When artists join global war on environmental crisis

2019-09-18 10:03

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By Xinhua writer Luan Xiang

BEIJING, Sept. 18 (Xinhua) -- A fresh crossover between contemporary art and environmental concerns under the theme of "Continuous Refle(a)ction" has drawn attention at this year's China Intellectual Property Exposition (China IP Expo) .

At the display where art is married to conservation activism, elegant furniture made with recycled glass by Hong Kong-based Studio Florian & Christine showcased a novel means of putting ocean waste into practical, classy use.

No less trendy, a local brand BOTTLOOP unveiled an ample inventory of fashion items from rockstar-esque bandanas to chic rain jackets, all made with recycled PET bottles.

The event features a total of 34 artists from 18 countries and regions who look to inspire through their creative works' reflection on the environmental challenges that are threatening life on earth.
"It (the exhibition) is a pioneer platform on which the local and international art communities are encouraged to assume an active role in addressing critical environmental issues," Maria Xu, curator of the exhibition told Xinhua in an interview on Thursday.
"'Refle(a)ction' has two meanings," she went on to explain, "firstly reflection, which refers to the rising public awareness of the fragile symbiosis between man's consumerism rampage and industrialized exploitation of resources and the vulnerability of nature."
It is high time for each and every individual to confront their own responsibility in the face of a global environmental crisis, she asserted.
Conjointly, the term also emphasizes "action" to be taken, hopefully in a synchronous, effective global collaboration, she suggested.
Before its opening at the IP Expo, the exhibition had debuted at Riverside Art Museum in Beijing from May to late August.
For three months, the collection of over 50 singular objets d'art had attracted nearly 100,000 visitors, according to the organizers.
For the first time on the Chinese mainland, local and foreign artists joined hands in creating a "site-specific ecological system," ingeniously employing new materials and technologies "to make a strong point," said Xu.
Either to bring the crisis to view in order to inspire reflection, or to seek artistic solutions in response, the participating artists have shown a solidarity and unity, "to make a point that we are in this together," said Xu.
Environmental issues have become increasingly prominent in the contemporary art scene, as they threaten the sustainable development of both man and nature.
At "Continuous Refle(a)ction," the artists resort to locally collected materials such as urban waste and smog dust, and transform these into original artifacts covering sculpture, painting, installation, visual art, interactive installation, behavior art and new media.
CHIAOZZA, an American artist duo based in New York City, known for their vigorous, boldly colored installations of alter-realities, were inspired this time by sprouts and other carbon-free vegetables, and crafted a garden with enormous, fairytale-like bean sprout figures.
It was also a cooperative project with WildAid, a wildlife conservation NGO, as part of its recent awareness campaign promoting a veggie-rich diet to counter the environmental impact of animal agriculture, said the artists Adam Frezza and Terri Chiao.
Another interactive installation designed by Dutch artist Thijs Biersteker demonstrates how cigarette butts pollute water in a way that is similar to a human heart pumping blood throughout the body. Research has shown that a single cigarette can pollute 7.5 liters of water with deadly toxins including nicotine and heavy metal ions over the course of an hour, and, as time goes by, up to 180 liters of water in total.
Yet, the pumping of the poisonous fluids slows down as viewers approach the installation, in a way that the artist hoped would convince each individual to resist the vicious habit of smoking and carelessly discarding their cigarette butts.
In recent decades, the environmental art movement has grown stronger on a global scale, with more and more artists placing their focus on the existential crisis that all earthlings face amid worsening pollution, climate change, overpopulation, crucial loss of biodiversity and the consequent deterioration of the ecosystem.
"We will keep on working to support local artists and their eco-conscious projects, and help them push for closer engagement in the international community," said Xu, proposing a number of 50 to 60 local artists to be selected as the first beneficiaries of the project in the near future.
The platform plans to inaugurate a nationwide tour with a series of sideline seminars, workshops and exchange opportunities, according to the curator.
"Many of the pieces depict - in artistic ways - a reality too heavy for me to bear," Cai Shenyi, a college junior who traveled from the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou to spend her summer vacation at "Continuous Refle(a)ction" as a volunteer docent, told Xinhua.
Obviously touched by the visual impact and interactive features, all members of the public were capable of perceiving the message that the artists were anxious to deliver, she observed.
However, for some artists and critics, the environmental art movement is driven and motivated by its clear objective of promoting not only a brand new lifestyle but also major reforms in socioeconomic structures.
Does art then have to compromise and sacrifice its avant-garde edge to cater to the general public whom it aims to reach and influence? If art serves a moral or utilitarian purpose, does it stop being true?
"The poetic motto of 'Art for Art's Sake' reflects the artist's eternal pursuit of perfection, innovation and self-evolution in his/her creative work," said Jae Liu, a Beijing-based painter and lecturer at China's Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA).
She argued that art ought to be a process of reflection, questioning and constantly challenging social conventions, while public art, where the environmental art movement is seen as the latest variant, highlights its progressiveness and societal values, with art being but a formality.
"The difference between the two is similar to that between a scientist and a writer of popular science," she explained.
There is no superiority or inferiority in art, opined Adrian Iurco, a Belgium-based Romanian painter and visiting scholar at CAFA. "All directions (that an artist takes on) can be great if his/her works have original content, a shining idea and inner motivation," he stressed.
"And most importantly, when art is made with devotion and sincerity, it naturally has the power to touch other human beings and stir emotions in them," he analyzed.
Zhao Jing, a young art teacher and landscape sculptor with the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts, believes that "If an artistic creation can incentivize the spectator to think, it then has an additional social value in comparison with one that was made solely to match the standards of superficial aesthetics."
The origin of art was utilitarian, when the cave people drew buffalos on the walls of Altamira to keep count, when Michelangelo was commissioned to beautify the ceiling of Sistine Chapel or to create sculptures to decorate the pope's tomb, when almost every brilliant artist in history was paid to portray noble men and women before photography was invented, according to Zhao.
Only in modern times was art granted social and philosophical functions, she pointed out, quoting Albert Camus' claim that "Artistic creation is a demand for unity and a rejection of the world," and "The artist reconstructs the world to his plans."
In the dawn of a new age for art, perhaps the slogan should be updated to "Art for Sustainability's Sake," she added jokingly.
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