reede, märts 16, 2012

Thoughts about landscape and Siram`s exhibition „Organic production in creative industry/Culture Feat. Nature“

Exhibition view, 04.02. – 04.03.2012 Tallinn City Gallery


The title of the exhibition, partly in English („Culture feat. Nature“), is ironic, and the exhibition texts are precarious and fumbling. The author moves on her conceptual framework in an uncertain way and touches briefly a wide range of problems that could be criticised in a more explicit and constructive way. But she does another way, giving a lot of space for her works to be perceived and interprated. To some extent, the exhibitions looks like a riddle. But doesn`t such important and urgent questions require direct and explicit way of speaking, instead of creating general and ironical metaphors? Still, i won`t deal with those matters now. The problems of nature and landscape in the context of contemporary art are so serious, that any artefacts that point at those, should lead to constructive reactions and shared liability with ciritcists. Therefore im going to use the wide interpretation space in order to point out some topics that need to be critically reviewed.

Siram speaks about the marginal position of nature in contemporary art field, and admits turning against her own position by focusing on that topic. In the exhibition text she writes that nature is mainly the field of some crazy Finns (referring to environmental art scene in Finland), and those local artists, who have moved to countryside and started to praise the beauty of nature, have been left behind in the contemporary art scene. So, it appears that contemporary art has a certain location, content and borders, which are outside the nature –myths like that are created by political power of contemporary art and they keep up the matrix of the system, which mainly should not be seen. There are noble ideas of endless freedom of creativity, where everyone is free to do anything, etc. Such freedom is guided by certain principles of global capitalist ideology, acting through the agency of art market. These principles and matrixes are reproduced in art education, art theory and critics, they are performed by artists, curators, criticists and theoreticians, often even by those, who wouldn`t associate themselves with the shameless and explicit mechanisms creative industry. But after all, there is democracy-based state power with programme to carry out global capitalist ideology, which invades the free space to turn it into human resources and put them under heavy layers of creative industry and world economy.

Contemporary art is part of contemporary world, where nature has a constantly marginal position in any field. The desires of mankind are related with technology and mass production, for a long time already. According to Walter Benjamin, the extatic encounter of masses and technology is like copulation, an index of sexual delight and birth of something new. After Benjamin`s death a huge outbreak of global culture of desires and enjoyment has taken place. It is based on the constant desire for new and illusion of a free market, based on supply and demand. Part of the demand is pointed at art, which constitutes the symbolic order of contemporary art, that is directly or indirectly based on the principles of global culture – technology, mass production/consumption, (sexual) enjoyment, singularity/originality. Nature is an instrument and a resource for this system. Already Benjamin announced that landscape has exploded. The Western landscape, penetrated by technology. The borders of the exploded landscape are uncertain and disputable, especially in the context of global culture, but still, it`s obvious that there are differences between Western and Eastern Europe – the landscape of the Baltics is not the same as in Netherlands, Germany, UK, etc. It is doubtable that Eastern Europe shares the landscape (ideas and responsibility) with the West. Therefore the discourses on landscape in East-European context should depart from a critical, postcolonial position, that first of all concentrates on the Socialist past – an experience that the West never had. Nature as a whole should be involved to the discussions of exploitation and marginalism in terms of gender, sexuality, race and other social matters.

In the mainstream of contemporary art, nature has to correspond to the basic principles of global culture that keeps nature as a biopolitical object. Biotechnology and organic production/consumption are new sources of enjoyment – this is what Siram also points out as following: „Sustainable development, organic production, recycling and other green arguments have turned into a random marketing nonsense, that the successful part of society uses as exclusive chanses of consumption“. In fact, these sources of ejoyment are symptoms of massive ecological catastrophe, that show out in a wrong way, through aesthetical mimesis. The pleasure principle works as bait in mass communication and arts. In the period of Cold War, the ecocritical positions of Agnes Denes were expressed by enormous manipulations with nature – wheat field in New York, etc. The visual rhetorics of new Apple laptops speak more about pure nature and less about mass production, exploitation and contamination, applying on the green consumption enjoyment. Nature inspires designers, artists and (landscape) architects to create utopian concepts, that are often used in advertising, marketing and product development. In this regard, i would point to a recent exhibition „(re)designing nature“ (25.05.2010 – 23.01.2011, Künstlerhaus, Vienna). It contained characteristic utopian illustrations of ideas about hi-tech and pure nature together, side by side („Hydrogenase Algae Farm“, Vincent Callebaut Architectures), also all kind of experiments with green plants and earth, installations with organic elements, etc. The installation „Tischgesellschaft/Dinner party“ (by Christian Philipp Müller and Jochen Koppensteiner) was probably meant to be ironical, but it worked out as cynicism – seems like they understood the point, but still reproduced the ironic embodiment of an evil idea. This installation was set up as a white, nicely designed table with white`n trendy tableware. In the middle, there were well designed pieces of green plants served as food. Such way work the biopower mechanisms – a dinner table with firm and elitist aesthetical code refers to biopolitical power structures, that make decisions on the color, content and function of nature. Green color is a metaphor of life, including human life. Might be possible, that this is also, what Siram meant, when writing her concept as follows: „Maybe i just try to see forest behind trees, as much as i can, and behind this forest the people, who have planted it…“. Siram is not certain about the owners of those thousands of eyes watching her, while she is looking at nature. Are those human eyes, after all? Probably not! Siram has decided to skip the biopolitical decisions on the origins of nature and landscape.

From recent times, there can be found another significant exhibition, this time with a bit critical position. „Return of Landcape“ (13.03. – 30.05.2010) in Berlin Art Academy and it`s text-based catalogue, edited by Donata Valentien, viewed the relations between civilization and landscape through two radical phenomenas – Venice and Las Vegas. Rather concerned than critical articles are illustrated with works of this exhibition – aerial photos of Alex S. Maclean that reflect the human traces on landscape in a way, which i find too much oriented to aesthetics and pleasure. In some cases, the pleasure of the text and irony might turn out as misguiding agencies. The landscape paintings of Siram refer to the marginality of the format itself, besides the content, and therefore they can be viewed as acts of protest. Mapping human traces on landscape through landscape paintings is closer to ecocritical aims than the manifestos of professionalism and technology by Alex S. Maclean. Siram`s landscape paintings are conceptually also bound with hi-tech matters – paintings were named after the GPS locations of the painting sites. Together with paintings, two documentary videos of forest are exposed. By the influence of photo series (plus a video) that reflect a former event, where Siram opened the exhibition of the landscape paintings in forest, and quests were dressed in animal costumes, the format and content of the landscape paintings melt together into one marginal matter that could dissolve into same marginal nature. But here is the rupture of perverse and alienating influence of representation and artistic intervention, which appears explicitly in the context of forest, that includes a table full of alcohol, stupid animal costumes, paintings fixed at tree trunks. According to the idea of nature as the end of art, this view is a parody of art and human activity in general. This idea is supported by Siram`s installation of artificial swamp, a synthetic platform, worn out and stinky, because of constant exploitation in the gallery. This is actually a very ecocritical message that could be developed to the extent of slogans by Church of Euthanasia, such as „Save the Planet, Kill Yourself“ or „Six Billion Humans Can`t Be Wrong“. The whole exposition seem to say that there is no place for landscape, not in contemporary art, not in nature. As a conclusion, such a position Estonian contemporary art context might be a good start for new discussions in all problematic issues, pointed out above.

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