Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Response to Madeleine Bunting essay on RSA Website

Just read Madeleine Bunting's essay for the RSA Arts and Ecology website. Here are a few things it provoked and raised for me...

Bunting says that "the crisis [of climate change] is not just one of climate change but of epistemology - of how we know the world and our place in it" and goes on to state that "we all have as much information about climate change as we need". This made me think again about different forms of knowledge, and in particular about embodied knowledge, about knowledge that is felt and carried and learned and understood through the body itself. A general tone running through the essay is that climate-themed art exhibitions are underattended: that they do little to engage people in thinking (or feeling) about climate change if they're not doing it already. Bunting describes her experience at one of the RETHINK exhibitions in Denmark that were linked to the Climate Summit last year, writing about how the pieces that engaged her body and her senses were most affective and effective in terms of getting her to think about the physical world and her/our place in it.

We've talked before about embodiment, and about embodied ways of knowing, and also about our anxiety that an artwork framed in an art context is always already somehow removed from the everyday context in which climate change feeling and thinking most urgently needs to be embedded. The essay has returned me again to these questions, and it feel every more important for us to think about the public context and presentation and physical, sensual, emotional form of this project as fundamental to its creation: not making an artwork and then installing it in a place; rather, making an artwork for a place, with a place, and as such somehow with and for the people that inhabit that place in their everyday lives...

I don't know what this means in terms of our manifesto, and our idea that the work will take many forms, appearing in more than one place, in more than one form, at more than one time...

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the article also reinforced for me what we have been discussing all along, that is, the need to make an artwork that engages people in an embodied/sensory way, which is related to the space in which the artwork is set, and how people engage with that space in their everyday lives. Bunting also reminds us of the importance of art in helping us to question our place in the world, and how we come to know that world (epistemology). This has also been a central point of our discussions: in the context of climate change the need to question our assumptions about the nature and effects of climate change and our inability to imagine it as a present reality (linked to western conceptions of nature and time).

    I think the important point here is ‘how’ we engage people and ‘why’. If we take the ‘why’ first, then it could be as simple (and as difficult) as changing the way we think about climate change, from a future and distant threat, to one that is ‘real’ and present. The ‘how’ would be linked to the way we engage people. We have always talked about the importance of the body and embodiment, but Bunting’s article reminded me of another way of talking about embodiment: through senses. Buntings describes her feeling of standing in Kerstin Ergenzinger’s installation, Study for Longing/Seeing [2009] as being one of irritation because it is “an untidy mess of rubber sheeting, metal rods and wires which sprawls across the floor of a big room. The undulating landscape of rubber shifts jerkily. It’s odd, it’s unfinished which makes it a little irritating. Can’t she do better than this? But all of that is part of the point Ergenzinger is making. In her installation, seismographs and sensors pick up movements in the earth under the gallery, under Copenhagen’s streets, as well as the movement of visitors. So the installation is registering two forms of movement, our own – and the earth’s. Because the earth moves under our feet, small imperceptible but continual, and we do not have the sensory capacity to detect it” (Bunting 2010). Her observation ‘we do not have the sensory capacity to detect it’ really resonates with me because it highlights the fact that we can’t always see, feel, or know climate change, nor our embeddedness within our environment. But art may be able to do this by engaging our senses, making us feel (or smell, or hear) something that we wouldn’t usually. So, I think engaging our senses is important because it is an embodied experience.

    I see your point about the claim in our manifesto that the artwork should not be tied to one place but should appear in more than one place at more than one time, as this might detach it from the local, the everyday, the embodied. But I still want us to hold on to that claim, because we might produce something whose essence/experience is transportable, or could be experienced across different locations. Maybe it comes down to the question of the ‘why’ and ‘how’. Specifically, what do we want to do and how will we do it?