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  • Between Reason and Sensation:Antipodean Artists and Climate Change
  • Janine Randerson (bio)

The author, drawing on her experience as a New Zealand artist who has collaborated with meteorologists, suggests that artists may enter climate change discourse by translating (or mis-translating) scientific method into sensory affect. She examines three recent art projects from Australasia that draw on natural phenomena: her own Anemocinegraph (2006-2007), Nola Farman's working prototype The Ice Tower (1998) and Out-of-Sync's ongoing on-line project, Talking about the Weather. The author cites Herbert Marcuse's 1972 essay "Nature and Revolution," which argues that sensation is the process that binds us materially and socially to the world.

The current proliferation of voices on climate change places under scrutiny the relationship between human beings, techno-science and "nature." Drawing on my experience as a New Zealand artist who has collaborated with meteorologists, I suggest that artists may enter climate change discourse by translating (or mis-translating) seemingly objective scientific methods and technologies for reading natural phenomena into sensory affect. This article examines three recent projects from the Antipodes: my work, Anemocinegraph (2006-2007) (Article Frontispiece), Nola Farman's The Ice Tower (1998) and Out-of-Sync's on-line project Talking about the Weather (2006-ongoing). A comparison is made between these works and a community art project on global warming published in the Southern Polynesian on-line magazine Small Islands Voice. The artists' strategies include the construction of pseudo-scientific instruments and poetic mis-readings or reversals of scientific methodologies. Although the works engage with logocentric scientific practices, their analogical interpretations of data have the potential to destabilize the classical reason/emotion binaries of Western thought [1]. The Western dualism that separates art into the realm of the sensual and science into the rational sphere has historically denied artists the possibility of logically apprehending scientific information. However, the artworks discussed here operate in a discursive space between reason and sensation and nature and culture, where each may alter the other.

Although our popular media feeds on the threat of global warming, New Zealanders have been complacent about taking action to reduce carbon emissions to slow the concentrated build-up of greenhouse gases. Our high energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions (which are actually increasing) and the government's incoherent policy framework for managing climate change undermine our "clean green" environmental image. Despite a history of mainstream dismissal of ecological concerns as dispensable sentiment, now even conservative politicians are paying lip service to the issue of climate change; suddenly it is a real economic threat to a farming-dependent nation [2]. If the current trend of high greenhouse gas emissions continues, by the year 2100 we can expect a 40- or 50-centimeter rise in sea level and a loss of an estimated 13 meters of our coastline due to the melting sea ice and expanding waters of the warming ocean [3]. New Zealand's peripheral geographical and cultural status as a small Southern nation has in the past allowed us to feel buffered against the polluting excesses of the North. Indeed, our temperatures are rising more slowly than those of the high Northern latitudes, but there is still scientific agreement with "moderate certainty" that the east coast of New Zealand will become hotter and drier, while the west coast will see increasing westerly winds, frequent heavy rainfall, flooding and a higher risk of subtropical cyclones [4]. A New Zealand climatologist recently called climate change research a "transdisciplinary" [5] science, as it has ramifications for the economy, politics, social relationships and ethics. Bruno Latour also warns that we must (in the manner of an anthropologist) "take laws, power and morality into account in order to understand what our sciences are telling us about the chemistry of the upper atmosphere" [6]. The question of how one can mitigate radical environmental change and process its accompanying rhetoric emerges across these diverse areas, including art practice.

Given this context, I was drawn to the fusion of critical theory and radical politics expressed in philosopher Herbert Marcuse's 1972 essay "Nature and Revolution." A return to the discourse of Marcuse might seem anachronistic; his persona and work are often...


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pp. 442-448
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