Art and Sustainability virtual vitrine | This is it, is it?
Ivetta Sunyoung Kang, Proposition 1: Hands, 2020
Still image from a single-channel video
Reflective essay on #sea_youhere 2.0
by Michaela Davidova
(thumbnail image credit:
Tessa Zettel, Mushroom Trading Post, 2017-ongoing)
It was around this time last year that the team members of SEA Foundation sat down around the table discussing the future of the #sea_youhere project. The virtual vitrine that was initiated in 2019 by Giusy V. Castaldo was an experiment to network and connect SEA Foundation with online audiences. In that sense, it was a strategy of sustaining the public awareness of an artist-led organisation whose future depends mainly on the willingness of its team members to work together. Without having an institutional structure, people come and go and ideas are being refined during the process. SEA Foundation soars in a puff of uncertainty which at the end of the day uplifts us with the freedom and curiosity to see what is coming next. We ‘flipped the coin’ and decided to continue with the project but focused more on the research value instead of the marketing aspect of the virtual vitrine. We, therefore, attached a theme to the 2020 edition and named it sea_youhere 2.0 of ‘Art and Sustainability’. Who could have predicted that a few months later, due to the pandemic, we had to close the door to our visitors and thus move our attention to the online space? The sustainable vitrine #sea_youhere 2.0 became more valid than ever before and its research dimension turned out to be the key to our continuity.
Open to resilience
We acknowledge there isn’t one way, nor a consensus on this discussion. In contrast to the previous vitrine that was not restricted by a theme, in the new edition, we had to establish what artistic practices are in line with sustainability. Is it a method or a message, or rather the consistency and their fusion? As much as sustainability is admired within the art sector and mainstream platforms, the concept can also be seen as a state of stagnation. Considering that the current system does not work properly and must be rethought, sustainability in its core definition – sustaining the present conditions for future generations – does not propose possibilities for change. Instead, it suggests that in order to sustain, we must adapt our personal habits and fulfil our desires with environmentally friendly solutions that would preserve our current ‘normal’. Nobody is questioning whose sustainment is put into the front or at the expense of who the desires are managed. The sustainability discourse is criticized by, amongst others, art historian T. J. Demos and anthropologist Zoe Todd mainly because it is not distinguishing between the amount of responsibility that is stated or that individuals/artists have in the current global geopolitical structure. Perhaps if the discussions go beyond the form, the doors open up to resilience – in practice and in thinking.
Time of transition
The sustainability concept in our interpretation is not a solution for survival but perhaps a comprehensive lot of methods or abilities in a time of transition. A set of tools that we can use to crack the walls, a set of habits that we can build bridges with. In the 2020 vitrine, we presented artists who remake the world using sustainable ideas or rethink the system by articulating alternative perspectives. Each month, the presented artist/artist collective brought us closer to their specific research which we saw as crucial in addressing sustainability. According to the focus points of these artistic practices, we collected 12 key-words that approach the theme of Art and Sustainability. The key words are not sorted by their superiority or importance, and in addition, we must take into account that they were chosen from our own Western-influenced mindset. Nonetheless, the individual approaches that were picked in the #sea_youhere collection, do not represent the absolute list of main topics that one can embrace when sustaining. In the coming year, we will put three of the research themes in the spotlight of the SEA Foundation’s program. In doing so we are aiming to deepen our knowledge of sustainability. We accept the challenge of not knowing because this is not a quest for results or solutions. Rather it is a time to develop, to have conversations, to find common grounds and unfold the layers of discussions.
#01. Empathy – Mari Keski-Korsu (FI)
#02. Happiness – Ivetta Sunyoung Kang (CA)
#03. Commons – Futurefarmers (USA/BE)
#04. No Hurry – Alexandra Drenth (NL)
#05. Awakening – Pedro Hurpia (BR)
#06. Reimagining – Tessa Zettel (AU)
#07. Solidarity – Michael Leung (HK)
#08. Spirit – Cynthia Montier (FR)
#09. Empowerment – Miriam Hillawi Abraham (ET)
#10. Responsibility – Darya Warner (USA)
#11. Voice – P L A T E AU R E S I D U E (SL)
#12. Memory – Hrair Sarkissian (UK)
Demos, T. (2016), The Art and Politics of Sustainability. Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology, Sternberg Press, pp. 31–62.
Todd, Z. (2015). Indigenizing the Anthropocene. In E. Turpin & H. Davis (Eds.), Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies (pp. 241–254). Open Humanities Press.
Daigle, C., & Cielemęcka, O. (2018). Sustainability. Available online at: https://criticalposthumanism.net/sustainability/