Yearly Archives: 2011

oil and tree cycles: art and activism – join global cycle day 24 Sept

This post comes to you from An Arts and Ecology Notebook

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Image left: Bidon arme (Loaded Drum), 2004 Romuald Hazoume Right: Treebike – image from the International freecard alliance for World Environment day, 5 June 2009

An exhibition that I stumbled upon accidentally a few months ago has stayed with me. On a visit to the Irish Museum of Modern in April 2011 I came across African artist Romuald Hazoume’s very thought provoking and surprisingly enjoyable installations of ‘masks’, sculptures, documentary film and photography work.

Mon Général, 1992

"Mon Général", 1992 by Hazoume

Romuald Hazoumè, one of Africa’s most important visual artists, creates playful sculptures and masks made from discarded plastic canisters commonly found in his native Benin (a small country neighbouring Nigeria)  for transporting black-market petrol (known as kpayo) from Nigeria. As can be seen in his image (above left) these jerry cans are expanded over flames to increase their fuel-carry capacity, sometimes to excess resulting in fatal explosions. Hazoume’s work richly references mask making culture from his African heritage to commenting on his country’s predicament of being caught up in the day-to-day and often unacknowledged misery of the global fossil fuel industry.  His work is engaging on very many levels and to a wide audience; from children who love the use of his found objects to adults that can see the political concerns in his work, to others who see a continuation of identity expressed in local materials made into masks.  ‘Hazoumé has used the cans as a potent metaphor for all forms of slavery, past and present, drawing parallels with the vessels’ role as crucial but faceless units within commercial systems, dangerously worked to breaking point before being discarded (Tate Modern, 2007)

From across this side of the planet my own work attempts to touch some of these concerns too. My long term project the hollywood diaries to transform our conifer plantation to a permanent forest has real long term energy returns as we are very shortly to discontinue use of oil for our home heating (a common and increasingly expensive form of domestic heating in Ireland) and use our never-ending supply of forest thinnings. In fact, I was startled to learn recently from my forestry contacts, that our ongoing selective harvesting to keep the forest vibrant and encourage the native tree seedlings to flourish, will mean that we’ll have 70 tonnes of wood every three to four years from our small two acres!! Crikey!

The image on the above right, Treebike, is a pointer to this month’s global day of cycling, Moving Planet lead by Bill McKibben and his global 350.org organisation to invite us all to get on our bikes this Sept 24th, 2011. I’ve always been amazed at the huge response to these events and how often the arts help mobilise such activities.

Here’s the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ztEgLXSiek – as in the past you can goto 350.org and join in the fun but its also a serious campaign too

‘Circle September 24 on your calendar–that’s the day for what we’re calling Moving Planet: a day to move beyond fossil fuels…

On 24 September we’ll be figuring out the most meaningful ways to make the climate message move, literally. We’ll show that we can use our hands, our feet, and our hearts to spur real change. In many places, people will ride bicycles, one of the few tools used by both affluent and poor people around the world. Other places people will be marching, dancing, running, or kayaking, or skateboarding. Imagine the spectacle: thousands of people encircling national capitals, state houses, city halls.

But we won’t just be cycling or marching–we’ll also be delivering a strong set of demands that can have real political impact.”

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Note: some of you might be aware that I have returned to art college to undertake in-depth research on experimental film and ecology in the last year – if you want to follow along, my research site is www.ecoartfilm.com

I’ve recently created a small film sketch on how our small conifer plantation  is being transformed, comments welcome!!

http://vimeo.com/27704065

An Arts & Ecology Notebook, by Cathy Fitzgerald, whose work exists as ongoing research and is continually inspired to create short films, photographic documentation, and writings. While she interacts with foresters, scientists, and communities, she aims to create a sense of a personal possibility, responsibility and engagement in her local environment that also connects to global environmental concerns.
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Making a Splash #ShrimpBoatProjects

This post comes to you from Shrimp Boat Projects

The process of putting the Discovery back in the water began with a traditional christening including the smashing of a bottle of champagne over the bow of the boat.

