Yearly Archives: 2014

Crossing a Line

This post comes from Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog.

Alanna Mitchell is not an actor. It’s one of the first things she tells you in Sea Sick, The Play, which she recently performed at The Theatre Centre in Toronto. In fact, Alanna Mitchell is a science journalist and author. She has written for the New York Times and The Globe & Mail, has done TV and radio documentaries for CBC, and has published two books about the dire state of our oceans: Invisible Plastic: What Happens When Your Garbage Ends Up in the Ocean and Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis. Then what is Alanna Mitchell doing on a theatre stage, presenting a one-woman show?

A compelling speaker – watch her Ted talk here – Mitchell grew up in the Canadian prairies listening to her father’s stories about Darwin. Then some years ago, after spending much of her career trying to understand what was happening on land, she embarked on a journey to discover what was going on in the ocean. The real story, as she puts it. What she uncovered became her book Sea Sick, a sobering look at the chemical changes taking place in the liquid part of our world. Sea Sick was awarded the Grantham Prize for Excellence in Reporting on the Environment in 2010. Now four years later, Mitchell has brought it to the stage.

Documentary theatre is not a new form. Companies like Nature Theatre of OklahomaTectonic Theater Project and The Civilians often create pieces based on interviews that are presented verbatim. Along the same line, artists like Anna Deavere Smith (Fires In the Mirror), Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen (The Exonerated), and Nilaja Sun (No Child) have created iconic plays based on documentary material. But what these plays have in common is that they all sprung from theatre artists’ imagination and were performed by trained actors. They are very much of the theatre. Sea Sick, The Play, however, sprung from a journalist’s passion for the environment and is performed by an untrained actor. At its core, it lives in a different place; it just happened to have made its way to the stage.

Does it matter? Yes. Not because of the quality of the script (it’s great). Not because of the quality of Mitchell’s performance (she’s great). But because a line  was crossed. We are very much a society of “experts” and while there are advantages to that, there are also drawbacks; we tend to live isolated in our knowledge silos and have a fragmented view of the world. The health system is a good example of that phenomenon. You can find a specialist for the most obscure disease, but finding a doctor who can look at the big picture and see you as a complete system is another story. The same is true for universities; they are incredible repositories of knowledge but the people who work in those universities often have no idea of what is happening next door. And although the arts have new hybrid categories such as multidisciplinary arts and interdisciplinary arts that encourage cross-over, for the most part, artists stick to their areas of expertise.

Yet as a cultural norm, knowledge fragmentation is no longer viable. The scope and complexity of climate change, and the interconnectedness of all its different manifestations, call for a coming together of skills, brains and hearts. We have to learn to work together – across disciplines, across geographic boundaries, across ideologies. And in order to do that, we have to be willing to listen and meet people where they are. Even if that means crossing a line we normally wouldn’t cross.

I saw a workshop of Sea Sick this past February as part of York University’s Staging Sustainability conference. For about an hour, I listened to a journalist tell me stories about red tides, spawning corals, blobs, Australian biologists, and submersible dives. I reflected, I laughed, I cried. And in the process I learned about ocean warming and acidification, the consequences of fertilizer runoff, climate change science, and mass extinctions. I learned about the power of forgiveness, about the fact that the pieces of the future are still in motion, and about having the courage, as Mitchell did, to cross a line. Here’s a woman who, even before she wrote the book, uncovered something so big that it totally overwhelmed her: “I feel like I’m just this little kid from the prairies, who dreamed too big, hit a story she couldn’t handle. I feel like I’m never gonna be worthy to tell this story.”

Yet not only did Mitchell write the book but she climbed on a stage to tell us the story. She showed, on a small scale, that it’s possible to transcend one’s own fears and self-imposed limitations. She showed that you can stretch yourself to meet people where they are – in this case, in a theatre – and still be who you are. “Science gives us knowledge, but not necessarily meaning. Art gives us meaning. And it’s meaning that we respond to. It’s meaning that I care about.” Sea Sick is the story of an ocean in crisis, but it’s also the story of a woman who bravely stepped out of her knowledge silo to tell us about it.

Filed under: Theatre

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog by playwright Chantal Bilodeau that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Kinetic Sculpture

This post comes from Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog

Kinetic sculptor Anthony Howe probably doesn’t consider himself a “climate change artist”. But as of today, I have officially added his name to the growing list of international artists showcased on this blog whose work inspires others to take action on climate change. Or, perhaps more importantly, whose work inspires others to have hope for the future.

Howe’s psychedelic wind sculptures do exactly that, at least for me.

