This month we’ve decided to focus on environmental art on our social media, and although I consider the environment a topic I deeply care about, environmental art is another matter, and something I don’t really know much about. Considering how important this issue is, and how relevant it is now, it seems pretty weird that environmental art isn’t really having much of a moment, or that not many artists or artworks have achieved notoriety in wider society. I thought it would be worth discussing a few questions in a blog post; do we only take notice of environmental issues when we see things on a large scale? Why does this movement feel so sidelined when it should be at the forefront of the contemporary art scene?
You could argue that ‘environmental art’, as in to take inspiration from the environment around you, has a much longer heritage, rather than a movement that was birthed in the late 1960s. Romanticism in particular springs to mind, along with names like Caspar David Friedrich and John Constable. Romanticism began in the late 18th Century, and sought to remind us of the importance of nature in an increasingly industrial and urbanised world. Landscape painting in a wider context goes back thousands of years, stemming from Daoism. Clearly, we’ve always had a strong connection to our environment, or at the very least, a need to represent it and draw inspiration from it. If this is the case…why do I feel like I barely know any environmental artists? When I was researching artists for this month, I felt like I was struggling to find anyone producing work past about 2001, and yet, surely now more than ever, the environment is becoming more and more of a crucial issue? Art should be provocative – it does this with politics all the time, drawing on current events and making a crucial statement. Isn’t the environment just as important, if not more? I’m not saying all art should have some sort of message or some concealed motive to alter your opinions, art can be purely aesthetic of course, art for arts sake and all that. But equally…no one can really escape climate change, it’s affecting all of us…so if you’re going to make something provocative, something that’ll really make people think about their actions, then why not environmental art? Where are all the environmental artists of my generation? And if they are out there, why are we not giving them the limelight?
I’m sorry this is becoming a bit of an angry rant, but climate change is something that the majority of people at least acknowledge, and yet the supermarkets are still full of single-use plastic, people are still buying clothes from high-street brands that churn out hundreds of clothing lines a year, without any thought to the waste of materials or water, or the people who they exploit for cheap labour. Clothes that are low quality, that will probably only be worn a couple of times, if at all, and then thrown away. Why are we still expecting to consume meat and dairy on the scale that we do, when the industry is one of the biggest sources of pollution? This is the art I want to see.
Of course I’m not trying to shame anyone (I’m as much of a consumer as the next person), but I do think that more responsibility needs to be taken, both on the consumer level and by larger companies and manufacturers. Small changes do have big impacts, if we can all do what is feasible in our own lives. Buy a reusable water bottle, try to shop second-hand, or with sustainable brands, shop less and more thoughtfully. Whatever you can do, it benefits all of us.
My second point that I noticed when researching for this month is the use of scale. Pretty much all the environmental art I found was either large installation pieces, like the work of Agnes Denes and Luzinterruptus, OR, immersive art, like Daan Roosegaarde’s work. I just thought it was an interesting concept, that maybe on the everyday level, our personal effect on the environment isn’t really something that crosses our minds. Do we have to be faced with something utterly vast in order to take notice of it? I’ve used the work of Chris Jordan for this post because I thought there was an interesting mismatch going on, where his photographs depict waste on a mass scale, but then I’m going to assume when you view them in a gallery context…you’d be viewing a regular sized photograph? Why do we only care about things when we’re faced with them on a huge scale? It’s all very well watching blue planet and seeing all the plastic floating in the sea, or looking at the piles and piles of trash in Chris Jordan’s photographs and thinking, my god, something has to be done, that’s awful, but then you go and throw your plastic water bottle in the landfill bin. There’s a bit of a disconnect there I think, so…does large scale artwork really help us relate our everyday actions to the bigger issue? I think not…I think it preserves this disconnect. It’s hard to connect your actions to something so vast and so far away, it doesn’t even seem real?
Anyway, I think I ought to stop rambling, and there isn’t really much of a point to this blog post, other than please go make some environmentally friendly changes to your everyday routine. Would really appreciate it.
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Written by Emily Stokes @em_jst
Featured Image – Chris Jordan, Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption, 2003-2005.