Friday, 23 November 2018

Drawing and Politics part 2

Martin Rawson

The link between drawing and politics has for many years been via the political cartoon. In particular we have a tradition in England that includes Gilray, Rowlandson, Cruckshank and Dent and which continues with the work of Steve Bell, Ralph Steadman and Martin Rawson. In order to make a point artists have had to distort, highlight grotesque appearances and create 'surreal' situations, so that the paradoxes and confusions of politics are communicated to as wide an audience as possible. Artists such as Goya valued this tradition and drew upon it in their own work and whenever times are harsh and artists need to confront the brutal realities of life, this type of art comes back into fashion. However as has already been pointed out there are many other ways of using drawing to make a political point. 

Drawing can be thought of as a type of 'capture' or 'trapping' of a period of time. It is a very personal decision making process, that is unique to the individual making the drawing and therefore has a different type of agency to mechanically produced images; one driven by interest and cognition rather than by technological effect. The sense of touch that comes through mark making and the handmade nature of the image create the beginnings of an authentic dialogue with an event, a dialogue that is unavoidably human and in being so is therefore political and because there is so much 'touch' involved, a certain level of truth value comes through as well. Political work demands a point of view and so do drawings. As you view them drawings reveal themselves via different visual languages; these might include emotional or expressive mark making or use of tonal value, they may involve an invention of form that can be distorted to heighten an awareness of something or to achieve a link between another form that we would not have previously thought about. Selection is vital in a drawing, and because of this it works so much better than a camera, when picking out narrative threads from a situation. Above all a drawing can both record and respond to a situation at the same time, it can invent new forms at the same time as recording what is seen and because it is human made, it has a certain democratic relationship with other human beings, allowing them to enter into an interpretive dialogue with the image, something that is again much harder to do with a photograph.   

Dr Gill Gibbon is based in Leeds and in her work brings together an awareness of cutting edge killing technology with one of the oldest methods of recording events; drawings in sketchbooks. 

Dr Gill Gibbon making sketchbook notes at an arms fair

Dr Gibbon makes her drawings covertly whilst visiting arms fairs and in doing so reveals the reality of buying and selling weapons. The weapons are set out on display as if they were products in a very posh shop. I think it is interesting to see that Dr Gibbon just has to wear a smart outfit and she seems to fit in. People probably think she is making notes as to which missile she would like to buy next. Gibbon's work demonstrates that the politics of how we see is now intertwined with the politics of how we capture (and share) the images which narrate our lives. She raises these issues much more because she draws, and therefore makes it personal, than if she had surreptitiously hidden a camera in her bag and had then released photographs of these places. There are so many photographs out there that they would just be lost amongst the host of images of arms fairs already out there. Dr Gibbon's work gives us a very different experience of time, time spent wandering around these places, time spent making a series of drawings, often in concertina type sketchbooks that can be opened out to reveal a panorama of looking and wandering around. This is a politically focused dérive. 

Dr Gill Gibbon, sketchbooks

It's interesting to see the relationship between beautiful women and armaments. Men in suits strike poses and of course so many weapons of mass destruction look like enormous phalluses. It would be interesting to see how far into one of those arms exhibitions the subjects of Barbara Walker's drawings would get. 

Barbara Walker

The way drawings are presented can also be political. Barbara Walker's large drawings are often done directly on gallery walls, so on the one hand their scale gives presence and highlights a political awareness of the individuals she selects to draw, who are often members of society that are not celebrated or picked out for their achievements. On the other hand she erases the drawings at the end of the exhibition, this in many ways reinforces a political awareness that society doesn't really care about these people, and the exhibition is a sort of sideshow that does not really effect the reality of the situation. 

Barbara Walker cleaning off her drawings

I have recently been posting on art and philosophy and will be continuing to do so, but I do wander what is a quandary proper to politics as opposed to philosophy? Object Orientated Ontology as an approach to philosophy is I would suggest driven by a political need for equality, a desire to give equal rights to all those other things that human beings have tended to just use for their own pleasure and devices. Therefore a focus on the underprivileged in human society can become a doorway into looking at how society can ignore both certain types of people and the world itself. It is no coincidence that President Trump ignores the plight of refugees and the threat of global warming. 

Not all stories are the same. A story from a time when humans had a more animist relationship with the world.

