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What's Next: Katie Kurtz
Katie Kurtz, 29 Dec 06

"I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum," wrote sculptor Claes Oldenburg in 1961 at the dawn of a politically and culturally tumultuous decade. As adoption of a greener and more worldchanging way of life takes root Oldenburg's sentiment could serve as a guidepost for artists in the years to come.

The move out of the museum has been happening for quite some time with both great and not so great results. What I'm interested in is not art as activism per se but art that is active and activates – work that serves an energetic purpose beyond hanging on a museum or collector's wall. Of course we still need art to do just that and I'm all for art for art's sake but what we need more of (and are already starting to see) is artwork that uses minimal resources, includes a component of environmental reclamation or restoration, and encourages people to think differently about how they live in the world.

In The Accursed Share, Georges Bataille wrote:

On the surface of the globe, for living matter in general, energy is always in excess; the question is always posed in terms of extravagance. The choice is limited to how the wealth is to be squandered.

Considering the rapidly encroaching effects of global warming, it's becoming harder and harder to not view art – both its production and consumption – as a luxury. Taking cues from Bataille and thinking about art as a form of wealth – art takes on a different meaning. If we begin to think of both the making of and interaction with art as a privilege rather than a right, the entire ecology of the art system begins to shift. What happens when an artist approaches their material – whether it's a jar of paint or their own body – as a precious commodity, to be used sparingly? (Some would say minimalism happens but I'm trying to get at something else here.) What if the work harnessed sunlight in order to power itself? What if art gave back rather than took from? How might art's wealth be shared sustainably?

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Posted by: Zaid Hassan on 30 Dec 06

"Art" is a verb, embodied in everything.

Posted by: David Foley on 30 Dec 06

Nice piece & selected quotes katie...
Large scale new-media works that seem oblivious to their resource & energy consumption are particularly starting to get irksome...
.. but at the same time, if compared to all that is used to make a craptacular feature film....

Posted by: jean poole on 2 Jan 07

It is said that archaeologists discover the most about ancient civilizations by exploring their trash and their art. That statement should give us pause: Trash and Art. The glory of an empire distilled into two extremes: that which we consider disposable, and that which embodies our self-referential view of beauty. Now in this pause, look around you. Then, fast forward to an archaeological dig 1000 years from now. What from the early 21st century will be considered art? The objects unearthed will reflect how our society lived, and what is preserved will reflect its importance. I fear the ratio of trash to art will be enormous.

Art and artists play an incredibly important role in shaping and reflecting the consciousness of their community; they are the mirrors, the weathervanes, and the canary in society’s coal mine. This role is one that has been glorified in some civilizations and censored in others. There exists today a blur between art and design: with the industrial revolution well behind us and manufacturing levels and global resource consumption reaching obscene levels, there is a trend today to commodify art (among other tokens of our culture) to the point of fetishistic gluttony…Why? Because we can. This has the effect of not only depleting our natural resources, but neutering the intention of Art-making as a vital contribution to society by transforming it into a consumer driven product for sale and mass distribution, and thereby diluting it as a rare and unique medium for public contemplation that provokes new ideas and provides commentary on our personal and global cultural landscape.

Where and who are the artistic voices to counter this Brave New World? What messages of conscience are we sending to the future archaeologists of our society? What forms of expression, signs of revolt, digestions of our culture, and laments and hopes for our time will they discover in our art? If our society collapses from the rape of our planet by its own inhabitants, will these archaeologists of art and trash observe that we tried to embody these fears in our creativity? Will they see that we tried to catch ourselves before we fell? Or, will we be seen as blindly clinging to the status quo, following it like lemmings into the sea. There is tide we need to swim against; there is a hew and cry that needs to be expressed, and its manifestation is up to us, as artists and as global citizens.

There is a handful of engaging art today that expresses this consciousness. It possesses a subtext of cultural meaning beyond its surface beauty. Its value is determined not by collectors, but by the importance and ability to convey it’s message within an aesthetic framework that thinks outside the commercialized box. This quality is most needed in public and interactive sculpture where we are all invited not to observe with detachment, but to actively engage with each other in its exploration. Christine Kristen writes about exactly this genre of art-making that “harkens back to a time when there was no separation between art and life? in her recent article in Raw Vision Magazine. She is referring to, of course, the infamous Burning Man festival. And as an 8-year participant and artist at Burning Man, I can personally attest to her statement. It is an event that has nurtured and inspired not only a reality where art meets life, but where new technology meets new tribalism, spirituality meets survival, and community and creativity combust with such shockwaves of iconoclastic self-realization that the words “lost and found? never possessed so much meaning.

It is here that I feel real hope for our future. It is here that art and community is being redefined—better yet, it is defining itself. This next year’s festival’s art theme was announced to its participants as a rallying cry for our time. The theme ?concerns humanity’s relationship to nature. Do we as conscious beings exist out of natures sway, or does its force compel us and inform the central root of who we are?? This year “The Green Man? will be the highly anticipated impetus for countless expressions of creativity and invention, while simultaneously encouraging the ethos of sustainability and green technology at the largest “leave no trace? event in the world. Hundreds of artists will hear the rallying cry and create their response. 40,000 participants will witness it and bring its message and example into our default world. Through art and its participation we contemplate this fulcrum in human history and illuminate our place on our planet as its collaborator or its destroyer. For this reason, artists have a powerful voice, yet we also have a powerful responsibility. We are the conscience of our Age unearthed in the future.

Posted by: Kate Raudenbush on 3 Jan 07



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