The following article was written in response to a call for submissions by CAA’s International Committee. It is by Frederico Câmara, artist and independent researcher, Sydney, Australia.
Something very important for the planet is happening in Australia. As the Great Barrier Reef suffers from coral bleaching, and scientific evidence of global warming accumulates, the Sydney Environment Institute (SEI) raises the question: What can artists do in response to environmental crises?
The SEI at the University of Sydney addresses key environmental questions through discussion, research, and collaborations between artists, scientists, and humanists. This article discusses two recent international art events hosted by SEI to illustrate their work.
The first was held on March 27, 2018, at the University of Sydney. It featured William (Bill) L. Fox, Director of the Center for Art + Environment (CA+E) at the Nevada Museum of Art in a dynamic conversation with artists and members of the public on why “artists have never been more important”. This program was followed the next day, March 28, by the conference Environment in Practice: Artmaking Through Crisis, which gathered environmental activists, visual and sound artists, photographers, writers, musicians, and theater artists showing a wealth of artistic production that originates from, celebrates, and ultimately cares for the natural environment. In both events, participants were invited to exchange ideas on individual and communal artistic strategies to deal with the pressing environmental issues of today, through art.
Bill Fox’s talk, Artists Have Never Been More Important, was a masterclass on artists working with the environment—as material, site, and subject—from well-known examples of American Land Art, to more environmentally conscious, if less spectacular, responses to various challenges involving humans and the natural world. It was interesting to note that those different approaches are not a sequential progression from one to the other. Both happened in the past, and are still happening now. Fox also introduced the work of the CA+E, an institution that collects the archives of artists working with the environment, and promotes research in the field. He concluded by proposing the idea of the artist as a bridge between scientists who collect evidence of climate change, and politicians who create and implement environmental policies. A lively conversation ensued with responses from artist Janet Laurence, theater theorist Ian Maxwell, SEI postdoctoral fellow Killian Quigley, and the audience, with one of its members arguing for a broader, less limited role of art in addressing the many crises that afflict our environment (Fig. 1).
This criticism is reflected in what the convenors called the “instrumentalization” of art in their introduction to the conference, questioning how artists will respond to the various invisible signs of environmental crises that defy representation and narration, including rises in temperatures, changes in the chemistry of oceans, and the scale of geological time. What are the possibilities for artmaking through environmental crises that will not reduce artistic practice to an instrument for the communication of scientific findings? Are artists capable of formulating their own questions, designing their own methods (including the collection of data during fieldwork), and producing and disseminating new knowledge and art that will criticize, reimagine, honor, and shape the world into a better place?
The conference featured four thematic sessions, each one including artists working with a multitude of topics and methods. Session 1: “How Do Images Act,” began with David Ritter, CEO at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, who discussed the importance of images in the service of environmental activism and the challenges in using photography in an image-saturated world. He described his collaboration with photographer Dean Sewell who presented works at the conference on environmental issues affecting his native Australia and beyond (Fig. 2). The last speaker in this session was Merilyn Fairskye, an artist who travels the world in search of nuclear sites. She presented Fieldwork II (2009), a work filmed in Chernobyl that conveys the invisibility of nuclear evidence through the uncanny effect of movement at the level of pixels (or atoms?), as a symptom that that landscape is ill (Fig. 3).
Session 2: “Engaging Extremity,” started with sound artist Philip Samartzis presenting sounds that he documented during two scientific expeditions to Antarctica, creating an “overlooked” sound ethnography of the Australian presence on that continent. David Burrows then showed his stereoscopic photography in installations that transpose the Antarctic landscapes into the urban fabric of the city or the desert, demonstrating the idea of environmental unity where, apparently, there is none. Film theorist Belinda Smaill responded by remembering the participation of artists in the early navigations of discovery, linking their work to a contemporary, though decolonizing, environmental practice.
In Session 3: “Surpassing Humans,” writer Ceridwen Dovey presented her short story collection Only The Animals (2014), in which animals narrate their own deaths as a result of human conflicts, an exploration of the voice and consciousness of animals and a tribute not only to animals but also to other authors who have used a similar strategy (Fig. 4). Poet Judith Beveridge read two of her poems, highlighting the importance of metaphor as a tool for exploring relationships between humans and nature, and engendering in her readers a sense of wonder of the natural world. As she described it, she writes poetry “to give the natural world centrality” in an era of anthropocenic extinction.
