Considering issues of sustainability for art in a digital environment
Sustainability is not often thought about in relation to art making or exhibiting, for example, I was shocked recently by the large amount of good quality material that was simply thrown away by a gallery after an exhibition had finished and the installation taken down, and what questions are asked about the impact of using digital tools to create and present art?
For some this may seem an unimportant issue but as the use of flat screens, projectors, computers and other power hungry devices increases it is important that this area is investigated.
This mini project will require you to engage with the issues of sustainability both in the theoretical research you do and also in the way you do the research. Therefore the learning will come both from what you find to present to the wider group but also through the actual tools used to create and share your findings.
(of course this blog is hosted with Dreamhost – carbon neutral hosting)
Two more sketches
Sneja had a really nice and simple idea about shredding images (and video). I like this thought a lot because it visualises the action of the destruction of the files in a nice way. I have tried to sketch of what it could look like. It would be great if every new file uploaded just somehow mixed into the previously uploaded file and eventually got pushed away so the image on the screen kept changing for each uploaded file.
Here is a really simple visualisation of how I imagine the flower project could look. We should somehow filter the contributions into RGB. One way could be: Image = R, Sound = G, Movement = B, All = RGB.
The website should have a chart saying how much of each type of light the plant was receiving. The biggest problem with this idea is that you don’t really see any effect of the light right away. But since different light effect the plant in different ways there could be some development over time.
Just been messing about with possibilities for the project mainly looking at functionality and how it will appear as opposed to the aesthetics.
Destroy and Rebuild
Sustainability in art has always been an issue, even before the digital era. There are numerous cases of ancient art and artefacts which were destroyed either during their times or centuries later – some even deliberately. And till now, the search continues for some missing works of art.
One would think advancement in technology and from past experience, we would have learnt to better preserve and pass on today’s art, but this is not always the case. That’s why it’s especially commendable the efforts which Ben Kacyra and his team have put into sustaining art from all over the world. http://www.ted.com/talks/ben_kacyra_ancient_wonders_captured_in_3d.html
Everything created can be destroyed. But sometimes, even in that ‘un-creation’, a new creation is made. Case in point is the way some guys decided to creatively re-create their 404 pages. A page for work that had either been deleted, moved, or for some reason or the other could not be found, is turned into a creative platform for the brand to express themselves.
un-create and re-create
Let’s un-create and re-create by breaking codes. We’ll be taking a jpeg image, breaking the codes which come together to form that image, then re-arranging those codes to form a new image. A file with all the codes that come together to form that image will be sent out and everyone contributes in shuffling the arrangement of the codes like a pack of cards. Randomly changing the position of any code would affect something in the image. Moving all the codes about would change the placement of every single element in the jpeg. After everything has been processed, the final output is the same jpeg, but a totally different image.
Thus everyone has a part to play in un-creating and creating because for every code you move, you change the original image and for everyplace you drop the code, you create a new image.
A quick tutorial from CA on how to:
Visualising my interpretation
The sketch shows two diagrams each visualising the data being destroyed. Both root from the same source – a webpage which allows multiple-users to upload any file format. These files are either broken down into a ‘wave-form’ of binary which is used as the source from which the visualisation is taken, or else simply the size and date (or other easily accessible data) is taken from the file to inform the visualisation process.
The two routes visualise the data in different but related ways – both use bubbles which can be said to represent the cloud. This cloud like aspect can be increased or reduced depending on what is finally decided to be important.
The real-world example shows an arduino receiving data from the webpage – this data controls the flow of gas (helium?) and liquid (some bubble-making liquid) through a motorised valve-head. Basically the larger the files the larger the bubbles made. Once the bubble has been made the data is removed from the database, and from that second on only remains as an entity until the bubble bursts.
The online example shows a similar idea but is represented through coding. People can view the webpage so see what files are currently being uploaded / bursting. Perhaps some ghost of the orginal file could remain for people to interact with while the bubble still exists – e.g. on mouseover a faint image of the original source file could be seen within the bubble. Perhaps some bubbles could merge to form mega-bubbles that exists for brief moments before bursting.
A more forgetful Facebook?
The internet never forgets, this has been especially true on social media sites as Facebook where deleted photos and other content (until recently) stayed accessible through direct URL’s. In 2010 The Scottish artist group FOUND created the installation The End of Forgetting to highlight the issues of lack of online privacy.
But as you can read in this article from Mashable Facebook is now correcting it’s ways, and permanently erasing all deleted photos. I can’t help but wonder if the reason is ethical or just simple server size limits, but with 500 users and 300 million photos uploaded a day it is probably the latter. According to another article on the subject from venturebeat.com the new max storage time is 30 days.
