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  • To Life!: Eco Art in Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet by Linda Weintraub
  • Rob Harle
To Life!: Eco Art in Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet by Linda Weintraub. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 2012. 384 pp. illus. Trade, paper. ISBN: 978-0-520-27361-0; ISBN: 978-0-520-27362-7.

This is a challenging book for three reasons. Firstly, it brings us face-to-face with the current global ecological and environmental issues confronting us. Secondly, it forces us to question just what it is that makes an object or process art. And, thirdly, it attempts to (re)define the role of artistic practice. The notion of the traditional artist using oil paint to produce a static, beautiful two-dimensional painting is challenged throughout the book—artists now use data, plants, earth, microbes—almost anything in their artistic endeavors!

As the back cover says, "This book documents the burgeoning eco-art movement from A to Z, presenting a panorama of artistic responses to environmental concerns, from Ant Farm's anti-consumer antics in the 1970s to Marina Zurkow's 2007 animation that anticipates the [alleged] havoc wreaked upon the planet by climate change." There is certainly something for everyone within the large range of artistic projects discussed throughout the book.

One of the purposes of this book is to provide an educational forum. The book may be used as a core text in studio art practices, contemporary art history or environmental studies. Page ix gives online auxiliaries for instructors and students, for example the Teaching Guides at the publisher's website <>.

Perhaps the main usefulness of this book is as a definitive guide to the complete field of eco art. One section discusses 20th-century eco-art pioneers, among them some of the better-known artists or artistic groups: Beuys, Hundertwasser, Kaprow and Ant Farm. This is followed by 34 more artists, 21st-century eco-art explorers, including such luminaries as Maya Lin, Eduardo Kac, Red Earth and The Beehive Design Collective. The emphasis is mainly on the projects of these 49 artists rather than the artists themselves. To Life! is copiously illustrated with black-and-white drawings, diagrams and [End Page 509] photos. There is an addendum in the form of a personal survey, a section on suggestions for further research and a good Index.

It is not necessary to read the book from front to back in the normal way. It may be consulted as a sort of static hypertext document. The guideposts for this approach are mapped out in the Schematics, Indexes and Glossaries at the beginning of the book. This is actually quite ingenious as the cross-referencing takes you to the best available example from the combination of inputs. These pages are followed by a number of explanatory essays that discuss what eco art is and is not. Eco art themes, aesthetics and materials are also discussed. The essays are not especially scientific or complex and are suitable for all levels of readership. I can envision some wonderful projects for even young schoolchildren to help convey the importance of environmental sustainability and give kids a real sense of the earth. One minor criticism is the verbosity of some of the essays.

The book describes eco art very well and locates it accurately within art history, but lacks a deep theoretical critical approach—this is not a criticism per se but more an observation to alert the prospective reader. To Life! is unashamedly biased in favor of eco art, giving the impression that traditional art, particularly painting and sculpture, is passé. I take the pluralist position that all forms of art are relevant in our multicultural global society, and to dismiss one form or another borders on a kind of fundamentalist arrogance. Comments such as the following ignore or are ignorant of the statistics that show the attendance at art galleries is increasing, both for those of the old masters and especially those of contemporary traditional style artwork such as portraiture. She writes: "The art world is a very prissy little thing over in the corner, while the major cultural forces are being determined by techno science" (p. 211...


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pp. 509-510
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