File under 'better late than never'. NB: This is a write-up of a talk that took place at Postopolis! LA during April 2009. Notes are taken in real-time, with editing and context added afterward so reader beware. All Postopolis! LA entries are gathered here.
Freya Bardell and Brian Howe (of Greenmeme) presented several projects centred on landscape, sustainability, gardens and communities. They start by stating that the projects’ “underlying commonality is a deep concern for our planet and inhabitants of our planet”. Their practice is about “designing of sustainable strategies for community engagement”. They also describe it as partly “art activism”.
Their 2006 project GreenYourRoof involved monitoring plant species and documenting on website. They say the “data collection was very basic” comprising an environmental forum on invasive species etc.
A subsequent project, the ‘Frogtown Artwalk’, deals with “water pollution through art lens”. It deployed a “riperian raft”, where the “plants used absorbed organic pollutants, creating areas for bioremediation.” They’re particularly interested in the LA River (as am I) as the site of these works. The water quality is reflected through sculptural lighting.
Another project on vertical gardens, and another called ‘Matryoshka’. This was a park, sculpted with CNC elements (de rigeur in LA, and there seems to be some connection with SCI-Arc) and vacuum forming and earthwork. It was a temporary public art project for the City of West Hollywood, based around a Russian community, comprising a form of “large nesting” area. They say the local “kids enjoyed it too much. In fact, they actually destroyed it!”.
Another project for the Glow Festival, based around the trash vortex in the Pacific Ocean. Their imagined “sea creatures that were evolving in the toxic soup”, which were created via “glowing LED lights beaming through plastic bottle ‘sea creatures’” as part of giant floating structure.
Another project: Climate Clock. This is a “landmark public sculpture with a 100 year lifespan”, and so attempts to be a “persuasive instrument for visualisation of climate change.” The difficulty here, they say, is “with technology getting outdated” so they focused on “bio-indicators” instead; what they called “nature’s clock”. They look at the California Blue Oak in particularly, working with ‘digital ecologist’ Mike Hamilton.
(At one point they say that “we’re really worried about planet”. I’m a little irritated by this - it’s not the planet that’s ‘in danger’ as such; it will simply shift from one mode to another. it’s humanity that’s in danger, and we should be clearer about that. I know what they mean, of course.)
Moving on they note SEED magazine’s statement that “more data will be gathered this year than in the entire history of human knowledge.” They say “we have a lot of data. The problem is visualising it in a persuasive way.” They describe the “Wired Wilderness’ project, where everything “everything that could be monitored is being tracked and logged. They have robots panning the canopy of forest, every rock, every tree …”
But “we have all the data”, they say. “Nature is telling us everything we need to know. In our timeframe,we’re not able to undersand it.” As a way of understanding this, they talk about he constrained view of “the birdbox that takes a picture every hour”, wherein you can “expand and contract time” to enable focus. “Then some things become clear.”
In the Q&A, Regine suggests that it might prove difficult to have a concern for both planet and humanity, as stated?
They reply that “there has been a lack of compatibility between planet and humanity - or a gap. And what the art projects try to do is reintroduce a relationship between environments and inhabitants of environment - to create an awareness.”
“We have technology, we have bio-indicators”, they say. “Getting the audience and the public to care about it is proving to be the most difficult aspect …”
Another question, noting that Brian comes from Georgia and Freya from England. So what is it about LA?
Freya replies that the “big inspiration for our projects is the city of Los Angeles - it’s vast, and continually reveals itself to us. It’s had very little environmental policy (it had the worst air quality than any other city in US) … But the art enables us to discover new communities within LA.” With reference to the Russian project, she says they “had no idea that the Russian community existed. The parents spoke only Russian, though the kids were bilingual. It’s a city were you can be quite isolated from other communities. There are not too many social forums that create integration. So we’re lucky we have the opportunity to integrate through this work.“
(Aside: they refer to “our neighbour Fritz Haeg”)
(Thanks to Brian Howe for his later tips on how to access the LA River. Watch for a forthcoming post on the resulting expedition.)