In her latest series Fabula. Micro Stories from Tomorrow’s World, artist Diane Drubaycontinues her exploration of a narrative that raises awareness about the effects of climate change, while keeping with the clean, balanced visual composition that has become a defining element of her work. Consisting of six 1-minute videos (at the time of this writing) distributed as NFTs on the Tezos blockchain, Fabula plays with our imagination by suggesting possible futures in which the environment would be radically altered due to the effects of human activity on the planet, particularly the violent and massive pollution produced by a handful of powerful companies.
Diane Drubay, Fabula 4 – Micro Stories From Tomorrow’s World, 2023
Each story starts with a question that the artist aptly depicts as a query in a search engine, evoking how nowadays we seek immediate answers online, when we fail to understand what is happening around us. The imagined future appears in a circle at the center of the image, initially as an anomaly, its hues sharply contrasting the real image of the sky, a desert, a lake, or the sea. Slowly, the whole image changes its color to match the tones inside the circle, which finally blends into it and disappears. The circle becomes a metaphor for the possible futures described by scientific research: while they might seem outlandish at first, they can become real, at a slow but relentless pace that makes denial so much easier.
A selection of works from Fabula is now available as an artcast on Niio. On the occasion of its launch, I asked Diane three questions about her current practice and the NFT scene, as a follow-up on a previous interview published in Niio Editorial.
Diane Drubay, Fabula 6 – Micro Stories From Tomorrow’s World, 2023
After the protests in different art museums, it seems that climate change has been out of the news cycle. How do you see creating art about climate change in the current situation?
Changing the discourse and actions around climate change and the future of our planet must be done in depth. The change must be individual as well as systemic. Of course, news has its cycles, but climate change is always a hot topic. Activist groups or unions of museum professionals have been active for years, and will be for some time to come (unfortunately) considering the current state of our societies. I particularly remember 2018 / 2019 when the COP21 had raised the crowds and inspired the creation of activist communities that demand climate action.
Just as these activists continue to gather and denounce unsustainable behaviors, the creation of art with an activist vocation for the environment must continue. It is by maintaining the same clear, coherent and strong message for years, that it can begin to be heard, understood and shared. My art calls for slowness, but above all, for sustainability. The notion of time and cycles always comes back in my works in order to position them within an infinite space of time that can easily be assimilated to that of nature.
How was your experience at the recent NFT Paris event? How do you see the NFT scene evolving at present?
I traveled to NFT Paris to meet my friends, those people I have evolved with, and I felt shaken and fulfilled since March 2021. Artists, collectors, developers, curators, galleries, and many others have come together (almost) exactly two years after the birth of our beloved community around hic et nunc. What is enchanting about this group is their desire to focus on what makes sense, their desire to do things together and to make things happen, in a global and collective way.
This aside, NFT Paris has become a major event of the NFT scene with 18K visitors in two days in the most iconic venue in Paris: Le Grand Palais Éphémère. In the aisles, one could feel the growing entrepreneurship of this new generation of founders and creatives.
To be honest, I’m in a bubble within this community of Tezos artists and it’s very difficult to have an objective look at the rest of the NFT scene. On our side, we see players consolidating, new platforms, curators, and galleries trying out new things while trying to understand and respect the culture already established. I see a lot of respect and exchange, knowledge being shared and collaborations being born.
Diane Drubay, Fabula 6 – Micro Stories From Tomorrow’s World, 2023
You are donating the sales of one of the artworks from Fabula to support the victims of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria in February 2023. The NFT scene has been quite active in supporting humanitarian and environmental causes, do you think this will be a permanent aspect of this sector of the digital art market?
The act of creating and donating art for social and environmental charities is part of the DNA of the creative community using the Tezos blockchain. It started early on, back in March 2021, when DiverseNFT launched the OBJKT4OBJKT weekend to call for more diversity within the NFT art market. Then, this habit took hold and it became part of the culture: call for community support via NFT art donations and support the NGOs who need it most.
In February 2023, the Tezos art community joined forces to support the victims of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria under the initiative #TezQuakeAid. Since then, more than 110K xtz (around $109,000) have been raised through the donation of +720 artworks.
Find out more about Diane Drubay’s work in a longer interview published in 2022.
Tamiko Thiel is a pioneering visual artist exploring the interplay of place, space, the body and cultural identity in works encompassing an artificial intelligence (AI) supercomputer, objects, installations, digital prints in 2D and 3D, videos, interactive 3d virtual worlds (VR), augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence art. In this conversation, that took place on the occasion of the launch of her solo artcast Invisible Naturecurated by DAM Projects, she discusses the evolution of technology over the last three decades, her early AR artworks and her commitment to create art that invites reflection.
Your work is characterized by the use of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technologies, with pioneering artistic projects. Which technical challenges have you met over the last decades in the creation of these projects?
My first exposure to real time computer graphics was at MIT when I was a graduate student in 1982. At that point, writing everything from scratch, you had to program for a semester in order to get a cube that would rotate in three dimensions. Coming from an artistic and design background, I felt that this is not really where I want to create art right now, I’ll have to wait. And then about 10 years later, in 1992, Silicon Graphics came out with OpenGL, an open standard that made it possible to do real time interactive computer graphics on PCs. Then in 1994, I started to work with a company called Worlds Incorporated, which was taking this new potential for doing interactive 3D computer graphics on PCs connected to the Internet. At that time I worked with Steven Spielberg on theStarbright World Project, the first 3d online Metaverse for ill children, a virtual world where they could momentarily escape the space of the hospital. This first Metaverse was running on high end PCs, with fast connections provided by various high tech companies, but it was still unaffordable for people at home. The project ran from 1994 to 1997, and at that time the technology was still unstable.
