23 Mar

Transcript of Valerie LeBlanc’s talk given during the AnthropoScene, a semester-long exploration of this new era sponsored by the Leonard and Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science & Policy and the College of Arts and Sciences of the University of Miami with participation by Artists in Residence in the Everglades.

Thank you all for coming here today. Special Thanks to the organizers and hosts of the AnthropoScene Conference and Exhibition: The Artists in Residence in Everglades (AIRIE), Executive Director, Deborah Mitchell, The University of Miami, Ecosystem Science and Policy, Director Gina Maranto

Image 2: Anthropocene summary

Artist activities
For years I lived on the cutting edge of the Anthropocene: cleaning printing screens with Tolulene; working with paints on my hands and under my fingernails; cutting and building with MDF (medium density fibreboard); mixing glass from scratch and breathing it all in. Then I moved into neat electronic studios that evolved into digital environments. Little did I realize that my art process was still implicated in ‘the mess’. And there is where we ALL find ourselves today.

Trying to keep up
Around 2000 when digital media became more consumer accessible, the speed of life ratcheted up a notch. The ways of carrying out all duties became more electronic and Internet based. The need to keep up began to affect everyone from homemakers to children, from educators and administrators to mechanics and everyone-in-between. And as we all worked toward the goal of staying on the edge of digital knowledge, of competing, we lost track of the level of manufactured goods falling by the wayside and into landfills. As our ‘stuff’ became obsolete and we reached for the new standards, the baseline of consumption bulged.

I looked through various geological time scales and found that the area I needed to see – the past 1,000 years was too compacted. What I am getting at is that I need to see the quantity of waste materials created and dumped into pristine environments. And perhaps even more importantly, the charts highlighting waste buried where it can seep into underground streams.

Image 3: the Minotaur by Watts

Who are WE
As I began to concentrate my thoughts on the criteria for recognizing a new and accelerated geological time period, I got a mental image of George Frederic Watt’s 1885 Minotaur: the beast that destroys everything gentle that he encounters. A pitiful monster, his face hangs in loathing for the act he has just committed, the killing of a small bird.

Image 4: Minotaur – Joe Webb (Gif images)

Then I found the more recent remix of the Minotaur Selfie by collage artist Joe Webb. He has captioned the work: “The Minotaur attempts to take the perfect ‘Selfie’ only to be frustrated by red eye on each shot.”

Little does he know that a sparrow is perched on his back. Or, in another reading, is he trying to find the source of that pesky itch on his back and all he can see is red? If Watts posited the Minotaur as the manifestation of Victorian evil, the ruination of innocents, whom can we now pose in the persona of this mythical figure? Are we all reflecting out of that technological mirror? Can we help ourselves stop wanting more, or leave less mess while acquiring it?

Image 5: Mars One

Colonizing Mars with sustainable environments – first batch of colonists booked to head out in 2024
On the Mars One reality show site, the image of the colonization modules is captioned: The Next Giant leap for Mankind. And I have to ask myself, “What’s wrong with HERE, with this Paradise? If you believe some of the oral history that came to be written down in ancient times, it appears that we already accepted the lease on this Garden when we tasted that snaky apple of life on Earth.” If I pause on the homepage image longer, I have to ask why those great little modules could not be made available for temporary or for permanent habitation in my neighborhood, in the trailer park on the outskirts of town, in the tent cities set up to temporarily house refugees displaced by weather conditions, or the bellicosity of groups carving out bigger backyards. The idea of a one-way mission to Mars is like leaving the Garden for a second time. It seems that persons applying for the mission are looking for a transformative experience, a religious experience; and televised, sponsored validation for living and achieving. Apparently, it is an experience that they are not able to find on earth. And maybe we should worry about what will happen to these individuals if reality shifts and the show is cancelled.

At some point in the 20th century, with the advance of photography, moving picture technology, sound recording, and other innovations, concepts of art needed overhauling. It is now accepted that artworks are reproduced and distributed widely on the planet, and that the spectator possesses the power to complete the work through experiencing it in whatever location it is encountered. In its distribution and function, film is an art form that epitomizes the dilemma: Is art imitating life or is life imitating art?

