kimberley crofts

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an information and communication designer living in London

Going to war with a pencil*

Browsing through the images of the recent Climate Camp action at Ratcliffe-on-Soar I spied the shot below of an artist recording the event.

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This got me thinking about the tradition of the war artist and whether activist circles have their own, respected artists who are documenting the war for the environment.

Of course there are many photographic records of war and protest but according to Kenneth Clarke (the chair of the War Artists Advisory Committee in Britain in the early part of the twentieth century), photography is unable to interpret the full scale of conflict: “the camera cannot interpret, and a war so epic in its scope by land, sea and air, and so detailed and complex in its mechanism, requires interpreting as well as recording’. I don’t entirely agree with this statement. For me reportage photography interprets through the act of selection by the photographer. What they choose to shoot and publish surely represents an act of interpretation.

The tradition of the war artist was born of various western governments’ desire for civilians to have a better understanding of war. My own understanding of war artist schemes is that because of the involvement of the government, the legitimacy of the art must be questioned from a propaganda perspective. Surely governments would only allow certain images to be seen by the public? An essay by Roger Tolson from the Imperial War Museum reflects on this situation. He says that artists were given freedom to choose what they recorded. I wonder though whether all of these works were shown to the public at the time, especially those that showed the true horror of war.

I am now on the hunt for more protest drawings, or field sketches if you will. I would love to see imagery that captures the immediacy and passion of the protest. I’ll post anything I find.

My friend and artist Deborah Kelly introduced me to Andrea Bowers who has drawn images of civil disobedience such as the one below which shows a group of women protesting at a nuclear power plant in California in the 80s. This drawing, however, appears to be drawn from a photograph rather than en plein air.

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Andrea Bowers. Diabloblockade, Diablo Nuclear Power Plant, Abalone Alliance, 1981, 2003.

 

Although it doesn’t really fit the theme of art created at the time of war, this is so poignant that it is worthwhile including. Kseniya Simonova is an artist who won Ukraine’s version of America’s Got Talent. Simonova uses sand and a lightbox to paint interpret Germany’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine in WWII. If you haven’t watched this, I sincerely implore you to do so.

* Quote from Richard Johnson who recently spent two months in Kandahar with Canadian troops sketching and writing. You can read and see his sketches on the blog Postings from Kandahar.

Filed under: activism, art, protest, , , , , , ,

The Bigger Picture

I was lucky enough to attend the morning sessions of The Bigger Picture Festival of Interdependence in London over the weekend. Unfortunately we couldn’t get back in for the afternoon sessions as the queue for the event was, by this time, around the block. A great pity, but at least that meant that other people got to see it, not just the early birds like us!

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The queue

The festival was put on (for free) by the New Economics Foundation. The festival was part conference, part workshop, part skill-share, and part exhibition all devoted to exploring the future of sustainability.

NEF’s choice of venue was inspired. Bargehouse is an 4-storey, gritty old warehouse space at the OXO Tower on the south side of the river. It was so lovely to be inside such a ‘human’ building instead of the usual polished concrete conference venue. It lent a really DIY activist vibe to the day.

I saw three talks. The first was a presentation from three speakers on the topic of food security and was introduced by NEF’s Andrew Simms. Of note was Tim Lang questioning what a sustainable diet looks like and how this fits in with our desire for a healthy diet. Lang asked can we have both? Lang says that it’s a fantasy that we have the right to choose what we eat, especially when it involves unsustainable transport and production processes (strawberries in winter, tropical fruit in the UK, etc).

Lang also introduced the audience to a new word deracination, which means lacking roots, to describe how the west has become so urbanized that we have lost touch with how to independently sustain ourselves through growing our own food. Another new term of Lang’s was the BINGO, that is a business that creates an NGO (non-government organisation).

Lang kept talking about a book by Tim Jackson called Prosperity without Growth that I will have to try and find at a library.

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Tim Lang

Next up was the very interesting Professor Richard Wilkinson from Nottingham University talking about inequality. I could have listened to more of what he had to say, but unfortunately his presentation was brief. He showed by way of data graphics how countries that have a larger gap between the rich and  poor have more social problems than countries where there is a more equality. Loss of trust, increased crime, and larger incarceration levels are some of the indicators of an unhappy and unequal society.

