Direct from Copenhagen, Denmark - 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference - (8 – 18 December '09)

Acting as the official High Tide COP15 envoy, distinguished ecological artist Aviva Rahmani will be immersing herself in the burgeoning eco-political activism in the city and sharing her experiences with us via this daily blog.

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Sunday, 13 December 2009

Day 7 Copenhagen Framing Art Now Here

On Dec 12, 2009, at 9:28 PM, Suzaan Boettger, Ph.D. wrote:

Aviva – I hope you’ll be able to view and send your descriptions of the pertinent art exhibitions in Copenhagen. Have you seen the below, or has anyone read a review of it?

‘(Re-) Cycles of Paradise,’ at the UN Climate Change Conference, Copenhagen, December 7–18, 2009. The exhibition is organized by ARTPORT making wavesand commissioned by the Global Gender and Climate Alliance.

I gave this request from Suzaan a lot of thought last night. I have commented on the beautiful ARTPORT show in an earlier blog. I always like Subankhar's work, basically the same thing he showed at the Weather Report show but installed more simply & smaller. I will write about the work of Sacha & Oleg, the people I'm closest to here. Thursday, I will try to get to some films. Friday afternoon, after my press conference, if there are no important sessions scheduled, I might get out to museums, etc.

But the "pertinent" environmental work is NOT in art exhibitions here. if I were to review good "environmentist art" in Copenhagen now, none of it would be in a museum or gallery. That is NOT where the cutting edge of thinking or production about the relationship between life & art is in my opinion.

My task here is NOT to recapitulate the same old tired frame of perception that has been recycled for the past forty years or to comment on art as a comment on art. I have a clear task as an artist: to reframe the critical discourse about art in terms I find most meaningful, based on what I perceive as a human being in my times, in order to reframe what it means to be human today. It is our frame of perception that need to recreated in order to change our behavior.

"Environmentalist" art that excites me and the reason I do the kind of work I do now, is the same reason, as a very young artist, I was drawn to & worked with Robert Rauschenberg & Allan Kaprow, the Bread & Puppet Theatre, was inspired by Alexandro Jodowrowsky and eventually worked with Judy Chicago. Long before I met them, from a much younger age, I had traditional training and went thru Cooper, Cal Arts etc. My movement to less static versions of art in the mid-sixties was deliberate, intuitive and educated. The movement back to static perception can be a comment in itself but that is not what I'm seeing in conventional exhibitions.

My own work and what excites me as an artist today is not individual star-based art in an even more static room, addressing audiences remotely perceiving a mediated experience. This is not to say I don't think installations, paintings, whatever don't have a place but they aren't RELEVANT here and now in the way they are being presented. Many people, like Alfredo Jaar this year, stand out at times. But my time here is a precious opportunity. It is focused on change. I make no distinction between formal art and international politics in that word in this context. Maybe it is ultimately myself doing the most transforming.

The best art I see here and now is in the engagement with a larger, sometimes invisible group that is responding to the most pressing present situation: how to get a binding agreement, how to express the pain of delay. And maybe it's the latter that makes static art in static space so difficult to concentrate on here.

This situation is extremely painful to those losing land, home, life while others, as the USA conservative party enforces delay. I have seen nothing in formal exhibition that powerfully conveys that reality.

The closest was watching and listening to Sarah James at ARTPORT, while Subankhar filmed her. And that unframed moment would not be considered "pertinent environmentalist exhibition" by many. Subankhar is the art star. But in that situation, his status and technical skills were at the service of a much more dramatic event: the testimony of a beautiful woman (not by any conventional standards: she is short, large and gray) in beautiful dress, saying and singing beautiful things about a beautiful world we are relentlessly, often casually, utterly destroying. The frame for that event was their personal relationship and the entire world's eyes on this city and awareness of delays in COP caused by the developed countries. Judged by the limits of the literal exhibition space, or conventional modernist formal perceptions, it was a native woman in costume being filmed by the important photographer Subankhar Bannerjee in the beautiful ARTPORT gallery, surrounded by excellent work, elegantly displayed.

But that was NOT the frame of perception I brought to the event nor the one I would want to see blessed. The fact that the curators had the prescience to foresee the power of that situation is a positive comment on them, comparable to Ronald Feldman picking up Mierle Ukeles in the early seventies for the Feldman Gallery. The difference is that Sarah James' moment with Subankhar can't be hung on a wall or packaged for export.

What makes the "exhibition space" dead, in this context compared, say to Sacha Kagan handing out elegant yellow and black leaflets, in an immigrant neighborhood, far from the hundreds of thousands marching, about our relationships to borders, is it's disconnect from actual life events. It isn't the fault of the artists or any of the curators or the buildings where the exhibitions are mounted but it does render their appeal minimal, NOW.

To sum up, in response to Suzaan, art that has power and allure for me, is framed, deliberately or incidentally, by life events, not by an exhibition space. I am trying to draw attention to another kind of framing.

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