So you must jump from that to 10 years later, when Second Life came about and this time people had more powerful graphic cards and ADSL connections at home. Second Life was able to create a much more developed virtual world, which seemed like the next phase of the Internet and all the corporations wanted to move there. Then around 2007-2008, probably due to the financial crisis, but also the rise of Facebook, which allowed people to share photographs on a common platform, the excitement around Second Life fizzled. And then if we jump another 15 years more, we find ourselves with still bigger processing power and faster connections. Now it is much easier to create virtual worlds than it was 25 years ago, partly because it is easier to create 3D objects, or you can buy them online, and also because of the advancements in hardware and software.
So, as you can see, big steps come on later than you think. It takes maybe 10 to 15 or 20 years to get there instead of the five years that all the evangelists predict. People talked about virtual reality at that time in the 90s as being a failure, just as they talked about AI being a failure in the 80s and 90s. And what they don’t realize is that technological change takes longer than you’d want it to. So it’s wrong to call it a failure. It’s more like: “Okay, we have to keep on working on this.” And if you wait long enough, 20 years or so, then you’ll get it.
Video by Tamiko Thiel, Rewilding the Smithsonian, 2021. Created with the ReWildAR AR app (2021, with /p). Commissioned by curator Ashley Molese for the 175th anniversary of the Smithsonian Institution, in the Arts and Industries Building.
Interactive 3D and VR artworks such as Beyond Manzanar and Virtuelle Mauer have a strong narrative component as they explore historic and political issues. What is the role of the user in constructing these narratives?
Basically, what I tend to do is look for key moments that I think can be expressed and experienced and communicated better in virtual reality than in other media. In Beyond Manzanar, for me that was the moment where you’re sitting in a beautiful Paradise Garden, and you see the mountains covered in snow around you. This is an image from the book Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston: the author tells that when she was an eight-year-old and she was imprisoned in the camp, she would pick a viewpoint where she couldn’t see any guard towers, any barracks, nor barbed wire fence. And she tried not to move for the longest time, because as long as she didn’t move, she could preserve the illusion she was in paradise of her own free will. As soon as she moved, she saw that she was indeed in prison, she fell out of paradise back into prison. And so this moment occurs in Beyond Manzanar, where you enter a garden which is framed by the beautiful mountains. But if you go too deeply into the garden, then boom! – the garden disappears, and you’re back in the prison camp.
My second piece,The Travels of Mariko Horo, has a much more complicated structure with several heavens imagined by a time traveling 12th century Japanese female artist inventing the West in her imagination. In this work there is this moment when you enter the different churches, which are in fact liminal spaces between the prosaic everyday life and the world of the supernatural. When you cross that threshold, Mariko Horo takes you to heaven or takes you to hell. But it is always by your own free will, you’re always making the decision and making the motions that all of a sudden present you with the consequences of your decisions.
Finally, in Virtuelle Mauer/ReConstructing the Wall, I introduced some characters that take you in a time travel through the history of the Berlin Wall. But if you cross over the invisible boundaries of the former Death Strip,, then you fall back into the 80s, the wall appears behind you. So in all three pieces, it’s really about letting you feel like you have the freedom to go anywhere you want and do anything you want to do. But then you must face the consequences of these actions, which might take you to Paradise or they might take you to prison. But you always feel like it was your decision to go there, or to examine this, and therefore you’re sort of complicit with whatever happens to you.
Video by Tamiko Thiel, Atmos Sphaerae, 2022. Created with the Atmos Sphaerae VR artwork, 2021.
Creating artworks in Augmented Reality offers the possibility of intervening in institutional art spaces uninvited, as you did at MoMA, the Venice Biennale, or TATE Modern, or within a curated exhibition, as is the case with Unexpected Growth, which was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Can you tell us about the creative process in both cases and your experience with “guerrilla” interventions versus curated exhibitions using the same technology?
Let’s start with We AR in MoMA, an augmented reality project created by Sander Veenhof and Mark Skwarek that took place at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on October 9th, 2010. The iPhone had been around since 2007, as well as other smartphone models, and in the course of 2009 both Mark and Sander had been playing around with the technology and developing AR artworks on mobiles in public spaces. And then they realized they could also geolocate the artworks to have them appear in certain spaces, so they came up with this idea of doing the spectacular intervention at MoMA. I knew Mark from the art circles before we had both shown in the 2009 Boston CyberArts Festival, so he dropped me and many of his artist friends an email saying: “Hey, we’re able to do this now. Send me some content and I’ll put it up and we’ll do a flashmob at MoMA.” They were not asking permission from MoMA. They didn’t know about it, and they couldn’t stop us. At that time, people didn’t realize that location based AR could be used anywhere. But then it turned out that they did find out about it beforehand, because Mark and Sander were doing the intervention as part of a citywide public art festival of psychogeography, so it was publicly announced by the festival all on Twitter. MoMA actually posted a link to the festival and said: “Hey, looks like we’re going to be invaded by AR,” which was very forward thinking and embracing this new development in technology. So, that was incredibly good publicity. It was a really exciting moment, when we realized that there were these possibilities that the new technology was bringing about. I would say this was a path breaking exhibit in the history of media.
After this intervention at MoMA, the artists who took part in it created the group Manifest.AR. We were thinking about where to do the next incursion, and since I live in Munich, which is a six and a half hour beautiful train ride to Venice, I suggested we go to the Venice Biennale in 2011. It was a group of about eight of us. We created virtual pavilions that were located inside the Giardini and at Piazza San Marco, so that people who didn’t want to spend money to enter the Giardini could also experience the artworks in a public space, because the Giardini, with its walls around it is a classically closed curatorial space. The point was that having your work shown at the MoMA or the Biennale is a sign of achievement, of having been able to enter these closed curatorial spaces, but now with AR interventions that was not true anymore, anybody can place their artwork wherever they want. But then people’s reaction was: “Oh, wow, you’re showing in the Venice Bienniale, you’ve made it!” Then we told them we hadn’t been curated and that we were doing this of our own accord, but people would respond: “Oh, that’s even better.” So we thought we were doing this sort of Duchampian breakdown of all sorts of structures that define prominence in the art world. Duchamp exhibited his famous urinal not to say that an artwork becomes an artwork when an artist says it’s an artwork and places it in an art context, but to state that this whole thing is ridiculous.
