Climate Salvage Sensory Art

Allison Carruth

This talk contemplates a practice for the environmental humanities and arts that I provisionally term climate salvage first by way of Jeff VanderMeer’s speculative narrative Borne and then through a discussion of artist Marina Zurkow’s immersive, multimedia, participatory projects, one of which the presenter had the opportunity to collaborate on in 2019.

9 replies on “Climate Salvage Sensory Art”

This is all so interesting, Allison. It strikes me that the two texts that you focus on here both are deeply invested in the unrepresentable (or difficult-to-represent). The title character of VanderMeer’s novel is literally hard to imagine, and written strategically so, while Zurkow’s animation, as you explain, involves a timeline so slow as to invite and play with a viewer’s boredom. What role does the unrepresentable play in climate salvage? Do you see this focus as a larger trope within climate salvage texts?

Two absolutely fabulous works of art to think with. Thanks for this, Alison. I was wondering what you think about the role of aesthetics in envisioning futures in these examples. What do you think about the line between making something aesthetically pleasing and making the environmental damage visible?

I was riveted by the note (almost an aside) that maybe part of M Zurkow’s intent (who was one of PPEH’s 2018 Ecotopian Toolmakers, btw) was to produce boredom with Mesocosm. That durational experience is famously difficult for audiences/participants.
So more generally, my question centers on difficult art and its demands (conceptual, physical, cognitive) while also thinking about public engagement. I know it’s a hopelessly broad question, but it’s the one I think about quite obsessively in my own work and collaborations. So, grateful for your insights 🙂

I’ve been thinking for months about Marina’s conversation with my students about her design principle of boredom with Mesocosm and the ethical and political aims of that affective / aesthetic dimension of the very long durational piece. The other presentations have drawn into relief how much the “high production value” paradigm of Hollywood inflects the public media and narrative projects that LENS has contributed to over the past three years. I hadn’t been conscious before of how the production of “binge-worthy” stories in our regional culture might be shaping public humanities and arts endeavors at UCLA. The Making the Best of It Project with Marina, conversely, creates a deliberately low-key, everyday space of snack-eating as a means to form a provisional community in which stories of climate vulnerability, adaptation, and change might surface through the sensory experience of eating (jellyfish jerky in this case!) together.

Allison, Thanks so much for sharing this work. I love Zurkow’s Wink project–and hope to spend much time thinking of/with it, because of you. On another note, I was excited by your delineation of “livability,” as opposed to “sustainability.” I’d love to hear you elaborate on the genealogy of that term, where you find and wish to take it.

So fascinating, Allison! I also appreciated your use of the word, livability.

As a UCLA School of Theater/Film/TV alum, I’m excited to hear that you are reflecting on Marina’s take on the aesthetics of duration and what that means in relationship to Hollywood ! I, too, believe in the power of sitting in something for longer than what is comfortable. The challenge is always — how to encourage someone to stay for longer than what’s comfortable? Especially if it is 2-dimensional work on the screen. I’d love to discuss this more…

It also seems related to what’s happening now with COVID-19 – we’re likely going to have to sit in this for longer than what is comfortable and this could create an opportunity for people who otherwise wouldn’t pay attention to just be.

Allison, Thanks for bringing Zurkow’s work to my attention. One thing I noticed about her work is the absence of the sounds of sandhill cranes and hot air balloons, to choose two examples with distinctive soundscapes. Since she wanted to make this a sensory experience (albeit while also cultivating boredom, which I take to be a nod to the commonplace), I’m curious about that decision. Can you offer any insight into these types of decisions?

I’m glad you raised this question about the soundscape of the piece, Marsha. I will now want to ask Marina more about the decisions she made as to which sounds to include through realistic recordings, which to approximate through computer generated sound, and which to leave out. My sense is the piece by design creates a disjuncture between the visual landscape (comprised of the sinkhole, migrating birds and pollinators, different transportation technologies, native and introduced plants, coyotes, and a range of objects and materials produced by petrochemicals) and the spare, tinny/metallic aural experience.

Stephanie and Sarah, I’m glad to know my use of livable and livability seemed apt. It’s the word I’ve just recently found myself gravitating toward writing about a range of environmental arts and narrative projects that variously move from searching /searing recognition of ecological and climate crises to provisional expressions of what might come after rather than “more of the same,” as I wrote about _Borne_ I think. I’m realizing, too, that my use of livability tries to counter how sustainability, its problematic meanings in a World Bank-aligned development paradigm notwithstanding, is an increasingly everywhere-and-nowhere-in-particular framework ill-fitted to handle global warming imaginatively or politically and also ill-fitted to the profoundly unequal causes and consequences of climate change. (Being a faculty member in an Institute of the Environment and Sustainability—a name without imaginative and political bite—probably also in the mix of leading me to livability.)