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Art and Sustainability?

Students at the University of California are working this week on "sustainable sculptures". What does that mean?

It has been a delightful change for us to be here in California this winter, working at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the newly developed Social Practice Arts Research Center. ArtDialogue is here establishing the SS Palo Alto Project (see previous blogs), and I'm also teaching a sculpture class, based on ArtMill principles.

The student's first assignment was to create "Sustainable Sculptures", much like we make with the kids at ArtMill each summer. In this environment, what some call a "town of hippies with PhD's", the terms and discussions around Eco themes are not foreign. It's been fertile ground for both ideas and getting projects rolling to bring art into the arena of social and political change on the issues we care about. While we are focusing on ocean issues here, this class is broader, and the assignment basic.

If we talk about "sustainability" in the arts, does the work itself need to be from "natural" materials, ie. biodegradable, organic, etc? Or does the end justify the means? Can an artist use polyester resin and be "talking' about toxic pollutants? And isn't it more about the idea being sustained? And the concept of stewardship of the land being maintained to endure for generations. Perhaps the very materials of the sculpture should not be "permanent", but infact bio-degrade, making it an ephemeral, process piece that emphasizes experience over object.

We re-read John Berger's "Ways of Seeing", and thought about how his definitions of Nude and Naked, might be applied to nature. Has the Male Gaze effected how we view our planet's resources? Have we objectified mother earth? Put here on a pedastal (Romanticism), and stripped her bare (Industrialism)?

There were many great projects presented in class. This one by Dominique Carella was a bright idea that could have come straight out of ArtMill's gardens:
My sculpture offers a solution to the harmful effects of the food industry in both production and its effects on the environment, as well as the harmful effects such processed foods later have on those consuming. The vicious cycle of the food industry is both detrimental to the environment in its use of energy and release of chemicals and toxins into the environment, but is also detrimental to the people eating the food. My piece offers a solution to the problem of the food industry by suggesting the support of local farmers and of growing your own food, and straying away from supporting all the harmful effects of the food industry. My piece also offers a solution to the harmful toxins being consumed and the unhealthy effects processed foods have on the people by encouraging healthy eating! Kale is the healthiest green on the planet and offers vitamin C, vitamin K, and vitamin A, as well as offers antioxidants that are essential to our bodies staying healthy and fighting off diseases.


Thanks to all the students, interns, and colleagues who are making our stay here fruitful, inspiring, and productive! We'll be back to the Mill in spring with new ideas and energy from California and the sea!


2013-01-30 - 18:42:00  by barbarabenish

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