In her concluding keynote for Staging Sustainability 2014, Adrienne Goehler exhorted conference attendees to support a “basic income grant” as a universal right. She put it succinctly: the current system forces overproduction in all realms, even art. The current system of grants for artists, inadequate in so many other ways, operates almost exclusively on a project basis, forcing artists who seek support to think in terms of novelty and output rather than allowing adequate time for work to evolve and emerge organically. As Adrienne said, sustainability needs deceleration. All of us need the leisure to rest, ruminate, imagine ways to throw off the chain of overproduction and overconsumption and rediscover a way of living in balance with each other and the life this planet supports.
“Guaranteed annual income,” “basic income grant,” and “guaranteed minimum income” (or six other ways of saying the same thing) describes a stipend available without a means test or other conditions to any and every person. There’s an international coalition – Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), which holds its 15th annual congress in Montreal this summer – organized around three simple principles defining a basic income:
it is being paid to individuals rather than households;
it is paid irrespective of any income from other sources;
it is paid without requiring the performance of any work or the willingness to accept a job if offered.
The phrase “basic income grant” struck me with a powerful resonance – two, in fact.
In my keynote for Staging Sustainability 2014, I was asked to define “sustainability.” “The implicit meaning of the term refers to its opposite,” I told the group. “We fear having damaged ecosystems so much that life on Earth will soon be unsustainable, so sustainability names our search for whatever can heal that damage and allow us to carry on.” But I have some problems with the word’s way of setting the bar too low, of putting a supreme value on continuation.
David Buckland of the Cape Farewell Foundation (which I wrote about in my previous blog) said that he preferred “resilience” and so do I, because it encompasses the thing we must now all do, learning from loss. But Adrienne Goehler, a impressive fellow speaker at the conference, wants to rescue “sustainability” from the various forms of abuse and dilution to which the term has been subjected. She understands it as “continuous renewal.” And I’m down with that, understanding that the process of renewal entails leaving behind whatever no longer serves our capacity to thrive as we carry whatever supports our well-being into the future.
In Conceptual Thoughts on Establishing a Fund for Aesthetics and Sustainability, published by the Heinrich Boll Stiftung and downloadable from their site, Adrienne preferences her mission this way:
I spent a chunk of last week in a very cold and snowy Toronto at Staging Sustainability 2014, a conference with the subtitle “People. Planet. Profit. Performance.” It was masterminded by Ian Garrett of the Center for Sustainable Practice in The Arts, who teaches at York University. The University was one of an impressive array of sponsors, reflecting the reality that many scientists took part side-by-side with artists and scholars.
In fact, I began to feel that we are beginning to bridge the gap that C.P. Snow—whose own life braided art and science—wrote about in his important 1959 lecture, The Two Cultures, beginning to achieve a common understanding and discourse. As Snow described the problem more than half a century ago (some of his observations are dated, happily, but sadly not the thrust, I think):
There have been plenty of days when I have spent the working hours with scientists and then gone off at night with some literary colleagues [...] I got occupied with the problem of what, long before I put it on paper, I christened to myself as the ‘two cultures.’ For constantly I felt I was moving among two groups—comparable in intelligence, identical in race, not grossly different in social origin, earning about the same incomes, who had almost ceased to communicate at all [...] By and large this is a problem of the entire West.
I’m extremely interested in the way that artists seem to be building—or perhaps the correct word is “living”—the bridge between these realms.
Theaster Gates has been dubbed “the real-estate artist,” “the opportunity artist,” “an anthropologist, urbanist, activist — the 21st-century artist,” “the poster boy for socially engaged art,” #40 in Art Review’s “2013 Power 100, A ranked list of the contemporary art world’s most powerful figures,” and even “the Mick Jagger of social practice.”
So when I went to the Studio Museum of Harlem on January 16th for the activation of See, Sit, Sup, Sip, Sing: Holding Court (2012) — tables, chairs and desks salvaged from a now-closed public school on Chicago’s South Side, I believed the hype but still wasn’t sure what to expect.
When Keystone XL’s top job recruiter comes to town, he reveals just what types of jobs the controversial oil pipeline would really create.
Oil executives like to claim that the Keystone XL would create thousands of jobs. But in a project fueling so many environmental and health risks, only one man is honest enough to say exactly what those jobs would be. Hint: they’re not in construction.
It’s true, Keystone XL has a job for you! But the question is: do you really want it?
[Note to readers: This is a satirical video. Please do not call Keystone XL about these job openings. Do not send in any applications or letters of recommendation. Instead, we recommend asking the good folks at Keystone XL one question. How's the wig business going?]
When you bite into a ripe tomato, have you ever wondered where it came from? That tomato on your kitchen table has most likely traveled all the way from California’s Central Valley, plucked from the vine by the hands of a migrant farmer. This is the valley where painter and printmaker Michele Ramirez and her family have called home for at least three generations. “I have flashbacks every time I smell a ripe tomato,” says Ramirez, who spent a summer with her uncle harvesting tomatoes. “A really good tomato has this really earthy, beautiful smell. I smell it and boom, I’m back in the fields for just that nanosecond.”
