SUSTAINABLE ART FOR A PLANET TOWARDS EXTINCTION

The world is on alert. Since time ago, we live in a permanent paradox, a situation of contrast that obeys two impulses: the one that leads us to keep our economies growing and the one that warns us that the excesses committed will have consequences. Far from focusing on finding a balance between the two, we tend to feed both forces independently. Thus, the two ends of this rope, which is our world, tense more and more until, either one of the ends yields, or it ends up breaking in half.

Nick Sayers, “Coke bottles sphere”, 2010

The Climate Action Summit that started this week has been presented as an ultimatum to the planet. The responsibility to take urgent measures to combat climate change and acquire a real commitment to effective policies weighs on our conscience as a species. Undoubtedly, more damage to the environment has been caused in the last century than in the rest of our history. And yet, we seem unable to act accordingly, to change our habits, our frantic demand, to take care of where we live.

Installation by Maja Weiss in CIFF, 17 tonnes of used clothes.

To raise awareness about this problem, the communication channels diversify, and the messages come from different sources. Many artists have made of ecological responsibility their leit motiv. Aiming to get their speech as far as possible and reach as many people as possible, the authors strive to explore new contemporary languages that cause an impact and call the viewer's attention. The objective is clear: to open our eyes to a reality that affects us entirely, and that will require everyone's commitment to fighting back.

Vanessa Barragão, “Coral Garden”, 2019

Many creators underline this dramatic situation by using waste materials to carry out their works. The reuse of plastic elements and other objects recovered from beaches, streets or parks reveals the massive amount of waste that we are capable of producing and the lack of responsibility by spreading trash anywhere. These actions invite us to reflect on the spiral of consumption we live in and the brevity of the useful life of objects, which are quickly replaced by new ones. The transition towards the "unusable" is increasingly shorter, and everything becomes volatile and futile in our capitalist society. This has given rise to "Upcycled art", a movement that offers a second life to residues and transforms them into works of art.

Upcycled Art was labelled for the first time in 2002, in the work “From the cradle to the cradle. Redesigning the way we do things” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. Although the reuse and fusion of materials are not new in the art world, what is new is the purpose, essentially aimed at creating something beautiful from the waste and in evidencing the consumption abuses we are victims of.

Olafur Eliasson, “Ice Watch”, 2018, photo: Matt Alexander/PA Wire

Other authors focus on large-scale works that emphasise global warming. The Danish Olafur Eliasson created in 2018 an installation for the Tate Modern in London (later replicated in other cities), where he arranged huge blocks of ice that simulate the large fragments that gradually detach from the glaciers and melt in the sea. The artwork was called "Ice Watch" ("Ice Watch") and, as expected, it ended turned into a large pool of water. This artist, to whom the Guggenheim Museum will dedicate a monographic exhibition in February, has reflected on the unstoppable impact of this rise in temperatures, and laments the total disappearance of the Ok glacier, until recently located northeast of Reykjavik.

Francis Pérez, “Caretta Caretta Trapped”, 2017 Photo Contest, Nature, Singles, 1st prize.

On the other hand, a large number of photographers, and especially those specialising in nature reports, have brought to light dramatic images in which the species suffer from the overabundance of plastics that pollute their ecosystems. According to the UN report on the climate published in March this year, biodiversity is one of the most threatened riches on the planet, and it is estimated that there is a risk of extinction that affects 42% of terrestrial invertebrates and 25% of the marine invertebrates. That is why it is not strange that photographs like this are increasingly more frequent and have become for many authors sensitised with this problem a way of denunciation and awareness.

Hopefully, societies will take measures to stop and, as far as possible, reverse this situation. We must investigate new economic models that take advantage of resources responsibly and do not rely exclusively on constant growth and overproduction.

 

Buying the first work of art always instils respect. A difficult feeling to define that mixes vertigo with adrenaline. But over uncertainty and caution, a pleasurable sense of connection, understanding, and desire prevails. That work that, once seen, stays in the mind, reappears in the memory several times a day and seems to tell you that it is willing to be part of your home, is the perfect candidate to make the decision.

