The Radical Nature - Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969-2009 exhibition, which is currently on at the Barbican Gallery (previously covered by Régine) also consists of several off-sites. They aim to engage with the city of London and make some of the themes of the show more palpable and real, if you want.
I went to visit the double piece which is located in London's North-East district of Dalston where both a re-staging of a work from the exhibition, Agnes Denes' Wheatfield, A Confrontation and a new commission, The Dalston Mill by Paris-based experimental architects EXYZT. The site itself is part of an abandoned railway line (the Dalston Junction Eastern Curve) and had recently been filled in with gravel to be used as a car park. Both pieces in fact form a temporary functional ensemble and eventually the mill will be processing grains from the field when the wheat is ready to be harvested.
The field is basically a re-creation of the Manhattan field from 1982, but it's much smaller and the backdrop is quite different, in that case an abandoned house and the Kingsland Shopping Centre, which is so absolutely puzzling in terms of style that it actually makes an intriguing and very London-like backdrop for the piece. The stark contrast between local production of food and the front-end of its industrialized production also makes for a nice update to the 'confrontation' side of the original piece. One could even say that it is being inverted in an interesting way as the 1982 version was partly about exporting the harvested grains to 28 cities worldwide and planting them there. Visitors are invited to sit by the field and, considering that it is jammed in between extremely busy streets and several construction sites, it feels like an island of peace in one of the madder areas of London.
The mill itself was designed by EXYZT, a collective that many Londoners are familiar with through their Southwark Lido, a temporary structure they created in 2008 together with Sara Muzio for the Architecture Foundation and which was based around the idea of "a community of users actively creating and inhabiting their urban environment [as] key to generating a vibrant city". Sara is part of this project as well, creating a documentary about it and was working in the Mill's bakery when I got there. She explained that this project, although consisting of a very different setup, is built around the same ideas of the 'functional city'. Here, structures, apart from providing shelter, can also take on tasks like generating electricity or grinding wheat and provide a shared platform for the local residents.
The mill itself is 16 meters high and the main structure is built from a scaffolding typically used in construction. The six hemispherical sweeps at the top have been made from resin and are arranged in a hexagon. From there, a servo pole leads down to the bar area where it meets a small customized grain grinder which, whenever the wind moves the big structure above is making a few turns. Interestingly, there is also a series of gears which drives a small generator that is charging a battery which at night powers bars of LEDs in different corners to light up the building.
It all moves very slowly and does neither generate a lot of flour nor energy, but it's fascinating to see how the attempt on creating a somewhat autonomous structure in the middle of a highly developed cityscape actually works and above all creates a very pleasant space around itself. However, to drive things like fridges and music, the mill has to have a secondary circuit which actually hooks into the mains because the wind does not generate enough power. It would be interesting to further look at how something like the Kingsland Shopping Centre and an ensemble of Mill and Wheatfield actually compare, as functional spaces and in relation to the absolute space they occupy in a city.
The Dalston Mill and the Wheatfield is unfortunately only up for three weeks in total and will close on August 6th, so make sure you go check it out if you are in London. It is open daily from 2-10pm, and there is a program of events scheduled (including a conversation with EXYZT about 'pirate architecture' on August 2nd) which mainly focuses on notions around community and sustainability.
Entrance by the Peace Mural on Dalston Lane, between Ashwin Street and Hartwell Street, London E8.
I've spent the past few days highlighting some of the works exhibited but i still had to write a proper review of Green Platform. The exhibition, dedicated to art, ecology and sustainability, closes on July 19 at Strozzina (aka CCCS) in Florence.
It is a good show. Definitely less spectacular but gutsier than Radical Nature which i had visited a few days before. It's also much darker. Although there are projects that lead the way to sustainable and achievable strategies, many others leave you with a guilty (but better informed) "What have we done to this planet?" feeling.
About two third of the pieces exhibited have been produced by the Strozzina. A few of them by the usual suspects but there's also a fair amount of talented Italian artists i had never heard of.
As curator Valentina Gensini explains in the essay she wrote for the catalogue:
Traditional indicators of human well-being (life expectancy, literacy, access to sanitation, grain yield, spread of information technology, etc.) do not take escalating environmental and humanitarian catastrophes into account, nor do they include important data regarding both the reduction of biodiversity - viewed also in cultural terms - and damage to the environment, some of which stems from technological innovations and scientific experimentation whose long-term effects are still unknown. GDP (gross domestic product) does not describe the general quality of life in any way, nor does it indicate the environmental sustainability of the paths that have been undertaken.
Accordingly, the exhibition attempts to address ecological issues not only in environmental terms but also with respect to its philosophical, psychological, economic and social implications. As you can guess, Green Platform provides visitors with an intense experience. One which comes with much more questions to ponder on once you've left the gallery than answers.
