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Friday, April 1, 2011

Meat - Too Much?

Through much of British history or Western history in general, human subjugation of the “wild” natural world has been a central theme - almost a religious imperative. We define meat as the flesh of animals destined for our consumption. Until the fourteenth century, “meat” could mean any form of nourishment. Over time, usage of the term reduced in scope to mean animal food or so-called red meats. At times “meat” has been thought to be the only “real” food. Bourdieu (1977) describes meat eating as “habitus” - it is a behavior unquestioned by most people. 
Any study of food habits must recognize that food selection is imbued with social rules and meaning, and it is clear from the extent of its association with cultural rituals, both religious and secular, that it is a medium rich in social meaning reflecting among other things, significant power relationships.”
Excerpted from, “Meat, a natural symbol” by Nick Fiddes (1991)
Artists inspired by Meat.
Meat has long been an inspiration for many artists, for some it has become the medium.

Armchair, Simone Rachell.

Water Closet, Simone Rachell.

Hair Dryer, Simone Rachell.

 Reindeer in the Snow, Victoria Reynolds, oil paint (meat as inspiration)

21 Chops, David Raymond. Photograph
Animatronic Flesh Shoe, Adam Brandejs. Photograph

Untitled , photograph, Pinar Yolacan,
Uses meat and poultry to accessorize her sitters.

Hommage a Meret Oppenheim, Betty Hirst
Meat Dress, Jana Sterbak

Helga Petrau-Heinzel
Helga turns marzipan into edible pieces of the human anatomy, this series focuses on vital organs.

The Chair - Point of departure 

Wikipedia - A chair is a stable, raised surface used to sit on, commonly for use by one person. Chairs are most often supported by four legs; however, a chair can have three legs (in a triangle shape) or could have a different shape depending on the criteria of the chair specifications. A chair without a back or arm rests is a stool, or when raised up, a bar stool. A chair with arms is an armchair and with folding action and inclining footrest, a recliner. A permanently fixed chair in a train or theater is a seat or airline seat; when riding, it is a saddle and bicycle saddle, and for an automobile, a car seat or infant seat. With wheels it is a wheelchair and when hung from above, a swing. A chair for more than one person is a couch, sofa, settee or "loveseat" or a bench
Considering this very thorough definition, one would think that the chair is well understood and that there is little territory left to explore. Surprisingly, many artists and designers enjoy the challenge of rethinking the “chair.” Here are some interesting examples of re-visioning this object.

Jordi Canudas (Barcelona, Spain) strives to achieve what he refers to as “action” in his work. He uses malleable materials; rubber bands, stretchy fabric, foam, and metal springs. He’s influenced by what is pliable, the melting process, solid to liquid, rigid to soft, order to chaos. I might add that at least in this piece, he’s also been inspired by nature, particularly the bat.

This loveseat/chair designed by Lila Jang gives new meaning to the phrase “climbing the walls.” She created this installation piece based on an 18th century French Louis XVI style armchair. Most likely she was also inspired by the frustrations caused by living in a small space and other pressures/limitations of urban life. She refers to it as “Small Space Sofa,” and “Tomorrow Sofa.”

Dutch designer Sophie de Vocht created this hybrid chair/rug/lounge. It is made of 1000 feet of yarn pulled through a metal wire mesh. This piece combines our love for sitting on the floor and appreciation for comfort with the youthful whimsy of a child’s homemade potholder. 

Daniel Spoerri is a Swiss artist and writer born in Romania. He has been called “the central figure of European post-war art” He calls himself the “paster of found situations” and is known for capturing a group of objects in a type of assemblage, often the pieces are the remains of a meal. His interest lies in mapping what is on his table, sofa or chair at a particular moment, making each object important, describing and recognizing the significance of what each evokes.

The Salton Sea - Transdisciplinary Design

The Salton Sea is a saline endorheic rift lake located directly on the San Andreas fault in Southern California. In addition to rainfall and agricultural runoff, it is fed by the New, Whitewater and Alamo Rivers. Throughout history, the sea has alternately been a fresh or a salt water lake, depending on evaporative loss and the amount of rainfall and river flow. Today, the sea is saltier than the Pacific Ocean but not as salty as Utah’s Great Salt Lake. On the east side of the lake mud pots and mud volcanoes display evidence of the areas geothermal activity.

In the 1920s, the Salton Sea was a booming tourist destination attracting visitors interested in sunshine, recreational water activities and bird watching. Some say the area is the “crown jewel” of avian biodiversity. During prohibition the area offered an isolated location, acting as a discreet respite for the Hollywood party crowd. 

