artist dispatches on the weather, environment, and everyday life
Eindhoven, Netherlands - Geertjan Cornelissen
Both my mother and her sister grow their own vegetables. They are 74 and 79 years old. This year was an ongoing fight for them against snails that thrived in this wet, cold year. They crushed them by the hundreds under their shoes. But even during this snail-apocalypse they never even considered using poison. They never did and never will. My mother always says; ‘When you want poison instead of insects on your vegetables you go and buy them in the supermarket!’
I made this photo in my aunt's garden. It was back in late fall, with typical weather, cold and rainy. The vegetable garden was empty except for this row of bright red chard, almost untouched by snails.
• More about Weather Report here
new approaches to climate
Billy Friebele is in the midst of a residency at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop in Washington DC, during which he is sending floating video cameras downstream for an exploratory artist survey of a little-known stretch of the Anacostia River (which is already the little-known sibling of the larger Potomac River).
From the CHAW website:
Billy is an interdisciplinary artist. Materially, his work spans sculpture, video, drawing, and digital art. [He] creates projects that respond to natural forces. Yielding control of the outcome of these works decenter humans as the central focus and encourages observation of natural processes. These tactics address environmental threats and encourage viewers to consider the ramifications of our actions within the larger ecosystem.
I asked Billy a few questions about his project and process:
We need to rewire our entire thought structures.
How do you see the role of the artist - in general and/or in terms of your own work - in relation to the environment and the climate crisis?
I think the role that artists can play within the climate crisis can feel futile because the forces are so overwhelming. From a technocratic utilitarian position, it is tempting to seek a grand solution that will solve the problem and allow us to maintain our comfortable consumptive habits. However, the challenges are so complex that interdisciplinary actions are absolutely essential. We need to rewire our entire thought structures.
The arts play a vital role in transforming a human-centric position to a view that focuses on kinship and interspecies connections. While I recognize that this in and of itself will not stop global warming, it is a vital first step to change the ideological foundation for our actions from a position of destructive consumption to an understanding of the interdependence of all things in nature.
I am trying to allow the river to speak for itself in a register that humans can understand.
Your approach is a bit like a scientist, yet with an artistic goal. What do you hope or anticipate that the floating cameras will discover on their journey, and what we might learn?
Both of my parents are scientists, which definitely had an effect on my artistic development. In preparation for this project, I volunteered as Citizen Scientist for Anacostia Riverkeeper last summer, taking water samples and measuring things like pH and water/air temperature. These experiences changed the way I saw the river. I think art and science are more closely related than we often think they are. I am interested in the Natural Philosophy movement that predates the development of modern sciences, which was a more general interdisciplinary term for the study of nature.
By allowing the two cameras to float downstream I am trying to allow the river to speak for itself in a register that humans can understand. It is exciting to encounter creatures beneath the surface that you cannot see from above – even things like mosses and roots submerged in water. There are so many little worlds and habitats out there like this that I am hoping to discover and learn from. I'm really interested in the realization that the living world operates at frequencies that we are unable to perceive with our limited human senses and that art can be a window into the broader spectrum and hum of natural ecosystems.
I use [AI] as a form of collaboration with a non-human entity
Can you explain in lay terms what 'AI art' is in the context of your work?
So, using artificial intelligence is a new development in my work and I am still learning, but what drew me to this technology is that much like the cameras I use to access unseen dimensions of the river, AI is a form of decentralized cognition that I have limited control over. I use it as a way of surprising myself, as a form of collaboration with a non-human entity, and to explore the limitations and biases baked into this technology.
I use a program called Playforms that allows users to experiment with AI through a graphical interface. I trained it on 50 stills from the Inversion/Submersion video and was really surprised by the way that it interpreted the water and land.
I felt like I was immersed in another world seeing through the eyes of some aqueous creature
You talk about 'decentering humans' and giving up a certain amount of control of the outcome. Do you have any preconceived ideas in mind about what this exploration might tell us about ourselves and/or our relationship to 'non-human creatures'? Or is it totally about exploration and seeing what comes, then you go from there?
The challenge is to set some sort of structure from the outset (which is necessary for me because if I don't have limitations my process spirals in a million directions!) and then to allow the project to unfurl as an open-ended conversation with the non-human creatures who live in this ecosystem. Since my goal is to decenter human perspectives I do not want to dictate the outcome.
The first footage I collected felt very boring to me until I turned it upside down, and suddenly I felt like I was immersed in another world seeing through the eyes of some aqueous creature (which amazingly is only a few inches under my feet). We have all been trained to view the world through this anthropocentric lens.
