Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Energy Arts

This was our presentation to the Cultures of Energy seminar at Rice today. Joe Campana, me, Aynne Kokas, Derek Woods. 

Joe and me: beauty and ugliness: oil pipes (beauty of landscape is about hiding them!) versus wind farms (that farmers don’t want messing up their horizon)
relationship between beauty and energy

me; different scales and spatiotemporal rhythms required: Marina Zurkow--just taking that simple hydrocarbon ad and multiplying it

nature coloring books: use of kitsch
concept of MESOCOSM

And an engagement with things that are considered somewhat marginal to or provocatively on the side of the aesthetic: food; the Klingberg mandala -- disturbing but not in the usual ways; products, shopping
looking at issues of consumption and taste consumerism possibility space

Joe: it’s a nice segue from the previous Catastrophe cluster presentation. The group formed as a way of thinking about how artists think about energy in a variety of media. Before I even knew I had an interest in this, as an arts writer reviewing various shows around town, I realized I had stumbled into an interesting network. 

Andrei Molodkin, Crude: I encountered his work at the Station, a gallery that presents works directly engaging sociopolitical themes. 

He served as a Soviet soldier guardian oil convoys
Cold War II: text and images of his work
long trips for food, heating: slathering bodies in excess crude just to stay warm
circulation of oil >> his practice 
oil pumping through various figures and letters
movie: popping of compressors, series of letters filling with oil
abandoned gas station with “revolution” in Russian written outside

Yes we can / Fuck you (and other phrases)
figures of Christ flushed with oil
hand of the Statue of Liberty (all encased in plastics << oil)

Pincus; energy versus fuel
art materiality, crude

Statue of Liberty head
gun shot like compressors: oil appearing and disappearing all around you <> hypnosis

Diverseworks, Marina Zurkow

Necrocracy: rule of the dead, the dead being hydrocarbons
the sinkhole in Wink Texas--the video makes noises! 

Mitchell Center for the arts and the Center for Land Use Interpretation
Houston as the hub of a massive energy network, production distribution commerce
art can be understood in a similar way

Joe realized that this kind of art did have something to do with him...

Energy: Overdevelopment and the Illusion of Endless Growth
only references to the arts are << simplistic beauty and ugliness

art <> PR and beauty <> positive change: too simplistic 

Clean Coal ads! the ripped semi-nakedness
GE energy ad. “Harnessing the power of coal is looking more beautiful every day”
sexy and griminess--very sexy, a very complex range of pleasure and disgust 

30th Anniversary of Koyaanisqaatsi: Reggio and scores by Philip Glass
slow motion, time lapse, other forms of landscape cinematography

humiliation of language; different modes require different types of communication

If art can’t provide easy 1/1 relations
some gains from appeal to beauty and appeal to art but...

two years of energy arts: first theme is consumption
second theme is urban geographies

back to Marina Zurkow; inadvertent fascinations and attachments
is this simply decline? no-growth economy
what is it to anticipate enervation

Neo/Geo 1-IV, schematics of an oil drill; small room that felt like a disco
a set of algorithms producing: a drill goes down and sometimes finds oil...
beauty << ugly

hazmat suits for kids: a disturbing scale; might make you laugh

the hydrocarbons horribly multiplied

Mesocosm: extensions in time, things just go on, but it’s markedly different because of the slow thinking

virtual ecosystem simulations
forcing you to think about the forms of attention you pay to things

Petroleum manga banners
our plan is to print up a bunch of them
take, modify, and send back
Tyvek helps with endurance

Outside the Work (a translation of “hors d’oeuvre”)

invasive species tasting by Zurkow
approaching these questions through food

Tim will teach an undergraduate course on consumption and ecology

Derek: Zurkow likes to play with the cute
different from industrial pollution landscapes eg Burtynsky’s huge tire piles
is the feeling of depression or the sublime the only thing that’s useful?
2014-2015: course about the geography of Houston itself
Center for Land Use Interpretation: a bit like land art; drawing on Herzog; New Topographic photographers
interesting maps and index cards in the land use database: photos and a brief description of what it is
since 1994
Texas Oil: Landscape of an industry
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center
archive of different viewing devices
as viewing windows on the urban geography of Houston
disarming naivete: no gloss between a river and river of slag

Aynne Kokas
Trader Joe’s
Anthropomorphic Map of Houston, hyperlocal project--a forty mile walk broken up into 4 mile chunks
walking with the two artists in hazmat suits
The Human Tour
not exactly lovely: looks more like a near future dystopia
Light Surgeons: Cynthai Woods Mitchell Center. British artists. Super Everything piece. 
Houston: Energize project; could be synchronous with Zurkow
Shrimp Boat project, Galveston Bay--adjacent to the refineries. Allows artists and scholars to go on a shrimp boat and spend the day
“hyperlocal flows”
Aynne’s course in the fall called Global Environmental Media: section on Houston

Q: what about the commodified, sellout qualities (I’m paraphrasing this question) of the geographical work? 
me: there is the lineage of Situationism and Psychic Geography
Aynne: the shrimp project is when you encounter it not to do with exploitation, but rather working with artists whose livelihood is in fact shrimping

Gwen Bradford: what are the aesthetic themes here, digging deeper? 
Joe: ennervation
Derek: history of materials
me: coexistence and boredom (plus the more immediate anxiety)

Joe: what are you thinking of? (to the audience)

Gwen: at least two mentioned the theme of scale and complexity, the befuddlement of looking at how the world is changing so quickly; we are massively outstripped as individuals
Jameson: the tools of philosophy grew up in a simpler time and now we need new tools for understanding how individuals interact

Derek: that is a good point. If you want to be aware of where you waste goes it does get really hard to delimit what an action is

Q: kitsch. Form. The culturally peripheral forms that they tarry with like the manga. The vernacular. Vernacular landscapes in architecture. Vernacular formal dimension of this stuff too? Representational stuff. Forms that are adequate to the landscapes that are being looked at. It stands to reason that they would be hybrid or unauthorized? “Bad” or depreciated forms. Our efforts to be adequate to eco. Versus the deadly serious earnestness--to open up modalities of art that just that. 

Derek: that’s one reason I want to play with the CLUI model. 

Alexander: I wonder about something. Videos, photographs, printouts. There is a relationship between forms of innovation and the possibility of scale that has something to do with reproducibility. The idea that Zurkow would be everywhere on campus. Or the idea of going to a specific place. 

Joe: the form question is very complex. The odd neutrality of the manga. The odd schematic neutrality of the manga and the kitsch objects. There is a weird relation between those things. The odd ubiquity of Mesocosm: they are not identical << algorithms computing. They would be similar environments playing out different possibilities. 

Alexander: assumptions about what art works. It’s not like the sublime is over--but there might be something else going on and the way one imagines scale or innovation. 

Joe: it wouldn’t be about rejecting all aesthetic terms. Even the simple ones presented problems for description. Hopefully it will be interesting to see them become more nuanced and complicated. 

Derek: a lot of the CLUI pieces are too large to put in a museum. 

Alexander: but that’s it, right? The point would be to go out and see it. It seems counterproductive to take photographs--because you can’t reproduce it. 

Joe: Walter de Maria controls by lawsuit! 

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