Platform Green, on nature and art. Interview with Andrea Lerda.

by Silvia Bottani

The relationship between mankind and environment has recently broken through as one of the most urgent and significant among the macro themes that have been largely featured in the visual contemporary arts over the last few years. Nature and environment, understood as system of relation between the human being and the places that surround him, have been involved in an in-depth reflection on the world of art and culture. Therefore, it’s not just about the eternal fascination of Nature as a finished system, which is the subject of a phenomenological analysis attempting to explain its mechanisms, but also a multidisciplinary approach exploring all fields of knowledge and thus connecting anthropology, sociology, science, technology, cartography , new geographies, architecture, design, politics, philosophy.
Platform Green, editorial project born in 2014 thanks to art historian Andrea Lerda, intends to give visibility to the numerous experiences in contemporary art focused on the theme of environment. All this with the blessing of Henry David Thoreau.

Where does your interest in the relationship between contemporary art and environment come
I have always been dealing with contemporary art. I was fortunate enough to work with two important Italian art galleries as well as with the most interesting museum in the area of Cuneo (Piedmont, Italy). Before that I studied at the university and got my bachelor degree and my master degree with two doctoral dissertations on these subjects. Environment, and I mean the natural environment, has always been a part of me. I was born in the mountains of one of the wildest valleys in the Italian province of Cuneo, that is the Grana Valley.
Nature has always been an important presence in my life, from the very beginning. As time went by I realized that it had put down roots inside me in a deeper way than I ever thought.
Some ties cannot be explained. I feel the need to think of nature, to talk about it. It makes me feel so good.
Combining these two things was a natural step, something that happened, to some extent, unexpectedly. In 2009 I curated the exhibition OrganicInorganic at the Neon/Campobase art gallery in Bologna (Italy), maybe a foretaste of what would happen. Recently I also collaborated on the curatorship of the exhibition De Rerum Natura (2014) at the Studio la Città in Verona. That was the moment I realized I had to start exploring this theme through those languages I had learnt, namely contemporary art, design, architecture and handicraft.
Some books have had the biggest impact on my life and contributed to the creation of Platform Green, in particular Walking, or the Wild written by Henry David Thoreau in 1863. Just like him, I feel I’m a vagabond that wants to put in a word for Nature.

Some  studies, which would hardly be carried out or exhibited within the institutional locations of
art, have gained online visibility. Considering this, I think that Platform Green is an interesting and brilliant example of clever use of digital technology. How do you relate to the web, as a curator and researcher?
Let me start by saying that I have never been a big fan of the internet really. I perceive it as a huge intangible hotchpotch, with its extremely selective and rigid rules, that can be understood and controlled over time. Everybody can be on the internet; everybody can express their opinions and show their own projects online. Everything is quick, very quick, and the attention threshold is very low. Nowadays we have all become accustomed to living in a hurry. And the same applies to the web. You access a website and then you can quickly scroll through the webpages, ready to “bounce”, to enter another virtual room.
These dynamics are, in my opinion, a downside. Nevertheless, I have chosen the web as it is immediate, global and just a mouse click away.
It’s now available to all, you do not need to pay any admission fee, you can do everything comfortably sitting on your sofa and, as for Platform Green, visitors and users can interact with the website. This platform has been created to be an input to reflection and sharing. Its main goal is to propose and report projects on this theme, so that they can become subjects of the news.
I decided to use the web in order to convey a clear message: “We are nature, everything is nature” (Andre Woodward). Many representatives of the contemporary art scene share this idea with me. I have only collected their experiences and put them on the Platform Green portal, which supports and brings visibility to projects and research work on the themes of nature, landscape and relationship between human beings and the context in which they live, in different ways and in the micro and macro aspects.