A Kenyan farmer saw a spotted hyena trying to force itself into his goat enclosure. He instinctively attacked the hyena with his spear and killed it. However as the hyena cried out it woke the other villagers and the elders came over to the killing to see what was happening. 
The elders were unhappy. The farmer had acted too rashly. In those times someone would be appointed to represent the animal and he had testified that his careful examination of the hyena had revealed that the deceased was a female who was still suckling pups. He argued that given the prevailing drought and the hyena’s need to nourish her young, her behavior in attempting to scavenge food from human settlements was reasonable and that it was wrong to have killed her. The farmer had not considered the hyena’s situation and he could have simply driven her away. Eventually the elders ordered the man’s clan to pay compensation for the harm done by driving more than one hundred of their goats into the bush, where they could be eaten by hyenas and to ensure that a wider type of restorative justice was done. .
Wrongdoing was seen as a symptom of a breakdown in relationships within the wider community of nature and the elders seek to restore the damaged relationship rather than focusing on identifying and punishing the wrongdoer.

A Makonde elephant shetani

Justice and nature can be cruel, the shetani figures of East Africa are often vengeful and unpredictable spirits. Sometimes coming in hybrid anthropomorphic forms, such as this elephant/human above, they suggest that it isn't all one way traffic and that at times nature will bite back, sometimes hosted in strange and twisted forms. We have to hope that our vast pits of polluted rubbish do not breed mutant forms such as these. My feeling about shetani images is that they are nature's political art, and that the reason humans are so worried by shetani figures is that deep down we realise we are guilty and that we deserve their attacks. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Drawing and Philosophy part two

A while ago I wrote in this blog that making or drawing for me opens out an understanding as it is done. It’s not an illustration of a concept about the world, it is a type of knowledge that arrives. I went on to suggest that Heidegger might be a philosopher to look at if you wanted to open this idea out further. Heidegger as a philosopher is often associated with an area of philosophy called 'phenomenology' which is according to wikipedia 'the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness'.

Heidegger put it this way, ‘…it becomes manifest only through the work, because it lies originally in the work.’ 

If you want to use Heidegger as a way into thinking about these issues the word that will crop up over and over again is 'dasein', a German word that means "being there" or "presence" (German: da "there"; sein "being"), and is often coupled with the English word "existence". Heidegger would argue that you can't just 'be', to be alive you have to be engaged in the world, and if so this will be a practical engagement with whatever environment you find yourself in, even if this only means breathing, which is in itself a direct engagement of an individual with the air. So if one wants to reveal what that 'being in the world' is, it is a never-ending process of involvement with the world as mediated through the various 'projects of the self', or descriptions of what it is we are doing.

This approach suggests that all knowledge is experiential, and in the case of drawing, we need to draw in order to become aware of what drawing is, and as we make drawings, (the work) we are then able to think about how as a drawing arrives; it is also 'being in the world'. 

Heidegger is really into words and if you read Tom McGuirk's paper attached at the bottom of this post you will see how Heidegger uses different readings of the German word for rift and design to open out his understanding. You could do something similar in English. Our verb 'to draw' comes from the same root as 'to drag'. To drag indicates a physical effort, so when I 'draw your attention to something' I am pulling you towards something. Therefore in my own reading of what to use drawing for, I use it to draw attention to something. 

As a philosophical stance phenomenology is very different to those philosophies that suggest that you can stand well away from experience, or put some distance between the world and yourself and contemplate it. For instance Plato's theory of forms argues that there is another reality beyond the one we live in, one that is a more 'accurate' or 'pure' reality. Aristotle refutes Plato's ideas and suggests that we should put observation first and abstract reasoning second. Their original disagreement seems to have led to 2,000 years of chewing these differences over, but as this is a blog about drawing and not philosophy perhaps its more appropriate to demonstrate how these differences in philosophical approach could be realised in making images. 

In my previous post on Drawing and Philosophy I suggested that if works of art were to be regarded as particular types of responses to experience, or perceptions, then these works of art would have to be known empirically, or as Kant would put it; a posteriori. 