Today, with its lack of outflow, the Salton Sea has experienced a tremendous amount of environmental change over a relatively short period of time. Agricultural flooding of the surrounding area has resulted in increased salinity of the water due to salts, pesticides, fertilizers and selenium contained in the runoff. The higher salinity levels have caused the subsequent die off of fish. Algal blooms due to the increased salinity have resulted in elevated levels of bacteria. Headed for collapse, the sea has become a troublingly toxic ecological hotspot.

Many have proposed ways to save the Salton Sea, among them is Karla Rothstein (SR=T Architects). Rothstein along with a team dedicated to what is just now being referred to as “transdisciplinary design,” proposed transforming the Salton Sea by stopping it’s use as an agricultural reservoir and reconfiguring its coastline into industrial, recreational, and ecological zones. Her team designed floating pools within the body of water to capture a portion of the sea and regulate its salinity, returning it to a productive ecology. This project could be an economic catalyst for the long beleaguered area, renewing the region as an ecologically sound, interactive recreational destination.

For more on this topic, see 2004 Documentary film “Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea” John Waters, Sony Bono and Norm Niver.

The Salton Sea as it could be.

The Salton Sea today.

The Salton Sea as it once was.

Food for Thought
When we think of food, most of us focus on keeping it off our clothing. Delighting in the materiality of certain ingredients, Korean artist (photographer) Sung Yeonju takes a different approach. She is intent on challenging the meaning and traditional function of what we wear, what we eat and what we call art. She creates amazingly beautiful apparel out of mostly raw fruit and vegetables. Using radishes, tomatoes, bananas, lotus roots, cabbage, mushrooms and more, she forces us to reconsider our ideas about food and fashion. She helps us see beauty anew.

Spring Onion


Winter Mushroom Dress

White Radish



Winter Mushroom 


Underground Gallery
AL_A Win Victoria & Albert Competition 
March, 2011
Architect Amanda Levete (AL_A ) has won a major public and cultural competition, to design the new underground gallery, courtyard and entrance for the V&A Museum. It will house temporary exhibitions.
Levete described the V&A competition as "a very interesting and paradoxical project" because it involved making the invisible visible. "We're creating a vast gallery that is below ground, so how do you create that sense of there being something underground in a way that is subtle?"
This project is more than just a gallery, it's an opportunity to create a new public space for London – South Kensington's Drawing Room. It is a defining project for AL_A because it expresses the way we think; for the V&A we have made visible the invisible.

Technology - by Thomas Cummins
In Martin Heidegger's essays 'The Question Concening Technology' and 'Building, Dwelling, Thinking,' the author explicates his concerns on the imposing dangers of technology. During the Industrial Revolution, around 1830, technology came to mean scientific thought as applied to manufacturing. But Heidegger insists that this recent correlation of technology with physics is merely historiological and that the definition of technology needs to be considered more closely. Technology is a form of revealing (aletheia) and originally comes from the Greek word Techne which "belongs to bringing-forth, to poiesis; it is something poetic." Yet, this is obviously not the case today and "modern technology does not unfold into a bringing-forth in the sense of poiesis" but instead challenges nature and sets itself upon it. Modern technology discloses, but in a way that obliterates poiesis. Heidegger notes how coal "is being stored; that is, it is on call, ready to deliver the sun's warmth that is stored in it." On the other hand, Heidegger does not have problems with the windmill as an energy source because it is ultimately subject to the whims of the wind and the subsequent energy is not merely stashed away, forever on beckoning call. This new phenomenona, where something exists silently only to be ordered further is what Heidegger calls standing-reserve (Bestand) and it is unique because it is something more than just mere stock in a way that "standing-reserve no longer stands over against us as object." As Hegel has told us previously, "What is known, because it is known, is unknown." When something is at your complete disposal, it tends to lose its specialness and it is taken for granted in a way that it is not recognized for what it really is. Heidegger notes that the mighty Rhine river is no longer a respected force of nature but is now just a hydroelectric power plant and "an object on call for inspection by a tour group ordered there by the vacation industry." 
Heidegger introduces a special name for this process and calls "ordering the self-revealing as standing-reserve: Ge-stell (enframing.)" Enframing is a word Hiedegger says he is hesitant to use because it has been unknown until now but it has become necessary to describe "the way of revealing that holds sway in the essence of modern technology and that is itself nothing technological." It is important to understand that Heidegger does not reject technology, on the contrary, he feels it is a fundamental as well as a necessary part of the human condition. Heidegger is wary, on the other hand, how modern technology lends itself so easily to enslaving the environment into a mindless order where "the object disappears into the objectlessness of standing-reserve."

