MECO360: Domestic Politics

Liz Linden | June 2017

I wouldn’t necessarily have been able to articulate this about myself prior to starting my PhD at Wollongong, but after the initial period of drilling down, working out, and pushing through the ideas circumscribing the ‘research space’ of my studio work with appropriation and globalization, it became clear that what I am actually interested in is postmodernism, the Pictures exhibition, and the critical, internecine struggles for no less than the soul of contemporary art that took place in the pages of Artforum and October. In short: the 1970s.

Anybody who has been to my house could have saved me the trouble. It’s full of houseplants. I recently read something about the ‘daggy’ 70s houseplant trend, accompanied by a photo ostensibly illustrating the same, but all I thought was, ‘Oooh! What a fantastic Monstera!’

And, as it is for most of us, one thing bleeds into another. What began as a purely domestic interest became a more theoretical/conceptual one as houseplants migrated to my studio, in the flesh and in representation (‘representation’, of course, being another of the obsessions of the 70s). In fact, I did a whole exhibition of (mostly) houseplant related work in 2014 at a photography foundation in Atlanta, Georgia.

By then, I had become interested in how complex houseplants were as signifiers read within in the larger text of an interior design catalog or a corporate lobby, that they bore, on their slimmest of shoulders, the weight of so many metaphors and impossibly virtuous ideals. For example, one work in that exhibition was this: 

Liz Linden, Signs (Atlanta), 2014, Live Phalaenopsis orchid in pot, artificial Phalaenopsis orchid in pot, dimensions variable.

Liz Linden, Signs (Atlanta), 2014, Live or artificial Phalaenopsis orchid in pot? (detail).

Signs (Atlanta) consisted of two identical Phalaenopsis orchids, one real and one artificial, presented side by side on pedestals.  The sculpture takes the ubiquitous interior design element of the moth orchid (found in minimalist kitchens, spa-bathrooms, hotel lobbies, and receptionists’ desks the world over) and turns our attention to its oxymoronic status in the built world as ‘minimalist decoration’.  The paradoxical semiotic work this plant does in architecture is to invoke both simplicity and luxury at once.  The doubling of the plant, pairing the one alive with its polyester-and-plastic simulacrum, alluded to this specious duality as a sign.  Further, the plausibility of making the sculpture, locating a ‘real’ orchid doppelgänger in the flower markets in Atlanta for a pre-existing ‘fake’ orchid, rested on the disquieting truth that the farmed natural world is in some ways as predictable now as the mass-produced itself.  

Since then, I have continued to work with houseplants and how they operate in consumer culture, sometimes in more oblique ways. Earlier this year, I photographed Parliament House. I’ve always been interested in the peculiar colour scheme of each chamber and wondered if there might be something interesting to be made of their unorthodox fuchsia and mint palettes. Already you can see the point: that the halls of power are softened by the presence of plants. The metaphors are not subtle, and neither—perhaps resultantly—are the colours.

Liz Linden, Bed of Roses (Parliament House), 2017, Archival inkjet print, 65 x 47 cm.

Liz Linden, Naturalist (Parliament House), 2017, Archival inkjet print, 65 x47 cm.

Does the fact that our lawmakers meet to debate the future of Australia inside rooms assuring them of nature’s soothing presence or their own masterful and assured place in it in any way sway their arguments? True, these are just names on paint chips ascribed along lines of corporate logic, not likely known to the people working in their spaces, but the colours are, in the end, unmistakably ‘natural’. Does the fact Parliament shapes the laws of the land in rooms painted in imitation of the outdoors says something heartening about their sensitivities to nature, or does it simply disclose their ruthless, supplementary logic? It’s a question that can be asked in my own house as well—is this comfort I find in my houseplants related to being closer to the outside in or being close enough?

As an artist, I do raise an eyebrow every time I see nature represented (which means mobilized) in service of the powers-that-be, be they Parliament, Capitalism, or, as they would say in the 70s, God herself. Slim shoulders, big ask.