However when I went to the Drawing and Phenomenology conference the keynote speaker suggested that there could be two ways of looking at drawing within a phenomenological context; a drawing as a record of its own making and a drawing as a record of the thoughts of its maker. Immediately in my mind I was confused again. If the focus was to be on art, surely then this would be part of the collective understanding of all those that were involved in this sub-group preoccupation. Then, this would in effect be an investigation into the sub-group rules of the game of drawing. It was as if the world had closed down again and was only as big as the 'art world'. But as Heidegger suggested, 'to be alive you have to be engaged in the world', and the world is much bigger than 'drawing'. Of course the maker is aware of making, as I pointed out before I used to watch my grandfather French polishing furniture, and he was totally focused on and in the process of making, but at the end of the day his polishing was for a purpose, his 'being in the world' told him that he needed something to sit on. But let's look at the types of drawing these various stances apply to.

Deborah Harty

Repetitive actions in Harty's case led to a state very like meditation, and her drawings such as this one above were large immersive experiences that forced the viewer to look at them and 're-live' the experience of making them. You could in effect see it all in front of you, or 'what you see is what you get'. Labour in this type of work is very important, the harder you work the more the work is seen to be at the centre of the meaning. As set out at the beginning of this post, ‘…it becomes manifest only through the work, because it lies originally in the work.’ Is this drawing as a record of its own making therefore an illustration of Heidegger's text? If so, and this is where it gets complicated, although the drawing appears to be about being in the moment of its making, is the maker in fact thinking about a wider set of issues, and is using the drawing to make a point rather than using it as a way to be in the world? I'm perhaps now entering 'how many angels can dance on the point of a needle' territory but metadiscourse is often what philosophers end up making philosophy about. So I would suggest that you could associate this approach to one that suggests that in order to make art we need to investigate how and why art is made. A metadiscourse by its very nature tends to appeal to the practitioners of certain disciplines, because they are thinking about their discipline most of the time, especially if they have to research it.

Ann Barriball's 'Brick Wall'

Ann Barriball's 'Brick Wall' is another drawing that has a lot of labour in it. It is a direct 'one to one' response to working with a brick wall. She develops an intense surface of graphite by taking rubbings directly from the wall and working hard enough to emboss the image into the paper surface. I could of course point to her activity as being an illustration of being engaged in the world, but the point I'm making here is that the labour of building a surface is done not to tell us about how art or the drawing is made, but is done to bring us as directly into contact with Barriball's experience of the brick wall as possible. Both artists are 'being there', and therefore if you were thinking of a philosophical approach to writing about either of them, Heidegger could make a useful starting point. 

I worry about this area of philosophy however because it privileges human experience and as I look around I'm not sure that we ought to be doing that. We seem to have been so concerned to think that it is all about 'me' or 'us', that we have brought the world to an ecological collapse. By not thinking about anything other than ourselves and how we think about our various interests we have predicated the end of an environment that supported all life. So in my next post 'Drawing and Philosophy part three', I will try and get back to why I think that object orientated ontology can be a rewarding area of philosophy to investigate. 

These links below will open the issue out much more comprehensively. 

Essential reading:
    DEWEY, J. 1934, Art as Experience, London: Penguin Books Ltd.
    MERLEAU-PONTY, M. 1964, 1908-1961, The Primacy of Perception: and Other Essays on Phenomenological Psychology, the Philosophy of Art, History and Politics, Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Jeanette Barnes drawings in Halifax

Jeanette Barnes

I was in Halifax over the weekend and unexpectedly came across some of Jeanette Barnes's drawings in the main Dean Clough Gallery. If you are in Halifax it is well worth a visit to the Dean Clough arts complex, not just for Barnes's drawings but to explore the full range of work that they have on display.
However it is Barnes that I wanted to look at in more detail, especially as she is an artist I have long admired and have posted about before. See this post on drawing the city.  
Barnes has one of her large drawings on exhibition, alongside several smaller drawings and images that mix print processes with drawing. It is the large, approximately five feet wide drawing that captures your attention, both because it is so well worked and because the spaces she develops are so convincing. The surface vibrates with her many decisions, some left and others removed, some sure and others not so sure, the whole surface gradually knitting itself together not as a smoothly woven cloth but as a constantly emerging and retreating exploration of perception. Her work has that quality of uncertain certainty that I have also commented on before and of course it is another practice that stems from Cezanne's questioning of what is out there and this relates to a philosophy of doubt.

Jeanette Barnes

When looking at Barnes' drawings above all I find them life affirming, they capture the excitement of looking, the looking is translated into the energy of life in the mark, the size of each drawing being directly related to the body's experience of the drawing's making.

