A Letter to the Future: Toward Radical and Creative Ecologies

Conference, part of the EKO 8 – International Triennial of Art and Environment

22.05.2021

Saturday, 22 May 2021, 16:00–21:00 (CET)
Premises of the former MTT textile factory, Maribor, Slovenia & the World Wide Web

Live stream: Zoom 

Speakers: T. J. Demos, Maja and Reuben Fowkes, Elke Krasny, Andri Snær Magnason, Luka Omladič, Lucia Pietroiusti, and Marjetica Potrč
Moderator: Dražen Dragojević

Organizers: Igor Zabel Association for Culture and Theory, Maribor Art Gallery (UGM)
Supported by: ERSTE Foundation

The conference addresses environmental and climate urgencies as well as the potential of art to critically and creatively address and engage with them at the local and global level. In our search for radical and creative ecologies, we focus on contemporary artistic and curatorial strategies, looking at recent examples, and exploring the intersection of art, political ecology, environmental advocacy and activism, social and environmental justice, politics and theory of care, de-growth, and postcolonial globalization.

In 2021, the Maribor Art Gallery is relaunching the EKO – International Triennial of Art and Environment in its eighth edition. The EKO Triennial was founded in 1980 with the name Yugoslav Triennial of Ecology and Art. In 1988, Igor Zabel served as selector of Slovenian artists for the third edition of the triennial which dealt with the topic of water. 

Today EKO Triennial is dedicated to contemporary visual arts and the environment, exploring the intersections between current socio-economic and environmental challenges, and post-colonial globalization. In line with the growing awareness that the state of our environment depends on a range of interconnected systems, the Triennial relates natural and social ecosystems and blurs the boundaries between binary notions: nature|culture, individual|common, national|international, global|local. The renewed Triennial thus reflects and comments on the many changes at the global and local levels that affect the environment where we live, which we co-shape, and also depend on.

After fifteen years of inactivity, the triennial is being revived at a time of crisis (climate and global pandemic) with the title A Letter to the Future. Alessandro Vincentelli, the artistic director of EKO 8 conceptualized EKO 8 triennial and its exhibition with a reference to the memorial plaque with which the people of Iceland marked the loss of their first glacier: “Okjökull is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next two hundred years, all of our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.” It is a powerful plea. The story of the glacier throws us forward into the future and encourages us to use our imagination. 


Panel 1: Toward the Rights of Nature and Agency of Art in the Environmental Crisis

16:00 / Introduction by the organizers
Alessandro Vincentelli, EKO 8 curator
Urška Jurman, Igor Zabel Association


16:10 / Andri Snær Magnason: A Letter to the Future

During the next hundred years, we expect to see fundamental changes in all forms of water on our planet. Many glaciers will melt and sea levels will rise at a faster rate than has ever occurred before. Acidification will bring the oceans to a pH level not seen in thirty million years. Patterns of rain and snow will change dramatically in most areas of the planet. We could say that nature is no longer changing at geological speed but has now accelerated to human speed. This extreme shift is greater than any metaphor, words, or language that we know. Just as the immense gravity of a black hole makes it invisible, we can now say that the phenomena described above are so massive that they swallow all words and their meanings. We hear phrases such as “climate change” but they are white noise for most people, ninety-nine percent of their actual meaning being beyond the limits of our imagination. In order to describe a black hole, we have to look at the surrounding galaxies, and, likewise to understand these phenomena, we have to look beyond the data, to the role of art and artists to generate new means of expression. How do we talk about something larger than language? How do we talk about issues where the words we use are new and unfamiliar? Such as “ocean acidification”, one of the most significant phrases in human history, and yet too new and ambiguous for most of us to understand? How long does it take for words to become fully loaded? Will we be able to understand these words before it is too late?


