Art Interpretation and Climate Change

Jens Galschiot's sculpture Survival of the Fattest features an obese white goddess of justice on the shoulders of a frail African. There's an inscription: "I'm sitting on the back of a man. He is sinking under the burden. I would do anything to help him. Except stepping down from his back." For the duration of the climate conference in Copenhagan, the figure is being displayed in the city harbor, just a few feet from Edvard Eriksen's famous statue of the Little Mermaid.

This has prompted a rather histrionic reaction from Americans for Limited Government, which declared the art "obscene," insisted that the West should be "depicted as generous benefactors" instead, and urged President Barack Obama to "demand that the statue be promptly removed." It's an odd response, given that the sculpture neatly encapsulates the developing world's objections to international climate controls. The statue shows a west that industrialized, got rich and fat, then passed rules that restrain the rest of the world; western leaders appear as hypocrites who will "do anything to help" the global poor except getting off their backs. That sounds like a call for freedom, not regulation.

Was that the artist's intent? Yes and no. Here's his rationale for displaying Survival of the Fattest during the conference:

The climate changes are caused by the great consumption of resources in the Western World. The climate changes can only be stopped if the Western World starts massive investments in energy free of CO2 and sustainable production. In spite of this fact we will not change our way of living and really make a difference. On the contrary, all the governments of the Western World call on their citizens to start a new consumption orgy in order to get out of the financial crisis.

Doesn't sound very libertarian. But that's not what was on his mind when the statue was originally conceived. Back then, Galschiot was protesting the west's refusal to live up to its rhetoric on free trade. Here's what he had to say when Survival of the Fattest came to London in 2004:

We westerners regard ourselves as altruistic to the poor. But the altruism is inverted Robin Hood. Our chanted free trade is full of restrictions in defence of our privileges, while the third world is kept in misery. Obviously something is wrong when European dairy cattle receive two dollars per day through subsidies while one fifth of the world's population live from one dollar a day. Cattle in Europe get as much in subsidies each day as half of the world's population have to live for. The western world's delusion must be stopped, so that the developing countries get favourable conditions when selling their products. So we can achieve a more balanced world.

If the sculptor wants to reinterpret his work for the climate change debate, that's his right. But one rereading is as good as another. If you're against the proposals being kicked around in Copenhagen this month, I say you shouldn't denounce the statue. Praise it -- and explain why.

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  • ||

    This is Ariel a few years after the wedding.

  • Mango Punch||

    There's something a bit fishy about this post.

    Let's just say the Copenhegan reps are floundering on this one.

    The straw camel that broke the camel's staw's back.

  • Old Mexican||

    Winner!!!!

  • creech||

    Maybe the "frail African" should shrug if it is in his best interest to do so?

  • DADIODADDY||

    this guy clearly fucked up, should never have been born poor & frail, rich & white would have been a much better choice.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If the Copenhagen-Dazs crowd is smart, they'll just let Global Warming Climate Change raise the waters up over that sculpture.

  • Solanum||

    An obese African dictator sitting on the shoulders of a frail African peasant would've been more accurate.

  • DADIODADDY||

    looks a little like Hillary, don't you think?

  • ||

    Copenhagen climate summit in disarray after 'Danish text' leak

    "The draft hands effective control of climate change finance to the World Bank...""

    well, that's probably in the best interests of the environment...
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/envi.....anish-text

  • ||

    doh! i guess i'm a little late...

  • ||

    The main thing that's holding much of the underdeveloped world back is the fact that they're ruled by kleptocratic governments who nationalize or redistribute anything that starts to create wealth.

    Developed world tarriffs and subsidies certainly don't help, but India, China, South Korea, Japan, etc had to deal with that too.

  • Jesse Walker||

    The main thing that's holding much of the underdeveloped world back is the fact that they're ruled by kleptocratic governments who nationalize or redistribute anything that starts to create wealth.

    Well, yeah. (Though it's also true that one thing that has helped keep those kleptocrats in power is western aid.) At any rate, you don't have to think tariffs and subsidies are the primary evil afflicting the developing world to think the sculpture is an effective attack on them.

  • ||

    Yes, it has kept those particular kleptocrats in power, preventing them from being replaced with different kleptocrats. Again, not nearly as important as the inability of most third world countries to support a non-corrupt functioning government.

