The Implications of Sustainability for Contemporary Art

Open Lecture


The notion of sustainability has spread from the field of environmentalism to many other areas of human activity, including the spheres of art and culture. There is a growing understanding that radical change is required, if we are to find a way to ‘meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ For art, the implications are felt in the preference for sustainable forms, the critique of unsustainable art world structures, and the reassessment of art history from the point of view of our relationship to the natural world. It offers a challenge to the ingrained habit of producing objects and the relentless search for novelty in contemporary art.

What we are dealing with is no longer confined within the niche of earlier environmental art, which is associated with art acting as a vehicle to popularise environmental campaigns, or symbolic gestures to purify rivers through ritual, or to raise consciousness through art with a direct ecological message. In fact, the closeness to sustainability of much challenging contemporary art practice owes more to the legacy of 1970s conceptualism, and even primarily the non-market East European variety of conceptual art, than for example to Land Art. This presentation will therefore discuss the ways and extent to which a concern for sustainability has passed into the mainstream of contemporary art.

This will be examined through the work of international artists, including Adrian Paci, Heath Bunting, Beata Veszely and Ivan Ladislav Galeta, whose sustainable practice might be considered in terms of the contemporary avant garde.

Related People

  • Translocal

    Guest Speaker

    Maja and Reuben Fowkes are curators and art historians. Their collaborative projects (as Translocal) deal with issues of memory, ecology and translocal exchange between the UK, Croatia and Hungary.
    Find out more about Translocal