In the first steps, many collectors do point out that one does not start from an established plan, but rather that one acquires pieces based on taste and the connection one feels with them until, after time, they realise that the volume of works that accumulates can be labelled as a "collection". For example, this is how Alicia Aza explains it:

“I was not aware that I was collecting until many years later when a third party named me as a collector and talked about my collection. In 2005, I became aware of what collecting means and decided to articulate a collection with an identity of criteria and formats”.

Marcos Martín Blanco, co-founder, with his wife Elena Rueda, of the MER Collection, shares this same opinion:

“Collecting has been a passion, driven by a visceral state that encourages you to do so. The collection, in terms of acquisitions, has not been particularly complicated because, let's face it: it is easy to buy because they are all beautiful things and you have some clear idea of where you want to go, but at first those preferences were not so clear. It is with the time that a criterion is being formed”.

It is not always this way, of course, but for the buyer who starts out on this path, the personal connection that entails the first piece is essential. There it is the germ of a lasting relationship that is not limited to a simple aesthetic question but is an open window to knowledge, to exploration, to a world that is often unknown to us and awakens our fascination. The seed of that connection is purely sentimental, and it is precisely this impulse that determines the first acquisitions. The first piece is never forgotten.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Ana Maqueda

Exceeding the usual recommendations made by advisers and agents, rare is the occasion when the art lover decides to buy by pure investment. These paths usually open later, when the volume of pieces is large enough. In addition, there are those who are a bit against this classic concept of the traditional collector, approached from an eccentric, elitist and little accessible vision. On the contrary, art buyers are, above all, art lovers, sentient beings and permeable to creative stimulus who, at a given moment, decide to deepen the relationship they already have with art to take a piece home.

It is not that hard to overcome that small psychological barrier that turns the visitor into a buyer if one approaches the matter from a more personal and intimate perspective than from social consideration. Small-format works, graphic work or serial photography are of great help for this, whose price range, generally more affordable, allows a closer comparison to the daily basis expenses. In this way, the purchase of art falls within the range of feasible activities and becomes something close and possible.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Marc Cisneros

At that moment, a different relationship with art begins, based on pure experience and coexistence with the acquired piece. Perhaps it can be seen as an act of daring, but on many occasions, it is more a matter of necessity and transformation. Collectors also agree that the acquisition of an artwork is an exercise on personal analysis and opening up to a new field of knowledge that was previously alien to us. Alicia Aza explains that the reason she acquired her first piece of video art, by Sergio Prego, is because she did not understand it and because she saw it as a challenge and an opportunity to self-improve. This open window to knowledge creates new connections and bonds with creators, as one of the most fascinating parts of the process. Candela Álvarez Soldevilla explains that

"I think the most interesting thing in the art world is talking to artists. They are people with a special sensitivity to listen and understand.”

And Alicia Aza also says:

"I can share the satisfaction of being able to count on many artists in my circle of close friends today, and that is a long way to go."

Thus, with works that seem acceptable within the horizon of expenses that each one considers affordable, it is easy to find a piece that catches us. Since then, our home also evolves into a space in which art has a permanent place and presence, and there is no doubt that this transforms us inside.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Henar Herguera

Jaime Sordo, owner of Los Bragales collection and founder of the 9915 Contemporary Art Collectors Association, has always defined his relationship with art as a true passion and a vital necessity. For buyers who start on this path, he has the following recommendation:

“It is an essential condition that they feel the need to live with their passion to enjoy the works. Another very important aspect is that before making decisions for purchases, they are informed, so it is necessary to read specialised newspapers and books, visit exhibitions and museums and a lot of contact with galleries, which is an important and very specific source of information of the artists they represent. Finally, the presence in national and international art fairs. All this generates information and training.”

Indeed, fairs have become a good place for discovery because they condense a wide offer and allow diverse and global contact in a concentrated way. For this reason, many new generation buyers start in the context of an event such as Art Madrid, whose closeness and quality constitute a unique opportunity to meet, soak up and feed the passion for art.

(*) quotes taken from various interviews published in public media between 2013 and 2019.