|A panel discussion with Jane D. Marsching,
Cary Peppermint, and Brooke Singer, moderated by Shane Brennan.
by Shane Brennan
Thank you all for coming. I’m very excited to be
moderating this panel and sitting in the company of such accomplished
and compelling artists.
There is no doubt that our planet—the climate, wilderness,
all that is "natural"—is changing. It is vitally
important for us as artists to redefine our somatic and experiential
connection to what we are transforming. In the community of artists
using new technologies in particular, an electric storm—of
hybrid, interactive, and performative art—is brewing.
I first encountered the work of Jane D. Marsching, Cary Peppermint
and Brooke Singer when I started curating a project called New
Climates. This project brings together artwork responding
to global climate change and networked culture using a constantly
evolving video blog. These artists are working at (and re-working)
the boundary of nature and civilization, and the threshold of artistic
practice and technological implementation. I was particularly drawn
to Marsching’s Arctic Listening Post, Peppermint’s
A Series of Practical Performances in the Wilderness
and Singer’s A-I-R. These works expand our
conceptions of how we inhabit, see, and make art with (and within)
nature. In this introduction, I’d like to touch upon a few
of what I see as common threads in their work.
The discipline of eco-philosophy has theorized that technologies
of communication, art, and entertainment can act as prostheses to
extend human experience and interaction into the non-human world.
I would like to propose that the work of Marsching, Peppermint and
Singer is not simply concerned with interpenetrating “the
human” and “the natural,” nor are they only employing
technology as a static representational filter through which we
see “nature.” Instead, these artists are establishing
a participatory relationship between artist, environment and viewer.
They are demonstrating that the biosphere, human culture and technology
are not always discordant. In fact, they have the potential to harmonize
in ways that expand our awareness of nature and ourselves.
The work of these artists redefines nature’s “remoteness”
or “otherness” as productive rather than prohibitive.
They use technology to connect disparate viewers to places that
popular imagination has seen as inaccessible, uninhabited, ahistorical,
or even mystical. In the book The Machine in the Garden,
Leo Marx discusses the poetic art of integrating nature and technology.
He writes: “If technology is the creation of man, who is a
product of nature, then how can the machine in the landscape be
thought to represent an irresolvable conflict?” Marsching,
Peppermint and Singer are poets of integration; they are engineers
in the figurative garden. In their projects, the “natural”
is brought into the global information network with immediacy and
urgency—it is as if they become part of the same “ecosystem.”
Robert Smithson once wrote, “Art can become a resource that
mediates between the ecologist and the industrialist.” He
created land art and earthworks, which laid the groundwork for artists
to respond to, and reconfigure, natural landscapes. New media projects
go one step further: They employ technology to reveal current environmental
changes and to look into the future. In their explorations at the
limits of nature, these artists share an interest in imagining a
sustainable future—even while excavating geological, technological,
and individual histories. Their projects suggest that art can, and
indeed must, operate within the larger network of environmental
politics, science and social action. Their influence continues well
beyond their institutional or Web-based presentations into the many
pathways of our networked culture.
As you may already know, each of these artists skillfully engages
the World Wide Web. In dialog with the “real” natural
spaces made visible in the art of Marsching, Peppermint and Singer,
there exists the “wilderness” (as one could call it)
of the Internet, blogosphere, and the planetary information environment.
These three artists navigate and perform in this virtual terrain—a
terrain as vast, rich and occasionally unfamiliar as its organic
analogue. Their work mirrors and layers these natural and digital
“wilds.” And we come to see both nature and emerging
technologies as contingent and malleable.
Finally, I want to emphasize the common interest of these artists
in dialogical structures of information exchange. They spark communication
across scientific, artistic and broader communities—as well
as between humans and the non-human world. In doing so, these artists
highlight dialog as a powerful tool for instigating political, social,
and ecological change. I am sure that hearing about their work will
inspire a similarly effective and stimulating conversation this
evening—a sharing of ideas, facilitated by technology and
organically unfurling, that is truly—and productively—“wild.”
[JANE D. MARSCHING]
Ecological, interdisciplinary, hybrid, conversational, exploratory,
historical, imaginative, virtual, activist, networked. (That was
my version of Jane’s work as a series of descriptive tags.)
