practitioner of visual poetry and graphically notated music.
‘Sound art was invented in Canada.’ Did you know that? Well, Christof Migone says so, in the third part of this collection, which offers what it calls a ‘Historical Cartography of Sound Art’, comprising 12 research studies from different parts of the globe. And indeed, when you think about it, the concept and name of the ‘soundscape’ was coined in 1977 by the Canadian composer Murray Schafer; the neologism ‘plunderphonics’ came from Canada in 1985; and classical pianist Glenn Gould’s pioneering experimental radio programmes were conceived and made there. Rather than an inert collection of historical research papers, this section also includes some less formal interviews laced with charmingly discursive anecdotal recollections, often venturing into the borderland between high and low culture – such as David Toop’s references to the early influence on him of Wilson, Keppel and Betty, and the Goons. This is, on one level, a grand Christmas annual of a book, bursting at the seams with intriguing opportunities for sonic explorations. Encyclopaedic it may be, but like any good work of reference it lends itself to the extreme likelihood that you will become absorbed in something you didn’t intend to look up.
‘Sound is immaterial and fugitive’, pronounces Martin Sondergaard in this book. The same cannot be said of the book itself, which weighs 3.4 kg and is impossible to ignore. The word unwieldy is seldom used literally in a book review, but here it can be. It is as if the publishers have attempted to embody in their book the intellectual weight of sound art that is itself often insubstantial and evanescent. Sound Art: Sound as a Medium of Art, ed Peter Weibel, ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe/MIT Press, 2019, 744pp, £55, 978 0262029 66 7. David Briers is an independent writer based in West Yorkshire.
Along Ecological Lines – Contemporary Art and Climate Crisis The year 2019 – the second hottest on record in the hottest decade on record – will be remembered as the moment when there was a significant shift in the conversation surrounding the climate crisis. Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion have brought the impending catastrophe into mainstream conversation and pushed it further up the political agenda; although the rise of fascism and hard right-wing politicians getting into power has seen an increase of public dismissal of scientists’ warnings, creating further polarisations within a debate that shouldn’t be happening in the first place. The recent bushfires in Australia are concrete evidence of this, and we know that we have already gone too far. Alongside the sobering statistics presented to us in the media, a plethora of images shot on iPhones of the disaster looped the internet.
research project by its editor, Barnaby Drabble, which he opens with the question: ‘What does it mean that art is now being made in the context of climate crisis that threatens our very existence on the planet?’ Tracing a wider shift of the global climate movement that has significantly risen since 2010, Drabble documents a select group of European socially engaged artists whose practices reflect this ecological turn. From divestment to forest law, a wide range of ecological issues are explored, reflecting the complexities and nuances required when addressing the topic.
Practices of collaboration are championed in the book, heralded as offering opportunities to work together towards a future that is ecologically conscious and emancipatory. Akin to some of these collective practices, the publication provides a platform for a polyphony of voices, including artists, academics and activists, and shows how artistic practice can positively and proactively contribute towards an ecological project, in turn demonstrating how this can intersect with the political or scientific discourse in which the crisis is most commonly discussed. During a time when the art market has become increasingly financialised, and has coerced the artist into the role of a neoliberal subject that produces ‘assets’, working as a collective offers a mode of resistance to market pressures. This can be seen in the work of INLAND, an organisation initiated by Fernando Garcia-Dory that seeks to build bridges between contemporary art and the rural to form new modes of living, or in Ursula Biemann and Paulo Tavares’s Forest Law, a project for which they worked closely with the indigenous communities in Ecuador that are protecting the forest from encroaching oil companies.
One of the most compelling arguments emerges out of TJ Demos’s essay ‘Denaturalising the Economy’, originally published in 2015, in which he unpacks the significance of the work of Oliver Ressler (Interview AM405), a video artist who makes work around demonstrations such as the aftermath of the 2016 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, an event that failed to address fossil fuel use, reflecting a lack of care for the environment and a prioritisation of the economy (more oil means more capital). Demos focuses on Leave It in the Ground, 2013, a film about oil drilling in the Norwegian archipelago of Lofoten, one example of oil exploration and its continued use that has catastrophic global impact. Demos criticises the mainstream undiscerning acceptance of the economy and argues that it has been subsumed as human nature, ‘the current reigning ideology of our era’. To describe this contemporary phenomenon, he conceives the term ‘economysticism’. The most popular ‘solutions’ to climate change have already been absorbed by capital, as evidenced by the emergence of green capitalism and the co-option
Along Ecological Lines offers art as an antidote to these spectacular images; contemporary art can be the means through which we think about the climate crisis in a caring and productive way, conceptualising the future. The book is the result of a three-year Ursula Biemann and Paulo Tavares, Forest Law, 2014, video
Art Monthly no. 434, March 2020