Friday, April 29, 2011
Object-Oriented Strategies for Ecological Art
William Wordsworth has a lock on environmenalist art. Even opposing Wordsworthianism is done within a Wordsworthian configuration space. So Shelley, an early opponent, proclaims himself the hyper-Wordsworth. He's going to do what Wordsworth did, only a thousand times better.
What does this mean? It means the mainstream environmentalist art is constructivist. Since the Romantic period there have been roughly two strategies for the avant garde: constructivism and object-orientation. You can play with relations, or you can reveal objects.
Now I know this may come as a shock to some but the Nature folks are constructivists, really: they are in the lineage of Rodchenko and Naum Gabo. They're creating machines that change attitudes. Paradoxical devices that upgrade human consciousness. Change people's relations with one another and with non-humans. Their raw material is the viewer's or reader's conceptual mind. Why? Because Wordsworth, “poet of Nature” as Shelley calls him, wrote the manual on this strategy.
This affects all kinds of art practice including concept art and performance art, AND agriculture as performance art (Wendell Berry, if you like). The art object as geographical text.
There's much much more to say about this but let's look at the forgotten twin of constructivism, object-orientation.
Why did this strategy lose favor with the Nature crew? Because the manual was written by Keats, and if you're a Wordsworthian, Keats is about artifice, femininity, non-Nature. Wordsworth knew as soon as he heard his first Keats poem that he had met his nemesis: that's why he called it “pretty,” damning with faint praise.
But the way to reveal the object, as we have been discovering in OOO, is through an illusion-like clowning, a disturbing proximity, shoplifting in full view. The iceberg becomes a weird clown, the Arctic ocean becomes one-inch-thick latex—look at Chris Wainwright's gorgeous photo above, taken on the Cape Farewell tour that forms the basis of the U-N-F-O-L-D exhibition I spoke at in Chicago. Iceberg as David Lynch movie character.
This paradoxical approach, instead of working on our mind, melts our mind, directly. Short circuit.
More on this soon (much more). But this is incredibly important: beyond the fetishization of Nature, environmentalist art is constructivist. Nothing wrong with that per se, but there is some fallout. You think you know what Nature is—all it requires is some good PR. You get into the convincing business. You are working in the configuration space of advertising. And all the really good advertisers advertise products, not Nature. And Nature is not a product...and you know that...
In the next few posts I'll be exploring the road less traveled, object-orientation, as a solution for art in the time of hyperobjects.