Environmental Design Science Primer

environmental design science primer

My friend George sent through a link to the Environmental Design Science Primer, which is a PDF available here.

It seems to be quite a practical guide to starting from here and now – where we are, with the knowledge we have, and skilling ourselves up… Here’s a quote from the introduction:

In order to have a significant effect on vital environmental and social issues, people need to acquire the skills that will allow them to act as planners and participants, rather than as spectators in the defining and solving of problems. If environmental education is to be relevant and effective, it needs to balance its approach between activities which alert people to the dangers of a reckless attitude towards the environment, and activities which that inform people how to design and implement positive alternative solutions.

Science / Art / Knowledge / Belief

It seems that too many environmental and social justice advocates think they should be exempt from reducing their aviation-related footprint because their work is important. The continue their airborne ways because they don’t see “realistic” alternatives, and, perhaps, more importantly, because they can.

It is not that the exercise of privilege can’t be put to good use, but such action always and inherently also brings about injury. So the question we have to grapple with individually and collectively is, does the resulting good compensate (at the very least) for the harm, while laying the groundwork for eliminating the system of privilege and disadvantage — what ultimately, from a social and environmental justice perspective, has to be the goal of progressively minded folks?

The above quote is from an article by Joseph Nevins entitled Flying Is One of the Worst Things You Can Do for the Environment — So Why Do So Many Well-Intentioned Folks Do It?

It goes to the core of the question that this Environmental Audit posed for itself right from the beginning: “If the museum puts on an exhibition about the environment, how much in the way of resources is consumed, how much carbon (etc) emitted in the process? In other words, was it worth it?”

Now, I can’t say that I have come anywhere near answering that question definitively. Actually, I’m not sure if it can be answered, except perhaps in small case studies where tangible social, political or environmental change has occurred as the result of a particular action. Too often, however, the outcomes of art projects (or of, as Nevins discusses in his article, “international meetings” enabled by air travel) are too hazy to properly measure.
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Tipping Point

On Thursday, I have the privilege of speaking briefly at the opening event for Tipping Point. The questions on the agenda for the evening are:

Where’s the silver lining?
Can we re-imagine the nature of art and the culture of our relationships in the crisis of climate change?

And here’s what it’s all about:

Following short and sharp provocations and reflections on that topic and question ( 5-10 mins each) from scientist Anne Henderson-Sellers and artist Lucas Ihlein, Dick Robertson from TippingPoint will facilitate a different kind of extended conversation, ( from 6pm-10pm) using Open Space,  in which the audience decides what should be discussed.

What follows is a night of vibrant and creative conversation that leaves the participants engaged, connected and with an action plan.  Eating and drinking is encouraged through-out!

It should be an interesting event. I encourage folks to follow the link above to find out more about Anne Henderson-Sellers – her ideas on that site are compelling and intellectually challenging – particularly the concept of “environmental triage” – in which decisions will have to be made on which emergencies to act on as a priority, and which will have to be left until later (or never). Juicy stuff…


lucas venting at the abc
Lucas at ABC radio studios, picture by Louise the Intern…

Media begets media. It’s the truth, sad as it may be. Given that my project’s “materials” include media such as blogging (amongst other things), the Environmental Audit blog gets requests from time to time from other media folks. In this case, it was the Radio National gang from the ABC, who asked if I’d like to do a segment called “The Vent”.

Actually, the story goes further back – there’s a thing coming up later this week called “Tipping Point“, focussing on the connections between art and climate change – and I’ve been invited to speak briefly at the launch. And it was because of THIS that the ABC got in touch.

The concept of The Vent segment is that one person speaks continuously for 5-10 minutes on a subject of his/her choice. Particularly something that gets their goat. In my case, it made sense to speak from the position of having been doing the audit for the last 4 months (it’s now coming to its end, folks!). To tell you the truth, I struggled a bit to come up with a rant – I’m actually feeling pretty positive right now… or at least I was a week ago when I recorded it!

Anyway, here it is, in all its nerdy splendour.

And, below the line here, you can read the transcript from my Vent…
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Jeffrey Lee: In Conversation

This should be an event worth catching!

weather group installation shot

FRIDAY 29 OCTOBER, 12:30 – 1.30PM

What would you say if you stood to inherit royalties from a five billion dollar project?

Jeffrey Lee rejected this extremely lucrative offer. Join him in conversation to understand the reasons why, as he discusses his country and ongoing struggle to assert his traditional ownership over his land, despite pressure from industry to allow uranium mining.

