Greenwash / Audit

greenwash thumnail

Meg Ulman of The Artist as Family has written an article in the Greenwash series about Environmental Audit and some questions it raises (so many questions, Meg!)

If you click on the above image, you can see the article in your browser window. Or you can read it over at Trouble Magazine, here.

At the end of her article, she writes:

I asked Ihlein if, at the close of the In the Balance show, he would be decreeing a verdict, either yay or nay, as to whether the show was worth it. He said no, he wouldn’t be, and I was glad. It means his audit is not about having a final say, about reaching one definitive conclusion, but about highlighting our methods and processes, our ability to speculate and question, and our obsession with cultural objects that for too long we have prized, but not prised open.

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If you want to read the full text of the article, I’ve pasted it here below:
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The Bottom Line?

…in which our hero recounts his double-pronged attempt to produce a numerical figure representing the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the In the Balance exhibition at the MCA; and wonders what to do with the results…

Campbell tests the meters...

It started here, and continued here.

And here it ends (oh, how I wish it would end here):

Having spent time with Nicky and Mark getting all the wattages for each light fixture, each video projector, and each television screen in the gallery, I was then faced with the task of adding them all up.

But first, Mark summoned Campbell the electrician to help out. Campbell arrived with a tool which would, potentially, make all my adding up work unnecessary: the Ammeter.

With a very excitable Mark champing at the bit, we three brave explorers plunged into the bowels of the building: concrete corridors threaded with large air-ducts and fat, colourful, dangerous-looking multicoloured cables, copper pipes – many clad with aluminium foil – ancient looking dials, and sheet metal boxes painted with turquoise enamel. A deep humming sound and an unexpectedly gusty airflow permeated these unpeopled corridors.
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The Future Farmers’ Future Problem

My permaculture friend Todd always likes to pepper everyday conversation, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, with the term “pollution”. You see, in the course we did together, we were given a new perspective on the concept of pollution – which was redefined – not as something absolute and evil, but rather as a surplus of any resource for which a use has yet to be found.

To offer an example of how this works: in a forum I attended a few days ago in Bundanon, Pia Winberg, an environmental scientist at University of Wollongong drew attention to the untapped potential of seeweed as an Australian Industry. For Pia, seeweed is great because you can grow a lot of it in salty water (sidestepping the salinity problem), and it can be used to mop up some of the destructive nitrogen and phosphorus “pollution” created by fish farming industries. In other words, if you locate a seeweed farm near a fish farm, the pollution from the fish farm becomes, rather, a resource for the seeweed farm.

On a smaller and slightly more absurd scale, Todd, who has a lot of chickens in his south-coast backyard, likes to brag that he has an “egg pollution” problem. Which he, very kindly, solves by giving eggs away. Even better, he offers to help others solve their “empty egg carton pollution” problem, which helps him package his eggy pollutants. You get the idea…

Which brings me to a looming issue. There’s only one month to go on the In the Balance exhibition at the MCA. What will happen with all the stuff used to put together the show, when it finishes?
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False Finitude?

glenn tries to get a print from raquel's whiteboard

Here’s a curiosity. The above image is a rather blurry photograph I took in the MCA gallery, showing the title wall label for Raquel Ormella‘s artwork in the In the Balance exhibition.

The work, entitled “Poster Reduction”, consists of an electronic whiteboard with two marker-pen drawings: on one side, a majestic Tasmanian tree in the forest, and on the other, a depiction of the offices of The Wilderness Society (the nerve centre of that organisation’s campaign to save the forest). Gallery visitors can view each image in rotation, by pressing a button on the whiteboard control panel.

Here’s Glenn the curator pressing the button:

glenn tries to get a print from raquel's whiteboard

glenn tries to get a print from raquel's whiteboard

The other thing that the whiteboard does is to produce “thermal fax paper” type print-outs of the image on the whiteboard. By what miraculous scanning process this works, I am not sure, but it’s pretty cool.

This work has been exhibited elsewhere (notably, at The Performance Space in 2005), and in its previous manifestations, it spat out lots of this thermal paper, which built up in a nice dishevelled pile underneath the whiteboard.

At the MCA version, however, gallery visitors are invited to make a print-out for themselves, by pressing the “print” button on the whiteboard control panel. On the sign adjacent to the whiteboard, the finitude of this paper resource is foregrounded:

raquel whiteboard closeup

As I understand it, this message is partly designed to make visitors “think twice” – do they really need a paper print-out? There’s an ethics of action invoked here – “if I print out a page for myself, that’s one less page available for someone else” and so on… And also a connection between the subject matter of the artwork (the finitude of the forests) and the materiality of the artwork (paper being made out of wood etc)…

But on the day that I tried to print – a few weeks ago – the fax paper was already finished.

Here’s Glenn, having tried to print himself a page, indicating that the paper has run out:

glenn tries to get a print from raquel's whiteboard

In fact, Isabel the curatorial assistant informed me that it ran out very quickly (within a week or so of the exhibition opening). However the latest news indicates that the MCA is – shock horror! – considering popping in a fresh roll of fax paper

While this hot controversy has been brewing, Raquel has been out of town – exhibiting in Japan and Melbourne – and she’s just returned. Glenn, the curator, has also been away – in Korea doing research for an exhibition next year – and he also has just returned to Sydney.