16:30 / Marjetica Potrč: From Water to Nature – The Rights of Nature in Slovenia

In 2016, the Republic of Slovenia added access to drinkable water to its constitution as a fundamental right, declaring that water resources are “a public good managed by the state” and “not a market commodity”. Slovenia was the first country in the European Union to include the right to water in its constitution, a move that was enthusiastically supported by the public.
Today, five years later, water has become an endangered resource in Slovenia, as is evidenced by a law recently proposed by the current government and passed in the parliament. Since the law is clearly in conflict with the constitutional right to drinking water, we must ask if Slovenia is in conflict with itself: the constitutional right versus the new law translates into Us versus Us. Drinking water is a common good, and when mismanaged, becomes a common misfortune. The present controversy shows the difficulty Slovenians face when addressing their relationship with nature. Is nature an object that we use (and abuse) or a subject with which we share the planet and that we are in fact a part of? This is the question raised by the Anthropocene paradigm. Even we still have to fight for the right to drinking water, is it time to move from the human-centred position that gives people the right to use water to a position that acknowledges and stands up for the Rights of Nature as a subject?
Potrč will link her presentation to a project she is currently working on for the 23rd Biennale in Sydney that focuses on the Rights of Nature and two case studies – the Soča River in Slovenia and the Lachlan River in Australia.


16:50 / Luka Omladič: Is there an Ethical Imperative for Art in Response to the Environmental Crisis?

With the scientific discovery of anthropogenic climate change and its causes, the question of moral obligation in relation to the environmental crisis has begun to be posed in the context of scientific ethics. It is not the first time: in the modern era, science had to confront its own ethical involvement in the ultimate crisis that could potentially bring about “the end of the world as we know it”, the discovery – and then the use –  of the atomic bomb. The Enlightenment context of science as an a priori instrument of the progress of humanity was coupled with the post-atomic ethical context of hypothetical responsibility for the catastrophe of humanity.
The atomic bomb –  a scientific discovery that humanity must not use –  and global warming – a scientific discovery that humanity must use –  places science at a particular intersection of politics and epistemology. “Listen to the science,” – the imperative of Greta Thunberg – is the fundamental motto of the global climate movement, which also asks the question: is the scientist, taking into account the implications of his/her discoveries, inherently an activist? It seems that the classic imperative of the ethics of science –  unconditionally pursue the discovery of the truth – can no longer avoid the political context.
Has the environmental crisis also placed art in a similar situation as regards new ethical obligations? Does this signal a historical process in which we might perceive a new historical form of art: art in the age of environmental collapse?


17:10–17:50 / Discussion
The conversation between Andri Snær Magnason, Marjetica Potrč, and Luka Omladič, moderated by Dražen Dragojević.

Andri Snær Magnason

Andri Snær Magnason is an Icelandic writer and documentary film director. His book On Time and Water, in which he writes about the climate crisis in a personal yet engaged way, was a national best seller in Iceland in 2019 and will be translated into more than thirty languages. On Time and Water has been shortlisted for the Nordic Councils Literary Prize of 2021.
Andri Snær Magnason has written novels, poetry, plays, short stories, and essays. He is the codirector of the following documentary films: Dreamland (2009, with Þorfinnur Guðnason), The Hero’s Journey to the Third Pole (2020, with Anni Ólafsdóttir), and one still in the making entitled Apausalypse (with Anni Ólafsdóttir).
Andri Snær Magnason collaborates with various artists in the fields of activism, science, architecture, visual art, music, theatre, and documentary film. He is active in the fight against the destruction of the Icelandic Highlands. His book Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation (2006, in Islandic) takes on these issues. His text “A Letter to the Future” (2019), for the memorial to the Okjökull glacier, went viral and served as the inspiration for the EKO 8 Triennial. https://www.andrimagnason.com/

