innovation, circulation and repair


my time at ars electronica has been oddly influenced by the book i’m reading. my first proper day strangely resonated with cildo mereiles‘ ideas about circuits and circulation in society – that art can really make a difference in these circuits.

the two main circuits he inserted work into were money (currency) and coca cola distribution, but i had been wondering about what others there were, when i walked into carlo ratti/MIT‘s presentation.

carlo presented two main projects: trash track and sea swarm.

trash track is an older work, based in seattle that seeks to track the removal chain of our consumer products to the same end that the supply chain is tracked (and they don’t like you using their imagery). hundreds of volunteers ‘tracked’ their garbage and ratti presented some stunning video and still visualisations. sadly, when you see these within the wider festival exhibits, you can’t actually find anything more about the products other than a map of where they went. it wasn’t clear (to me at least), whether they were mulched, re-used (like was a paper starbucks cup picked up by a beggar and used to get a bottomless refill?) or taken to a recycling plant, or left to degrade on the streets? perhaps they’re rolling this info out.

but, i think it’s important that this research continues and spreads and gets taken up by as many cities as possible, as an audit of our waste/sanitation circuits. and, it could also be a fantastic tool for some great artforms – manipulating the circuits so that the same cup you threw away ends up on your doorstep every time. or gets redirected to ash keating’s mega installation. or something.


obviously found myself thinking about the use of existing circuits/systems in order to ‘repair’ the environmental, social, financial and philosophical malady of our disposable mindset. and i started with the festival itself.

for the first time, ars electronica was based in a massive, cleared out, ex-industrial space ever-so slightly away from the centre of the city – the old tabakfabric (tobacco factory). aesthetically, acoustically and historically, it was amazing and there was a real ‘collected’ vibe sometimes.

but, in festivals past (when the works were spread between the galleries and spaces throughout the city) we would all eat in existing eateries – paying their staff, using their existing furniture, utensils, toilets, kitchens, systems of disposal/clean-up/supply, use existing public transport modes, discover the smaller details of the city and expand the existing city with people and art.

this time, we hardly went to any of the local cafes or restaurants.

this time, we had special on-site catering (that was mostly expensive and limited), special cutlery/crockery shipped in, disposable beer cups (even with a pfand), extra pop-up kitchens, fridges, kegs and energy supplies, extra portable toilets, extra staff and signage and furniture and lighting.

see where i’m going?

i know that there are different ‘repair’ benefits to a separated, concentrated and contracted ‘festival atmosphere’, but given the discussion about clean-up, technology and all the exhibits about repairing the environment, i couldn’t help but wonder if this festival model itself was not in everyone’s best interest.

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she sees red

here’s a list of stuff i’m angry about at the moment. i don’t presently have time to go into extensive detail (lucky for you poor readers), but i might soon. just you wait.

1. skinny jeans rape acquittals. nicholas gonzales in sydney was acquitted from raping a woman because a juror (NOT even evidence presented as defence) felt that because our victim was wearing skinny jeans, that there must have been some consent as those things don’t just come off on their own.

to that juror: fuck off and die in a hole. go back to the barbarism of the 18th century and see how serfdom suits you.

2. deveny getting booted. much has been written about her. i know. and although i am a fan of her stuff (and have followed her column, twitter and books), even i found the rove tweet a bit much. AND i was reading it real time. (unlike much of the judging public). as an aside, i think she could have dealt with the fracas a leetle better.

but fired? are you kidding me?

riddle me this – what do matthew johns, sam newman, bert newton and kyle sandilands all really have in common?

3. oil vomitting out into the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico. oh lord – where to start…
if you’re going to do surgery, know how to stop a haemorrhage first.

4. resources capital heads deciding that they might take their bat and ball and go home because they’re being charged extra to plum the land. see this

i know that K-Rudd is not this forward-thinking (maybe he was in a previous life, i dunno). but as much as this capital hostage is fucked, i’m also hoping that this is a strange and almost-genius environmental policy based on reverse psychology. tax the fuck out of the bastards, they throw a tantrum. we reduce our carbon emissions and stop desecrating aboriginal land. hooray!

there. done. next time: good news.

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everyone is shit, except you love. part 2

my dearest friend in the whole world is an environmentalist. her adorable partner is a racing car driver. somehow they share common ground when it comes to the ethical dealings of government and business regarding issues of environmental sustainability. here’s an email he sent her that is not only relevant to our current climate, but so goddamn cute.