 

MECO360: Expiration Aesthetics

Etienne Deleflie | 1 July 2016

If it is possible to characterise the response of the humanities to the Anthropocene, I would suggest that there is a central tension that arises when the impulse to adopt non-dualist abstractions is met with the requisite challenge to human agency. Simply put: in exploring the possibility that there is no clear line between self and world we seek to redress our relation to the world, but we must subsequently also question the degree of control we hold over that world. We move towards a non-dualist stance to ‘act’ in the face of the Anthropocene, but in so doing we necessarily question whether we can genuinely ‘act’ at all!

The species-anxiety caused by humanity’s potentially dismal future is an expression of the belief in a genuine, independent human agency. We feel we are responsible and we feel we should act to change that potential future. If this human agency is not genuinely possible, as is suggested by certain monist ontologies, then the anxiety has no cause.

Expiring Object No. 1 is a work that seeks to give expression to a dismal future that is free of anxiety. A battery’s energy reserve will expire, and the flashing LED light will cease to flash at some point in the future. Its dismal future valorises its present beauty. The work thus asks: freed of anxiety, can the Anthropocene valorise the present beauty of the anthropos?

The impulse to explore non-dualist ontologies is evident amongst New Materialist philosophies. But those who cannot subscribe to the notion that everything must have a material existence, still challenge historical and contemporary dualisms, from Descartes to the more modern variants. I propose that the common practice of re-labeling the ‘anthropocene’ is precisely grounded in a desire to challenge these dualisms. Whether it be the Capitalocene (Moore, 2015), Chthulucene (Haraway, 2015), Entropocene (Stiegler, 2015), or Negentropocene (Stiegler, 2015), each new conception seeks to identify the line before or after which a human agency might be possible. As suggested by Wark (2016) this re-labeling might even be understood as a ‘pathology’ of the Anthropocene.

The tension between the inclination to conceive of a deeply interconnected world and the reduction in human agency thus implied, can be seen in the work of Haraway. Consider the passage in which Haraway (2014) argues for a broad understanding of the symbiotic nature of the human relation to the world:

We are all lichens now, we have never been individuals, from anatomical, physiological, evolutionary, developmental, philosophic, economic, I don’t care what perspective, we are all lichens now.

Now consider the paragraph, in which Haraway’s (2015) call-to-arms re-affirms the importance of an assumed human (or ‘mammalian’) agency:

Bacteria and fungi abound to give us metaphors; but, metaphors aside (good luck with that!), we have a mammalian job to do, with our biotic and abiotic sym-poietic collaborators, co-laborers. We need to make kin sym-chthonically, sym-poetically. Who and whatever we are, we need to make-with—become-with, compose-with—the earth-bound (thanks for that term, Bruno Latour-in-anglophone-mode).

On the one hand, there is the insistence that humans cannot be conceived as distinctly separate on any level. On the other hand a distinctly separate agency is assumed that would allow us to execute our ‘mammalian job’ (mammals are largely defined by the presence of a neocortex) with our ‘collaborators’ / ‘co-laborers’, which are now articulated as collaborative, not constitutive. So where is that line? Is it between the material and the ideal (surely not!)? Where is the line, on one side of which to be human means to be a biological / abiotic / (whatever else) complex, and on the other side of which an agency remains possible?

I understand this tension, between the articulation of humanity’s un-separatedness from ‘other’, and the tenacious subscription to the possibility of a separate agency, to be at the core of the humanities’ response to the Anthropocene.

Expiring Object No.1 is an ‘art-object’ whose worth is limited to the life-span of its embedded energy source. To live with this object means to wait for it to die: a matter of months or years. Every flash of its light is both a celebration of its finite energy source and a movement closer to its expiration.

The form and material constitution of the cube is partly inspired by 20th century American minimalism. Its material simplicity is complicated by the embedded electronic device: a flashing LED light and associated circuitry designed to do nothing other than drain the embedded battery. Once the battery has drained, Expiring Object No.1 ceases to function in its designated form and becomes disposable. Its disposability is dictated by its access to energy, not to its solid material presence; now wasted.

