Chin, Revival Field, 1990-present, view during early July 1991, landfill, chain link fence, six plant varieties, perennial and annual seeds and
seedlings, 60 square feet, Pig's Eye landfill, St. Paul, Minnesota. © Mel Chin
Hans Ulrich Obrist, named "most powerful figure in the international art world" by ArtReview magazine in their November 2009 issue, recently moderated a
symposium at the Louisiana Museum of
Modern Art, Copenhagen.
This symposium deliberately coincided with the larger United
Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15). Obrist first made headlines in 1992
when he founded the Museum Herbert Walser, a migratory museum. The idea was to constantly shift the location
of the museum, moving between cities and countries. His innovative vision of a museum that always
questioned itself - parameters and operations changing with each show - helped
to establish him as a progressive director/curator who not only considers the "what"
in an exhibition, but also the "why" and the "how."
Obrist has become known as an art-world powerhouse, having
worked as critic, writer, curator and co-director (Serpentine Gallery, London).
Keeping in line with his tradition of creative catalyst, Obrist recently
facilitated a symposium comprised of eminent art-world personalities like
Shilpa Gupta, Olafur Eliasson and Peter Weibel, among others. The focus of their conversations was
sustainability in the creative sector and challenges that face the
What of us here, in South Florida? If one cannot attend an international meeting
of the minds to contemplate art and the planet, what shall an artist do? Why, make art, of course. Personally, I feel that artists have a moral
imperative to address the mounting issues in our communities, both locally and
globally. Climate change and waste are
not the only issues to address; there are those on a social level, such as the
breakdown of intimate social interactions facilitated by omnipresent technology,
issues of racism and sexism, and so on.
Artists are in a
unique position to reach a public audience who will stop and consider what they
are saying. When someone takes time out
of their day to get in their car, drive to an art gallery or museum and look at
your work rather than doing any number of other things, they are yours for a
time. They have deposited themselves at
your doorstep and now it is up to you how you make use of their time. It is a chance for an artist to point to
issues and resolutions that the visitor may not have otherwise considered. Below are a few examples of artists who I
think have done a superb job of tying art to pressing issues in a way that the
public can understand.
Mel Chin, Revival
Hans Haacke, Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate
Holdings, A Real Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971
Fred Wilson, Mining the Museum
In the context of an international worldview, if the most
powerful figure is someone that feels social responsibility rather than create
items for conspicuous consumption,
then I encourage all artists to take a page from Obrist's notes.