Artful Green Dot

Q & A with David Van Luven

Posted in Interviews, Uncategorized by Audrey Tran on February 10, 2009

Ecologist, David Van Luven is the director of the Hudson River Estuary Landscape. On Wednesday, he kindly gave me his insights on art and environmentalism.  During the summer of 2008, EXIT Art recruited Van Luven for a panel discussion between artists and scientists on the intersection of climate change and the arts.

David Van Luven on the Hudson River

David Van Luven on the Hudson River

AT: How did you get involved in the panel?

DVL: Well, there’s nothing romantic there. It was a fellow in our NY office E.J. McAdams. He used  to be a part of the Audubon society, very involved in the arts society and I’m working on climate change, so he called me.

AT:  The online video of the panel only showed Eve Mosher speaking .  Could you tell me about your role in that discussion?

DVL: I introduced the project I’ve been working on, the  Hudson River Estuary initiative.  In this project, we’re building four  potential futures for the Hudson Valley and then we put together robust strategies that respond to those potential futures. It’s an effort to move forward strategies that will help people become aware of climate change problems.

Really, it’s just that people don’t put too much effort into preparing for things like climate change. The Hudson is hit in two different ways. First, sea level has been rising and we’ve seen it move 15 inches over the past 150 years put projects that it will speed to 6′ over the next 100 years. That might not sound like much, but it’s significantly rapid.

The second consequence is altered weather.  We’re going to see fewer, more intense storms and flooding. Levees are one option we have against flooding, but they’re also expensive and difficult to maintain.

AT:  All of this sounds like it’s related to Mosher’s piece, especially what you’ve said about awareness in people.

DVL: I loved that piece.   You what I liked about that piece?  It was so clean and simple.

This is why I think Art is such a powerful movement, and Eve’s project was so simple, she was drawing this line and people came out and talked to her about it. She wasn’t trying to teach them, she was just this person in her neighborhood and she wasn’t threatening, and so when she talked, people listened to what she had to say.

Artists are brilliant in that they see the same things we see but they see them in very different directions. Very powerful insights on how to communicate effectively, and makes us re-think what we’re talking about ourselves. I loved her project.

AT: You seem pretty positive  about this collaboration between science and art.

I am, one because I love Art, and I really didn’t get to discover art till I was in college and I met my wife then. One of the challenges I see, most of the people I work with in the environmental world, I don’t think we see the potential that lies in the Art community.

AT: Who are your inspirations, artists, writers, other scientists?

DVL:  David Roberts. He made these neat drawings of the East. I just love them. They draw me in and they create this world that I want to walk through.

Musically, I love Phillip Glass.  Have you seen Kyannisquatsi? It’s about he break down of the earth, and it’s just, just, you’ve got to go see it. Rent it, download it, you’ve got to go see it. The music is just brilliant. I listen to it all the time.

And I’m just trying to think of other artists I love, it’s like when someone asks you what your favorite music is and you blank out for some reason.

AT: Oh yeah, I know. It puts you on the spot.  What about writers?

DVL: I don’t read many environmental books, but I love Beak of the Finch; one of the most lucid descriptions of what evolution actually is, as well as the survial of the fittest presentation. Most people actually don’t really get what that is and it’s such an elegantly simple, simple concept.

OH, and Andy Goldsworthy! I love Andy Goldsworthy.


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In Full Bloom

Posted in Exhibition Reviews by Audrey Tran on February 8, 2009

Tyler Rollins Fine Art is now showing a series of flower portraits by Ron Agam, who sees this work as a “call for attention,” to the Earth.  Agam created large portraits of face-like flowers that recall the grandeur of Bloomingdales windows.  There’s some therapy here too, in these silent pictures.  If anyone is tired of the moving, endlessly blinking sights we see all over the city and at home, he/she should have a look at these photos.

Still, I’m looking for something more.  Agam’s work had this WOW effect on me, and I appreciate that meditation he offers, but Agam fall into a category of artists who have used nature in a similar fashion countless times before. Although we need this concern and we need others to feel the same, I hope the we don’t stop here.  I hope we’ll find new ways to communicate nature through art.

