According to this account, global consumers are not open to the coordinates of space and ethical implications of the environment, other than in economic terms. It follows, in such an approach, that the possibilities of re-imagining space as place would need to be addressed so that city inhabitants, as economic actors, could recognize the responsibilities for place, the correlations between urban and natural habitats and the destruction of biodiversity in the face of so-called, economic advancement. In considering acts of survival, such a necessity would not have a timeframe attached to it but would be apparent in what curator Charles Merewether described as the fault-lines of the present in which the past persists and the future is uncertain’ (2006: 045).
Marc and Mike Spits give evidence of how, in this rapidly urbanizing world of global uncertainties, the imagination of individual actors can spark a re-imagining process that brings together people, place, care for the environment and protection of species diversity, but not denying economic interests, through entrepreneurial acts with global potential. The Elephant Parade shows the value of bringing art and business together in a global cause, by partnering with leading commercial enterprises, to achieve the aim of raising significant funds in aid of Asian elephants and their protection in the wild. Sotheby’s Auction House and ABN AMRO Private Banking, the presenting sponsor of Elephant Parade Singapore, feature strongly as business partners working for the end-goal of biodiversity protection and enhancement through this project.11
Conclusion: Encountering interlinked narratives
In Designing Place, Lucy Lippard pondered, I wonder what will make it possible for artists to give places back to people who can no longer see them, and be given places in turn, by those who are still looking around’ (Lippard, cited in Byrne et al., 2010: 12). Might this be what the elephant artworks are performing – a giving back process, eliciting personal responses from those whose lives, particularly prior to Christmas, focus almost exclusively on consumer transactions? The busy Singapore streets may have the potential to arrest the attention, make people stop and stare, re-imagining as they encounter place in new ways. Can we claim that these cultural conduits do have a place is such fast market economies?
Foucault talked about the circuits of communication’ and play of signs’ defining the anchorages of power’ (1991: 217). The Elephant Parade reminds us that this is what it is all about. There is a communicating process of interlinked narratives at work here, with the play of signs’ rippling through the consumer life of the city in such a way that place is being re-imagined and re-invigorated.
Foucault had talked also about the great abstraction of exchange’ (1991: 271). That day in Singapore, in December 2011, while seeking to identify art’s presence in Orchard Road, with the world media featuring the eurozone economic crisis as a stark reminder that the potent forces of economic globalization are inescapable, the great abstraction of exchange’ was in action.
If those designed and decorated elephants could inspire just some of the people living in and visiting Singapore and other Elephant Parade locations, to see the immediacy of their presence as global inhabitants of urban environments, and to imagine what excessive rates of urbanization might mean for themselves and the planet, then perhaps something has been achieved beyond a passing aesthetic experience. If they can recognize the play of signs that activate the consumer terrain, and take the mind beyond the immediate and into the space of the Asian elephant and global responsibility, they may go from there to play some small part in activating the Rio Accord. Then the Elephant Parade might be one of the twenty-first century’s most significant, global, art events contributing to a re-imagining process that has every chance of leading to effective, global action.
Holiday to Singapore Photo Gallery