The REMNANT/EMERGENCY ArtLab is a new project now underway supported by the Australia Council for the Arts. A ‘rapid response’ team of international ‘ecological health’ workers – each practicing media artists, designers and engineers – will work together for REMNANT/EMERGENCY over 2010-12. Keith Armstrong, Natalie Jeremijenko, James Muller, Tony Fry and Leah Barclay are the lead artists/designers for this interdisciplinary lab engaging with critical contemporary environmental issues.
The REMNANT/EMERGENCY Artlab was a major arts And cultural reserach and development project. It ran between 2010-12 and concluded in May 2012. It was supported by the Australian Government through the Australia Council (Inter Arts), in collaboration with QUT Creative Industries, the UTS Research Centres for Contemporary Design Practices and Human-Centred Technology Design & Embodiedmedia. Other partners include, (or have previously included) UTS Gallery, The Edge, NYU Environmental Health Clinic, the Participatory Design Conference (PDC 2010),Scanz 2011 EcoSapienz, Art Center Nabi (Korea) and Earthbase Productions.
The REMNANT/EMERGENCY ArtLab pivoted on a series of site specific Labs in the Australian neighbouring regions of South-East Asia & the Pacific between 2010 and 2012. The labs involved rigorous research and experimentation offering the team an opportunity to understand and engage with ideas of remnant self, culture and environments, assisted through an examination of the complexity of cultures and inter-cultural exchange. Through the artlab website (www.remnantartlab.com) each Lab event can be explored – and an overview of what was learnt from the process can be found here.
The Artlab team understands itself to be a new ‘change community’ in that we share a commonality of belief (that also respects our differences) – that we must apply our work towards envisaging an environmentally/culturally sustainable future. As a group we are therefore investigating new modes of creative thinking/action together that confront the roots of today’s ecological crisis. By naming the root of this crisis as cultural (rather than scientific) we clearly understand the problem we face as a being a ‘problem of us’. Towards that end we are seeking to develop new imaginaries that question deeply-ingrained, unsustainable ways of thinking and acting.
By conducting a series of labs in different geographical locations the project gave us an unparalleled opportunity to learn from other cultures whose practices are both different and potentially more sustainable than our own – and to then re-think and re-apply those sustaining knowledges to our own ‘change-politics’ activities. The discoveries made through these labs also translated into each member’s discipline/practice evolving into a methodology that was both increasingly sensitive to intangible cultural heritage and that forgeed new processes that sought to target the roots of our collective ecological crisis.
The core team included Director and media artist Keith Armstrong, design theorist Tony Fry and sound artist Leah Barclay, environmental artist Natalie Jeremijenko and film maker James Muller. We worked actively with other collaborators when local opportunities arose. We are also joined by QUT Masters students, communications artist/writer Ilka Nelson and Environmental Engineer/Media Artist Tega Brain.
There were six key labs in total and a number of satellite events hosted across the Asia-Pacific region. The wrap up/overview of the project can be found here.
A remnant is something that remains when the majority of that something has been lost. Remnants (of land, animal life or cultures) symptomatically offer us a message inscribed in both place and time. There is an urgent need to reconnect these remnants of self, culture and environment. How we then choose to act is our critical question and challenge to confront.
As Timothy Morton states that everything is connected into a vast, intertangling “mesh” that flows through all dimensions of life. No person, no animal, no object or idea can exist independently. ‘Nature’ is not an entity separate from culture – nor is ‘the animal world’ separate from humankind. Understanding profound interconnection (an unexpected simplification) requires us to evolve our thinking and acting consistent with what Tony Fry names ‘ecological “ontology” (Fry, 1999). We will seek an ‘interconnected knowing’ in the cultures we engage. By actively seeking and adopting knowledge from these cultures and utilising emerging technology, we can begin to imagine a deeply relational understanding of self and the world – suggesting transition towards the new human. Intercreate name this the ‘eco-sapien’.
Today’s ecological emergency exists because a dominating Western Culture has ignored this entanglement and pursued a quite different vision – a vision that is also ‘time poor’ – consistent with what, after Bernd Magnus, Tony Fry discusses as ‘chronophobia’ (a fear of time). All around us we now see symptoms of a crisis we have created in the biophysical world, the human body, the social fabric and interpersonal relationship. In this ‘time of emergency’ we must, as creative practitioners, gain a critical understanding of the situation, devise new types of projects. Such projects need to examine the cultural values that drive processes of destruction, our incomprehension of time and desecration of place. Equally, we have to learn how to develop complex, relational and reflective processes. The ArtLab project pursues bioregional understandings of place that establish a context of site and the voices belonging to place – thus helping us to interpret ‘terrain’ by beginning with local ground with the intention to establish a poetics of embodied movement that can generate a ‘mesh of understanding.
This approach will also pursued through increasing understandings of other languages, places, memories, recordings and sounds and the cognate and implicate sensations only available in embodied moments – that use multiple media to uncover particular knowledge of people who have a sensitised understanding of their locale. A critical aspect of this approach involves signifying and acknowledging the implicit place of a re-understood ‘time’ of everything – following Fry’s understanding of Martin Heidegger’s notion that ‘everything has its time’. This approach foregrounds a methodology for establishing re-interpreted ideas of ‘place of time’ as the ultimate arbiter of more or less future assurance – for both us and our entangled companion worlds. We wish to witness and promote a necessarily rich poly-vocality. This becomes a reflection of and upon a world that others can engage and sense that which could be if we chose to recollect, re-imagine and reinvent together.
The Artlab therefore is seen as an opportunity to create new forms of artwork and also a vehicle for understanding what might constitute consistent processes. What we produce, how we produce it and how we act collectively and separately has the potential to spark a whole range of related affirmative community activities. We can use these local contexts to understand how other cultures are managing increasing resource deficiency and increasing waste, to generate better and more powerful ‘images’ of what a sustainable world might be. We can learn from other cultures how we might envisage sustainable practices – in an effort to move away from the Western penchant for creating the ‘original’ and rather to reconnect with our remnant ‘tools’. The Labs provide an incubator for each team member to explore and develop their practice by culturally challenging our understanding of ‘time and place’ with the opportunity to exchange ideas and techniques and seed further collaborations.
A radical creative process or work is one that asks questions, invites thought, challenges taken-for-granted values, and exposes not so evident contradictions.