We are happy to report that after nearly two months of work out of the water, our boat is now back in the waters of Dickinson Bayou…and floating. Prior to the splash, Katy Goodman (Zach’s wife) delivered a rousing christening to an anxious audience of five people, capped with the ritual smashing of a bottle of champagne over the bow of the boat. Following the christening, we once again placed our faith in the boatyard’s trackhoe and John Collins who deftly lifted the boat off its blocks and rolled it back into the water over a couple strategically placed rollers (repurposed telephone poles). As we continue to work nonstop to get our boat ready for action, we’re looking forward to the next big event, actually shrimping!

 

Shrimp Boat Projects is a creative research project that explores the regional culture of the Houston area. The primary site of the investigation is a working shrimp boat on Galveston Bay which serves as a catalyst for labor, discussion and artistic production. Shrimp Boat Projects is co-created by Eric Leshinsky and Zach Moser, artists-in-residence at the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.

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Mixed Blessings #ShrimpBoatProjects

This post comes to you from Shrimp Boat Projects

Although historically a rite of passage for commercial fishing boats only, the annual Blessing of the Fleet on Clear Lake channel now includes both work boats and pleasure boats alike.

“The Blessing of the Fleet is an annual event that is practiced in fishing communities world-wide. As a genre, these blessings share several common traits: one or more priests perform the actual blessing; fishermen gather in their newly outfitted boats to receive the blessing; and family members unite in making whatever preparations are dictated by local tradition.”

– Betsy Gordon from her essay “Decorating for the Shrimp Fleet Blessing: Chauvin, Louisiana” in the 1991 issue of Louisiana Folklife Miscellany

Over a year ago, as we planned Shrimp Boat Projects, we anticipated the launch of our boat to coincide with the start of the Texas bay shrimping season and the annual Blessing of the Fleet on Clear Lake channel, a traditional ceremony marking the beginning of the season on the east side of Galveston Bay. Well, the bay shrimping season is now about a month underway in Texas and unfortunately we are still getting out boat ready for prime-time. Fortunately, our disappointment has been tempered by a growing eagerness to start shrimping as soon as possible. The boat is definitely looking better and better each day, so we should be shifting gears soon.

The Blessing of the Fleet happened on May 1st and although we couldn’t participate in this consummate public spectacle, we could watch it among the many folks leaning on the railings at the Kemah Boardwalk. Oddly enough, and we can only admit this in hindsight, our inability to participate may have actually been a blessing in disguise. As casual bystanders to the event, we gained the  critical distance to consider how dramatically this event has changed in its history and whether its cultural value is even still relevant to the bay shrimping profession.

We considered the evolution of the event as it relates to the the towns of Kemah and Seabrook which flank the channel where the blessing happens. In many ways, the evolution of this event mirrors the evolution of this place, from working waterfront to leisure waterfront, and from a varied assemblage of waterfront businesses owned by multiple individuals, to a singular destination owned by a single corporation. The event is still organized by the City of Kemah, but the event is staged on the privately owned Kemah Boardwalk, a mammoth-sized theme park owned and managed by Landry’s Restaurants, Inc., a Houston-based company. Although this public-private partnership has its benefits  (the boardwalk makes for easy and accessible viewing of the event), it also insures that the Blessing of Fleet is competing with several other events happening in close proximity. This year, the actual blessing was drowned out by the sounds of a party band playing Top 40 tunes for another audience nearby. Other signs of the event’s evolution are a dramatic shift in the participation of the shrimp boats, the fleet around which the event was initially conceived. Today, the Fleet that gets blessed is a varied group of work boats and pleasure boats, implying that the blessing itself has less to do with risks and perils of commercial fishing and more to do with the everyday hazards of boating in general.

From our perspective, it’s impossible to not see the evolution of the event as also a reflection of the bay shrimping profession itself. The small number of bay shrimp boats participating in the event are now not only getting paid to participate (authenticity is apparently not cheap) but also representing a profession on Galveston Bay that has diminished is size dramatically over the history of the event. For better or worse, the parade of boats that signified this year’s Blessing of the Fleet was actually one of the most graphic signs of the demise of an industry, the shifting of cultures and economies in this region, and a reminder of the reciprocal relationship between place and culture.

