Banana Blood Reclaimed fabric, vegetable dyes, hairspray, stickers, monoprint, bananas, 2015
By The Editor
You state that your practice is a way of 'raising environmental awareness and awareness
of climate poverty as the legacy of Colonialism', how does your work critique the artist's
environmental ethics and how do you prevent the neutralisation of the debate in your practice?
In terms of the environmental ethics of art practice, I do think that if you are going to make art for more than just a hobby and expect people to invest in it; fund; buy; and even take interest in your work then you need to be aware of how your chosen career has been enabled. By this I mean through the financial partnerships within the art and cultural worlds. For example, a wild dream of any artist would be to be shown somewhere such as the Tate, which has been sponsored by BP for years. Although, they have amazingly just announced they are ending that partnership next year thanks to campaigning. I think that if an artist does not know about how their dream is funded and brought to the public, then that’s a little ignorant in regards to how our sector is enabled. In the same way you would acknowledge a really good tutor at art college or the support of peers; or a really influential artist, book, or musician. An artist should acknowledge the processes (financial and cultural) that has brought about the space which frames and enables their work and career.
I’m not sure about the neutralisation of any debate, because there are cynics and keen beans in every subject area, so there will always be debate surrounding everything because that’s the nature of the scope of human experience - it’s all different and we all want to give our two cents. But yes, I do see debates being neutralised in artistic circles (particularly academic and theoretically based art communities) because it’s simply not cool to keep being keen. It’s cooler to talk smoothly and resolve questions within art academically. I get that – it feels good to feel smart! But that’s an example of where art is an insular, self-referential arena and I find that to be very alienating and socially unproductive, but also ungrateful because it is denying public intellectual access. Which is madness when such art programmes/ talks/ debates/ groups/ shows are often funded by public money. Even if they’re not funded by public money they may well be funded by private institutions or investors who are likely to have made their money through practices that are not environmentally sound.
It makes me really disappointed when I go to an art exhibition and see something that I know is inaccessible. My mum is the best to go to and see art with because she is open minded and she has this skill of seeing humour and profundity in a very uncontrived and unbiased way. If an artwork can be humorous or profound to her then I know it’s a good piece of art. She has no art training, just life training! So I would say that if an artist wants to make artwork communicating environmental ethics then they should show two people; Buffy Sainte Marie and my Mum! Look up Buffy Sainte Marie, she’s a musician and she’s the queen of accessible and aware artistry. As a native Canadian Cree, she has the authority of experiencing both poverty and climate poverty directly as a legacy of Colonialism.
In order to not neutralise any debate I think it’s important for every one to just keep the information coming. Keep the suggestions and alternatives and opinions coming and this will create a big swirl of opportunity for social shifts.
Can you expand on the material history of your piece and its symbolism?
The materials used in my piece is a little bit contradictory, but I think this illustrates the complexities of climate action in a globalised world. It’s got a ‘cruel to be kind’ vibe to it; I’ve used packaged foods shipped from abroad to dye the fabric and new chemical hairspray! I’ll explain…
I initially aimed to use only waste materials, specifically from Peckham Rye Lane (where my studio is), where so many international imports arrive every day (high fuel miles, risk of monoculture production etc). I have used fabric rescued from a charity shop, and dyed it with a kitchen by-product: the water I used to soak some black beans (bought on Rye Lane) when I made a black bean soup.
As I was addressing mass and international food production in this piece, as well as other environmentally contentious practices, I realised I wanted to reference the international food trade around Rye Lane and also the huge amount of packaging waste it generates. I decided to spray “Banana Blood” onto the fabric to look like the sprayed branding on the banana crates that litter Peckham. I made ‘fruit stickers’ with little messages about bananas. While we eat and live gloriously, the world bleeds out – this is my dramatised version of events!
There are many reasons why I’ve branded my message “Banana Blood”. Bananas are symbolic of planet earth being so susceptible to its inhabitants as they are one species at the mercy of any bug or epidemic that hits them; bananas allow interaction – at my open studios people all took a banana in a little ‘banana blanket’ (also dyed with black beans or onion skins and mono-printed with fun little warning poems about climate destruction); bananas reference the plantation workers strike (referring in turn to climate-based poverty and rights abuse) in Columbia in 1928; it references banana republics as an unsustainable and exhaustive socio-political, economic and environmental state And lastly because bananas are so pop, and people get pop culture!
I used pink chemical hairspray, which I felt so bad about because I bought it new! But it was kind of a way to try an accept that there are cultures that exist as a result of the globalised world which are for the best, and Peckham Rye Lane is full of amazing cultures that slot in together and alongside each other. Something you see a LOT on Rye Lane is hair salons. Almost all Afro-Caribbean, some Asian ones, and I understand that hair is of importance socially and creatively in many cultures and I just kind of wanted to nod to that for a second even if it means using naughty chemical hairspray! It’s also kind of a salute to Peckham Rye Lane for having the highest concentration of women-owned businesses in the UK which is so cool.
