14: On art and ecology with Eva Bubla

Ecological artist and activist Eva Bubla shares how art can challenge us to see the wood for the trees when it comes to our impact on the planet. She takes the Problem Busters on a fascinating tour of eco-clever projects spanning multiple countries. If you have ever wondered if your creativity could get people thinking in a positive way, then this episode is for you.

About the show:

Problem Busters is a show that highlights people with ideas to solve the biggest and the smallest of problems. Hosts Jonathan Goodwin and Oliver Happy discuss making the world a better place with guests from far and wide.

About our guest:

Eva Bubla is a Hungarian artist who deals with environmental and ecological issues. Her insightful and thought-provoking projects have both an activism and education element and have been widely recognised. Eva has participated in a range of projects and artist collectives, including Green Root Lab and PAD. Eva is currently based in Budapest.

Show mentions:

  • 01:50 Art has always been in my mind. Ever since being a child.
  • My current practice is rooted in Indonesia, because that is where I started dealing with environmental issues. I studied there and stayed longer, those experiences pushed me in this direction. Wanting to deal with environmental issues both as a person and as a citizen.
  • 03:00 What sparked the interest in the environment specifically? 2011-13 I was at University, we had a task to form groups and experiment using art. I used to study painting before (a solitary process), but this working with a group, on location at the beach, was exciting. We were asked to use materials we found on the spot.
  • Using material on-site was one of the sparks in taking me in this direction.
  • Because the materials included a lot of rubbish on the beach – it was obvious to use that, and one of the experiences that started my journey.
  • This was 9 years ago and my perspective has changed a lot.
  • I would not now use rubbish as a material (I find it contradictory), but at the time it was a moment that got me starting thinking about the environment.
  • 06:00 The question of visibility. We have services that take rubbish away, so it is not visible how much rubbish we create.
  • Governments such as the UK government pay for rubbish to be exported to other countries. Many just put it to landfill, it’s important to follow the chain and have visibility of it.
  • Greenpeace UK as an important group in raising awareness here.
  • Documentary: Plastic China. A movie about family businesses that process plastic, horrible waste, which was imported into China from other countries. It’s a must-see for all of us.
  • Regulations are already changing, a lot of countries are already saying no to waste that is exported to them from other countries.
  • Making art from things that have been found can really shock people.
  • In that project – we built the shape of a nautilus shell, but the material related to this human habit of generating waste.
  • I no longer want to create artworks from waste because it has the risk of making waste look aesthetic.
  • 11:00 Earliest memory of being interested in art – kindergarten! My first memory that comes to mind is sitting at a small table in kindergarten and drawing a tale for children.
  • 12:30 Project: Designated Breathing Zone. The first version came out of a residency with HONF foundation (art and engineers – makers).
  • My process: I have an initial idea but decide a topic to explore only once I am on the spot. The place is important for the people, the materials I work with.
  • I got sick in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, related to air pollution I think. This is a global issue (not related to a specific country).
  • Certain green areas where I used to ride my bike disappeared, so I started to dig into it and read into local regulations, how much green area the city is supposed to have, etc.
  • I started to read about how certain plants can remediate air pollution.
  • Project: Designated Breathing Zone is basically an incubator for the snake plant / mother in law plant. This is one of the plants that is really effective in making indoor air quality better.
  • How does it work? The air goes into this box, with the plant inside it, and a fan to ventilate the air out via a mask. You can take the mask and breathe the air through the mask.
  • This idea actually exists on the market, but I used materials that I found around the area (e.g. a box from a restaurant nearby).
  • The purpose: A symbolic object to raise awareness of the importance of plants, air pollution.
  • Combining art and education is something important to me.
  • What was the reaction to your work in this case? Some surprise, raising questions in them, and then a really nice conversation with people, especially kids.
  • Children were very sensitive to the issue of air pollution.
  • In public spaces you can reach a wider audience than in a gallery. I didn’t see a difference between children and adults in their sensitivity to the issue.
  • Workshops with kids are more curious maybe, but not necessarily more or less interested (a lot depends on the parents).
  • 23:00 szabadonbalaton (Free balaton lake) (also in English here) – a group project raising questions around the challenges of the lake and its ecosystem. We have various art events, including social scientists, ecologists and engineers. We have cocktails and foods that are sourced from the area. Chips from plants found in the lake.
  • The reaction from people is really interesting – they can’t believe food can come from the lake.
  • The perception of people is usually that the lake is clean if you can see the bottom. If it is clear. But this is false, it is not necessarily related to the water quality, may also be related to the bottom of the lake or ocean.
  • 28:30 we need a change in perspective in certain respects. We should treat lakes as lakes. We should become friends with its elements (e.g. mud) and not be disgusted by it.
  • The Blue Lagoon, Abereiddi: There is a lake in Wales (there is also one in Russia) that is nicknamed “the blue lagoon” – and looks blue, but cloudy – and it’s caused by Slate from a quarry. Remnants of an industrial past. Locals still swim in it.
  • The story of the two fish, and the old fish. Two fish are swimming and they see an older fish. It nods at them and says “isn’t the water great today”. The other two swim on and look a bit weird, then ask each other a bit later “what is water?”.
  • It is hard to generalise which generation is wiser. We should learn from elder generations what they did right, mistakes they made, but should keep the curiousity of children.
  • If we are curious, that can be used as a tool to explore and understand.
