FARFIELD1: New Environmental Art Practices on Landscapes of the Polar Regions; Politics, Emotion and Culture

This panel is a companion panel to Far Field 2 and takes up some of the same issues but emphasizes the connection to the colonial histories of these regions, the technological incorporations of traditional knowledge into data, as well as contemporary approaches to art about landscapes that deal with issues of politics, emotion, and culture.
Dates: 
Saturday, 17 September, 2011 - 13:00 - 14:30
Chair Person: 
Judit Hersko
Chair Person: 
Lisa E. Bloom
Presenters: 
Jane D. Marsching
Presenters: 
Marko Peljhan
Presenters: 
Matthew Biederman
Presenters: 
Leslie Sharpe

Chair: Prof. Judit Hersko
2nd Chair: Lisa E. Bloom

Questions of subjectivity related to gender, race, emotion, and perception usually do not factor into thinking about polar climate science. This panel explores climate change and the environment as well as the landscapes of the polar regions and geopolitics in terms of shifts in awareness that inform how we think about, act about, and set policy for dealing with these global regions. Politics, emotion and culture are significant indicators for understanding the history and present uses of the Arctic and the Antarctic, how science and data gathered in these regions is perceived today, and the resulting impact on practical policy matters related to climate change. This panel is a companion panel to Far Field 2 and takes up some of the same issues but emphasizes the connection to the colonial histories of these regions, the technological incorporations of traditional knowledge into data, as well as contemporary approaches to art about landscapes that deal with issues of politics, emotion, and culture. The papers discuss contemporary art that challenges normative assumptions about art making-what form it might take, what effects it might have, and how it might incorporate as well as be read as data-in addition to how it might change our perceptions of the landscapes of the polar regions. Much of the artwork discussed embodies a relationship to nature not as something to be conquered, transformed, or turned to our advantage, but as a relational space that makes us think differently about the environment, the fossil fuel industry, capitalism and notions of territory.

Paper Abstracts

Contemporary Art and Climate Change: The Aesthetics of Disappearance at the Poles

by Lisa E. Bloom

Climate change presents us with one of the great narratives to emerge over the last twenty years. The related universal discourse raises an apocalyptic storm that embraces every place, everyone and everything. It surrounds us on a global scale that is so intractable and is so exceedingly hard to represent, because it cries out for a myriad of responses and change at all levels of existence. Given the enormous scale of climate change encompassing the entire earth one of the tasks of this paper is to question the way climate change is represented at the polar regions and to point out the ways it is perceived so that new definitions of related art, science and politics can be formed and put to more effective use.

Focusing on the work of contemporary artists, I question the un-representable of climate change not only because many of the effects of climate change are invisible but also because the climate controversy itself has made clear that many entangled interests impact its representation. The struggle to put an image on climate change often happens in spite of and sometimes against various government controls, oil and gas industry pressure and varied popular representations. In the context of this political controversy, I ask what are the modes of representation of climate change. How can climate change be represented? How should it be represented? What kinds of ethical questions should we consider in the representation of climate change? What and whose experience is represented?

This paper discusses a shift in representation of the polar regions from the older aesthetic tradition of the sublime as pure heroic wilderness to the aesthetic of the contemporary sublime wherein categories of both nature and civilization are undone because extreme nature is disappearing. By focusing on the work of three artists-Edward Burtynsky, Anne Noble and Connie Samaras-this talk asks: What new stories and images are being produced through recent attempts to re-visualize the Arctic and Antarctic? What impact have the genres of literary fiction, science fiction and horror, as well as the older aesthetic traditions of the sublime and the contemporary sublime, had on their work?  All three artists interrogate landscape practices and the role of photography and new media in the construction of visual knowledge and understanding of Antarctica.

Anna's Cabinet of Curiosities: from the series - Pages from the Book of the Unknown Explorer

by Judit Hersko

This performance lecture is based on Judit Hersko's collaboration with scientists and her experience in Antarctica as a recipient of the National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists and Writers Grant. Hersko examines polar exploration and science from the perspective of a fictitious, unknown, female explorer, Anna Schwartz, who travels to Antarctica with the 1939 Byrd Antarctic expedition. Hersko inserts Anna's character into real events and scientific quests, thereby spawning a narrative that reflects on the absence of women from the history of Antarctic exploration and science until the late 1960s. She presents a layered story that addresses the history of Cartesian science as well as current climate change data in the context of present economic and political realities, while her insertion of alter egos such as Anna Schwartz, who connect closely and personally with the polar landscape, render the scientific data emotionally engaging.