You describe your installation as a warning to a future of 'climate-based capitalism' - under a capitalist system is environmental destruction inevitable?
Okay, I am not cynical by nature, and I can’t say that Capitalism is wholly bad, because great opportunities have come out of investments made possible by Capitalism. But I would say that from a psychological point of view, the behaviours of Capitalism are destructive to our interconnected world. The Capitalist system is too reminiscent of slavery. The earth is a resource and also essentially a colleague when it comes to making money, but we don’t offer anything in return, we just strip it of it’s uses where possible and move on.
When it comes to specifically climate-based, or rather natural resource based Capitalism, pieces of American history and their legacies offer concentrated examples of the domino effect of behaviours that underpin Capitalism: the widespread practice of personal land ownership that began in the Homestead Act and escalated to extreme Capital drive only occurred by the US government first stealing ancestral lands from indigenous people, and then portioning it up. Nowadays much of that land is used not only for private income, but for oil mining, pipelines, tar sands etc! We can’t even comfortably return that land because it has so much capital locked up in it, and the loss of that scares us more than climate change and abuse of indigenous rights scares us – now that is messed up!
If Capitalism were a person it would probably be sectioned, or at least put on heavy medication for being a danger to the general public. And the reason (if you are cynical about government approaches to mental health which I now am) for medicating people is to make them more suitable to partake in the popular socio-economic system, so that they don’t disrupt it. How ironic!
So yes, Capitalism is full of bad behaviours! There are behaviours also that allow Capitalism to advance such as bureaucracy, disinformation and disclosure issues which allow for taking advantage, or extending advantage, over resources, people and local socio-political/socio-economic practices. Capitalism isn’t ‘local’ enough to respond (if it wanted to) to the needs of people and places sustainably.
Are humans capable of stopping runaway climate change?
I think it depends to what capacity. The situation is clearly beyond rescuing for certain species whose micro-climates and local habitats have been destroyed, or are being destroyed. For certain human groups, in polluted fossil fuel cities in China or Bangladesh, it is clearly taking a physical toll. I suspect the changes occurring within the climate can right themselves in the long run, but whether we can help our earth to recover soon enough and well enough, then in anthropocene terms I’m nervous! It’s up to us to try though – all we can do is try, because we just don’t know what might happen. I used to think that deep ecology (caring for the earth on its own terms, not just ours) was the only way to be an ecologist, but I’ve learned to be realistic now and see that we’re all only on earth for a bit and we wanna have a good time, and some people in less fortunate circumstances just want to not have a bad time! So I understand that it is hard to envision an earth environment from a de-anthropocised point of view. If the majority of the world accepts how fast we have to act for the sake of protecting the human species, then I think we can make a big difference in relieving the pressures we place upon the planet, even if we can’t fix the damage. But I think we can definitely save some habitats and species – there’s still time for that.
Does art have a role in stopping climate change? If so what is it?
Yes! Art is a unique arena where you can say almost anything. This allows it to be a social test bed. Politics, anthropology and science should use art, and other creative avenues, as a valid experimenting and communicating tool because it’s in the realm of entertainment and people pay attention to entertainment. If you can’t see art as entertainment, then you can see it as a culture. Culture creates art and art influences culture. The worldwide practice of climate destruction is a cultural behaviour, then of course it is linked to art, entertainment, lifestyle… everything else that we consume and access. If art culture can shift and change and express and respond to the world, then it can work the other way.
In your answer to the first question I mentioned the campaigns to end BP sponsorship of the Tate. Well much of this campaigning gained sway with the public and created additional awareness through performance art, writing, poetry and visual design. So yes art can have a direct effect, but it can also just offer a kind of osmosis process of attitude and information. By this I mean that if enough creative people who care about climate change say so, then the facts and the attitudes will spread out and out from that. It’s a chain of information.
Banana Blood Reclaimed fabric, vegetable dyes, hairspray, stickers, monoprint, bananas, 2015
Philly Hunt is an artist and writer.
"I focus on the power of imagination and story to mobilise social change. My aim is to cultivate an awareness of environmental and social issues and activate peoples' sense of responsibility through fantasy. I use pop culture references and characteristics to offer two levels at which to experience my art: purely aesthetically, or to be examined and deconstructed to reveal narratives and characters based on cultural truths.
My fantasy counterpart: I am Lone Cowgirl of The Swaglands, me and my open-air Outback cinema, waiting for the exodus to arrive."
© Anthropocene Magazine 2016