Text: Amber Bassett
We are entering into an era where the impacts of our lifestyles and choices will determine the quality of life on our planet. The practices by which we circulate resources in an industrialized modern society are becoming heavily questioned. Many corporations are even adopting a triple-bottom line which doesn’t hold financial capital on a pedestal but rather includes environmental and social responsibilities. Some consider that this era of human influence over climatic, biophysical, and evolutionary processes known as the Anthropocene is a temporary phase for our species as we learn to adapt and establish symbiotic relationships to the Biosphere (Albrecht 2015). Having personally witnessed a glimpse of these climatic impacts in the recent Thomas Fire here in southern California as a result of severe long term drought, it has caused a wide-spread response in my community to band together. Within a matter of days our local safe shelters could not accept anymore clothing donations because they were overflowing with garments. Signs sprouted in the streets and freeway overpasses like wildflowers, expressing humble gratitude to firefighters and with the hashtag #venturastrong. Yet in the Art community several of us were rocked to the core on how can we make a difference. Questioning ourselves in asking…what does Art offer in a time of crisis?
Art can create the conditions by which community can flourish where isolation was once the norm. Art can create a dialogue to process trauma and share stories, having voices heard without fear of speaking one’s truth. Art can even, dare I say, heal the story. The story of separation from nature which suggests that we can consume resources faster than they can be replaced and lay waste to the ecologies from which derivatives are sold. This is a broken story. Art can rewire industrialized consumer culture and the story of separation by exposing the raw tender underbelly of our yearning for connection and healthy dynamics of social to ecological interdependence. In understanding that the needs of our Biosphere are one and the same as our own, a kinship with biological processes can work to our advantage in designing a Regenerative Culture. DESIGN is a golden key word on this topic. Design is the bridge between Art and Science. It is a middle ground between vision and practicality, aspiration and metrics, the ephemeral and corporeal, etc. If we can Design beyond sustainability to adopt lifestyles and collective choices which actually regenerate ecologies and relationships in contexts where they were typically plundered and extorted…. This is a regenerative Design challenge. The ethno-botanist and cultural psychedelic visionary Terence McKenna once stated that “if the artist cannot find the way then the way cannot be found.”
Artists carry a vision towards a process and by a process of both effort and effortlessness create a communication of that vision. Sometimes there’s just the process without vision and we feel the piece or experience simply creates itself through the implement of our own being. There are a plethora of types of expression even within the most nuanced of subcatagories, each expression is a fingerprint. Yet coming back to our initial question of what does Art offer in a time of crisis? Art offers a detour route by offering up flow states. By responding with non-linear thinking in ways that perhaps politicians may not have access to cultivate. Art can stand in the ashes and grieve when this is all we really need. Not a solution with ambition but the space to just be and face what is. I recall the piano performance “Elegy for the Arctic” by the composer Ludovico Einaudi about climate change, haunting sad tones with the stark outline of a single man and piano nested on an iceburg amidst a crumbling background of melting icebanks. We in the West live in such a solar culture of acheivement and doing that the value of resting is placed last. Humor is hyperinflated even in advertisements as a protective layer to buffer the vulnerability of knowing our lifestyles are part of the problem. The Sierra Club’s Dave Tilford reports that “a child born in the United States will create thirteen time as much ecological damage over the course of his or her lifetime than a child born in Brazil” (Sheer & Moss 2018). And in a time when we are essentially ready to throw in the towel for the practices of callous industry, Art can support that transition. But will artists rise to the occasion?
Art from a western context has been under the thick hem of the church for thousands of years, then patrons, galleries, academia, then the support of critics and various institutions. But creativity used for cultural adaptation? For rescripting the narrative beyond scarcity thinking? Art is quite comfortable toting a bullhorn with a raised fist, it has done so as far back as Goya’s depictions of war. Even Colin Powell had to cloak Picasso’s “Guernica” at United Nations when announcing the US was going to War in Iraq (Dowd 2003), a famous if not the most famous anti-war piece in existance. Now…you’re probably asking what does climate change have to do with war? Many believe that the Iraqi War was largely a tactic of aquiring non-renewable resources like coal and oil. A belief in scarcity is maintained by design. Take into the account that the US the patent office has sequestered around 5,300 patents of anything which threatens the clandestine intentions to maintain this illusion of scarcity (Schultz 2013). Yet what if the efforts of creative thinking took to the task of out-modeling not just hoarding but squalor, mitigating greed alongside disparity? I think of the genius of Paolo Soleri and Buckminster Fuller with encouragement in how much they have paved the way but what I want to know is….who is doing the modern equivalent of these design titans?
Who is participating in designing a world that works for everyone?
No better gauntlet as a design challenge could be thrown.
No greater story needs to be told.
One of my teachers once said that crisis is evidence of transformation. If this is so, then climate crisis is not happening to cause needless suffering. Such crisis is happening as a feedback loop of information on our limitations and boundaries in order to live harmoniously with this biosphere. Ultimately in adopting the needs of our biosphere as being one and the same with our own needs, we will learn how to inherit the grace of this Earth with dignity. I belive Art has a role to play in carrying this vision beyond the paralysis of doom and gloom statistics. I believe Art can heal the story.
Albrecht, Glenn A. (2015). “Exiting The Anthropocene and Entering the Symbiocene”
Dowd, Maureen (2003). “Powell Without Picasso”
Schultz, G.W. – Center for Investigative Reporting (2013) “Government Secrecy Orders on Patents Have Stifled More Than 5,000 Inventions”
Scheer, Roddy and Moss, Doug (2018, Earthtalk®, writers for www.emagazine.com) “Use It and Lose It: The Outsize Effect of U.S. Consumption on the Environment”