 

Etienne Deleflie 'Expiration Aesthetics' 2015-2016

Etienne Deleflie ‘Expiring Object No. 1’ 2015-2016

Expiring Object No.1 has now been active for over 8 months. It lives in my dining room. Its presence is often forgotten. When there is little or no ambient light in the room it provides a dramatic ticking glow. It is somewhat like a ticking time bomb whose subject is not the event at the end of the ticking, but the anticipation of that event. Its expiration is anticipated to occur at some point next year.

REFERENCES

Haraway, Donna. “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene: Staying with the Trouble!”. Transcript of presentation (https://vimeo.com/97663518 , 2014). Accessed 1 July 2016. http://opentranscripts.org/transcript/anthropocene-capitalocene-chthulucene/

Haraway, Donna. “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin.” Environmental Humanities, vol. 6, 2015, pp. 159-165 www.environmentalhumanities.org

Moore, Jason W. Capitalism In The Web Of Life. Print. Verso, 2015.

Stiegler, Bernard, (trans. Ross, D). “Escaping the Anthropocene”. 2015. Accessed 1 July 2016. http://www.academia.edu/12692287/Bernard_Stiegler_Escaping_the_Anthropocene_2015_

Wark, McKenzie. “Make Kith Not Kin!”. Public Seminar. N.p., 2016. Accessed 1 July 2016. http://www.publicseminar.org/2016/06/kith/

MECO360: Between Expansion and Collapse

Madeleine Kelly | 4 April 2016

In the mid seventies, biologists Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock described the earth as ‘autopoietic Gaia’, a living system, a body analogous to our own, composed of interdependent symbiotic relationships. ‘We are walking communities …Ten percent or more of our body weight is bacterial [in its evolutionary origins], and it’s just foolish to ignore that’, Margulis stated (Mann 1991, 378). So, to explore these relations, my paintings sometimes depict things as part of flow charts or systems, but just as natural systems are disrupted by culture, these are fictional orders that disrupt accepted orders.

Madeleine Kelly Man’s Place In the World 2008 Oil on polyester 90 x 115cm

Madeleine Kelly Man’s Place In the World 2008 Oil on polyester 90 x 115cm

The world surrounds us with life-sustaining systems, including solar energy and fossil fuels. The fossil fuels were developed during the carboniferous period from plants like these ancient club mosses. Their burning relentlessly contributes to greenhouse warming. Petrol is time.

Madeleine Kelly Ground Control 2004 128 x 193 cm, oil on polyester

Madeleine Kelly Ground Control 2004 128 x 193 cm, oil on polyester

The first law of thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. The second law, also known as the entropy law, states that in any closed system, when energy and matter are used there is an increase in entropy, or disorder. Increasing entropy can be thought of as the disorder in the universe, of disrupting Gaia’s balance, and of draining limited resources.

It is generally accepted that people in Australia want more than they have – bigger houses, more money and more time to spend it. But by historical or international standards we are very wealthy. Today’s average house is almost twice as big than houses were 50 years ago, with double the volume of bedrooms, bathrooms and cars. When I contemplate this situation, it is surreal. Everyday life requires we consciously behave as if unconscious of future ramifications. Economic growth dominates social policy and distracts attention from the need to redistribute wealth, halve consumption and burn less fossil fuels.

Madeleine Kelly The Electric Thinking House 2007 Oil on Polyester 200 x 148cm

Madeleine Kelly The Electric Thinking House 2007 Oil on Polyester 200 x 148cm

The Australian government, in maintaining infrastructure suited to burning fossil fuels, fails to acknowledge that degradation of the environment is a corollary to economic activity and energy consumption. Gross National Product is still regarded as the primary indication of our nation’s health. Production and consumption occur in a closed system that cycles forever, without limits.

Madeleine Kelly Melted Silver on the Sea 2007 Oil on polyester 100 x 140cm

Madeleine Kelly Melted Silver on the Sea 2007 Oil on polyester 100 x 140cm

Our own success as a species is still the biggest threat we face. Like melted silver on the sea, current environmental policy escapes us.

References:

Mann, Charles. ‘Lynn Margulis: Science’s Unruly Earth Mother’. Science. vol. 252. 1991: 378 – 381. Print.

http://www.madeleinekelly.com.au/