Weimar Art and Sustainability Summer School

Learn about the Beuysian school of art and sustainability on this progressive summer course.
ART AND SUSTAINABILITY – new Summer School program in English within the International Weimar Summer Courses from 27 June – 10 July 2010.
This 12 day `theory-practice´ program runs annually in the summer. It actively engages participants in an introductory exploration of social sculpture and aesthetic questions relevant to the shaping of an ecological and socially just future. It looks back to Goethe, Schiller, the Bauhaus and Joseph Beuys and forward to developing new forms of social sculpture / connective practive appropriate to the challenges of the 21st century.
The program is led by artist Shelley Sacks, head of the Social Sculpture Research Unit at Oxford Brookes University, and Dr. Hildegard Kurt from and. Institute for Art, Culture and Sustainability in Berlin.
Enrolment closes on 30 April 2010. Please enrol as soon as possible. Places are limited.

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

Biennial Culture and Sustainability

Contemporary art historians and curators Maja and Reuben Fowkes (Translocal.org) present their on-going research into the Ecological Footprint of Contemporary Art. Concentrating on the ecological impact of major international art gatherings they will ask whether a biennial culture of globe trotting artists and curators can be justified.

70 Oxford Street
Manchester M1 5NH

Thursday December 10 6pm
Tickets: £3.00 £2.50 concs


Carbon Footprint of Art

James Marriot of Platform interviewed in the Guardian about art and climate change:

“He is scathing, however, of the continuing blindness of artists, curators and institutions to their own enormous carbon footprints. “They lug lumps of wood around the world for exhibitions. Printing a catalogue on recycled paper is pathetic tokenism – no FTSE company would get away with that.” Contemporary art is an expensive, global business. Artists, curators and the works all end up flying, while galleries themselves require expensive climactic conditions. Indeed, curators in London and Copenhagen admit they have no idea of the carbon cost of their exhibitions.”

The Rise of Climate Change Art

Fastfood Greenwash

“McDonald’s is going green – swapping its traditional red backdrop for a deep hunter green – to promote a more eco-friendly image in Europe.

About 100 German McDonald’s restaurants will make the change by the end of 2009, the company said in a statement Monday. Some franchises in Great Britain and France have already started using the new colour scheme behind their Golden Arches.”

Making the change is as simple as that…

Revolutionary Machines

An irresistible new machine of resistance will be launched during the COP15 UN summit protests in Copenhagen. Made from hundreds of old bicycles and thousands of activists’ bodies ‘Put the fun between your legs: Operation Bike Bloc’ is a collaboration between Climate Camp (www.climatecamp.org.uk) and art activist collective The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination (www.labofii.net).

Infamous for touring the UK recruiting a rebel clown army, running courses in postcapitalist culture, throwing snowballs at bankers and launching a rebel raft regatta, the Lab of ii’s creative visions will combine with the Climate Camp’s logistical genius, radical politics and capacity for mass mobilization to engineer an entirely new form of civil disobedience.

Bike hackers, welders, activists, artists and engineers will team up to design the resistance machine in Bristol, UK. It will then be built and launched in Copenhagen as part of the Climate Justice Action mobilizations. The Bike Bloc will merge device of mass transportation and pedal powered resistance tool, postcapitalist bike gang and art bike carnival. We invite you to put the fun between your legs and become the bike bloc.

On the 16th of December the Bike Bloc will swarm through the streets during the  Reclaim Power action for climate justice.

The Growing Stockpile of Contemporary Art

Here is a recent take on a problem that was first identified in the early 70s, the steady increase in the stockpile of art objects and what to do with them.

We are weighed down by works of art!

"Their present-day number, which is practically infinite, already greatly
exceeds our capacity for assimilation. Regardless, new ones are created
everyday. How can we avoid contributing to this proliferation, without
relinquishing the possibility of producing effects on the real? How can we
progress without increasing?" Jean-Baptiste Farkas

1 685 740 works of art are produced per day in the world.
19.51 works of art are produced per second in the world.

