Is Art Green?




This article was first published in Welsh Art now in 2008

 

 

We are all aware of the term food miles and some may even aspire to 

shop within a local economy, buying only locally produced seasonal 

food, leaving the exotic imported food on the shelves. Can we apply the 

same criteria to the way we consume art, if you live in an urban area with 

a thriving artistic community – maybe. However, within a rural community 

where the only art outlets are for the tourist trade your choice of artwork 

might be limited. 

It is ironic that at a time when internationalism is being promoted as the 

way forward for the creative industries, we are being encouraged to 

reduce our consumption of long haul air flights etc. The credit crunch has 

probably had more effect on people’s carbon foot print than any laudable 

government initiative encouraging people to consider the environment. 

How does the art world deal with climate change? Often it simply does 

nothing, taking the attitude that we have such a small impact on the 

issue that any effort we make will not be noticed. In an industry where 

getting noticed is key to success, making unnoticed initiatives is simply 

not going to happen. Artists produce waste, it’s inevitable, using physical 

materials creates a waste residue. Even artists who do not deal with 

physical stuff inevitably create residue by marketing. This is where 

through working together, galleries and artists can set an example of 

good practice that might just be noticed and emulated by others. 

The Arts Council of Wales (ACW) is the main arts body responsible for 

funding and developing the arts in Wales. They are the ones that hand 

out public cash to artists and arts organisations. An ideal position from 

which to promote a green agenda within the arts. We asked them what 

initiatives they had, we were disappointed to be told that they recycle 

paper and ink cartridges. This is aimed at their internal administrative 

process rather than any public promotion of green values within Welsh 

art. Good practice has to come from the galleries and the art 

organisations. They have to accept that their administration processes 

contribute to climate change and that there is room for change. I was 

once asked by a gallery to provide printed information, despite having all 

the information in electronic form on their system. Because the project 

purported to be dealing with climate change I refused to comply, I was 

not selected.

How about the art itself? Are some art forms more environmentally 

friendly than others? Video art would seem to be the perfect solution. 

Convert the white walled gallery space to the black walls of the video 

space. The artist film does offer some solution to the problem of art 

miles. Perhaps this proliferation is more due to the ease of exhibition 

than any environmental concern. Live streaming could offer a solution. 

Art made in one location and beamed into the gallery. It still needs 

content though. A recent exhibition with a gallery in America, specifically 

about climate change; hypocritical to leave a trail of carbon footprints 

across the Atlantic. The solution was to build the installation here, web 

stream to the gallery and add to this projected image with more of the 

same material. In this instance, the activity became the message rather 

than the installation; the materials, redundant technology, a comment on 

built in redundancy, endemic within consumer society. Technology offers 

some solutions but should not be a cheap fix and is no replacement for 

the physicality of objects. 

Some early conceptual and minimalist artists, offered art mile reduction 

methods; the wall drawings of Sol Lewitt, who sent specific instructions 

to a team of technicians on how to execute his drawings. Do you 

remember Carl André, the guy who caused a storm when he laid out his 

bricks in the Tate? This work could be emulated anywhere using local 

materials. The Tate bricks aspired to specific mathematical dimensions, 

which could not be substituted by any old local brick, perhaps these 

issues were more to do with conditions of ownership rather than 

aesthetic design. What are some of the leading lights in the art world 

saying about his? I have never heard Hirst expressing any opinion or 

consideration for environmental issues; his motives seem firmly rooted 

in the production of wealth. Art might be the first victim of any major 

environmental catastrophe How useful will art/artist be in the ‘day after 

tomorrow’ scenario. You might see Tracy Emin’s bed floating down the 

Thames, finding a new function as an improvised raft. The works of 

Henry Moore and Richard Serra would certainly be most sought after in 

any post cataclysmic age. Big metal sculptures are sure to be useful in 

post apocalyptic society. There could be benefits to this, some of the 

more horrendous public sculpture works in Wales could find themselves 

moped up to other uses. 

The real art miles are incurred when art/artists move between countries, 

so called international art. There are strategies that artists can adopt to 

keep this to a minimum. I have done several international exhibitions 

without transporting any materials but only because of the type of work 

and the materials that I use; and through negotiation with the exhibition 

organisers. It does not work with pre prepared work. There are 

problems, the increased amount of time required to source the 

materials, but hey whizzing around a new town looking for stuff is very 

much like a holiday experience anyway and time spent meeting new 

artists and curators can lead to more opportunity and ideas. I try to avoid 

transporting materials but have to accept that sometimes it is 

unavoidable. Any art work that expresses a concern for the environment 

should lead by example or at least acknowledge its own carbon print. 

One of the largest International art festivals is the Venice biennale. In 

2007 Heather and Ivan Morison represented Wales, they created a large 

shed like installation from wood sourced from their own forest in Wales. 

Perhaps the origin of the wood was integral to the work and certainly the 

structure was fairly complex and time consuming to develop. I think it is 

safe to assume that they have wood in Italy so perhaps this work could 

have been made on site using local sourced materials and local 

craftspeople, I do not for a minute doubt the integrity of their work just 

raise the question about its development within a climate change 

paradigm. 

Every two years Cardiff stages the Artes Mundi one of the largest most 

prestigious art exhibitions in Europe. Two curators spend a year roaming 

the world looking at the work of many artists. From this 5 artists are 

selected and they are invited to bring their work to Wales to show it on 

the international stage. An exhibition that is big in every way: big art, big 

money, big talk, big crowds, big air miles – massive carbon emissions. It 

has much to commend it but is it totally out of kilter with the 

environmental concerns of our age. Is it really art at any cost or would we 

expect a more enlightened creative response to this? International art 

raises the cultural profile of Wales and is beloved of arts bureaucrats 

and disinterested politicians. It might improve trade and bring much 

need tourist cash to the Welsh economy but at what cost. Most of the 

time, the benefits of these initiatives are measured in economics with 

scant regard for infrastructure and the environment. 

Of course to a greater or lesser extent we are all complicit in this 

problem and it would be hypocritical not to acknowledge this. So as you 

sit holding this paper based bit of communication in front of you, sipping 

your Latte at a pavement cafe. First thought should be ‘it’s December 

what am I doing sitting outside’. The other is does not this magazine 

contribute to global warming with its use of paper, printing, distribution 

etc. I am not advocating a return to cave based society, where everything 

is reduced to its lowest possible environmental impact. Print is okay, I 

like books and magazines they are a convenient way of transporting 

information, magazines can be passed onto others, articles can be 

harvested for future reference and print is a wonderful source of collage 

material. Yes this magazine could be made into an on line edition, but in 

so doing it becomes less accessible, especially for those without a 

computer. The solutions are not easy or obvious; perhaps a creative 

approach is required – just what artists’ might offer! 

 

 

Editor’s note – Paul’s article was published last year and raised a 

considerable amount of debate, we received correspondence from 

around the world. As a consequence of this article we decided to take 

Welsh Art Now from a printed to an online format- and have not regretted 

that decision. The magazine now free and accessible to many more 

around the world. This is a model that many Welsh publications would 

do well to follow! The original article did contain some criticism of the 

lack of any significant green agenda on the part of the Arts Council of 

Wales. If initiatives have been made since that time, let us know and we 

will let the public know.

 

 


Related Posts

Artic Biennale
Charlie Smith London - Open call for Anthology 2017
Open Source Salon with Hauser and Wirth - A new monthly discussion group
Advertise your next show on Artlyst from £200 per week