Thursday, February 2, 2012

River Art -- A True Environmental Threat?

I caught this on Huff Post this morning and I find it quite interesting.  This battle of what is art and the limits of art, its connections to the environment, and where to draw the line seem to be an ongoing conflict that will never be resolved.
It kind of reminds me of how Nostradamus perceived Middle Eastern wars--even in his time he didn't see them as individual and separate incidents, but rather as an ongoing campaign where each skirmish was part of an ongoing warfare.  The environmental art debate is always there, existing as an undercurrent, and it only takes a small suggestion of a planned exhibit or mention of "remember when those people surrounded those islands in pink plastic?" to set everyone off again.

So here is the crux of it from
"Law students in the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law plan to file a lawsuit on Wednesday in attempt to block fabric-artist Christo's latest "Over the River" project which proposes to hang 5.9 miles of aluminum coated fabric panels across eight spots along a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River, according to a DU press release."

Christo and his wife, incidentally, are the ones who "surrounded those islands in plastic." Their projects include the Wrapped Coast in Sydney;

The Running Fence;

and, of course, the Surrounded Islands.
 These exhibits are mind-blowing. How do these people come up with such quixotic, controversial pieces?
They clearly thrive on disputatious artwork and they obviously enjoy their plastic.
Unlike Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty and the environmental debate surrounding it as a permanent piece of art that would eventually become one with its habitat and erode along with it (remember this is an earthwork), the pieces by Christo and Jeanne-Claude are temporary exhibits and according to them are clean--they restore the sites to their original state upon taking the exhibits down and they believe that their eccentric pieces call attention to the concerns revolving around the environment.

So--back to this current piece, "Over the River."
The concerns are that it will mar the look of the Arkansas River through this alteration and could do permanent damage to the ecosystem, particularly birds and bighorn sheep.
This is clearly a valid concern, considering that this exhibit would infringe on this habitat and having large pieces of fabric covered in aluminum is going to scare the shit out of the typical wildlife.
I'm all for free speech and understand (sort of) what they think they're doing, but it is hypocritical and counterproductive for them to think that they can help the world by introducing foreign materials into an ecosystem to call attention to it. True it is only going to be up for two weeks, but animals that habitually use this river will be frightened off by then, both because of the appearance of something shiny hanging over the river, which definitely would appear threatening to them, and because of the additional tourists it will attract.  It is also going to run about $50 million. Which just makes me kind of sick. Think of what that money could do!! To shell it out for a 2 week exhibit that is already pissing people off....

A group known as ROAR (Rags Over the Arkansas River) is protesting this installment.
I don't know how things are going to turn out this time; Christo and Jeanne-Claude have met opposition before, but this is their biggest installment in recent years and we are more educated about the environment and the large ripple a small stone can make.
Either way this debate will continue to go on.

Art for art's sake is a philosophy of the well-fed.


-Frank Lloyd Wright
The Kramer: a hilarious statement on art over-analysis.

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