Jeanette Barnes

The smaller drawings are also worth looking at because she changes the quality of the marks, obviously as she makes a small drawing she can see everything at once, so there is less moving backwards and forwards in order to see how different marks sit in relation to the surface of the picture plane. When printmaking, she sometimes responds to the first pulls of an etching plate, working against the surety of the printed mark, and adding a layer of more discovered spaces that interpenetrate the initial printed spaces and at other times in mono-prints she works with the flow of the surface as it emerges out of the turpentine/ink chaos of movement.

Jeanette Barnes: Print

Jeanette Barnes continues an old and important tradition of going out into the streets of the city and drawing and this is something that can still reap rich rewards.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Christian Marclay in Huddersfield

Christian Marclay has had a long interest in sound and how we represent it. I have pointed out in the past how his interest in the way sound is represented in comic books has led him to make prints that cross over between genres. He is one of those artists that if you have not already explored his work, you ought to. The Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival is the perfect place to experience Marclay's work and to explore the frayed edges between disciplines, which is where I think some of the most interesting contemporary work is being done. 

Exhibition open:

Friday 16 November – Sunday 25 November
Monday – Saturday: 10am – 5pm
Sunday: 10am – 4pm
Launch Event: Friday 16 November, 4pm
Presented at Huddersfield’s Queensgate Market and on display throughout hcmf// 2018, this exhibition features some of the scores used as the visual source for Marclay‘s live concerts during the festival, exploring his genre-breaking fusion of contemporary music and visual art. A versatile series of compositions that substitute film, fine art and physical objects for musical notation these scores consider the role sense and environment can play in performance, suggesting other possible forms of material for musicians to respond to. Alongside his graphic scores and video scores, there will be video documentation of some of his early music performances.

Monday, 5 November 2018

The Pencil: Sustainability

A 'Yes You Can' set of uplifting quotes on pencils, made from incense-cedar and lots of other things

I thought I'd revisit some of my earlier posts on artists' materials and think about them from a sustainability point of view. A while ago I posted on graphite, it's most common drawing use is in the form of pencil leads, so I shall begin there. 

Pencils, if they have attachments on the end are made from zinc and copper, as well as the lead's clay and graphite mix, and of course there is that eraser on the end which in the case of the Pink Pearl includes added pumice. The wood is though the material that appears to be the most obvious sustainability issue. My first question is what sort of wood is it? In the USA pencils are often made from incense-cedar. A reddish-brown wood with a fine, straight grain. I checked and this is not listed in the CITES appendices and is reported by the IUCN as being a species of least concern. P
oplar (Populus tremula), and juniper (Juniperus excelsa) are also used extensively as wood for pencils. Poplar is not listed in the CITES Appendices but Juniper has been declining throughout the UK in range and abundance. It is not known exactly why it is declining, but it appears that the plants are unable to regenerate successfully.


IUCN: the International Union for Conservation of Nature is the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.

CITES: the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species, has three different levels of protection for species, known as Appendices.

Appendix I – This appendix represents species that are in the most danger and are considered to be threatened with extinction, and are consequently the most restricted in international trade.
Appendix II – This appendix contains species that are at risk in the wild, but not necessarily threatened with extinction. Species in this appendix are closely regulated, but are typically not as restricted as Appendix I.
Appendix III – This appendix contains species that a certain country (called a “party” within CITES), has voluntarily requested to be regulated in order to help preserve the species in question. Appendix III species regulation is only applicable for the specific party that has requested its inclusion, and is therefore much less restrictive than Appendix I or II.
As I started to research woods, I found this very interesting downloadable resource. It's a wood handbook that looks at wood from the point of view of what can you do with it. As I began to read through what is undoubtedly a fascinating document, I became more and more aware how we as a species really think of other species. The handout deals with how to cut, shape, fix, use and get the most out of each wood. It regards wood as being unique, but only in the sense of what we can do with it. No effort at all is put into thinking about the eco-relationship these wonderful things might have with the world around them and how they have evolved into the various niches that they have grown to fit, like the image above of incense cedar, each tree is isolated, its properties itemised and its use value assessed. The only times other issues are mentioned are when a particular tree resource seems to have been overused, so there are now no naturally grown stocks of it left, and the handbook usually then suggests that another type of wood is similar, so we should now use that. 