In the end, we feel ok to have not participated in this year’s Blessing of the Fleet. While we could certainly use all of the blessing we can get, we’ll hold out for a Blessing of the Fleet that renews the original significance of the event as a response to the fleet of working shrimp boats on Galveston Bay. What would this event look like? It’s simple: culture and consequence. This future event would restore the Blessing’s original cultural value by giving form to a fleet of working shrimpers on Galveston Bay that are diverse and not a monolithic community. It would also reaffirm the consequence of the event by better acknowledging the real risks and sacrifices made by working shrimpers and other fishermen alike. Could this type of event be re-realized? We think it could, but to do so, it will probably need to forsake the Kemah Boardwalk and embrace one of the few remaining places on Galveston Bay that still maintain a connection to the bay shrimping profession.


 

Shrimp Boat Projects is a creative research project that explores the regional culture of the Houston area. The primary site of the investigation is a working shrimp boat on Galveston Bay which serves as a catalyst for labor, discussion and artistic production. Shrimp Boat Projects is co-created by Eric Leshinsky and Zach Moser, artists-in-residence at the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.

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All is Revealed: Shrimp Boat Anatomy, Part 1

This post comes to you from Shrimp Boat Projects

“… where leakage is, there also, of necessity, is bilgewater; and where bilgewater is, only the dead can enjoy life; This is on account of the smell.”  – in About All Kinds of Ships by Mark Twain

“The compartment at the bottom of the hull of a ship or boat where water collects and must be pumped out of the vessel.”  – definition of the bilge, as explained by Wikipedia.com

The ‘bilge’ is certainly not specific to shrimp boats, but it has become the most consuming aspect of our own boat restoration process (and therefore blog-worthy). In the context of our experience, traditional definitions do not shed proper light on this piece of the boat anatomy. More than a mere element of marine architecture, it is the forboding space that you enter when you descend below the deck; it is the tangle of engine parts and wires waiting to be reconnected to the rebuilt engine;  it is the configuration of metal plates, bars and braces that forms the structure of the hull and makes human movement through or around the space awkward and painful; it is the body cavity of the boat’s organs, it’s where the mechanical systems that drive the boat reside. And we have now been crawling around the bilge of our boat for nearly 2 months in an effort clean it, fix it, paint it and generally prepare it for the return of our engine (which, when in place, will make it far more difficult to crawl around the bilge). We’re still not finished sorting out our bilge, and our engine is still not in the boat, but we’ve come a long way with this space, and the time is right to invite you into the depths of our boat.

What have we learned? For one thing, cleaning a bilge that has over twenty-five years of spent oil caked onto its structure is an extraordinarily messy, seemingly never-ending job (historically, some boat owners would dump the spent oil into their bilge to prevent their metal boat from rusting). But it’s also a very gratifying job when a glimmer of grease-free surface area emerges. The goal of cleaning our bilge is simple enough: remove the grease from all surfaces of the bilge so that a new coat of paint can stick. Initially, it seemed that an appropriate analogy for the job was just the washing of household dishes. However, the sheer magnitude of the oil and grease quickly exhausted this comparison. Do we powerwash, then scrub, then suck out the water with a  shop vac? or do we scrape and brush with a little water and wipe the surfaces with absorbant oil cloth, and then add more water?? And what is the best product to cut through this grease??? These are a few of the exciting and important questions we had to ask.

Ultimately, our arsenal became clear, if not the exact order of operations: wipe all visible clusters of grease with oil cloth, apply “Purple Stuff”  aggressively from a garden pump sprayer (“Purple Stuff” is the popular term for industrial de-greaser, which is always purple in color… exact reason is still unknown); scrub with brushes of various bristles– natural, synthetic, wire– depending on level of grime; apply water strategically with garden hose spray-gun, suck out the watery muck with a shop-vac; empty muck from shop-vac into 5-gallon buckets; when the grease is especially thick, use a paint-scraper to scoop up large quantities (see photo of Zach above).