In Session 4: “Composing Loss,” Genevieve Campbell, musician and music researcher, presented the project Ngarukuruwala – We Sing Songs, a musical collaboration with a group of senior song-women on the Tiwi Islands of Australia that emphasises the links between people, culture, and the land, and the need for preservation of both natural and cultural landscapes. Michelle St Anne performed My First Memory, a gripping monologue exploring the artist’s first memories and sensations of images, sounds and smells, to reflect on the domestic environment of her family home, perhaps as a metaphor for the natural environment as our collective home, and its disruption through conflict (Fig. 5).
The conference concluded with a discussion chaired by Killian Quigley on the possibilities for future developments and possible outputs. As the feminist and LGBT theorist Annamarie Jagose pointed out in her welcome speech, the conference itself, with its presentations and discussions, constituted one of the many forms that art can take as a practice that deals not only with the plights of the natural environment, but also recognises its capacity for wonder through beauty.
A full program and biographies of the speakers can be found here.
Association of Art Museum Curators Announces the Recipients of Award for Excellence
This year’s eleven winners were selected from a pool of 174 nominees. (Artforum)
Questions Loom Over Fate of Art Collections as Santa Fe University of Art and Design Closes
The fate of the university’s collections is still undecided. (Santa Fe New Mexican)
Road to The Met: How Max Hollein Rose to Become Its Next Director
Thirteen months after Thomas Campbell stepped down, Max Hollein will become the tenth director of the New York institution. (The Art Newspaper)
A Modest Proposal: Break the Art Fair
“As a system, art fairs are like America: They’re broken and no one knows how to fix them.” (New York Magazine)
I Went Naked to a Museum, and It Was … Revealing
The Palais de Tokyo’s “Visite Naturiste” — the first of its kind in France —garnered a remarkable amount of public interest since it was announced in March. (New York Times)
A Typeface Transforms the Alphabet in the Style of Famous Artworks
In this artful alphabet by the Madrid-based design studio CESS, “V” is for van Gogh and “F” is for Frida. (Hyperallergic)
The weekly CAA Conversations Podcast continues the vibrant discussions initiated at our Annual Conference. Listen in each week as educators explore arts and pedagogy, tackling everything from the day-to-day grind to the big, universal questions of the field.
This week, Joelle Dietrick and Meg Mitchell discuss teaching new media.
Joelle Dietrick is a MacDowell fellow and Fulbright scholar who makes large temporary paintings, animations and games about global trade and human logistics. She’s an Assistant Professor of Art and Digital Studies at Davidson College outside of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Meg Mitchell is an Associate Professor of Digital Media/Foundations at University of Wisconsin-Madison teaching courses on digital foundations, interactive art, code based art and digital fabrication.
Daniel Marcus reviews Giorgio de Chirico and the Metaphysical City: Nietzsche, Modernism, Paris by Ara H. Merjian. Read the full review at caa.reviews.
Haley Coopersmith discusses Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight by Dana Miller. Read the full review at caa.reviews.
Erina Duganna writes about Gather Out of Star-Dust: A Harlem Renaissance Album by Melissa Barton. Read the full review at caa.reviews.
Emma Chubb explores Zhang Peili: Record. Repeat. by Orianna Cacchione, Li Pi, Robyn Farrell, and Katherine Grube. Read the full review at caa.reviews.
Paul H. D. Kaplan looks at The Black Figure in the European Imaginary edited by Adrienne L. Childs and Susan H. Libby. Read the full review at caa.reviews.
Wendy Ann Parker writes about William Kentridge and Vivienne Koorland: Conversations in Letters and Lines edited by Tamar Garb and Fiona Bradley, and William Kentridge edited by Rosalind E. Krauss. Read the full review at caa.reviews.
Alex J. Bacon reviews Almost Nothing: Observations on Precarious Practices in Contemporary Art by Anna Dezeuze. Read the full review at caa.reviews.
