February 26, 2024

Dancing the way to Carbon Neutrality…

Approaching the debut of the international ‘Home Art’ project series, due to take place in West Melbourne during December, Hayley Haynes raises debate about the role of the artist in our current state of climate stress.

It is now accepted by many that anthropogenic climate change is no myth; hell, even Tony Abbott is biting his tongue after infamously declaring in 2009 that climate science was “crap” (Herald Sun, March 15, 2011).  Whilst it now seems that Australia is heading in the right direction, with the carbon tax set to take effect as of July 1 2012, those individuals making a conscious effort to “green up” their lifestyles remain too few and far between.  “Sustainability” may be the buzzword of the decade, but is anyone truly getting the message? How can the collective commitment necessary for positive change be achieved in a society that is either, too lazy, stuck in denial (if only the river!) or simply reluctant to act at all due to the ever familiar Western “not-my-problem” attitude?

When looking to shift perceptions, who better to turn to than the art world?  Artists have long worked with the environment, highlighting changing relationships between humans and nature. In terms of art that claims to contribute to the debates about climate change however, some insist that the art should help to rectify and repair the environment at the same time.  This is not an unreasonable demand.  Take for example Agnes Dene’s 1982 ‘Wheatfield – A confrontation’ and it’s reinvention 30 odd years later by the experimental French architectural collective EXYT as ‘The Dalston Mill’.  On a more dialogical level one might turn to Jeanne Van Heeswijk’s ‘Talking Trash – personal relationships with waste’ (2010).  These are just a few of the many artists adopting an environmentally conscious practice. Which leads us to the upcoming ‘Home Art’ project series.

‘Home Art’ is a Climate Commission produced by the City of Melbourne in conjunction with TippingPoint Australia.  The ultimate goal of the series of projects to be executed both locally in Melbourne and across the globe as well, is to produce a number of carbon neutral works, educating individual households about sustainable living through a series of one-on-one sessions with selected artists and sustainability experts.

The first ‘Home Art’ project is set to commence next month in West Melbourne with recognised choreographer Lucy Guerin.  Guerin will collaborate with local residents to produce a 5 minute, carbon-neutral dance to be performed in the residents’ own home to a small group of neighbours and friends.  The production of the performance will be based around discussions about sustainable living.  It is intended that this unique shared experience will inspire participants to adapt their daily habits and to pass on the knowledge they have learnt with enthusiasm. It is this element of the personal that may just reach that first domino.  Who knows, it may even be strong enough to tap it over!

In learning more and more of the threat of anthropogenic climate change, how does one then respond to those works produced today that do not appear to take into consideration their environmental impact?  I feel it relevant to state the age-old phrase: no art is produced in a vacuum.  I assume here that no artist is ignorant of the current state of the planet.   Should the art always come first, with the materials and processes second? Or are there some cases when ethics must take precedence? One might argue, that if a work is not treating environmental issues, the choice of materials and processes are thus irrelevant.   But is it really possible to interpret recent works such as Wilfredo Prieto’s, ‘Tied Up to the Table Leg’ (2011) without judging the environmental impact and ethics of the artist?  This work involved a helicopter hovering over the roof of a museum for one hour. Released from the chopper was a rope that made its way down the stairs to be tied up to the leg of a table. All poetics aside, can this be justified? Where does one draw the line?

Hayley Haynes, Melbourne


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