These statistics are available online at http://jbf.biennaledeparis.org

Statistics produced by Caroline Keppi.
E-mail : caroline.keppi[AT]biennaledeparis.org

Art and the Vision for the Future (Third Text 100)

The special 100th issue of Third Text subtitled ‘Art and Vision for the Future’ contains a number of contributions that deal with art and sustainability, not least of which is the article by the editor Rasheed Aareen, who writes:

‘Art must go beyond the making of mere objects meant for museums and/or to be sold as precious commodities in the art market. Only then can it enter the world of everyday life and the collective energy which is struggling not only to improve life itself but to save this planet from total destruction.’ (Rasheed Araeen)



Biennial Culture and Sustainability

Contemporary art historians and curators Maja and Reuben Fowkes (Translocal.org) present their on-going research into the Ecological Footprint of Contemporary Art. Concentrating on the ecological impact of major international art gatherings they will ask whether a biennial culture of globe trotting artists and curators can be justified.



Hard Realities and New Materiality Symposium

Since the last symposium on Sustainability and Contemporary Art held at CEU in February 2008, which took as its subject the Operaist dilemma of ‘Exit or Activism?’ and examined Paulo Virno’s idea of ‘exit’ as the ultimate form of resistance, the world has witnessed an intensifying fight for resources under the Arctic, the rocketing of food and oil prices, the Russian gas crisis, and the systemic failure of international financial institutions. These ‘hard realities’ have caused a switch from concerns of immaterial labour to recognition of the ‘new materiality’ of current circumstances.

This recent turn has been addressed by theorist Slavoj Žižek, who notes that while in the last decades it was ‘trendy to talk about the dominant role of intellectual labour in our post-industrial societies, today materiality appears in an almost vengeful way in all its aspects, from a future struggle for ever-diminishing resources (food, water, energy, minerals) to the degradation of the environment.’ The 2009 edition of Sustainability and Contemporary Art therefore brings together artists, theorists and environmental activists to investigate the implications of ‘hard realities’ and ‘new materiality’ for political action, artistic theory and practice, and sustainable living in the 21st century.

Hard Realities and the New Materiality

Hard Realities and the New Materiality

Speakers at the symposium included Slovenian artist-theorist Marina Grzinic, who together with her colleague Sebastjan Leban gave a forceful presentation examining the roots of ecological crisis in the capitalist system.  Their argument that the notion of ‘sustainability’ was an invention of big business was a cause for some debate, with environmentalists pointing out its origins in ecological thought, as well as the UN Brundlandt Report of 1987, including Alan Watt from CEU, who himself gave a very precisely positioned paper about the stakes of sustainability today. The discussion did though suceed in drawing attention to the way in which the idea of sustainability have become increasingly associated with business-speak and risks losing its critical force if not distinguished from greenwash.

Tadzio Muller

Tadzio Muller

A slightly different approach was taken by Tadzio Muller, a Berlin-based environmental theorist, editor of Turbulence-Ideas for Movement and activist, whose presentation was entitled It’s economic growth, stupid! On climate change, mad-eyed moderates and realistic radicals’, and according to his bio text, ‘after many years of being a counterglobalist summit-groupie, in the emerging climate action movement’ he managed to ‘escape the clutches of (academic) wage labour.’ His charismatic talk seemed designed to get people to stand up and join the struggle, and very much conveyed the urgency of the situation, and clearly stating that since the Rio Summit of 92 nothing governments have done has reduced greenhouse emissions, which continue to rise.

Janek Simon

Janek Simon

Polish artist Janek Simon explained ‘How to make a digital handwatch at home’, and talked about several of his works which although he doesn’t necessarily think about them in that way, certainly seemed to contribute to the discussion about sustainability and contemporary art, and the contribution of artistic knowledge.

Tamas StAuby

Tamas StAuby

The other artist contribution was from Tamás St.Auby,  who agreed to talk about his ‘Subsistence Level Standard Project 1984 W.’, and ended up giving a provocative and interesting demonstration of the subversive possibilities of E-Cumenism Tele-Education‘, which led a number of participants to leave the auditorium, perhaps missing the point of his conceptual intervention involving the the projection of a film of an earlier lecture on the same topic, which luckily was also recorded on video, potentially adding another layer to his highly relevant argument about the sustainability of international conferences and formal education as a whole.

