This lecture was given by Maja and Reuben Fowkes at the conference Europe Now, Europe Next organised by Culturebase.net and sought to bring a ecological dimension to the notion of ‘cultural versus national borders’ in Europe.
Issues around borders and memory have had a strong presence in contemporary art for a decade or more, especially in Eastern Europe, where identities of all kinds were put into question ‘after the Wall.’ We argue that a powerful set of concerns have recently come into play, changing how these issues are perceived and placing them in a new context. The need to face up to the implications of climate change is arguably as much of a challenge for contemporary art as it is for the car industry. The challenge of sustainability for art leads to the questioning of established institutions and practices, including art fairs and biennials, the craze for building new art museums, down to the ecological impact of the art work itself. Sustainability also opens up new possibilities for art to take a critical position towards the unsustainable aspects of contemporary society.
This paper explores the implications of sustainability for contemporary art and examines how the need to respond to the global ecological crisis is bringing about a reorientation of the most acute contemporary art, where virtual space is valued as a carbon-free zone, the border crossings of Europe rediscovered as an accidental wilderness, and popular memories and myths are treated as perishable elements of human experience that are endangered by the juggernaut of progress. Equally, just by being sustainable through their practice and preserving their autonomy from mainstream society, contemporary artists have the potential to create a space for radical thinking and to experiment with alternatives.