Marjetica Potrč

Marjetica Potrč is an artist and architect based in Ljubljana, Slovenia. From 2011 to 2018, she was a professor of social practice at the University of Fine Arts/HFBK in Hamburg where she taught Design for the Living World, a class on participatory practices. Potrč’s practice includes drawing series, architectural case studies, and public art projects. Her on-site projects are characterized by participatory design and a concern with sustainable solutions. These projects often centre around infrastructure and resources such as water and soil. Her work emphasizes individual and community empowerment, problem-solving tools, and strategies for the future that transcend neoliberal agreement and testify to the failures of modernism. She is currently working on a project focused on the Rights of Nature for the 23rd Biennale in Sydney. http://www.potrc.org/

Luka Omladič

Luka Omladič is a philosopher and environmentalist. In the past, he was employed as a researcher and lecturer at the Department of Philosophy of the University of Ljubljana, and is currently employed at the Institute of Applicative Ethics in Ljubljana, a counselling and educational organization which he founded. His work involves the ethics of science and technology, and environmental ethics. He was a member of the World Commission of the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) at UNESCO, where he co-authored the report “The Ethical Principles of Climate Change” (2010-2015) and the “Report on the Ethics of Robotics” (2017). In 2020, he was a member of the international group that prepared suggestions for “Recommendations on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence”, which UNESCO is evaluating later this year in order to decide whether to accept it as an international policy instrument.
Omladič is the author of many academic and popular texts in the field of environmental ethics and environmentalism, and wrote the preface to the Slovenian publications of works by Naomi Klein and George Monbiot. He is involved with environmental activism, collaborating with several NGOs and civil initiatives, and is a coordinator of the environmental activities of the political party Levica.

Dražen Dragojević

Dražen Dragojević moves between Berlin-Ljubljana, culture-theory-media, concepting-producing-communicating-engaging, books-television-stage-galleries-film-clubs. He collaborates with the cultural festivals Indigo, Sonica, and Grounded as well as projects in development, like Gallery Cukrarna in Ljubljana.


PANEL 2: TOWARD ECOLOGIES OF ART AND CURATING

19:00 / T. J. Demos: Toward Radical and Creative Ecologies

In the presentation, I will discuss ways of defining the conference’s key terms: radical, creative, and ecologies. Drawing on my ongoing research, I will propose new ways of imagining and understanding the convergence of these concerns in future-oriented artistic and activist practices. I will also discuss the following questions: what are the characteristics of emerging environmental arts? What is the political aspect of creative ecologies and the imaginative aspect of radical ecologies? How can creative ecologies raise environmental awareness, transform established values, build alliances across sectors, and inspire social movements? What ideas and strategies are artists and activists proposing or practicing in order to create a more just-caring-viable planetarity?


19:20 / Maja and Reuben Fowkes: In Defence of the Unprotectable – Ceremonies for Postglacial Futures

Dramatic changes to the cryosphere, the cold part of the planet where water is frozen into ice or snow, are accelerating at an unprecedented rate because of global warming. The reality of global warming is evidenced by the fact that nineteen of the hottest years ever registered have occurred in the new millennium. The gathering speed of polar ice sheet melt and the global retreat of permafrost are a unifying experience for the generations living on the planet, and a predicament addressed by artists through works that internalize ice loss, consider glacial agency, recreate the mythology and memory of polar ice, as well as take a stand for the rights of glaciers. What are the implications of the shrinking of the cryosphere and the extinction of permafrost for planetary natures and cultures, how can the loss of the richness of polar and alpine ice worlds be processed, and why should we still mobilize to Stop the Thaw?


19:40 / Lucia Pietroiusti: Art for Deep Time? An Ecological Proposition

How do we know and remember more-than-human interrelations and our planetary responsibilities? How do we carry learning through deep time? Reflecting on art as ritual and ritual as knowledge, Lucia Pietroiusti will introduce a few current and recent projects that address very different, possible avenues of artistic and curatorial agency toward environmental justice and balance, such as the Back to Earth programme at Serpentine in London (2020-ongoing) –  that invites artists, architects, poets, filmmakers, scientists, thinkers, and designers to devise artist-led campaigns, protocols, and initiatives that respond to the environmental crisis – and Sun & Sea, an opera-performance by Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė, that Pietroiusti curated for the Lithuanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2019 (currently touring).