Disclaimer: I am hopelessly passionate about the wind. As the daughter of an architect who collected wind chimes, I make a living photographing wind energy construction projects. Must have been a bird or a kite in my previous life.

It was this video of Howe’s magnificent 7,100 pound (3,200 kg) stainless steel sculpture called Octo 3 – built to sustain winds of 90+ mph – that first caught my eye.

You could say I’ve been seduced, hypnotized: I find myself returning almost daily for my fix, witnessing again and again that fluid, fleeting moment when the tips of the 16 blades almost kiss in the center before the wind gently pulls them apart, only to repeat itself… forever.

Apparently I am not the only one who feels this way. Among the 10,000+ YouTube viewers, someone left this remark: “I swear it is so mesmerizing I could sit and watch it all day.”

To create such delicate, rhythmic, harmonious sculptures, Howe must also be an expert mechanic, welder, sheet metal worker, engineer, and electrician (to repair his many electric tools). Just take a look at his studio on Orkas Island near the Canadian-American border in northwest Washington State: my father would have been so happy there.

I too am surrounded by mechanics, welders, sheet metal workers, engineers and electricians on the many construction sites where I photograph wind turbines. I search for beauty in these mechanical and industrial landscapes, inspired by the photographer Margaret Bourke-White. My goal is to try to create a sense of awe about wind energy, to inspire others with the beauty and majesty of wind energy in order that some may embrace renewables as one of the many solutions to climate change.

I am quite sure that Howe’s artistic goals are different than mine. However, even though his kinetic sculptures do not generate electricity like wind turbines, they all take advantage of the wind’s mechanical energy. So from my perspective, you will allow me the luxury of imagining a day when one of Howe’s kinetic sculptures will inspire a young engineer to design a different kind of wind turbine – like this wind tree – that everyone will want to install right in their own front yards. Should that day ever come, well then, we would be one step closer to reducing our addiction to fossil fuels.

That’s why I’d like to call Anthony Howe a “climate change artist”. Perhaps it’s time to enlarge the definition of “climate change artist”, to focus less on objectives of the artist, and more on the impact of his or her art on global audiences in terms of inspiring creative solutions to climate change.

To finish, I share with you a wonderful quote by the poet-economist Joseph Robertson: “The amount of energy trapped in hydrocarbon molecules deep underground is miniscule in comparison to the amount of solar energy that lands on the surface of the Earth and the resulting kinetic energy that moves around our planet all day, every day.”

Thanks Mr. Howe, for your wonderful kinetic gift.

For renewable energy construction photography, visit Joan’s website

Follow Joan on Twitter @CleanNergyPhoto 

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog by playwright Chantal Bilodeau that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Join Julie’s Bicycle for Sustaining Creativity

The Sustaining Creativity Lab LIVESTREAM will launch at 10.20am on Wednesday 28th May – stay tuned and follow the event online!

http://www.juliesbicycle.com/Sustaining-Creativity

http://www.juliesbicycle.com/Sustaining-Creativity

View agenda for Sustaining Creativity Lab

We want to understand how the creative community is thinking about the coming decade and what it perceives as the critical drivers for change. We will be making the case that environmental sustainability is a big one, and, with your help, mapping a five to ten year plan.

‘Sustaining Creativity’ is a series of conversations and events exploring environmental challenges, drivers of change, and the opportunities that transformative solutions offer to the creative community.

‘Sustainability’ generally refers to an approach that balances social, financial and environmental considerations. Julie’s Bicycle’s focus is environmental sustainability. While we recognise and seek to reinforce the synergies between social, financial and environmental wellbeing, economic and social development are ultimately contingent on a healthy planet.

Sustaining Creativity will take a holistic approach, intent on shoring up strength and wellbeing over the coming decade. It will consider the likely systemic changes already influencing mainstream thinking and put sustainability at the forefront of creative and cultural innovation.

Sustaining Creativity will:

Discover what the business critical issues are perceived to be from a wide range of representatives from the creative community.

Extend
 ambition about what is possible using real examples.

Identify some key shifts needed to develop a creative infrastructure commensurate with global challenges.

Outline what might be done over the next five to ten years to create optimal conditions for change.

Foster confident decision-making that looks beyond political and funding cycles

Produce a series of events and publications

We are working with partners including the Technology Strategy Board, Sustain RCA, RSA, Volans, Pervasive Media Studios, John Elkington, John Kieffer, John Holden, and Haworth Tompkins Architects exploring the following themes:

Value
Alternative approaches to how we measure and explore value culturally, socially and financially

Digital
Thinking about how digital connectivity and data can influence our approach to environmental change

Circularity
Developing design methodologies and partnerships to increase circular use of resources and materials within the sector and more widely

Governance

How do these key issues affect Boards and Senior Leaders in the arts?