So the trees that the wood comes from unless it comes from a declining juniper stock, are not according to my research endangered. However, the trucks used to transport the wood pollute the air by releasing carbon monoxide and burning hydrocarbons. Typically large stands of incense-cedar are grown far away from cities and manufacturing centres, so there will be a lot of transportation and associated pollution involved.  
The wood once it gets to the factory is treated with chemicals to remove insect infestations, these chemicals often find their way into the surrounding environment. The tree trunks are then cut into blocks that are then cut into slats. Eight shallow grooves are then sawed lengthwise into each slat. The energy used to drive the machines that do this work is of course going to come from electrical power, that is itself produced by often non sustainable coal or oil burning processes. 

Stages in pencil manufacture

Before the slats can be filled with graphite and clay these substances are mixed together in a large rotating drum. Rocks inside the drum crush the graphite and clay into a fine powder and water is then added, the mixture then has to thoroughly soak for up to three days. The mixture is than taken to another machine to squeeze all the water out leaving behind a grey sludge, which then has to dry out over four days. After drying, the pencil leads are put into an oven heated to 1,800 degrees F. 

The shallow grooves in the slats are filled with the graphite clay mix and then another grooved slat is glued down on top of the first one. 
Graphite and clay both need to be mined. I have looked at some of the problems that come from graphite mining and they can be severe. At night in areas around graphite mines, "The air sparkles" reported a Chinese farmer worried about his health and that of his crops. A lustrous grey dust settles over his fields, crops are stunted, food is gritty and the local water is becoming undrinkable. Since graphite mining has developed in his area, many of the local trees have died. Graphite is mainly used for lithium batteries now and pencil leads are only a small concern. I was not surprised at how easily a fine dust could spread out and pollute an area and although I have yet to find details of the working conditions of those people actually involved with mining graphite for pencils, I would suspect they are poor and because fine particles of dust are so bad for the lungs, I would also suspect their life expectancy is pretty short. 

Yunshan graphite mine

Once dry the joined slats are machined in order to shape the individual pencils. Fast revolving steel blades trim the wood into round or hexagonal shapes, one side at a time. The pencils then have to be paint coated, printed with the company name and important technical details. Once the pencil has been painted, a metal band is wrapped tightly around one end of the pencil so that an eraser can be fitted.  

I found this in the US patents list:
SPECIFICATION forming part of Letters Patent No. 457,579, dated August 11, 1891, 
Application filed March 26, 1891. Serial No. 386,422. (No model.) L 
To all whom, it may concern: 
Be it known that I, EBERHARD FABER, a citizen of the United States, residing at West New Brighton, in the county of Richmond and State of New York, have invented an Improvement in Means for Attaching Rubber Tips to Pencils, of which the following is a specification. 
Lead-pencils have been provided with india-rubber erasers or tips at one end attached by bands or cylinders of metal or other material, and very frequently the cylinder that is connected to the pencil has been provided with a screw-thread in the sheet metal of the cylinder for screwing the rubber into or out of the holder. In practice it has been found that the rubber is liable to Work loose within the metallic tube or holder and fall out, especially when such rubber projects to a distance beyond the end of the metal tube. Paper tubes or holders have been made use of at the end of the pencil to connect the rubber to the same; but such paper tubes are liable to become injured and they are not easily kept clean and the paper detracts from the appearance of the pencil. 
In the drawings, Figure l is an elevation of my improved pencil, and Fig. 2 a section, both being of magnified size. 
In my present improvementsI make use of a narrow metal band A in order to lessen the expense and at the same time to maintain the proper appearance of the pencil, and I insert the rubber plug or eraser B into this band A. If these parts only were made use of, the rub her would be liable to separate from the band and the band to separate from the pencil. To avoid these two difficulties I roughen the metal band A on its exterior surface by pressing into the metal band peripheral grooves or similar indentations, and I apply glue at D between the inner end of the plug and the end of the pencil C in order that such glue may cause the rubber to adhere directly to the pencil and that the glue may pass into the grooves or roughening of the metal band, and thereby connect the rubber and the band and the band and the pencil, because such glue spreads into the grooves and by setting retains the band in position, although such glue may not adhere to the metal itself. Iinsure a firm hold of the pencil to the metal band and the rubber by this simple but efficient device. 
I claim as my invention The combination, with the rubber tip or eraser and the pencil, of a narrow metallic band surrounding the junction of the two and having peripheral grooves or indenta' tions, there being glue or similar adhesive material between the rubber and the pencil end, which also passes into the grooves or rouehening of the metallic band for connecting the parts together, substantially as set forth. 
Signed by me this 20th day of March,l89l. 

