Tomorrow, Hyperallergic is hosting Leila Nadir and Cary Peppermint of Ecoarttech. The event will explore the convergent ecologies of art, media and the environment in what the duo is calling “nature 2.0.” Their topic is timely and fascinating — not to mention complex and nuanced — so I asked them to explain a little about what they will talk about on Thursday night. The following is a short interview.
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Hrag Vartanian: How are the ecologies of online and the environment similar?
Ecoarttech: We don’t think of the environmental and online ecologies as similar or different as much as we think about them as converging — interconnected to and flowing through one another. Art, culture, digital media and even mental health are intertwined “ecosystems” just as much as physical environments. For example, mental health is connected to physical well-being, which is linked to the food quality, which is dependent upon the vitality of land, air, and water. We can see people beginning to make these connections with new ideas like Nature Deficit Disorder.
Online and physical environments are threatened by similar forces. Agribusinesses produce food in monocultures devoid of diversity and overburdened by chemicals fertilizers and pesticides. Corporations in the online world produce an environment constrained by proprietary software and commerce-driven websites. In both cases, profit is put before the health of people and animals — and not just health in the physical sense but health in the form of creative imagination.
It is also important to remember that every online incarnation we experience has an impact on a physical environment, such as Google’s server “farm” located along the Columbia River in The Dalles, Oregon, a site chosen for its reliable hydroelectric power. Every time we click a link, we mobilize another part of this interwoven ecological system. Nature has always been networked, and now it’s part of the digital network too.
HV: What have you discovered about popular attitudes about the world online that have surprised you?
E: Many people have an either/or understanding of the environment and technology. This becomes even more clear when you work with emerging, online technologies; there is an assumption that engaging with emerging media means you must not be a true environmentalist or that true eco-artists can’t make art with digital technologies.
Maybe the problem is not realizing that human beings are essentially technical beings, socially evolving with the tools they invent, whether it be the hammer, the automobile or the computer. Or perhaps the problem is that the imagination of the “environmentalism” is still associated with ideas of “nature” or the “local.” Developing local networks of food production is integral to sustainability, as is preserving habitats to protect biodiversity and relative wildness, but it is just as important to protect and foster the biological, social, intellectual, and creative diversity of the environments in which we actually live and work: our backyards, streets, and neighborhoods, with our companion species, computing devices, and digital networks. All these spaces and relationships can be “wild” and unpredictable, creating unexpected encounters and new awareness of the interconnectedness of all beings. That is what our project Indeterminate Hikes is about — what if we take the terms and concepts of wilderness excursions and import them into McCarren Park or Bedford Avenue or the internet? How will we see these spaces differently?
Working at the convergence of eco- and new media art has taught us that the assumption of the “nature”-technology divide goes in the other direction too: sometimes people who dwell in the online world can assume that artists working with environmental issues must be primitivist, anti-technology and didactic. And the traditional art world can sometimes be suspicious of art like ours that is inspired by a consistent theme — it does not fit their mythos of the genius-artist.
HV: What is it about this field that inspires the two of you to make art?
E: Our desire to live in the world has inspired us to make art — a world we understand as an unknowable, unpredictable network of ecological systems, biological, digital, social, cultural, technological. We also believe that art-making is itself an environmental act. Félix Guattari’s Three Ecologies has been making the rounds in art circles lately, and one of the things we’ve always liked in that text is his call for everyone to make eco-art, which etymologically refers to making (art) a home (eco). That is, to make the world “habitable by a human project,” rather than only habitable to the swift movement and accumulation of capital. Exerting creative energy back into the networks we dwell in, “interrupting” them, rather than letting these spaces and our lives be entirely “subjected” to forces outside of our control, is an environmentalist, eco-art-making act, and we consider all artists and creative thinkers to be our collaborators in this regard.
Ecoarttech will be speaking tomorrow night at Hyperallergic HQ, Thursday, October 13 at 7:30pm. Purchase your tickets, which are only $5 and include refreshments, here or below.