Limits to growth? These artists are trying to imagine it

Can something look captivating and dystopian at the same time? The installation Life Support System proves that it is possible. The French art collective Disnovation.org grows exactly one square meter of wheat in a series of plastic containers. The work is installed in the dark room of the Utrecht art institution Impakt, completely independent of the ecosystem outside. Instead of rain, it gets water from a thousand liter barrel. There is no sunlight, but there are UV lamps. There is not a gust of wind (important for the direction of growth), but there are thin fans. The young plants flutter touchingly in the artificial breeze.

Of Life Support System Disnovation wants to make it clear how great the economic value of a healthy ecosystem is. Wind, water and sunlight are usually given to you by nature, what if it is no longer in balance? The sun rises for nothing … in this artistic cost-benefit analysis it becomes clear how much it would cost if we had to let that sun rise itself. A previous performance produced wheat at a price of 1,353 euros per kilo – an urgent topic now that the real wheat price is rising sharply due to the Russian attack on Ukraine.

The installation Life Support System at the exhibition ‘Disnovation.org: After the growth’ at IMPAKT in Utrecht.
Photo by Pieter Kers

Although not very explicitly named, the solo exhibition is After growth of Disnovation clearly affected by the report The limits of growth (1972), which the Club of Rome published exactly fifty years ago this year. The message at that time (unrestrained growth is unsustainable) only seems more urgent in the era of climate change. In the exhibition, Disnovation deals with interesting concepts that could help to understand the ecological crisis. Solar Share for example, a currency is based on the amount of sunlight that lands on a particular area. That Energy slave tokens depict the amount of energy required to facilitate a particular lifestyle – to convert engine power and fuel into labor. An average European would use the energy of about four hundred to five hundred ‘energy slaves‘consume. Shocking numbers, fascinating concepts, but concrete solutions are not really mentioned yet. It happens a little more in the interviews with all sorts of experts that can be seen on video in the room.

Also read this week’s gallery tips: Black land and a magic lime spray

Investment in gecko

Artists who in every possible way are busy depicting such a ‘post-growth world’, it is also a common thread at Eindhoven’s art and technology festival STRP. This year’s theme is The end of infinity, after two digital editions, the festival takes place in Eindhoven’s city center for the first time this week. The fifteen works of art, ten of which have been created specifically for STRP, can be found in two hotels and among the shopping public in vacant retail properties (shopping, as we know it, seems limited after all).

Sevdaliza created ‘Raving Dahlia’a humanoid dealing with the unrealistically high expectations of women in modern society.
Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

on Miljøforkæmperens Fondsbørs you can wonder with lions, hyenas, dung beetles and geckos. The Cream on Chrome group applies the metaphor of the market to the ecosystem and created an addictive game, in a serious stock market environment, where investments in one species have effects in the other species. You choose the goal: do you strive for ecological balance? Or are you trying to make as much money as possible on the varieties?

From James Bridle is Server farm (test plot 001)a rather incomparable initiative to develop a computer based on plants – the project is still in its infancy, in one of the empty shops you can see some dried plants and listen to an interview about the project.

Sevdaliza .s robot

The end of infinity has not only an ecological significance on STRP. It can also mean breaking a certain status quo. Pop star Sevdaliza developed the humanoid robot Ravende Dahlia, a ‘perfect woman’ who has to deal with the unrealistically high expectations of women in modern society. The moving robot is presented seductively on a stage in a large church hall, in a show of light and music.

Scarcity is the theme of Last Grain of Sand, a fantastic virtual reality film by the Dutch collective Post Neon. In it you travel through a futuristic temple, which is built around ‘the last grain of sand’. Although it seems to be in abundance, we are heading towards sand shortage, while it is an important raw material for computers, construction and glass. The virtual journey on a vibrating platform is accompanied by the latest lecture by the British sand expert Michael Welland (1946 – 2017), aptly christened ‘David Attenborough of the sand’ by the collective. Last Grain of Sand is a good example of how a VR movie can help make a good text even more compelling, but again, a solution seems far away.

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