This research program will map and theorize a new type of environmental art practice in Canadian urban contexts, which has emerged over the past two decades. This new art form which has been developing a characteristic “explanatory discourse”, or rhetorical strategy within the public realm, crosses the disciplines of art, environmental design, and architecture. We provisionally name this art form the “eco-art installation”. This distinct mode of public installation does not only attempt to persuade the viewer of ecological priorities; rather, it is driven by the urgent need to explain, and thus constitutes an entirely new form of explanatory discourse that places, what we are calling “eco-lessons”, squarely in the public realm. We hold that these new artistic “devices” testify to a historic change in citizens’ relationship to over-whelming environmental issues in the past two decades. In the growing gap between collective awareness and individual engagement, artists have found new terrain as agents of public enlightenment.
Contribution to Knowledge
Despite the increasing number of eco-art installations, this category has yet to receive critical attention particularly in its complex conjoining of art, design, public space, and eco-lessons. We believe that the reason for this lack of attention lies, in part, in the fact that these works are inherently difficult to assess in traditional discipline-based methods: they draw from the fine arts disciplines, yet lay stress on a certain didacticism that late 20th and early 21st-century art discourses view with suspicion. These works are often deeply grounded in sustainable design, yet while they occupy space in many ways that invoke architecture, urban and landscape design, they are rarely confined within the expertise of these professions. The emergence of this art may be related to what the public perceives as the persistent failure of politicians to address the ecological crisis. Beyond the constitution of an online repertoire of representative Canadian eco-art installations, the main objective of this research is to document the conceptual strategies that are the vehicle for this new explanatory discourse in public eco-art, and to theorize the didactic nature of the resulting eco-lessons. It is our hypothesis that these new hybrid practices in the public realm are depositories of unexploited knowledge and point to potential solutions, encapsulating a particular stage of environmental awareness, while distancing themselves from the abstract ethos of their predecessors. How do these practices explore the conjoining of art, design, public space, and ecological concern with highly didactic strategies?
Along with a scientific monographic mapping, publications and communications, the results of this research, gathered in a bilingual online digital platform entitled the Canadian Map of Eco-Art, will respond to both scientific and educational aims, particularly as delineated by UNESCO, disseminating Canadian expertise in this field, by specifically displaying the didactic approaches and potentially scalable ideas. In a growing digital economy, this mapping will be an important source of documentation for students in all art and design fields, across Canada and around the world, as well as an innovative resource for institutional and commissioning agents. Citizens will become more familiar with important environmental debates and controversies and will be invited to take part in the conversation. Our analysis of eco-art installations should grant access to a deeper understanding of ongoing environmental issues and constitute a knowledge base for future generations.
<strong>Carmela Cucuzzella, Cynthia Hammond and Jean-Pierre Chupin</strong>
Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Insight grants) 2018 – 2022