Transdiscourse 1: Mediated Environments
by Andrea Gleiniger, Angelika Hilbeck, Jill Scott, Editors
Springer-Verlag, Wien, Austria, 2011
216 pp. illus. 15 b/w, 69 col. Paper, $49.95
Reviewed by Rob Harle
Transdiscourse 1: Mediated Environments is an important, illuminating, and inspiring book. As the title suggests, cross-disciplinary interaction is becoming an essential process if we are to have any chance of solving the huge problems facing humanity and the planet. “This book is the first in a series (four more to follow) and reflects both on transdisciplinary practice itself and on social environments and urban space” (p. 5). “Transdiscourse is a term that embraces emergent meanings around the multifarious interpretations of the word ‘transdisciplinarity’” (p. 4).
The contributors highlight the impotence of mass media, television, and the daily tabloids, in respect of bringing about positive, sustainable, and equitable environmental change. Creative and artistic discourse must be included in the scientific, financial, and political decision making process. “Our main aims were to focus on the potentials of media, art, and architecture to address both socio-political issues in an environment that includes scientific information, sustainability in relation to physical urban development and the raising of comparative awareness in society” (p. 9).
This book exemplifies the Leonardo project of encouraging the symbiotic relationship of science, art, and technology. Most of the essays describe and critically discuss actual projects — created by artists in various parts of the world — where the three disciplines of art, technology, and environmental science are combined. This combination results in outcomes that are creative, innovative, not financially/profit driven and brings practical ways to achieve sustainability to the general public.
There are 12 essays, either written by artists or scholars involved with the arts in some way. Each discusses quite different projects and approaches to using art as a medium of social activism. These are followed by contributor biographies and over 30 pages of colour plates (69 colour and 15 black & white images). There is no bibliography as each of the essays has its own Notes and Reference section. There is no general Index? The book is nicely produced but has a number of typographical errors that should not be present in a book of this quality.
The theme of art in the service of social activism and art as social activism is pursued throughout the book. The essay, Who Owns The Air? Emissions Trading and Contemporary Media Art by Andrea Polli is a particularly powerful example of this. It explores “...the idea of air for sale from an economic, political and cultural perspective. Contemporary art projects are discussed in the context of [Polli's] experiences while curating the online Aer exhibition for the Green Museum in California” (p. 75). There are a number of important insights brought to the reader's attention throughout this article––for instance, “The context in which an artwork is presented: for example as a high-priced product in a gallery or in a public space, affects the extent of its message and the effectiveness of the work in responding to a global crisis like climate change” (p. 85). Self-evident perhaps, but something that may not be realised by many artists whose work has environmental themes but unsustainable price tags!
The book is illuminating as it exposes many of the agendas of multi-national corporations that are hidden from public view and little known environmental problems that have huge significance globally. It exposes these deceptions in a clear, factual manner.
The book is important because it suggests perhaps the only way we are going to solve the global problems of environmental destruction and climate change. It does so in a balanced, carefully considered, non-hysterical way. Most essays introduce the problem, describe the approach taken by the various artists to help solve, or at least bring the severity of the problem to the public, and then discuss the success of the project and future possibilities of extending the work.
The book is inspiring because it shows the varied ways artists have approached such issues as environmental sustainability, climate change, the problems of waste disposal/usage and the disparity of wealth distribution. The success of their projects offers encouragement and a modus operandi to other artists to further develop the transdiscourse concept.
It is my personal opinion that art should serve a dual purpose: firstly, as a work of art in its own right, and secondly, as a vehicle or process for bringing about social change and awareness. So-called art that has forsaken all the qualities of art may be worthwhile, but it has no business calling itself art. The works described in this book all seem to have embraced this dual purpose, and as such will probably endure longer in the viewer or participant's psyche and will be all the more powerful for this.