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Saturday, March 28 • 3:30pm - 5:00pm
Session 3 Paper Stream 2: Water, Sight and Song

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Session 3 Paper Stream 2: Water, Sight and Song

Mitch Goodwin: "The Liquid Electric"
The representation of a life sustaining force, either of technological or natural means, has a deep and evocative history in some of our most elaborate cultural fantasies. Embedded in the fictitious dreamscapes of cinema, advertising and media art are the foundational principles of an emergent digital aesthetics of liquid. The art direction is often blue and luminous in tone, it is always found at the core of the film’s novum, and it often takes on a kinetic electrical form. It is as if these cultural artifacts - reaching back to the earliest uses of CGI, such as Disney’s 1982 film Tron and on to more recent Hollywood parables such as A.I. and Avatar – recognize the very Gothic anxiety we hold for our environment in the twilight years of industrialization. Appearing in all manner of image constructions, the liquid electric is presented as the source code - the host, the conductor, the origin – of our very human struggle with technology and evolving notions of artificiality. It has emerged from a place of darkness, this liquid energy, stylized as a predominately luminous surface texture contrasted most commonly against a narrative setting of loss and foreboding. Very much like the anxiety we feel for the contemporary perils of creeping urbanization, of resource exploitation and climate instability, the liquid electric operates in a contested space where the usual laws of physics, logic and nature have become unstable. 

This light-on-dark aesthetic has a somewhat deeper history. It is a technique once used by the Italian Futurists and the imagineers such as Thomas Edison and Norman Bel Geddes to promote the wonders of technology and electrification – sometimes with troubling and unwanted consequences. However, it is now being exploited by a new breed of digital artisans to foreground the perils of resource scarcity, to question the ubiquity of virtual networks and to interrogate the rise of the machine in a fragile imbalanced ecosystem. Indeed there is a discernible influence of machine vision at work here, and theorists such as Foucault, and, more presently, Paul Virilio and Zygmunt Bauman, have noted its ubiquitous rise. Most certainly it is strongly felt in the data visualizations emerging from the ATLAS observer at CERN, in the animations of NASA and in the marketing iconography of device technology and software, but there is something else at work here too. It is as if this liquid – this essence of life – is speaking, indeed screaming, through our mediated cultural artifacts. Perhaps through our fictions can we truly grasp the gravity of our most dire realities? It would seem that the liquid electric is not just an aesthetic turn or a narrative device but an explicit visual sign – nature’s digital avatar – reminding the audience of the precarity of existence in both the realms of the virtual and the real. 

Carolyn Monastra: "Photography and Climate Action"
For over a century, artists have used photography to draw attention to and generate change around social and environmental issues. Examples of such work include Lewis Hines’ portraits of children in factories that helped establish child labor laws; Walker Evans’ and Dorothea Lange’s pictures of Dust Bowl tenant farmers in support of the Farm Security Administration; the landscapes of William Henry Jackson, Carlton Watkins, and Ansel Adams that helped create national parks; and Martha Rosler’s “House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home” photo-collages that served as both a commentary and protest on the Vietnam and Gulf Wars.

Photography’s role as document and catalyst in today’s climate crisis is no exception. While hard to quantify in terms of hard data, the public’s attitude toward the natural world is a key factor in the environmental movement. Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, recognizes the importance of the photographic image and has made pictures an integral part of the organization since its inception. He has referred to their Flickr repository of over 55,000 images as “a powerful recruiting tool”. Although most people now know that photographs can lie, many still believe—and artists inherently know—that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” 

This paper questions and explores the role and efficacy of photography as both a document of climate change and a stimulus to influence public opinion and policy. Since it is impossible to photograph the rise of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, let alone see it, artists and environmentalists need to be creative with their depictions of climate disruptions to overcome denial and create action. Using work by a variety of artists, as well as organizations like 350.org and The Climate Reality Project, this paper highlights projects that focus on water—both too much (melting ice, rising seas, extreme storms, flooding) and too little (drought, desertification). With millions of people already affected by drought and millions more expected to be displaced by sea level rise, understanding how photography has successfully addressed water-related climate issues may provide insight into using inventive approaches to documenting and catalyzing change around other climate and environmental issues.

Michael Silvers: "Voices of Drought: Brazilian Popular Song and the Mediation of Climate in the 20th Century"
Drought is a defining characteristic of the northeastern region of Brazil. It is both a devastating environmental reality and a complex discourse related to local beliefs, systems of inequality, and depictions of the region’s landscape and climate in literature, visual art, and music. In particular, music has played a central role in constructing an image of the drought-ridden Northeast in the mainstream Brazilian consciousness in the twentieth century. Mainstream, popular recorded songs, which primarily reached the ears and minds of Brazilian audiences through the radio and television, have addressed the issue of drought in a number of ways. In this paper, I examine four types of songs about drought: pleas for aid, prayers for rain, drought laments, and nostalgic pastorals. I also uncover how these song types relate to the sociopolitical history of Brazil and the changing nature of the Brazilian music industry. Songs such as “Vozes da Seca” (Voices of Drought; 1953) and “Orós Precisa de Nós” (Orós Needs Us; 1960) directly request aid from a national audience. “Súplica Cearense” (Cearense Supplication; 1960) and “Pedido a São João” (Request from St. John; 1953) are religious prayers for rain. Songs such as “Pobres Flagelados” (Plagued Poor; 1915) and “O Castigo da Seca” (The Punishment of Drought; 1962) lament the hardships of drought. “Luar do Sertão” (Moonlight of the Backlands; 1914) and “Aquarela Nordestina” (Northeastern Watercolor; 1959) exemplify nostalgic songs about the region’s landscape for and by migrants who had fled the region. Engaging ecomusicological and ethnomusicological scholarship on popular music and environmental protest, nostalgia, and traditional ecological knowledge, this paper will explore how recorded, popular music about drought simultaneously reflected and shaped sociocultural processes, regional identity, and the experience of drought in twentieth century Brazil. 


Ted Solis

Ethnomusicologist Ted Solís is Professor of Music. He holds a BA in Music History and Literature from ASU, an MA in Ethnomusicology from the University of Hawaii-Manoa, and the PhD in Music from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He has carried out field research in... Read More →


Mitch Goodwin

Mitch Goodwin is a digital media artist and academic of 15 years’ experience. He is the Founding Director of the Screengrab International Media Arts Award and curator of the associated exhibition program. He recently received a commendation for academic excellence for his PhD project... Read More →

Carolyn Monastra

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Carolyn Monastra received her MFA in photography from The Yale School of Art. For the past fifteen years her work has focused on creating and discovering mystery in the natural world. Artist residencies at The Djerassi Foundation, Blue Mountain Center... Read More →

Michael Silvers

Michael Silvers is an assistant professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is currently writing a book called Voices of Drought: Forró Soundscapes in Northeastern Brazil and is a member of the editorial board of the Ecomusicology Newslette... Read More →

Saturday March 28, 2015 3:30pm - 5:00pm MST
Art 220 900 S. Forest Mall Tempe, AZ 85281

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