Walking over to the 4-H building this morning for the first-ever USO Sustainability Conference, I was captivated by what looked like a solar-powered aluminum-frame pirate ship--red sails flapping in the wind, solar panels outstretched to catch the early morning light--parked outside the center. Its relation to the proceedings was unclear--no explanatory signage--but it perched on the lawn as if it had just landed from some extraterrestrial expedition, a cross between the Kitty Hawk and a cyborg. At its heart, drawing power from the solar panels, was...an ice chest, stocked with popsicles.
Turned out to be the Trickster Project, brainchild of Ohio University's Duane McDiarmid, designed to turn up in various out-of-the-way hiking spots in the Southwestern deserts (Diablo Canyon, Antelope Island, the Yampa River), dispensing icy treats to weary travelers. We fell to talking about the place of art in the sustainability conversation, and the necessity of wit, whimsy and humor in enlivening visions of a green future ("It can't all be austerity and efficiency"). What art brings, Duane suggested, was the capacity for self-reflection and self-criticism embedded in an occasion for conversation, a way of gaining ironic perspective on the work of the angels.