New ethics to avoid climate disaster

ART / For the sake of our planet, how can society stimulate a counter narrative to hyper productivity?

The introductory traveling shot, slowly sliding beside a long, white-clothed table covered with the remains of a luxurious banquet, accompanied by a baroque playing harpsichord resembles the early films of Peter Greenaway, such as The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. It could just as well document the leftovers of the dinner following a vernissage in a prominent art institution. In any case, it signals that we are about to witness a self-referential account of art’s role in the contemporary world. Indeed. The film turns upside down one of the most taken-for-granted notions about human beings: the idea of a meaningful existence. This idea is embedded in the belief that human beings, and art as our means of expression, have to have a purpose. It is driving the arts’ ambition to change the world, and humans’ ambition to leave traces. To have success. Not to fail. With Covid-19 or global warming, we are becoming ever more concerned about the consequences of our actions. Once a given-for-granted idea, now is causing anxiety. Abandon the idea altogether, suggest the authors of the film. Stop worrying about the consequences and start practicing the art of inconsequentiality.

The Art of Inconsequentiality, a film by Jakob Brossmann, Friedrich von Borries
The Art of Inconsequentiality, a film by Jakob Brossmann, Friedrich von Borries

Then and now

A few decades ago, I interviewed Milenko Matanović, a Slovene conceptual artist and member of the group OHO from the 1960s who later moved to the United States. He explained to me how, continuing his conceptual work in the small community where he lived at the time, he initiated a project in which every resident had to carry a bag where they would keep all the waste they produced for a week. I vividly remember how innovative and efficient in making people aware of their environmental impact this sounded at that time. It is different now. The starting point of The Art of Inconsequentiality is that trying to reduce one’s impact on the environment is not at all simple. «The production of this film emitted about 4,3 tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases,» says the quote at the end of the closing titles, but the meaning of this, of course, is ironic. Today, we learn through the film, such declarations mostly serve as marketing or, worse still, «greenwashing».

In a narrower sense, the film is an extension of the «School of Inconsequentiality. Exercises for a Different Life,» a project created by Friedrich von Borries for the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg. Von Bories set up a «self-study room,» dedicated to promoting a new perspective on « sustainability» and to challenge the idea of what is an «appropriate life». As we learn, von Borris believes the only way to stop the inevitable climate disaster is inconsequentiality, and that embracing this idea means to abandon some of the most generally accepted notions such as the capitalism-based pursuit of success and the meaning of human existence as such. His views intertwine with other artists’ reflections of their role in the world and in stopping the climate disaster. Milo Rau, the theatre director and actor who is most well-known for founding the «International Institute of Political Murder (IIPM),» argues that creating such symbolic spaces as places for idea exchange is the main role of art. Ahmed Soura, a dancer and artist who in Burkina Faso created a project Yongonlon, where they constructed the theatre using community farming and the compressed earth technology, is convinced that art has to « end the pain in society». Climate activist Tadzio Mueller, on the contrary, claims that political action is needed in the first place. The actress Katharina Meves explains that she learned from her mother to always ask where things come from, but this often leads to contradictory results. As, for example, when producers purchase low-cost costumes at the global clothing chain known for producing its goods in an unsustainable way and she wears them, since«one can’t walk around naked». In short, introducing a great variety of views, the film perfectly defines the current situation in which the climate disaster poses a clear and present danger that threatens everyone, but no one knows exactly how to effectively avoid it.

The film turns upside down one of the most taken-for-granted notions about human beings: the idea of a meaningful existence.

Ethics and aesthetics

This effectiveness is a result of the outstandingly intelligent structure of this film. At the centre is the table where the remains of a lavish dinner are waiting to be photographed. As they wait for the photographer, the artist and his publicist engage in a conversation about their future exhibition at the Museum of Ecological Art. The four kitchen workers, eager to finish and leave, also get involved in this conversation. These six actors are, at the same time, artists and/or activists. The crew, filming the fictitious event, is filmed by another that includes the film’s director and producer, who performs interviews with those on set where the waiting scene takes place. This experimental interplay of various levels of narration, smoothly turning fiction into fact and fact into fiction as on a Möbius strip, is supported by the traditional unity of time and place that is fully preserved.

Such a tight structure is even more important because it also provides a powerful visual expression of the main idea of the film. That is, that consequentiality is built into our world not just by (work) ethics, but by aesthetics as well. Inconsequentiality not only disturbs the order and potentially creates disorder, but it also destroys symmetry and threatens to take away the beauty of our world. It might not be a solution, but it will surely make you think. The Art of Inconsequentiality is a witty, thorough and engaging challenge to the established values and believes. Don’t miss it.

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Melita Zajc
Melita Zajc
Our regular contributor. Zajc is a media anthropologist and philosopher.

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