I don't think the patent was ever granted but I found the issue of ownership interesting. Someone wanted to own this just slightly different way of putting an eraser onto the end of a pencil. Just as in the wood handbook, the language used suggests the staking of a claim over things. I'm reminded of the land claims that the North American Indian tribes fell foul of.  Some animals mark the temporary use of territory, they lay down scent trails or scratch claw marks into trees but only humans legally lay claim to ownership of the earth, its plants and other humans' thoughts and ideas. 

The pencils are sharpened and then packaged. Pencils come in variety of packaging and many of them come in plastic bubble packs; pencils are no different from so many products in being wrapped in totally unsustainable, non biodegradable, petrochemical eco-disaster threatening plastic. I doubt I need to begin looking at any other art materials, the point should have been made. But remember it doesn't end there, what if you make a pencil drawing that is then sold to a famous gallery that now begins to exert great efforts in preserving this drawing, by framing it under glass, keeping it at a constant temperature under controlled lighting. This drawing may be shipped around the world to other galleries, that also spend energy on ensuring its safety and displaying it in such a way that its status is enhanced. 
So why am I pushing this sustainability issue? I think it's because the older I get the more I see that everything is about relationships and how things are connected. Drawing is one area of art that escaped being seen as a finished product. It was historically seen as a process on the way towards something. You used drawing to plan, to work out what you were going to do, or to collect information such as how things looked, so that you could make paintings or sculptures from the information gathered. This meant that for many years drawing was little valued and paintings and sculptures were seen as the high points of art practice. However the more I think about how we are brought up to consume, the more I realise that consumerism teaches us to desire things and these things are usually objects separated from any sort of communal values other than the basic ones of I've got more and better things than you have.  When objects are separated from their context, we can be sold them as answers to our desires and we can buy them without any concerns as to where they have come from and what went on in their production. So part of looking at the details behind the production of things is to try and get beyond their 'isolated object' status and to see things as part of a web of connections. If I am that bit more aware of where a pencil comes from and how its manufacture might impact on other things, perhaps it might deepen my understanding of where other things come from and how they are deeply inter-connected into the web of life. I realise I make compromises, and sometimes I use materials that I haven't thought enough about myself. But I do try to think through how everything is interconnected, how all the things I have done in my own life are threaded together. How what used to be called the wyrd can still be seen as a useful metaphor for life. These are small steps and when you look at the problems of global warming facing us all, it can appear to be so daunting that you just want to walk away and forget it all. But in reality at a microscopic scale we are all just vibrating patterns, patterns that seem to connect to each other in the most surprising ways. An acceptance to this and an awareness that it is desire that causes us unhappiness, might be a good first step to take, and then as we move on perhaps the work we do might have some wider relevance than just to the world of art. 

One image still haunts me, the fact that at night in areas around graphite mines, "The air sparkles". The graphite dust settles over the ground and at night if the moon is shining very clearly the landscape will twinkle and softly glow, as the hexagonal structure of graphite reflects the moonlight, the tiny graphite particles, diamond like, glint in the dark, a presage of something to come, of a future not far away, or perhaps a future already here. It will be from the soil of images like these, that I suspect art will arise, and it will hopefully be art worthy of the subject. 

If you now go back to the original post on graphite, one of the links I put in it was to the work of T. R. Ericsson, not so much because of the power of his images, but to highlight the technique he was using, that of pushing powdered graphite through the mesh of a photo-silkscreen. I would like to imagine a new work using the same process, but this time the photograph is of a snow twinkling landscape, one that we sometimes receive as a card near Xmas time, one that has all the sentimental associations of a snow covered rural countryside. Then to reverse the image, to make the negative into a very large silkscreen and to print off the image using Ericsson's graphite print method.  You could then do the same thing with a photograph of the area that surrounds a real graphite mine. This could be the starting point for a new body of work. 

