Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology

TJ Demos

This special issue of Third Text, dedicated to contemporary art and the politics of ecology, investigates the intersection of art criticism, politico-ecological theory, environmental activism and postcolonial globalization. The focus is on practices and discourses of eco-aesthetics that have emerged in recent years in geopolitical areas as diverse as the Arctic, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Europe and Mexico. The numerous contributors address new aesthetic strategies through which current ecological emergencies – including but not limited to the multifaceted crisis of climate change – have found resonance and creative response in artistic practice and more broadly in visual culture. Numerous key questions motivated our investigation: If ecological imperatives are frequently invoked by governments, corporations and certain strands of environmental activism in the name of a post-political ‘green’ consensus for which nothing less than the life of the planet is at stake, how might critical art contribute to an imagination of ecology that addresses social divisions related to race, class, gender and geography in the North and South alike? How might the concept of biopolitics, as elaborated by figures ranging from Bruno Latour to Vandana Shiva, enable a rethinking of hitherto articulated discourses of eco-aesthetics, especially as regards the relationship between ecological art and eco-feminism, or the art and ecology of democratic political composition? How might cultural practitioners contest the financialization of nature by neoliberal globalization, as analysed in Marxist approaches to political ecology, and how might they provide alternatives to the economic valuation of nature or promote a new articulation of the commons against its corporate enclosure? To what extent are recent philosophical writings associated with the so-called ‘speculative realism’ movement (for instance, those of Robin Mackay, Ray Brassier, Graham Harman, Quentin Meillassoux, Iain Hamilton Grant, and Timothy Morton) pertinent to contemporary endeavours in rethinking ecology and activism, considering nonhuman environmental agency, or positing experimental aesthetic approaches to species extinction? How have recent international exhibitions and environmental summits represented sites of conjunction for the innovative investigation of art and ecology? And lastly, how have critical artists engaged an expanded field of ecologically oriented media activism, encompassing websites, documentary films, protest activities, academic research, political forums and various combinations thereof? Such a list of queries comprises an admittedly ambitious (and no doubt impossible) set of research goals for a single issue of a journal to satisfy; equally impracticable has been the commitment to research an inclusive global coverage of practices – still, the impressive results presented in these pages address more than a few of these pressing matters of concern.1 Representing a number of distinctive initiatives that exceed any single approach, the articles commissioned for this special issue from leading and emerging artists and scholars at the cross-section of art and ecology are exemplary of some of the new and innovative ways of conceptualizing and responding to these questions.

Third Text, Vol. 27, Issue 1, January, 2013, 1–9 Third Text ISSN 0952-8822 print/ISSN 1475-5297 online # Third Text (2013)

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