Our presentation was on ‘The Environmental Impact of Contemporary Art’ and took the example of the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall from the point of view of the impact of works of art on the environment and showed some of the problems involved in developing a model for analysing the environmental impact of contemporary art.

2009 3 2 051

We also organised a tour of the exhibition Arctic Hysteria at the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, and held an impromtu conversation with some of the speakers, that was recorded and will be available soon.

2009 3 2 052

Janek, Marina, Maja and Tadzio

Full details of the symposium, including abstracts and biographies, can be found on Translocal.org

Going Nuclear at the RSA

The recent symposium on Art and Radioactivity at the Royal Society of Arts proved an exception to the many generalised discussions around art and ecology, by focusing on the specific and timely issue of the relationship of all things nuclear to contemporary art. While the organisers, the RSA’s own Arts and Ecology team, together with Arts Catalyst, who specialise in the relationship between art and science, and another UK arts organisation SCAN, laid out their intention as to try to bridge the divide between the ‘pro and anti-nuke’ lobbies – conscious of the fierce debate around this issue in the environmental movement – the symposium ended up giving voice to a consensus of opposition to nuclear power from both artists and scientists.

The first speaker, American artist James Acord, presented his long term engagement with the decommissioned Hanford nuclear plant, which is the most radioactively contaminated site in the USA, with levels matching in some areas those in Chernobyl, and his desire to create a ‘Stonehenge for the nuclear age’, as a warning to future generations. He described his ‘greatest idea ever’ as to use a reactor to transform radioactive elements into harmless metals such as platinum, and a failed attempt to convince Imperial University London to let him use their experimental reactor for these purposes. While for Acord, such a ‘transformation of elemental substances’ was inately sculptoral, the chief scientist apparently refused to allow him to use the university reactor for artistic purposes, for fear of the potential negative publicity (as most people in London are blissfully unaware that there’s an experimental nuclear reactor at Imperial College).

Acord’s thoroughly conceptual understanding of artistic practice came through in his insistence that ‘art is not frivolous’ and that scientists shouldn’t have a monopoly of access to nuclear technology. His art came over as being primarily about his long term research and provocation of the nuclear establishment, such as by going through the very complicated legal process to gain a license for handling radioactive materials – and having the license number tatooed on his neck, rather than in the occasional (also appealing) art objects that he produced along the way. Having failed to convince the authorities to allow him carry out his ‘greatest idea ever’ using nuclear reactors, he resorted to DIY techniques involving the creative misuse of a smoke alarm and some orange uranium-coated dishes, which over a period of months he maintained would bring about the transformation of a small but registerable quantity of plutonium into a non-radioactive metal.

Two other presentations were of commissions for a related exhibition entitled Nuclear: Art and Radioactivity. On the one hand, the approach of Simon Hollington and Kypros Kyprianou was to criticise through mimickry the communications strategies of the nuclear power industry, which involved the setting up of the British Atomic Nuclear Group, giving the appropriate acronym B.A.N.G. This seemed to rest on a rather familiar artistic strategy, although to make a valid critical point about the absurdity, defensiveness and moral bankruptcy of the commercial advocates of nuclear power. The other new work, by Chris Oakley, appeared to run the risk of looking like an advertisement for nuclear power, in the idealised picture it presented of nuclear fusion being developed at Culham as a clean and safe alternative to fission. The artist was clearly sensitive to such criticisms, admitting that the press people at the nuclear plants he suceeded in accessing tried to influence him through the archive materials they provided into giving a rosy picture of nuclear power. He also was questioned at the symposium about why he decided not to refer in his film to the dual history of Harwell, as birthplace both of UK atomic energy and the British nuclear weapons programme. There were clearly pitfalls in the aestheticisation of nuclear power through a reliance on visual imagery alone to deal with a complex and highly politicised issue.

The symposium was enlivened by a video link up with radical new media artist Steve Kurtz in Australia, who gave an off-the-cuff introduction to his current work researching the way in which George Bush used ‘radiation’ as an ideology to justify the use of torture and undermining of civil rights in the USA. Asked in a question about the chances that Obama will bring a change in US policy, he said he feared that Obama was not likely to do much about the fundamental problem of ‘predatory capitalism’, The Critical Art Ensemble he said was interested in ‘stopping the abuse of information so we can make an intelligent decision.’

