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The FotoFest 2016 Biennial closed over the weekend, taking place from March 12—April 24 in Houston, TX. The theme this year was “Changing Circumstances: Looking at the Future of the Planet” and included work by 34 international artists, co-curated by Wendy Watriss and Steven Evans with Frederick Baldwin. Whitewall spoke with Watriss, co-founder of the organization, earlier this spring.
WHITEWALL: The focus of this year’s exhibition, “Changing Circumstances,” examines humanity’s relationship to the planet. What was the inspiration behind selecting this theme?
WENDY WATRISS: The 2016 theme of humanity’s relationship to the planet represents this spectrum of ideas. The landscape and humanity’s relationship to the Earth have been an essential part of art history and art itself since the beginnings of human civilization. The question of humanity’s relationship to the earth has never been more important. On a daily basis, we see and hear about the negative consequences of humankind’s use of the planet and the natural resources of the Earth.
Not only is it time for new political and economic policies and new technological development, it is also a time for new vision. A new vision of the Earth and our role in it.
WW: What role do you think artists play in addressing global changes and initiating conversation about the natural world?
WW: Art can play a very important role in creating this vision. Many artists, both conceptual and documentary, are in fact concerned about this question of vision in addressing our relationship to the surrounding natural world and how to articulate its complexity, contradictions and beauty.
Art’s involvement becomes particularly important when we realize when more than half of the world’s population no longer lives in close proximity to nature. By 2050, 66% of the world’s population will live in cities. Beyond weather, most people have little or no need or opportunity to experience nature. When they do come into contact with nature, it is mostly measured and managed. It is assumed that we are indeed in the Anthropocene age and we have dominion over the planet. But do we?
Artists do not need to be specialists over one form of data or are of knowledge. They can explore and look at their world as a whole. They can pull from physics, biological science, poetry, astronomy, mathematics, and human rights. They can be open about wonder and beauty. They can incorporate Darwin’s sense of the sublime in the way they represent the world around us. They can be fearless in what they say and how they say it. They can use statistical data by not be caged by it.
If we are to survive the Anthropocene, we need more imagination and more information. We need to hear more from scientists and engineers, philosophers and artists.
WW: What was the process of selecting artists for this year’s show, including Vik Muniz, Toby Smith, Karen Glaser, Susan Derges, Lucy Helton, Isaac Julien, and Brad Temkin?
WW: We did a combination of two open email calls for submissions from around the world. We did studio visits with international and U.S. artists in both the editorial and the contemporary art worlds. We used FotoFest’s broad-based network of artists and consulted with other artists and curators as well as writers, scientists, filmmakers and policy-makers. We made special efforts to make outreach to our networks of artists, curators and festivals in the Middle East, Latin America, Eastern and Western Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, and North America.
Overall, the FotoFest curators and staff looked at artworks by 600-700 artists. Some of the review was done by studio visits and Skype, others online. All the artists have thought deeply about this planet and the presence of human societies on the Earth.
Some have intimately observed small confined areas of nature over long periods of time. Others are looking worldwide.