“Every society has institutions for making decisions and allocating resources. Some anthropologists call this the structure of society. Every society also has an infrastructure, which is its means of obtaining food, energy, and materials. Finally, every society also has a superstructure, which consists of the beliefs and rituals that supply the society with a sense of meaning. In this lesson we see how our current systems of political and economic management—our social structure—evolved to fit with our fossil-fueled infrastructure, and we’ll very briefly explore what a shift to different energy sources might mean for the politics and economics of future societies.”
Richard Heinberg, Think Resilience course.
The Social Structure art call is based on Think Resilience, the Post Carbon Institute’s free online course. To respond to the art call, we asked the artists to signup and to watch the course, one lesson at a time:
Lesson 1: Introduction
Chapter One – Our Converging Crisis
– Lesson 2: Energy
– Lesson 3: Population and Consumption
– Lesson 4: Depletion (Resources depletion)
– Lesson5: Pollution
Chapter two – The Roots and Results of Our Crises
We explore the role of human behavior in our sustainability crises, and dig deeper into where those crises are taking us:
– Lesson 6- Political & Economic Management (Social Structure)
Upcoming art calls:
– Lesson 7- Belief Systems
– Lesson 8- Biodiversity
– Lesson 9- Collapse
Each video is approximately 12 minutes long.
Think Resilience is hosted by Richard Heinberg, one of the world’s leading experts on the urgency and challenges of moving society away from fossil fuels.
We live in a time of tremendous political, environmental, and economic upheaval. What should we do? Think Resilience is an online course offered by Post Carbon Institute to help you get started on doing something. It features twenty-two video lectures—about four hours total—by Richard Heinberg, one of the world’s foremost experts on the urgency and challenges of transitioning society away from fossil fuels. Think Resilience is rooted in Post Carbon Institute’s years of work in energy literacy and community resilience. It packs a lot of information into four hours, and by the end of the course you’ll have a good start on two important skills:
1. How to make sense of the complex challenges society now faces. What are the underlying, systemic forces at play? What brought us to this place? Acting without this understanding is like putting a bandage on a life-threatening injury.
2. How to build community resilience. While we must also act in our individual lives and as national and global citizens, building the resilience of our communities is an essential response to the 21st century’s multiple sustainability crises.
Featured artists: Kirsten Aaboe, Marianne Bickett, Christina Conklin, Annelie Grimwade Olofsson, Michele Guieu, Nancy D Lane, Deborah Kennedy, Quin de la Mer, Marcela Villaseñor.
Christina Conklin (California, US)
Taking a single issue of a National Geographic from my youth (70s/80s), I look for images that relate to this monthly theme to see how it echoes down the years.
These aren’t works of great subtlety; mostly, they reflect my own shock (but not surprise) at the storylines we were fed for decades. I’ve been wondering why my generation has been so asleep at the wheel (not to mention the Boomers!), and it has everything to do with this relentless chorus of conquest and consumption.
As artists, we need to write new stories, create visions of what can be, why we should care, and how to get from here to there. We don’t need to live in a broken world system. We all create culture every day.
Nancy D Lane (Melbourne, Australia)
City on Two Pallets
Created from wood, metal, tile, and plastic found on the streets and in builders skips in Melbourne.
In response to our exploitative, fossil-fueled infrastructure, our society has evolved a social structure dominated by urbanization. As a by-product, we have created an economy dependent on incessant growth in manufacturing and consumerism.
This work decries such growth as necessary to urban development and redevelopment. It envisions a city where renewal does not require demolition, landfill and use of new materials, but rather, restoration of existing buildings and reclaiming and repurposing of used construction materials. Although it would take effort and political will, our cities could be reimagined sustainably.
Deborah Kennedy (California, US)
This altered photo shows part of the new “Google Village” under construction with the old WWII blimp hangar in the distance next to the bay in Sunnyvale. Only the lovely supporting structure of the hangar remains, it was stripped of outer layers of asbestos and other toxic materials at great expense. What new extreme miscalculations and systemic errors are being built into Google’s vast empire? When will we put life sciences at the forefront of our thinking and build a thriving world?
Quin De La Mer (Indian Wells, California, US)
A moving image piece created for What’s Next for Earth’s art call Social Structure.
