Sustainability in an Imaginary World: Art and the Question of Agency, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Sustainability in an Imaginary World

Art and the Question of Agency, 1st Edition

By David Maggs, John Robinson

Routledge

224 pages

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Hardback: 9780367365158
pub: 2020-02-06
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Description

Sustainability in an Imaginary World explores the social agency of art and its connection to complex issues of sustainability.

Over the past decade, interest in art’s agency has ballooned as an increasing number of fields turn to the arts with ever-expanding expectations. Yet just as art is being heralded as a magic bullet of social change, research is beginning to throw cautionary light on such enthusiasm, challenging the linear, prescriptive, instrumental expectations such transdisciplinary interactions often imply. In this, art finds itself at a treacherous crossroads, unable to turn a deaf ear to calls for help from an increasing number of ostensibly non-aesthetic fields, yet in answering such prescriptive urgencies, jeopardizing the very power for which its help was sought in the first place.

This book goes in search of a way forward, proposing a theory of art aiming to preserve the integrity of arts practices within transdisciplinary mandates. This approach is then explored through a series of case studies developed in collaboration with some of Canada’s most prominent artists, including internationally-renowned nature poet Don McKay; Italian composer and Head of Vancouver New Music, Giorgio Magnanesi; the renowned Electric Company Theatre, led by Kevin Kerr; and finally through a largescale multimedia installation aiming to reimagine the relationship between climate, culture, and human agency.

Sustainability in an Imaginary World will be of great interest to students and scholars of arts-based research fields, sustainability studies, and environmental humanities.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Section 1: Realigning the art-sustainability relationship

Chapter 1 - An Introduction to Sustainability in an Imaginary World

Section 1 – Realigning the art-sustainability relationship

Section 2 – Artists of the Floating World

Section 3 – Sustainability in an Imaginary World

Summary

Chapter 2 - Sustainability as a failure of ontology

What kind of problem is sustainability?

A problem for Modernism or about Modernism?

The Subjects of Sustainability: Information Deficit Models and the Modernist Problem of Personhood

Social Practice

The objects of sustainability and the rise of complexity

Methodological or Ontological redress?

A banishing of science?

Or Modernity?

Flattening Ontology

Procedural Sustainability

Flipping the Predicate

Regenerative Sustainability

The joyful climate crisis?

Conclusion

Chapter 3 – Art as the Attention we Pay

A risky proposition?

Value-add or Trade-off?

Transformative vs. Co-optive?

Two Cautionary Tales

A descriptive swing and a miss: The Mozart Effect

A prescriptive swing and a miss: Art and science communication

Gauging the risk

Why do we think art has agency and where does this instinct typically lead?

A theory of art for transdisciplinary work?

Instauration and the nature of construction

Beings capable of worrying you?

George Steiner and the ‘Unmastered Thereness’

Heidegger and the ontological agency of art

world/earth tensions

Tools vs. Art

Indirect, Mediated, and Frustrating

The agency of the work of art

Conclusion: Art as the quality of attention we pay

Chapter 4 – Does It Need to be Good to be Useful? Art, Aesthetic Merit, and Research Design

In search of the full promise of artistic agency?

Tackling a ‘meta’ problem

Aesthetic Priorities in Transdisciplinary Art Practices

Leavy’s resolution

Resistance is fertile?

Aligning descriptive and prescriptive orientations

Misappropriation of Voice?

Aesthetic priorities and democracy?

Amateurs, and aesthetic priorities vs. aesthetic merit.

Artists?

Double Entrepreneurship as our Homeric moment?

Section 2: Artists of the Floating World

Chapter 5 –Artists of the Floating World: An Art-Sustainability Commissioning Strategy

Background

Modifying Modernism? Artists of the Floating World

Models of/Models for

A double agent?

Artist selection

Commissioning document

Evaluation

Interviews

Artefact analysis

The risk?

Chapter 6 – A Bard in the Borderlands: The Poetry of Don McKay

Introduction

Poetry in the borderlands

Science or Sentiment?

The Double Agent: metaphors to unmap the world

Earth in our Worlds

Wilderness

Poetic Attention

New works for Artists of the Floating World

The purgatory of trash

Thingamajig or Talking to your stick, boots, and chair

stick

boots

rocking chair

The thing itself

Engaging Thingamajig’s audience

Written feedback: love as the unclasping of objectivity

Student blog: ‘Thingifying’ at home

The perils of ‘listening with language’

Interview 1

Interview 2

Interview 3

Conclusion

Chapter 7 – Faith in a World of our Making? The Perils of Interactive Theatre

Introduction

Modes of Emergence

Collaborative creators: The evolution of a devising company

Where do plays come from?

Immanence, interactivity, and an early need for structure

Emergent interactivity

Freedom and Structure

Collaborative models and the professional artist

Imagining the audience: a historical perspective

Substantive emergence: writing for an audience vs. writing with an audience

Immersive theatre: when the wall came down…

Sleep No More: The paragon of the form

You Are Very Star development process

Substantive emergence: resolving the inkblot-cougar problem

Procedural emergence: pushing collaborative creation to new heights

True experimentation

The normative advantage of emergent process

You Are Very Star (brief synopsis)

Audience response: life beyond the wall

Narrative and character

Audience interactivity

Art of the Floating World?

Chapter 8 - Interactive Music Making: Radical Aesthetics, Radical Politics?

Introduction

A perplexing result

The rise of Musical Modernism

The quest for absolute value

Composer as hero

The emergence of an industry

The imagined audience: social or historical?