The work i found most subtle and powerful was Julian Rosefeldt 's magnificent Requiem, a four screen video installation arranged in a square. Visitors find themselves surrounded by 4 films shot in the Brazilian rainforest, home of one third of the primary forests in the world. Precious and fragile as it is, the area is nevertheless relentlessly threatened by logging multinationals.
In the beginning of the video, visitors can revel in the contemplation of lush vegetation, bright colours, the hum of insects, birdsong and the sound of raindrops falling from the trees. After a few minutes, the peacefulness is interrupted by a disturbing sound which signals that a tree is falling nearby. The crashing of the tree is quickly echoes by another one. Then another one. Although, no human figure appears on the screen, it is impossible not to feel guilty and ashamed at man's lack of consideration and long-term intelligence regarding the health of this unique ecosystem. The fact that the sound of the chainsaw is absent, makes the crash of falling trees all the more resonant and distressing.
Tue Greenfort is the darling of exhibitions about ecology and sustainability. The work he created especially for Green Platform is a direct reference to the rise in temperature observed in the Mediterranean Sea. A combination of climate change, water pollution and lack of natural enemies like turtles and tuna decimated by overfishing have enabled the mauve stinger, a jellyfish with a very painful sting, to proliferate in the Mediterranean and threaten its biodiversity. Greenfort asked artisanal glassworkers on the island of Murano in Venice (an area which is more aware than most of the consequences that the rising level of the sea can have on urban life) to produce glass models of the pink jellyfish. The battle against the invasive jellyfish is absurd and tragic as the damage they are causing is the result of human foolishness. They are a part of nature but are deemed not 'natural' enough for European waters. The battle against the proliferation of the mauve stinger constitutes the umpteenth attempt by man to combat the consequences of his bad behaviour without attacking the root of the problem.
Henrik Håkansson (who also has another work in the exhibition Radical Nature in London) had a long stay in the Mexican reserve of Montes Azules, in the Selva Lacadona (Chiapas.) The area is gradually shrinking as a result of human activities, leaving animals to constantly struggle for survival against the progressive reduction of their living space.
The audio works featured in Green Platform reproduces the song of the quetzal. Once venerated by the Maya and the Aztecs as Quetzacoatl, the feather-serpent, the "king" of birds is now an endangered species. Visitors can only hear the bird for a few seconds every 12 minutes, a rhythm that reflects the rareness of the bird. To hear the bird, you either have to be patient and stay there until it sings again or you must be lucky and stumble upon it. In Håkansson's work the song of the quetzal is reproduced by an amplifier, a Fender Reverb 65, which is itself considered a legend and defined, on the rock scene, as the "king" of its kind. The work thus takes the form of a sculpture/sanctuary, a tribute to the living legend of the quetzal, whose song might one day be heard and remembered only by artificial means.
Dacia Manto's Inlandsis 09 layers several sheets of delicate eco-plastic, derived from maize, to reproduce the area of the South Pole, which is gradually shrinking due to global warming. It has been estimated that over 13,000 square kilometres of marine ice have been lost over the past 50 years. Internally, the huge shelf loses between 90 and 150 square kilometres of ice each year. Manto invites us to consider the geography of the South Pole as a living and fragile organism whose protection is vital for the future of our planet. It can be disturbed the softest blow and even visitors passing near the sculpture seem to cast a menacing shadow upon it.
Developed in conjunction with artists Kim Stringfellow and Tim Halbur, together with the Pond: Art, Activism, and Ideas and Greenaction for Health & Environmental Justice organisations, Amy Balkin 's Invisible-5 has a more journalistic approach. The project examines the social, economic and environmental context of the San Joaquin Valley along whose length runs Interstate 5 connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles. A strategic axis for the transport of goods and people, the corridor is also key in the development of livestock farming and intensive agriculture, waste disposal, oil and gas industries and the construction industry. Interstate 5 is one of the most toxic areas on Earth.
Invisible-5 is an audio tour starring the people and local communities who fight for environmental justice. The sound archive, shared over the Internet, gathers the testimonies of the inhabitants along with typical local sounds and music.
Green Platform, an exhibition curated by Lorenzo Giusti and Valentina Gensini, is on view until July 19 in Florence.
Nikola Uzunovski's contribution to Green Platform - Art Ecology Sustainability, an exhibition running until Sunday at the Strozzina in Florence, is a scientific experiment and an artwork that might be less utopian than it appears.
When (or "if") fully developed, My Sunshine will reflect the sunlight and provide extra hours of lights in urban areas around the Arctic Circle, a region that receives no sunlight in Winter time due to the rotation of the Earth's axis. My Sunshine takes the form of a disc with integrated mirrors, suspended from a transparent aerostatic balloon. Climatologists, meteorologists, astrophysicists, aviation engineers, architects and designers were called by the artist to devise and agree on a theoretical groundwork that would enable these mobile reflectors to bring sunshine to Lapland at the height of winter.