These interventions gave us a feeling of exhilaration that we could hold our own exhibits anywhere, even though no one in the art world was interested in media art at that moment. And we could also play off site. Because AR is a site-specific medium, you’re always dealing with the site. And that opened up whole new possibilities. Interestingly, shortly after that, George Fifield, the Boston Cyberarts director, arranged our first invitational show at the ICA Boston. This was in April of 2011. The ICA curators didn’t understand how the technology works. They said: “Okay, you can do it on the first floor, but not on the second floor. You can do it in the lobby and outside, but you can’t do it inside of the galleries.” And we had to tell them it doesn’t work that way. The artworks are triggered by a GPS location which has a radius of a mile or so.
As for showing Unexpected Growth at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, it was thanks to Christiane Paul, the adjunct curator of media art at the museum. I have known her for quite a while, I think since about 2002, and she has curated me into many of her shows over the years in different venues, but this was the first time at the Whitney. She had of course done the visionary work of creating Artport, a space for net art supported by the museum, but she still hadn’t placed an AR artwork inside the museum. Then in 2014 she commissioned an AR intervention by Will Pappenheimer, Proxy, 5-WM2A, at the Whitney’s final closing gala for the old Breuer Building. So when she contacted me in 2018 to create an artwork to show at the Whitney, she had already gone through the process of introducing this technology in the museum. She invited me to create an artwork for the terrace, which is 20 by 10 meters in size. Since this was a big show, I needed to make sure that the piece would work properly, so I contacted the people at Layar, the AR app we had used in all our previous interventions, but by then they told me they would shut down their servers, so I had to find a solution. My husband Peter Graf, who is a software developer, told me he could write an app for me. We worked side by side on this project, so I realized he should co-author it with me and he came up with the artist name /p, so now the artwork is in the Whitney collection credited to myself and /p in collaboration. Now the artwork is not officially on view at the museum, but if you download our app and go to the terrace you can still experience it.
Video by Tamiko Thiel, Unexpected Growth (Whitney Museum Walk1), 2018. Created with the Unexpected Growth AR app (2018, with /p), commissioned by and in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
There is also the fact that the artworks are invisible, so how did you communicate their existence and solve the technical problems associated with having the proper device, software, and connectivity?
At the Venice Biennale intervention, Sander got in touch with Simona Lodi, director of the Share Festival Turin, and the artist group Les Liens Invisibles, who were together mounting another AR intervention The Invisible Pavilion. We created a common postcard with QR codes to download the app. We also invited people to come to Piazza San Marco and the Giardini on certain days and times and help them experience the artworks. Collaborating with the team from the Share Festival was a huge help, because those of us from outside of Italy had terrible connection issues, and also it was the first Venice Biennale when hordes of people were walking around with their cellphones, overloading the networks. The Vodafone network actually broke down in the Venice area. Gionatan Quintini of Les Liens Invisible loaned me his smartphone to show my work, and this is an example of the kind of collaborative atmosphere that you get in the media art world and that is not that easy to find in the contemporary art world.By connecting our networks with those of Share, we got a lot of publicity for both the interventions in MoMA and in the Venice Biennial, and that put AR in this early time into the media art history books, and therefore into the art canon.
Video by Tamiko Thiel, Sponge Space Trash Takeover (Walk1), 2020. Created with the VR space “Sponge Space Trash Takeover” courtesy of Cyan Planet and xR Hub Bavaria.
The artworks in your latest artcast titled Tamiko Thiel: Invisible Nature all deal with different aspects of our intervention of the natural environment. What has been your experience addressing this subject in terms of the balance between the artistic expression and the message you want to convey?
Perhaps because I started out as a product designer, with the Connection Machine being what I consider my first artwork, I am always thinking of my audience and how to communicate with them. When I approach political or social issues, such as climate related problems, I know that the really shocking photographs (for instance, a dead bird whose stomach is full of plastic) give you an immediate emotional jolt, and make you realize that this is a serious problem. But I personally cannot look at those images day after day, time and time again. So, balancing my work as an artist with my desire to communicate, sometimes I think that I should be a journalist, so I could write articles that can go into the details in much more depth. But how often do you reread the same article? So I think that what is truly the value of an artist making work about a subject such as these is that the art work can be exhibited time and time again, in different places around the world. And people might see it again, they may be willing to look at it time and time again, but not if it is something horrible and shocking. I’m traumatized enough by what’s happening in the world, so I’d rather create something that is not traumatizing for people, but at the same time it makes you think.
For instance, Unexpected Growth shows a very colorful, bright coral reef on the terrace of the Whitney. And when you look at it more closely, you realize this beautiful coral reef is made out of virtual plastic garbage. So people are confronted with something that is really beautiful, but after a while they realize that they are surrounded by garbage. So my strategy is to seduce people with a strong visual composition that is captivating. And then, when I’ve got their attention, I let them figure out that there is actually something else going on here, if you actually spend the time to look at it.
Video by Tamiko Thiel, Evolution of Fish – Anthropocene Daze #1, 2019. Created with the AR app Evolution of Fish (2019, with /p).
On 13th October 2022, two climate activists from the environmental group Just Stop Oil, Phoebe Plummer and Anna Holland, threw two cans of tomato soup at Vincent Van Gogh’s painting Sunflowers(1888), on display at the National Gallery in London. They glued one hand to the wall under the painting and sat on the floor. Phoebe Plummer then said:
“What is worth more, art or life? Is it worth more than food, worth more than justice? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people? The cost of living crisis is part of the cost of the oil crisis. Fuel is unaffordable to millions of cold, hungry families. They can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup. Meanwhile, crops are failing, millions of people are dying in monsoons, wildfires, and severe droughts. We cannot afford new oil and gas, it’s going to take everything we know and love.”
