20190203

Gigantic advertisement screens feel offbeat in Helsinki. I just witnessed the giga-screen of Musiikkitalo blasting adds against the gray Kiasma walls. One cyclist passed their confrontation in the rain, leaving the remaining snow glimmering alone in neon colors. Amos Rex mega-screen illuminated the entire empty plaza.

Below is an extract from an interview of Agnes Denes, conducted om the 5th of Oct. 2018 at the artists studio in Manhattan. I transcribed the 48m interview yesterday on the artists demand.

Agnes Denes: My poetry became haikus. Because the language was a restriction, so the haiku was an.. Well, not easier mode of expression, because it had restrictions but I wrote many haikus and then I buried them.

Johannes Heldėn: ..as a part of the Rice bur..

A: I buried all the writings and I tried desperately to remember my haikus because they were beautiful but I kept no copies. I wanted to divest myself of something that I loved, to get something back from soil.

J: That’s very beautiful.

A: I wanted to give it, to get. And there was one haiku I tried to remember.. And I can’t.. But I can tell you what it was. I was sitting in a fog, next to water and the fog descended on top of the water. And a mosquito landed on my arm and the haiku was that, the mosquito knew it’s platform but I lost mine.

J: Oh, that’s beautiful. I love it.

A: Isn’t that gorgeous?

J: It is!

A: And I can’t remember it, the haiku.

J: To be honest, when you are describing it like this and there is also the idea of the haiku but we can’t hear it, I think that makes it even more beautiful.

A: The mosquito knew my skin was its platform but I lost mine, because the fog descended on the water.

J: The haiku is lost, there is a beauty to that too

Eero Yli-Vakkuri: I’m now thinking about the Tree Mountain, there is this strong scent of death, somehow in this work. A feeling of getting lost, somehow. Am I interpreting it correctly, that there is like a sense of.. A sorrow of death?

A: Of what?

E: Of death.

A: What’s the word?

E: Death.

A: Death, like dead death, like as in died?

E: Yes.

A: So how does that come into this?

E: I don’t know it came to mind when you were talking about that haiku. Sort of these forgotten memories.

A: Oh, the giving things up.

E: Putting.. Stuff to the ground..

A: Jeah. Ok. So, ask the question.

E: There is no question, perhaps. It was a short..

A: There is no question but you want an answer?

[Laughter]

J: That’s a good quote. That’s a pretty good quote.

E: That’s my life.

20181105

I’ve been using Duckduckgo as my search engine for the past two months and it’s working well for me. Today I’m migrating to Firefox. From now on end I’ll be relying on Signal for messaging, Wire for chatting, Firefox for browsing and Little Snitch gives me control over goes out my computer system. Feels good to have more control over my data. How the hell did I end up using Chrome in the first place? It was the 3D demos back in the day, I suppose. I bet Google/Alphabet has already collected enough data of me to create a virtual model of my online behavior. It comforts me that as I change as a human being I’ll slowly slip away from their grasp. So far I haven’t noticed any reduction in speed or significant gaps in information. Everything is working fast and accurately (and more ethically).

Hear William Basinski at an Outpost Artists Resources benefit event. He performed a dreamy, sonic-space exploration trip. The gig was framed as a love story which steered the listening expedience heavily. I couldn’t get very deep into the music, it felt like there was a veil dampening glimmers. His hand hovered over the computer keyboard throughout the gig but I don’t think he touched it. There were some participants of the the Lorre-Mill uTone building workshop present and we got to share notes on the experience, which felt rewarding.

We interviewed Agnes Denes during the weekend with Johannes Heldén. We had a pleasant chat (a citation from it below). Also found a MANIFESTO (1970) of hers online.

It’s so easy to kill a concept. Especially a benign concept. It’s not so easy to kill a bad concept. Its not so easy to kill an evil concept. It’s much easier to kill a good and a nice concept.

20180813

I got the opportunity to interview Agnes Denes last Saturday at her Soho studio. The interview focused on the conservation efforts of the Tree Mountain (1998).