The artificial world of technology does not allow one to see the world as it really is. Even though it might look and taste the same, people are naturally wary of genetically-modified food as a substitution for the 'real thing.' Furthermore, when you think about it, a lion on display at the circus is not really a lion but is, instead, a caged animal travelling around the world being fed to do tricks. A lion, in reality, is an animal in Africa which hunts down it own prey. When the lion is put into a cage to be observed at moments notice, it becomes another animal all together. Society is only slowly starting to realize how its need for order only props up a make-believe world. Eventually, order always shows itself as a form of madness.

Heidegger is afraid man is the next animal to be captured by enframing and warns how "he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve." In the desire to control everything, we can never control this very insatiable desire. Even any attempt to stop this desire is, alas, just another whim of desire or as Nietszche writes "The will to overcome an emotion is ultimately only the will of another, or of several other, emotions." Heidegger notes "Meanwhile, man, precisely as the one so threatened will, exalts himself and postures as lord of the earth." Ironically, the reverse is true and we are the ones who are the possessions of our possessions. Even in the very beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, Marx recognized how labourers became merely appendages to the machines they were assigned to. Eventually, one could say we become robots, in a sense, never questioning our existence. Kafka profoundly observed "Man is caught in continuous cycles." - Art tries to break these cycles while the repetitive nature of modern technology simply perpetuates them.

Heidegger does find hope when he writes "destining is never a fate that compels. For man becomes truly free only insofar as he belongs to the realm of destining and so becomes one who listens, though not someone who simply obeys." Heidegger borrows the term 'saving power' from a poem by Holderlin and cites the passage - "But where danger is, grows The saving power also." Heidegger sees enframing as a danger and questions "might not an adequate look into what enframing is, as a destining of revealing, bring the upsurgence of the saving power into appearance?" According to this logic, poiesis might still be concealed within technological disposing because disposing still remains a type of disclosure. "To save is to fetch something home into its essence" and, accordingly, poiesis is what remains there as a 'saving power.' If technology is inevitable, then Heidegger suggests the only recourse is that "the essence of technology must harbor in itself the growth of the 'saving power.'" and optimistically "The closer we come to the danger, the more brightly do the ways into the saving power begin to shine and the more questioning we become."

What exactly is the danger? The worst imaginable form of danger must have been realized in World War II with the advent of the Atomic bomb and the horrors of the Holocaust. T. W. Ardono, however, tells us poetry is impossible after the Holocaust. By this, Ardono must have meant that such excessive things like art are impossible to enjoy in such grave circumstances as those found in modern times. But Heidegger would argue the opposite - in the face of the emminent danger of systematic violence, we need now, more than ever, poetic art as the only way to come to terms with this irrational order and as our last hope to show us a new path. In 'The Poet,' Emerson described this complex relationship between art and technology when he wrote "What if you come near to it, - you are as remote, when you are nearest, as when you are farthest. Every thought is also a prison; every heaven is also a prison. Therefore we love the poet, the inventor, who in any form, whether in an ode, or in an action, or in looks and behaviour, has yielded us a new thought. He unlocks our chains and admits us to a new scene."

Most ironic of all is that science has 'proven' many of Heidegger's insights correct. Niels Bohr tells us that, much like Heidegger's Being, it is not practical to think of the microscopic level of atoms, protons, and electrons as objects or things. Also, Einstein's notorious surprise was when Gamow told him that Pascaul Jordan discovered a star could be made of nothing because at the point of zero volume its negative gravitational would precisely cancel out its positive mass-energy. In Heidegger's thinking, this actually sounds a lot like how a being can come into the clearing. This idea, that the negativity of gravity precisely cancels out the mass-energy (E=mcc) in a lump of matter (or the universe,) is still mind-boggling to physicists today. Indeed, Gamow writes "Einstein stopped in his tracks and, since we were crossing the street, several cars had to stop to avoid running us down." Another philosopher-scientist, Karl Popper, attacked the ultimate futility of science when he harshly points out "Science is perhaps the only human activity in which errors are systematically criticized and... in time, corrected" and "all we can do is search for the falsity content of our best theory." Indeed, Einstein agreed with this final assessment and concluded, himself, that "Only daring speculation can lead us further and not accumalation of facts." Daring speculation happens to be the primary realm of the artist.