Art and Environmental Activism – More From Zaria Forman

Posted: April 23, 2018 in Uncategorized
Art & Activism of the Anthropocene – Panel II

Zaria Forman, Glen Raygorodetsky, and Jeff VanderMeer,
with Amy Brady of Guernica magazine.
New York Society Library

  1. Uyen Hoang says:

    I wish I had known about this panel before it occurred! I had the privilege to take the Honor’s course, Art, Action, and the Environment last spring. This course is something I would HIGHLY recommend to fellow students if they have any interest in the three subjects within the class title.
    Within the class we explored numerous artists and art of which were centralized around activism (particularly for the environment). We had discussed the difference between land art and art made for activism. It was very eye opening and enlightening, for it is very common to mistake the two for the same concept when in fact they are vastly different. Take for example, the Spiral Jetty versus Zaria Forman’s art. The Spiral Jetty’s purpose is simple to be as is in its natural environment. It’s medium is a part of the art. It is not necessarily a statement upon environmental conservation or social issues. In contrast, Forman’s bold, life-like icebergs are supposed to serve as a slap in the face for the viewer. They are meant to feel astounded by the natural phenomenon, it’s size is something that could potentially make the audience feel like they are a part of something larger in the world… the many natural wonders of the earth. It instills in them a sense of responsibility and accountability for the detrimental fate our arctic awaits, our part in our warming climate and direct and indirect affect in destroying our planet. Land art celebrates the medium, whilst activist art calls urgent attention to social awareness (and is typically a more engaging piece).
    It was a new concept to me that I had never learned much about until I had taken the course where our final project was to create an art piece focused on a local environmental issue. This topic is crucial in today’s political climate (pun not intended). Communal engagement and activism is a small action we can take to utilize our voices and express creativity. Was really happy to hear more on Forman’s art and listen to this panel 🙂

    • I think Forman uses what was once called the ‘sublime’ as a way of unsettling habituated reactions to the spectacle of nature. It’s a smart strategy, one that a variety of artist have found themselves adopting. I’m not entirely certain land art is not provocative or political, or that it doesn’t perform work a line with Forman’s. I think the major difference between the two is that Forman’s work is representational (the traces of labor are lost in the image they produce), whereas land art deliberately leaves the traces visible, as traces. In the case of Spiral Jetty, Smithson is not wanting simply to work within that landscape, so much as transform our perception of it. To my mind, the gist of Spiral Jetty reside in scale. It’s not just that the Jetty is site-specific and way too big to fit into a museum. Beyond, the Jetty, along with all of Smithson’s affiliated documents, attests the Jetty was fashion with respect to geological, not human time. We don’t think of ‘sculpture’ (though Krauss would call the Jetty a ‘marked site’) in terms of temporality, especially if it is not representational. But Smithson chose the site for the Jetty precisely because of the discarded vehicles littering the site. They reminded him of the dinosaur bones which had fascinated him since childhood. He viewed them a fossils of the current age, and he designed the Jetty accordingly. His hope was to suggest that the landscape we view as if it had been created for our enjoyment, is actually a shifting relationship of physical relations, one the came into being with no thought of humanity or its needs whatsoever. That message is not overtly ideological or political, but it certainly does radically shift your perception of your place in the world, and with possible political consequences.

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