WE ARE always right at the edge, says Noam Chomsky, the American writer who at the age of 79 is as sharp as ever in his merciless analysis of world politics.
He alleges that “Modern culture, who cares?” is the attitude of Western leaders, as in Iraq they bombed a culture that went back to the Sumerians, and in Beirut targeted centres of learning. “It is a barbaric, savage culture that we live in,” Mr Chomsky says.
This controversial discourse is filmed as an intense 40 minutes of straight talking. London artist Cornelia Parker had approached Mr Chomsky for an interview on what she sees as an impending global environmental disaster, after reading his work on the “disinformation” of Bush’s America and the consumer society. Much to her surprise he agreed and offered a wider ranging canvas than she had bargained for.
Ms Parker, who has previously used “forensic inquiry” to transform substances — she has used dust from St Paul’s Cathedral to make earplugs and stretched out a teaspoon to measure Niagara Falls — admits that on one level she treated Mr Chomsky as a “found object”.
But she was unexpectedly moved by her encounter with the great professor and found herself drawn still deeper into the environmental quandary.
Ms Parker is no journalist, but nevertheless posed questions that embarked Chomsky on a radical and refreshing review of what the planet, its politicians and its systems are up to.
We can only guess at what those questions actually were, for she has excised them from the film and admits that she cannot even remember some of them. Would that many of today’s ‘celebrity’ interviewers were so self-effacing.
The film, Chomskian Abstract 2007, is on show at the Whitechapel Gallery, along with drawings by Ms Parker in black ink made from snake venom and in white ink containing antidote, an example of her questioning approach to socio-economic issues.
All this fits well with the campaigns of Friends of the Earth, which for the first time is collaborating with the contemporary gallery in an exhibition.
The pressure group has based much of its work on “the empowering nature of enquiry”, and visitors are being invited to pose the most challenging eco-questions they can as they enter the building, which is undergoing a £10m ($19.5m) expansion.
The questions will form part of the agenda for a one-day event at the gallery on March 29 when artists, philosophers and activists will examine how the visual arts can respond to environmental issues. Ms Parker’s open-minded approach and the film she made as an activist tool, are a commendable contribution to this debate.
As to Mr Chomsky, he witheringly describes the US government as a “godfather [that] does not accept disobedience” from nations, which have to be punished, and scorns an establishment riven with contradictions, with energy company supporters yearning to get producing in boycotted nations Iran and Cuba.
But Mr Chomsky’s solutions appear tentative: he warns that any technological changes will have a negative side too. He says that societies can become more civilised without working 20 hours a day to accumulate as many commodities as people can stuff into their houses.
Ms Parker was impressed. She says: “He had a lot more answers than most politicians, because he is saying things that are a lot more accurate than most politicians.”
Cornelia Parker is at Whitechapel Gallery, London E1, until March 30, 2008 with an environment forum on March 29.