CHRIS FREMANTLE

Transformations 2017

Posted in CV, Research, Texts, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on June 6, 2017

Abstract for the Transformations 2017 conference in Dundee. Accepted.


ecoart as a practice of understanding the world

In 2007 the artist Eve Mosher drew a line on the streets of New York based on current science indicating the impact of a major storm surge – a hundred-year flood. The line followed the contour 10 feet above sea level. Mosher used a ‘heavy hitter,’ the wheelbarrow-like device used to mark the lines on sports fields. Mosher worked on High Water Line, as she titled the project, on and off for six months, photographing the line as she made it. The context was the noted total lack of discussion of climate change in the City and National elections.

Not long after Hurricane Sandy struck New York in 2012 The New Yorker magazine carried a story (Kolbert) about High Water Line. In the article Mosher is quoted saying, “I wanted to leave this visually interesting mark, to open up a space for conversation…” and goes on to say, “The other part of the project was to try to prod some kind of conversation on a government level.”

Some artists describe what they do as ‘eco-art’ (and themselves as ‘ecoartists’). This neologism is a contraction of “art (or arts) and ecology”. It represents a still emergent form of practice (albeit with a history back to the late 1960s) which is distinctive in several aspects, not least in seeking to ‘do good in the world’.

Key elements of ecoart include a focus on context and a concern with human interaction with ecological systems; the frequency of interdisciplinarity between artists and scientists (natural and social) drawing out the complexity of these ecological interactions; the embedding of dialogue leading to wider learning by others living and working in the context.

These elements, along with more formal considerations of making art, combine to form the aesthetic, the tangible and experiential quality of the work, the focus of judgement by the artists concerned.

Mosher’s High Water Line demonstrates all of these characteristics. The context, New York, is where Mosher lives and the work explores the relationship between the artist, other inhabitants and the immediate ecological systems. The context is also the issue of climate change, and in particular the issue of public discourse at the community and civic levels. Mosher drew on readily available science modelling the increase frequency of storm surges. Mosher was doing a field study of published science, exploring what it ‘looks like on the ground’ and what it means to inhabitants. In terms of formal considerations the work, the use of everyday, non-art equipment and materials, the temporal intervention where ‘the work’ exists in documentation, and the performative and social character situate the work in relation to other artists’ practices. Critiques of this work might ask whether it is a work in its own right, or simply and illustration of existing science? Is it merely an exercise in climate change communications, or an artwork in its own right? A key question is the status of learning, Mosher’s own and her intended audiences, within the work – does if form an essential aspect of the aesthetic of the work?

There has been considerable focus on developing our understanding of the aesthetics of social and participatory practices (Bourriaud 1998, Helguera 2011, Jackson 2011, Kester 2004, 2011), but less attention has been paid to ecoart practice. Specific attempts (Kagan 2011) to explore ecoart as an art engaged with sustainability have drawn on thinking about auto-poesis as well as Gregory Bateson’s writings. Others (Douglas and Fremantle 2016a, 2016b) have focused on the formal aspects that are rooted in what might be called core art practices such as composition and improvisation.

The purpose of this paper will be to propose an understanding of education and learning within the practices of selected ecoartists.

Bourriaud, N. 1998. Relational Aesthetics. Les Presse du Reel

Douglas, A. and Fremantle, C. 2016. ‘What Poetry Does Best: The Harrisons’ Poetics of Being and Acting in the World’ in Harrison, H.M. and Harrison, N. The Time of the Force Majeure: After 45 Years Counterforce Is on the Horizon. Prestel, pp 455-460

Douglas, A. and Fremantle, C. 2016. ‘Inconsistency and Contradiction: Lessons in Improvisation in the work of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison’. In Elemental: an Arts and Ecology Reader. The Gaia Project, pp 153-181.

Helguera, P., 2011. Education for Socially Engaged Art: A Materials and Techniques Handbook. Jorge Pinto Books

Jackson, S., 2011. Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics. London and New York: Routledge

Kagan, S. 2011. Art and Sustainability: Connecting Patterns for a Culture of Complexity. Transcript Verlag

Kester, G. H., 2011. The One and the Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context. Duke University Press

Kester, G. H., 2004. Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art. University of California Press

Kolbert, E., Crossing the Line, The New Yorker, November 12, 2012 accessed at http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/11/12/crossing-the-line-3, 31 October 2016

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