27 October 2007

Environmentalism and A Possible Aesthetic of Understanding Vastness




New images of SSC, installed, with grass, are forthcoming... as soon as I figure out how to get Photoshop to see a raw camera file. In the meantime, here's an ancient detail from April 2007, and the "fresh install" shot, circa mid-August!

I spoke about Solid State Change at Middlebury College on Thursday, and it turned into a spirited discussion about, of all things, the appropriateness of tires as a material in a setting like rural Vermont.

The fact that Vermont dairy farmers love to use tires to hold down tarps aside, this points to a larger question about defining and using the aesthetics of environmentalism. Elsewhere on the Middlebury campus, environmentalism has dictated an attachment to "local materials," meaning local stone from local quarries, local wood from local forests, harvested in smallish amounts, and so on. This focus on local material has yielded a campus full of uniquely beautiful buildings that solve problems of scale or overuse in creative ways. And this looking to local materials and food is sheer common sense, as transportation equals carbon.

But is the intellectual work done when a building's carefully-crafted paneling has been gently taken from the surrounding forests, or has it merely begun?

When does local become shorthand for a larger statement of what one values in one's environment?

And what effect does this valuation of some materials or things over others have on one's ability to see what is actually there?

I certainly cling to the fact that finding stuff in the immediate environment is better on a practical level than shipping stuff all over the world without thinking about where it comes from or how it grows. But I wonder when exactly that practical decision transforms into an aesthetic, or worldview, that has the potential to exact its own harm--its own acts of not-seeing.

Like not seeing the tires for the forest.

Whether or not my art is liked by others is irrelevant to me. What is important is that it provokes thought--that it spurs the intellectual work of thoroughly understanding the relationship between the self and the world, between what we build and what we build it upon. So I am thoroughly pleased to have touched an aesthetic nerve at Middlebury College, and hope that Solid State Change continues to spark debate.

Environmentalists are facing such vast and terrifying problems, and this sense of threat creates the potential for mind-expanding revolutionary thinking on a heretofore unimaginable scale. To face the vastness of the whole changing world with your little frail body, and understand both the great potential and the inevitable limits of your own actions is to truly fucking see something!

But that same sensation of threat will spur just as much reactionary easy answermaking as actual revolutionary hard work. I hope more than anything that Solid State Change keeps refusing to yield an easy answer, and keeps the eyes of Middlebury from resting on any soothing notion that anyone there may have of that which looks "environmental," "local" or "beautiful."

4 Comments:

Blogger Carla said...

I must see with grass!

I open RAW files in whatever browser came with the camera. Save as JPEG, then tweak in Photoshop.

28 October, 2007 10:57  
Blogger prettylady said...

Yes, I do the same thing with my camera. Download in ImageBrowser, then open in Photoshop.

I have often noticed that in small 'artsy' communities, such as Mendocino in Northern Cal., 'local' and 'beautiful' has an alarming tendency to tip over into full-blown kitsch. Painstakingly rendered seascapes, polished driftwood clocks, shiny still-lifes, and highly-glazed pottery. Yaaaaaaaaargh. I often wondered whether moving to a small town causes artists to go all soft, or whether small towns attract kitschmongers.

You make a very important point, that in order for art to be art, it has to included everything, the aesthetically pleasing and the aesthetically challenging.

Your story reminds me of the artist George Hermes, who once installed a public sculpture in, I think, Orange County, called a 'moon dial.' It was made of several rusty buoys arranged in a sort of Stonehenge-like configuration; I thought it was gorgeous.

The local residents, however, called the police and notified them that someone had dumped a load of junk in the park. After many lawsuits, they forced him to take it down, even though the county had commissioned it in the first place.

Grumble.

28 October, 2007 14:06  
Blogger Carla said...

Many people see 'right' or 'wrong' in lieu of a direct visual experience. My mom can't enjoy my garden. All she sees is that the plants are all touching, which she believes is incorrect.

28 October, 2007 19:58  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

Always loved the tire pieces from the photos. They say so much to me about age and time. Hope I can see some in person. This cluster in the hay comes off as a herd to me, like animals. I expect to see them move in their own strange way.

30 October, 2007 20:00  

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