Uzunovski's room at the Strozzina presents his virtual mobile workshop to the public but also engages local design students in workshops that aimed to design the revolving rings on which the reflecting mirror will be anchored.
The most important aspect of this research is the impact on the local population: an artificial sun also comes with improved social interaction and psychophysical well-being.
Interview with the artist.
As i wrote yesterday, i've just spent a day in Florence to see Green Platform - Art, Ecology, Sustainability at the Strozzina center. It is a good show, more coherent than Greenwashing and much darker than Radical Nature. Proper review should land on your screen shortly but i felt compelled to dedicate a post to a project i found particularly striking.
In the Winter of 2001/02, Michele Dantini traveled to Cameroon to photograph and document what is still the biggest private sector investment in sub-Sahara Africa: the construction of the controversial Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline.
The World Bank takes the name of the international financial institution that made the construction possible. It's indeed the World Bank that teamed up with ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco and Petronas of Malaysia and allocated 4.2 billion dollars to the ambitious project. Concerned by the potential risks to human rights and the environment, international NGOs and local communities voiced their opposition right from the start. The consortium attempted to calm down the accusations by forcing the governments of Chad and Cameroon to sign a strict guarantee protocol destining oil revenue for health, education and agriculture.
It soon became clear that the petroleum exploitation did not manage to balance juicy profits with ecological and social principles. The pipeline required the cutting through the primary forest of south-eastern Cameroon for some 1000 kilometres in order to reach the export-loading terminal on the Atlantic coast and the drilling of 300 oil wells in Doba, south of Chad. The region affected by the project is a richly biodiverse area and home to the forest-dependent Bakola and Bagyeli people. 150 families were singled out for resettlement, many village lands were expropriated, crops and plants destroyed and water sources polluted. The upgrading of existing seasonal roads has facilitated logging and illegal poaching in otherwise inaccessible areas. Besides, the arrival of largely male job seekers in the area has led to serious social disruption of the communities, with prostitution, alcohol abuse, and STD all on the rise. The compensation plan crafted by the World Bank was very limited in scope and inadequate to restore or improve on broken livelihoods.
The pipeline commenced operation in autumn 2003. Less than five years later a statement from the World Bank announced that it was ceasing to support the project because Chad's government had repeatedly violated the terms of the agreement by using oil revenue to purchase arms and recruit French troops.
In retrospect, Dantini considers his project a sort of "test" that verifies the skills and socio-environmental responsibility of the managers of the largest Western financial institution, the ideologists of a single model of "development" that has all too often shown itself to be inadequate, unsustainable and even harmful.
The artist created a magazine (bilingual: italian and english) distributed in the gallery and entirely dedicated to the pipeline and its developments. If you can't go to the Strozzina befor ehte show closes, you can download the PDF of the mag online.
Related entry: Flotsam Jetsam.
I'm off to spend hours on a train to Florence to see Green Platform at the Strozzina cultural center. I'll write something more verbose when i'm back but i'm so slow writer exhibitions are dismounted long before i blog about them. So here. A quick appetizer of an exhibition that takes an interdisciplinary look at environment, ecology and sustainability:
Green Platform runs until July 19, 2009 at Strozzina in Florence.
Radical Nature - Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969-2009, an exhibition that opened a few days ago at the Barbican in London, brings together Land Art, environmental activism, experimental architecture and utopianism.
Artists and architects have always been moved and inspired by the beauty and mysteries of nature. Since the 1960s and even more unreservedly over the last five years, the increasingly evident degradation of the natural world and the effects of climate change have brought a new urgency to their responses.
There is sincere commitment in artists' efforts to raises consciences about the eco-drama our planet is going through... even if sometimes, while visiting artshows on a similar topic, i've found myself in front of art works or events that smelled a bit too pungently of opportunism. But if those artworks help us change the world that's a good thing, right? My answer is "yes of course but how can i avoid being cynical?" As long as these artworks do not step out of museums and galleries most people hardly ever visit (i'm not talking about you and me but about my old friends, most of whom have no time nor inclination to follow the visual art scene), i fear that the impact of their work might be somewhat limited. Besides, setting up a contemporary art exhibition, whether its theme is eco-awareness or Bronze Age jewellery, is everything but a 'sustainable' activity. Laudable exceptions, however, are slowly emerging.
Right! That didn't prevent me from enjoying Radical Nature. Unlike the many shows i've seen over the past 2 years on the exact same topic, this one is more than the sum of its parts. The pieces found on the first floor are mostly flashy, easy to love artworks. The most thought-provoking pieces occupy the gallery upstairs. Many of them are remnants of performances, photos and videos of actions, models of projects and other paraphernalia.
