people view the environment, but I'm not sure to what extent. I think these artist raise the question of whether a beautiful photograph is enough?

Eliot Porter

Edward Burtynsky

I think the work of Ghanian artist El Anatsui, who creates sculptures from recycled trash. Unlike Porter and Burtynsky, whose art preserves and reveals issues of the enivronment, Anatusi "works with what his environment throws at him." The raw materials of Anatsui's work have a profound impact on the West African societies that use, reuse and discard them. Several of his metal cloths (pictured below) are constructed with aluminum wrappings from the tops of bottles from locla distillaries. Drawing on the aesthetic traditions of his native Ghana and Nigeria, Anatsui's work engage the cultural, social, and economic histories of West Africa. His pieces provide a commentary on globaliztion, consumerism, waste and the transience of people's lives in West Africa and beyond. Anatsui's sculptures suggest both literally and metaphorically that everything is linked and interconnected. I think that Anatsui's work is much more progressive, than Porter's and Burtynsky's because it creates a dialogue between many environmenatl issues rather than focusing on the environment as one "thing"... nature