Art, Activism and Ecologism: Can Art Change the World?

Arte, Ativismo e Ecologismo: Pode a Arte mudar o Mundo?

The time of transformations
The 20th century was marked by major social, political, economic changes and simultaneously in the artistic world the expansion of the concept of art. The Russian vanguards, theready-madesby Marcel Duchamp, the collages ofPablo Picassoand Georges Braque, among other creations, transformed our perception of a work of art.In the 1960s, environmental and ecological concerns began to emerge in the field of the arts, with artists questioning in their works, our own survival and the consequences of human action on natural resources. At a time when art was thought of as belonging to an enclosed space, to museums, and galleries, an increasing number of artists began to produce abroad. By carrying out this action, they renewed the idea of the notion of exhibition, questioned the framing of art and this separation and expanded the concept of art. Art is no longer a representation, but an integral part of life. In this way, art itself does not have the function of explaining life, but changing it. But can art really change the world?

Morris | P55 Magazine | P55.ART

Agnes Denes and Alberto Carneiro:ecological art?
In the 1960s, in order to enhance harmonization and repair with nature, many artists began to produce works in which nature was the material itself. The artists' concerns with the acts of human beings in the environment were reflected in the field of arts through works produced from nature itself outside and inside galleries or museums.Thus, we see the growth of movements such asland artthat link art and nature, by using the environment, beaches, mountains, deserts and their natural resources such as earth, wood, rock, salt, leaves, among other materials, as a place and material for experimentation. .Agnes Denes, now known as the pioneer of ecological art, became known for the monumental public artwork "Wheatfield—A Confrontation" (1982), a wheat field in New York, which criticizes the mismanagement of world hunger, food, waste , energy , commerce, commerce, land use and economy.Due to the choice of space and materials, these works are ephemeral and are often only saved from photographs. Artists left museums to expand their production in nature in order to criticize the cultural industry itself, namely the art market, however these works are currently managed and preserved by museums, diminishing the artistic purpose of the ephemerality of the work. Along with the development ofland art, concepts such as ecology and sustainability began to gain great importance in the lives of the population.In Portugal, due to the political context, there was a delay in relation to the artistic practices of Europe and the United States of America. Alberto Carneiro was one of the artists who explored the use of natural materials in the field of sculpture. This was not linked toland artbut to the memory of a rural world that was close to him. In this way, we see the artists' concerns reflected in their production, whether ecological concerns or the simple intention of artistic experimentation in nature. 

Alberto Carneiro | P55 Magazine | P55.ART

Joseph Beuys' urban ecological renovation projects
In the 1970s, Beuys began carrying out various ecological protest projects. For example, in 1971, he carried out the protest “Overcome Party Dictatorship Now”, in which people had to sweep the forest floor and paint white crosses and circles on all the trees that were going to be cut down. In 1972, during theDocuments Vstayed for a hundred days, day and night, discussing and dialoguing with the visitors.In the 1980s, he created the project “Spüfield Altwerder”, in which bushes and trees were planted in the polluted apartments of Altenwerder.In 1982, for theDocuments VII, Beuys planned to plant 7000 oak trees across the city of Kassel. To encourage the population, he piled 7000 stones in the garden in front of the Fridericianum Museum,during the event ofDocuments. Anyone could plant the tree together with a stone (Each oak was associated with a basalt stone.) In addition to the visual impact of the stones in the garden that end up forcing people to act, Beuys in establishing this junction was also certainly think of the help in growth and stability that the stone would provide in the tree. This project "7000 oaksit took five years to complete, symbolically the last oak tree planted by the artist's son. In 1984, he installed the sculpture “Olivestones” that promoted the cleanup of the lake in the urban area of Hamburg. These projects are seen to this day as gestures of urban ecological renewal.

Joseph Beuys | P55 Magazine | P55.ART

Is Social Sculpture a form of activism?
In this decade dominated by aesthetic discourse and social artistic practices, it is clear that Beuys's theory of Social Sculpture and its practices were completely involved in the context and in the German mentality of the 1960s. This concept emerged as a way of explaining the extension of his thinking in relation to art.The German artist expanded the concept of sculpture by mentioning that it has the ability to extend its possibilities, being able to be constituted in various formats and being in constant mutation. In this way, sculpture can consist of invisible forms such as thought and dialogue. The idea of Social Sculpture is the fusion of this concept of sculpture expanded to society.