Anna Schwartz is a photographer and a naturalist obsessed with the microscopic and transparent planktonic snail the Limacina helicina and its predator the Clione antarctica. Her intimate relationship with these tiny creatures is in contrast to the heroic notions of exploration of her day, while ironically, her focus on the minute and invisible layers of the Antarctic landscape is more relevant to current research in polar science. These planktonic snails, studied by Hersko's collaborator, biological oceanographer Dr. Victoria Fabry, function as canaries in the coal mine when it comes to ocean acidification - one of the most insidious aspects of anthropogenic climate change that is rapidly altering the food chain and ecology of the oceans.

Magnets of the Fantastic: FutureNorth

by Jane D. Marsching

Magnets of the Fantastic: FutureNorth explores the question: What will the future bring to the North Pole? What will be the effect of climate change on this region?  Using the example of a recent collaborative animation with visionary architect Mitchell Joachim of Terreform 1, Marsching looks at the challenges of climate prediction in understanding climate modeling in real human terms. Taking one possible scenario of sea level rise, FutureNorth imagines the future of our port cities and polar ocean one hundred years from now.  Positing the needs for imagination and cultural narratives to balance the overwhelming complexities of climate data, this paper uses possible futures as a way to point to the challenges of our culture’s relationship with climate data at the North Pole.

Arctic Perspective Initiative (API)

by Marko Peljhan and Matthew Biderman

The lecture will present current research and engagement in the Arctic and Antarctic in the framework of the Arctic Perspective Initiative (API) with the specific focus on the use of unmanned aerial systems and other on-the land mapping and sensing technologies by artists, hunters, scientists, tactical media workers and cartographers. The Arctic Perspective Initiative (API) is a non-profit, international group of individuals and organizations, founded by Marko Peljhan and Matthew Biderman, whose goal is to promote the creation of open authoring, communication and dissemination infrastructures for the circumpolar region. API's aim is to empower Northern and Arctic peoples through open source technologies and applied education and training. By creating access to these technologies while promoting an open, shared network of communication and data, without a costly overhead, API enables sustainable and continued development of culture, traditional knowledge, science and technology, as well as provides educational opportunities for peoples in the North and Arctic regions. Conceptual decisions behind the current API projects and their future paths will be traced.

North, Interrupted

by Leslie Sharpe

In this paper, I will address ways in which the North is accessed, understood, expressed and redefined through remote access to data and meta-phenomenological understandings of space, place and the beings that inhabit and traverse the North.  How is this material used to build a new understanding of the North and in what forms? How does that understanding also rely on, and draw from, related non-technological datasets? In cultural expressions, data gathered remotely (e.g., animal telemetry) and data gathered from direct experience of place, might both contribute to a systemic structure, choreography or shape of a work, and also present alternative ways for artists to express understandings of space, place, history and politics. Examples of data used include the presence or absence of animals, humans, plants or toxins, or shifting boundaries of animal migration that defy political borders.

I will discuss examples from my own work related to the Canadian North as well as the following examples from the Canadian Arctic: animal telemetric data, maps based on traditional land-use by indigenous residents, data related to human land-use (e.g., oil-gas activities), archival and historical information of passages through the Canadian North and my own geolocative information gathered traveling through Northern Canada. I will discuss how these data are interpreted or manifested in artworks. In my own examples, I will discuss particularly how the spaces of the Canadian North have been, and continue to be, redefined in our imaginations and realities due to human political battles over sovereignty, rights to oil and gas, shipping routes, etc. In addition, I will discuss how the recent access to Northern spaces - remotely through data, for instance through telemetry that reveals habitats of animals that extend beyond human borders, are affected by climate change and human use of land and arctic seas, as well as, how such data might present mystery beyond its dry information.