The young woman’s passionate statement was cut short by a security guard who proceeded to remove them from the premises. The activists were brought to a district court and charged with criminal damage. Van Gogh’s painting, protected by a glass, was not harmed, although the frame suffered minimal damage, according to the museum.
The protest has sparked widespread outrage at what can be seen as an act of vandalism. Attacks on artworks at museums have been perpetrated many times by individuals for a variety of reasons, sometimes political, sometimes to draw attention to personal issues. Often, the perpetrators have been described as insane. It is therefore unsurprising that the act carried out by the two young activists has been perceived as criminal, deranged, and appalling, or simply dismissed as stupid. This type of protest is not new, it has been taking place over the summer by Just Stop Oil and then by climate activists in Italy, in actions that mainly consisted of gluing their hands to the protective glass or the frame of a famous painting depicting nature. The activists have taken precautions not to harm the artworks, and therefore cannot be considered to vandalize them, although they have at times caused damages to the gallery walls or the frames. However, no other protest has caused such strong reactions as the one carried out by Plummer and Holland, probably due to the aggressiveness of throwing liquid over a painting (which would normally cause irreparable damage), and maybe also due to who carried out this action. Two young queer women, Plummer and Holland have increasingly become the target of critics who have questioned their sanity and intelligence, and ridiculed everything in them, from their names to the color of Plummer’s hair and her accent.
An artist’s response
Among the few in the art world who have expressed support for the protest is artist Joanie Lemercier, whose work is often inspired by nature and the representation of the natural world, leading him to address climate change and environmental degradation in artworks and performances that document and support the work of climate activists. In a video posted on social media, Lemercier states:
“Paintings are often the representation and celebration of landscapes, nature, and life. But we don’t actually give much value to these subjects or to their protection. So we are in the process of losing the conditions of habitability of the planet, yet a lot of people are outraged about a symbolic action that didn’t even damage the painting.”
Addressing the subject matter of the painting, Lemercier points out that the sunflower fields that inspired Van Gogh in Verarges have recently reached the highest temperature ever recorded in France. “We are irreversibly losing these landscapes that Van Gogh loved painting so much,” states Lemercier. The artist suggests that, instead of focusing on the apparent attack on the painting, the public should pay attention to the message that the activists are trying to communicate. He concludes:
“How do we protect, not just the representation of a landscape on a canvas, but the very landscape that is being annihilated? If we listen to the activists, the message is very clear: we need to stop oil, gas, and fossil fuel extraction.”
Joanie Lemercier makes a good point by presenting a documented, reasonable take on the protest and its meaning, that is arguably more convincing than the protest itself. He does not approve the attack on an artwork, but rather emphasizes the fact that this is a desperate measure to get a message across, and makes it clear that the painting was not harmed. However, it is hard to support the idea that good can be done by attacking cultural heritage, and it is dangerous to simply expect activists around the world to diligently inform themselves of the ways in which an artwork can be exposed to liquids, glues, or other substances without causing permanent damage.
Personally, as a curator with a background in art history, I feel a natural aversion to any form of attack to a work of art (including the practice of burning prints and paintings to sell them as unique NFTs), but I understand the urgency expressed by the activists and the fact that collectively, we care more about representations of nature than about nature itself. We have made cities and virtual spaces our habitat, while using natural environments as sites of leisure, or even just as an image to be displayed on the computer’s desktop.
What is the role of art in our present climate emergency, then? Maybe something more than becoming the backdrop of climate activists’ demands. The controversy around the soup thrown at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers has focused on the act of attacking a famous, and very expensive, painting, as well as in the activists themselves, but no attention has been paid to the connection between the life and work of the artist and the land that he loved, except in the reading presented by Lemercier. Living artists are now responding to climate change with artworks that speak to our present and address those same issues laid out by the activists, so it would be wise to listen to them too.
Marina Zurkow, OOzy#2: Like Oil and Water, 2022
Art in a climate emergency
Artists addressing climate change in their work face the challenge of creating art that is engaging in itself, that responds to aesthetic considerations, but also manages to get its message across. This is not easy to achieve, particularly at a time when people consume large amounts of visual material and read the messages that get to them quickly and superficially, as the Just Stop Oil protest and its reactions clearly show.
Transdisciplinary artist Marina Zurkowpoints to the need to look beneath the surface by taking as a reference a diagram created by Donella Meadows in the 1970s, which uses the image of an iceberg as a metaphor of how difficult it is to change the mental models (the hidden part of the iceberg) that shape the visible actions and their consequences. She applies this concept to our understanding of climate change:
“Honestly, I feel like if we can’t have an emotional relationship to the material of our planet that is at great risk, we can’t change the way we think about the world. And so anything like «don’t take a plastic bag,» or «get an electric car,» all the moral imperatives that are put on us, if they don’t come from the heart, they’re not going to stick, they’ll just be gone in the next election cycle –at least, in the United States. And so what I am committed to do with my work is to create emotional connections to this material and the ocean.”
Tamiko Thiel, Unexpected Growth, 2018
The pollution of the oceans is an aspect of the impact of human activity on the planet that relates to the climate emergency, as well as with our contradictory relationship with nature as an idealized image and a neglected wasteland. In an interview with Helmuts Caune published in Arterritory, artist Tamiko Thiel recalls her experience with the reality of plastic pollution:
“When my husband and I would vacation in Greece, Indonesia or Malaysia over the past number of years, at some point we started to realise that the sort of pristine beaches that are everyone’s dream of a tropical vacation is an artefact of beach-side resorts. They send out their staff in the early morning hours, before everyone wakes up, to collect all of the plastic that’s accumulated.”
She created the artwork Unexpected Growth (2018), commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art, that addresses this issue by placing the viewer in an immersive scenario in which the 6th floor of the museum is under water, populated by plants and creatures formed of plastic debris. The experience can lead a visitor to think about this reality, but at the same time, the piece is quite beautiful, its aesthetic qualities possibly causing more delight than awe.