Image 6: Entertainment: The Top Predator

I believe that this conference presents the ideal context to raise concerns about casual explosions of atomic or nuclear bombs in dramatic films. I use the word casual when referring to films where life goes back to normal, or is even better after a ‘staged’ blast.

On the Internet, the List of documentary and dramatic films about nuclear issues is big. You can even find listings for the Best and Worst of all nuclear blasts. Although James Cameron’s 1994 fictional drama True Lies is not found under those classifications, the film stands out in notoriety. Set in Miami and the Florida Keys, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis, the story twists its way through contrived scenarios to arrive at destroying a section of the Seven Mile Bridge and exploding a nuclear blast just off the coast of the Keys. In the end, the superior intelligence and righteousness of the hero is showcased as he succeeds in diverting the location of the explosion away from a major population center (Miami), he saves the girl (his wife – Jamie Curtis), outruns the bomb and makes it back to the mainland amid cheering. The sky is still blue and all is apparently well as there is no hint of any negative environmental impact on the Keys or in the surrounding underwater habitat. We are also left with the impression that there is no psychological damage brought about through the idea of setting off a nuclear blast, that life goes on, with business as usual and takeout pizza for dinner. Reaching beyond suspension of disbelief, True Lies missed the marks on both life imitating art and art imitating life. BUT, with a budget of over $100 million, it is said to have had commercial and critical success.

Image 7: Terminology

Since the explosion of the first atomic bomb in mid 20th century, we have faced the assured threat of mutual annihilation. We rightfully become nervous each time another country steps up to the plate to flaunt membership through nuclear testing. That terminology has always bothered me. When speaking of nuclear bombs, use of the word test seems to imply that this controlled practice is less serious than other bomb blasts. Rightfully, each new threat of capability is addressed, but it is upsetting to think that the fallout after a test blast is not front-page news. In the future, I would like to see all blasts called what they are: BAD!

Image 8: Questions facing artists in discussions of the Anthropocene

There are a few capitol sins that we are warned against.
Avoid being didactic.
Try not to be too political – yet, do not self negate.
Don’t be too angry, you will be in danger of becoming a social pariah and you won’t reach anyone.
On the flip side, the biggest flaw of any artist is to be too irresponsible, to not care enough.

Image 9: The Transformative Effect of the Everglades

So where can we get a break from all of this?
When we allow ourselves to slip into the natural world.
The Everglades is one of those overwhelmingly lush retreats.
If we think about the anthropocene state of the earth as something out of control, we are all lost. If we can think of it as something we can work with, we might be able to go ahead.
Time in the Everglades can have a slowing effect.
Maybe that is what is referred to as the transformative effect.
It is definitely a calming effect.
If you set yourself down there, all of that nature rises up around you.
You are suddenly in ‘their world’ and time seems to stand still.

Artists work against being under-exposed, or of not being seen at all, of being invisible. It is ironic that an invisible path is something that each of us could aspire toward when thinking about natural environments and ecosystems. Aside from dangers presented by major developments, how can we, as individuals, get out to enjoy the nature around us while minimizing the traces we leave behind? It is at the very least, something that we should be thinking about.

Image 10: Florida Clouds

On a trip out with Everglades National Park Hydrologist Steven McQuaid Tennis, he shared his synopsis of a lifetime of weather observations made during his trips out for establishing measurements. On the return passage across Florida Bay, I jotted down less scientific notes that grew into a 3-part reflection on Florida clouds.
(Poem read: Cumulative)

Image 11: Hope, painted in 1886.

To close, I would like to show you another painting of George Frederic Watts: Hope – The figure is blindfolded and apparently sitting on top of our world clinging to a wooden lyre with only one string left.

We have come a long way since it was painted and the sky is still blue and sometimes very bright.

Thank You!

 

Valerie LeBlanc, Wednesday, March 4, 2015, Leonard and Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, University of Miami, FL

Link to Daniel Dugas’ talk

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About Valerie LeBlanc

Originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, pluri-­disciplinary artist and writer Valerie LeBlanc has worked in Canada, the United States, Europe, and Australia. Her creations travel between poetry, performance, visual and written theory. Valerie LeBlanc has been creating video poetry since the mid 1980’s, and is the creator of the MediaPackBoard (MPB), portable screening / performance device. In the fall of 2012, she published her play The Raft, through Basic Bruegel Editions.

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