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Petra Maitz started her crochet installation The Lady Musgrave Reef in 2002 with the aim to raise attention to the gradual diminishing of coral reefs around the world. One of the curators of the exhibition Slow Life, Zsuzska Petró interviewed her about life in the quarantine, as well as her work.
How does the corona pandemic and the resulting social isolation affect your everyday life and work?
In a way, not very much, because for years I have been working in a small office in Hamburg where I coordinate my work: when/what/how. As I am also a curator for art and science projects, I work in cooperation with science institutions. Of course, the studio work isn’t big today, I prefer to stay in home-office to work.
How do you see the world after Covid-19? In your opinion, will our life, or even the art scene and art market change in any way and if so, in what way?
Well, there will surely be a change, everything will be coordinated via electronic messages and screen projects as we are not allowed to visit exhibitions. Museums and galleries are closed.
How will your working conditions or even your own attitude towards your practice change? (If you think it will change at all.)
My life hasn’t changed that much, but there is one thing I find very difficult: I can’t travel from Germany to Austria and to France, where a lot of my volunteers live. They work for The Lady Musgrave Reef Part II. It will show all the bleached corals, the white and yellow band diseases of corals. Corals die out when infected by the high nitrate levels in oceans. We have been working on it since the beginning of February for the “Budapest Colony“ that will be integrated into the rest of the ‘reef’. Covid-19 appeared in the midst of this work, disrupting my schedule for Slow Life.
Could you pick one aspect of our lives, which, in your opinion, will be permanently transformed by the pandemic?
The fear of getting close to people will not disappear for a long time, this is an unnatural shock, it will destroy human love.
Did this social isolation inspire a new project? If yes, could you briefly tell us about it?
I don’t feel isolated as I have been enjoying a kind of self-isolation for years now in a small hut near the beach of the river Elbe. If I crave human contact, I call my friends from around the world and I enjoy pottering about in my garden, planting new flowers or just hanging out. A new project was inspired through an emergency call from Düsseldorf, a friend’s wife, a dentist, needed operation hats for her lab. So, I created a cap designed in 10 minutes in my hut. I began to sew 5 caps a day.
One of your artistic objectives is to bring art closer to nature and vice versa. With your own words from your artist statement, “the cultural disconnection with natural environments in modern arts” started to bore you. That’s why you started to crochet and sew natural objects in your studio. With The Lady Musgrave Reef you also wanted to raise attention to the diminishing coral reefs around the world. Do you believe that art can positively influence our society? In what way can art achieve a lasting positive effect?
Art is an essential kind of thinking and working, it is a system that defines its own rules, the artist is a fountain and I always felt full of visions and ideas for creating new worlds that inspire me. Well, crocheting is a heritage of my childhood, I was raised in Vienna and Graz, my 12 aunts used to do needlework at every family gathering. It was so weird, but they were the soul and brain of the family: sitting there, talking and organising the household. The men were not present, so I developed a sort of affiliation to this curious behaviour –– the aunties were the ones who ruled. I studied medicine and microbiology, and did not want to work in labs, so my resistance towards the commercialised art world was to sit and crochet.
In your opinion, how does the corona-situation add to or re-evaluate your work selected for the exhibition Slow Life? Do you see it in a different light at all?
Well, it fits perfectly into the situation, but it is not funny at all, we have a sad coincidence happening, the content of the show is overwritten by reality.
As humans retreated into their homes, animals appeared in their habitats, e.g. dolphins in the canals of Venice, or deers and foxes in empty cities. Do you have a new-found hope for the survival of coral reefs?
Yes, but it will take a long time…
The way you organised the work of the volunteers for The Lady Musgrave Reef (e.g. sending the materials via post and receiving the crocheted corals later) might resonate with current working methods that we had to embrace during social isolation. Even with the work done in the volunteers’ own homes, this process still feels very social. Do you think it built up a sense of community within the team? Can you tell us about your experience with this method?
Normally, the team meets at the show, but this is not possible now… but who knows, borders will maybe open in summer, we will be able to travel in masks.
My team works in their homes and they are let free and could work whatever, however and whenever they want.
My method was always freedom of creation and freedom of body. It sounds anarchistic, but it’s the way how evolution goes, and now we have to follow in the footsteps of evolution, while looking at the bigger picture, a global picture. Staying home also means survival of the fittest and not risking the elderly, and so conserve the wisdom they possess.
The Lady Musgrave Reef
Short Video Introduction of the Creative Process
produced by Goethe-Institut Peru (2014)
Climate or carbon neutrality means that a company minimizes its carbon footprint in its activities – or an individual changes his/her lifestyle for the same purpose – and then balances residual carbon dioxide emissions often through carbon offsetting. The aim of climate neutrality is to limit global temperature increase.
Methods of reducing carbon emissions include, for example, switching to renewable energy (e.g. wind, water or biomass energy sources), environmentally sound waste management, or environmentally friendly tillage technologies. The carbon footprint thus reduced can be offset by the purchase of voluntary carbon credits by supporting green projects.
According to the European Commission’s decision in 2019, the Union is aiming to switch to a competitive and profitable carbon-neutral economic model by 2050. It is planned that the European economy will produce only as much carbon as it can absorb by various measures.
