1987 versus 2016

Today in Bob’s Beach House library, I discovered the 1987 exhibition catalog for “The International Art Show for the End of World Hunger”  In 1986, 35,000 person per day died in part due to undernourishment. Today the deaths are 21,000 per day.

The project is typical of the 1960s artists and their collectors in the 1980s.  None of the visual art has anything to do with hunger except for Marisol’s “Boy with Empty Bowl” and Golub’s “Hunger”.  I remember the 1980s dialogues where the NYC senior visual artists argued that real art would be made impure by messages.  Perhaps the artists did not have the capacity since today’s readings of the visual artist quotes shows utter immaturity of thought. For Paik and Arman, world hunger is a transportation issue. Bourgeois and Munujin can’t stay on theme with a “hunger for freedom.” Cardenas, Leon and Rothenberg make impossible assertions regarding the relationship between their painting and hunger.    And to summarize –  Immendorff “All we can do is paint….”

At least Rauschenberg has a straightforward awareness of the circumstances.  “..The solution (to world hunger) is not in the hearts of the glut and greed yet, nor is a plan practically or politically on the drawing board…” And Derrida agrees …Nothing is more insupportable in the world than hunger, nothing is worse than those who support it in the homes of others…”

Undernourishment leading to all kinds of physical disabilities is experienced by 780 million or 11% of our fellow humans.  (To provide contrast, we keep healthy 1.4 billion cows and another billion pigs.).  The world has seen a 30 year decline from 18% of humans and it might be much lower without the regional military conflicts.

The climate change figures vary from 150 to 750 million displaced persons in the century due to rising sea levels.  The worst estimates for displacement only match the numbers of undernourished – a figure that the world community tolerates as “acceptable”.  As most displacement will be internal to each country, the USA and others, under Obama’s leadership, has fought against expanding the treaty definition of “refugee status” to add climate to war, persecution or other violence.

There is a difference between 1987 hunger and 2016 rising waters – The American government does not take action to solve city or regional slow motion disasters.  The solutions for cities in the 1940-70s had many flaws, but the government did something.  In 1987, we still had the legacy in our heads that the government would act by technical experts or by political pressure from the people.  Today – Detroit, Flint, Akron, Cleveland, etc have never received any real help to re-image and then re-build the cities destroyed slowly by the transfer of manufacturing.  Can we conceive of 2050 where American assist Miami with tax increases?  No I cannot.

So Miami, more literally than Detroit, will slowly dissolve away.  Only the residents will care.

In the best light, the artists of 1987 attempted to motivate the institutions of the world to “end world hunger.”  In the dullest illumination, the artists just had a hope without much actual effort.  The artworks provoke no thoughts or emotions about us and our failure to solve the most basic need in a time of food abundance.  My own work about homelessness in the 1980s merely pointed fingers of blame at governments and the ethical hypocrisy of educated class..

So in 2016, humanity faces a giant disaster event of its own making, but without the imagined physical pain or instant extinction of nuclear war.  The destruction will be worldwide, but handled locally, not globally.  The salt will, inch by inch, poison the fields and rust the unseen iron supporting each city in all its corners.  Cities will migrate at a pace equal to their average elevation.  Farmers will abandon centuries of stability for the slums of higher cities.

The disaster may have started, but it is not here yet.  The real tasks lie in the hands of future artists to express the actual loss and stupid arrogance of their past (AKA our present).  Can King Lear be written or Guernica painted before the reality?  All we can do today is move the metaphorical mangroves to new zones of salty muck.  Like Lord Bryon, we report on the bees building new homes in our rafters.


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