[originally posted on her blog, but i just had to reproduce it. they will both be mortified. sorry sar.]

“As I am always suggesting, this constant chasing of the perfect fix to saving the environment by changing the type or source of the fuel we use is simply marketing crap. V8 Supercars Australia are changing from 5% ethanol mixed fuel to an 85% ethanol based version for its Racing Green program to become more carbon-neutral.

The result of this change is that the cars will use 25-30% more fuel as ethanol burns much hotter and therefore more rapidly. Another problem is that although ethanol produces much less carbon dioxide ethanol blended fuels produce much more nitric oxide due to the higher burn temperature. Nitric Oxide is also harmful to the environment so is this all a matter of moving the problem from one source to another as I have indicated all along. As you know I am one for making change but only when there is real benefits from the change, not marketing cover ups.

The other problem is not the output from the engines but the sourcing of ethanol based fuels, how much goes into producing this stuff including the clearing of land for crops, the cultivation of crops, the water used to obtain the crops (reducing another of our precious resources), etc.

Anyway, I just thought I would get that one off my chest as too many companies (including V8 Supercars) are full of shit about making changes to protect the environment with programs such as ethanol and carbon offsets etc. If everyone planted a tree for all the carbon offsets we would not have any land left for houses, roads, crops, picnic grounds and footy ovals. I don’t yet know the answer but I do know that everyone is crap (except for you).”

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sustainable art practice and utopian slumps

Firstly, if you live in melbourne and wanna see a great exhibition, jump on your bike and ride over to Utopian Slumps for Brendan Huntley‘s exhibition. It’s chocker-block full of sweet and creepy ceramics and drawings of masks. or faces. depending on your outlook.

His glass pieces are so adorable and I fell in love with one particular work as soon as I saw it. Only to find out later that somebody else bought it. Which is probably for the better, seeing as I can’t really afford to be buying others’ works at the moment.

Huntley, for those who live outside Melbourne, is also known as Brendan Suppression – singer from Eddie Current Suppression Ring – bloody brilliant post-garage noise rock saviours. Which explains why I ended up chatting with Kate Langbroek at the opening. Surreal, I tell you.

And speaking of Utopian Slumps, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how difficult it is to have a sustainable art practice. I don’t mean environmentally (although that can be hard sometimes, especially for us solvent-loving types), but physically, financially, conceptually and emotionally. A friend quit her arts admin job this week, because of the lack of organisational support. She’d only been there for just over 12 months, but that level of rotation is not uncommon. In fact, I only know a handful of people who have been in the one arts admin job for more than 18 months. That’s a pretty high attrition rate.

But it’s quite common here. It’s quite a vicious cycle: there’s no money in the arts, so we work our guts out picking up the slac, where there should be more staff, we burn out, move on and our organisations are left with staff who are underpaid, overworked and inexperienced and so the cycle starts again. Not to mention the fact that half of the arts admin workforce are practicing artists/writer/curators and are spending the rest of their lives working on other stuff. It’s like the whole arts industry is sleep deprived. Which is great for wacky, zany ideas and spontenaity. Not so good for long-term, let’s get some policy written and some considered discussion happening. We’re reacting.

Look at my workload for a case-in-point: I’m currently working full time, putting in a half-arsed attempt at finishing the uni semester, working on a joint [technically-group-but-might-as-well-be-solo] show and somehow managing to still have some sleep. How the fuck i do sustain this over a 20, 30, 40 year period? Add to that the globalisation spoiler of realising how much more possible it is to do elsewhere.

The sad thing is that visual art (and other forms of art, methinks) isn’t built on a sustainable business model. Well, not here anyway. There is no easily quanitifiable outcome, product, turnover, cash flow data or even staffing procedure. Each artist runs his/her business as best they can, based on the practice. Not the practice based on a common business model, and the whole industry flows on from there. Money doesn’t come first – it’s product or idea and then fitting finances to it. And, unlike graphic design and architecture- the most financially self-supporting of the creative industries – the hourly rate just doesn’t feature. If you try to fit a standard billing idea to arts practice, most artists are working pro-bono 100% of their time. Can you imagine if lawyers did that?

Having said all that, I like that art is outside of regular, commercialised modes of engagement. It provides a detached viewpoint for analysis and also contributes an ‘exit’ within society – a shining light away from supermarket shelves and a long list of unanswered emails.

But if we’re unable to continue providing that viewpoint ‘cos we’re malfunctioning, something needs to change.