The Central Valley has long captivated the imagination of artists and novelists for whom the beauty of its topography, with expansive pale skies and farmhouses speckling the horizon, has proven irresistible. For Ramirez, the Central Valley is both a beautiful and “distant, unknowable place” whose solitude she captures eloquently in her paintings. “You have this beautiful landscape [with] nobody in it… this giant sky and this slate horizon and all these grids.” Part of the appeal for Ramirez is the emptiness of the Central Valley, along with its blunt geometry, created by the rows and fields of its massive farms.
The world has seen some ugly battles fought recently over religion-related buildings. From the destruction of the Buddhist monastery at Bamiyan to the conflict over the so-called ground zero mosque, going back to Kristalnacht, the attempt at dehumanization of adherents to a religion frequently begins with a strike against the buildings associated with that faith. On the other hand, some of the most important architectural achievements of humanity across the globe, from Wat Phra Khao to Notre Dame, are a result of spiritual ardor manifested in stone. It would appear that religious structures can provide solace or evoke resistance. What does the Jewish tradition teach us about the role of buildings in spiritual life?
We will see that from the very start, from the Torah text itself, a conflicted reading of the importance or challenge of religious buildings per se is presented. The Torah text provides very lengthy and detailed descriptions for the building of the Mishkan, the portable temple carried by the freed Israelites in their journey through the desert. These details, with instructions regarding the building of the temple walls, roof, altars, ark, and other items related to the sacrificial service, are spread out over five perashiyot (Torah sections, as divided for weekly communal reading). We will see that this organization of the text itself teaches rather surprising and profound lessons about the values of sacred space and its rituals.
I feel my artworks, to a great degree, they are desires that will never be fulfilled. But that doesn’t impact on what we do manage to do. Just as I feel that the great part of the demand for freedom lies in fighting for it, and not just in it being a goal. I feel that the process of striving is where value lies in life. In the process of living our life, whether it’s an artist’s, a theoretician’s or a philosopher’s, we’re doing something very difficult.
The Chinese government took away Ai Weiwei’s passport more than a thousand days ago. Each morning as he begins work in his Beijing studio, the artist places a bunch of fresh flowers in the basket of a bicycle chained outside. The bike belonged to a young German man working in China who was also arrested; upon release, before he returned to Germany, he arranged for it to be given to Ai, who has made it a symbol of freedom. Ai has said the flowers will stop when he gets his passport back.
This morning before I began to work, I listened to a meditation tape.The teacher’s soothing voice instructed the meditator to notice thoughts and feelings with interest but without effort, always returning awareness to “a natural state of ease and contentment.” The underlying idea is that ease and contentment are indeed our natural state, that resistance, discomfort, and anxiety are merely fleeting interruptions. If we can learn to experience them without attachment, we can remain at ease.
It’s not unheard of to fight against an invented enemy.
In his novel The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje cites Herodotus’ description of a nation so enraged by an evil wind – the simoon – that “they declared war on it and marched out in full battle array, only to be rapidly and completely interred.”
And, in the twentieth century, long after Emperor Hirohito surrendered on August 15th, 1945, Japanese soldiers in remote locations continued to gather intelligence and to ‘fight’ in attempt to vanquish the American enemy, unaware that the war had ended. For some of these soldiers, it took years, even decades to convince them to give up their imagined battle positions.
Though separated by millennia, these two examples speak to the power of collective delusions, and the way in which not just individuals, but entire nations may make truly frightening, or tragic sacrifices in the name of an idea, which may not be borne up by reality.
Making this very point about America’s disproportionate use of resources in the so-called war on terror is what creative agency Incitement Design hopes to do with its recently launched campaign, The War on Irrational Fear.
Joseph Epstein is a conservative writer, mid-70s, who has spent much of his literary life pissing off readers with liberal or left values. His newest piece in the Wall Street Journal—“The Late, Great American WASP”—is a case in point, worshipping a bygone American WASP-ocracy that supposedly sacrificed the pleasures of mere domination in favor of power-wielding packaged with a sense of responsibility. While Epstein’s literary output has been polished to a smudgeless sheen, it still reeks of brownnosing, reminding me of the Francophone notion I borrowed for today’s title: nostalgie de la boue. Literally this is: nostalgia—homesickness—for the mud. It is meant to indicate an attraction to whatever is low, crude, degraded, to the romance of the wallow in our sensual nature without the trappings of civilization.
Why is Epstein so impelled to glorify a caste that could never include himself? He was born in Chicago, but if his parents weren’t born abroad, surely his grandparents immigrated here. He was brought up in a Jewish-American milieu he described a decade ago in an interview, seemingly completely unaware of his words’ embedded self-disgust:
[N]one of the positive stereotypes of Judaism adhere. We were not kids who had political idealism. Our parents did not talk about Trotsky and Stalin and the Party. I knew no one who took violin lessons. A few kids were forced to take piano and they hated every minute of it. We went to Hebrew school because were instructed to and we were bar mitzvahed. The only culture that was ever mentioned among the Jews of my parent’s generation was musical comedy. And you’d get these guys; these terrific brutes working in the scrap iron business and borax salesmen and they would go and sit there meekly with their wives and listening to Pajama Game. They’d come back and say “Gee we saw it in New York and the cast was better.” But there was no real culture. They were nice men, and I don’t mean to belittle them for not having culture. I’m glad to grow up without culture.