Watch videos from the Sustaining Creativity launch event in November 2013 byclicking here.

We will be holding a conference on Wednesday 28th May 2014 to present some of the early findings from our survey, and to engage the sector in a further debate about what the next steps should be. For more information about the day, click here.

Read the Where Science Meets Art publication here

http://www.juliesbicycle.com/Sustaining-Creativity

FOODshed: Art and Agriculture in Action

This post comes to you from EcoArtSpace

An exhibition of upstate/downstate NY artists who work with food and agriculture
Curated by Amy Lipton, ecoartspace
Smack Mellon
92 Plymouth Street at Washington
Brooklyn, NY 11201
June 7 to July 27, 2014
Opening reception: Saturday, June 7, 5pm-8pm

Artists: Joan Bankemper/Black Meadow Barn;  Joy Garnett; Habitat For Artists Collective (Simon Draper, Michael Asbill, Carmen Acuna, Dan McGinley, Brandon Cruz, Jessica Poser, Lisa Breznak and Sean Corcoran); Natalie Jeremijenko; Kristyna and Marek Milde; Peter Nadin/Old Field Farm; Leila Nadir + Cary Peppermint (EcoArtTech); Andrea Reynosa, Brooklyn Grange and Alloy; Bonnie Ora Sherk; Jenna SpevackSusan Leibovitz Steinman/Mona Talbott; Tattfoo Tan; Elaine Tin Nyo; Linda Weintraub

FOODshed: Agriculture and Art in Action focuses on sustainable agriculture, entrepreneurship, and artists’ use of food as subject matter or medium. The exhibition and programming include 14 exhibiting artists in the gallery at Smack Mellon, 3 public projects in the nearby DUMBO community, as well as public workshops in collaboration with the artists in the exhibition. The gallery exhibition features artworks and inventive projects around agriculture and food that address farming as both activism and art form. Many of the artists in this exhibition are known for bringing community-specific issues into their work and are exploring the real-world implications of small-scale farming and raising community awareness about our food systems. Their varied practices include growing food, cooking food, raising animals for food, and engaging communities around local food production as well as instigating new artist-based economies.

The artists working in New York State today in the realm of food and farming coincide with a larger cultural awakening regarding the ills of our present system, such as the distances food travels to supermarket shelves and the effects of shipping and transport on climate change. Brooklyn has become the epicenter for food activism and culinary explorations. Artists have joined food activists in focusing on environmental problems such as lack of biodiversity in mono-cultural farms, the loss of top soil and nutrient-poor soil, the abuse and poor conditions of feedlot and factory raised animals, the conversion of farmland into housing, and the waste of un-harvested crops. Artists are now farming not only to raise their own food in order to become self-reliant and to eat more healthily, but also to offer alternative and sustainable approaches within their local communities.

For the artists in FOODshed, the acts of cultivation, growing, and by implication educating have evolved to a deeper level of activism where the boundaries of real world and art completely disappear. Their projects present new paradigms regarding the growing, production, distribution and consumption of food. The artists in this exhibition advocate for an organic, regional and local approach, which they are manifesting in their own lives.

Patricia Watts, founder and curator of ecoartspace will moderate FOODprint, a panel discussion on food and climate to investigate the current national debate about our food systems and the intersection of farming, culture and climate as it relates to the Upstate/NYC focus of the FOODshed exhibition. Panelists: Jennifer Grossman, Famer/NRDC Food Systems Advocate; Ben Flanner, Farmer, Brooklyn Grange; Josh Morgenthau, Farmer and Entrepreneur Good Eggs; Linda Weintraub, Artist/Writer; Tattfoo Tan, Artist; John Gorzynski, Farmer, Gorzynski Ornery Farm.

FOODshed will offer workshops at Smack Mellon in collaboration with the artists in the exhibition and With Food in Mind, a nomadic organization operating at the intersection of food, visual culture, and social change that develops drop-in workshops, afterschool classes, and other educational programs that dynamically combine art and food. Check the Smack Mellon website for further information on workshops here. 

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ecoartapace ecoartspace is a nonprofit platform providing opportunities for artists who address the human/nature relationship in the visual arts. Since 1999 they have collaborated with over 150 organizations to produce more than 40 exhibitions, 100 programs, working with 400 + artists in 15 states nationally and 8 countries internationally. Currently they are developing a media archive of video interviews with artists and collection of exhibitions ephemera for research purposes. Patricia Watts is founder and west coast curator. Amy Lipton is east coast curator and director of the ecoartspace NYC project room.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

Go to EcoArtSpace

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