Eco-art, design and architecture can be agents of environmental change in the public domain – Philippine Canadian Inquirer


“Ice Watch”, an installation by Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, placed 12 blocks of ice collected from a fjord in a clock formation in a public place in London in December 2018 (Sarflondondunc / Flickr), CC BY-NC- ND

Many of us are aware of the environmental crisis and the need to change the way we operate. On a daily basis, various media offer images illustrating the effects of climate change to help us understand the extent of environmental damage, for example in the form of endless data and measurements from scientists presented in the form of graphs or photographs of topicality.

Visual imagery has played a central role in how people develop a sense of the meaning of the Anthropocene – the era we live in, the first time that human activity is the dominant influence on the climate. .

In recent decades, new art, design and architectural practices in the public domain have helped raise awareness of pervasive waste, pollution and global warming, as well as the social injustices associated with it.

With my colleagues, I catalog public art, design and architecture projects in Canada that aim to teach about the environmental crisis, to reveal what eco-lessons are conveyed to the public and what the public can learn. Our work draws on art and design which has helped to initiate a dialogue of experts and the community on the types of visual images and artistic practices that can engender positive action for our environment.

Green arithmetic

Environmental historian and sociology professor Jason W. Moore explored how environmental researchers and policymakers have sought to help the public understand how global warming is affecting the Earth through data and measurements on the Earth. environmental change – what he calls “green arithmetic”.

Even though these quantifiable representational methods have been a powerful model for understanding the “what” of our planetary condition, it is not clear whether people have understood the effects of the current crisis on the biological and socio-economic aspects of our planet. interconnected world – or what changes we need to change course.

The graphs show exponential damage, but who can understand what a kilogram of carbon dioxide is or what it does to the environment? This visual imagery format is far too abstract and the information represented is defined at a scale that is difficult for many to imagine.

As TJ Demos, professor of art history and visual culture has argued, graphics developed by environmental organizations or researchers rarely motivate people to take positive environmental action.

A photograph of tall towers on oil fields.
“Oil Fields # 19ab” by Edward Burtynsky, chromogenic color print, taken in Belridge, California, in 2003, seen at the Nevada Museum of Art in July 2019. (rocor / Flickr), CC BY-NC

Sublime images of disaster

Some artists have created sublime images depicting disaster situations. Photographer Edward Burtynsky and other artists have developed artistic investigations that tell stories that reflect what the transformation of the environment means.

Photographer J. Henry Fair is another artist who uses beautiful images to document “the hidden costs of consumption”.

This type of art is often placed in museums, which in most cases are not an open public space. And only a small part of the population sets foot in a museum.

However, it is not only museums that exhibit such images. Media reaching the general public sometimes shares photos of climate change-related disasters which they present as “beautiful” and “amazing”.

Such images can indeed be “breathtaking”. The problem, however, is that such images, whether generated by professional artists, photojournalists, or people sharing on creative forums, are often so sublimely produced that audiences want to consume more of them. Yet there is little certainty that it will help raise awareness of the real causes of environmental damage, let alone bring about change. These types of works of art, which can become very popular cultural products, can be counterproductive in enabling change.

Public eco-art facilities

On the other hand, the public art installation Ice watch by Danish Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, first premiered in 2014, was a seminal work intended to provoke immediate responses to our ecological crisis.

In the artist’s words, this work saw: “12 large blocks of ice detached from the Greenland ice cap are collected from a fjord outside of Nuuk and displayed in a clock formation in an important public place. .

In its second installation, the work was placed in front of the Place du Panthéon in Paris in 2015, on the occasion of an international meeting on climate change, the COP21.

The setup was simple, but it immediately made those in attendance feel the climate change as people could see and touch the huge chunks of melting ice. He also connected people around the world through his Instagram feed.

A statement about the artwork noted that the ice cap from which these blocks were harvested “loses the equivalent of 1,000 of these blocks of ice per second throughout the year.” There were no charts showing data on melting glaciers. Yet witnesses had a resounding experience of the climate catastrophe.

The installation has helped people cope with the environmental crisis in a direct and personal way, as people saw, as writer Rebecca Solnit noted, a “beautiful, disturbing and dying monument”. A sense of dread and eco-anxiety is at the heart of this experience, a concept called “solastalgia” in 2005 by sustainability professor Glenn Albrecht.

Public digital art

Another example is Falling particles, by digital media artist Andrea Polli. This work was first screened publicly in 2010 and has been shown in various locations, including Philadelphia in 2013.

Falling particles projects a visualization of the air pollution data of the surrounding area and projects it like a waterfall. When the waterfall is calm, the air pollution is low. When the pollution is high, the waterfall looks like choppy boiling mud seeping down the side of the building. Anyone walking the city streets can come across this visualization and be directly affected as it displays real-time data that can be viewed and used. Falling particles screened in Philadelphia.

Towards systemic change

These public works are successful in their ability to make catastrophic situations visible, invisible to most people. They can even activate small changes in behavior.

Are such creations successful in fostering systemic change? Combining real-time data with visceral experiences in public spaces is a first step. Perhaps the ability to deeply involve civil society in this public works can enable the necessary transformational changes.

Eco-art and design projects in public spaces aim to offer powerful experiences to passers-by and where they become witnesses of a devastating global situation. Through these experiences, people come a little closer to situations than they might not have otherwise imagined. And, after imagining these situations, people may then be motivated to resolve them.

Carmela Cucuzzella, Professor of Design and Computing Arts, Concordia University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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