Balancing environmental concerns and aesthetics is particularly difficult. Marina Zurkow points out that addressing a subject in a manner that is too shocking can lead to rejection:
“The brain wants to categorize what it receives and put in boxes and dismiss those ideas that seem dangerous, depressing or disturbingly radical. Presenting an audience with an impactful idea will attract their attention, but it may also lead them to reject the idea because it is too disturbing and just move on. Our brains want to take a nap, and have a difficult time dealing with uncertainty.”
Kelly Richardson, HALO I, 2021
Artist Kelly Richardsondeals with climate change in her work by creating imaginary futures that prompt a reflection on our present. In this way, the message is placed at a certain distance in time that does not produce anxiety and allows a space for action:
“Until this point, on this precipice, we’ve allowed terrifying futures to be ushered in despite the predictions of so many. Perhaps we have allowed this in part because we couldn’t visualize or understand these futures from an experiential point of view. I try to offer this window of understanding through my work. I create potential futures for people to experience, to encourage reflection on current priorities and where those are leading us as a species.”
In HALO (2021), Richardson depicts a red moon distorted by heat rising from a campfire, a scene from her summer evenings in British Columbia that now takes a different meaning as the rising temperatures have led to banning campfires due to the risk of wildfire. “Summers now bring a mix of joy for its promised, remaining riches and genuine fear associated with what else they will bring,” states Richardson, “I now look out my windows towards a tree-covered mountain and think, «that’s a lot of fuel».”
Diane Drubay, Ignis II, 2021
The scene in Richardson’s video is relatable and in this manner makes its message stronger. This approach to what is familiar and close is also mentioned by artist Diane Drubaywhen addressing climate change through her work:
“We need to reconnect with what surrounds us on a daily basis in order to better understand and respect it. Having grown up in the middle of nature but having lived in the city for the last 20 years, the only element that has allowed me to feel connected to the grandeur and sublime of nature is the sun. I, therefore, assumed that if everyone could reconnect with the sun in a subconscious and transcendental way, a new relationship between humans and nature could be sparked.”
Her work Ignis II (2021) shows a beautiful summer sky that turns into a menacing red storm in just 14 seconds, which refers to the 14 years left until, according to several scientists, the Earth would reach a point of no return in global warming. Again, the image can be easily connected with a personal experience and suggests a reflection on a future that is not immediate, but is close enough to require immediate action.
Alexandra Crouwers, The Plot: a day/night sequence, 2021
Personal experiences can have powerful narratives, particularly when they bring a more intimate perspective to climate change than the global views offered by scientific reports. Artist Alexandra Crouwersfocuses her work in the creation of virtual environments that reflect on our relationship with nature, landscape, and architecture. She speaks of feeling eco anxiety for more than 20 years, which has brought her to consider the climate emergency from a more personal point of view.
“There is a kind of innate longing for landscapes that are not there. This is connected to the idea of escapism; to escape from where you are at. The word nature has become very problematic: what we refer to as nature is quickly deteriorating in all kinds of senses. To me, simulating this idea of wilderness is like a twisted sense of digital nature, of purpose preservation. It is a way to deal with the idea of loss.”
In Diorama. The Plot: a day/night sequence (2021), she depicts what is left of a small family forest that was cleared due to a climate change induced fatal spruce bark beetle infestation. The 3D rendering of the real space becomes a sort of memorial and a tool for the artist to investigate how to deal with eco anxiety and ecological grief.
Katie Torn, Dream Flower I, 2022
Depicting remnants, ruins, or debris is also a powerful way to create awareness about the ongoing destruction of our natural environment. Taking this idea to a different context, artist Katie Tornhas addressed the possibility that we as humans have become incapable of understanding nature without our intervention, and can only envision a hybrid world in which natural and artificial merge into one. The classical concept of beauty plays a pivotal role here, as it confronts us to our distancing from nature:
“Destruction and decay are frightening but it can also be beautiful on a purely aesthetic level. Like watching a forest fire from your computer screen. It is awful and heart breaking but can be watched slightly removed like an explosion in an action film. My work stems from the ironies we see in industrial disasters in nature like the most beautiful pink sunset that is caused by pollution or being awestruck by the colorful beauty in an oil spill.”
While works such as Dream Flower I (2022), cannot be said to address climate change, they do point out our relationship with nature in a wider sense, the mental models to which Marina Zurkow has referred, and that form a society interested in its own comfort, regardless of the consequences to our planet.
Marina Zurkow’s work explores the relationship between nature, culture, and society, focusing on what she describes as “wicked problems,” those issues that reveal our abusive interactions with the natural environment and our difficulty to understand it beyond our human-centric, capitalist-driven views of the world around us.
A transdisciplinary artist, she works with experts from different fields to create a wide range of artistic practices that includes video art, installations, and public participatory projects. Currently, she is working on the tensions between maritime ecology and the ocean’s primary human use as a capitalist Pangea.
Her work has been exhibited at numerous international art museums, as well as galleries, including Chronus Art Center, Shanghai, bitforms gallery, NY, FACT, Liverpool, SF MoMA, Walker Art Center; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Wave Hill, NY, and the National Museum for Women in the Arts. Zurkow is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow, and received grants from NYFA, NYSCA, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Creative Capital. She is represented by bitforms gallery, and a fellow for Fall 2022 at Princeton University.
Many of your artworks, including OOzy2 and OOzy3, specifically allude to water as the main protagonist, and particularly the sea, which you have described as a “capitalist Pangea”. Sea life is both fascinating and mostly unknown to us urbanites. How do you use representations of the sea and sea creatures to address concerns about environmental issues?
First of all, I would say that one can think of the ocean in two ways: as a surface, and as a volume. The surface, which is what we mostly encounter as humans, has two functions: on the one hand, it is a surface on which we play; and on the other, it is a surface on which we transport goods, and this is what turns the ocean into a capitalist Pangea.
