Sustainability for visual artists
A summary of the workshops, lectures, talks at GG3, and experience ofTom Albrecht
As we take responsibility for our own resource consumption, as artists, we start to talk about our own resource consumption of art. Motto: No art for a dead Planet. But art for a sustainable planet.
How this works is still an experiment; the artists are challenged to find out. We can use our innovative potential. We often don’t know the one solution yet. But we are searching, working out ways in our workshops, bringing our experience together, being in the process, making compromises, feeling our way forward. This text is meant as a suggestion. We call on artists to share their experiences with us and to add them here.
A sustainable artwork is a strong work for artists. They work in flow, are satisfied, takes a substantive position on the world, work on existential themes, take up sustainable themes, make hidden things visible, enjoy looking at the work. The work creates resonance with the viewer, is not didactic, does not raise the index finger, is not moralistic, is aesthetically beautiful, has humor, irony, lightness.
For the viewer(s): The work does not seem moralistic, condemning, it is mysterious, allows resonance, jumps at, touches, has a lasting effect; concept and implementation fit together, open new perspectives, cause reinterpretation.
Production pressure can hinder sustainable work. Escape from this in studies, through support, with scholarships, in residencies, e.g. in the Academy for Sufficiency. Must selling always be the goal? As an artist acting in a sustainable way where it is possible, where conscience and finances allow it?
In the off-market art scene, taking entrance fees at the exhibitions, for the artists, can free them from the compulsion to sell. This is difficult in Berlin. Donation works. Finance sustainable art through parties, crowdfunding, new formats like music and visual art.
Criticize the unsustainable art market and produce as sustainably as possible yourself. The art world doesn’t pay attention to its resource consumption and doesn’t talk about it. But we do! And we criticize it. The topic will become more important as time goes on.
The freedom of art does not release the participants from their own responsibility to work for more sustainability.
Use material with certificates. Certificates are the “Blue Angel”, the “pfc-sign” (Not “Mix”) for paper. These are more credible than the vague term “recycled paper”.
What would a “sustainable art” certificate look like? It should be transparent. Who awards it, what are the criteria?
Which material is suitable also depends on the purpose, e.g. is the exhibition place inside or outside.
If necessary, combine old material with new. For some things there are already proven answers, see below. These artworks use less resources, use renewable raw materials and old materials, keep the ecological footprint small.
As an artist, consider resource consumption, ask yourself if you can do it with less or more natural materials. How does my work change with sustainable material?
Reduce material use
Use existing materials as in Arte Povera, from recycling garbage cans, from the cemetery.
Take advantage of the season, e.g. after Christmas there are needles, fir trees abundant on the street. Asking yourself if the idea needs to be done immediately. Speed often costs resources.
Maintain the “Screws collection”, have fundus with system. What do you collect, what do you give to colleagues, what do you throw away? Only collect if it can be stored or shared.
Individual screws can be cheaper in the hardware store than bulk packs.
Design works so that materials can be reused. Store works so that they can be sold or re-exhibited or recycled.
There is a lack of a material pool with technical equipment for visual artists, e.g. spotlights, fog machines. Establish and use material networks with colleagues, for small things in the vicinity, for large things through intermediaries, storage. Not throwing anything away is an ecological quality, if necessary offer it to the fundus. Lending and borrowing works up to the individual limit for equipment. Depends on trust and physical proximity.
Material that ages, store well, maintain. Use old clothes as rags, for example. Take paper napkins with food. Have courage to save food, bring containers for it.
If we want to use certain techniques, we have to make compromises for some projects. For example, the printing material PLA for 3D printing is not yet easily recyclable. Also, we need electrical machines for the printer. Here, however, it is worthwhile to observe the development towards more sustainability and to participate in it if there are solutions.
As committed people, we can only endure if we cannot reduce the consumption of resources in our work. Some tools, materials cannot be avoided. We weigh our concept, cost, benefit and patience.
Where are my priorities in production, sales and sustainability?
Do we work from the idea or from the material? If the existing material is used it is more sustainable than buying new.
can be more sustainable. From living natural materials it becomes permanent by documenting and certifying.
Prepare paint quantity according to planned consumption
Oil paint: wash brushes without solvent, but first with sunflower oil, then with gall soap. Is also health protection.
Avoid pigments containing heavy metals such as lead and cadmium. Ask sales staff for alternatives.
