Month: September 2010

The methodology of apology – group vs individual…

The vastness of my self-appointed task sometimes points me towards a pragmatic approach (as opposed to an idealistic one), and thus, towards group apology…though I do recognize, of course, that the sentiment in the gesture is perhaps more important than the actual number of apologies that I make during the ongoing course of the project.

Just in case someone was wondering, the shouting is intended as a metaphor for the ridiculousness of my self-appointed task, as well as the urgency of our contemporary ecological cisumstance.

For the record, I myself would never shout when ‘in nature’ and do so only with (deliberately amateurish home-movie aesthetic) camera present to serve the underlying premis of Project Apology – the right of all beings to exist in the pristine  and abundant pre industrial revolution state of the earth that is their birthright.

Classification dispossesses our ability to stand in the wonder of life in all its miraculous manifestations

At Project Apology we do not subscribe to the imperialist Linnaean system of labeling and classifying the variety of life forms with which we share our planet in a self-important manner – a system that clearly functions to sanction human delusions of superiority and, more importantly, to appropriate the true essence of all creatures as less than mysteriously perfect manifestations of being.

Thus, if we have to label anything, for the sake of communication, we prefer to use the so-called common name.

‘Portrait of the artist apologizing, with signage, to two adolescent, mercury-crazed polar bears on melting ice’.

Portrait of the artist apologizing, with signage, to two adolescent, mercury-crazed polar bears on melting ice.      –  Paul Roux – 2009, oil on canvas, 40 x 106 inches. Private Collection.

I completed the above painting in 2009.  Obviously it is an extension of the idea of the need for acknowledgment of our impact on the planet. Conceptually, it is also a hybrid of project apology and another ongoing performance project of mine – I’m busy being busy, but here’s my card.

The painting was inspired partly by a documentary about the increasing number of attacks by polar bears on humans in the arctic circle, thought by science to be brought on by a combination of high mercury levels (as a result of the accumulation of man-made pollutants in the marine system), global warming, accelerated by human activity and population levels, and which functions to shift bear and prey migration patterns on account of shorter winters and shifting and diminishing ice packs. These factors, individually and collectively, bring individuals with no previous human contact into contact with human settlement. And then sometimes ‘perpetrators’ are individuals who have had experience with humans and yet are just plain desperate or crazy, or a combination of both.

The syndrome of increasing attacks attributed to high levels of mercury in the food chain is also illustrative of the idea that the biosphere is a single highly complex organism. Since the ocean is ultimately one body of water (and as such a great metaphor for symbiotic nature of the biosphere), waterborne pollutants ultimately end up in the ocean, which means that even the most seemingly pristine environments are contaminated.

We as a species are ultimately responsible for these attacks, we can not blame the bears! We have been shitting in our own backyard on a grand scale since the start of the industrial revolution. Now that we are aware of it, there’s no use complaining about the consequences, of which the Polar Bear’s plight and its sometimes gory impact on humans is one of the more high profile examples. Nor is there any excuse for governments not to legislate and monitor sustainable non-toxic industry and alternative energy policy and to severely punish offenders. Because the issue is no longer about political popularity and profitability, it is about the sustainability of all life on the planet and can not be separated from our immediate quality of life.  Ask your local and national government representatives about what they are doing along these lines and talk to environmentally focused non-profit organizations about what you can do to speed up the process.

If you are lucky, or unlucky, enough to live in a part of the world where the bubble hasn’t burst just yet, you can bet on the fact that one day it will, so its important that we all take action today, both individually and collectively.

Because of their size, handsomeness and highly specialized nature, polar bear represent one of the luckier species in terms of human impact, awareness and potential future intervention.  While it’s high profile gives it a higher chance of survival, if there is no ice at some point in the not too distant future, how will it adapt to new environments and increased interaction with humans?

These days, more and more Polar Bears are reportedly being found drowned at sea because arctic ice packs, the specific environment to which the polar bear is adapted, are shifting and disintegrating at alarming rates. Also, because they are the apex predators in their ecosystem and the cumulative effect of toxins is magnified as it climbs up the food chain they are particularly vulnerable, especially since many toxic pollutants, like mercury, bond particularly well to fat cells and these animals require a high fat diet for survival.

“Portrait of the artist’s wife, Leighton, eating an apple.” 2009

I live in a world that is filled with sublime beauty and lots of trash.

Much of my trash is the symptom of an obsolete economic model that has served its time and is ready to be replaced by more localized solutions whereby resources are conserved and managed in a sustainable manner.

For the moment, if I choose to live in this world without removing myself completely from society, I have to embrace the trash as part of the natural bounty of the earth. Or at least a bi-product of the human relationship, collectively speaking, to that bounty. 

And trash can be quite beautiful, in and of itself. Certainly it comes in all different and pretty colors. 

But what is trash really other than a manifestation of our collective separation from our immediate environment.  If the majority of food is grown and distributed locally we lose much of the need for trash, and of course we also cut down on carbon emissions.

In this sense this painting represents a deliberate subversion of the romantic ideal of a single passing moment, unaware of, and seemingly unspoiled by the cumbersome commercial activities of everyday modern existence.

The reality is that the ideal of a beautiful girl eating an apple (this is my partner actually) in a green Eden of sunshine and tweeting birds just seems harder and harder to reconcile, we all know that our landscapes are not unaffected by our industry and that we are entering a time where our current relationship to our greater environment seems set to turn round and smack us in the face, if it hasn’t already.

We are all glad to have our trash picked up, week in, week out.

But where does it all go (I mean multiplied by six billion)?