Arctic Listening Post, Marsching’s recent, multifaceted project
“all about the Arctic,” evidences a kind of “distant
touring” of the truly remote and nearly inaccessible landscape
of the Arctic. The Arctic and the North Pole are as much symbolic
and cultural destinations as geographical ones, and, as Marsching
says, “technology allows us to go there.” Her use of
scientific data, Web-based technology, and cultural history not
only portrays the Arctic, but also serves as a vehicle for imaginary
and visual transportation. Marsching’s work brings together
art and science, sensation and information. And in so doing, she
creates an electronic interface between aesthetics and environmentalism.
Marsching is currently an assistant professor of studio foundation
at the Massachusetts College of Art, and her work has been exhibited
at numerous spaces across the country. She was recently showcased
as a Foster Prize Finalist at the ICA in Boston, where she exhibited
Arctic Listening Post, a project that combines prints of computer-rendered
Arctic landscapes, a remixed web-cam video of the North Pole, and
Climate Commons, an interactive weblog discussion on climate change.
I had the privilege of meeting with Jane inside her exhibition earlier
this year, and I can attest to its inventiveness, collaborative
spirit and rigorous multiplicity.
Cary Peppermint’s relationship with nature could be seen as
both ancient and contemporary—his interventions in wild spaces
in A Series of Practical Performances involve foraging for sustenance,
constructing a home, and moving rocks. And yet they are presented
and distributed as a DVD and database of Quicktime videos. His websites,
Restless-culture.net and Eco-art-tech.net serve as hubs for his
artistic practice and research as well as constitute digital performances
of convergent media in and of themselves. Peppermint’s “exposure”—to
use one of his own terms—to nature, and nature’s “exposure”
to Peppermint, is documented in a form that questions the separation
of modern human life and “natural” environments.
Another of Peppermint’s videos, Wilderness Trouble Version
1.0 (which is included in the New Climates exhibition) further collapses
the spheres of nature and human-made digital technologies in a blend
of what we might call “wild information.” Are the technological
means by which we “connect” with one another and our
attempts to connect to the natural world fundamentally different,
or simply variations on a common effort? Peppermint’s work
suggests that we can use new media technology to communicate with
the “ecological other,” a task that is of utmost importance
given the increasing destructiveness of this relationship. His work
is in the collections of the Walker Art Center, Rhizome.org and
The Whitney Museum of American Art, among others. He is an assistant
professor of digital art at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY.
Brooke Singer, collaborating with a group of artists, activists
and technologists under the name Preemptive Media, engages emerging
policies and technologies to create interactive experiments in the
public realm. A-I-R (or Area’s Immediate Reading) allows participants
to confront the “inconvenient truth” of atmospheric
pollution, conveying the immediacy of our impact on climate change.
By exploring, monitoring and mapping their local urban environment,
participants render visible pollution and fossil fuel burning hotspots—a
wilderness of sorts superimposed on our industrialized reality.
While navigating city streets, users discover and take measurements
that are transferred to a central database, which doubles as a discussion
The project evokes the theme of dispersal—from the diffusion
of molecules in the air, to the distribution of the artwork itself
in the form of portable devices that serve as microcosmic air quality
monitoring stations. And since every participant will contribute
and have access to the same data stream, the project provides a
sense of networked community, suggesting a model through which we
may begin discussing and altering our collective role in climate
change. Singer is currently Assistant Professor of New Media at
Purchase College, State University of New York. She has exhibited
and lectured internationally and was, with Preemptive Media, awarded
the first Social Sculpture Commission by Eyebeam and the Lower Manhattan
Cultural Council in 2005. She will collaborate with Brian Hubbard
on an upcoming feature documentary about the EPA and government
accountability for health and the environment.
Shane Brennan is
an artist, curator and writer based in New York City, Providence
and Seattle. He will graduate in May 2007 from Brown University
with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art Semiotics (combining art
history and production, media studies and critical theory). Shane
attended Goldsmiths College in London in 2006 where he practiced
art administration and fine art photography. He has interned at
Creative Time in New York City and the Lisson Gallery in London.
He was the assistant director of the public art event Port Huron
Project, and completed a curatorial fellowship at Rhizome.org,
an affiliate of the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Shane edits
two publications: The College Hill Independent, a weekly newspaper,
and 68 Degrees, a journal of photography. He is currently producing
New Climates, an online curatorial project exploring
the relationship between art, global climate change and networked
|A 2007 Boston
Cyberarts Festival event made possible by the LEF Foundation