Jeffrey Lee is the sole member of the Djork clan and senior custodian of the land encompassing the Koongarra Mining lease within Kakadu National Park. Lee has reputedly declined lucrative offers from a multinational corporation who were eager to extract 14,000 tonnes of uranium, worth over five billion dollars. Lee’s unwavering opposition successfully motivated the Federal Government to formally incorporate the area as part of heritage listed Kakadu National Park to ensure that his country remains unharmed for future generations.

In 2010 theweathergroup_U collaborated with Jeffrey Lee to produce a new video installation Koongarra, commissioned by the MCA for In the Balance: Art for a Changing World. The conversation will take place in the galleries, as part of the exhibition.

image above: theweathergroup_U Koongarra 2010 2-channel video installation, copyright the artists and Jeffrey Lee

Info from MCA website here.

On the monetisation of community resources

smh article 10 mile diet

Some fascinating issues continue to be raised by the Artist as Family.

The family, which made a Food Forest in the grounds of a church in Surry Hills, recently received a request for a photoshoot for an article in the Sydney Morning Herald with a local chef who was planning a “10 mile dinner”. The family declined permission, on the grounds that the food forest is a community resource, and not available to be transformed into a capitalised form of food production. The eventual news article, sans Artist as Family, is here.

I’ve responded in the comments to the Family blog, trying to tease out some of the things that arise from their refusal to participate in this monetised food economy.

So I thought it might be useful to cross-post from here, as others might like to weigh in to the discussion too.

“Holding the Space”

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how tricky it was for me to keep up with all the things that the Audit is kicking up. Every encounter, every article, every little investigation generates more and more interesting things to pursue, more links to follow.

I’ve had to humble myself with just doing as many as I can within the time available, given the energy I can generate in the course of any given day. I remind myself that since we’re thinking about “sustainability” here, my first responsibility is to my own sustainable working methods – to not burn out in the process…

With that in mind, in the next few blog entries, I’m going to try and reflect on some of the interactions I’ve had recently.


a tafe group visits the audit room

Here’s a photo of a group of TAFE students that came to visit me in the Audit room. One of the great things about having your artwork in the “resource room” is that there are plenty of chairs and a big table – it’s an ad-hoc classroom!
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The Committee Begins!

environment committee header

Yesterday I attended the first ever meeting of the MCA’s environment committee.

It felt historic, somehow. Tony suggested that this may have been what it was like, 25 years ago, when Occupational Health and Safety Committees were just starting out. By now, OH&S is ubiquitous, compulsory, legalised. But back then, it would have seemed like radical new territory. What sort of scope should such a committee have? What is its purpose? How should it all work?

Here’s my sketch of the attendees of the meeting. From memory, the table was square, rather than rectangular, but you get the idea.

first environment committee meeting attendees

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Plants in the balance

lauren berkowitz artwork at mca
Lauren Berkowitz, detail from Sustenance, late Sept 2010, MCA.

The following is a guest contribution, from Lucy, who works as a Visitor Services Officer (VSO) at the MCA. VSOs work from 10am to 5pm each day, and rotate throughout the museum every half hour. I think they represent a massive untapped resource of information about the way that artworks operate. Artists make the work; curators choose it, place it, write about it; gallery-goers experience it briefly when they visit. But nobody spends as much time with the work as the VSOs.

The MCA tends to employ artists, and sometimes art students, as VSOs. Thus, these gallery invigilators are far from “public servants” who perform a mechanical function of surveillance. Rather, the VSOs, while they are watching to make sure nothing goes awry, and writing reports on mishaps, are also thinking deeply about what is the role of art, and how particular artworks function in practice (rather than in the ideal space of the artist’s studio, or the utopian zone of the exhibition catalogue).

And so it is with Lucy, who has penned this thoughtful response to three artworks which are part of the In the Balance exhibition, each of which use plants in a different way.

Here is her guest blog:
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Organisational Change

This diagram shows the way that Environmental Audit has developed over recent months. The way I see it, the project has evolved into three parts, in terms of its working methods: blogging, printing, and (for want of a better word) “experiencing”:

3 part project

…and in this next diagram, the audit is again shown to have 3 bits, but in different way. It focuses on the trio of areas to which I’ve been bringing attention: the MCA, the In the Balance exhibition, and my own working methods:

three part project

One of the things I’ve been struggling with – as I find myself becoming more and more confident in this field, is that every meeting, every encounter opens up a whole new can of worms – and I just don’t have enough time to follow each worm to its compelling wormhole.

And so these diagrams helped me realise something that had been rattling around in my head for a little while. That the scope of this project is actually a bit too large for one single fellow to handle. I think, if I were to do another Environmental Audit like this one, I’d plan in advance to have 2 full-time helpers working with me.
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