Art & Climate Crisis
Wednesday 20th March 2019
Speaker: Malcolm Miles
In collaboration with the University of Northampton.
According to the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change we have until 2030 to reduce carbon emissions by 50%, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, if global warming is to be limited to 1.5 degrees. Otherwise, even at 2 degrees, the consequences include species extinctions, disease, and famine. Economist Nicholas Stern writes of the need for a ‘radical transformation’ in the global economy; and that although limiting emissions is technically viable, the collective effort required ‘will not succeed without strong political will and leadership.’ (The Guardian, 8 October 2018, p. 13) But is there a role for art in persuading individuals, businesses and governments to act accordingly?
The lecture argues that art cannot change the world – which changes anyway, the point being in which direction – but that contributes to shifts in how the world is apprehended. The work of HeHe, in Paris, and Liberate Tate in London fuses aesthetics and shock tactics. HeHe’s Fracking Futures was a spoof drilling site in a Liverpool art gallery, while Nuage Vert charted emission reductions from a power station; Liberate Tate’s (unsanctioned) additions to Tate’s programme included the presentation of a wind turbine blade for Tate’s collection (The Gift), and pouring a liquid resembling oil over a naked performer in Tate Britain (The Human Cost). These works are aesthetically evocative. And although art renders suffering (or oil) beautiful, at times it also stops us in our tracks.
Malcolm Miles is a writer and researcher on critical theory, art and urbanism. His writing bridges the arts and humanities with the social sciences, drawing on critical theory and recent French theory to understand modern and contemporary art and architecture. His book on Herbert Marcuse (2011) links Marcuse’s critique of literature (and art in general terms) to recent visual art practices. Similarly, his book on eco-aesthetics (2014) sets aesthetics beside green political and social perspectives since the 1960s and a range of contemporary art. His latest book on cities and literature (2019) thematically examines key social theories, e.g. from Georg Simmel, and cultural theories, e.g. from Raymond Williams, in context of selected areas of modern and contemporary English literature, with reference additionally to elements of French, German, Russian, Portuguese, and African post-colonial literatures. To date he has authored nine books and contributed to refereed journals including the Journal of Cultural Politics, Third Text, Architecture and Culture, The Journal of Architecture, Space and Culture, and Parallax.
Malcolm was Professor of Cultural Theory in the School of Architecture, University of Plymouth until retirement in 2016. He previously taught at Oxford Brookes University, University of Portsmouth, City University, and the Kent Institute of Art and Design, beginning his career at West Surrey College of Art & Design in 1972. He holds a PhD on critical theory and contemporary art (Oxford Brookes University, 2001), and initially studied painting at Chelsea School of Art (1967-71).