No matter the reason I myself welcome the new more forgetful (and sustainable) Facebook.
Process: Mashup Reincarnate
The basic idea is to take file junk, put it into a blender that outputs everything in its raw binary state, and use that data mashup as the source for something new. Producing the new from the old would be done by passing the mashup through a software application that makes sense of it as a visual / audio feed which can then be presented somewhere before the data is discarded permanently.
This webpage contains an app written by Ryan Westafer that converts binary files into images:
I’ve dropped him a line.
A broad and interesting overview of ‘binary’.
Group Discussion Summary: 30 July
A succinct summary from todays Skype conversation. Seems like we are getting somewhere as a group. I’ve had to edit it. Hope I havent been one-sided. Please dont hesitate to edit it if you feel the need.
[30/07/2012 15:01:00] Katrine: I really liked the thought about all the stuff that goes up into the cloud and is hardly ever viewed.
[30/07/2012 15:06:16] Eduardo Silva: Ben had a brilliant idea last chat, to create an art gallery which will die in 1 year.
[30/07/2012 15:07:36] justinlogue89: i think we also need to take into account how we can collaborate on this as we are all in different countries.
[30/07/2012 15:10:43] Kiers: On the subject of artworks with a lifespan, perhaps you already know about these http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandpainting Normally they are destroyed after a year (the buddhist ones)
[30/07/2012 15:10:59] Katrine Granholm: also there is the issue of copies and backups.
[30/07/2012 15:15:33] sneja_d: yes but if it disappears after a year ? or earlier?
[30/07/2012 15:16:44] Kiers: perhaps it is recorded into something else that also has a year lifespan but which is visually different from its parent like an event being recorded as a sculpture being recorded as a soundfile being recorded as a photo etc etc
[30/07/2012 15:19:54] sneja_d: I like the idea of mutating from one state to another …without disappearing completely
[30/07/2012 15:21:20] justinlogue89: it is important to keep the original. it is a reference point to how art was created in the past and without it we wouldn’t develop in my opinion. artworks from history are essential to develop an create for the future
[30/07/2012 15:22:50] Katrine Granholm: but can you really even talk about originals when you are creating something digital – an exact copy with no data loss is the same isn’t it?
[30/07/2012 15:23:20] Katrine Granholm: we can make something that reincarnates 😀
[30/07/2012 15:27:37] Kiers: http://www.sbstatesman.com/recycling-and-reincarnation-exhibit-opens-at-wang786
[30/07/2012 15:28:48] Katrine Granholm: that’s cool – what if we could take all the lost and forgotten data and change it into new digital experiences.
[30/07/2012 15:30:41] justinlogue89: well this idea of keeping the things that aren’t needed seems to be something we can all relate to. physical objects and digital. giving a new life or purpose to these could be interesting – reincarnating their function.
[30/07/2012 15:31:45] Katrine Granholm: Maybe we should use all our old data for the project then?
[30/07/2012 15:31:46] sneja_d: Give a soul to mishapps
[30/07/2012 15:34:00] Kiers: Wouldnt we be adding more stuff to the cloud and then forgetting about it all over again at a later date? Dont want to rain on the parade but I dont see that as sustainable – we are doubling the amount of crap rather than reducing it.
[30/07/2012 15:36:50] Katrine Granholm: it would be best if we erased the original crap after giving it new life i guess
[30/07/2012 15:38:23] Eduardo – you choose yourself what you want to put into the project – but whatever goes in should be deleted.
[30/07/2012 15:38:53] justinlogue89: will we actually delete things? Can we bring ourselves to do it is the question
[30/07/2012 15:39:14] Kiers: Its not an act of sustainability unless we delete what we donate.
[30/07/2012 15:39:43] sneja_d: No copy should be kept.
[30/07/2012 15:40:09] Katrine Granholm: but you could start by contributing stuff that you know you can delete – like a digital yardsale
[30/07/2012 15:40:26] Kiers: Perhaps we strip out the digital data from the files in order to equalise all donated formats, and then visualise that raw digital data somehow – perhaps pass it through a sound filter, or video filter or something
[30/07/2012 15:44:39] justinlogue89: once something has been appropriated and used, it is recycled, the unwanted file deleted and that the mutation and evolution of it.
[30/07/2012 15:45:59] Kiers: I like the idea of passing the raw binary data from these files through some filter and out the other end pops a video or sound file, that way we can use any digital format. It neednt output all the raw data in a single kit – it could evolve as people add more data to it. perhaps the visualisation isnt recorded – its a live stream – the only piece of data written onto the server is the filter program – once it has used up the data it is automatically deleted. We are watching the decay and ultimately the death of our data.
