Scott Robinson


How not to care about ecology

Tough luck to the wood that becomes a violin.
Arthur Rimbaud, letter to Paul Demeny, 15 May 1871

The picture which is looked to for an interpretation of nature is invaluable, but the picture which is taken as a substitute for nature, had better be burned…
John Ruskin, Modern Painters, 1844

Like an enveloping atmosphere, ecology has become a dominant framework for contemporary art. In parallel, criticism has assumed the task of interpreting and re-interpreting art and its history for the ecological moment. Despite its near-imperialistic tendency to redefine the meaning of art works in ecological terms, the use of ‘ecology’ as a framework often precludes critical analysis rather than invites it. We are compelled to equate ‘ecological’ alongside terms like ‘life’ and ‘care’, with ‘good’, neatly bypassing both aesthetic and political judgment. Ecology is levelled to any lively, activated network, ignoring the dead, inorganic and artificial aspects of real ecologies. In the efflorescence of eco-art, the living overtakes the dead at the cost of art’s function...


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