All Greenwashing Events

In the spring of 2015, shortly after launching our campaign urging museums to cut all ties to the fossil fuel industry, The Natural History Museum occupied the largest exhibitor space at the American Alliance of Museums annual convention in Atlanta. The AAM convention is the world’s largest gathering of museum professionals, with 7000 museum staff from 60 countries in attendance.

The Natural History Museum highlights the socio-political forces that shape nature, yet are excluded from traditional natural history museums. Our primary subject of study is the “fossil fuel ecosystem”, characterized by a complex set of interrelated feedback loops encompassing land, energy, politics, society, economics and culture.

At the AAM convention we turned our anthropological gaze on traditional science museums as ideological habitats within this ecosystem. We re-created installations from New York’s American Museum of Natural History, including previously excluded socio-political context about the museum’s board member and biggest sponsor, David H. Koch.

With Peder Anker, Fred Turner, and Jodi Dean. Moderated by Astra Taylor.

In the contemporary age we’re seeing the disappearing habitat of public institutions, and the invasive species of networked digital communication or as Fred Turner puts it in the context of exhibitions, “the democratic surround”, as a particular mode of display. Against a backdrop of economic and environmental disruption, what kind of communicative, visual, and discursive habitats are disappearing, and what kinds are appearing in its place?

This panel looks at the ways the media environment– exhibitions, design and communication systems– influences how we see what is natural in the autopoietic habitats of the contemporary.

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Peder Anker is a historian of environmental sciences, specializing in the history of ecology and ecological architecture and design. Anker is currently an associate professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study and the Environmental Studies Program at New York University. Anker has received research fellowships from the Fulbright Program, the Dibner Institute and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and been a visiting scholar at both Columbia University and University of Oslo. He is the author of From Bauhaus to Eco-House: A History of Ecological Design (Louisiana State University Press 2010), which explores the intersection of architecture and ecological science, and Imperial Ecology: Environmental Order in the British Empire, 1895-1945 (Harvard University Press, 2001), which investigates how the promising new science of ecology flourished in the British Empire.

Fred Turner is an Associate Professor at Stanford University in the Department of Communication and the author of The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties (2013),From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network and the Rise of Digital Utopianism (2006), and Echoes of Combat: Trauma, Memory, and the Vietnam War (Echoes of Combat: The Vietnam War in American Memory in 1996; revised 2nd ed. with new title 2001). Before joining Stanford, Turner taught Communication at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He earned a B.A. in English and American Literature from Brown University an M.A. in English from Columbia University, and a Ph.D.(2002) in Communication from the University of California, San Diego. Before joining academia, Turner worked as a journalist for over ten years writing for the Boston Phoenix and Boston Sunday Globe, among others.

Jodi Dean teaches media and political theory and is the Donald R. Harter ’39 Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She is currently a Fellow at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University. She has written 7 books, including: Solidarity of Strangers (1996), Aliens in America (1998), Publicity’s Secret (2002), Zizek’s Politics (2006), Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies (2009), Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive (2010), and The Communist Horizon (2013). She edited Feminism and the New Democracy (1997), Cultural Studies and Political Theory (2000), with Paul A. Passavant, Empire’s New Clothes: Reading Hardt and Negri (2004), with Jon Anderson and Geert Lovink, Reformatting Politics: Information Technology and Global Civil Society (2006).

Astra Taylor is a writer, documentary filmmaker, and activist. Her films include Zizek!, a feature documentary about the world’s most outrageous philosopher, and Examined Life, a series of excursions with contemporary thinkers including Slavoj Zizek, Judith Butler, Cornel West, Peter Singer and others. Both movies premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Taylor’s writing has appeared in The Nation, the London Review of Books, n+1, The Baffler, and other publications. She is the editor of Examined Life, a companion volume to the film, and coeditor of Occupy!: Scenes from Occupied America. She also helped launch the Occupy offshoot Strike Debt and its Rolling Jubilee campaign. Most recently she is the author of the book The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age.

With Stuart Ewen, scientist Michael Mann, and James Hoggan. Moderated by Jodi Dean.

Shifting strategies–from denialism to obfuscation, advertising, and public relations–mislead the public. People become cynical and uncertain, mistrusting of any and all efforts to confront the changing climate. With science under attack, what is to be done? How might we break through the propaganda fog and into collective action?