Anna Arabindan-Kesson discusses Kerry James Marshall: Look See by Robert Storr. Read the full review at caa.reviews.
Afua Ferdnance examines Still Raising Hell: The Art, Activism, and Archives of Camille Billops and James V. Hatch edited by Pellom McDaniels III. Read the full review at caa.reviews.
Jo-Ann Morgan looks at Beholding Christ and Christianity in African American Art edited by James Romaine and Phoebe Wolfskill. Read the full review at caa.reviews.
Cristóbal Jácome-Moreno reviews Mexico Modern: Art, Commerce, and Cultural Exchange edited by Donald Albrecht and Thomas Mellins. Read the full review at caa.reviews.
Melissa L. Mednicov explores Mona Hatoum: Terra Infirma edited by Michelle White. Read the full review at caa.reviews.
Katherine Cohn writes about EN MAS’: Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean edited by Claire Tancons and Krista Thompson. Read the full review at caa.reviews.
Stephen Petersen discusses Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light by Keely Orgeman. Read the full review at caa.reviews.
Mark Alan Hewitt examines Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives by Sarah Williams Goldhagen. Read the full review at caa.reviews.
A French Museum Just Discovered That Half of Its Collection Is Fake
Visiting art historian Eric Forcada made the shocking discovery. (artnet News)
Columbia University MFA Students Demand Tuition Refunds
Though the university’s provost reportedly concurred that the program is a “disgrace,” he told the students that the university could not provide them with refunds. (Hyperallergic)
NEA Chairman Jane Chu Will Step Down in June
After four years at the head of the federal arts agency, Chu announced she will step down on June 4. (Washington Post)
All For One: Picasso’s Musketeer Bust Purchased by 25,000 Online Buyers
The thousands of new owners will now collectively decide where the painting is exhibited. (Frieze)
This Academic Took a Job at BuzzFeed. Here’s Her Advice to Graduate Programs.
Anne Helen Petersen has a PhD in media studies, and she wishes more programs were realistic about the prospect of an academic career. (Chronicle of Higher Education)
Top Italian Museum Director Faces Trial Over Gym Visits
Anna Coliva, the well-respected director of Rome’s Galleria Borghese, is to stand trial on charges of absenteeism and defrauding the public purse. (The Art Newspaper)
A spectacular fresco from early first-century Pompeii is featured on the cover of the March 2018 issue of The Art Bulletin. Drawing on a palette of aqua, yellow, and deep red, it depicts Perseus rescuing Andromeda from captivity on a rocky promontory. The fresco appears in Nathaniel B. Jones’s essay “Starting from Places: Continuous Narration and Discontinuous Perspectives in Roman Art,” which explores how the painters of the time represented multiple temporal moments in a single visual field.
Two essays also featured in the issue examine diverse medieval pilgrimage practices: Conrad Rudolph considers the visual tour guides used at European sites, notably Canterbury, and how they enhanced the social and public reception of works of art; Talia J. Andrei investigates the pilgrimage mandala paintings of Japan’s Ise shrines and the ways they allude to the power and authority of individual Buddhist temples. In the sixteenth-century miniature paintings that depict the ceremonial presentation of gifts from Safavid shahs to Ottoman sultans, Sinem A. Casale locates an unusual opportunity to assess the agency of gifts through their visual representation rather than their materiality. John Ott finds that Hale Woodruff’s six-panel mural of the early 1950s, The Art of the Negro, presents an inclusive, nonlinear visual history of global art that also destabilizes conventional narratives of the origins of modernism. The role of photography during the 1980s human-rights conflicts between the United States and Nicaragua is the subject of an essay by Erina Duganne, who focuses on postmodernist critique of photography as revealed in a 1984 exhibition intended to counter misrepresentations in the news media.
The reviews section, on the theme “Transatlantic,” features recent books on images and objects from the New World in Medici Florence, cross-cultural encounters in sixteenth-century Peru, a queer reading of the formation of the modernist canon, and contemporary black diaspora art around the Atlantic.
CAA sends print copies of The Art Bulletin to all institutional and individual members who choose it as a benefit of membership. The digital version at Taylor & Francis Online is available to all CAA individual members regardless of their print subscription choice.