03.08.2007 | Climate Change

Art moves the Climate

How an artist uses the world wide web to counteract the destruction of the environment.

Von Aviva Rahmani, New York (USA)

© Aviva Rahmani

© Aviva Rahmani, 2007

Inspiration and imitation effects change. In indigenous societies, artists are the visionary leaders of their peoples. In modern times, artists have been the ones to sound alarms or report the unmentionable, from Goya’s “Disasters of War,” to activist artists worldwide, who have contributed their graphic creations and other means, to political protest. Artists can provoke the imagination and compassion of others.

Collaborative work between artists and other disciplines has a history of productive invention, as, Experiments in Art and Technology, 1966, in which I participated until the early seventies. Billy Kluver initiated that project, which brought leading New York artists together with the engineers of Bell Labs and resulted in major innovations.

The 9/11 tragedy in the United States was a lesson that major events can be leveraged without conventional means or vast sums of money. As an artist, the lesson I took from 9/11, was to imagine new means for interdisciplinary collaboration. Terrorists use virtual communications cheaply and efficiently to effect major events. Artists can do the same thing and make them agents for peace and sustainability. These are social concepts with vast implications. Virtuality is a serious option to trigger change. Unlike terrorists who use virtuality to destroy life, artists can employ the same means to create options to preserve life.

As an ecological artist, my task is to identify and act on points of possible intervention in environmental degradation. Collaboration is one of the major tools in my repertoire. I have spent several decades creating models for sustainable living on physical sites, often working collaboratively. These sites are chosen and analyzed for their potential to act as landscape “Trigger Points,” to effect large systemic changes. But that work always begins with the visceral affect of what I observe and learn.

In 2005, the impact of hurricane Katrina in the United States, had a profound affect on me. The disaster in New Orleans was partly a consequence of changing weather patterns from global warming. The impact I saw on victims, prompted me to avoid jet travel. Reducing carbon emissions was my motive. In the course of my project, “The Cities and Oceans of If,” based on the “Ghost Nets” project, I had been doing a lot of flying to site specific venues. After Katrina, I started, “The Virtual Cities and Oceans of If.”

In considering global warming, the scale of the problem is daunting. It requires immense social change. In 2040, there will be eight billion people on the planet, one billion of whom will be fleeing their traditional, ancestral lands and cultures, to escape the effects of global warming. Some of those people have already been impacted, as in Darfur, Bangladesh and New Orleans.

In April 2007, I began work with Dr. Jim White, carbon emissions specialist, interim Director of the Instaar Institute for Arctic and Antarctic studies and Chair of the Environmental Studies program at the University of Colorado at Boulder. We are comparing three major river systems and their functions as Trigger Points. The three are the Nile and it’s relationship to Darfur, the Ganges in relation to Bangladesh and the Mississippi in relation to the Gulf of Mexico, with a specific interest in New Orleans. Our work is for the exhibition, “Weather Report,” curated by Lucy Lippard for the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, Boulder Colorado, opening Sept 12, 2007. The work is presently more theoretical than restoring a salt marsh from the local town dump, as I did for the “Ghost Nets” project. But it relies on the same conceptual framework and it also aspires to on-the-ground effects.

In the collaboration for Boulder, we are searching for patterns that might emerge from studying satellite imagery of the chosen regions. In our conversations, we explore the implications of known facts about the ecological changes to the region. The presumption is that comparing these designated circumpolar sites, will yield useful new insights and projections about global warming. Accomplishing our present goals, may be superceded by what develops scientifically or creatively. Our respective skill sets and passions for an ethically sustainable planet are the tools we bring to the table. Working in this way, the respective social roles we inhabit, as artist or scientist, male or female, blur. Our “table” is virtual. We draw on regional resources and desk top sharing rather than depending upon our institutional affiliations or being limited by geographies.

The extent to which collaborations such as the work I have described are successful, or even inspiring to address common concerns, will determine how they proliferate and become constructive agents for change. This working method is an experimental model to address the global warming crisis. It models a new social paradigm. The success of playful social sites, as mySpace and YouTube demonstrates how quickly virtuality can change relationships. As artists, scientists and others cross boundaries of established norms, we are already in a changed society, transforming our potential to achieve greater international individuality and freedom.

Personal decisions in one place, can have explicit, dramatic and lethal consequences for life elsewhere. Most of these global relationships are random. Virtuality may permit us to take responsibility for these implicit relationships; allowing us to face global warming together.

© Aviva Rahmani, 3.8.2007

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The Author

Aviva Rahmani is an ecological artist, living in New York.

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