Last Thursday in the gallery, they both visited my audit office. They asked me to make space here on the Audit blog for a discussion about this aspect of Raquel’s work. It seems that the two are not, shall we say, in perfect alignment vis-a-vis the title text describing the issue of the purported finitude of the fax paper.

So here it is.

I’ll say no more, but allow our two protagonists to debate it out in the comments below. Keep it clean, team!

The Paperchase continues…

As I was preparing for this project, I went and purchased some paper to get me started. I knew I’d have a fair bit of sketching up, brainstorming and printing to do, and I wanted something which was a bit “rough and ready” in its feel, like scrapbook paper. I found some stuff called “bulky news”, only to discover that it was not recycled, nor locally produced. You can read that sorry tale here.

So in an effort to pull my socks up, I invited some friendly sales reps from a few paper companies to come visit me in my office in the exhibition, to educate me about better paper practices.

visit from Nina the paper sales rep

Here’s Nina from Doggett Paper, chatting with Pat (my colleague from Big Fag Press) and I.
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Is Christianity Good for the Environment?

is christianity good for the environment?

I picked up the above flyer a month or so ago, at St Michael’s Church during the Artist-as-Family’s plant in day.

I was all set to go to the talk this weekend, but Patrick from Artist-as-Family just told me it’s been postponed. Apparently they’ve had a few cancellations from potential speakers for the event.

So – anyone have any idea who would be good to address this hot topic? And does anyone have any opinions about an answer to this question?

The Artist as Family’s Relocalisation Map


Before they left our fine city to return to their home in Daylesford, Meg and Patrick from The Artist as Family wanted to do an “auto-audit”. We met at their Food Forest, recently embedded at the St Michael’s Church on Albion Street in Surry Hills. Adjacent to the garden, we all set to munching on Maltese Pastizzi I’d fetched from up the road, ripping out big chunks of just-grown lettuce from the nearby soil to help mop up the grease.

This is the second in my series of audits on the work of artists featured in the In the Balance exhibition. The first was the work of San-Francisco collective Future Farmers, which I detailed here.

I really enjoy this process. Basically the artist(s) sit down with a huge piece of paper, and many coloured textas, thick and thin, and begin the process of coaxing-to-consciousness their own working methods. Starting from a particular point of view (for instance, the product of a particular creative endeavour) they begin to map as thoroughly as possible everything that went into it, and everything that comes out of it.
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Latest news grabs:

The move towards the MCA Staff Environment Committee mooted by Glenn seems to be gathering momentum. Watch this space (and maybe suggest a better name than the rather dry “MCA Staff Environment Committee”)…

I’ll be presenting a short update on my Audit-in-progress to the MCA “All-Staff-Meeting” on the 29th of September. I’m really looking forward to bringing it all back to the enclosed-public forum of the museum workers themselves…

There will be one more month of auditing beyond the meeting, so this is the chance for an interesting feedback loop (beyond this blog) to spring into life…

Cross-Promotional Product Placements

The following seems appropriate to mention now, given my recent musings on institutional critique and the machinations of what goes on behind the scenes in the art world:

mca membership drive image

As part of its current membership drive, the MCA asked me if I would consider donating one copy of each of the prints I’m making during Environmental Audit. I said sure, why not? One of the good things about printmaking is that you have extra copies, and they can be used for this sort of thing.

So, each week, one of these prints will be given away at random to a newly-enrolled MCA member. I’m looking forward to hearing from the Memberships Department as to who the first winner will be! I hope I get to reach down into a large sack, up to my armpit to pull out a numbered ball with the winner’s name etched onto it.

The catch (or is it the “bonus”?) is that I’m going to require the winner to come and meet me down at my Audit office, so I can do the hand-over personally (distance and mobility, of course, may make this impracticable in certain cases).

You can follow all this stuff on the MCA’s facebook page; and this link has all the gory details.

So there you have it! A cross-promotional gambit if ever I saw one. Feeding the hand that feeds me, and all that…

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…PS, speaking of cross-promotional hoo-har: don’t forget to check the EVENTS page, where I’m listing relevant things that come up as we go along. The latest events to note are Diego Bonetto’s weed tours (there’s one this Saturday), and an artist talk event I’m participating in (alongside Bonita Ely, Catherine Rogers and Sumugan Sivanesan, this Sunday 19th Sept…

Continuing Illuminations

After making a great start (thanks to Louise the Intern) on Great Third Floor Lighting Survey, I discovered that I needed to dig deeper… So last week I spent some time with Mark and Nicki, both MCA preparators, both experts in the fields of A-V technology and lighting respectively.

Here’s Mark, painstakingly working through each and every annotated video projector, LCD screen, DVD player, Macintosh computer and miscellaneous doohickey from our survey chart:

mca 3rd floor lighting survey

Mark is an artist. He has a particular interest and enthusiasm for this Audit project, partly because he’s insatiably curious about the behind-the-scenes workings of art galleries.

In fact, this is precisely what his own art practice is based upon: scraping away layers of time in an archaeological/cultural excavation. His work often results in some hidden aspect of the gallery being made visible (or audible). What lies behind hundreds of layers of paint? What does the relative humidity of the room sound like if it is translated into an audio signal? You can delve more deeply into his explorations here and here.
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