It is a voluntary and consciously chosen simple lifestyle that confronts consumer society and its expectations. The simple way of life is not the same, but it touches, among other things, the minimalist, frugal lifestyle, or even the pursuit of self-reliance, the way of life of those who withdraw from society.
Those who choose a simple lifestyle basically strive to rationalize their lives according to their own circumstances, and to satisfy but their basic needs (which may vary from person to person) rather than accumulating unnecessary material goods. Simplifying our lives can take many forms, including: moving to a smaller home; simplifying our wardrobe; using public transport or a bicycle instead of cars; increasing self-sufficiency through gardening or self-made products; switching to a plant-based diet and favouring local food products.
However, voluntary simplicity is not a recent concept, and throughout history many thinkers, writers, and even statesmen have encouraged their followers to simplicity, for example Diogenes, Saint Francis of Assisi, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Lev Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi. The term voluntary simplicity itself was coined by American philosopher Richard Gregg in his work The Value of Voluntary Simplicity published in 1936.
According to radical ecological theory, the solution to the ecological crisis can only be achieved by a total transformation of the current social, cultural values and attitudes. For thousands of years, the essence of human civilization has been the pursuit of dominance, and our economic system is increasingly exploiting the natural environment as a mere source of raw materials and energy. Therefore, within the current system, it is impossible to achieve effective results with isolated green measures, and we need to fully overhaul our individual and systemic practices.
Based on the principles of deep ecology and social ecology, radical ecology seeks to create a liveable and sustainable civilization.
Social ecology treats man as an entity above and beyond nature, but recognizes that the protection of the natural environment is the key to humanity’s survival. In addition to exploiting nature, it examines the social processes and their mechanism of action that influences climate crisis. Deep Ecology sees the biodiversity of our planet as a complex, non-hierarchical, coherent system, of which man is an integral part. In this system, every living thing is of equal importance, so man is one of the elements of this network, neither separate nor dominant.
A soft or passive revolution is a non-violent transformation of political and social fabric, a process that often spans years, or many decades. Soft revolutions that transform entire social systems often take the form of cultural, literary, artistic, or social paradigm shifts.
The term passive revolution was coined by the 20th-century Italian theoretician, Antonio Gramsci, who referred to the Italian social and political changes between the two world wars.
Individual, community, institutional, or even corporate strategies that respond to climate crisis and gradually gain ground can also be interpreted as gentle revolutions. Such strategies include, for example, the pursuit of zero waste, the pursuit of self-sufficiency, or recycling at the individual level, and the transition to renewable energy sources or sustainable economic systems at the community and corporate level.
The economic boom following the austerity measures during the Second World War inspired families in Western Europe and North America to accumulate more diverse material assets, which resulted in the formation of what is today called consumer society. In order to drive continued economic growth and increase profits, companies have, over time, encouraged the population to buy disposables instead of durable goods and to replace their defective items and household appliances with new ones.
Whilst an article in Live magazine entitled Throwaway Society in 1955 welcomed the appearance of disposable items as a modern innovation to ease the burden of everyday life, today more and more people are re-evaluating our wasteful way of life.
Today’s consumer behaviour has reached a point at which we purchase new products or replace old ones in advance of real needs. Our useless items that we are bored with are mostly a burden on our environment as non-recyclable, often polluting, waste. All this is supported by our economic system, e.g. by the planned obsolescence of electronic devices or fast-changing fashion trends.
Our wasteful economic system is also affecting the food industry. According to statistical statements, 40% of food produced or imported in the United States is discarded.
Slow movements is the collective name for heterogeneous organizations covering many areas of life that oppose fast-paced consumer society. The first slow movement, called “slow food”, was launched by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986 to set them against fast food restaurants, which were gradually gaining ground in Europe. In 1999, Geir Berthelsen had a vision of a whole slow planet when he founded The World Institute of Slowness, while in his book In Praise of Slowness published in 2004, Carl Honoré defined slowness as a principle affecting all walks of life.
Instead of constantly rushing, busy working, hustling and “multitasking”, slow life encourages you to do fewer tasks and activities, but to do it in the best possible way, being present at the moment in different areas of our lives. Slow food emphasizes eating quality food bought at farmers’ markets rather than fast food, and enjoying delicious meals with others. Instead of mass-produced, poor-quality clothing, which becomes obsolete in a month or two, followers of slow fashion support buying or making more expensive but durable, well-tailored clothing once in a while. Similarly, the principles of slowness can be applied to the field of travel, parenting, work, or health.
In 1987 the United Nations declared that sustainable development “meets current needs without affecting the ability of the future generation from meeting their needs.” Sustainable development as a principle is aimed at social progress, the key to which is to ensure an economic development that respects environmental conditions. Our current economic system relies on continuous and unlimited growth although it is impossible to exploit the finite natural resources of a finite-sized planet infinitely, and thus it is unsustainable. However, sustainable development does not only concern the environmentally conscious way of life and business practices (e.g. use of renewable energy sources, reorganization of waste management). It also affects areas such as social justice, equal opportunities, social welfare and environmental quality for the development of human civilization. The future of human civilization can only be secured if the social, economic and environmental aspects of life are in harmony.