Yearly Archives: 2017

How Theatre Renewed My Perspective on Climate Change

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on September 21, 2016.

Last February, I had the wonderful opportunity to perform in the new play Forward by Chantal Bilodeau at Kansas State University. Going into auditions for the production, I knew they play’s message was, at its core, about climate change. I’ll go ahead and admit now that, at the time, I was more excited for the opportunity to be doing a new play than I was to be performing a show about climate change as all my life, save for one special day in the eighth grade, I’d never really had my own, solid opinion on that subject. However, working on this play, the second in the Arctic Cycle series, completely renewed my perspective.

I was raised in a very small, very rural Kansas town of about 3,000 people. This town, as you might expect, is predominately conservative. Both of my parents held conservative values, and made sure to push them on me. Don’t get me wrong, I do truly love my family and my little hometown and to a certain extent, I respect all people of all political stances. But looking back, I definitely think there were issues with some of the things I was taught.

Up until the eighth grade, I had never really heard the words “climate change” or “global warming” or any other variation of these. I might have seen them in passing on the internet, but if I did, I had never paid any attention. Then one day, in my Physical Sciences class, my teacher attempted to enlighten us on the issue of climate change using, of course, pure scientific research. I vividly remember being shocked at how we were destroying our environment, and discussing the topic with my friends at lunch, talking about the issue and how we could change our own behaviors.

That mindset unfortunately did not last very long. I went home that evening and told my parents what I’d learned in school that day, my naïve fourteen-year-old-self unaware of the—what I consider to be unwarranted—controversy around the subject. My father became upset that I was learning something that he didn’t agree with due to his political stance. I’m sure you can imagine how confused I was—I had just been shown pure evidence that global warming was a real issue and here my father was getting upset as I was discussing it, telling me that it was a hoax and not to worry about it.

As a teenager, my mind was malleable. So, just as quickly as I had learned about the issue, I forgot about it. I think something similar happened with my friends. Either that or they became bored with the subject overnight and the next day none of us discussed it anymore. Later on, my father mentioned going down to the school to talk with my teacher. My teacher never mentioned it, nor ever talked about climate change again.

Sterling Oliver as a father saying his goodbyes to his child before leaving to work on an oil rig. Forward, Kansas State University Theatre, 2016.
Sterling Oliver as a father saying his goodbyes to his child before leaving to work on an oil rig. Forward, Kansas State University Theatre, 2016.


This was the extent of my knowledge of global warming for some time. Around my junior and senior years of high school, I became more and more politically independent from my family and community, and learned some more about climate change, but I never again had as solid or passionate a stance as I did in that one day in school. There was never another reason for me to think about it…until I went to Kansas State University and got cast in Forward. Almost immediately, as I began to read the script and fall in love with the story and subject material, that spark I had found in my science class was reignited. I completely immersed myself in research on the history of global warming and on our current state of affairs as a country and as a planet.

Now, thanks to Chantal and Forward, my lifestyle has changed and I’m pushing others to change, too. I haven’t had the opportunity to do a whole lot of work in the theatre since Forward closed, but I know that many times throughout my career and the rest of my time at Kansas State, I will make it a point to pass along messages and advocate for change in the way we go about our lives. If there’s one thing I want people to take away from this story, it’s to never silence a person’s desire to discuss topics that are new to them, and never close your mind to new subjects and ideas—it just might save the world.

Sterling Oliver (left) and Jacob Edelman-Dolan (right) as hikers, looking across the quickly changing landscape. Forward, Kansas State University Theatre, 2016.
Sterling Oliver (left) and Jacob Edelman-Dolan (right) as hikers, looking across the quickly changing landscape. Forward, Kansas State University Theatre, 2016.


Another is to not be afraid to push boundaries with your work, especially in a field like the theatre. Because of Chantal my attitude has changed and I know others’ attitude has changed as well, including that of my parents, whom I am happy to say are now changing their lifestyle and talking to others to help make an impact on our planet. While I was home over the summer, we made many attempts to cut down on our usage of non-renewable energy and recycle more. Any electronics we were throwing out, we remembered to take to a nearby recycling facility. Every Saturday morning, our hometown has a recycling drive where you can drop off recyclables so we tried to go every week and encourage others in the community to go as well. I’m hoping the small things we’re doing as a family will impact others in our community and create a snowball effect where green living becomes the norm. (Now, if only I could do something about their supporting a certain Republican presidential nominee… anybody know of any plays to help me with that?)

