I recently had the opportunity to be in Paris at the end of the COP21 – the 21st annual Congress of Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change – which resulted in an historic accord on December 12 by 195 countries for planned reductions in CO2 emissions. My primary mission was to look at as much of the parallel arts program, know as ARTCOP21, which accompanied the Congress. While I arrived too late to attend the core cultural symposium, I had the opportunity to experience a number of works and, perhaps more importantly, think about Northern Spark’s focus on climate change in 2016 and 2017. Why? How? To what end? Stay tuned for some additional information about Northern Spark in our January newsletter. In the meantime, here are some thoughts about what I saw in Paris.
On Saturday morning, I headed to the D12 protest near the Arc de Triomphe. It was extremely circumscribed, and we weren’t allowed to actually march anywhere. There was the usual assortment of DIY signs with clever slogans, but the real energy for me was the early-on speeches by First Nation representatives, powerfully underscoring one of the central problematics of climate change – its “downstream” effects on non- and less-polluting populations. Climate change is inextricably a social justice issue.
Michael Pinsky, Breaking the Surface
One of the featured artworks in Paris was Michael Pinsky’s installation along the Ourcq Canal. He extricated various items from the canal, from shopping carts to chairs to lamps, and mounted them on the surface. The nighttime publicity images have a floating mystery to them, but in person it seemed like a repetitive line of junk with little to make you think hard about climate change or even garbage. My take away: spectacle can be effective in attracting attention, but something more is necessary to make you pay attention.
Andrea Polli, Particle Falls
I curated Andrea’s Particle Falls as part of the 2010 01SJ Biennial, so it was a pleasure to see that 5 years on, the idea of a waterfall of C02 particle emissions, modeled in real time, was as mesmerizing as ever. In its invisibility, carbon dioxide does not have the same horror as belching soot, for instance, but Particle Falls helps us visualize the enormity of this atmospheric respiration, as something overwhelmingly powerful and seemingly everlasting.
Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Exit
At the nearby Palais de Tokyo, besides two standout shows of the work of John Giorno and Ragnar Kjartansson, there was an immersive animation about climate change and migration, Exit, by Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin, who created Moveable Type in the lobby of the New York Times building – see it if you haven’t – and Laura Kurgan, Director of the Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University. This high-powered team created Exit “based on an idea by Paul Virilio,” who introduces the piece in a short video walking – moving – somewhere quayside talking about how climate change will displace 1 billion people and “all of history is on the move again.” After a 20 minute wait to get in, Exit does not disappoint with an Imax-like update of a migration-focused Inconvenient Truth. It’s hard to remember the details, or even fully comprehend them at the time, so quickly does the piece move along, but I think the virtue of such a virtuoso data visualization is how it leaves us emotionally open to the global connectedness of sectarian conflicts and localized climate catastrophes. It makes it make sense, and we can fill in the facts afterwards. They have a place to fit.
Les Radiolaires, White Cube
At Cite des Sciences et de l’industrie, alongside an informative “fact-based” exhibition Climate 360 degrees and a series of boringly beautiful photographs of “exotic” climate change locales was an intriguing two-part installation by Les Radiolaires (Marine Dillard, Caroline Gaussens, Denis Pegaz Blanc, and Xavier Tiret), winners of a competition based on the theme “when the Earth and its inhabitants have solved the climate problem.” The didactic reads:
“In the White Cube structure made of refrigerators, a Creature moves about in front of pictures of cooked dishes from the past. The anthropophagous being no longer leaves its cube and spends its time exercising: it needs the energy that it expends and immediately recycles to power its refrigerators and screens. It exchanges the carbon dioxide it breathes out and methane and excrement it produces for the oxygen release by the Algumans in their Crystal Ball.“
Les Radiolaires, Crystal Ball
“In the Crystal Ball tiny humans called Algumans (half-algae, half-human) use only solar energy. They move slowly, reproduce and manufacture everything they need themselves. The subtle architecture of the bubble biosphere that shelters them represents a ball and lung, whose breathing gently carries them from one pole of their world to the other. The Algumans emit oxygen that is exchanged with the creature of the White Cube (WC), so creating a perfect symbiosis that maintains a harmonious, peaceful equilibrium between their biosphere and the WC habitat. Daydreams, leisure activities, mechanics and a diversified pattern of motion lie at the heart of their vital world, ensuring their healthy development. There the Sun is king. The Algumans enjoy the world they have created in their image, where well-being, lightness and contemplation reign. Here and there, they also sip a concoction produced by the neighboring Creature and savour dishes of a mysterious nature…”
The symbolism of the piece is beyond obvious, but its virtue is that if the White Cube is clearly the “business as usual” option in climate change parlance, the Crystal Ball slyly insinuates there is no Eden we can return to. Regardless of how Eden-like the future may be, it will be require some radical accommodations.
Pedro Marzorati, OUPPSSS!!
Pedro Marzorati’s submerged blue men of Where the Tides Ebb and Flow was, along with Olafur Eliasson’s Ice Watch, one of the iconic images of ARTCOP21, but OUPPSSS!! was a different piece in the under-repair Saint-Mery Church as part of a group exhibition. While not as memorable, I ended up thinking that there is an interesting parallelism between a church under repair and an earth in dire need of remediation, and it’s important that not every installation is at the Eiffel Tower or other heritage site. Climate change is indiscriminate. Nothing is too valuable, nowhere too obscure to transmogrify.
Hassan Darsi, Le Projet de la Maquette
At the Pompidou, as I wandered through the permanent collection, a number of works had special ARTCOP21 labels, as if someone had retrospectively curated a selection of works with additional commentary about, broadly speaking, climate change. The “regular” label for Darsi’s maquette reads:
“In 2002, Hassan Darsi embarked on his Projet de la Maquette to record the state into which Casablanca’s Parc de l’Hermitage had fallen since its creation between 1917 and 1927. Administrative negligence had allowed the construction of buildings and the shrinkage of the park. Faced with this disaster, Darsi had the idea of an architectural model that would show the park exactly as it was, inviting anyone interested to join him in making it. A petition and newspaper articles were organised as well, and on the day of the opening the wali of Greater Casablanca promised to restore the park.”
To this tale of the triumph of relational art practice, the COP21 label added:
“Rather than modelling [sic] a future, this maquette makes visible the death of a garden. This is a campaigning work intended to help save a historic park as a green lung for the modern city, a vision of ruin that nonetheless captures the poetry of a place resistant to encroaching urbanism.”
Whether or not this is a stirring example of fighting climate change, it seems to me not only reasonable but necessary that through the lens of climate crisis, we reevaluate everything, regardless of how mundane. We literally must see the world in a new light in light of what we now know or can know if we chose to.