Utopian Scenario About Nature
- 2023. 9. 2.(Sat) ~ 2024. 1. 7.(Sun)
- Kang Sindae, Kang Hong-goo, Kim Hyoyeon, Nazgol Ansarinia, Dan Perjovschi, Dan Peterman, Listen to the City, Munem Wasif, Park Jahyun, Bang Jeong-A, Bad New Days, Song Hojun, Arahmaiani, Ai Weiwei, Allan Sekula, Yoko Ono, Image Research Community Banzzak, Lee Jinjoon, INTERPRT, YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES, Jeong Chulkyo, Joana Moll, Joo Jaehwan, Kim Simonsson, Topological Atlas, Fiona Banner, Hwang Jaihyoung, Haroon Mirza, Hans Haacke
- Busan Museum of Contemporary Art Gallery 2 (2nd Floor)
Utopian Scenarios about Nature
The present era, characterized by climate disasters occurring simultaneously worldwide - rising temperatures and sea-levels, frequent floods and coastal inundation, ongoing droughts and desertification due to water scarcity, massive storms and typhoons - is commonly referred to as the era of climate crisis. The climate crisis era could therefore be defined as a time when carbon determines the survival probability of all life on Earth and when every human action must be retroactively linked to the issue of carbon emissions. In this context, how is the climate crisis presented and perceived? If we reflect on how such things are visualized, climate issues are perceived in the realm of subjective sensory experiences such as weather or natural phenomena, or symbolically through scientific indicators converted into measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and global temperature changes. This indicates that no one, regardless of their expertise, has been able to capture or communicate adequately a sense of the true immensity of a future global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees.
A crucial point regarding this notion that the climate crisis has not, as yet, been properly represented lies in its implication of the incompetence of art and that the artistic imagination of our time likewise faces a crisis. Several organizations have been established around the United Kingdom, charged with attempting to apply environmental policies for carbon neutrality to exhibition themes, methodologies and even overall museum operations. Despite these efforts, debate on sustainability within the art museum sector has failed to contribute to changes in public perception, their political attitude instead drawing criticism, with museums accused of having become products of the spectacle and complicit in the chaos caused by the climate crisis.
However, in contrast to the situation facing museums, this failure of representation has become an extremely favorable condition enabling contemporary capitalism to produce new commodity values. This can easily be discerned by paying attention to how the climate crisis is represented in the media today, as evidenced in campaign advertisements sensationalizing the catastrophic affects of the climate crisis, such as the burning Amazon, the melting Arctic, the destruction of animal habitats, famine and the plight of refugees, while appealing to individual moral responsibility; in corporate promotions diluted with “good” forms of capital for the public, promoting a transition to clean, renewable energy, the decarbonization of production processes, and the consumption of eco-friendly products like electric cars; and in commercials for supposedly green financial products supporting government and corporate environmental ethics, including emissions trading systems involving pollution permits, and weather derivatives.
With the full-scale emergence of the climate crisis, and these new changes in modes of capitalism, promoting environmentally friendly policies across politics, economics, society, and culture, and a reorganization driven by the aestheticization of nature, Utopian Scenario about Nature was conceived to question what “environmentally friendly” really should mean and find answers in contemporary art. This is, after all, in an era in which economists pursue ecological and degrowth theories as alternatives, seeking to move away from mainstream economics focused on growth, and political sociologists demand comprehensive systemic transition requiring changes to the fundamentals of capitalist life, nonetheless a question for contemporary art: “What should contemporary art produce?” Or, in other words, “How should the role of contemporary art and its methods of artistic production change in the era of climate crisis?”
Mindful of such questions, the exhibition aims to examine ecological and political attitudes and their development in the trends of socially critical and participatory art which emerged in the 1960s and continue to the present, and find reference points for redefining meaningful artistic practices and goals in the era of climate crisis. Chosen as the starting point for the exhibition, the 1960s marked the beginning of large-scale economic development focused on increasing productivity post World War II, and was also a period during which branches of economics such as ecological economics and resource economics began to grow, with nature becoming incorporated into market logic. This led to increasing concerns about the unlimited material growth of capitalism and sparked active discourse not only about social issues such as labor, human rights, discrimination, and inequality, but also about environmental problems arising from the relationship between capital and nature, the finite nature of the Earth, and the exploitation of nature and its resources.
These developments had a significant impact on the art-world of the era. On one hand, although the term “Eco Art” had not yet been coined or established within art history, there emerged a trend of directly incorporating natural elements and the natural environment itself as subjects and materials in art, including Land Art, Earthworks, and Environmental Art. On the other hand, radical realpolitik like the New Social Movements rose to prominence, leading to a questioning of conventional, formulaic aesthetic values and the enhancement of the social functions and roles of art. In particular, the rapid upsurge in serious environmental problems caused by accelerated capitalism led artists to integrate interdisciplinary research methodologies from sociology, political science, anthropology and ecology within the purview of art, involving on-site investigations, documentation, surveys of public opinion, and case analyses, to expose the reality of the problems, enabling artistic endeavors that advocated for a change in awareness.
However, the purpose of this exhibition is not to summarize the historical lineage of ecological art. Representing the era of climate crisis entails visualizing a restructured form of nature within capitalist history. In that sense, the task of contemporary ecological art in the era of climate crisis might be to implement ecological policies that structure the reality of climate as a reality-abstraction of nature beyond the boundaries of human perception, as nature both historically and socially produced.
The artworks in this exhibition offer a critical exploration of today’s ecological capitalism, both in their attempt to represent socialized and historicized nature and also in going beyond the normal narrow material dimensions of visualization in exhibitions and advocating for forms of social practice. Whilst the former conjures images of obscure capital flowing from plantations, mines, oil wells, and the deep sea, the latter directly engages with life, involving workers, refugees, volunteers, social activists, policy researchers, and so on. Behind the seemingly robust utopia of “carbon reductionism” bolstered by images of hexagonal carbon molecules, the engines of giant supranational energy corporations still fire, and immense “wealth” continues to accumulate secretly behind their blazing furnaces. The remnants of past colonialism, imperialism and militarism - invasion, occupation, domination, exploitation - which enabled such accumulation, persist in exerting their power.
The unambiguous and authentic images presented in the exhibition, produced through a process of cultural symbolization, traversing past and present, serve to counteract the imagery of the reality-abstraction of the climate crisis and all the utopian scenarios for nature propagated by green capitalism. If this can be referred to as a new artistic production method, “de-production as art” in the era of climate crisis, it is because these artworks are not objects as consumable commodities produced by capital, but rather are products through which art positions itself “outside” of capital and creates resistance to the “slow violence” capital inflicts.
However, as T.J. Demos (1966- ) argues, contemporary art museums have inherent limitations as epitomes of the Capitalocene and, as a result, the character of public discourse within contemporary art runs the risk of becoming display-oriented and self-fulfilling. Beyond merely acting as part of a climate change consortium pushing for carbon neutrality, contemporary museums should serve as public arenas from which to criticize the instrumentalized aesthetics hindering a global transition to carbon neutrality, and manifest a true ecological politics that can trigger proactive actions based on climate justice. This exhibition represents a step towards establishing genuinely “eco-friendly museums” that will produce and accumulate historically, politically, and socially significant and effective ecological art; something which will require comprehensive systemic transformation like never before.
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