Back in 1999, Simon Starling was working on an artwork in Scotland when he learnt that rhododendrons were to be uprooted and destroyed in the country. Considered weeds in the UK, the plants were due to be removed by government agencies from an environmentally "pure" zone of native vegetation and destroyed. Starling took seven rhododendrons and drove all the way from Northern Scotland to southern Spain, reversing the introduction of these plants to England in 1763 by a Swedish botanist. The work, called Rescued Rhododendrons highlights all the subtleties, complexities and paradoxes of nature, or rather what we regard as 'nature.' It is also a political piece, one that echoes the sometimes openly xenophobic ideas of ethnic purity found in many parts of Europe.
The work included in the Barbican exhibition builds upon Rescued Rhododendron. Starling's Island for Weeds is a floating island that hosts the plant that Scotland is adamant it should be eradicated. Starling had first hoped to install the floating structure on the famous Loch Lomond but his idea was rejected. Island for Weeds astutely questions the ability (of nature, of a nation or any system) to absorb new organisms and ideas.
Henrik Hakansson displaced nature too but in a much more shocking way. His Fallen Forest is a 16-metre-square segment of rainforest re-planted in black plastic pots and flipped on its side as a comment on the unbalanced relationship between man and nature. Powerful lights pointed towards this portion of nature enable the plants to grow horizontally, though some of them didn't seem to be in excellent shape when i visited the show.
In 1982, Agnes Denes planted a two-acre field of wheat in a vacant lot in downtown Manhattan. Wheatfield -- A Confrontation yielded 1,000 lbs. of wheat on a ground worth fortunes to comment on "human values and misplaced priorities".
It took her about a year to prepare the site, removing junk and debris from the construction of the nearby World Trade Center. She even installed an irrigation system. After that, trucks after trucks brought in organic matter to make the topsoil. The harvested grain then traveled to 28 cities worldwide and was symbolically planted around the globe.
As part of Radical Nature the work is restaged at an abandoned railway line in Dalston, East London (opens on July 15.)
One cannot dream of a more suitable guest at the exhibition than the co-founder of Germany's Green Party. Barbican is indeed showing the remains of Honeypump in the Workplace, a performance that saw Joseph Beuys pumping two tons of honey through 17 meters of plastic tubing, using motors lubricated with over 200 pounds of margarine. The action lasted for the 100 days of Documenta 6 and was accompanied by talks and debates that all together highlighted his expanded notion of art.
Honey takes an important place in Beuys' work, it is the product of bees who, for him, represented as ideal society of warmth and collaboration.
The Dolphin Embassy was an unrealized sea station that American architects Ant Farm had imagined to build in Australia. The project aimed at researching the possibility of establishing non-verbal communication between dolphins and humans using the new video technologies. Interspecies communication was for them a means to reach a shared vision for a harmonious co-evolution.
As usual, Ant Farm's practice made an innovative use of technology, this time by making video equipment the intermediary that would enable humans to connect with dolphins. (more info at this video of a press conference where Doug Michels and Doug Hurr are presenting the Dolfin Embassy to the media.)
In the '70s, Wolf Hilbertz developed the mineral accretion process which consists in the electrolytic deposition of sea-shell-like minerals from seawater that creates a construction material. Sunlight would then turn the minerals in seawater into limestone for underwater and dryland constructions.
Hilbertz's Autopia Ampere project was an island that would grow in the Mediterranean Sea. It would house, feed, and employ 50,000 inhabitants.
No one does Philippe Rahm like Philippe Rahm. His Pulmonary Space is a form made to inflate when 5 musicians blow into their wind instrument. In his statement about Pulmonary Space, Rahm refers to Hegel who considered music the most beautiful art form and architecture the lowest art form. According to the philosopher, the more an art form goes beyond its materiality, the less it is constrained by the natural world and the closest it is to pure spirit, the more elevated and transcendent it became.
Today we know that sound or voice are not abstract nor dematerialized. They possess a physical, biological and chemical dimension. Pulmonary Space gives a visible, physical presence to music.
Video of a Pulmonary Space performance:
Radical Nature - Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969-2009 runs until 18 October 2009 at the Barbican Art Gallery.
Events focusing on a similar topic: Day 1 at the VivoArts School for Transgenic Aesthetics: Seed broadcasting workshop, Open Sailing, drifting lifestyle to cope with looming disasters, How to Save the World in 10 Days at Vooruit in Ghent, Transmediale 09 - Survival and Utopia, Interview with Ulla Taipale from Capsula, Greenwashing. Environment, Perils, Promises and Perplexities , Ecological Strategies in Today's Art (part 1) and (part 2).