There were also two presentations by scientists, both of whom were clearly anti-nuclear. One of the scientist presentations showed how the government’s consultation process for the new generation of nuclear power plants, which was given the go ahead earlier this year, was completely flawed and undemocratic. The other scientific presentation was an enjoyable jaunt through the history of the universe, specially done for artists, by someone who clearly had an artistic frame of mind, despite his strictly scientific credentials. He started with a quote from Joni Mitchell (‘We are stardust – billion year old carbon’) and went on to say that the only safe place to have a nuclear reactor is in the sun, and that we should go back to this original energy source that powered evolution from the beginning. Keith Barnham (the scientist in question), explained why he moved from heading a team of particle physicists at the CERN accelerator to pursuing practical research into a new generation of solar energy panels. It was actually quite inspiring…

The last presentation was by the veteran conceptual artist Gustav Metzger, who used the categories of ‘prescience’ and the ‘extreme’ to approach the notion of apocalypse, looking back to moments in modern art history, such as Picasso’s Guernica, while picking up on amusing but significant slices of life culled from the British press, such as a report that Abramovich is buying a house in Kensington, in order to pull it down and build a bigger one, but bomb proof. His message was in the end quite pessimistic, as he said that no one wants to realise that ‘there is no permanent life on earth.’

One of the other illustrious speakers was Kate Hudson, chair of CND, who spoke about the history of CND and nuclear disarmament. Someone made a comment about the failure of CND, and one of the younger artists interjected meaningfully: ‘I was 10 in 1980, and spent the next decade walking around with a CND badge, you don’t know what effect that had.’

The dimension of sustainability came out strongly in several of the talks, and was reflected in the artists’ long term commitment to the nuclear issue and the dematerialised notion of the art work, which most speaker’s shared. There was an interesting moment when members of the audience stood up to insist that the scientists not misunderstand contemporary art, by conceiving of it in aesthetic terms (on the lines of ‘we need artists to make our solar panels more beautiful’), when in fact, what many artists were doing is exploring the idea of art as an alternative knowledge producer, something that trespasses on the excusive rights of the sciencist to control knowledge. Many of the speakers also showed a keen interest in finding ways to intervene in dominant systems, especially those of the media, and to address white hot ecological issues through their work.

REHAB online

Photo documentation of the recent exhibition REHAB at Labor Gallery Budapest can now be found on the gallery website.

Documentation of the Exit or Activism? symposium at CEU Budapest will follow soon…

REHAB Lomtalanitised

The Exit or Activism? Symposium on Sustainability and Contemporary Art at Central European University on 29 February and related exhibition REHAB at Labor Gallery Budapest were very successful, and there’s been a lot of response, through emails, conversations, as well as on the web and even Hungarian television.

Here are some photos sent by Danish artists Leinchen & Jon Micke and an extract from their email:

‘We walked the context in a pre or extended exhibition space; a scattered and deconstructed REHAB prologue & epilogue, so to speak, from the VI-district to Labor: Was it by accident the opening of REHAB matched the Budapest’s Open Air & Night Show of Ready-Made & Trash in the Streets? Mass consumption really stands out in accumulated urban forms, when interior are dropped as exterior garbage and collides with the tableau of purchasable commodities (and trademarks.) on display, framed and behind glass in shopping streets, and each accumulation possess its own individual character from the voluptuous and demanding over the unorganized and chaotic to the solitude and deserted.’
Prologue 1Prologue 2
prologue 3
Prologue 4
Epilogue 1
Epilogue 2
Epilogue 3
epilogue 4
Epilogue 5
Epilogue 6

REHAB Lomtalanitased: 10 ready-made accumulations installed and prospectively framed in mixed light and on low tech cell phone by Jon Micke under a slight influence of vernissage wine

Exit or Activism?


Symposium on Sustainability and Contemporary Art: Exit or Activism?