Bios of the Participants

Lisa E. Bloom

Lisa E. Bloom's interdisciplinary research and pedagogical interests cut across numerous fields including critical gender studies, visual culture, art history, science studies, photography, and cultural studies. She is the author of Gender on Ice: American Ideologies of Polar Expeditions (University of Minnesota Press, 1993), which is the first critical book to date on the Arctic and Antarctic written from a feminist perspective, and an edited anthology entitled With Other Eyes: Looking at Race and Gender in Visual Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 1999) that was also translated into Japanese. Her third book,  entitled Jewish Identities in U.S. Feminist Art: Ghosts of Ethnicity (Routledge, London, 2006)  explores the place of Jewishness in feminist art in the United States. Her more recent articles include a review of the Istanbul Biennial 2009 for a British International Feminist Art Journal, n.paradoxa that was co-written with Betti-Sue Hertz of the Yerba Buena Center, and Disappearing Ice and Missing Data: Visual Culture of the Polar Regions and Climate Change, that was co-written with Elena Glasberg that will be published in Far Fields: Digital Culture, Climate Change, and the Poles (edited by Andrea Polli and Jane Marsching) forthcoming 2011. Lisa E. Bloom’s essays have appeared in The Scholar and the Feminist, n.paradoxa, and Configurations; exhibition catalogues on Isaac Julien and Eleanor Antin, and anthologies including The Visual Culture Reader, Performing the Body/Performing the Text, Jewish Identity and Art History, Jews and Sex, Writing Science, and Everyday eBay, Collecting and Desiring. She has both an M.F.A. from the Visual Studies Workshop and Rochester Institute of Technology (1985) and a Ph. D. from the History of Consciousness Board at the University of California, Santa Cruz (1990). She currently teaches in the Visual Arts Department at the University of California, San Diego. For further information on her writing and teaching see: http://www.lisabloom.net/ or www.lisaebloom.com.

Judit Hersko

Judit Hersko is an installation artist who works in the intersection of art and science and collaborates with scientists on visualizing climate change science through art. In 2008 she received the National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists and Writers Grant and spent six weeks in Antarctica. Her recent exhibition featured by Leonardo Electronic Almanac (March 2011) builds on her collaboration with scientists and her experience in Antarctica. Her installations have been featured internationally including in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Spain, and in many cities around the United States including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and San Diego. In 1997 she represented her native Hungary at the Venice Biennale. She has received an Artslink Collaborative Grant, a California Arts Council Visual Arts Fellowship, and has participated in residencies including the Lucas Artists Residency Program. She has several pieces in museum collections- for example in The Museum of Contemporary Art, Ludwig Museum in Budapest. Her work has been the subject of many publications including articles in Sculpture Magazine and Art in America. Her piece Pages from the Book of the Unknown Explorer is forthcoming in Far Fields: Digital Culture, Climate Change, and the Poles, 2011, edited by Andrea Polli and Jane Marsching. Hersko is an Associate Professor in the Visual and Performing Arts Department at California State University, San Marcos, where she initiated the Art and Science project in 2004. Her activities in Antarctica have led to new and ongoing collaborations with scientists, and recently she has been invited to present her work internationally at many universities, research institutions and conferences including the Crossroads in Cultural Studies Conference in Hong Kong, and the Antarctic Visions Conference in Hobart, Tasmania.

Jane D. Marsching

Jane D. Marsching is a digital media artist. Her recent exhibitions include: the ICA Boston; MassMoCA; San Jose Museum of Art, CA, and others. She has received grants from Creative Capital, LEF Foundation, Artadia and Artists Resource Trust.  Recent publications include: BiPolar (Cornerhouse 2008), Gothic (Whitechapel Press, London, 2008), and S&F Online: Gender on Ice (Barnard College, 2008). With Mark Alice Durant in 2005, she curated The Blur of the Otherworldly: Contemporary Art, Technology, and the Paranormal at The Center for Art and Visual Culture, Baltimore, MD; a catalog of the exhibition was published in June 2006 with essays by Marsching, Durant, Marina Warner and Lynne Tillman.  She is a cofounder and member of Platform2: Art and Activism, an experimental forum series about creative practices at the intersection of social issues.