The Late Quartets

The origin of value?

Rite of Spring: the paradigm case

The Zero Hour: music post-World War II

Diverging avant-gardes

Similar fates

Our inescapable humanity?

The abdication of Giorgio Magnanensi

An encompassing immanence

Process over product

Interactivity, individuality, democracy

Bold experimentation

Back at the fork in the road

Commissioned work for the GCC: Teatro Dell’udito CIRS

Emergent interactivity or grey-green mush?

Engagement? Interaction? Meaning? Agency?

Emancipating the audience?

Pattern seekers

The right answer to the wrong question?

Back to the fork in the road, only wiser?

Chapter 9 - Making Sense of Artists of the Floating World

Introduction

Development Process

Making sense of the results

Art, Modernism, and Sustainability

Interactivity as a refutation of Modernism

A paradox

A different problem

Aesthetic Priorities

Conclusion

Section 3: Sustainability in the Imaginary World

Chapter 10 - Sustainability in an Imaginary World: The Initial Ideas

Design Elements of SIW

Sustainability as a challenge of ontology

Art as an agent of ontology

Scenarios as a compelling partner?

Digital capacity as an obvious means?

Philosophical indulgence: Policies, Worlds, Axioms

A wheel in a wheel?

A rocket to the moon or worse?

Summary

Chapter 11 – Principles of Transdisciplinary Research as a Template for Arts-Based Research?

Introduction

Principles of Transdisciplinary Practice

The SIW development process

Phase 1: Researchers Alone

Phase 2: Researchers and Artists

Phase 3: Artists and Technicians

Phase 4: Researchers and Audience

SIW and the principles of Transdisciplinary Practice

Conclusion

Chapter 12 – A glimpse into Sustainability in an Imaginary World

General Project Overview

2016 and 2017

2017 Script

What was the point?

Chapter 13 – Making Art in a Digital World – Thoughts on an Unstable Landscape

Introduction

Great Expectations

Art and Interactivity

The Paradox of Interactivity

Ax and the Category of Art

Walton’s Categories of Art

Prescriptive Possibilities?

Conclusion

Chapter 14 – Evaluating Sustainability in an Imaginary World

At the edge of instrumentalization

The worst of both worlds?

Participant Debriefs

The Results

Ambiguity and Embodiment

Mixed reviews

A blessed failure?

Layers of Success

Creating a compelling encounter

Generating deep reflection

Multiple fluid perspectives on sustainability

Inspiring high-quality dialogue

Interactivity and agency

But is it the art?

The problem with our best data

The Problem with our worst data

Adjusting SIW evaluation

Time

Language

Inclusion

Cause or Effect?

Chapter 15 – Hopeful Monster

Introduction

Making sense of hopeful monsters

Crystallization

Emergence

Resonance

Aligning with a dyadic theory of art

Abandoning the mission?

Considering SIW as a hopeful monster

Conclusion

About the Authors

David Maggs carries on an active career as an interdisciplinary artist and arts-researcher. He is the founder and pianist for Dark by Five (darkbyfive.com), has written works for the stage, and collaborated on large augmented reality projects. David is the artistic director of the rural Canadian interarts festival Gros Morne Summer Music (gmsm.ca), founder and publisher of a digital arts magazine (oldcrowmagazine.com), and the director of The Graham Academy, a youth performing arts training academy. He initiated and co-produced the CBC documentary The Country. As an academic David focuses on arts practices and the challenge of sustainability. His doctoral thesis Artists of the Floating World led to the SSHRC funded Sustainability in the Imaginary World led by PI John Robinson (www.imaginesustainability.today). His research attempts to understand sustainability as a cultural challenge, and to make sense of art as a driver of social impacts. He has been a featured speaker at the Canadian Arts Summit, The International Transdisciplinarity Conference, the National Valuing Nature Conference, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich), and elsewhere.

John Robinson is a Professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and the School of the Environment at the University of Toronto. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Copenhagen Business School, and Visiting Professor at Utrecht University in 2019. At U of T, he is Presidential Advisor on the Environment, Climate Change and Sustainability, and heads up the Sustainable Built Environment Performance Assessment (SBEPA) research network. His research focuses on the intersection of climate change mitigation, adaptation and sustainability; the use of visualization, modelling and citizen engagement to explore sustainable futures; sustainable buildings and urban design; the role of the university in contributing to sustainability; creating partnerships for sustainability with non-academic partners; the history and philosophy of sustainability; and, generally, the intersection of sustainability, social and technological change, ways of thinking, and community engagement processes.

About the Series

Routledge Studies in Sustainability

Sustainability has become one of the most pressing social, environmental, economic, cultural and political issues of our times. Yet the meaning of ‘sustainability’ remains elusive.

This series provides original insights from across the social sciences and humanities on the meaning and practice of sustainability. It offers both theoretical and practical analysis of ‘sustainability’, including social sustainability, sustainable consumption, democratic sustainability and sustainable behaviour.

These interdisciplinary books give students, researchers, policy makers and practitioners the latest thinking from international authors. This thought-provoking series draws on and is relevant to those working in a wide-range of disciplines, including environment, development, sociology, politics, philosophy, business and marketing, media, geography, and anthropology.

To submit proposals, please contact the Editor, Rebecca Brennan ([email protected]).

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ART000000
ART / General
BUS072000
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Development / Sustainable Development
NAT010000
NATURE / Ecology
PER000000
PERFORMING ARTS / General
SCI026000
SCIENCE / Environmental Science