This is a diagram of the ocean shipping routes. When I first saw this, it became extremely clear to me that this surface is actually a very solid plane of transaction, namely capitalist transaction. So that’s where the phrase “Capitalist Pangea” came from. Billions of years ago, in the Mesozoic era, there was one sea, called Panthalassa, and the land was a single landmass called Pangea.
The other slide I wanted to share, which relates to the idea of the “Capitalist Pangea” is one I made for a talk on oceans, showing all the ways in which we see the ocean. We are capable of holding all of these buckets in our minds at once, and they remain in their silos to a great extent. The differences between thinking of the ocean as a site of plastic pollution, our fantasies of adventure, and 10 hour recordings of ocean waves you can find on YouTube to relax— those are all simultaneous identities that we assign to the ocean.
This is my last slide to share: it is an image created by Donella Meadows, the systems thinker who devoted her life to ecology and is one of the authors of the reportThe Limits to Growth that nobody wanted to pay attention to in the 1970s and 80s, and that clearly showed that the planet can’t take unlimited growth, which is the fundamental tenet of capitalism. She was interested in using systems thinking to look beneath the surface, and offered this iceberg model in order to talk about change-making. As you can see, what is visible (and therefore above the surface is tiny. The hardest thing to change is at the very bottom, the mental models. That’s the hardest place to get to. And honestly, I feel like if we can’t have an emotional relationship to the material of our planet that is at great risk, we can’t change the way we think about the world. And so anything like “don’t take a plastic bag,” or “get an electric car,” all the moral imperatives that are put on us, if they don’t come from the heart, they’re not going to stick, they’ll just be gone in the next election cycle –at least, in the United States.
And so what I am committed to do with my work is to create emotional connections to this material and the ocean. Why the ocean in particular? Because it is so important! It covers 80% of this planet. And just the fact that we’ve named this planet “Earth” tells you something about human self-centeredness. Really, we are a planet of water. And even if it is such a cliche, it is true that we are made of almost the exact same composition as the ocean itself.
How would you describe the role of the artist in raising important concerns about climate change and environmental atrocities? Do you see a difficulty in balancing severe global concerns and aesthetics?
I would like to unpack this and say, there are many roles that artists occupy in terms of addressing environmental atrocities, ecocide, grief, climate change, and environmental connection-making. These roles range from explicit activism—getting people charged up to make change, to the subtler concerns that I was talking about: changing affect, changing the way we feel, changing the paradigm and the values in which we live. So for instance, it may sound oblique, but thinking about kinship across species is such a radical paradigm shift for most people. And that, to me, is one of the fundamental motivators for caring for the earth. So there’s room for everyone at this table, to participate in connecting people to the world in which we are interwoven. And I don’t feel like any one tactic is any better than any other. It’s all crucial.
Regarding the second part of that question, yes I see a tremendous difficulty in balancing severe global concerns and aesthetics. Because the same things that make visuality potent, also make visuality impotent. The brain wants to categorize what it receives and put in boxes and dismiss those ideas that seem dangerous, depressing or disturbingly radical. Presenting an audience with an impactful idea will attract their attention, but it may also lead them to reject the idea because it is too disturbing and just move on. Our brains want to take a nap, and have a difficult time dealing with uncertainty. Yet, what we have at present is the tremendous force of geoplanetary uncertainty that, in many ways, we have produced. In this context, is visual art the right tool? I think there’s a lot of room at the table for these experiments. And you would have to be out of your mind to think that you, as a single individual, can change anything. We all have to contribute to making incremental changes. And this is very hard, because artists, myself included, have a big ego and want to feel like “yes, I am a changemaker.” But instead, I have to say, I am committed to change making, and I want to participate in that in whatever little ways I can.
I have been working in audio more, I just finished collaborating on a 30 minute immersive audio piece about the ocean, that is a radically different kind of experience. The audio sneaks into your psyche. And because nowadays we are used to audio guides, I can use this technique to pretty great effect. This has been an instructive piece for me to think about other ways to invite people into these complex, difficult conversations and to go places where the human body can’t go, like deep into the ocean, or doing things that are impossible for us, such as dissolving into little bits and getting eaten by a whale.
As an artist working in many different mediums from new media art to performance to collage, how do you see the role of video artworks differing from other artistic practices?
I would add that I also work with food, for instance, that asks you to put things in your body as a way of experiencing the world. Each encounter between public and material can be thought of as “ways of knowing” (or epistemologies), and my job as a collaborator, thinker, and maker is to work with people who understand their own media like technology or cooking in such ways that we can do the most we can with those media to connect people to concepts and experiences.
As for video art works, the way to connect with the audience is obviously through the visual (and aural) quality of the piece, its scale and its context. The images produce all kinds of relations that your brain is trying to make sense of. Some images remind you of others, or spark certain feelings. All of this process is happening neurologically, and because we’re such visual creatures and pattern recognizers, the invitation of looking is built in and seductive. In that sense I am particularly interested in the humorous, the quirky, because it disarms the viewer. The viewer leaves their defenses behind when they see something really enchanting, or funny. So in my animated films I often use elements that are somewhat funny or seem naïve, but they point to issues that are not funny at all.
Another aspect that is important for me in connecting with people happens when the artwork lives in people’s homes. I like work that people live with, and get to spend long times with. Some of my works are really long, they go on for hundreds of hours, sometimes unfolding over the course of a year, so that when someone has the artwork at home they can spend a lot of time with them and see how they change. Even if the work is not very long, about three minutes, I think about the density and add many layers, so that the story is told in depth and not in length.
Marina Zurkow, OOzy #3, 2022
Do you think that people react better to something they’re more actively involved in, or can they also have a profound experience of a visual artwork that they see at a certain distance?