I hope to use art in order to reach a level of empathy for the more-than-human world and an understanding that we are codependent.
music to carry us forward
Yasmin Williams is indeed a new kind of guitar hero. She's on a meteoric rise and can certainly help carry us forward if anyone can. Early in COVID, she performed in the Viaduct Arts driveway for a neighborhood "Roadside Attractions" outdoor concert. Now she's in Rolling Stone and wowing the likes of the Newport Folk Festival. Maybe she wouldn't exactly call herself a climate-artist, but she does say she is inspired by “thousands of young people [who] started to take political action and form their own ideas of how they want the future of our country to look.” As reviewer Chris Richards of the Washington Post said:
[H]er latest songs were influenced by the planet, the pandemic, the economy, the Black Lives Matter movement, the fate of the nation and more. These are calming, contemplative lullabies surfaced from the roiling aura of the times.
The Guardian | 13 Apr 2021
We are on fire (Not in a sexy way), the title of a recent piece by Karla Dickens made after Australia's 'Black Summer' fires, would be a great cheeky slogan for the climate movement. It was part of a stylistically and conceptually wide-ranging group show in Melbourne this past year.
Independent | 28 Dec 2020
The English singer also revealed that he has turned his own East Suffolk estate — also known as Sheeranville — into a “wildlife meadow”. “I have got a massive beehive. I have this massive wildlife pond with newts in it, salamanders and there’s a grass snake that lives in there and hedgehogs.”
Salon | 16 Dec 2021
[The writer focuses] less on the circumstances that nearly obliterate humankind than the forces that inspire it to continue, namely camaraderie, community, and art as the glue that binds us.
opportunities for artists
Inspired by conversations regarding the importance of community and an interwoven, dynamic creative response to our warming planet, I have begun to deep-dive into the rather vast world of communities, organizations, and institutions (funding resources as well) that have a focus on sustainability and climate studies.
For subscribers of Viaduct Arts, each week I will highlight a residency and the work of a handful of their members/participants. Our hope is to create an ongoing list which we feel meet a certain threshold of quality and intent for artists looking for climate-related opportunities.
If you know of a good potential addition to this list, please reach out to me at email@example.com.
Stephan Jacobs is an artist, educator, and the acting faculty director of Emmanuel College’s institutional artist residency and co-founder of an academic partnership with Bauhaus University, Weimar. Stephan grew up in the Washington DC area and now lives with his family in Boston.
Fogo Island Arts (FIA)
WHERE: Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Canada
APPLICATION CYCLE: every 2 years
DEADLINE: 14 February 2022
WHO: mid-career, established artists
HOW LONG: 4-12 weeks
COST: accommodations, travel and creative stipend provided
I recall reading about this residency program in 2014. Initially, I was struck by images of sun-bleached, modernist saltbox cabins teetering on the edge of craggy granite, above a smashing North Atlantic surf. Fogo Island is way out there on the edge of the human world, about as far east in North America as your foot can land. I can think of few other places in this continent where you can be as isolated to reflect, discuss, and create. Aside from it being seemingly quite creature-comfortable, that remoteness promises the chance for deep, quality conceptual gestation time. Yet at the same time the residency offers a dynamic opportunity for conversation and collaboration between fellow residents, and is well-connected to the local community.
The biographies and portfolios of FIA’s participants reveal a range of established mid-career to world-renowned artists in creative fields across the spectrum of the visual arts. “FIA residencies are intended for professional contemporary artists with specialized training, recognition among their peers, and a history of public presentation of their work in a professional context.”
Well-made, organized and curated, the FIA residency receives primary funding from The National Gallery of Canada, Pew Fellowship Consortium of Residencies and Fellowships in the Arts, as well as Alliance of Artists Communities.
The 2022-23 residency considers “interconnectedness of food with our histories, ecologies, economies, politics, and social worlds. Fogo Island is geographically located within the Labrador Current, a section of the Atlantic being monitored closely by scientists as an indicator of climate change but, also, one which has considerable consequences for the whole of the Atlantic region.”
For a full list of all residents at FIA: https://www.fogoislandarts.ca/#residencies
State of Emergence: Why We Need Artists Right Now - A long but remarkable and deeply resonant reading of an essay by Canadian dance artist, choreographer, director and 'embodiment facilitator' Shannon Litzenberger on December 8, 2021. I listened in the car on the way home from work, there were maybe 20 or 30 times I literally gasped in recognition of her powerful, human, and precisely expressed points on the challenges and potential for artists taking on climate. A must-listen.
Climate Museum UK posted this slightly dizzying list of climate-arts groups active worldwide.