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SPEAKER BIOS
Stuart Ewen is Distinguished Professor in the Department of Film & Media Studies at Hunter College, and in the Ph.D. Programs in History, Sociology and American Studies at The CUNY Graduate Center. He is generally considered one of the originators of the field of Media Studies, and his writings have continued to shape debates in the field. He is the author of a number of influential books, including PR! A Social History of Spin (1996) and All Consuming images: The Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture (1987; 1999). The latter provided the foundation for Bill Moyers’ 4-part, Peabody, Emmy, and National Education Association Awards winning PBS series, “The Public Mind.” PR! provided the basis for a 4-part BBC Television Series, “The Century of the Self.” Ewen’s other books include Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture (1976) and Channels of Desire: Mass /images and the Shaping of American Consciousness (also with Elizabeth Ewen. 1982; 1992).

Michael Mann is Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University, with joint appointments in the Department of Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI). He is also director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center (ESSC). Dr. Mann received his undergraduate degrees in Physics and Applied Math from the University of California at Berkeley, an M.S. degree in Physics from Yale University, and a Ph.D. in Geology & Geophysics from Yale University. Dr. Mann was a Lead Author on the Observed Climate Variability and Change chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Scientific Assessment Report in 2001 and was organizing committee chair for the National Academy of Sciences Frontiers of Science in 2003. He has received a number of honors and awards including NOAA’s outstanding publication award in 2002 and selection by Scientific American as one of the fifty leading visionaries in science and technology in 2002. He contributed, with other IPCC authors, to the award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He made Bloomberg News’ list of fifty most influential people in 2013. In 2014, he was named Highly Cited Researcher by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) and received the Friend of the Planet Award from the National Center for Science Education. He is a Fellow of both the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society. Dr. Mann is author of more than 170 peer-reviewed and edited publications, and has published two books including Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming in 2008 and The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines in 2012. He is also a co-founder and avid contributor to the award-winning science website RealClimate.org.

Jim Hoggan is the co-founder of Stonehouse Standing Circle, an innovative public-engagement and communications think-tank and the influential website DeSmogBlog, chosen as one of Time Magazine’s Best Blogs for 2011 for its work exposing corporate misinformation campaigns. He also serves as a trustee of the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education and is the former chair of Climate Project Canada – the Canadian chapter of Al Gore’s global education and advocacy organization. Jim is the author of three books, Do the Right Thing: PR Tips for Skeptical Public (2009), Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming (2009) and Polluted Public Square (Fall 2013). Jim speaks, writes, and presents widely on public attitudes towards sustainability, climate change, and the environment.

With Dr. Alice Bell, Kert Davies and Stephen Duncombe

What happens when BP, Shell Oil, and the Koch Brothers fund museums of science and natural history? Or when market pressures influence operational and curatorial decisions?

Corporate sponsorship of museums and science education can compromise the basic idea of museums as reliable sources of common knowledge. By considering historical as well as contemporary examples of museum funding, we look at the ways in which power structures and marketing logic are embedded in practices of collecting and display.

With Dr. Alice Bell, Kert Davies and Stephen Duncombe, and a recorded video address on museums and climate change by Robert R. Janes, editor in chief of Museums Management & Curation, and author of “Museums and the Paradox of Change” and “Museums in a Troubled World: Renewal, Irrelevance or Collapse?”

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BIOS
Dr. Alice Bell is a freelance journalist, specializing in the politics of science and technology. She writes about innovation for How We Get to Next and climate change for the Road to Paris. She’s a science policy blogger for the Guardian and columnist for Popular Science UK, and is working on a short history of the radical science movement for the Wellcome Trust’s Mosaic magazine. She previously worked as an academic, lecturing in science communication at Imperial College, where she also set up an interdisciplinary course on climate change, and acting as Head of Public Engagement at the Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex. Before that, she worked extensively in science education, including at the London Science Museum, and completed a PhD on children’s science media.

Robert R. Janes is Editor in Chief of Museum Management and Curatorship. He has worked in and around museums for the past 35 years as a director, consultant, author, editor, archaeologist, board member, teacher and volunteer. He is the past President and CEO of the Glenbow Museum, Art Gallery, Library and Archives in Calgary, Alberta, and was the founding Director of the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre and founding Executive Director of the Science Institute of the Northwest Territories. Robert is the author of “Museums and the Paradox of Change”, and “Museums in a Troubled World: Renewal, Irrelevance or Collapse?”. He has a PhD in Archaeology and he teaches at the University of Calgary.