Environmental issues are now playing an important role in influencing contemporary artists and their
sensitivity. What, in your opinion, are the most solid themes that have emerged over the last few years after the well-known Land Art?
The period between the mid-sixties and the second part of the eighties was undoubtedly a memorable period. The historical context in which this great artistic movement developed is markedly different from today.
In my opinion, the artists belonging to that generation had a great power in a time when art could still amaze the audience and gain attention (not only for the impressive auction prices). The gigantic urban interventions carried out mainly in Europe and America gave way to an important debate on environmental issues.
The picture today has changed dramatically, in my opinion, and there are only few artists that make these themes their key issue, and even fewer artists that have the opportunity to deliver their message loudly and clearly throughout the world.
There are some small but interesting organizations where the man/nature relationship is promoted. Parks, natural reserves, festivals and themed projects present art within nature and tell of nature through art. These are precious moments but they are not able to draw high media attention in such a way as it happened at the time of the Land Art artists who succeeded in heightening public awareness of Man’s relationship with the natural world by intervening in the landscape in a series of thought-provoking constructions.
I have noted that some private companies are now committing themselves to supporting implementation of projects on environmental problems. Often some of these companies were responsible for environmental disasters and, for some reasons (as a way of repentance or maybe just to gain more visibility and, as a consequence, business) decide to redeem themselves.

Can you mention us five names among the artists whose work you have observed that you find
particularly interesting?
It is always interesting for me to see how each single artist, designer, architect approaches the theme of nature. Thanks to the research projects of these dreamers, gifted with extremely curious eyes and whose thoughts go beyond the common interpretation of reality, we can tackle and analyse specific issues in a new way every day.
There are many interesting artists worldwide dealing with these themes for some time. I am going to mention those I had the opportunity to work with: I like their intellectual genuineness and the important and coherent research work they are carrying out.
Let’s start from Piedmont: it’s the birthplace of Giuseppe Penone, point of reference for the primordial man/nature relationship, as well as birthplace of Arte Povera. Artist collective Caretto/Spagna and Laura Pugno, just to name a few, work there.
Building on their specific education and training – Spagna has a BS in Landscape Architecture and Carretto in Natural Sciences – and starting from the assumption that there is no hierarchical relationship between nature and culture, charter members Andrea Carretto and Raffaella Spagna carry out artistic projects that investigate the relationships between mankind and the natural environment: it’s a research-based art, sometimes with a scientific approach, often inspired by specific circumstances that start an intense debate about environmental problems and potentialities of natural elements (organic, inorganic, living).
Laura Pugno is, in my opinion, one of the new figures in the Italian art scene capable of developing and presenting a research work on landscape and nature with sensitivity and in an innovative way.
Her artistic research originates from a reflection on vision and perception, it is — in the words of Lorenzo Giusti — “an attempt to read reality in the form of landscape, an effort to see the world in an open way, looking at it from different perspectives and not just from one”.
And now let’s move beyond the Alps: over the last years Albania-born artist Eltjon Valle has been campaigning against significant oil pollution affecting his home town Kuçovë. Petrochemical plants, oil rigs and refineries have been built there since 1935, for this reason it was renamed Petrolia (Petrol town) during the Italian Fascist regime. Oil production and refining activities increased extensively until the 1990s, when, following the collapse of communism, the environmental issue finally came to the forefront causing a great sensation. His work goes beyond any artistic practice: he has involved public and private institutions as well as the local community in this huge project with the aim of understanding and figuring out this environmental problem, and his efforts resulted in a massive intervention to reclaim soil and recover the landscape.
Now back to Italy again, where we do have a lot of interesting emerging artists despite of the fact that — and I am sorry to say so – the international scene does not pay much attention to Italian artistic potential! Take for example Andrea Nacciarriti and Giorgia Severi. Much of Andrea’s art research is the result of the analysis of some particular problems such as ecological disasters, corrupt behaviour, social violence and cultural degradation. One of his works is about the nuclear disaster in Fukushima and another one is a denunciation against the constant lethal dumping of toxic waste into the oceans worldwide.
With his book Man’s Responsibility for Nature, published in 1974, John Passmore was one of the first to include the term “responsibility” in the environmental debate. Giorgia Severi’s perspective could be considered as “ethics of responsibility”. Responsibility as the utmost important action to be carried out by human beings with the aim of providing themselves a healthy and unspoiled environment, which shall not be exploited, depleted or permanently devastated. Giorgia Severi’s artistic research is the result of a deep feeling focusing on this sense of belonging together. Art becomes thus a means of carrying out cultural and social actions, a means of denunciation in order to raise social awareness of the relationship between humans and Earth.
However, let me say that there are so many other good artists in Italy, such as Luca Andreoni, Botto and Bruno, Jennifer Colten, Lucy + Jorge Orta, Studio Formafantasma, Silvia Camporesi, Laura Viale, Dacia Manto, Alessandro Piangiamore, Lara Almarcegui, without mentioning the most famous ones. The list is endless, which indeed pleases me very much.

