Shock, Awe and Ellipsis: art and climate change

Malcolm Miles, Professor of Cultural Theory in the School of Architecture, Design & Environment, at the University of Plymouth

Commissioned and published by ixia

Climate change is an increasingly urgent global issue. While it is generally understood that climate change is produced through human industry, and the science of climate change is regularly disseminated in news reports, a gap remains between public knowledge of climate change and action to avert it. Artists and arts organisations – including the Royal Society of Arts – have addressed the issue, and several major exhibitions – such as Radical Nature at the Barbican Arts Centre, London in 2009 – demonstrate this engagement. But are such initiatives likely to contribute to action on climate change? This article considers the question through three cases of art in public settings, and one book: Paul Bonomini’s WEEE Man at the Eden Centre, Cornwall – a death-like figure of waste electrical and electronic equipment; Peter Randall-Page’s wayside sculptures of shells on a Dorset bridleway; Nuage Vert, by Paris artists’ group HeHe, in which a green laser projection charted a real-time decrease in emissions; and the book The Oil Road by James Marriott and Miko Minio-Paluello of the arts group Platform. The first example relies on shock-tactics; the second creates a reflective moment in an awe-inspiring landscape; the third entails practical public participation while playing on ellipses in public perceptions; and the fourth is a narrative of environmental and human rights abuses on the route of an oil pipeline. The article relates such examples to a broader cultural context, and argues that art’s contribution to averting catastrophic global warming is likely to be more aesthetic than propagandist.

About the author:
Malcolm Miles is Professor of Cultural Theory in the School of Architecture, Design & Environment, at the University of Plymouth. His book, Eco-Aesthetics: Art, Literature and Architecture in a Period of Climate Change is published by Bloomsbury (2014).

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