I asked her what it felt like when it was discovered that the rice of the Rice/Tree/Burial (1968) was contaminated (the soil used in the planting was from a nuclear plant water cooling overflow site and the rice developed a red hue). She explained that that was not a problem for her, as it is inevitable that artworks change. Artworks in galleries change when audiences see them and art made outdoors changes when nature effects it (This feels like a reference to Hans Haackes’ Recording of climate in art exhibition, 1968-1970). Like many artists she does not believe that artworks can fail. I continued asking how much an artwork can to change before it becomes a different piece.

Eero: How much can original plans change until…

Agnes: It becomes an other artwork? It does not matter. It doesn’t matter. So it’s an other artwork. It is still used, still your communication, it’s still your mind. It’s not a problem.

This prompted me to think that the Tree Mountain is an artificial intelligence – It has a mind of it’s own, which exists outside the artist and effects the world according to it’s own logic. The Tree Mountain is a complex prosthetic, an organic device which recreates her thinking (perhaps it is a “landscape organism” as Nancy Holt describes the gravel pits in Pinsiö). This means that questions concerning the restoration / conservation of the artwork should also asked from the mountain itself.

I asked her how she defines “visual philosophy” (a term she uses in The Dream, 1990). She explained that when she started as an artist she believed that she could “revitalize all of knowledge” but she soon understood that this was an absurd goal. In the process she started to experiment how to “visualize impossible processes” trough art (such as logic, mathematics etc.) and the concept developed from this. I interpret that “visual philosophy” is a method for displaying material and social structures which produce knowledge: It seeks to create representations of how our perception of the world functions. This is a two way process (at least in the case of the Tree Mountain). When we make sense of the world, we make the world and this worlds then starts to make sense of us. I think this is why she call the mountain “a living monument”.

“Visual philosophy” feels like a prototype of (artistically steered) object orientated ontology. The geometrical shapes she works with, illustrate human processes of sense making. The shapes map-out how human intellects effect the world. The shapes she presents as artworks don’t actually show the world – They show how the world is being made. This feels very similar to the way Robert Smithson talks about maps. He argues that a map is being read in relation to a terrain and the terrain is being read in relation to map but neither produce an authentic reality. If there is something authentic, it is the relationships of these elements (map / terrain).

All of the trees in the mountain are of the same species (this has prompted critique from professionals who work with reforestation). During the interview I learned that there is a reason why all of the trees are the same: They illustrate the arrogance of human design. She explained that the Tree Mountain is “a forest which tries to be a virgin forest” and defined her desire to develop a virgin forest as “arrogant”.

Agnes: We copy and copy and copy. […] We have a tendency of copying. We also have a tendency of not seeing too far because we are surrounded by other sheep.

The trees in the mountain are owned by selected individuals and their ownerships cannot be sold or traded. They are inherited by the owners offspring. People own the artwork but they cannot sell it. This means that the aftermarket of the artwork is designed by the artist.

She is a true pioneer of the environmental art movement. When compared to todays standards, her collaborations with experts (such as the rice expert who identified the contaminated rice of Rice/Tree/Burial) and scientist don’t feel very deep. But this is understandable because institutions or traditions for art&science collaborations did not exist when she started. The act of contacting a rice expert seems small but it was a pioneering gesture. She attempted to develop an understanding of the world by relying on knowledge sourced from outside of her own field. This gesture was motivated by political ambitions (related to de-development!).

Agnes: He [Leonardo DaVinci] was interested in developing things that didn’t exist and I saw the opposition. I was interested in undoing things what did exist. […]

Eero: What did you hope to undo?

Agnes: All of it.

Eero: All of it?

Agnes: Everything. You have to change. You have to not undo it but you have to see the other side. You have to see the other side to understand it.

At first I thought that she’s talking about humanity: But she is talking about knowledge and about undoing the particular kinds of knowledge, which have led to contemporary environmental catastrophes.

I’m currently editing the interview and I hope to interview her again. I’d like her to define what she means when she is talking about “virgin forests” and to envision some kind of utopian future for the artwork with her.

20180803

Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change (2018) Nathaniel Rich. The text is too detailed for me but very informative. It identifies climate change as a weapon and links the oil industries efforts of discrediting climate change research as the origin of post-truth era possibly even post-expert).

In “How to Wreck the Environment,” a 1968 essay published while he was a science adviser to Lyndon Johnson, [Gordon] MacDonald predicted a near future in which “nuclear weapons were effectively banned and the weapons of mass destruction were those of environmental catastrophe.” One of the most potentially devastating such weapons, he believed, was the gas that we exhaled with every breath: carbon dioxide. By vastly increasing carbon emissions, the world’s most advanced militaries could alter weather patterns and wreak famine, drought and economic collapse.