  • ||

    While I clearly agree that farm subsidies should be done away with, I can't say I understand how one can claim that the west is fat and happy because of the hard work of African or other third world countries. Most of those countries have produced little at all of value, but those that do, are quickly catching us in economic viability. Unless one decides to ignore places like India, China, and S. Korea.

    I'll not even address the silliness of his CO2 argument.

  • Jesse Walker||

    I can't say I understand how one can claim that the west is fat and happy because of the hard work of African or other third world countries.

    I don't think the sculpture necessarily suggests that the west is fat because of the Third World's poverty. Just that the fat west's rules are helping to hold the Third World down. (Note also that there are plenty of Chinese and Indian critics of carbon controls.)

  • ||

    Let me see if I have this right - the first worlders at the Copenhagen summit want to slow down the advancement of the third and second world countries by limiting the exploitation of their own resources to the betterment of their citizens. Oh the irony.

  • ||

    I can't remember where, maybe it was here at reason...but there was an article talking about the New American Arrogance. It might have been something Buckley had been writing about.

    To sum up, America just wants to remain squeaking clean while feeding off the rest of the world. One example was drilling for oil. We refuse to drill on our soil, but expect developing countries to drill on theirs and then sell it to us.

    I wish I could remember where I read that...

  • Soros is doing it again||

    Here's why we don't drill here in America:

    the United States is the only country in the world that deliberately fails to develop its own energy resources. Other than instituting price controls, this is the single most destructive economic policy that a country can pursue, which is why no one does it except us.

    Brazil has one of the world's most dynamic economies and is pursuing petroleum development on a grand scale. The Washington Post reports:

    Everything about the shipyard here is colossal -- the 4,000-man workforce, the billions sunk into it in capital costs, the half-finished 10-story-high production platforms.

    But then, so is the challenge facing Brazil's state-controlled energy company, Petrobras: developing a group of newly discovered deep-sea oil fields that energy analysts say will catapult this country into the ranks of the world's petro-powers. The oil pools are 200 miles out in the Atlantic and more than four miles down, under freezing seas, rock and a heavy cap of salt.

    Petrobras, which until recently was little known outside oil circles, has launched a five-year, $174 billion project to provide platforms, rigs, support vessels and drilling systems to develop tens of billions of barrels of oil. Energy officials here project that Brazil -- still an oil importer five years ago -- will in the next decade have one of the world's biggest oil reserves.

    It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if our government pursues policies intended to slow our economic growth, and Brazil pursues policies designed to accelerate its economic growth, before long Brazil will be richer than the U.S. What's really interesting here, however, is the identity of one of Petrobras's biggest shareholders:

    With a market capitalization of more than $220 billion, Petrobras is one of the world's 10 biggest companies. Over the past two years, it has been the most frequently traded foreign company on the New York Stock Exchange, trade data show. Among investors bullish on Petrobras is George Soros, who last year made the oil company the largest single holding in his investment fund, according to Bloomberg.

    That's right: the Godfather of the Democratic Party, who exerts his enormous political influence to prevent American oil companies from developing our own petroleum resources in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere, has placed his biggest bet--not on the United States, but on Brazil. If Exxon Mobil can't compete in the Caribbean with Petrobras, the value of Soros's Petrobras investment will skyrocket. That's the sort of thievery that lies behind the Democratic Party's deliberate hobbling of the American economy.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/.....id=artslot

  • Old Mexican||

    One of the things that make me like to use the word "hobbling" to describe anything the government does (especially under the current Kaiser), is that it impinges this image in my mind from the movie "Misery"....

    .... y'all remember?

  • Mango Punch||

    pretty weak argument considering that his 3rd largest holding is Hess, his 9th is Interoil Corp (CA offshore oil drilling company), and his 12th is Plains Exploration (US oil and nat gas company). Looks more like when he has a fiduciary responsibility to investors, he's somewhat of an oil-bug. Not sure of his $1B commitment to invest in clean energy tech is a hedge or if he presonally believes in man made climate change (and our need for new tech)...

    Nice try at making an argument however.

