Food for Thought: Continuing the Discussion on “Creating A Sustainable Public Art Practice”

Panelists Christine Baeumler, Seitu Jones, Nicholas Legerous, and Ralph Nelson of Loom Studio shared their recent projects as well as views on the latest concerns and trends in sustainable public art practices (including the desire for a word to replace sustainable!). An inquisitive group of students from Vesper College and a hearty group of Twin Cities based public artists spurred the discussion along.

Forecast collaborated with NEMAA, Vesper College, and The Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota to host the evening to celebrate and promote the newest issue of Public Art Review which focuses on the same theme.

As is always the case with good dialog many more questions were raised than answers given. Forecast collected written questions from the audience and encourages you to continue the discussion online. Feel free to add your thoughts to the questions posed below! Or just read them as food for thought.

Does the future of sustainable art making lie in the manipulation of living organisms as a medium – moving away from the static?

How can (public) art inspire “mainstream” America to act?- Brad Baso

What change needs to occur within (public) art as a practice in order to be even more sustainable? What is holding the field back?  – Brad Baso

Where can one learn more about reusing water on one’s own property? Do you know of any city funded programs to encourage property owners to set up these types of projects? (related to a discussion on watershed art projects).

What are the negative & positive effects of the current economic downturn on sustainable public art & artists?  – Laurie Phillips

Sustainability demands scientific, technical knowledge of creative professionals. Will “Sustainability” in art eventually lead us to merge the studio with the laboratory (or field studies) in a seamless synthesis? Where might this lead?

Nick differentiated between his world before and after being involved in a community. Could everyone comment on their experience working as part of a greater community?  – Susannah

Please speak a bit more to how initiatives, community collaborations, and community history can become a part of sustainability.

How can public art be utilized better, especially concerning business as usual? Do you think art can help to change people value systems and help to work for social change?

How do beauty and emotion (of the work and process) help to build community and a better world?

When you envision a project that cuts across disciplines and public entities, is it best to approach them separately or together?

What skills, experiences, and insights do aritsts contribute to the sustainability community of scientists, government business, etc? Why should they be at the table? – Brad Baso

Does public art create change within or in spite of the system?  – Brad Baso

What is being sustained in sustainability? – Jon Spayde

“Sustainability” – overused indeed, so what buzz word should we start using instead?

How do you break into public art “creating sense of place” when pigeon-holed by commercial sense of place?

How do you get started in public art if your background is in commercial art but your heart is public?

Living City :: environmental responsiveness

The Living is a practice by David Benjamin and Soo-in Yang, which emphasizes open-source research and design, seeking collaboration both within and outside the field of architecture.

I saw their prototype for a responsive “breathing” building skin as part of the Vapor exhibition at Southern Exposure. As curators Jordan Geiger and Alison Sant wrote:

“Living City is a full-scale prototype building skin designed to breathe in response to air quality. David Benjamin and Soo-in Yang have been developing one of the first architecture prototypes to link local responses in a building to a distributed network of sensors throughout the city. The prototype will be exhibited at SoEx, opening and closing its gills in response to information the sensors collect.”

David Benjamin + Soo-In Yang, The Living City, prototype
David Benjamin + Soo-In Yang, The Living City, prototype, installation view, Vapor, Souther Exposure. via Shotgun Review

The breathing facade is an R&D project, essentially, of a larger investigation about the “living city,” which they see as

  • A platform for the future when buildings talk to one another
  • An exploration of the vitality of the city through new forms of public space—air and facade

Or as they subtitle their explanatory video Buildings Talk, “From the old model of local input with local output … to the new model of local and global input with local and global output.”

River Glow

Another environmentally responsive project The Living has prototyped is River Glow, “a network of pods that float in public waterways, sense water quality, and send a signal visible from the water or on shore.”

The Living, River Glow

Nuage Vert

River Glow, in particular, reminds me of HeHe’s Nuage Vert, which won the Green Prix for Environmental Art at the 2008 01SJ Biennial and is a literally spectacular effort to use responsive visualization to motivate the local population to change their electricity consumption patterns, thereby affecting the amount of pollution produced by a nearby powerplant.

HeHe, Nuage Vert

Fade to Black

A more conceptual, less spectacular, but nonetheless important version of responsively visualizing environmental conditions was the Bureau of Inverse Technology’s BANGBANG network from 2000, in particular the Fade to Black [FTB] node or capability.

“Fade to Black is a network of webcams oriented skyward. Image on the webcam fades to black as pollutant film accumulates on the lens. Provides visual and empirical information on air quality; viewable in live stream or archived [concatanated] format. Test deployments: Houston TX, Hollywood CA, Bronx vs Broadway NYC. Additional sites/host computers being actively sought. This project is part of the BangBang camera network.”