ECOAESTHETIC is an annual summer experience of environmental issues affecting our visual world and spiritual selves through exhibitions and special events.
ECOAESTHETIC: The Tragedy of Beauty is the first exhibition of SEA to be mounted in Exit Art’s main gallery. In keeping with SEA’s mission to present artworks that address socio-environmental concerns – and to unite artists, scholars, scientists and the public in discussion on these issues – ECOAESTHETIC will establish a summer encounter of social and environmental projects. Through the work of nine international photographers, it approaches the mystery of beauty in the natural and built environment, which can be destructive or utopian.
The Tragedy of Beauty will focus on photography of land where the tragedy of the image becomes the aesthetic of the environment. The artists in this exhibition do not have a passive engagement with the environment; rather, they seek out beautiful and tragic images to emphasize the human impact on fragile ecosystems, to elucidate our relationship to nature, and to visualize the violence of natural disasters. The purpose of The Tragedy of Beauty is to demonstrate that global environmental struggles are creating an aesthetic.
In conjunction with The Tragedy of Beauty, Exit Art will also create a collective terrarium in its two ground floor windows facing 36th Street and 10th Avenue. For this project, the public has been invited to bring a plant and a photo of themselves with the plant to Exit Art, in order to contribute to a communal garden that gives a presence to the local environmental movement.
Curated by Papo Colo, Jeanette Ingberman, Lauren Rosati and Herb Tam.
Edward Burtynsky (Canada); Mitch Epstein (USA); Anthony Hamboussi (USA); Chris Jordan (USA); Christopher LaMarca (USA); Sze Tsung Leong (USA); David Maisel (USA); Susannah Sayler/The Canary Project (USA); Jo Syz (UK)
General exhibition support provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; Bloomberg LP; Jerome Foundation; Lambent Foundation; Pollock-Krasner Foundation; public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn; Exit Art’s Board of Directors and our members.
Global environmental struggles are creating an aesthetic.
The planet is entering a new phase.
What is the purpose of art in this global transformation?
A new aesthetic has emerged: ‘conceptual’ art with a purpose, simple devices to help people and the environment around the world.
Materials from industrial waste are recycled to protect nature. People are becoming artists of preservation and dedicated environmental activists, globally and locally.
Ecological events transform the image of beauty into a story of catastrophe, yet the mismanagement of the environment is documented in beautiful images that can be inspiring. Artists interpret the disaster of our incompetent management of the environment by reconstructing images of distress with metaphors that excite the taste and trouble the spirit.
Civil disobedience by all kinds of professionals involving physical risk is a thriving movement. Tragedy is how history puts us together; comedy is how we laugh at that combination. Ecology is how we live in this balance; aesthetics, the unity that makes it work.
Ecoaesthetic is changing the body of art, if not its substance. The planet can exist without art, but we cannot exist without the planet.
Aesthetics is a creation of nature, art our interpretation. Conceit ruins nature. Foolish consumption of resources makes power impotent. We look the same for thousands of years but our planet doesn’t.
Does our planet’s physical change alter our spiritual knowledge?
Do we invent a new nature with the mutation of the old?
Art is beauty, arrogance is the politic of tragedy. Every century is an accumulation of knowledge of centuries before, a build up of waste and contamination…What are we going to do about this?
P.C. / Manhattan, 2010
THE TRAGEDY OF BEAUTY
“Images transfix. Images anesthetize…After repeated exposure to images it also becomes less real…In these last decades, ‘concerned’ photography has done at least as much to deaden conscience as to arouse it.”
“Photographs furnish evidence…In one version of its utility, the camera record incriminates.”
“What determines the possibility of being affected morally by photographs is the existence of a relevant political consciousness.”
— Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1977
I see a beautiful photograph, but it depicts the extinction of thousands of people, animals and plants. Words are swept by wind, images erased by memory but words also are recalled by sounds and metaphors cemented by history.
Humans consume the planet and science facilitates its digestion. Destruction and rebuilding are laws of science, the rule of nature and the scenery of the landscape.
“We are the world,” says the popular song, but the world is not us. We are residents and are temporary. Abuse is the final stage of annihilation and we are pushing the boundary of tolerance. The planet will implode with our mismanagement.
Doing something about it is better than lamenting our destiny. Art can be helpful. Publicity is always propaganda. Art is the invention of solutions with the artist’s free will.
We push innovation by denouncing catastrophes in a beautiful way. Any medium is acceptable but photography or moving pictures are the most compelling; words can be complements of images or vice-versa.
The photographs in this exhibition are the tip of the iceberg of how hot and cold, deformed and reformed, our planet turns out to be.
P.C. / Manhattan, 2010