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the rubbish around the edges

Unofficially, I’ve been accepted into a post grad course on public art next year. I’m really excited about it and have already been sucking up some great architecture/planning info and discovering new places to waste my time (here, here, here and here); thinking about structure and ‘spatial relationships’ and hopping from one foot to the other in anticipation.

As well as all that, I’ve been thinking about environmental and sustainability issues and how important good, or more specifically smart design is to helping combat some of the destructive things we’ve been doing to our planet.

[for an excellent post on the benefit of design in environmental sustainability, read ben terrett’s presentation from applied green..]

I also recently did the fantastic WWF footprint calculation and was appalled to realise that I’m living like we’ve got 3.5 planets to live off. As they gently reminded me, we’ve only got one so i better do something about it.

While I know that I can do a lot to reduce my impact, most of it had to do with things that are outside my usual pattern of operating (2 x 21 hour plane trips plus a couple of trips within europe will do that) and I wanted to plead: but I’m not usually like that! In actual fact, I’m petrified at what state this planet will be in within the next 20 years, because I know that, for all the talk, there are still only a few people really doing anything about it.

Which brings me to the main point of this post.

Most current sustainable solutions rely on the structure and habit of ‘everyday living’ to impement: you know, solar panels on your house, kerbside recycling, using public transport instead of taking the car everyday; going organic, using reduced packaging and energy-saver lightbulbs, etc, etc, etc. The good news is that for the most part, they’re pretty easy to do for your average Australian, with an average job, average wages and average lifestyle. Which is great!

But what about when you want to step outside the order of that regular life? Like, you’re travelling. Or you’re renting or renovating. Or you’re so poor you can barely afford food and electricity, let alone green power or organic vegetables. Or your workplace is sadly unenlightened and continues to fly the CBD Blaze of Glory flag. Or you’re a super-cool rockstar who lives in 5-star hotels. Or you want to actually have a social life that doesn’t include staying at home playing scrabbulous.

Trust me, it’s really hard to remain carbon-neutral in any of those things. And being a super-cool rockstar who lives in 5-star hotels, I should know.

But seriously, here’s a small case in point: the humble water-bottle.

thanks to Ooodit from flickr

I carry around a bottle of water with me, in order to a) save on packaging while keeping hydrated and b) save money. But when I go to a club, or a restaurant (as someone else blogged about recently) that water bottle gets taken away from me so that i a) maybe don’t lob it at the lead singer of a shite band and b) so that i buy the water from the venue.

Now, you might not think that matters all that much, but say each club in a city the size of London takes 10 bottles of water away from customers each night and chucks it in the bin (note: not recycled). Say 10 bottles of water, 30 clubs (being conservative), 3 nights of the week (again, conservative), 52 weeks of the year = 46800 bottles of water being thrown away. It also means that another 46800 extra bottles of water are being purchased, to replace the ones that had to be chucked. And let’s say that’s from people who are trying to be thoughtful. I don’t even want to think about the ones who couldn’t give a damn.

And don’t get me started on food wastage per night, per city, per year, per capita, otherwise I think I’ll vomit.

And that’s just a little example, using a bit of a peeve I had going on there. Which brings me back to my point – how can we step up the beat when we’re out of our rhythm? The real answer is easy: don’t eat out, don’t go out, don’t travel, don’t listen to loud music and don’t drive a car. Just don’t.
But we all know what happens when we have to be good all the time – the 1980s.

Is the only way to deal with these kind of ‘out of the ordinary’ environmental expenditure to offset them? Or is, as Sam says, carbon offsetting the morning after pill for environmental sustainability? Can’t we just start making less of an impact? Now?

I think now is a really important time for those in service positions: city planners, architects, interior designers, food industry types, educational institutions, governments and scientists to also think about how to create sustainability structures so that when we’re out of our comfort zones, or our regular rhythms, that we’re still working towards reducing our impact, almost without even knowing!

Maybe this includes re-thinking licensing laws, developing intelligent food packaging solutions (even ones that the tight-arse mums and dads running the chippie will want to purchase) or even an incentive to eat in!, MAKING PUBLIC TRANSPORT AVAILABLE AND ATTRACTIVE!!!, using proper signage (no need for useless maps!), having proper sound insulation and equipment so that you don’t need to crank the god-damned speakers until they’re bursting, etc, etc, etc.

I know that loads of people are suspicious of companies jumping on the ‘green’ marketing bandwagon, but this is more than about marketing stuff. It’s about making things green and coming to expect them to be made that way.

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