Wilkinson says that without trust a community loses the social cohesion that is fundamental to solving the problems of climate change. For, if we have no trust and no empathy for our fellow citizens, why would we bother doing something for them? The UK and Australia are at the top of the unequal scale so we have the most work to do in order to bring back the common good and stand any chance of solving the problem of climate change.

The last talk I saw was a discussion about the value of storytelling. My favourite speaker from this session was Lucy Neil, a theatre producer and an initiator of the Transition Town Tooting project. Neil told the story of her great great aunt Mary Neil. Mary started the Espérance Club in the late nineteenth-century for poor girls from the dressmaking trade. At the club she taught traditional English dances such as Morris dancing which were popular at the time. The girls were then able to travel throughout England teaching these dances and thereby earn a new income. Mary Neil saw dancing as an inclusive rather than exclusive past time. Lucy quoted her great great (and wise) aunt to finish the talk: “isolation is death, only in union is there life”, a great mantra for a sustainable future.

More photos on Flickr

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Lucy Neil

Filed under: activism, environment, events, food, future, , , ,

Red sails in the sunset

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Red Sails in the Sunset is a seminal album from Australian band Midnight Oil. It was their first Australian number one and I think represents the best period of the band. The album was recorded in Tokyo and was released in 1984.

Australians will know only too well that the lead singer of the band, Peter Garrett, is now a member of the Australian Labor Party. The decision by Garrett in 2004 to join a coal-loving political party is one which provoked deep disappointment. Left-wing Australians had hoped that Garrett—politically vocal and a staunch environmentalist—would join a more socially and environmentally-concerned party. Alas that was not to be.

The cover image by Tsunehisa Kimura depicts what Sydney would look like after a nuclear strike (or a dust storm as some have already noted). If you know Sydney geography then you’ll recognise the places that have been hit directly: The Rocks (location of a particularly fierce anti-development demonstration in the 70s), Woolloomoooloo (close to the naval base), and Kirribilli (official Sydney residence of the Australian Prime Minister). Whether these locations were chosen intentionally is unknown.

Tsunehisa Kimura was born in 1928. His photomontages, according to the ABC, were popular in magazines of the 70s and 80s and were critical of the Liberal pro-development party of Japan. Kimura was no doubt chosen to create the art for this album because of his strong political beliefs, it is therefore a shame that Peter Garrett was prepared to water down his beliefs for the sake of a career. Perhaps now the more appropriate cover image would be something like the Kimura image below:

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Terrible as it might seem to some fans of the band, there is one song on the album that until now I had not heard. It’s called “Helps me Helps You” and contains lyrics that are the bitter reminder of a political hero turned bad:

Hypocrisy helps me helps you
Democracy helps me helps you
Ideology helps me helps you
Put your trust in me
I’ll help you through

Hypocrisy indeed. Now that Australia is in a full death spiral environmentally (Garrett’s Labor party support the expansion of the coal industry), perhaps we need someone like Buckminster Fuller to design us some escape pods. I found the image below on greg.org. The photomontage was created by Bucky and his business partner Shoji Sadao in the 60s. The spheres are “self-contained communities of several thousand people living inside enclosed geodesic spheres a mile wide, which float over the earth’s surface” Just what we might need in the near future.

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Filed under: activism, environment, music, , , , , ,

Kevin *#*%! Rudd

Greenpeace launch a campaign ‘Dirty Kev‘ in Australia telling the prime minister that his name will be used in vain if he does a dirty deal on climate change at Copenhagen. Kevin Rudd will become the new swear word of choice. via Oscoio

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Filed under: activism, environment, , ,

Thom Yorke plays the Age of Stupid launch

Thom York performing ‘Reckoner’ as part of the Age of Stupid film launch. The film calls for a global wake up to how our wasteful behaviour is increasing the risk of catastrophic climate change:

Filed under: activism, behaviour, environment, film, music, , , ,

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