Updated: Dec 5, 2021
As some of you may know, over the last three years I have been investigating how unmaking can be a creative act that can help artists unmake themselves from perspectives, processes, presentations and imagery that proliferates anthropocenic approaches and representations of land. This desire to arrive at an eco-feminist praxis that recognizes the vitalness and vitality of land as a living being itself poses some very difficult dilemmas as someone who has established a practice and following as a landscape artist.
To the right is one of three drawings I submitted to Westland Gallery's 2021 Square Foot Exhibition as part of me beginning to unmake my large inventory of work. Although lucky because two of these have sold, the other side of this unexplainable phenomena is how difficult it is to put older works out into the world as this is not where I have been as a visual practitioner for the last five years.
Beyond carrying forward the colonial gaze and an aesthetic deeply rooted within European fine art practices, landscapes like this echo the misrepresentation of terra-nullius that gradually led to the colonization and settlement of the Western hemispheres by Spanish, British, French and Dutch empires beginning in 1492, when Christopher Columbus, on behalf of Spain, reached land in the New World. Even materially these little framed sketches on paper signify how much fine art practices, or even environmental art, fails to take up the call to suspend harm against the elemental commons (air, water, land) that is now collectively victim and reacting to the climate change brought about by the anthropocene.
So how are creative producers supposed to or able to live eco-conscious and ethical lives knowing all that we know?
Trying to reduce the amount of materials I consume / extract and therefor leave behind, even while taking up acts of unmaking to transform old works and ready-mades into new works of art, I have witnessed other artists becoming inspired by the end products versus the process in order to create similar looking objects with new materials. So simply by sharing how one can unmake to arrive at new aesthetics or approaches to artistic practice resulted in such works failing to disrupt the high rate of production, consumption and discard of capitalism that wreaks havoc globally.
Yes, one could retreat away from making anything at all or resist the social media that puts artists more at risk of theft than sales in order to focus on securing public art gallery shows, residencies and grants, but such opportunities are still far and few between in comparison to the number of artists wishing to transform their work from one of harm to assisting with larger social issues. It is also a reality that many public art centres, granting bodies and residencies still uphold very traditional approaches to presentation and production, not only through the sharing of their collections, but in also trying to reach a larger percentage of their publics who desire to see that which they already know. Like the social and economic pressure put on both commercial and public galleries to sell primarily decorative works or host large blockbuster projections of works known to all, contemporary visual artists also find themselves under pressure to continue working in a way that will ensure their work makes it into the hearts and homes of art buyers. However, to do so, limits the growth of the artist, the consumer and arts and culture scene as a whole.
In her article, The Contemporary Dematerialization of Art, Laura Napier proposes the need to revisit the dematerialization strategies of the 1960's while also highlighting how problematic this becomes for artists to sustain themselves as artists. Of course there is not one answer on how artists can etch out sustainable lives while helping to build more sustainable worlds, but what would it look like if guaranteed basic income offered the key for creatives to relinquish our highly commodified practices to arrive at service based actions or revisit relational aesthetics and other methods of dematerialization? Would this sort of program offer us a way to become valuable volunteers or activists of change in a way that reflected our artistic research and the needs of society or ecology?
For example, Pakistan, during the COVID virus crisis, has found a way to get their labour force back to work in a safe way while also being a service to their broader communities and country. In Germany, if you are an artist and "have a degree from an art school you are officially deemed a “professional” artist and qualify to receive assistance from the state. This mentality has contributed to Berlin and other cities becoming major cultural centres and the development of funding and programs that help artists and their community flourish, even during times of pandemics, despite the loss of gig economies and the cancellation of many annual events and exhibitions. (Brown, 2020)
If you are an artist who has been able to develop a sustainable praxis without putting an abundance of "things" into the world, please post below to let others know how we can all move forward in a more sustainable ways for the earth we share.