The "Greenest Cities Conversations Project" is a research initiative based at the University of British Columbia, and led by Dr. John Robinson. The GCCP is divided into channels; one of these channels is the arts channel which is commissioning 4 works as part of its research exploring possible relationships between environmentalism and the arts that avoid the standard approach of enlisting art as a vehicle for environmental messaging. The work on this blog is from the "visual arts" commission, the other 3 are:
Don McKay – poet – Don is a member of the Order of Canada for his contribution to
Literary Arts, winner of the Griffin Prize for Poetry and the Governor General's Award,
and is widely considered one of Canada's premiere literary talents.
Kevin Kerr – theatre – Kevin is a Governor General's Award winning playwright and artistic
director of The Electric Company Theatre, an internationally acclaimed group specializing in
devised theatre, and incorporating high-tech media into live performance.
Giorgio Magnanensi / Vancouver Symphony Orchestra – music composition – Giorgio is
Director of Vancouver New Music and acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic. The VSO is one
of Canada's premiere professional music ensembles.
The Commissioning Document of the four art commissions sets the playing field for the works. The issues to be explored, as authored by primary researcher David Maggs, are set out in a wide-ranging theoretical exploration of our specific historical moment -- a moment in which, for the first time, human civilization has identified self-generated threats to its own future, combined with a recognition that there may be enough lead time to make possible changing course through self-intervention in our own patterns. Within this context of increasing awareness of these threats and the formative stages of our response, the focus here is specifically on art: if there is a role to be played by it, and if so what it is.
The conceptual subtext that lead us to this historical moment is a long narrative only sketched by the document through a genealogy of the subject/object dichotomy and the conceptual setting of nature as a discreetly separate (and subordinate) other; but its way forward begins from questions ranging from the metaphysics of being (primarily through Heidegger) to collective processes of producing knowledge (primarily through Latour). These starting points are used to open a space that salvages the value of art from its current diminished status within advanced capitalism, holding it not as an extraneous cultural tangent but as culture's most fundamental expression of the world. The goal is to open a role for art in the push for sustainability that avoids enlisting it in a demeaning role of eco-propaganda, but rather recognizes it as the basic medium through which culture gives sense to the human condition. It is no less than a call to do so. As such, the document blows open the constraints that typically frame an art/environmentalism relationship, and asks only that the commissions take note of both the openness and the scale of this playing field and venture into it as they see fit.