  • 33:00 Are you seeing improvements in environmental awareness? I see more and more people paying attention to the environment. But it’s not that simple. Is it enough for us as citizens to pay attention and become aware? When actually the problem is caused by companies, so we should also make change at the government or corporate level. In the latter there is not enough change.
  • Me personally, I don’t want to wait for governments or others (anyone else), I want to do what I can do, even if in the end it is not enough.
  • Many people don’t have a positive perspective on where we are heading to. But I want to live with the idea of I do my best and if more and more people do their best, maybe that will lead to a change.
  • 36:30 The word solution. I was often using this word, but maybe it is too big to be used. We cannot solve certain problems, but what we can do as artists, is raise questions, start conversations and think of alternative ways.
  • In design and technology – in design thinking we can really look at a problem and think of solutions. Designing objects that have technological elements is great.
  • The first step is that you start to raise questions. Perhaps one thing we need to learn is to adapt to whatever is around. There are certain things we can’t solve in climate change, but we need to learn to adapt to the unknown. With certain methods and art, you can develop a different ability and mindset to adapt – a love for beings (human and not).
  • I really look up to ideas that combine art and technology, even on a global scale. We don’t need to think global to make a difference
  • Artist collective: Superflex, Tanzania – a project in Tanzania installing biogas. An example of a movement where art is not about creating something beautiful for a gallery, but is understood more widely.
  • A saying: Ask a builder to build a house and they will build a box. Ask an architect and they will build something that works into the surrounds. The two can work well together.
  • Artist: Leonardo Da Vinci – who invented the design for Helicopters
  • TV Show: Star-trek inventions and introducing new ideas that eventually became real as flip phones, voice activation, microwaves.
  • Does life imitate art? or does art imitate life?
  • The ability to inspire someone to create a solution is powerful.
  • We can only control what is in the sphere of our control. Western countries can only control themselves. Telling third world countries they can’t use fossil fuels is hard – because they need it.
  • Being in Sardinia in June – at a festival where the theme was breathing. An important element was to work with locals there.
  • Project: Designated Breathing Zone: Sardinia. In this project I had an artist’s residency in Sardinia, the island off the coast of Italy.
  • Association: Rimettiamo Radici. The local association I worked with in Fluminimaggiore, Sardinia. I worked with this organisation of activist women, we did experiments with wild carrot, investigated plants of the regions and characteristic plants. We reused wine bottles adding pumps and a funnel where the smell could come out. This was a new version of the designated breathing zone.
  • Designated breathing zone – Sardinia. A metal structure that had plants upside down, so as you walk, you walk into them and can breathe the scent of the plants.
  • Back in Budapest and the idea of Designated Breathing Zone: Public Breathing Practices.
  • Project: Designated Breathing Zone: Public Breathing Practices
  • During the lockdown, I found people were scared in public and at times of each other. This project focused on harmonising breathing
  • Preparing for at the moment: Bucharest Biennale 9 Research Lab, I represent the Doctoral School of the Hungarian University of FineArts – Hungarian School of Fine arts. And an upcoming research lab and exhibition.
  • 52:00 When we think about plants and their role and our role in the ecosystem, it’s a global issue. Each place is different but the outcomes may be the same.
  • 53:30 Advice on limiting your impact on the world? What I more and more believe and focus on is that the root of all of this (pollution/waste) is that we need to develop our connection with the elements of nature and the elements of the environment around us. If we try to see ourselves as part of this system.. I would wish that power struggles and status struggles disappear from the world and you want to collaborate with people and natural elements in the world.
  • If we really develop this skill of being empathetic towards the environment that can have an impact on our decisions and then our actions.
  • I learned painting but I do everything but painting! I teach myself design programs and software, I love to use my hands and I enjoy learning new things.
  • One of my hobbies is to leave my comfort zone.
  • Artist: Lilli Tölp, an inspiring Estonian artist
  • 59:00 The method? you have an idea, you don’t know how you will realise it, but you are crazy enough, passionate enough to go for it and make it real.
  • Being an artist is hard, sacrifices need to be made, but art is something that is less supported because it is in certain minds less necessary. But those who really believe and stick to their passion, then sooner rather than later they find a way.
  • Who do you most look up to in the world? There is not one, there are so many people!! People who don’t give up, even if it is impossible.
  • Rocky balboa from the Rocky movies!
  • What book/film has most inspired you recently? I have at least 6 books right now.
  • Book: Eva-Maria Dreyer: What kind of edible wild plant is this?
  • Book: Mogyorósy-Révész Zsuzsa: Érzelemszabályozás a gyakorlatban (Emotion Regulation in Practice) and certain practices or exercises which are useful for me and I turn them into my art projects.
  • Book: T.J. Demos: Decolonizing Nature. Contemporary Arts and the Politics of Ecology
  • Projects that excite you? I’m inspired by my work so all of them! Especially the ongoing projects. I am about to curate in the next project, creating a concept of the program and selecting
  • Project: Budapest – Placcc festival – Sensing the City. Projects related to the 5 senses. I’m really excited about the projects that will be exhibited! Projects dealing with waste management, agricultural technologies, a sound/audio walk, and one on the cycle of life and death.
  • Amazing how people without a sense can still navigate the world – soundscapes and colour blind designers are super interesting.
  • Project: Designated breathing zone: C19 (face masks)
  • Is there one thing you would like to change in the world? Power struggles. If there were no power struggles then our relationship to one another would be so different.
  • Eva’s website: https://evabubla.art

Credits:

Logo and concept by Christy O’Connor

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