I set out with the intention of a blog about evaluating the constraints and possibilities in communicating about topics related to sustainability. I was armed to give so many environmental sites a hard time about the typical nature photos. Well, it just took a little over a year to come full circle.
This photo is of my beloved Gran, about to prepare another dinner of fish for the family she raised in Mt. Pleasant, SC. Born Ann Eugenia Ledbetter (1920-2013), her fearlessness must have been cut out of competing with a lot of sisters and losing her mother at a young age. But also the daughter of a Methodist minister, she always took the time to chat and listen to all sorts of people along her path. “Don’t be in such a rush, dalin’.”
Gran got her first job teaching school on Sullivan’s Island, having only a bike for transportation, and when her husband made it out of flying planes in World War II alive, they settled in Mt. Pleasant—farming tomatoes, helping with the family’s oyster canning business and drinking with friends. In the second half of her life, she thrived in the Charleston real estate business—in part I am sure because she practiced a kind of Slow Real Estate. She didn’t have to study the art of taking time with people.
Amid today’s clamor for authenticity with burgeoning movements of Slow Food, Slow Fashion, and the latest, a ship delivering artisan goodies along the Hudson, I cannot begrudge the trendiness. The fact that anything worth keeping, eating or loving is a Slow thing, rings true in producing commodities and in social relationships. The prize is the process.
This art of Slowness is for so many of us, a daily practice. Being nostalgic for days of yore comes easily for me, especially since I spent so much time in my youth playing Gin Rummy with Gran while she pulled on her Marlboro Lights. But moving Slow is where life actually progresses into greater, sustainable things. Nostalgia is only the first step.
If I had to take one song with me to the remote island, Radiohead’s Reckoner is the one. I’ve been obsessed with it since In Rainbows was released in 2007–I’m telling you, before job interviews, during long jogs or after breakups–this is the song to play. Just like the song feels, the official video takes on the ambiguity of structure as well. Abstract cubic trees and ultra square buildings tell the story of everything that is not sustainable in the human world. Implying the impact of fossil fuel emissions, sprawl, the list goes on—we implode. But universal forces have the last word. Strings of energy and order perpetuate.
For now, we still have the fortune to be tangled up in the drama…
Rita’s business as a farm consultant is thriving in the lowcountry of South Carolina, but on Sundays she toils in her own garden.
Scarp by artist Jarod Charzewski’s explores our material reality.
Here’s the essay I wrote for the Halsey about his installation.
The undulating aura of the installation titled Scarp at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art shocks the viewer at first. Discarded shirts and trousers have been corrugated into a massive sculptural knoll. Clothing is understood in the daily scale of our bodies, so its monumental transformation is disorienting. After the initial awe in response to the collective material, the textural quality and streamlined slopes beckon the viewer closer. Next is a desire to test Scarp’s unapologetic tone.
Scarp’s success is in the artist’s interplay with disparate disciplines and human tendencies. It is both a high-tech and hand-built work. The form was pre-determined, as well as organically decided. The outer edges reveal a narrative, while the core layers are unknown. The overall attitude: mischievous, bold and heartfelt.
Jarod Charzewski’s youth unfolded among the Canadian prairies, so he conjured their geographical layers for Scarp’s body and voice. As in his Silo and Vortices installations, Charzewski explores environmental disturbance and architectural planes with elegant shifts in scale, line and material. Charzewski’s work resonates with that of Olafur Eliasson, whose installations also simulate natural elements with a touch of wit. Both artists give considerable thought to viewer’s space. Scarp is positioned so that it must be understood from a certain distance.
In creating the piece, Charzewski first developed a computer-generated model that incorporated the dimensions of the gallery. This precision enabled the clean lines that cut the gallery in half, and highlight the corridor between the two entrances. With these design elements, Scarp is organized and accessible. Arranged greens, purple and splashes of red guide the eye across its ridges. At the edges, layers of used clothing connect the viewer to the brands, eras and individuals who wore them. This recognition, along with the serenity of its design, establishes a level of comfort that allows for a more open encounter with Scarp.
Exactness pervades throughout the gallery space, but a point of mystery lies below the tallest slope. Viewers want to know-is the entire volume comprised of folded clothes? There is a childlike inclination to root through the surface and even climb on it to learn the truth first hand. Scarp is not a tactile sculpture or space to be entered, so the viewer must accept not having all the answers.
The nature of Scarp’s ambiguity is more matter-of-fact than confrontational, and this shift in perspective is used to challenge other overlooked ideas. While collecting his material at Goodwill, Charzewski witnessed the sheer quantity of discarded clothes delivered on a daily basis. Scarp’s monumental scale then became a testament to the scale of consumerism today. What if our other trashed items were compiled in this way? What makes a certain jacket or pair of jeans desirable one day and rejected another? Charzewski explores the very temperament of design. As with clothing, structural design hinges on its relevance to cultural values.
Charzewski playfully challenges the separation between contemporary design and conceptual art. Like the architectural abstraction of Greg Lynn’s curvaceous and highly digitalized work, the amorphous shape of Scarp liberates the viewer from conventional geometric structures and square edges. But where Lynn is unabashedly futuristic, Charzewski’s use of worn clothing—our most intimate material—allows humanism to breathe from its refined dimensions.
Charzewski uses his sensibility for contemporary architecture to navigate through the mundane—but consequential—nodes of human behavior. Thankfully, he is not heavy handed or pedantic. Nor is he so quiet that he loses voice amid the cacophony of fantastical and minimal work found in the urban landscape. Scarp arouses with a tease, soothes with line and encourages a change in routine.
If you live in the Charleston area, check out Charzewski’s reclaimed material sculpture, Sunfire Remains, at the recently opened Ms. Rose’s restaurant.
It wasn’t that long ago that being an environmentalist in the US was limited to the fringe or homesteaders. Then came the past decade of compensating with an emphasis on technology, urban design and eco-products—and all types of Americans found appeal in these sustainability concepts.
But let’s look closer at what we all agree behind closed doors—these ideas still aren’t enough to keep our little atmosphere cool. They don’t require us to bend far enough.
We can’t look at personal and cultural shift without bringing values into it. Although many spiritual endeavors point to the benefits of giving, yoga is in its own category. Certainly there are as many versions of yoga as there are people, but the central theme is that adjusting our idea of need and attachment leads to a sense of freedom. And that freedom makes us happier than anything money can buy. Yoga’s postures require us to stop running and open up to new ways of dealing with ourselves.
More of us are now growing receptive to the idea of ‘sacrifice’ that the original enviros embraced. Take Bill McKibben, a typifying leader of the fringe, Vermont ethos who has always come across as a disciplined steward. He hasn’t changed his tune a bit over the years—the difference today is that while he speaks of limiting our desires for more energy, he is being embraced by wider audiences and published in Rolling Stone.
Getting the reality of climate change to sink in the public consciousness was one thing, but now in a post-Sandy, Obama inaugural address world, actually moving the pieces to handle the climate crisis is another collective practice. With a yogic approach we can create more space in our lives to get engaged in how our community and government are being run. If we mentally and spiritually strive to let go of certain habits, it may help us to fall somewhere in the middle. And that balance is what it’s all about.