Trouble in Paradise

Amy Lipton


In the past three years of the Bush administration we have witnessed a broad scale effort to unravel decades of hard won environmental legislation and protections. It is nothing less than an assault against our environment and a battle against the policies that have been in place, having been built slowly but steadily over the past four decades. The beginning of this up hill battle can be traced to Rachel Carson’s 1967 book “Silent Spring” which brought public awareness about the devastating effects of pollution and contamination of our water and land. In their attempt to roll back these regulations, our current administration reveal their state of denial concerning global warming, extinction of species, health issues relating to pollution and lack of clean water and air. These losses are mounting and will continue to take a terrible toll into the unforeseeable future. Aside from the tragic loss of humanity in a time of war, wars also take their toll on the environment, releasing a host of toxic chemistry with conventional and nuclear weapons and their production, mobilization and proliferation. This thinly disguised war over terrorism can also be looked at for what it really is about, the desire for control over natural resources and commodities, namely fossil fuels.

We live with this and many other deeply disturbing issues related to loss and they influence our lives in subtle and profound ways. We live with the reality of ongoing loss in the natural environment and the accompanying despair when faced with forces of such tremendous global impact. How do we cope with these overwhelming feelings and the loss of meaning in life? In the face of loss on such a grand scale and the barrage of daily information via the media and Internet, we may feel hopeless and ineffectual at our lack of ability to do anything as individuals.

These issues have been addressed in contemporary art in various ways since the 1960’s. Proponents for social and environmental consciousness in art can look back to Joseph Beuys, Hans Haacke, Vito Acconci, Helen and Newton Harrison and others in the early days of conceptualism and environmental art. In the eighties and even more so in the nineties, artists voices began to be heard on such varying issues as AIDS/HIV, gender disparity and feminism, identity politics and ethnicity, consumer culture and globalization.

This exhibition takes a look at the implications of loss in our present social context using a variety of artworks and sensibilities. As curator, my goal is to contrast artworks depicting the splendor and beauty that are diminishing in our natural world with the grim reality of what has been lost. My hope is to bring awareness to the viewer of the need for protection, preservation and the preciousness of what remains. We must each in our own small way try to be vigilant for this effort - so that the losses we are witnessing on this massive level can be slowed or even halted. The attempt of this exhibition is not to spark a nostalgic sense of longing for what is irretrievable, but to incite recognition of what is mostly unimaginable and the action that can accompany this awareness.

Ultimately we need to feel hopeful regarding our future if we are to help bring about a livable future for generations to come. Paradise Lost aims to reconnect our senses with the beauty of the natural world while making a strong case for the results of the alternative should we remain silent.

New York, May 2004

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