Alternatives to organic volatile solvents are egg tempera, gouache
Real hair brushes
Hair extraction is animal cruelty or profits from unsustainable meat consumption.
Cotton uses a lot of water. Nettle and linen can be an alternative.2
Occupational health and safety
Painting oil and acrylic paints with latex gloves, put on cotton gloves underneath. No protection is needed for watercolor.
Avoid: Generate less waste. Use things up, store well
Dispose: Put waste without heavy metal (SM) and solvent (LM) in residual waste, with SM and LM put in hazardous waste at city sanitation. Allow solvent to dry out in residual waste. Empty packaging in yellow garbage can.
Paint residues with acrylic, microlastic and organic solvents such as turpentine do not belong in wastewater.
Allow to dry with ventilation, then put into residual waste.
Still liquid: hazardous waste
Clean brushes with brush cleaner under water is ok. Pre-clean brushes e.g. in old cloth to pollute waste water less.
Require written rules from training centers and workshops on what may and may not be disposed of in wastewater and where the appropriate waste or hazardous waste containers are located.
Recycle sculptures, e.g. from abandoned gravestones, instead of using new marble. Use stone scraps.
Reuse, use renewable raw materials, old materials.
No disposable tableware, organic drinks and food if possible, vegetarian-vegan, regional.
Meeting each other is important, establishing and maintaining contacts, but traveling consumes resources. When is the physical meeting important, when is the online conference or chat enough?
Build and use a network
https://kunst-stoffe-berlin.de/ “Kunst-Stoffe promotes creative exploration of reuse and re-purposing strategies. Leftover and used materials are tapped as sustainable resources in our collection centers and given away inexpensively to art makers, do-it-yourselfers, and nonprofits.”
For Gallery Members, Artist Members, Individual Members, Organization Members.
GCC’s goal is to facilitate the decarbonization of the visual arts sector and promote zero-waste practices. For example, they offer an online carbon calculator to determine the carbon footprint for the institution. Also on offer is an exchange, for example, for the reuse of transport packaging for works.
Use MDF instead of Kapa (plastic made from fossil raw material).
When can Aludibond (aluminum is energy consuming and recycling problematic) be replaced by MDF or cardboard? Pressboard? Mount photo or poster on MDF or canvas.
Reuse material and print on reverse side. Who has experience?
Maybe a city map on paper instead of maps, offline maps on the smartphone, books instead of internet, Ecosia as search engine.
Order your own website from provider with real green power. Reduce image files before uploading.
Work offline when web is not necessary.
Data protection: Use cloud in EU. Use devices and software independent of USA companies. Alternatives to Adobe: Image with GIMP, Affinity, Apple: 3D-Blender
As a media artist, be aware of the ecological side of the work.
Video portals maintain large server farms that consume electricity and cooling. Therefore, set resolution and bitrate only as much as necessary, Vimeo standard is enough for online viewing. 4K – use resolution only offline, HD quality 1920 x 1080 px or less to 1280 x 720 px, compression rate 8 – 10 Mbit/sec, frame rate 25 (EU) – 30 (US) frames/sec.
Podcasts: Normalize volume, variable compression rate e.g. 9.45 – 48 kBit/sec, as small as possible, mono if possible, set sample rate from 44kHz to 22 kHz.
Put photos online
Desktop: Website 1024 to 1200 pix for longest page, quality 60 to 80%, jepeg format, prevents theft for print; use PNG for logo, graphic, icon.
Compress images, smartphone: use app. to compress, settings as for desktop
Online archive with website: Do they replace print catalogs? Are they more resource efficient?
Use cloud archive sparingly, keep raw video offline
Own website: Delete plugins not needed: Link to external websites instead of embedding saves energy.
Delete old mails, e.g. set automatic deletion after a certain number.
Electricity and heating
Ventilate the studio during the heating period instead of continuously. Switch off lights when leaving the room. LED light bulbs save the most. Often incandescent, fluorescent bulbs can be replaced with LED in existing lamps.
Working in daylight can be part of the concept.
Selling a crypto artwork uses as much energy as the studio uses in two years. Now artist Joanie Lemercier is committed to reducing the carbon emissions of this medium.
Base: Workshops and lecture in GG3 exhibitions: 4/18/2013 “To Buy or Not to Buy,” 11/2/2019 “Artists for Future,” 7/20/2020 “Fossil Addiction,” 9/17/2021 “Commentary on the Present,” 11/26/2021 “Endless Summer.”