There are several different approaches to the macro theme of environment: there’s a political and
social point of view, the rediscovery of cartography on an anthropological basis, or a mere formalisms. Do you think it makes sense to try to define distinct categories within artistic practices or should we rather deal with the fragmentation of the studies carried out in the last 20 years by using new critical methodological tools?
That’s the point: there are so many different ways to approach such an important issue.
This is what makes the whole process of sharing extremely interesting. You can never investigate the same issue in the same way. Each person involved in the process adds an important piece to this extremely complex puzzle, as that is precisely what the world around us is: a complex puzzle, of which we are a part.
These different approaches may result from formal aspects, or from the aesthetics of nature and the landscape. Sometimes they concern conceptual mechanisms brought about by real and tangible events occurring naturally on Earth. Some other times they are statements uttered aloud warning us about a danger, or open condemnations of hidden problems or disasters that go unnoticed. Beauty and ugliness, comfort and inconvenience just live together under the same sky, and this project does not want to side with one or other of these approaches. It rather aims to trigger a reflection process and to deliver messages which in turn can become a natural means and a starting point for nature viewing opportunities.
For Platform Green, being a member of an artistic movement or genre has little to no relevance. The goal of this platform is to deal with these issues by providing information and requiring participation. I don’t think this is a new method, but I strongly believe that if we want to raise awareness we must start from the bottom, by educating young generations.
This is the reason why I do hope this project can become a physical reality one day, with the aim of triggering a social debate within the community and capable of offering cultural and educational projects accessible to everyone.

Photo credits:

1 | Christophe Guinet, GrassHopper, Lagurus ovatus + Foeniculum vulgare Insect. Caelifera, Nike SB – 2014. Courtesy Monsieur Plant and Seize gallery
2 | Daniel Shea, Department of Environmental Protection, 2007. Courtesy the artist
3 | Daniel Traub, North Philadelphia, 2008-13. Courtesy the artist
4 | Eltjon Valle, The Marinz project. Courtesy the artist and Nuova Galleria Morone, Milan. Photo: Ado Pavan
5 | Christophe Guinet, GrassHopper, Lagurus ovatus + Foeniculum vulgare Insect. Caelifera, Nike SB – 2014. Courtesy Monsieur Plant and Seize gallery
6 | Esther Mathis, I do not think it is going to work out, 2013, carrot tops, glass, water, wood. Dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist
7 | Giorgia Severi, Cura/Restoring the World. OPERAZIONE CAMPO BASE, performance, Ravenna 2013. Photo credit Emiliano Biondelli. Courtesy the artist
8 | Giorgia Severi, TO EVERYONE, 2012, dolomia stone, 150 cm3. The work was realized on the occasion of the show TO EVERYONE at Dolomiti Contemporanee. Courtesy the artist
9 | Jennifer Colten, from the serie Urban Wilderness. Courtesy the artist
10 | Jens Praet, Shredded low table, 2014. Credits: Kent Pell, Courtesy of Sebastian + Barquet and Jens Praet
11 | Jens Praet, Shredded low table, 2014. Credits: Kent Pell, Courtesy of Sebastian + Barquet and Jens Praet
12 | Laura Pugno, Dimorphismus, 2012, ink on paper, 21 x 29 cm. Courtesy the artist and Alberto Peola gallery
13 | Luca Andreoni, Alberi, 2011. Courtesy the artist and Viasaterna gallery
14 | Petra Lindholm, The approach , 2014, assemblage, 58×34 cm. Courtesy the artist and Magnus Karlsson Gallery
15 | Studio Formafantasma, Alicudi, mouth blown lava, lava rock, textile, 35x35x35 cm. Courtesy: Studio Formafantasma
16 | Filter, TYIN tegnestue Architects and Rintala Eggertsson Architects. Photo: Pasi Aalto e Rintala Eggertsson Architects


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