These experiences are really different, and can be memorable for an audience in different ways. The food projects can suffer from exactly the same problems as the visual projects, which is the production of spectacle. I have only really been able to do one very successful public food project that was not elitist in costliness: a jellyfish jerky pop up shack on the UCLA campus that attracted 300 people to eat and talk. We provided a night market stall atmosphere, where people could sit and eat, and we interviewed many eaters in what was a really rich, two way exchange. For us as artists— my collaborators Henry Fisher, Anna Rose Hopkins and myself— this was a chance to have a real-time exchange and to create an offering that condensed into a snack some of the components of the tremendous risk of sea level rise. The video work does not have the same kind of immediacy: I don’t know what is happening with the work in terms of people’s reception. It’s a much more distanced experience for me. And at this point, I hesitate to understand what is so compelling about the work, or if the work really does move the mind at all. I really don’t know.
Your extensive career, among many other things includes your teachings as faculty member of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Could you elaborate on your views of the artist as educator?
I don’t think you have to educate inside of academic institutions, I think you can educate in many ways, which goes back to my statement about “ways of knowing.” Art is always political, and it is also always educational. What I mean is that art will be teaching you something whether it intends to or not: it might be teaching you that art is decorative, it might be teaching you that art has cultural vitality, it might be teaching you that the oceans are polluted. Art is always engaged in communication, and communication is, essentially, the transfer of information. This information accumulates and sometimes opens up a new way people can think about things. And that itself is a form of pedagogy. I teach that way. I was lucky to teach in a program that was very “anti-lecture,” very participatory and dialogic. This methodology pushes you to think about ways in which you teach and how to facilitate hands-on, engaged learning.
Your commissioned works show a tension in the relationship between the natural world and humanity with a specific focus on consumer culture and technological advancements. Do your works also suggest a solution for this probing question?
I don’t have any solutions. The first thing you learn in systems thinking is, there’s no such thing as a solution, because the solution will only beget further problems. When you think you’ve solved something you go to sleep, you don’t worry about that anymore. So I’d rather have the opposite: opening up new ways of thinking about these difficult entanglements and producing more questions rather than answers. Questions persist in your brain, they haunt you a little bit. And then maybe they drive your inquiries into the everyday. So what if making people conscious is the most I can do? What happens then? I have been going through tremendous doubt of the efficacy of artmaking in the last couple of years, and I am not on the other side of that yet, but I’ve been thinking a lot more about modest offerings of what change looks like and ways in which we can open up the world. A world of more inclusive ethics that would drive us to make better ecological and interpersonal decisions.
Still, as an environmental artist, you are expected to solve things. There’s a group of artists and scientists who say, “If we don’t make work that addresses really tangible ways of changing things, we are useless. How do you measure that? We don’t want to talk about metaphors. We don’t want to talk about mindsets, we want to make change, we’re in a crisis.” But I would also say, sometimes you have to slow down to move fast. Interestingly, the Rising Seas Jellyfish Jerky Snack Shack showed me the contradictions in this way of thinking about solutions. People who participated and thought of themselves as environmentally active students, who were doing environmental studies, still went downstairs to the vending machine and bought single serve plastic wrap snacks. It was like the snacks were a blind spot in their whole system of thinking about the world. So I can only claim to do a small bit and then it is up to everyone to change their mindsets and act.
This month we want to highlight our meaningful partnership with SOUTH SOUTH on its second edition of VEZA. SOUTH SOUTH is an online community, an anthology, an archive and a resource for artists, galleries, curators and collectors, institutions and non-profits invested in the Global South.
VEZA 02 features a digital showcase of seminal video art from the Global South which coincided with the April 2022 edition of SP–Arte in Brazil. An exclusively designed installation powered by Niio was set up at the fair, presenting selected video art works.
SOUTH SOUTH Veza takes its name from the isiZulu word which means “to show, produce, or reveal” and presents its audience with a new way to experience and engage with new media artworks.
VEZA 02 also boasted a robust curated art programme titled Bending the Axis. This year’s programme was curated by Meyken Barreto, Uche James Iroha, and the curatorial duo Carlos Quijon, Jr. & Kathleen Ditzig and was made possible with the generosity of Mr. Jorge M. Perez and the inaugural SOUTH SOUTH x El Espacio 23 Curatorial Residency. It included works by emerging and established artists and a Talks Programme engaging cultural practitioners from across the globe which took place from 31 March – 10 April 2022.
Veza 02 focuses on digital and video art, and the remarkable possibilities of new media, as well as its core activity of facilitating new connections within the cultural ecosystems across the Global South and beyond.
Galleries from 25 cities spread across five continents came together to present a selling exhibition of important video artworks at SP–Arte (Sāo Paulo) and simultaneously online. This marked SOUTH SOUTH ’s transition into a hybrid model through collaboration with regional fairs.
Niio supported and powered both the physical exhibition and the online presentation through our state of the art technology platform which enables new media to be preserved, certified and seamlessly acquired through Niio and the Blockchain, with an accompanying NFT.
SOUTH SOUTH offers a repository and a space for new, shared value systems centered on community, collaboration and exchange. It is a central portal to experience the programs and artist profiles of galleries within and dedicated to the Global South.
The SOUTH SOUTH platform was conceived by Liza Essers, owner of Goodman Gallery as a response to the global pandemic and as an extension to an ongoing curatorial initiative established by Goodman Gallery in 2015.
Niio facilitates and enables the acquisition of new media and video art works and ownership through our highly advanced platform offering storage and preservation of digital works, securing NFT & blockchain technology for provenance and attribution, and providing the best in class display technology for showcasing screen based works, in-turn enabling art spaces and arts practitioners to shape their own narratives within the cluttered and developing conversations about the relationship between art, new technology and web3.
With the help of Niio, SOUTH SOUTH also launched the VEZA NEW MEDIA FUND which allows museums focused on the Global South and diaspora to acquire new media works from galleries taking part in VEZA for their collections.
