“(Re-) Cycles of Paradise,” ARTPULSE Magazine,Vol. 5 No 14,Winter 2013.
by Tucker Neel
“(Re-) Cycles of Paradise,” organized by the curatorial collective ARTPORT_making waves, presents visitors with works that address connections between conceptions of gender and climate change. At first glance the exhibition appears like a display room for inventive projects ready for prospective backers. Indeed, certain works use this to their advantage while calling attention to the fact that the structures of oppression and objectification that impact and shape conceptions of gender are related to the way climate change is equally enmeshed in ideology and modes of power which create or delay action.
One of the most engaging and visually impressive works on display is Insa Winkler’s [In] Dependency Water, EM (Effective Microorganism) from 2009, which highlights a rather ingenious water purification technology. The setup includes a silhouette of a figure holding a jug made from strings of ceramic beads hanging from the ceiling. As unpurified water flows over the beads, it eventually becomes potable. Visitors can take sample beads with them, with contact info about how to support the project. It is well known that in areas where water is scarce or polluted by chemical and human waste, women perform the tasks of carrying water, purifying it, and using it for household tasks. Winkler’s display gestures towards this fact while not simply casting the problem as aesthetic. Instead, the work expands the parameters of artistic experience, proposing that we value the work as inventive, sustainable, beautiful, and usable design.
A work occupying a very different kind of register is Roman Singer’s Tisch (Table) from 1986. Singer’s work consists of a simple wooden kitchen table, its legs planted in metal buckets, which in turn float inside larger water-filled buckets. How is one to interpret this work? In previous exhibitions the artist presented a version of Table in photographic form, with the work set adrift on a body of water in a field of small blue melting icebergs. This documentation contextualizes the piece in relation to specific environmental phenomena: the melting of ice into water. But here in the gallery the piece seeks to work on a more symbolic level; a connotative connection must be agreed upon in order to follow the work’s intended references. But does the end result of this serve to only lead one to seek “awareness” of a problem? After this, what happens? Catharsis? Fear? Action? Perhaps Singer’s Table leads us to a problem deep within a larger imagination of climate change as both concept and reality.
Climate change has for some time now taken on the character of a cancerous tumor growing inside a troubled patient mired in denial. The metastasized threat has grown too pervasive to ignore, yet the reality of its consequences-painful treatments, the loss of independence, possible death-are so dire the patient engages in a kind of disavowal, admitting knowledge of the immanent peril, yet acting as if oblivious, consciously doing nothing. The actions that do follow often seek to temper anxiety, turning confrontation into abstractions and self-conscious ironic poetics. This is why we seek to buy our way out of global catastrophe with fundraisers, green-washed products, and corporate-sponsored “awareness campaigns,” instead of demanding and enacting the drastic systemic change needed to stave off the ramifications of globally significant rising waters and warmer temperatures. Perhaps through examining how Table engages in this process of allowing us to project our fears instead of confront them, we might come away with a better understanding of how we think about climate change and its very real material impacts on humans and nature, with the growing knowledge that the two might not be separate, but one and the same.