To get a sense of this question you might visit Chris Jordan’s website. He recently created a series of works called “Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait”, whereby he presents the sobering statistics in visual terms. Of course, the US is the epicenter of material consumption and so represents the maximum level of mass consumption relative to the rest of the world, yet still represents only a portion of the global scenario.

self-examination and skepticism

The act of apology, in this context, is a gesture that represents an acknowledgment of the reality of human impact on our planet and our co-inhabitants.

Inherent in this act is an acknowledgment of the sanctity of all forms of life, large and small, and their equal right to the abundance that the earth is capable of delivering. That is of course assuming that we humans choose collectively to live in harmony with the planet that sustains us.

During the course of this project thus far, the action of apology has been labeled by some as being ineffectual.

I believe that this response is rooted in fear, born of social programming, and ignorance.

The challenge we face is not about saving this species or saving that one in linear time. Of course we must do what we can, yet we simply do not have the resources to save all the species that are endangered as a result of our industry. Many species have undoubtedly already disappeared without us even knowing that they existed. We too will disappear if we do not wake up on a scale significant enough to force an ideological shift on a global scale – towards systems that are in harmony with our planet and its resources, and thus sustainable.

The action of apology is not meant to affect physical change in the world, it is about coming to terms with where we are.  It is about waking up and seeing all the pain and destruction in the world and seeing  that much of it can be avoided.  And the act of documenting the apologies is an attempt to engage people in a novel way as to the reality that we all face, whether we face up to it or not.

We can choose to turn our back on the reality but that does not mean that it is not so. Yet we are sometimes not willing to accept where we are because we feel that it somehow reflects on us personally in a ‘negative’ way. We can choose to label something as being ‘negative’ or ‘positive’ or ‘depressing’, and yet that does not change the fact that it is so.

It is only through acknowledgment and acceptance that we can choose to arrest and adjust our collective course.

Nevertheless the skeptic in us is not prepared to acknowledge the reality of our world, and our communal part in that reality, because it means that our cozy bubbles of lifestyle and convenience quickly dissolve. It means rapid change and short-term adaptations for the sake of the survival of humanity. However, by refusing to see and acknowledge where we are at, we are weighted with the underlying unconscious awareness of the reality. And, in any case, those of us who choose the bubble are only in for a rude awakening. So it is ultimately a false choice.

And the thing about our current reality, here on this sublimely beautiful and fortunate rock flying through space, is that it is very real.  And it is not going away. In fact it is only going to get more real and if it hasn’t already gotten real enough in your neck of the woods (like say in New Orleans for example) don’t worry…it may still do so.

Perhaps an effective antidote to this paralysis, fear and resultant retreat into old behaviors is the realization that there is no blame. There is no point in assigning blame, it sidesteps the real issue. We are all in this together and we need to see that we live in a closed system where the pain of our fellow beings is our own (because we are all connected at the most fundamental level as quantum physics is continuously revealing) and where greed and the conquering disposition must be replaced, promptly, with compassion and selfless custodianship if we are to survive.

By the same logic it is BP that is solely responsible for the recent tragedy in the gulf. Of course, it has nothing to do with our dependence on fossil fuels and oil based economic interests and/or our consumption of petroleum products.  And of course it is an isolated incident (forget the thousands of ecological disasters perpetrated by energy purveyors in their creative pursuit of profit in supplying us with our energy needs) that must be cleaned up. And of course it has nothing to do with government relations with big oil, nor the fact that someone approved the ridiculous idea of deep-sea drilling.

An oil spill is a symptom of a much larger paradigm that must be abandoned if we have dream to survive.

Yet another breed of skeptic feels that humans are by birth the superior purveyors of progress and reason in a jungle of savage lesser beings of minimal consequence and that it is our task to bring order and sanity to the reign of cayos.  Like the lost heroin from a Jane Austen novel who finds herself bravely swatting away the flies in a savage and foreign land, only to find a measure of solace in a colonial garden, a corner of sanity in sea of baron cayos.  Only a measure though, since the awareness of the ‘savagery’ and illusion of control lurks just beneath the surface. And the captains of industry, the powers that be, are the miserly kings who look upon the rest of us as peasants and laugh at us, for we too are lesser beings in our V8’s and programmed material aspirations.

Such emotional separation from the planet that sustains us is the reality for most of us and, although one would be hard pressed to say when this alienation was first born, it is certainly evident if one looks at the process of mainstream contemporary`civilization’, which reflects a conquering attitude towards nature embodied in the prospecting gaze of colonialism that set up the social structures by which we still live today.

Perhaps an effective antidote to this paralysis, fear and resultant retreat into old behaviors is the realization that there is no blame. There is no point in assigning blame, it sidesteps the real issue. We are all in this together and we need to see that we live in a closed system where the pain of our fellow beings is our own and where greed and the conquering disposition must be replaced, promptly, with compassion and selfless service if we are to survive?

Some would go so far as to say that we’ve gone too far already – that, in both meteorological and human terms, we’re doomed. Personally, I would like to believe that the adversities that will present themselves in the future would serve as food for ongoing evolution and newfound unity in purpose.

When I give credence to the skepticism that I experience from time to time, self-consciousness creeps into my apologies and I feel selfish in that I allow the judgment of others to affect the integrity and depth of sentiment.

Even though I know in my heart that the gesture is a genuine one and I can choose not to react to those who do not relate to what I am doing. Conversely the creatures I am apologizing to have no choice but react to the adversity that human activity delivers. The manatees that are run down in mid frolic, the turtles that swim into a cloud of oil in the gulf, the polar bears that drown because the polar ice caps are melting at an accelerated rate – the examples run into the millions.

Now I understand that people don’t want their warm fuzzy bubble to be broken but we need to wake up and see the reality.