'our creation is that guru; the duration of our lives is that guru; our trials, illnesses and calamaties is that guru. There is a guru that is nearby and a guru that is beyond the beyond. I humbly make my offering to the guru, the beautiful remover of ignorance, the enlightenment principle that is within me and surrounds me at all times.'
Guru Stotram

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Garbage Warrior

I went to the ICA on Friday evening to watch The Garbage Warrior. When I was at Goldsmiths' they went on and on about the ICA. They mentioned almost nothing about rat history on my Art History MA, but they did tell me about the ICA being the Holy Grail of the London art scene. I didn't go for a while after that out of misguided rebellion against intellectual snobbery. But I'm over that now I'm pleased to say. I cut off my nose to spite my face no more!

Unlike most art venues on a Friday evening there were actually a few people in this one. Granted most of them were at the bar, but hey, whatever it takes. We're a nation of alcoholics. That's hardly breaking news.

And now I thought I'd give you an overly long and complicated explanation of what Garbage Warrior is about. Basically (you know what that means!) it's about an architect in Taos, New Mexico, who believes we're not doing enough to change our lifestyles to try and reduce the perceived effects of human induced global warming.

I'm an art dealer OK. I'm not a scientist. I'm pretty much as far away from being an expert on global warming as it's possible to be. The only thing I know for sure is it's a complex subject and it's unlikely there's a simple answer.

The other two ideas about global warming I'm fairly committed to are:

a) it seems a bit arrogant of us to understand ourselves as somehow outside "nature" as most of the rhetoric seems to and

b) we really are doing sod all to change the behaviours we seem to believe are causing these changes. The vast majority of our environmental do-good-ing is conscience salving rather than being in any way significantly altering. We're putting a plaster on a broken leg and looking the other way, hoping it'll have healed by the time we look back. Plus ca change.

I'm certainly not suggesting that I'm doing anything myself. I drive a Chelsea tractor for God's sake. These days only the goings on of a few people in Austria are considered more reprehensible than that.

Fair enough, The Garbage Warrior is a heavily partisan piece of so-called documentation. It shows everything eco-architect Mike Reynolds does as selfless, sage and premonitionary and anyone who stands in his way - ie New Mexico county and the state administration - as seriously deluded. I don't know anything about Mike Reynolds other than what Garbage Warrior told me but in my experience very little in life is that black and white.

Nonetheless Reynolds is building self-sustaining housing from earth and "rubbish" - beer cans, old bottles, used tyres, that sort of thing. The houses harness solar power so successfully they don't need heating at all, even when it's thirty below outside and your tongue sticks to your lips if you're not careful. They also produce their own water and food from internal eco-systems. And amazingly enough they don't even look that ugly.

If that's not enough to persuade you that it's good news, the people who build these "earthships" as they're called, live in a family-like community. It certainly all looked like a big old eco-Waltons. Humans being what we are no doubt they all rip each other to shreds every now and then, but it's how you deal with life's little hiccoughs that counts.

Over time they sold some of these "experimental" houses so they could raise the funds to keep on building and improving them. There were a few teething problems, as there will be with anything innovative and ambitious. A rich-kid writer bought one and the "heating" went on the blink and the result was his type-writer melted. He was pretty understanding about it but there were a few lawsuits from those less sympathetic to the global cause. But it's America. Of course there were lawsuits.

Anyway to cut a long story slightly shorter the county took away Mr Reynolds' licence to practice as an architect. There wasn't even a way he could continue to experiment with developing this new system of living. That was it. Game over. He fought for three years. Still no. He wasn't allowed to build because his attempts to develop non-harmful self-sufficient eco-housing was "breaking the law".

So that was that it seemed.

When the Indian Ocean tsunami hit in 2004 Mike and his team were invited to build eco-houses there. In Asia people were very receptive. In fact these vulnerable devastated people were grateful as hell. The film showed one man from the Nicobar Islands whose entire family had been killed by the tsunami describing the houses as 'magical' and pronouncing their intention to build them everywhere. "Earthship Biotecture" allowed the villagers an independence they had never known.

Then in 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. I'm sure I'm over-simplifying here but it went something along the lines of ...it suddenly came to their attention what Mike Reynolds had been trying to do and over night he was re-issued his licence and asked very politely if he mightn't mind cracking on with a few of those nice energy-independent communities over here on the Gulf Coast.

Isn't it amazing what a bit of tragedy on your doorstep does to clean the grimy windows of perception.

It seems we have a habit of refusing to acknowledge change until things are so catastrophic there are literally dead bodies floating past every window in the house. As long as there's one window we can look out of without seeing carnage we'll happily pull the rocker up there and reminisce about the good old days. It's only when every last pair of rose tinted spectacles in the place has been lost or sat on that we'll even consider facing up to reality.

As we are individually, so we are collectively. We're all addicts. Anything but the truth.

On a lighter note it's great to see someone benefiting from global warming. I notice a new flavour in my freezer. Baked Alaska. Tag line - "if it's melted it's ruined." No tropical flies on Messers Ben and Jerry down there in Antarctica. Whilst Russia and Canada go about the unseemly business of ripping each others territorial junk off the seabed, Ben and Jerry are spreading the Peace, Love and Ice Cream by way of marshmallow swirls and white chocolatey polar bears. The tub even has a picture of a cute red-faced polar bear knee deep in melted ice, struggling to keep his cool despite his aviators.

No point missing an opportunity to make a buck.

Or is that what got us in this bother in the first place?


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