ART & SUSTAINABILITY: HOW DOES ART IMPACT OUR ENVIRONMENT?
Written by Eduardo Dias
The search for a less aggressive development of the environment is an indisputably key theme for several challenges of the 21st century. In 2015, the United Nations launched the “Agenda 2030”, a resolution that brings together 17 objectives for sustainable development1 including conscious production and consumption, clean energy, defense of life on land and in water, combating social inequality, among others . Thus, policies are essential to promote actions that aim to not compromise the needs of future generations, considering, for example, less emission of pollution, conservation of biodiversity, reduction of deforestation and the production of solid waste, smarter use of natural raw material, etc.
Such actions need to permeate different areas of human activity, and each field can seek its own ways towards sustainable alternatives. The automobile industry invests in cars powered by electric energy, the food industry looks for biodegradable packaging to replace the use of plastics, fashion develops textile production with fabrics that use less water during the making process. We ask ourselves: what are the sustainable initiatives in the art world? How can artists produce works while decreasing environmental impacts? Do artists know what Environmental Impacts are?
Exploring this theme, Coletivo Amarelo launched an online questionnaire to understand the previous knowledge of artists from different branches. Most participants declared that they've done some type of art, mainly drawing, painting and plastic techniques (Figures 1 & 2).
1. Do you make art?
2. What type of art?
In addition, the participants demonstrated similar responses when asked about the definition of Environmental Impacts. The most frequent terms used are organized in the following word cloud. (Figure 3).
Based on this, we can observe that the participants mainly use the terms "environment", "alteration", "action", "human" and "everything", thus associating ideas about changes in the environment caused by humans. It's also possible to see the intermediate frequency use of the terms "planet", "cause", "effects'' and "negative". Finally, the main responses assumed that Environmental Impacts are all human interferences in the environment that result in harmful effects.
Conceptually, Environmental Impacts are considered to be any and all changes in physical, chemical and biological properties of the environment resulting from human activities that directly or indirectly affect the health and safety of the population, economic activities, biota, sanitary conditions and the quality of environmental resources (2).
In other words, Environmental Impacts can be understood as any type of change caused by humans, but their effects can be both positive and negative and expand to natural and social spheres. Therefore, according to the result of our research, the participants demonstrated to have knowledge regarding environmental impacts with a tendency to understand only the natural and negative damages. It was possible to observe in the word cloud that there is no mention of terms with a social nature and that the term “positives” was mentioned less frequently than the term “negatives”.
In addition, the majority of participants seemed to agree that artistic production is capable of generating Environmental Impacts, yet half declared that they did not know the meaning of “Ecological Art”. (Figure 4 & 5).
4. "Making art can impact the environment". According to this statement, I:
5. Have you ever heard of Ecological Art?
Based on this, we raise the following question: if artists understand Environmental Impacts as any and all changes caused by humans in the environment that have a more negative than positive nature, how can artists reduce the negative aspects and start promoting the positive Environmental Impacts that stems from their production?
Sustainability through art is an approach that can be cemented in the intrinsic principles of sustainable development and freedom of creative expression. That is, art can play a crucial role in the search for more sustainable societies, and, although artistic projects are often secondary in public policies, the importance of art as a catalyst for culture and society is historically indisputable3.
For sociologist Hans Dieleman, sustainability is a process of creating a new world with new institutions, products and relationships. He mentions that this process is based on the rationality of science and politics, but argues that this also encompasses emotions, desires, fears, lifestyles, identities and intuition. As this process culminates in visions and expectations of the future, sustainable changes are essentially “the art of being different”, using different products, proposing different designs, having different styles, engaging in different practices and, above all, reading reality in different ways.4
The idea of Ecological Art could be used as awareness for artists who seek sustainability: it is an artistic genre conceived in the mid-90s that carries principles such as connectivity, reconstruction, ethical-ecological responsibility, respect for common goods, non-linear re-generativity, navigation and dynamic balance at multiple scales (5).
In this field, we can mention the Danish artist Olafur Elliasson, famous for experimenting with physical-chemical parameters, such as light, water and temperature. In 2018, Olafur set up in London an installation called Ice Watch London, consisting of 30 pieces of an iceberg collected from a fjord in Greenland. The work served as warning regarding the effects of climate change, denouncing the melting of the second largest block of ice in the world after Antarctica.
Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian
Polish artist living in Brazil Frans Krajcberg dedicated his life to the exploration of art and environment relations. Frans collected the material found after burning in Brazilian forests (used for deforestation and opening for grazing) and transformed it into sculptures that represented the abandonment of nature, using the contrast of the colors red and black: fire and death.
Together, the works of Olafur and Frans can be understood as a political and social activism through art against the destruction of the environment and the defense of biodiversity. In this way, the principles of Ecological Art applied to sustainability objectives create a way to envision a future where we adopt new habits and also understand the responsibility of the artist in his own artistic process.
Finally, if policies for actions that are less harmful to the future are essential for sustainable development and for reaching international agendas, art should definitely occupy its important space: to catalyze a new culture while allowing the next generations to read reality differently from the way we've been doing so far.
(1) The 17 Goals - Department of Economic and Social Affairs: Sustainable Development (United Nations); https://sdgs.un.org/goals
(2) Conselho Nacional do Meio Ambiente (CONAMA) - Resolução Nº 1, Art. 1º. http://www.ima.al.gov.br/wizard/docs/RESOLU%C3%87%C3%83O%20CONAMA%20N%C2%BA001.1986.pdf
(3) Lopes et al. Sustainability through Art. Energy Procedia 119 (2017) 752–766.
(4) Hans Dieleman. Sustainability, Art and Reflexivity. Sacha Kagan / Volker Kirchberg (eds.) (2008); Sustainability:a new frontier for the arts and cultures.
(5) Kagan, S. The practice of ecological art (2014). Institute of Sociology and Cultural Organization, Leuphana University, Lüneburg.