However, I do appreciate this show in other senses. The visit to Tyler Rollins was  a reminder that the image online is not at all the image in the gallery. You must see these pieces in person to understand that specific magnificence  from the color, curves, and graceful folds of each flower.

The show runs till 27 Feb. 2009.

A Conversation with Klaus Ottmann

Posted in Interviews by Audrey Tran on February 8, 2009

I contacted Klaus Ottmann after coming across his lovely introduction in  Agnes Denes’ The Human Argument. I was struck first by Denes’ writing, and then by Ottmann’s particular perspective on Dene’s body of work:

“Denes is, by today’s standards, an artist and thinker  of the rarest kind. She posses […] an encyclopedic curiosity and a considerable knowledge about the world–something that was more common among philosophers and some artists before the end of the nineteenth century, before knowledge broke apart into countless specializations.” The following is a brief and to-be-continued talk with Ottmann on Denes’ work and the environmental art movement.

AT:  Why did you choose to publish the book in 2008?  Was there something specific about last year or the past few years that made you revisit Denes’ older writing?

KO: The book of Agnes Denes’s writings was actually in the works already for several years. I decided to start a series of books of artist’s writings, which began with my translation of Yves Klein’s writings, published in 2007. Denes was an artist that I had known for a long time about. The next one, the writings of Jennifer Bartlett, will be published in 2010.

AT: Is there a connecting thread between Yves Klein, Denes, and Bartlett?  I’m curious about why you chose to work with those artists.

KO: I do have a predilection for artists whose work has a certain numinous or spiritual character, such as the work of Wolfgang Laib, Yves Klein, James Lee Byars. Currently I am preparing two monographic survey shows for the Parrish Art Museum: Rackstraw Downes (2010) and Jennifer Bartlett (2011)

AT: I can certainly see how Denes is different from other artists, but how would you differentiate her from other Eco artists, or artists working with Green motives?

KO: I don’t like the term “Eco artists.” I don’t define artist by their political convictions. Agnes Denes happens to work with environmental issues in some of her work, but this does not define her art. Her work is much more than that. Art needs to be both ethical and aesthetical. If it is too ethical, it becomes political propaganda. If it is too aesthetical, it becomes decorative. There are many examples of both.

What defines true works of art is that they have found a perfect balance between the ethical and the aesthetical; they transcend simplistic messages and provide multiple layers of meaning.

It is also important not to confuse an artist’s writings and other public statements with her work. In her writings, Denes is much more political and environmental; it is one aspect of her personality and her work, but it should not be reduced to that.
AT: It really is a difficult thing, for me at least, to understand when the balance between ethics and aesthetics has shifted too much to one side. Today, this is certainly the something to be aware of.  Your response actually leads me further down to one of the questions I planned to ask later:

Q:  I’m trying to make sense of a few big shows in NY this past year.  One was EXIT Art’s promotion of S.E.A. (Social Environmental Aesthetics) which was meant to provide this forum between artists and scientists.  A similar arena has also been created through EcoARTSpace.  In light of your previous response, how do you feel about these shows?

KO: I have to admit that I consider myself somewhat of a modernist conservative, or shall I say, idealist, in that I believe in the autonomy of art above all. That is why I feel that the aesthetical as well as the ethical component of a work of art needs to be considered equally. I have nothing against political activism, but I believe that it should not play a leading role, or become the most significant layer, in a work of art. If there is a balance between the ethical and the aesthetical, then art can actually be more powerful than a political message. All art has the power to change the world, but it should do so quietly, by addressing or reflecting our deepest fears and the existential questions of the Human Condition.

I always bring up the example of Richard Serra’s contribution to the 2006 Whitney Biennial, a work that depicted an image from Abu Ghraib and the words “Stop Bush.” I found Serra’s decision to produce a work of political propaganda disappointing. While I agreed with its message, I think he should have instead written an editorial for the New York Times that would most likely have been more effective.

I don’t find it particularly useful to organize exhibitions with themes that narrow down an artist’s work to a specific aspect, be it historical, conceptual, or political. Thus I would never curate an exhibition of “Eco-art” or the likes. If I were an artist, I would also never participate in such an exhibition, for the same reason, unless that is all my work is about, but that would be sad, indeed.