This year’s beneficiary was El Museo del Barrio, New York’s leading Latino cultural institution. Niio together with SOUTH SOUTH has launched a $40,000 fund through which El Museo Del Barrio has acquired two new digital artworks: one that addresses the erosion of civil liberties by the high-profile Cuban-American artist Coco Fusco — The Empty Plaza/ La Plaza Vacia, 2012, represented by Alexander Gray Associates. Centrally located public squares are a key component of social and political life throughout Latin America, Caribbean cities, and the rest of the world. In The Empty Plaza/ La Plaza Vacia, artist Coco Fusco, inspired by the Arab Spring protests of 2011 explores discussions among Cubans about the reason that plazas were left vacant. In this work the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana becomes the protagonist in the artist’s mediation on public space, memory and revolutionary promise.
The second artwork acquired by El Museo Del Barrio through the Veza New Media Fund is Siboney, 2014 by the 32-year-old Dominican-American artist Joiri Minaya represented by Embajada gallery. The work Siboney is at once a mural painting and a performance in which the artist hand-painted the design of a found fabric onto a museum wall. The video work is accompanied by the song Siboney by Connie Francis composed by Ernesto Lecuona in 1929 allegedly while homesick, away from Cuba. Once the artist finished painting the mural she pours water on herself and scrubs the mural with her body while dancing to Siboney in doing so questioning the exoticism in the representation of black and brown women in the Caribbean, and to challenge these constructions and the control of the Other historically in order to reclaim the voice of these women.
Both video artworks were sold together with their accompanying NFT through Niio Art, and have been transferred to the museum via the Niio pro tool platform. We invite you to discover the VEZA exhibition and available artworks through Niio’s digital online catalog. We hereby want to give a special thanks to all participating featured artists and galleries:
Patfudyda / Abre Alas 17 A Gentil Carioca, São Paulo / Rio de Janeiro
Coco Fusco Alexander Gray Associates, New York City / Germantown
Luis Enrique López-Chávez Bode Projects, Berlin
Gigi Scaria Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai
Jackie Karuti Circle Art Gallery, Nairobi
Joiri Minaya Embajada, San Juan
Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo / Rio de Janeiro
Eder Santos Galeria Luciana Brito, São Paulo
Nicolás Paris Galeria Luisa Strina, São Paulo
Nalini Malani Galerie Lelong & Co., New York City / Paris
Kiluanji Kia Henda Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg / Cape Town / London
Peter Nelson Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong
Zheng Chongbin INKstudio, Beijing
Hardeep Pandhal Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai
Wura-Natasha Ogunji kó, Lagos
Minerva Cuevas kurimanzutto, Mexico City / New York City
Yazan Khalili Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai
Letícia Ramos Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo / Brussels / New York City
Tsubasa Kato MUJIN-TO Production, Tokyo
Amina Benbouchta OH Gallery, Dakar
Jorge Méndez Blake OMR, Mexico City
Miguel Angel Rios Sicardi Ayers Bacino, Houston
Ayrson Heráclito Southern Stars Projects, London
Charles Lim Yi Yong STPI – Creative Workshop & Gallery, Singapore
Ryoko Aoki Take Ninagawa, Tokyo
Sara Ramo Travesia Cuatro, Madrid / Guadalajara / Mexico City
At Niio, we are passionate about the intersection of Art, Design & Technology. From code-based and algorithmic artworks, to AR & VRinstallations, to blockchain for authentication, crypto art as well as the .ART domain, talk of digital art was everywhere in ’17. Check out some of the great stories that we’re reading now and look out for lots more throughout the year.
ARCHITECTUAL DIGEST // Marilyn Minter’s Largest Public Artwork Is All About Me
“Well, all artists have a narcissism problem,” says Marilyn Minter gleefully as she walks the 280-foot length of her newest work. A collaboration with the Art Production Fund, the project is a video, produced in partnership with Westfield World Trade Center and displayed, unignorably (as any narcissist would appreciate), every eight minutes on the 19 screens of varying sizes that dot the inside of Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus and its surrounding buildings.” Read more.
THE ART NEWSPAPER // The Future May Be Virtual, But Who Is Running the Show?
Virtual reality (VR) art is no longer the preserve of geeky coders. Artists such as Paul McCarthy, Marina Abramovic and Jeff Koons are beginning to create work using the technology, and start-up technology firms are springing up in the race to distribute and sell them. But as collectors begin to circle and prices rise, several legal and ethical questions are being raised, including who owns the art, how do you protect your work, and who has the right to place art in virtual public places? Read more.
NEW YORK TIMES // Will Cryptocurrencies Be the Art Market’s Next Big Thing?
“On Dec. 16, the nascent market for what might be called cryptoart appeared to reach a new level when the hitherto-unknown Distributed Gallery announced the auction of “Ready Made Token,” a unique unit of a cryptocurrency that the gallery said was created by Richard Prince using technology from Ethereum, the network responsible for Ether. The online gallery describes itself as the first to specialize in blockchain-based artwork and exhibition.” Read more.
ARTSY // When Steve Jobs Gave Andy Warhol a Computer Lesson
It was October 9th, 1984, and Steve Jobs was going to a nine-year-old’s birthday party. He’d been invited just a few hours earlier by journalist David Scheff, who was wrapping up a profile of the Apple Computer wunderkind for Playboy. Jobs was far from the highest-profile guest, however. Walter Cronkite, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Louise Nevelson, John Cage, and singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson were also in attendance. And Yoko Ono, of course—it was her son’s birthday, after all. Read more.
THE GLOBE & MAIL // Is It Big Brother? Is It Art? What If It’s Both?
The watchers watch us, we watch ourselves, and maybe someone is preparing to feed it all back to us as art.
ARTNEWS // Rhizome Gets $1M. From Mellon Foundation For Webrecorder, Its Web Preservation Tool
The New York–based digital arts organization Rhizome has been awarded a two-year $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to continue the development of its web preservation tool Webrecorder. The grant, the largest in the institution’s history, follows a previous two-year grant of $600,000 from the Mellon Foundation that it received in December 2015 to put the tool’s development into full gear. Read more.