20:00 / Elke Krasny: Ecologies of Curating

The risk of global catastrophe and the intensification of inequality characterize the conditions of living with a broken and infected planet. More than ever, curating is challenged with developing new modes of practice that will enable meaningful social and environmental encounters and create lasting and transformative relations. What are the examples for this? How do we avoid greenwashing and carewashing, and instead establish meaningful and effective ecologies of curating? What do we need to make that happen? Elke Krasny will present the outcomes of the Ecologies of Curating collective workshop that was organized as part of EKO 8.


20:20–21:00 / Discussion
The conversation between T. J. Demos, Maja and Reuben Fowkes, Lucia Pietroiusti, and Elke Krasny, moderated by Dražen Dragojević.

T. J. Demos

T. J. Demos is a Professor in the Department of the History of Art and Visual Culture at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and founding Director of the Center for Creative Ecologies at the same institution. Demos is an award-winning writer on contemporary art, ecology, and global politics. He is the author of numerous books, including Against the Anthropocene: Visual Culture and Environment Today (Sternberg Press, 2017) and Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology (Sternberg Press, 2016). Demos co-curated Rights of Nature: Art and Ecology in the Americas at the Nottingham Contemporary in January 2015, and organized Specters: A Ciné-Politics of Haunting, at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid in 2014. His new book, Beyond the World’s End: Arts of Living at the Crossing was recently released by Duke University Press.

Maja and Reuben Fowkes

Maja and Reuben Fowkes are art historians, curators and co-directors of the Postsocialist Art Centre (PACT) at University College London and founders of the Translocal Institute for Contemporary Art – a platform for transnational research into Eastern European art and ecology. Their publications include Art and Climate Change (Thames & Hudson, forthcoming 2022), the edited volume Ilona Németh: Eastern Sugar (Sternberg Press, 2021), Central and Eastern European Art Since 1950 (Thames & Hudson, 2020), a special issue of Third Text on “Actually Existing Worlds of Socialism” (2018), and Maja Fowkes’s The Green Bloc: Neo-Avant-Garde and Ecology under Socialism (2015). They are curators of the exhibition Will there be Sugar after the Rebellion? Potential Agrarianisms at Kunsthalle Bratislava (2021). They lead the collective research programme Confrontations: Sessions in East European Art History. www.translocal.org

Lucia Pietroiusti

Lucia Pietroiusti is a curator working at the intersection of art, ecology, and systems, generally outside of the gallery format. She is the curator of General Ecology at the Serpentine Galleries, London, a strategic, cross-organisational effort dedicated to the implementation of ecological principles in the context of the Serpentine’ public-facing programmes, internal infrastructure, and networks. Pietroiusti was also a curator of the Golden Lion winning Lithuanian Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale and one of the curators of the 2020–21 Shanghai Biennale. In 2022, Pietroiusti will join James Bridle in curating a section of the Helsinki Festival dedicated to artificial and more-than-human intelligences. https://luciapietroiusti.earth

Elke Krasny

Elke Krasny is Professor for Art and Education and Head of the Department of Education in the Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Krasny’s scholarship, academic writings, curatorial work, and international lectures explore questions of care at the present historical conjuncture with a focus on emancipatory and transformative practices in art, curating, architecture, and urbanism. The 2019 exhibition and edited volume Critical Care: Architecture and Urbanism for a Broken Planet, curated and edited together with Angelika Fitz and published by MIT Press, introduces a care perspective in architecture that addresses the anthropocenic conditions of the global present. https://www.elkekrasny.at/

Dražen Dragojević

Dražen Dragojević moves between Berlin-Ljubljana, culture-theory-media, concepting-producing-communicating-engaging, books-television-stage-galleries-film-clubs. He collaborates with the cultural festivals Indigo, Sonica, and Grounded as well as projects in development, like Gallery Cukrarna in Ljubljana.


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