The hidden tales of graphite mines

See also: 

Thursday, 1 November 2018


Dear Climate: General Assembly, 2018

On a recent Tuesday evening we went to see a music, sculpture and performance work at the Howard Assembly Rooms in Leeds. The Matter of the Soul' by Kat Austen was something I had been looking forward to because it was a complex piece that was bringing together a range of practices in order to make a statement about climate change and global warming, issues that I'm very aware haven't been dealt with as much as they ought to have been by the arts community. However I was very disappointed in the final production, the various elements failed to fit together and I found the sound languages used incomprehensible and supporting visual imagery badly done. This was a real shame, and as far as I was concerned a wasted opportunity. At least the ambition was there and perhaps that was more important than anything else.
We only have a few years left to prevent global warming becoming an unstoppable planetary disaster. As artists we cannot escape this, we have responsibilities not just to each other but to ourselves. Recent posts have suggested that we should be reframing our approach to everything we do when faced with this situation, but I have not yet really addressed something that is rather like the elephant in the room. It's so big we don't talk about it, it is the biggest thing in the room by far, but we are so scared of what it represents that we will busy ourselves with all sorts of distractions, rather than look at it directly.

There are of course artists dealing with these issues, but due to the complexity of the issues involved these are more often than not artists working in collaboration.  For instance, Livin Studio, an Austrian artist duo composed of Katharina Unger and Julia Kasinger, developed Fungi Mutarium. Fungi Mutarium is a prototype that grows edible fungal biomass, mainly the mycelium, as a novel food product.  Agar, a seaweed based gelatin substitute acts, mixed with starch and sugar, as a nutrient base for the fungi. The fungi digests the plastic and gradually overgrows the whole substrate. 

Livin Studio use drawing to highlight communication issues.

The Canadian duo FICTILIS, composed of Timothy Furstnau and Andrea Steves, have developed 'True cost market' a shop that confronts and tells its customers the real cost of its products and 'Wastewater Walk' which is a series of walks following the paths of human waste from toilet to treatment facilities in various locations. The walks are a playful way to promote awareness of the hidden infrastructure, environmental inefficiencies, social inequities, and psychological repercussions of modern sanitation systems, and to tie this awareness to shared, lived experience in the physical landscape. Different versions of the walk have included mapping exercises, water tables staffed by local water organisations, performances at stops along the route, and audio tours. 

A map of nuclear sites from a FICTILIS research file looking at protest

Both these art groups are non traditional in approach, and they see problem solving as a thing they are happy to undertake, which is normally the province of designers; they are not involved with making art objects as such, they are more interested in an awareness raising process. You could argue therefore that this is bad art, but when there is the need for something to be done, I believe this doesn't matter that much and that gradually as more and more artists begin to work in this area, ways to make powerful, emotive statements will become more and more possible, because an audience will have been developed that can understand and respond to the types of work possible in this area.

A wide range of approaches are being taken by artists to these issues and an exhibition such as 'Indicators: Artists on Climate Change' at the Storm King Art Centre, is a useful place to start if you are wondering what sort of approaches have already been made to this issue. 

Adam Lowe and Jerry Brotton

I've looked in the past at how useful both model making and maps can be when trying to visualise things, but of course these technologies can be brought together. Adam Lowe and Jerry Brotton of Factum Arte, in their work Terra Forming: Engineering the Sublime, make relief models of maps of Earth and flood them. These models are designed to provoke discussions about climate change, the artwork encompassing the associated debates and symposiums that Factum Arte are developing. This way of working, whereby the physical artwork is just a small part of an overarching series of events, talks, marches, internet campaigns etc. etc. is becoming more the norm, as artists realise that the situation is urgent. 

A strength that comes from involving art in this context is that it is not constrained by standard scientific methods and can more easily involve not just artists and scientists, but also citizens and many different types of change agents. As such, the arts can also challenge things that tend to be taken for granted, in an engaging and creative way. This can lead to new ways of perceiving, understanding and acting upon climate change.

The diagram above represents the number of art projects that have been recorded as dealing in some way with raising awareness around sustainability and climate change. As you can see these have now peaked but together they help others gain momentum in their various approaches. Each and every action, no matter how small, helps.


Sacha Kagan: Art and Sustainability: Connecting Patterns for a Culture of Complexity

Soil City A good place to start if like me you think soil is vitally important to a sustainable future.

Invisible Dust Lots of links to both artists and scientists   

Creative Carbon Scotland Lots of supportive information on what you can do

Centre for contemporary art and the natural world Exploring new understandings of our place within nature.

Deveron Projects A place to see how a single town has embraced art and climate change awareness

Arts Catalyst A commissioning body that specialises in arts and the environment

Green Art Lab Alliance A place to see what's going on.

Related posts:

The 12 principles of permaculture as an art manifesto

The pencil and sustainability