I want to leave you with a quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson that I take solace in whenever I have to discuss the subject of climate change with somebody who doesn’t believe that it is real, or more specifically, when they try to push that mindset on to me: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” Now, of course, this quote isn’t really inspirational or ground-breaking, but it’s humorous and impactful, and to me, that’s the best kind of message.

______________________________

Sterling Oliver is a sophomore at Kansas State University studying Theatre and Music. He plans on using his degrees to create works to spread the messages closest to his heart around to others and hopefully make an impact on audiences worldwide. For now, he’s doing what he can to make changes in the lives of those closest to him.



About Artists and Climate Change:

Artists and Climate Change is a blog 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 the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Care as Culture: Artists, Activists and Scientists Build Coalitions to Resist Climate Change

This post comes to you from EcoArtSpace

On February 12, I participated as a panelist/respondent on “Care as Culture: Artists, Activists and Scientists Build Coalitions to Resist Climate Change, A Convening Around the Peace Table”. This event was held at the Queens Museum in conjunction with the exhibition Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Maintenance Art and took place at the large circular “Peace Table”, a centerpiece of her large retrospective exhibition. Our afternoon of discussion brought together a group of artists, activists, and scientists. One goal of the roundtable was to brainstorm methods for coalition building across these disciplines, to effectively multiply the power to confront an environmental, political, and spiritual crisis in our increasingly antagonistic time. Questions posed were;  “How can we create a broad cultural movement to combat the policies of a new administration intent on dismantling many of the safeguards that reduce the effects of climate change”? “How can successful coalitions be introduced, and the urgent ways artists can begin the process of coalition building” and “what prevents us from working together and how can we advocate for change”?

The presenters included Newton Harrison, The Natural History Museum, Natalie Jeremijenko, (absent) and Mary Mattingly. Respondents included Carol Becker, Francesco Fiondella, Allan Frei, Hope Ginsburg, Alicia Grullon, Klaus H. Jacob, Amy Lipton, Lisa Marshall, Jennifer McGregor, Aviva Rahmani, Jason Smerdon, and Marina Zurkow. Newton Harrison presented on the concepts, outcomes, and collaborations that were part of “A Vision for the Green Heart of Holland” 1995. The Harrison Studio consists of Helen Mayer Harrison (b.1929) and Newton Harrison (b.1932) who are among the earliest and the best known ecological artists. Working with biologists, ecologists, architects, urban planners, and other artists, the Harrison Studio initiates collaborative dialogues to uncover ideas and solutions that support biodiversity and community development.

Speaking on behalf of the collective The Natural History Museum was co-founder Beka Economopoulos. In her presentation “Tactics for the Trumpocene” she addressed the museum’s latest work to build coalitions between scientists, Indigenous communities and museum professionals. The Natural History Museum’s mission is to affirm the truth of science. The museum is a project of Not An Alternative, a collective of artists, scientists, historians, theorists, and activists. Launched in 2014, The Natural History Museum is a mobile and pop-up museum that offers exhibitions, expeditions, educational workshops, and public programming. Unlike traditional natural history museums, it makes a point to include and highlight the socio-political forces that shape nature.

Artist Mary Mattingly presented “Swale”, an experiential public space and artwork on New York’s waterways that provides access to free food through perennial urban agriculture along with coalition members Lindsay Campbell, Dariella Rodriguez, Bram Gunther (Co-Director of the NYC Urban Field Station), and docents from the Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice: Brandon Kane and Anthony Lespier. Mattingly is an artist who takes societal consumption and ecological crisis as points of inquiry. Working with community members ranging from scientists to engineers, students, and neighbors, she co-creates sculptural ecosystems in urban spaces. Mattingly is engaged in questions about how art can influence policy and strengthen the commons.

