Art in the Service of Future Generations

A conversation about the art of ecology and the persistence of environmental toxicity


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Memory
  • Philosophy / Theory

Organizing Institutions


Contributing Institutions

Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, City Parks Association, Tyler School of Art, Fine Arts Program at Penn


Amze Emmons, Aaron Levy

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104


50% Formal - 50% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce "Art in the Service of Future Generations," a conversation about the art of ecology and the persistence of environmental toxicity, on October 6, 2015 from 6-7:30pm. The conversation, which will also explore the relationship of public art to both memory and forgetting, will feature artist Veit Stratmann in dialogue with Bethany Wiggin, Amze Emmons, Ken Lum, and Aaron Levy.

The conversation will revisit and build upon a particular work of artist Veit Stratmann from the summer of 2011, when the French National Agency for the treatment of Nuclear Waste called for artistic proposals for the preservation of memory concerning nuclear waste-sites for future generations. Active in France since 1974, the nuclear industry produces enormous quantities of highly toxic waste – some of which will be active for hundreds of thousands of years. In his subsequent report (titled "Art in the Service of Memory for Future Generations") artist Veit Stratmann proposed the concept of a major intervention in the landscape in the form of a work entitled The Hill, the likelihood being that it would never be produced.

The Hill consists of questions, a textual description, and film/photography the project acted as both a study and a projected investigation of future memorial construction. Based on a temporal unit of 80 years, which corresponds to the approximate exploitation activity of the stockage center for short life-span of nuclear waste, the notion of a time-segment is both considered the object and the carrier of memory throughout the project. Using this portion of time ritualistically within the specific site every 30 years (⅜ of the duration of the exploitation activity), Stratmann memorializes the place through the artistic gesture of burial. His gesture seeks to render "forgetting" impossible as the thirty hectares of the storage area would gradually be covered with layers of dirt, in turn instigating new life. The topographical configuration of the site will thus give rise to a series of 39 foot high hills. Every 30 years, this chain of hills will be elevated and enlarged by 15 feet of soil, corresponding to 3/8 of the initial hill's height. These 30-year interval elevation interventions will take place over a period of 300 years. At the end of the process, the layers will have reached the total height of 187 feet. After the last enlargement of the hill, the stripped earth area would remain.

Stratmann's project foregrounds what the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur termed "obligated Memory," namely the ethical and political necessity of collectively and actively remembering as a public. Noting the semantic relationship in the French language of "amnesia" and "amnesty," Ricoeur also reveals the human need to purposefully forget past grievances and traumas. The discussion at Slought will thus engage the tensions and contradictions today inherent in ecological art, where the desire to remember intersects with bureaucratic tendencies to repress and forget.

Though he accepted the proposal from the French National Agency for the treatment of Nuclear Waste, Veit Stratmann imposed three conditions on his participation:

-- That the study would accept the postulate that the reasoning of the nuclear industry is incoherent;

-- That the study would accept the concept that no work of art should be considered as a solution to an extra-artistic problem because any such use of art would denature the work and neutralize it's artistic and ethical validity;

-- That the study would allow the art to be "of service to" but not "at the service of."