Art for Sustainable Behavior:

Raquel Serebrenik Sultan

A perspective on How Contemporary Art is Needed to Create a Relationship Between the Public and Environment

In today's world, it is important to understand the effects of our actions on society, the economy, and the planet. History and present environmental reactions tell us that a shift is necessary, one element that helps us realize that a change is needed is art.

Our present actions affect not only the evolution of communities around the world but also, the development of our planet and how it behaves with us. Although currently, this thought might be obvious to many, it does take a profound understanding to take action over it. Our behavior towards our environment affects us physically either on climate change, political struggles, health, etc. During the sixties, the scientific community already had an understanding and several forecasts of events to come if the human race continued to use the planet's resources selfishly.

Biologist Paul Ehrlich warned in his book The Population Bomb[1] about the increasing growth of the human race, unnecessary consumption of natural resources and their correlation.  Nevertheless, it was not until recent years that the art and design community (through design for sustainability, service design and a unique appreciation for innovation) understood that the only way to change the status quo on this sensitive and significant issue was to change the behavior and the daily life of society members. The art and design world understood the key role they have concerning our planet’s preservation.

Thus science, art, design and technology joined forces to start what could be called a revolution against evil behavior, that although we see as normal, it never was in the eyes of the blue planet we all call "home." It is important to define the term "sustainability" which refers to the right balance of different species and their environment. That is why when we talk about sustainability, we are not just referring to climate change, but also a balance between social classes, empathy for those who have less, a proper educational system that promotes behavior change and many other elements that relate to scientific, political, social and economic issues. It is a subject in which many practices go hand in hand to create solutions to natural changes.

Even though science and technology can achieve changes in our environment, it is the intersection between art, design, and science that can shift human perception. Art and design come into the equation, make their way into communities, and draw the attention of those who have the power to influence the attitude society has towards this issue. Only through this process can science and technology work to change society’s responses for future generations and our planet’s endurance. -The arts have the power of realization and awareness while the sciences have the power of actions. Only when we understand that the problem is real and present we decide to take move forward; thus representing this important collaboration of fields. Without the change that art and design can cause within the human mind, science and technology's efforts will only work in the short run (meaning that history will only repeat itself). Art today is vital to achieving that conscious and subconscious change within society.

We live in a reality where we are continuously connected to an exciting virtual environment. However helpful this digital world has been to the development of our behavior it has also prevented the evolution of a critical view about our physical and real environment (especially for the newest generation). It is through artists such as Yayoi Kusama (1929-), Doris Salcedo (1958-), Bill Viola (1951-), Carlos Cruz-Diez (1923-) and many others that the viewer is involved in a real space that questions what we know and how we know it. Through these artist made environments, we can reach conclusions about the way we live and the way we affect our surroundings.

Sustainability ceased to be a solely scientific subject and became a social issue. Thanks to artists and designers the world keeps understanding that it is not a physical change that we need to progress, but a mental change and an immediate reaction to it. Now, many will say that the artist who wants to propose a dialogue on climate change and sustainability is one that regularly uses recycled or reusable materials to create works. Although this might be true for some, in my opinion, the artist who proposes a dialogue on this subject is the one who intervenes our day to day, raises questions about the environment around the audience, and fosters a conversation; but not necessarily in a dialectical manner. What initiates this subcontinental change is a conversation in which the artist does not suggest a solution to a problem, he or she imposes a series of challenges through experiences where viewers are encouraged to create their conclusions.

Until today it is understood that physical change is real and that with every passing year is more evident. Technological, meteorological, agricultural centers and the scientific community are aware that in order to modify the reality of today, we must change the way we live and mostly the way our actions affect our surroundings. It is in the arts to promote a discourse among citizens of the world, make people feel aware of the chain of reaction. Make the participant understand that he or she is surrounded by details that are affected by simple actions. Surroundings that although evident at first glance, are often taken for granted due to the monotony of the day a day.

So I say yes! To those artists that propose unique experiences. Yes! To those that want to make the participants feel uncomfortable, thoughtful and certain that something is being questioned. Yes! To those that want to impose change and demand that the viewer or interactor become aware of its actions and the impact they have on their environment. I say yes to them because these are the artists that look to truly affect generations to come.

[1] Paul R, Ehrlich, The population bomb, Cutchogue, NY: Buccaneer, 2007.