[30/07/2012 15:50:20] Eduardo Silva: yes its more contributive art, very good idea 🙂
[30/07/2012 15:52:06] Ola: So all files loaded will be automatically deleted or filtered to another file format (video or audio)?
[30/07/2012 15:54:56] justinlogue89: how are things going to be filtered into another file format?
[30/07/2012 15:55:40] Kiers: Justin – to jump across formats we need to reduce everything to raw binary data, pass it through some filtering process and then output into whatever we decide – audio / video / image etc. We need to find some app that eats everything. actually I think we can begin by reducing every file to its code by reading it in a text viewer then output that as binary. then we have to begin rebuilding it as something
[30/07/2012 15:58:16] Ola: Oh, I like that, like screen muncher app for black berry.
[30/07/2012 16:01:21] sneja_d: but what if we had a template that allows bits of everything without filtering before?
[30/07/2012 16:06:25] Katrine Granholm: Prezi – http://prezi.com/
[30/07/2012 16:08:00] sneja_d: But haven’t used it so do not know if it is interesting or not – if it is too standardized we may go for kiers’ suggestion
[30/07/2012 16:13:09] justinlogue89: in terms of output what does everyone think? what will a video made of binary code look like for example?
[30/07/2012 16:13:47] Kiers: depends on how we choose to filter it. All video is made from binary code – http://sourceforge.net/projects/bin2bmp/
[30/07/2012 16:25:01] Katrine Granholm: do you think it could be done in processing? not that I have any idea how.
summary of chat session 23.07.2012
Sustainability and art in a digital environment
chat on Monday 23 July 2012 – I summed up at the end with this:
1. I will summarise this chat into a blog post
2. list the key questions that have come up today (final output – advise website – tips for artists to be more sustainable? a collaborative artwork?)
3. outline the idea of looking at the micro to help understanding of the macro
4. next week (Monday 30 July) you continue the exploration in the 2 groups
5. keep in mind the possible objective of a collective art work engaging with these issues
so summary of last chat 23.07.2012
check the interesting links on diigo – http://groups.diigo.com/group/sustainability-art-digital-environment
and the blog – http://www.sustainability.fineartdigital.org/
sustainability in relation to an archiving art work, particularly digital work
sustainability is about the whole life cycle of an artwork
anything ‘digital’ has a power footprint, an impact whether using fossil fuels or renewable
An artwork could be very heavy on resources in production – eg film – But in many ways it’s more sustainable then digital images because they physically exist in perpetuity
The question in one of the papers is – is digital moving quicker than we know how to deal with it as a medium – to store it and protect it. Therefore is it the most unsustainable of any mediums?
comparing the digital and physical — thinking about a installation that used natural materials that will eventually ware away compared with a digital counterpart in second life for example that can potentially exist forever
Kiers – posted on the wordpress site – there are 3 categories that relate to sustainability in art according to some interesting chap
- the ecological (electricity usage for example),
- the social (raising awareness),
- and the cultural (not mass producing)
Second Life – last forever? – Are computers arguably decaying faster than any other viewing medium
‘decay’ is an essential part of the world market – without it there is not enough desire for new stuff – for me this is key to sustainability.. more than just electricity usage
We could all create artworks with the life cycle built in – ie artworks that are built to die in year
art that will die in a year – but also I wonder if we need to borrow ideas from other creative practices like theatre and music – the creator is a ‘playwright’ or a ‘composer’ – the ‘artwork’ exists as instructions (script or score) and then it is reinterpreted each time it is recreated
the idea of a script/score moves the art work away from just this one fixed physical thing that can only ever be shown as the artist first made it – it moves to something that can be remade, reinterpreted for a new audience – just a thought?
So by producing in this way we hit issues of ownership of the work by the curator and transmediation as works change form – some aspects of sustainability could arguably therefore be about handing control over?
Certain forms of sustainability demand ownership in order to preserve
not sure if sustainability really questions ownership
Sustainability itself is arguably a loaded term — By defining anything as sustainable or not you draw a political line – it was a ‘word’ of the 90s right? Sustainable development etc
do you think it is necessary that we attempt to define sustainability at this point? after doing some reading and thinking is it important to do this???
I don’t think you should – it too broad — Instead you should look at the key aspects that define sustainability
Have to deal with the micro to make sense of a macro term like sustainability
production/materials, exhibition, archiving, remediation, curation
Sort of conclusion:
look at some of the micro elements to understand the macro concept of sustainability in art
eg. consider one or more of the following:
production/materials, exhibition, archiving, remediation, curation
but look at these with a purpose — maybe:
create a life cycle of an artwork
a group collaborative artwork
(Not something too practical but something that conveys they key findings)
(the 2 groups idea was just to help focus discussion into a smaller setting but it is not vital, if it comes out in one artwork, no problem, but 2 is great as well)
so this is the idea of sustainability relating to the idea of continuously increasing what we have and what we keep – not strictly tied to energy use
Chat on Monday 30 July:
I suggest you split into the 2 groups, this allows for more variety of discussion and it will be interesting to feed back to each other later.
