About the Lecture
Among the many fine works by the visionary German artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) in the HOW Art Museum’s collection is a poster titled Save the Woods (1972). It documents an environment protection action that took place in 1971 when 50 students accompanied the artist in sweeping the forest with brooms to protest its planned removal to make way for tennis courts. This action precedes by 11 years one of Beuys’s most well-known and influential works, 7000 Oaks, (1982-1987), where he installed 7,000 prism-shaped basalt stones in Kassel’s main plaza during documenta 7; each would be removed to accompany the planting of an oak tree. While Save the Woods focuses on the protection of the forest, 7000 Oaks replenishes. In Beuys’s lexicon of social sculpture the gap between saving the forest and making art does not exist, both blur the distinction between art and life.
Indeed, Beuys’s belief that “our relationship to nature is characterized by the fact that it is a totally disturbed one,” has had an impact on contemporary ecological artists. In recent years we have seen a gathering of effort across artistic and activist communities to raise concern for what Beuys had already noted: that “between the mine and the garbage dump runs the one-way street of modern civilization whose expansive growth victimizes an ever increasing number of lifelines in the ecological system.” (“Appeal for an Alternative,” 1978). His urban ecology projects that combined art, activism and public participation are the forerunners to contemporary art in the public sphere that demonstrably embraces a love of nature—the forest, the ocean, the atmosphere—while voicing concern about its large-scale destruction— deforestation, extraction, plastic and chemical pollution. The artists who create these works are deeply influenced by the Anthropocene discourse, which articulates existential and spiritual matters of urgency about climate change and our environmental future.
Betti-Sue Hertz will discuss two performative actions in the USA: Annie Sprinkle’s and Beth Stephen’s Sexecology and #YouShellNotPass, the 2015 creative protest in Seattle against oil drilling in the arctic region. She will conclude with recent works featuring public participation by Chinese artists including Hong Kong-based Zheng Bo’s socially engaged collaboration to create a landscape for both farming and weeds at a historical village in Taipei; and Shanghai-based Liu Zhenchen’s ice monuments, first presented outside of city hall in Paris. These varied projects demonstrate Jacques Rancière’s dictum: “Art can become life. Life can become art. And art and life can exchange their properties,” as well as Yates McKee’s claim that “collective liberation always has an aesthetic dimension.” They demonstrate that current practices in art and environmentalism can be effective as well as affective.
About the Lecturer
Betti-Sue Hertz is an independent curator working at the intersection of critical visual culture and socially relevant issues. Trained as an artist and art historian, her projects are fueled by the intersection of visual aesthetics and socially relevant ideas, where emotional content is filtered through intellectual machinations. She understands exhibitions to be a site for the creation of relational structures and comparative propositions to expand opportunities for new perspectives on a wide range of topics. She teaches art history, visual culture and critical studies courses at Stanford University, and San Francisco Art Institute.
As a project curator at the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, Hertz has organized three solo exhibitions: Tacita Dean: Day for Night (2018), Marc Johnson: YúYú (2017) and Pia Camil: A Pot for a Latch (2016).
She was director of visual arts at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 2008-2015. In 2015 she was also interim director of programs at Headlands Center for the Arts. Hertz served as the curator of contemporary art at San Diego Museum of Art 2000–2008 and director of Longwood Arts Project 1992–1998.