Kert Davies is the Founder and Executive Director of the Climate Investigations Center. He is a well-known researcher, media spokesperson and climate activist who has been conducting corporate accountability research and campaigns for more than 20 years. Davies was the chief architect of the Greenpeace web project ExxonSecrets, launched in 2004, which helped expose the oil giant ExxonMobil’s funding of organizations and individuals who work to discredit the validity of climate science and delay climate policy action. More recently, Davies established the PolluterWatch program at Greenpeace, which launched the report Koch Industries: Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine

Stephen Duncombe is an Associate Professor at the Gallatin School and the Department of Media, Culture and Communications of New York University where he teaches the history and politics of media. He is the author or editor of six books, including Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy. He is the creator of the Open Utopia, an open-access, open-source, web-based edition of Thomas More’s Utopia, and writes on the intersection of culture and politics for a range of scholarly and popular publications. Duncombe is a life-long political activist, co-founding a community based advocacy group in the Lower East Side of Manhattan and working as an organizer for the NYC chapter of the international direct action group, Reclaim the Streets. In 2009 he was a Research Associate at the Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology in New York City where he helped organize The College of Tactical Culture. He co-created the School for Creative Activism in 2011, and is presently co-director of the Center for Artistic Activism. Duncombe is currently working on a book on the art of propaganda during the New Deal.

With Hans Haacke, Mark Dion, and Gavin Grindon. Moderated by Steve Lyons

Institutional critique expresses and comes up against the limits of the institution. When the practice first came to the fore, artists were responding to the institution as a repressive and bureaucratic body. The institution denoted an exclusive, hierarchic, and unaccountable site marked by seemingly intractable power relations. At the same time, its critique indicated that the institution was worth fighting for as a site that both represented and supplied basic societal infrastructure.

More recently, market pressures on a wide array of social and cultural institutions have intensified. Instead of operating through mechanisms of centralized control, contemporary power relations are fragmented, decentered, networked, and privatized. Institutions are crumbling, losing power and resources. This disintegration of collective infrastructure reveals that no institution was ever as unified or total as some of its critics implied, relying instead on fluid and uneasy combinations of ideals, limits, and possibilities.

The panel looks at ways artists and activists borrow the vocabulary of the museum and in so doing extend the political potential already dividing the institution from within. Such artistic practices of political extension may be invited or uninvited, done in collusion with curators or to their chagrin. As they raise the question of who speaks on behalf of the institution, they activate a split, suggesting ways to work within as well as against—affirming the value of the institution as a resource for the production of culture, collectivity and social solidarity.

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SPEAKER BIOS

Hans Haacke is a German-American conceptual artist whose controversial works expose the interconnectivity of culture, politics, corruption, and greed. Spanning a range of mediums and drawing upon a variety of contemporary art strategies, from Conceptualism to Land Art, Haacke’s muckraking work often throws back the curtain on the culture industry, probing the shady dealings of museum trustees or other officials who control what is promoted and displayed. As a result of his work, Haacke–who has said he intends his art to “convict” its subject–is regarded as a forefather of an artistic approach known as institutional critique. He has been awarded many prizes, which include the 1993 Golden Lion of the Biennale di Venezia.

Gavin Grindon is Visiting Research Fellow at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and lecturer in contemporary art and curating at Essex University. He co-curated the exhibition Disobedient Objects (V&A, 2014-15), and organized the conferences The Politics of the Social in Contemporary Art at Tate Modern, 2013; Art…What’s the Use at Whitechapel Gallery, 2011; and Revising /Revisiting the Avant-Garde at Kingston University, 2009. Gavin is currently writing a history of activist-art. He co-authored A User’s Guide to Demanding the Impossible, first distributed in 2010 in occupied art schools across London during protests against cuts and fee rises. He has published in Art History, the Oxford Art Journal, Third Text, Radical Philosophy and the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest.

Mark Dion is known for making art out of fieldwork, incorporating elements of biology, archaeology, ethnography, and the history of science, and applying to his artwork methodologies generally used for pure science. His art uncovers the structures that govern the natural world, dissolving the boundary between nature and culture; in his view, ‘nature is one of the most sophisticated arenas for the production of ideology’. Traveling the world and collaborating with a wide range of scientists, artists, and museums, Dion has excavated ancient and modern artifacts from the banks of the Thames in London, established a marine life laboratory using specimens from New York’s Chinatown, and created a contemporary cabinet of curiosities exploring natural and philosophical hierarchies. Dion has a longstanding interest in exploring how ideas about natural history are visualized and how they circulate in society. Dion’s work has been presented at many U.S. and international museums and galleries.

Steve Lyons is an artist and researcher based in Montreal, where he is pursuing his PhD in Art History at Concordia University. His dissertation studies the history of alternative art spaces in New York, with a particular focus on the changing use of the term “alternative” since 1979. He has published articles in C Magazine and Border Crossings, and his artwork has been exhibited in Paris, Toronto, and Montreal.