Look through the summary of the chat above, read some of the stuff on diigo and the group blog — use this as a start point for your further discussion.
Key issues to discuss:
- don’t define sustainability – instead look at one or more of the micro elements listed above and consider those in some detail
- start exploring a possible output from this, see above for some of the thoughts from last week
- summarise your chat and post it on the group blog
What is sustainable art?
I suppose its important to consider the difference between Sustainable art as a movement, and sustainable art as a trend – one group might only share an ideological goal of making art that doesn’t create friction with the global ecosystem, while the other might also share visual and cultural references and goals.
If you look at the development of the idea of sustainability it has usually been tied to the ecology / green movement – its only in the last few years that the dreadlocks have been cut off. So many global brands are now aiming to reduce their carbon footprint, clean up their chemical use, and re-naturalise their production processes – Nike, Ikea etc. The global produce-and-consume culture is slowly moving in that direction – in business, in advertising, and in art.
What makes something ‘sustainable’ or not? Is it only about energy-efficiency? What about use of toxic chemicals, the distances travelled by component parts, purchasing materials from eco-rogue brands, promoting an alternative to consumer culture etc etc. There are so many aspects and points of view – it isn’t possible to satisfy everything.
Very many of my friends work in fields relating directly to creating sustainable brands and products and all of them agree that you have to define your own version of sustainability – set your own criteria and succeed within those parameters as best you can. They all agree that small brightly coloured labels that say for example ‘Made with Happy Trees’ are not particularly useful and are simply a marketing gimmick – but I believe it is important to make it as easy as possible for an audience to quickly understand the bespoke sustainability goals and successes of a product / event / brand. Interestingly projects that promote a more eco-minded culture often do just as much damage to the environment as the standard approach – like r.Smithson’s Spiral Jetty which caused considerable disturbance to the surrounding area despite his eco-minded philosophy.
Is Jason Taylor‘s Silent Evolution a sustainable success or failure? It creates a new habitat for corals, with the intention of relieving stress for natural reefs from underwater tourism. But it uses concrete and fiberglass to achieve its goals – two famously eco unfriendly materials with production processes that ultimately creates a massive carbon footprint for the project.
One question that interests me is this – does everything sustainable have to have a hint of hippy? Or could I create a super cool, technological, cultural artifact and at the same time be sustainable?
Wiki definition of Sustainable Art: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_art
Art Group analyses Sustainability and Art: http://translocal.org/writings/artandsustainability.html
GreenMuseum.org: The principles of sustainability in contemporary art
Very interesting site that parallels this one: http://artandsustainability.wordpress.com/category/sustainable-art/
Fowkes & Fowkes explain three different ways that contemporary artists are using the notion of Sustainability [based, to some degree, on Felix Guattari’s 1989 book The Three Ecologies, which outlines means of “registering” ecological concerns.]
1] Ecological Impact. Artists are focusing on the life cycle of artwork, considering the “material burden” of the pieces they produce and the resources they use. The emphasis is not only on decreasing [or eliminating] material waste and potential damage to ecosystems, but also on rethinking the complex implications of packaging, transporting, storing, publicizing, and showing artwork. There is a move away from the production of objects, toward more process, action, or performance-based work. This is, probably, the most standard definition of “Sustainable Art.”
2]. The Social Dimension. Contemporary artists often deal, reflexively, with the ethical and social implications of work they produce and Fowkes & Fowkes suggest that notions of sustainability heighten this sensibility. Artwork might deal with an awareness and analysis of the context in which it is shown, ways in which it is portrayed in the media, and an ongoing debate about whether artwork in general “empowers or alternatively objectifies living subjects.” Fowkes & Fowkes note a move away from a 1970s-era Land Art, which they describe as “anthropocentric” — treating the land as canvas, and bull dozer as brush.
3] “Mental Ecology.” Fowkes & Fowkes write: “Sustainability, in its corporate and ‘green capitalist’ guise, is in danger of taking on some of the negative characteristics of an ideology, and in this way, of contributing to the problem of ‘mental pollution’…that is arguably as important an ecological factor as the poisoning of the rivers or the consumption of carbon.” Contemporary art has an established legacy of confronting and critiquing the implications of global capitalism and perhaps the most radical manifestation of Sustainable Art will be in the development of this line of thinking, working, and making.