Quin de la Mer ©2021
Annelie Grimwade Olofsson
The other week I had a lovely chat with @wendygers, touching on topics of the mining complex, sustainable development, social issues, and all things clay-related. It was lovely. One of the things which I’ve been thinking more about since then is the balance between an artist’s personal narrative and ethos when producing new work. And I know that I’ve mentioned this in my posts before. But if you asked me, if my sculptures are sustainable, my answer would be “no”. Because anything involving clay or other geologically derived matter is extracted from the earth, which means that such materials are non-renewable, unlike organic matter ie wood. So, I feel that material-driven makers need to take an interest to and educate themselves, regarding the issues their material might pose on the environment. For instance. Even though I’m working as far as I can with industrial byproducts or local materials, I’m still working with materials that weigh heavily on nature. On the other hand, they last forever and don’t run the risk of pollution once fired. Working with precious materials means participating in systems of linear processes, which often is harmful to Earth and its inhabitants in the long run. However, the answer for artisans, designers, or artists alike is not to lay down their tools or to give up their creativity. Quite the contrary, we need wild and creative ideas to nurture a more sustainable future built on the principles of reciprocity and biodiversity. I feel very strongly about these issues but I remain hopeful through learning and engaging with them. If there is an explanation there’s often a solution. And I believe that creative work helps building social cultures where these values are made “normal” by making them visible. Anyways that’s some thoughts.
Kit / Kirsten Aaboe (Twentynine Palms, CA, US)
My understanding of my complicity, due to ignorance of the connectedness of my actions and their consequences, as well as my desire for convenience, my laziness, privilege, and self-importance, has grown over time.
I made this piece after wandering in the wonderful surroundings, the wonderfields, of 29 Palms at the Desert Dairy while at an artist residency there. I took many photographs while it was cool in the mornings, and when it was too hot to be outside in the 100+ degree heat, I worked on manipulating the photos. This is a digital photo, existing in my iCloud, and may not be printed – I’m not sure about doing that.
I am convinced, as a great many artists are, that our efforts must be more fervently directed to seeing both upstream (before we take action, especially to consume resources) and downstream (what happens after we do take those actions; what do we discard, leave behind)….seeing but also developing work with this awareness.
Marianne Bickett (Oregon, US)
Drowning in Plastics – and Sea turtle
I saved non-recyclable plastic packaging for one year. Almost everything I purchased is from wonderful organic eco concerned companies…but the irony is that they use unsustainable packaging!! I’ve saved these so I can and WILL send each and every company what I’ve saved and ask them to please switch to paper, non-bees wax, or cardboard bags. Quaker Oats has used that round cardboard box for many years and it seems to work. Admittedly, during the pandemic, I wasn’t able to buy bulk seeds and nuts like I like to.
And I indulged in more comfort foods like pretzels. I also bought frozen fish, which I no longer do after I realized how the orcas are starving and we are overfishing our seas and rivers. I’ve not eaten red meat since I was twenty and have maintained a mostly vegan diet ever since. Anyway, I see how dependent I’ve been on these products… and how I can’t bear to send these bags into the earth to pollute with microplastics. We must all speak up and call out corporations to take responsibility for their packaging!!
Our social structure is dependent on this throw-away mentality. Once it’s sold, many (but not all businesses) don’t care what happens to the packaging! Insist that your grocer sells fruits and veggies unwrapped and just walk up and down the aisles and see the horrifying amount of plastic packages that are not 1 or 2 recyclable labeled. Oregon tried to pass a bill for truth in labeling but I don’t know if it survived the legislative process yet or not.
Our system needs to change and we can start where ever we are! Thank you!
Michele Guieu (Sunnyvale, California, US)
Digital collage, 2021
The globalized Western civilization behaves like a terrible dissipative energy system, constantly creating more machines using more energy, changing the climate rapidly, and damaging the biosphere. What allowed this mismanagement was access to cheap and abundant fossil fuels. Now they have an increasingly low energy return on investment (EROI). This gradually limits the available energy for maintaining civilization’s complexity (i.e., economic activities and the number of machines working for the system 24/7). For a change to occur, we’ll have to change the way we live.
But accepting a simplification of the dissipative structures at the heart of the current techno-industrial civilization for decades will be a considerable challenge.
Crises (or ruptures) will therefore be suffered when the deficiency of the available energy manifests itself tangibly. It is about a “predicament” in which one-fifth of humanity, for more than two centuries of “progress,” has consumed more energy than the other four-fifths.
Think Resilience Online Course
Michele Guieu (Sunnyvale, California, US)
At the Crossroads
Renewable energies do not have the same characteristics as fossil fuels. Transitioning to a post-carbon era does not mean switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy and keeping the same type of energy consumption we have today.
The industrial revolution is extremely recent in the history of mankind and it was made possible because of of the abundance of cheap and easy-to-use fossil fuel energies. They have revolutionized our lifestyles in new – but temporary – ways.
Now that the carbon era must close, how are we going to tame our ever-growing need for energy in a world where resources are limited? What is the next revolution going to look like? What does a societal structure not based on growth and consumerism mean?
What’s Next For Earth is an art project created by Michele Guieu, eco-artist and MAHB Arts Community Coordinator, to reflect on the climate emergency, the human predicament and envision a desirable future. The project is supported by the MAHB.
If you have any questions, please send a message to email@example.com.
Thank you ~
Follow What’s Next for Earth on Instagram!