Off grid-technologies and art: the case of Jessica Segall

by Sarah Corona


Your artistic research includes a lot about the protection of our environment and the search for alternative solutions to create energy. And you’re going further.  You aim to produce artworks that are technology based but self-sufficient in terms of energy. This is beyond creating artworks. How did this interest come about? 
Yes – I see art as a lifestyle, not an occupation…  It is my interest to use artwork as a cultural loophole to introduce ideas critical of contemporary culture, complacency or aggressive national policy over diminishing global resources, into dialogue.  My interests are fueled in some sense by living and working in a number of homesteads and farms, accessing the environmental and economic concerns of those working closely with the land.

What about Asian religion, like Buddhism and Hinduism? In “The Thirsty Person....” you poured milk over the white iceberg, which was very surprising in the context of floating alone in the Arctic Sea. Why?
Ha! It is hard not to think about the origin of the world in such an environment, where the earth resembles the ice age from millions of years ago. It was not a planned move in the artwork, one of those moments of connectivity that come from being in a moment. I grew up with both Eastern and Western spiritual influences in my family, from Judaism to Buddhism.

Off grid-technologies and art: the case of Jessica SegallOff grid-technologies and art: the case of Jessica Segall

Marina Abramovic wrote: 
“An artist’s relation to silence:
— An artist has to understand silence
— An artist has to create a space for silence to enter his work
— Silence is like an island in the middle of a turbulent ocean
— Silence is like an island in the middle of a turbulent ocean

— Silence is like an island in the middle of a turbulent ocean” 

What do you think about this quote? Can you relate it to your practice? 
I don’t have a direct way to relate this to my practice. I am assuming this text is referring to The Artist Is Present (?) which I did see at the MOMA, which was generative of spiritual practice of endurance, seen in yogic and renunciant devotional practices, (much like Amma (the hugging saint)) or Darshan.  I think Marina must be quoting these practices, which I have some experience in, so I can reflect on that, and some other associations: The visual arts provide a place for expressing the nonverbal in our culture.  A way of thinking outside of language, alternate approaches to reason and outside of the logos; the sensorial, emotional, spiritual, illogical, resonant. However, real silence comes from not only non-speaking, but non-doing.  To introduce a physical thing in the world that begins with thought is a power of art; it can also be a violence.  I had a yogic teacher who taught that attempting positive action in the world is worse than doing nothing! — for every action introduces a corrective reaction on its inception. In 2006, my father and I spent one week in meditative silence at a Buddhist meditation retreat, in the months after my mother’s death.  The thought of silence did not frighten me, but I was confronted with the challenge of non doing. Without the violence of words and actions, my senses shifted.  Each apple became the first apple I ever tasted, and the sweetest.

Off grid-technologies and art: the case of Jessica SegallOff grid-technologies and art: the case of Jessica Segall
Off grid-technologies and art: the case of Jessica Segall

You are particularly interested in nomadic culture. This is in part the history of American culture, which is in part a way of living reserved today for only a few populations. You traveled to visit them in Mongolia, in Norway, and in Peru with the idea of studying their architecture, their living structures and their strategies to be autonomous within place and time. What was the most fascinating aspect you discovered?
I am always interested in the ease or difficulty of acclimating to conditions as well as the power of consumerist culture to produce feelings of deficiency and desire. Each time I return home from such a trip, life seems alien – the millions of required actions and infrastructures to participate in the complexity of contemporary urban, Western, capitalist, non-social democratic culture!  But within a week, the routine becomes familiar once again. There are all kinds of studies on human happiness that try to measure what social and economic conditions contribute to a “National Happiness Index”. Over a certain standard of living, once basic needs are met, an increased income will not improve ones sense of overall satisfaction with life. I think ideas of what it means to live in “developed countries” still come with colonial baggage — and do not take into consideration values such as family / community structure, or the psychological/communal strength coming from an understanding of human nature as part of larger ecosystem. There is much to be learned from cultures living in traditional lifestyles that have not shifted in centuries. Also, I have been to very very few places that do not have television, no matter how remote.

Do you have an artwork in mind that you couldn’t realize yet (maybe because of lack of funding, size, time, technology, etc.) that would express more fully your interests in the combination of art and technology?  What are you dreaming of?
Yes! I have several long term projects, such the Pyramid Land Art series, and an artist residency. The first project simultaneously creates an oasis in the Gobi desert and protects acres of rainforest that culminate to create similar areal landscapes over a period of 50 years.  I began this project in 2012, with a groundbreaking for the Gobi oasis as part of a collaboration with Mongolian artist Tuguldur Yondonjamts. The scope of this project requires funding to support the local communities as caretakers, but should also benefit localities by preventing logging and creating wells for irrigation that are shared with nomadic families.  I am curious how documentation of this project will evolve over time and areal satellite technology, as Google Earth imaging and private space travel become more commonplace, accessible.  These technological shifts are factored into a project that will outlive, hopefully, the architects themselves. I also have been planning an artist residency where the residents use the land as a kind of environmental laboratory for experimental architecture and alternative energy sources.  A home for cross disciplinary collaboration between architects, artists, and researchers to test the feasibility.

Off grid-technologies and art: the case of Jessica SegallOff grid-technologies and art: the case of Jessica Segall
Off grid-technologies and art: the case of Jessica Segall

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