24 September 2019

Moscow like Milan: reflections on the role of art in the era of ecological catastrophe

In science fiction and popular science, 2030 is often suggested as the year in which our planet will run out of oil. Similarly, 2100 will be the year that, according to predictions made by Arthur C. Clarke (in the 1960s), human life will be able to expand to other planets and even entirely new solar systems. As 2030 is nearing, will we be able to trust our predictions? Or do we have to deal with the reality that there is no planet B?

The Coming World: Ecology as the New Politics 2030–2100 is the current exhibition at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow that recall to mind the XXII International Exhibition of Triennale Milano, titled Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival. For anyone wary of artist statements on climate change solutions, that isn’t what guests will find in this expo. There are no answers here: no preaching, proselytizing or condescension. Instead, Moscow‘s Garage Museum put together a compelling, oftentimes provocative showcase of more than 50 domestic and international artists sharing their vision of the future. It’s meant to initiate dialogue, inspire involvement and increase awareness. Some works may shock, but this isn’t a proclamation of doomsday; it’s a carefully curated, progressive exhibition that includes work by some of the world’s best artists.

The Coming World is developed around two main concepts: environmentalism and ecology. The first gives real urgency to the agenda of our relationship to nature, putting forward the idea that still marginalized topics such as climate change, species extinction, pollution, renewable energy, and overpopulation should be central to building alternative patterns of education, consumption, production, and leisure. This also means considering nature in an expanded field and interlinking biological, technological, social and political ecologies. The second concept, ecology, is understood as ecology in action, an insuppressible process where nature, human and other-than-human co-perform, or the world as a performed ecology and an ecology performing itself. This allows us to think of nature in embodied, active, distinctly relational terms whereby production of new knowledge is possible within the transcendent as well as everyday knowing of nature.

The exhibition feature a number of historical works that marked turning points in humanity’s relationship with nature: from sixteenth-century tapestries that for the first time presented nature as a phenomenon outside of human control and the beginning of landscape as a genre in seventeenth-century Dutch painting, to the “organic culture” movement within the Russian avant-garde and the invention of land art in 1969, which made nature an artistic medium. In the half-century that followed, art went through various stages in its relationship with ecology: from objectivization to seeing it as a system (Hans Haacke's Circulation) and from irony (Gnezdo group’s A Minute of Not Breathing to Protect the Environment) to practical solutions for everyday life, such as those suggested by the Danish collective Wooloo.

Along with evidence of recent anthropogenic disasters (Black Tide/Marea Negra by Allan Sekula) and criminal attempts to brush them under the carpet (Delay Decay by Susan Schuppli), the exhibition presents works produced in collaboration with animals as agents in new relationships and new paradigms between humans, nature, and non-human species (Tomás Saraceno, Hayden Fowler), as well as various scenarios for the future based on scientific predictions and theories.

The Coming World draws public attention to the ecological imbalances created by human activity, which many of us choose to ignore due to their incomprehensibly huge scale and unrelatability on a personal level. Inviting the viewer to face these imbalances, the exhibition takes a closer look at our repression of this painful subject, exploring its symptoms in various stages of anxiety or denial, and offers ways of working—and coping—with our collective ecological trauma. Although environmental issues are generally discussed in terms of real life and political action, art can be a unique medium in the development of the ecology discourse. It is a unique “conductor.” As an arena where alternative, mini-models of reality are speculated on, tested out, and made visible, art can serve the environmental agenda, empowering its agents to employ both abstract and concrete thinking, embodying intangible relations, and synthesizing processes. In short, art epitomizes an ecological way of thinking. Ultimately, the environmental question is the most universal contemporary agenda. It is the only one that can unite people across the planet, allowing them to experience a tiny personal action as something political.

The Coming World: Ecology as the New Politics 2030–2100

Till December, 1st

Garage Museum
9/32 Krymsky Val st., 119049,
Moscow, Russia

https://garagemca.org/en

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