Marko Peljhan

Marko Peljhan is a native of Slovenia and a theatre and radio director by profession. Peljhan founded the arts and technology organization Projekt Atol in the early 1990s and cofounded one of the first media labs in Eastern Europe, LJUDMILA in 1995. In the same year he founded the technology branch of Projekt Atol called PACT SYSTEMS where he developed one of the first Global Positioning Systems based participatory networked mapping projects, the Urban Colonisation and Orientation Gear 144. He has been working on Makrolab, a unique project that focuses on telecommunications, migrations and weather systems research in an intersection of art and science from 1997-2007, the Interpolar Transnational Art Science Constellation during the International Polar Year (project 417) , and is currently coordinating the Arctic Perspective Initiative art/science/tactical media project focused on the global significance of the Arctic geopolitical, natural and cultural spheres.  Peljhan has also been the flight director of ten art/science parabolic experimental flights in collaboration with the Microgravity Interdisciplinary Research initiative and the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, creating conditions for artists to work in alternating gravity conditions. He is the recipient of many prizes for his work, including the 2001 Golden Nica Prize at Ars Electronica together with Carsten Nicolai for their work, polar, and the UNESCO Digital Media Prize for Makrolab in 2004. During 2008, Peljhan was appointed as one of the European Union Ambassadors of Intercultural dialogue. His work has been exhibited internationally at multiple biennales and festivals (Venice, Gwangju, Brussels, Manifesta, Johannesburg), at the Documenta X in Kassel, several ISEA exhibitions, several Ars Electronica presentations and at major museums, such as P.S.1, MOMA, New Museum of Contemporary Art, ICC NTT Tokyo, YCAM Yamaguchi and others. Since 2009 he is one of the series editors of the Arctic Perspective Cahiers series (Hatje Cantz). He holds joint appointments with the Department of Art and the Media Arts & Technology graduate program at the University of California Santa Barbara and was appointed as Co-Director of the UC Institute for Research in the Arts in 2009, where he is coordinating the art/science Integrative methodologies initiative.   

Matthew Biederman

Matthew Biederman has been performing, installing and exhibiting works, which explore themes of perception, media saturation and data systems since the mid nineties. Biederman was the recipient of the Bay Area Artist Award in Video by New Langton Arts in 1999. He won First Place in the Visual Arts category of Slovenia's Break21 festival, and has served as artist-in-residence at the Center for Experimental Television on numerous occasions. His installations have been exhibited in the US, South America, and Europe in a variety of festivals and venues such as 7 Festival Internacional (Lima, Peru). As a film and video maker, his works have been included in the FILE festival (Sao Paulo), New Forms Festival (Vancouver), the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Paris/Berlin International Meetings, the Chicago Underground Film Festival and the SCAPE Biennial in New Zealand.

Leslie Sharpe

Leslie Sharpe is a Canadian Artist who divides her time between Alberta, Canada, and Indiana University, Bloomington, where she is Associate Professor of Digital Art. Sharpe has been an artist in residence at P.S. 1 Museum/Institute for Contemporary Art in New York, The Banff Centre in Canada, and Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY, and most recently at Ivvavik National Park in the Canadian Arctic. Her work has been exhibited at the Pompidou Centre (Paris), Banff Centre (Canada), Observatori festival (Spain), Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art (Finland), and in New York at P.S. 1 Insitute of Contemporary Art, Exit Art, The New Museum, Artists Space, and Franklin Furnace. Her writing has been published in Leonardo Electronic Almanac/MIT Press, Framework, New Observations, and in the forthcoming book Far Field: Digital Culture, Climate Change and the Poles. Sharpe works primarily in installation and locative/mobile media projects, from works drawing on genre (crime stories to ghost stories) to recent works addressing the politics and history of place within the context of technology and climate change. Her current project Northern Crossings combines telemetric data of animals moving through the Arctic with her own movements in the Canadian North as well as raw materials gathered on-site, such as animal casts, photography, audio and video. Other recent works include Speculations at the Remote, a video work on the Alberta Tar Sands; and Fever, a locative walk for two locations of Marconi's first transatlantic wireless transfers in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Cape Cod, and Poldhu, UK.