As typically happens in dynamic situations, other findings began to shift the course of what began as a routine cleaning exercise. The drama began to unfold when after weeks of cleaning, more grease continued to appear, and we discovered large deposits of grease trapped under a large fixed oil pan that sits under the engine seat. It seemed to be a faulty design of the bilge, so we decided to cut out this pan and liberate the greasy mess underneath. Our decision not only revealed a thickness of grease of absurd proportions, but below this a virtual lunar landscape of corroded metal forming the bottom of our boat. The grease alone should have prevented the corrosion, were it not filled with 25 years worth of metallic debris– bolts, washers, nuts, even a screw driver– all contributing to galvanic corrosion. Corroded metal would be a problem anywhere on the boat, but to find thin, pock-marked metal in the deepest part of the hull where water would inevitibly collect, was a serious problem. And predictably, the more we scraped at the floor of the hull, the more nickle-size holes started to show (see the previous post for how we dealt with the little geisers that sprung from these holes).

Flash-forward a few days and our boat is now fully hauled-out of the water and our bilge is ready to be surgically fixed. The big dilemma at this point: do we patch a dozen or so small holes individually or is the corrosion expansive enough to warrant replacing large sections of the hull? We opted for the latter, what seemed to us to be the more sustainable option. More work for sure, but also more peace of mind. This decision set in motion the events leading up to now: the surgical removal of two sections of the hull along the keel, each about 18″ x 6′ (no easy feat given the awkwardly tight dimensions of the bilge); the smoothing of the edges around the two large openings now in the hull, to ease the fitting of new steel plate over these openings; the enlisting of former shrimp boat captain Gary Jones to help weld the new steel plate onto the hull, both from inside the bilge and under the boat; and the replacing of the many steel ribs over the new plate that will complete the internal structure of the bilge. And amazingly, this trajectory began with the simple desire to clean the bilge so we could paint it.

We’re still not there yet. But we now have an almost water-tight bilge. And we’ve gotten to know another former shrimper in Gary Jones (he offered to lend us a gps chip that shows much of the sunken debris we’ll probably be snagging our net on when we finally go shrimping). And that job of painting the bilge is now coming up fast on the horizon. The theory goes that with a clean, well-painted bilge, any new leaks from anywhere and of anything (oil, water, diesel, etc…), will be as visible as possible and ease the troubleshooting. We’ll let you know how that goes.

 

Shrimp Boat Projects is a creative research project that explores the regional culture of the Houston area. The primary site of the investigation is a working shrimp boat on Galveston Bay which serves as a catalyst for labor, discussion and artistic production. Shrimp Boat Projects is co-created by Eric Leshinsky and Zach Moser, artists-in-residence at the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.

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Hauled Out

This post comes to you from Shrimp Boat Projects

We are happy to report that our boat was successfully hauled out of Dickinson Bayou, is sitting comfortably on blocks and appears poised for a new paint job. After working on the boat in the water for a month and half, we knew the time was close to pull it out of the water when a few small holes opened up in the hull earlier in the week (picture small geisers!). We plugged those temporarily and will soon patch them with new steel plate as part of the full bottom job on the boat.

But the haul-out was also being timed with the highest water levels on Dickinson Bayou, so as to help push the boat out of the water. We’re not at a typical boatyard, so we knew the haul-out would not be the typical procedure using a rolling boat lift. Instead, the boat was pulled out with a backhoe and a bulldozer (and the guidance of John, Anita and Gary) when the tide was in and the winds were blowing up the bayou from the southeast. If this doesn’t make any sense, maybe this video will help:

We’re excited to see all of our boat!

 

Shrimp Boat Projects is a creative research project that explores the regional culture of the Houston area. The primary site of the investigation is a working shrimp boat on Galveston Bay which serves as a catalyst for labor, discussion and artistic production. Shrimp Boat Projects is co-created by Eric Leshinsky and Zach Moser, artists-in-residence at the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.

Go to Shrimp Boat Projects

Top 5 reasons why tar sands cover-up “ethicaloil.org” is a seriously dirty trick | Platform

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Top 5 reasons why tar sands cover-up “ethicaloil.org” is a seriously dirty trick | Platform.

Thanks to Suzaan Boettger for drawing attention to PLATFORM’s rebuttal of the “ethicaloil.com” website.  “ethicaloil.com” is a web site that purports to demonstrate that tar sands are an ethical form of oil extraction as distinct from “conflict oil”.  We know that in the Middle East and Africa oil is associated with conflict ranging from invasion to insurgency and terrorism as well as corruption.  Supposedly oil from tar sands is better and this site, crafted to look like an activist project, is trying to spin, spin, spin.

 

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
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