Interview: Agnes Denes (2015) Maika Pollack. A long and good spirited overview of Denes’ career. Pollack has a huge appreciation for her work.

“I hate to put tags on things, because tags change, and they change with the requirements made on them. And we’re changing modes and needs. Words are changing. I find that old expressions are outdated, so when I write something, I try to find a new expression that hasn’t been born yet. It’s difficult. We use up words as we use up images. We use up everything, and that’s good, because it makes us grow.” -Denes

AGNES DENES Living Pyramid (2015) Ann McCoy. A critical view to the Living Pyramid (2015) temporary artwork installed in Brooklyn.

Denes bends nature to her will—trees are chained and planted on grids determined by Denes. The problems of mono-agriculture, which she has been accused of because her Finnish forest was comprised of one type of tree, have long been known. The creatures inhabiting her forests aren’t allowed the kind of complex habitat that would be more to their liking. We now know that trees communicate through their root systems, educating their neighbors. Nature has no voice in Denes’s work.

Eco-art is evolving, with many artists trying to work within existing natural systems. […] We hope the trees will aid this reclamation, and prevent erosion when they become rooted. Denes had consulted a horticulturalist for the Living Pyramid, and had submitted a long list of grasses that turned out to be more suitable for prairies. Common grasses and annuals were substituted due to the growing season and length of the installation. As with Denes’s forests, the plants used for the Living Pyramid are more symbolic than ecologically sustainable.

Denes is heroic, having survived a sexist art world with sheer grit and intelligence. She has produced a remarkable body of work and thought. The Living Pyramid holds its own whatever its eco-imperfections, and exists as a flowering monument to Denes and her complex explorations.

A Forest for Australia: Challenging Loyalties (2015) Jock Gilbert & Sarah Hicks. Overview of the degeneration of the A Forrest for Australia (1996) artwork by Denes.

The forest displays a stubborn refusal to be conserved […] A Forest for Australia is a living register of the extreme fluctuation of weather conditions in south-east Australia, now exacerbated further by climate change.

Within this rather precarious existence of the project are also registered many of the ideals that informed Denes’s original concept – the registering of the “nervous tension” of cities, the questioning of the status quo and the challenge to initiate new thinking processes through provocative, meaningful communication. It is these ideals that we argue should continue to be cultivated through any contemporary engagement with the project.

The Dream  (1990) Agnes Denes. Her own text, which calls for art to change. I particularly like the last quote here where she warns that art in public space claims it as it’s own. I share this understanding.

All my philosophical concepts seem to culminate and come to life in my environment/sculptural works. They are meant to begin their existence in the world when completed as works of art, and come to full realisation as they grow and evolve with the changing need and perspectives of mankind.

Making art today is synonymous with assuming responsibility for our fellow man.

I believe that the new role of the artist is to create an art that is more then decoration, commodity, or political tool. It is an art that question the status quo and the direction life has taken, the endless contradictions we accept and approve of.

[…] I see the importance of art emerging beyond a personal style, trend or region, pointing to new ways of seeing and knowing that enhance perception and awareness and forming new insights and new methods of reasoning.

Public art has become the newest game, a new phase in our overproduction and somewhat indiscriminate cluttering of our environments. In the light of our tendencies towards quick consumption, depletion, and reaching saturation points, especially when the results are not exactly satisfactory, public art may become extinct before we have had a chance to see its best examples.

Public art, like any other art, must have an immediate and a lasting effect. The difference is that public art invades areas where people live and work as opposed to museums or galleries where they go by choice. This alone ought to create a responsibility to the public whose common ground is thereby invaded. And this is where the dream comes in (or disappears). It is difficult to visualise a dream collectively, especially with strange bedfellows. And we know what happens when ideas are forced into mold. Public art is important for our communities and for artist expression, but it will fail if we cannot come to terms with its complexities and potentials. It is essential that art remain free to renew itself through the assessments of a world whose issues it reflects and analyses. Art in the public domain loses its preciousness, but it gains in strength by becoming a social phenomenon, sharing itself with others willingly and effectively.