This symposium investigates the current state of thinking about sustainability in the light of the continuing mutations of post-Fordist global capitalism and its devastating effects on the environment, society and the individual. The axis of discussion will revolve around the strategic possibilities for resistance offered by tactical withdrawal versus relentless activism through contemporary art. On the one hand, the dilemma gives rise to a conscious decision to slow down, decline to participate, to seek a way out, or ‘exit’ as envisioned by Paulo Virno, or on the other, there is a passion to overcome political exhaustion and confront head on rampant injustice, environmental degradation and lack of liberty.

Emanuel Danesch is based in Vienna. As a poly-media artist in the broadest sense his projects and documentary films cover issues of cultural, economical and political transformation. At the symposium he will present his new film LiveSafelyinEurope.

Maja and Reuben Fowkes are curators and art historians who deal with issues of memory, ecology and translocal exchange.  They have curated and written extensively on the issue of contemporary art and sustainability. blog

Ivan Ladislav Galeta
is an artist and head of the multi-media department at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. He is a noted avant-garde film maker, conceptual artist and explorer of sustainable practices.  He will present his NOART EARTH DAY project at the symposium.

Gene Ray is a critic and theorist living in Berlin and working at the intersections of art and radical politics. He is a member of the Radical Culture Research Collective, author of Terror and the Sublime in Art and Critical Theory (2005) and editor of Joseph Beuys: Mapping the Legacy (2000). His presentation is entitled ‘Exit, Radical Culture and the Re-Composition of Struggle.’

Oliver Ressler is an artist and filmmaker based in Vienna, who organizes theme-specific exhibitions, projects in the public space and videos on issues such as global capitalism, forms of resistance, social alternatives, racism and genetic engineering. He will present his projects 100 Years of Greenhouse Effect and Sustainable Propaganda. www.ressler.at

Tamara Steger
is director of the Centre for Environmental Policy and Law at CEU and a specialist in environmental justice and sustainable development. Her paper is entitled ‘Fin de Siecle to Stuckism:  Reclusiveness and Social Activism for Sustainability’.

Adam Sutherland is Director of Grizedale Arts where he has developed a wide ranging artist centred programme that incorporates the local cultures of the Lake District – historical, political and economic. www.grizedale.org

Yanina Taneva is Art For Social Change Programme Manager at The Red House – Center for culture and Debate, Sofia. Her paper is entitled: ‘Does Concrete Blossom? Environmentally-Conscious Art in Present-day Bulgaria as Political Statement’

Alan Watt is a lecturer in environmental philosophy and the development of environmental thought at the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at Central European University. He will speak on ‘Sustainability as a Political Ideal’.

For more details, see the symposium website: www.translocal.org/sustainability

Ecological Citizenship and Contemporary Art

Kaszas Tamas

Public lecture by Maja and Reuben Fowkes at Turner Contemporary dealing with a pivotal issue for art and sustainability.

A heightened awareness of the ecological consequences of our actions, lifestyles, and everyday choices has rapidly gone from a fringe concern to a mainstream preoccupation, reinforced by the newfound enthusiasm of politicians and the media for green issues. Contemporary artists have in many cases maintained an independent position, showing a willingness to engage with the most radical implications of sustainability for society as well as for artistic practice, while remaining alert to the dangers of coercion, manipulation and social control. This presentation will investigate the ongoing encounter of contemporary art with the quest for ecological citizenship, including the artistic exploration of its deeper ramifications and discussion of the instinctive preference for an ecology of freedom.

Sensuous Resistance: The Legacy of Modernism for Sustainable Art

Adrian Paci, PilgIMAGE, 2005

This text probes some of the legacies of modernism for sustainable art practices, arguing for a re-evaluation of the notion of artistic autonomy as a path of resistance, and was published as part of the Dokumenta 12 magazine project, where the full text can be found.

In 1467 the Madonna del Buonconsiglio miraculously appeared in the town of Genazzano near Rome, descending from a cloud and hovering before an unfinished church wall. Genazzano immediately became a site of pilgrimage and devotion. At the same time, Our Lady of Shkodra, the most venerated icon in Albania, was seen at the height of the Ottoman siege, floating up into the sky, and was followed by two Albanian witnesses all the way to Rome, where they lost sight of it. The holy legend was kept alive from generation to generation and the Madonna was prayed to in Albania’s darkest times of foreign occupation and religious persecution, with hope expressed by the hymn “Madonna of Good Counsel, return to us.”