  • ||

    Old Mexican - why didn't you link to the power line site that you're entire comment is a cut and paste of and instead link to the washington post? Are you John from Power Line? PS - folks I realize this thread is a week old now but it's late and I'm awake reading things (in this instance I'm reading something I already read verbatim a week ago)

  • Bill Wilson||

    Are there no limits to the contortions from the author of this post to hide the obvious? Apparently not.
    So, defense of the looting of the west by those that have squandered every gift bestowed on them is now a libertarian position to be "praised"? The world truly has been turned on its head.

  • Ass of Catalonia||

    I look for Walker's next post praising communist propaganda because he believes it extols productivity.

  • ¢||

    "Limited government" types should condemn public sculpture as a uniquely obscene display of government power, not as art they don't like. They're statues commemorating politicians' sending huge chunks of stolen money from unconsenting workers to favored non-workers, planted right in the citizenry's face, all "What are you gonna do about it?" The Detroit fist is exemplary, not exceptional.

    Or, steal the damn statue and have it in a lake. You bought it.

    Why are there no statue-heaving anarchists? I suspect there are no actual anarchists. Except me, but my back is too fucked up to throw statues around. I'll supervise, though. I'm good at geometry. Forces of darkness, you know where to find me.

  • EJM||

    You could always boycott TV Land.

  • ||

    "The climate changes are caused by the great consumption of resources in the Western World. The climate changes can only be stopped if the Western World starts massive investments in energy free of CO2 and sustainable production. In spite of this fact we will not change our way of living and really make a difference."

    Hey, I wonder the level of CO2 generating resources were consumed in not only producing his "art" nut transporting it to Copenhagen from London?

  • Old Mexican||

    Of course it did. Probably two or three Polar Bears fell from the sky because of his trip.

  • ||

    Americans for Limited Government, which declared the art "obscene," insisted that the West should be "depicted as generous benefactors" instead, and urged President Barack Obama to "demand that the statue be promptly removed."

    Note to self:

    Never, ever, pay attention to anything these idiots say.

  • ||

    defense of the looting of the west by those that have squandered every gift bestowed on them is now a libertarian position to be "praised"?

    I think your translator is broken; this phrase did not survive the transition from whatever space-alien dialect you think in to English.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    I couldn't figure out what the hell this guy was talking about either.

  • Jesse Walker||

    He's the president of Americans for Limited Government -- the guy I quoted in the second paragraph of the post. I assume that was his attempt to defend his position.

  • ||

    A "limited government" advocate who thinks B Obama should be in charge of lawn ornaments in far-off lands.

    I can see that.

    If I squint.

  • Kolohe||

    The sculpture placement brings a certain literalness to the old saw about 'slap the thigh and ride the wave in'

  • bubba||

    I don't think the artist's explanations of the work are inconsistent. They both center on the West's self-interest and oppression of the 3rd World. He's just using different examples.

  • ||

    I think we should let half the bullshit countries of the world either sink into the ocean or get leveled with a few airstrikes. They're the burdens with all their bitching and whining. Can't give them money because then their damn dictators take it from them, and you can't ignore them because then they say we're holding them down. It's worse than living with ten mother-in-laws in your house.

  • ||

    I posted this on Kos.

    Carbon Footprints in the Sand

    One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with Al Gore.
    Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
    For the first forty or so years of my life
    there were two sets of footprints in the sand.
    But later on there were one set of footprints.

    This bothered me because I noticed
    That during the low periods of my life,
    when I was older and I was suffering from
    anguish, sorrow or defeat,
    and I was really worried about losing my Medicare
    and Social Security benefits,
    and not being able to find a job,
    I could see only one set of footprints.

    So I said to Al Gore,
    "You promised me Al,
    that if I worshipped the environment,
    and pretended to believe in Global Warming
    you would hang out with me always.
    But I have noticed that as I got older,
    during the most trying periods of my life,
    there have only been one
    set of footprints in the sand.
    Why, when I needed you most,
    why have you not been there for me, Al?"

    Al Gore replied,
    "The times when you have
    seen only one set of footprints in the sand,
    is when I killed you.
    You see, your carbon footprint had become too large
    for the Earth to possibly support you and me and my forty-seven room mansion, and my private jets, and my fleet of cars, and my... well you get the picture. Don’t You?"

    Anonymous

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