24 October 2013

The Gaia Theory Project

Ziki Questi and Inara Pey just blogged about The Gaia Theory Project, which is a set of installations by eleven artists on the theme of the Gaia Theory which argues that the earth is a self-regulating system. (For more info, read the description on the LEA site or the Wikipedia summary.) Ziki gave The Gaia Theory Project a fairly negative review, and Inara a somewhat milder negative review. I'm sorry to say, I agree with their general assessment. (Actually Ziki and I discussed it about a week ago.) We differ on a few points: I'm harder on some of installations, but more positive about others.

One can see the Project's general orientation in an instant by looking at the announcement for its grand opening:

Opening announcement for The Gaia Theory Project, using a photo by Tani Thor
As Ziki wrote, "The organizers and artists have taken quite the gloom and doom approach." To be fair, this isn't quite true for all of the builds, but it's certainly the overall impression one gets. And it doesn't jibe with the official theme. The question is not whether the Gaia Theory is correct, but how -- or whether -- the Project actually represents it.

For instance, Melusina Parkin has a set of photos which you click to see the other possibility for (more or less) the same location. The photos are excellent. But without fail, one swaps between a lovely nature scene and an unpleasant image of the products of human civilization. The visitor's guide says it all:

Sign at Melusina Parkin's photo exhibition
It's almost a visual quotation of what Buffy the Vampire Slayer once said (in an entirely different context): "Fire bad, tree pretty." The idea that there's a third possibility is left almost completely unexplored. Where's the emergent balance through co-evolution that the Gaia Theory promises?

I must mention that Melusina, in a comment on Ziki's post, says that she does in fact explore the third possibility, pointing out that there a photo that unites nature and culture. But it's the last of (I think) 46 photos, which is not much of an exploration -- assuming the viewer doesn't say "OK, I get the point already" and leave her exhibition much earlier, which in fact is what I did (I returned after reading her comment).

Betty Tureaud's installation gives another side of the picture, commenting on the destructiveness within nature, such as hurricanes and, um, lightning. When, as Betty points out, over a million people contract malaria every year, nature loses a bit of its luster.

Although Betty's installation pursues a litany of (mostly) natural destruction which she places on an outer ring, at her installation's middle is a more optimistic representation of Earth, and at the center of that is Gaia as Mother Earth.

Betty Tureaud's "Gaia from Chaos"
This part of Betty's installation might be even stronger if it were separate from the ring of doom. Still, there are some odd artistic choices. Gaia has some mean spikes down her back: as an old TV commercial once put it, "Don't mess around with Mother Nature!" She's giving birth to the Tree of Life, but ... well, a friend with a slightly dirty mind had another interpretation.

I'll skip other works that sledgehammer the theme, "Humans are destroying the earth, and themselves along with it!" (It's a pity nobody mentions the human invention of, say, pipes with clean drinking water.) I'll now turn to some of the installations that have another strategy. Gem Preiz takes a more subtle and successful approach:

Installation (untitled?) by Gem Preiz
The rings slowly turn about their axes, intersecting in ever-changing ways, and the photos on their surfaces (which look mostly like minerals) are almost abstract, avoiding the stentorian utterance of a Big Statement. It's easy to get engrossed in watching this build.

Kicca Igaly's piece, representing early life forms, is rather nice, although the teleport's landing point is so poorly placed that it's easy to miss. Chinon Beaumont's "Mandala " is mostly another installation, to me not very convincing aesthetically, but it includes links to a couple of videos. I watched only one, a short animated film that didn't seem to have much to do with either the theme or the installation, but it was fun anyway.

I was also unclear about the relevance of the piece by Daniele Daco (Daco Monday):

"Evoluzione, Progresso?" by Daco Monday
This is the only installation presenting -- as its Futurist style suggests -- a fairly positive view of civilization, despite its title "Evolution, Progress?" and some hints about regimented life.

The last installation I'll mention is comet Morigi's "Wind Floaters." It generates colored boxes moving in response to the Second Life wind. It's minimalistic and I wan't sure of its relevance to the the Gaia Theory either, but like many script-based builds, I found it fascinating.

"Wind Floaters," by comet Morigi
I won't review the remainder, since that would make this post far too long.

As a whole, on its own terms The Gaia Theory Project was unsuccessful: it glaringly doesn't follow its announced theme that nature ultimately balances itself out -- the pieces are more about the human destruction of nature or nature's own destructiveness. (Ziki discusses this problem most fully.) Some contributions did work fairly well as art, but interestingly, most of them were the more abstract pieces, and I don't think that merely reflects my tastes. However, the works that take the "doom and gloom" approach dominate one's impression of the show. To paraphrase one of my recent posts, art can make big statements, but Big Statements aren't what make good art. Believe me, I consider pollution, de-forestation, the decline of biodiversity, and global heating to be the most urgent problems we face. But surely something more constructive can be said than "Bad humans, bad, bad!"

For a much more positive assessment of The Gaia Theory Project, see Quan Lavender's post.