The rigid divide between autonomous art, for which the highest imaginable function is to have no function, and instrumental art, which is accused of sacrificing artistic freedom for the sake of a political message, is a direct legacy of modernism, and still informs many widely-held assumptions about the nature of artistic engagement. Recent theoretical reassessments of artistic autonomy however, point to a degree of convergence in contemporary art between approaches formerly considered to be binary opposites. Christoph Menke has argued that along with autonomy, art in modernity achieves sovereignty, which enables it to raise claims against rationality. It might therefore be suggested that the autonomy of art guarantees its status as a separate sovereign sphere, with a resultant independence from the rules and conventions of society. It is autonomy that gives art, as well as artists as social actors, the potential to be free and able to offer alternatives to dominant ideological paradigms. So, sustainability of art recognises no contradiction between autonomy and engagement, as long as the formal qualities are fulfilled, as it is precisely the autonomy of art that creates a space for resistance.

Djeribi and Stevens in Budapest

Djeribi and Stevens at CEU

Following on from the Symposium on Sustainability and Contemporary Art at Central European University Budapest in March 2006, this guest lecture and workshop led by Mari-Aymone Djeribi and Dominic Stevens was organised in April 2007 to explore the rural as a site for contemporary art and architecture and discuss the possibilities and challenges of sustainable living.

Mari-Aymone Djeribi is an artist who makes artist’s books, installations, objects, films and sourdough bread. She founded her publishing company mermaid turbulence (www.mermaidturbulence.com) in 1993. Her work appears in a number of international public collections, most notably the Tate gallery Artists Book Collection, UK and Centre National D’Art George Pompidou, Paris , France.

Dominic Stevens is an award-winning architect. His work has been published internationally (see, for instance, A10 Magazine March-April 2007) and, more importantly he hopes that it has improved the lives of the people that commissioned it. He represented Ireland at the 2006 Venice Architecture Biennale.

Having moved to Leitrim in rural Ireland in 1999, Djeribi and Stevens built a timber and strawbale house and they farm with their two small children just under five acres, tending goats, ducks, chickens and trees.

The Implications of Sustainability for Contemporary Art

This lecture was given as part of the TRAIN open lectures series at Chelsea School of Arts and provoked a lively and productive discussion with the audience.

The notion of sustainability has spread from the field of environmentalism to many other areas of human activity, including the spheres of art and culture. There is a growing understanding that radical change is required, if we are to find a way to ‘meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ For art, the implications are felt in the preference for sustainable forms, the critique of unsustainable art world structures, and the reassessment of art history from the point of view of our relationship to the natural world. It offers a challenge to the ingrained habit of producing objects and the relentless search for novelty in contemporary art.

What we are dealing with is no longer confined within the niche of earlier environmental art, which is associated with art acting as a vehicle to popularise environmental campaigns, or symbolic gestures to purify rivers through ritual, or to raise consciousness through art with a direct ecological message. In fact, the closeness to sustainability of much challenging contemporary art practice owes more to the legacy of 1970s conceptualism, and even primarily the non-market East European variety of conceptual art, than for example to Land Art. This presentation will therefore discuss the ways and extent to which a concern for sustainability has passed into the mainstream of contemporary art.

The rigid divide between autonomous art, for which the highest imaginable function is to have no function, and instrumental art, which is accused of sacrificing artistic freedom for the sake of a political message, is a direct legacy of modernism, and still informs many widely held assumptions about the nature of artistic engagement. We will consider recent theoretical reassessments of artistic autonomy that point to a degree of convergence in contemporary art between approaches formerly considered to be binary opposites. Arguably sustainability in art recognises no contradiction between autonomy and engagement, as long as the formal qualities are fulfilled, as it is precisely the autonomy of art that creates a space to consider alternatives.

The implications of sustainability for contemporary art will be examined through the work of international artists, including Adrian Paci, Heath Bunting, Beata Veszely and Ivan Ladislav Galeta. Their sustainable practice might be considered in terms of the contemporary avant garde.