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

http://ecoartscotland.net/2011/03/28/art-and-sustainability/

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.

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