Joseph Beuys | P55 Magazine | P55.ART

“My objects are to be seen as stimulants for the transformation of the idea of sculpture, or of art in general. They should provoke thought about what sculpture can be and how the concept of sculpting can be extended to the invisible materials used by everyone: Thinking Forms – how we mold our thoughts or Spoken Forms – how we shape our thoughts into words or Social Sculpture how we mold and shape the world in which we live: Sculpture as an evolutionary process; everyone an artist.” - Joseph Beuys

Joseph Beuys | P55 Magazine | P55.ART

By expanding the concept of sculpture, consequently the idea of art is also amplified. For Joseph Beuys all human acts that are thought and structured are creative acts. Thus, thoughts or dialogues that intend to provoke in society a process of evolution are considered a Social Sculpture, an integration of art as part of life. The German artist believed that the only force capable of changing humanity and the social order was art, based on human creativity. In this way, creativity should be a bargaining chip in human relationships, rather than capital or profit. Based on the concept of Social Sculpture, Beuys thought of art not as an object that guides an action, but as a solution to social problems, namely ecological ones.Based on this idea, currently there are still artists who produce pieces that fit the concept of Social Sculpture as they try to transmit or provoke a transformation in society. How do today's artists continue to continue Joseph Beuys' thinking?

Rirkrit Tiravanija | P55 Magazine | P55.ART

Artistic projects involved in activism and ecologism
The artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, like Beuys, also established a union between art and life in his practice. In the late 1990s, the artist created “The Land”, an environmental restoration project in Sanpatong, Thailand. In this space open to the community, people can cultivate, build sustainable houses, among other activities that lead to experimentation and debate.
There are other projects that involve the community in order to establish a new contact, a new experience, such as “Brodno 2000”. In February 2000, artist Pawel Althamer had to communicate with residents of the apartment block at 13 Krasnobrodzka St. in Warsaw to help him with his piece. About 200 families were involved in this project, turning the lights on and off in specific windows, to form the number “2000” on the facade of the building for half an hour. AtDocuments XIin 2002, Thomas Hirschhorn built “Bataille Monument”, a tribute installation to philosopher George Bataille, located in Friedrich-Wöhler Siedlung, in a socio-economic suburb of Kassel. It consisted of a library, an exhibition, a cafeteria, a sculpture and a television studio where seminars and conferences were held. The artist built a new alternative space where common activities were carried out by the resident community and visitors to the exhibition.

Bataille Monument | P55 Magazine | P55.ART

Bordalo II
Portuguese artist Artur Bordalo, known asBordalo II, became famous for using street litter to create stunning animal sculptures, with the purpose of warning people about pollution and all kinds of endangered species. From street art he developed his practice, evolving into what is now considered «trash art». Since 2012, Artur Bordalo has created around two hundred animal sculptures using more than 60 tons of recycled materials. The once-abandoned objects - the plates, the tires, the doors - in the hands ofBordalo IIacquire an aesthetic and communicative function, in the form of animals. The Portuguese artist wants to represent in his works an image of nature, based on what destroys them - garbage, waste and pollution, clearly expressing a critique of consumerism and offering a sustainable solution. Its “Big Trash Animals” installations, scattered around the world - public or museum - cry out about the need for socio-ecological sustainability. On the streets of his hometown, a series of works, ”Provocative” and “Train Tracks”, interact with urban fabric and furniture, presenting a new critical look at society, its stakeholders and constraints. These small, ephemeral interventions seek to be a vehicle of communication and awareness through art, thus addressing diverse themes, such as pollution, exploitation of women, media sensationalism, connectivity and control, among others.

Bordalo II| P55 Magazine | P55.ART

Pedro Reyes
Recently, in 2007, in the city of Culiancán in Mexico, the artist Pedro Reyes organized a campaign, in which citizens could voluntarily donate their weapons in exchange for coupons. These could be used in local stores in exchange for appliances and other electronic objects. This campaign took place in a city with a high mortality rate due to firearms. 1527 weapons were collected, of which 40% were high-powered automatic weapons for military use. These were transported to a military zone to be publicly crushed by a compressor. After this act, the pieces were transformed into 1527 shovels that were distributed to different art institutions and schools so that these shovels would help in the planting of 1527 trees.

Pedro Reyes | P55 Magazine | P55.ART

What is the potential of Art?
All these works are challenging and provoke tensions between spectators, participants and the spaces where they take place. Understand, from these projects, the potential of art to educate and transform the world! By establishing a contemplative confrontation, they create debates on the social, structural and political problems of the spaces involved.These artists ignore the division between art and life, making their artistic contribution in order to build or improve the community environment. From daily activities, these artists involve the community, create structures and carry out collaborations so that there is a social transformation.
However, what is the true potential of art in relation to its possible transformation in society?

Joseph Beuys | P55 Magazine | P55.ART

Can art change the world?
When analyzing the aforementioned works, I realized that art itself cannot directly change the world, but rather raise questions about it. Art can change our vision, leading the viewer to question themselves about various issues that can be political, economic or ecological. Art has the power to inform, clarify or interrogate and this can lead to transformation.
Do artists currently believe that they are changing the world through their artistic actions? Joseph Beuys believed that art could heal the world. In contrast to this idea, artists today, for the most part, do not consider their works of art to be directly changing the world. They share the view that art can raise questions and that these can lead to social transformation. The concept of Social Sculpture persists in the context of social transformation, from the creation of community structures that confront and create debates on social, ecological, political or economic difficulties and problems.

Bordalo II| P55 Magazine | P55.ART

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