“We are both responsible for, and victims of, our own pollution,” –Jae Rhim Lee
When showing the mushroom dress, Professor Vesna stated that we must think about clothing differently. Jae Rhim Lee discussed the same idea in regards to the marketing of her mushroom death suit. To address the idea of being “eaten” by fungus post-mortem, people needed (and need) to be convinced that we need to change the way we look at burial and death. From Maru Garcia’s work to the mushroom dress to the mushroom death suit, the idea of sustainability was at the forefront of the conversation with these works.
In general, the condition of the global environment has stimulated an incredible response from artists. Programs at some universities are dedicated specifically to environmental sustainability and art. An article in the Huffington Post discussed the increasing interest and stated, “Artist in this field, according to Mosher, ‘need a different skill set,’ such as the ability to write grants, negotiate, network, create partnerships, and do a lot of research.” Art has become one of the major sources of stimulating awareness and prompting change.
One of my favorite pieces of Maru Garcia’s work was the image of the forest fire and the comparison of how long it takes for a forest fire to burn an acre vs the time it takes for the forest to grow. The overlay of images was very simplistic, yet the final product was extremely poignant. It prompted me to create a piece of art myself. I have been very saddened by the events in Syria and it has been a topic in my personal life since my girlfriend is from Syria. We as humans are all the same, at the end of the day we are built from the same cells that use the same enzymes and proteins, assembled by the same amino acids, whose order is determined from a nearly identical genetic code. This algorithm is incredibly beautiful. The separations that we feel as citizens of different cities, states, countries, and continents are man-made ideas, concept that don’t have a natural reality. In Syria, people are dying. Citizens, innocent humans, including children. People are starving. People are scared. But since there is a giant ocean and thousands of miles between us we don’t see Syrians as “us”. They are “them” and we are “us”. Is that really true? In reality, we are “them” and they are “us”.
Sustainability is not just about the global environment in terms of air quality, climate change, pollution, and landfills. Sustainability also includes preservation of humans, culture, and our own life. Just as we need to change the way we think about clothes and burial; we need to change the way we look at humanity. We need to erase the artificial lines between us and them. If Americans were dying to the extent Syrians are dying, this country’s population would be having a much different response. Instead, in this country we are focusing more on the politics between the US and Russia. My hope is that in future we can see loss of human life as the most important feature of any war no matter how far away from our home location. I am not an artist, but I was inspired by the last lecture to produce a piece that conveyed my feelings about the Syrian war. I am inspired by the thousands of artists that are brave enough to take on sustainability issues.
Mexico City has used artistic design, environmental awareness, and science to combat air pollution with vertical gardens decorating the pillars of the freeway. The New York Times called their project a sign of progress and noted that most difficult challenge to the project was cultural. The designers, scientists, and artists invested in this work spent years generating the funding and gaining the appropriate government permission to have the vertical gardens and eco-sculptures installed.
(New York Times, 2012)
Sustainability and environmental awareness has also made it to a hipster IPA beer company. The company is called Saltwater Brewery and they have produced six-pack holders that are fully edible for marine life. It has been a long time coming that we have needed to re-think the way we look at six-pack holders. It would be incredible if this edible holder became the new standard for all can and bottle holders. We may be both responsible for and victims of pollution, and even further, all sustainability issues, but we must change the way think in order to make a difference.
(IFL Science, 2016)