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Johanna Rietveld and Anika Schroter of Art/Switch talk about waste and art

The directors of Amsterdam and New York based Art/Switch Foundation tell STIR about their series of virtual conferences that throw light on green practices in the art industry.

by Shraddha NairPublished on : Jun 18, 2021

In a world which is increasingly crumbling under the burden of ecological pressures, the coronavirus pandemic being a most recent example, I often wonder what is our responsibility as a part of the global art industry. The world of art is one with many faces. While it can be an abundant source of support and inspiration without boundaries, for instance street art, it can also be an exclusionary system of luxury and commodification, as seen commonly in the gallery circuit. Because of the material nature of art itself, the carbon footprint it demands can be overwhelming and sometimes rather questionable too. When it comes to large scale installation art, I often wonder what the real impact of such work is. We very rarely see art which considers the carbon impact on our planet and more often than not reused, recycled and re-purposed material is completely missing from the artist’s vocabulary. Further to this, the peripheral industry which surrounds artistic practice is mostly devoid of this conscience. This includes logistical departments like packaging, transport, and storage. The Art / Switch Foundation focuses on the issue presented by normative industry behaviours, attempting to influence positive change by hosting conferences which are informative and inspiring to relevant groups in this sphere.

The directors, Johanna Rietveld and Anika Schroter, speak with STIR about their recent conference, [Re]Thinking Art Logistics, one part of a virtual series titled [Re]Framing the Arts: A Sustainable Shift. The series is hosted in collaboration with the Amsterdam School for Heritage, Memory and Material Culture. In this event, the curation focuses specifically on transportation and packaging, looking at circular economies and sustainable practices through a future-oriented lens, examining the potential for change in short and long-term scenarios.

Canvas frames and packaging are additional material costs of art | Art/Switch | STIRworld
Canvas frames and packaging are additional material costs of art Image: Bianca Fazacas for Unsplash

Rietveld and Schroter tell us about the seeds which germinated into the Art/Switch Foundation. They say, “Working in the fast-paced commercial gallery sector, we saw the opportunity to create a shift and improve some of the wasteful and carbon intense habits we observed. Although the arts at large wasn’t structurally acting upon its environmental impact yet, we knew of many colleagues who wanted to change their organisation's behaviour. However, most of these endeavours were happening on a small scale, without the resources to actually become environmentally sustainable. It is in this context that the idea of Art/Switch was born. Art/Switch was founded in 2019 as a non-profit organisation based between Amsterdam and New York, with the mission to introduce a new generation of sustainable strategies to the arts. Partnering with like-minded people from different specialties in the cultural sector – exhibition production, gallery sales, academia, and business ethics – we got Art/Switch off the ground". Through these conferences, the foundation aims to address the various touch points in the systems of the art world: from artist studios, shippers, auction houses and museums to collectors and beyond.

Working in the fast-paced commercial gallery sector, we saw the opportunity to create a shift and improve some of the wasteful and carbon intense habits we observed. – Art/Switch

One of the key practices which aid the development of sustainable methods is collaboration and resource sharing. This is an applicable principle across fields, from the perspective of both producer and consumer. Unsurprisingly, this works the same way in the commercial trade we are concerned with here. Founder Rietveld says, “Another development is the interest in circular economies. Many institutions are grappling with the quantities of materials they use and the lack of storage space they have, and this has allowed for circular platforms such as to emerge as resource sharing tools. With all these developments, the lack of communication within and between organisations still remains one of the biggest challenges that we, as Art/Switch, are helping overcome. Organisations are progressively and increasingly willing to work together and share resources—it has been extremely inspiring to be a part of this and shape it”.

She continues to mention the key role that not only artists but also curators play in the move towards an aware and informed industry. “Curators,” she says, “are also playing an essential role in this discussion—one of the tenets of green curation is working with artists who either send an ecologically informed message with their art or create in an environmentally-sensitive way".

While the need for educating ourselves and each other is crucial, it is important that the demonstration of sustainable practices isn’t just that – a show for the superficial satisfaction of the consumer. In the new wave of marketing, ‘green-washing’, i.e., making a product or service seem environmentally responsible when it essentially isn’t, is the new danger to our planet’s wellbeing. Again, this is a threat across multiple industries and across the board, from food to fashion.

Material waste poses a massive threat to our planet’s health | Art/Switch | STIRworld
Material waste poses a massive threat to our planet’s health Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Art/Switch directors tell us about the next event in this series which further explores the issue of material and its role in the art world. They say, “In our last edition, On Sustainable Substance, the focus lies on the material aspect of sustainability. We will host exciting conversations about the most recent scientific and artistic developments, opening up the floor to multidisciplinary discussions. This edition can be approached in four parts. The conference starts with an exploration of future materials and their structures inspired by nature. Next will be a case study exploring a database of materials – including artist supplies, conservation materials, packaging approaches – measuring their life cycle assessment, in other words, their environmental impact. Our panel discussion will make a deep dive into the implementation of guidelines and new materials in the arts. What are the barriers for new materials? How can we streamline the research and implementation? Finally, we will open up the conversation to other fields, such as fashion and design. What are the possible synergies between these different disciplines and how can we facilitate the cross pollination of ideas?”

The upcoming conference is scheduled to begin on July 9, 2021. It will be virtually hosted, which opens up attendance to interested viewers across the globe. Tickets to the event are available on the Art/Switch website.

02 mins watch Extract of the Panel Discussion The Future of Art Transportation, speakers include Jason Losh, Andrew Stramentov, Bernadine Bröcker Wieder, moderated by Imogen Prus | Art/Switch | STIRworld
Extract of the panel discussion on The Future of Art Transportation; speakers include Jason Losh, Andrew Stramentov, Bernadine Bröcker Wieder, and moderated by Imogen Prus Video: Courtesy of Art/Switch

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