Art and Sustainability

ImageChapter by Maja and Reuben Fowkes on Art and Sustainability in Enough for All Forever: A Handbook for Learning about Sustainability, eds Joy Morray, et. al. (Common Ground:Champaign, Illinois, 2012)

‘The relevance of sustainability for contemporary art can be approached from two distinct angles. On the one hand, we may consider the role of art in highlighting environmental issues, expressing criticism towards unsustainable factors in society, and offering imaginative ideas for how to achieve sustainability. The other approach is to turn eco-criticism back towards the art world itself, to examine the environmental impact of the production of art works, the functioning of art institutions, or, for example, the phenomenon of international art biennials that have mushroomed around the world in recent decades.’

See Translocal.org for more.


The first comprehensive monograph about Icelandic artist Ruri has just been published Ruri_Book-1

“For me art is philosophy. My works are concerned with the connections between man, the earth, and the universe; between the existence of mankind and the inestimable age of the universe; human perceptions.” RÚRÍ

Animal Ecologies Symposium


8th of October 2011
UCL, London

The symposium proposes an exploration of artistic practices involved with animals and environments.  In the recent re-surfacing of the animal in contemporary art, emphasis has been given to mammals, mainly because of the most immediate relational opportunities that these animals offer to us.  However, a number of very interesting artists has been recently trying to bridge the abyss between ‘us’ and more ‘taxonomically remote’ creatures through the use of art and science as active interfaces.  This new focus reveals the interconnectedness between humans, amphibians, reptiles and insects, and the environments in which we all live.  Through a multidisciplinary approach, the symposium aims at facilitating a dialogue between artists, scientists and academics interested in informing wider audiences through visual communication.

Speakers Include: Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey / Ron Broglio / Maja and Reuben Fowkes /Rikke Hansen / London Fieldworks / Joyce Salisbury / Linda Williams

For tickets are further details see:

the concept of (un) sustainability

A new book promises to explore how modernity has ‘degenerated into a culture of unsustainability’

Sacha Kagan. Art and Sustainability: Connecting Patterns for a Culture of Complexity. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2011.

The publication proposes an understanding of ‘culture(s) of sustainability’, ‘aesthetics of sustainability’ and ‘art and sustainability’,  based on an in-depth theoretical elaboration and a critical discussion of several artists.


From Stockholm to Copenhagen via Rio: Art and Ecology in the Wake of the Global Summits

Talk at Muzeum Sztuki in Lodz on 2 September 2010

The pattern of world environmental summits has been one of raised hopes for global action in tackling ecological crisis, followed by disillusionment as dominant political and economic interests reassert themselves to block radical change. Contemporary art’s recent enthusiasm for environmental questions, which peaked during the media hype preceding the Copenhagen Summit, has an instructive prehistory in the interconnection of art and ecology in the 1970s, with the 1972 Stockholm conference slogan ‘only one earth’ a powerful rallying call for artistic collaborations. In their talk at Muzeum Sztuki, art and sustainability theorists Maja and Reuben Fowkes explore the lessons of art’s engagement with ecology, from the first understanding of the crisis of human environment in the early 70s, to the global perspective ushered in by the end of the Cold War, with the popularisation of the idea of sustainable development at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and the crystallisation of the debate between technocratic and radical approaches at the ill-fated Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009.

See  website

Into the Puszta

Post-Fordism in the Puszta

Last weekend’s symposium on Sustainability and Contemporary Art, the 5th annual collaboration between Translocal and the Dept of Environmental Science and Policy and Centre for Arts and Culture at Central European University, was a fascinating meeting of minds.

The event consisted of a series of critical conversations on issues of Art, Post-Fordism and Eco-Critique at the university, between  environmental scientist Ruben Mnatsakanian and Croatian artist Branka Cvjeticanin, Polish playwright and member of Krytyka Polityczna Igor Stokfiszewski and Hungarina artist Csaba Nemes and Paris-based theorist Stephen Wright and Austrian artist Ralo Mayer with an introduction to Art, Ecology and post-Fordism given by Maja and Reuben Fowkes of Translocal, and additional moderation from environmental philosopher Alan Watt.

On day two, the critical conversationalists were joined by Hungarian artist Tamas Kaszas and CEU students Lauren Othon-Buckley and Marianna Szczygielska for a trip to a mystery destination in the Hungarian puszta for discussion in depth of the issues at the heart of the symposium. The workshop was a great success, the setting providing plenty of inspiration for considering the effects of post-Fordism on all our professions and potential resistance strategies in art and life, and was documented for the future.

Into the Puszta
Post-Fordist spectacle at the Vorosmarty Tanya
Sunset on the puszta
The workshop participants

Art, Post-Fordism and Eco-Critique

International Symposium at CEU Budapest 19-20 March 2010

The 2010 Symposium on Sustainability and Contemporary Art brings together artists, philosophers, environmental scientists and activists to explore the conundrum of capitalism’s remarkable ability to absorb criticism and adapt to new circumstances. According to post-Fordist theory, in the wake of the social upheaval of May 1968 capitalism was able to recuperate radical desires for freedom, creativity and personal liberation through the adoption of the principles of flexibility, horizontality and autonomy, and the shift from industrialism to immaterial labour.

Today, the energy and idealism of the environmental movement is arguably in a similar danger of being transformed into the motor of a green capitalist resurgence that threatens to rescue neo-liberal globalisation from the economic downturn. This symposium asks whether environmentalism is in fact now facing its own ‘post-Fordist moment’, in which the language and values of ecology are at risk of being turned into an ideology of bureaucratic control and a technocratic justification for sustainable growth. It also raises the question of whether the environmental movement has anything to learn from the strategies of resistance proposed by the theorists of immaterial labour and the exploration of these issues by contemporary artists.

In the wake of the debacle of the Copenhagen Climate Summit, the question arises whether there might be more to ecological crisis than mitigating the threat posed by climate change to the current global economic system, and whether the danger posed by the depletion of natural resources and the destruction of bio-diversity deserves to be a greater priority. The symposium will try to locate a sense of eco-criticality in the approaches of contemporary artists, and also consider the implications of an ecologically-nuanced, post-Fordist critique for the international art world.

The symposium on Art, Post-Fordism and Ecological Critique is the fifth in an annual series of events organised at Central European University by Maja and Reuben Fowkes of Translocal.org, the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, and the Centre for Arts and Culture at CEU. This year’s programme will include an afternoon of presentations and critical conversations in the main auditorium of Central European University on Friday 19 March, and a workshop event with symposium participants on the following day.

A small number of additional places are available for the workshop upon application.

Confirmed speakers include: Stephen Wright (art theorist, Paris), Igor Stokfiszewski (curator/critic/playwright, Warsaw), Branka Cvjeticanin (multimedia artist, Zagreb), Petra Feriancova (contemporary artist, Bratislava) and Ralo Mayer (artist, Vienna).

For more details see:
Symposium on Sustainability and Contemporary Art: Art, Post-Fordism and Eco-Critique