Why “Earth Art for the 21st Century”? Like a lot of people, the artists who formed Transnational Temps in 2001 (info about the collective follows this article) sensed that coverage of global warming and other environmental issues was woefully inadequate. Commercially sponsored “informative” programming continues to suffer from attention deficit disorders, to say nothing of conflicts of interest. The Internet has presented a means to address the situation.
In 2001 the team produced Novus Extinctus, which earned a 3rd Prize at the VIDA 4.0 festival in Spain. The central message of this Internet artwork is that the expansion of human presence on the World Wide Web, measured by the number of domain names registered daily, climbs in a deadly parallel with the number of species that go extinct. The site has an element of marketing spoof as well, linking Latin species names to commercial sites such as TigerDirect that use the names of exotic animals. The work rejected the turn of the century enthusiasm for virtualization and archiving as opposed to habitat preservation and ecology.
More recently, Transnational Temps has turned its attention to greenwashing. In April, the project Greenwashing Trail of Tears won a 1st Prize in a competition sponsored by the not-for-profit organization, Turbulence. The ‘trail’ pulls together a variety of websites that address or exemplify ‘greenwashing’: the use of misleading PR and advertising to cleanse a corporation’s image with respect to its environmental impact. In recent years, and especially after the release of An Inconvenient Truth, the public perception of global warming has changed. But the tremendous increase of feel-good PR on the part of some of the most environmentally abusive corporations on earth leads us to wonder who will hold greenwashers accountable for their deceptions. The Shift Space annotation system — central to the competition — proved to be a good way to encourage reading between the lines.
In the past year Transnational Temps has also contributed EcoScope to the historic Eco Media exhibition, which has traveled from Germany to Switzerland in 2008. Have you ever conversed with a chimpanzee about habitat problems, or discuss overfishing with a whale? These are two possible scenarios in EcoScope, an online forum designed to make communicating about environmental crises more fun. It permits visitors to send quirky postcards to friends, either electronically or using their printers. EcoScope is very much a Web 2.0 initiative. There’s content in it before you arrive, but half the fun is what you bring to it. On the other hand, compared to the blank slate provided by comparable telecommunication software, EcoScope provides a fertile context for discussing the environment.
Transnational Temps is an arts collective concerned primarily with environmental sustainability. With a global, indy-media orientation, the group has used electronic media, aesthetic contexts, and events in the public sphere to promote public participation in addressing environmental issues. Founded in 2001 by Fred Adam, Andy Deck, and Verónica Perales, Transnational Temps has welcomed the participation of ‘temp workers’ on five continents. While each new collaboration has had a regional dimension, online media has been used extensively to invite participation and to project the activity of the collective across borders. Transnational Temps made its appearance with the net-art project Novus Extinctus. Since then the group has produced over twenty environmentally-themed works, on four continents, most recently participating in the historic Ecomedia exhibition, which will travel from Germany to Switzerland and Spain in 2008. Since its first online endeavors, Transnational Temps has diversified its approach to media art, using public spaces to address public awareness, communication patterns, and technological progress. Transnational Temps challenges the passive paradigms of spectator art, inviting people to participate in the production of works that address climate change, deforestation, and other environmental crises.
In ways that are uncommon in the gallery art sphere, the collective has consistently focused on the mis-representation and trivialization of critical environmental problems by big media. Commercially driven content and concentrated ownership has led to a chronic deficit of straight talk about problems whose solutions would require humanity to adopt different goals than those favored by corporate sponsors. Transnational Temps has navigated the bordline between art and activism in an effort to make up for the structural deficiencies of the present media system.
The collective’s response to the global ecological crises has also been inspired by the failures of scientists to overcome the filters of the spectacular media. Their warnings are mal-adapted to the media situation: they are often delivered in dry lectures and technical discourses. Transnational Temps attempts, therefore, to specialize in bridging the gap between the general public and essential information about the environment. Though the collective has navigated the art world, concern for the state of the planet’s environment, and the embrace of global telecommunication, have aligned it with thousands of other like-minded independent media practioners.
For years it seemed to be little demand or context in the arts to support Earth Art for the 21st Century. But recently this has begun to change. It is clear that environmental issues will, of necessity, be increasingly prominent in the cultural sphere.