 

Panelist/Respondents included Carol Becker, Professor of the Arts and Dean of Faculty at Columbia University School of the Arts; Francesco Fiondella from the International Research institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University’s Earth Institute; Allan Frei, climatologist and Deputy Director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities; Hope Ginsburg, artist; Alicia Grullon, artist and founder of Percent for Green, Bronx, NY; Klaus H. Jacob, geophysicist and Professor of Environmental Science at Barnard College; Amy Lipton, Director/Curator at ecoartspace; Lisa Marshall, community organizer for Mothers Out Front, NY; Jennifer McGregor, Director of Arts and Senior Curator at Wave Hill, Bronx, NY; Aviva Rahmani, artist and visiting professor at Stony Brook University, NY; Jason Smerdon, Associate Research Professor at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and Marina Zurkow, media artist and faculty member at ITP/Tisch School of the Arts.

The convening took place over the course of 3 plus hours and gave time after the presenters for respondents to speak, address the posed questions and add to those questions. It was a day where dire concerns for the future were expressed, while simultaneously the uplifting wit, energy, knowledge and spirit of the participants proved to be an affirmation of like-mindedness and shared ideas towards coalition building, which had been expressed as a goal of the gathering. Having participated on many such panels, my hope is for continued dialogue. The group resolved to stay in communication beyond the event.

Amy Lipton


About EcoArtSpace:

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

Painting the Mysteries of Science

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Irish painter Siobhan McDonald often collaborates closely with scientists in the creation of her work. Her sources of inspiration over the last few years have included early seismographs made by Irish Jesuits in the 1920s, the role of atmospheric oxygen in plant evolution over the past 400 million years, acoustic signals coming from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, and a set of 350-million-year-old Irish coral fossils. These collaborations have also led to the use of unusual materials in her work, such as crushed bones, prehistoric charcoal, and iron gall ink.

‘Tycho Star’
Siobhan McDonald in front of ‘Tycho Star,’ 168 cm x 88cm, photograph on paper. The map displays 2.5 million brightest stars in the sky. All-sky star map. (ESA 1997)

What are some of your influences?

I always wonder what is at the edge of the universe. I think about creation and our place within the living ecosystem of our planet. It might seem an enormous subject to tackle with art, but in my projects I like to consider disciplines like physics from an artistic point of view, and to think about the larger context in which the Earth exists. Working with the Herbarium at the National Botanic Gardens and their incredible collection of seeds that hold the answer to most of the mysteries of creation is a real privilege – they are a powerful symbol of life. The artists that I’m most lately drawn to include Giuseppe Penone, Wolfgang Tillmans, Olafur Eliasson, and the supreme painter Peter Doig.

How do you merge the poetic and the scientific in your work?

It’s not something I set out to do. A case in point is ‘A change in the Signal,’ one of the works in my current exhibition. Last year I found an old drawer in the Physics Department where my studio was located. Inside, tiny crystals had begun to form – traces of a myriad of chance chemical reactions that had taken place since the 1950s. Over subsequent months, I built up layer upon layer of paint on the rough old surface of the wood – in places, just light washes of color; in others, thick, textured smears applied, scraped back, and re-applied. The original crystals shimmer just beneath the surface of this fluid landscape. I was reading about Henri Becquerel’s chance discovery of radioactivity in 1896 and it had an important influence on this work in particular. Painting as a form of alchemy, as a process that transforms our understanding, is what I do.

'Solar Skin' (2016) combines seismograph markings on smoked paper overlaid by a very fine skein of woven basalt, with, on top of this, a calfskin within which can be traced the pores of the animal, open to the world around it.
‘Solar Skin’ (2016) combines seismograph markings on smoked paper overlaid by a very fine skein of woven basalt, with, on top of this, a calfskin within which can be traced the pores of the animal, open to the world around it.

What do you see as one of your biggest successes, either artistic (a piece you’re particularly proud of) or in terms of impact (reactions to your work)?

My current show Crystalline – I’ve been working on this for some years now, so it’s very exciting to see the work emerge in a solo show, which opened at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris last month and runs until March 12th. It’s extraordinary that the story of the 1845 Franklin Expedition only hit the headlines last year, because I’m including a set of 190-year-old seeds that came from the previous Franklin expedition in 1825. They join my series of paintings that draw on the deeply embedded natural world which holds all the secrets of our existence. Other works are ranged around objects using space technology alongside an especially composed sound piece by Irene Buckley with actual sounds I recorded in the Arctic Circle.  I want the visitors to the exhibition to delve into what comes from our natural world and its history, in this collaboration with European Space Agency and the Millennium Seed Bank.

What is the single most important thing artists can do to address climate change?

Artists have a role to play in alerting people to certain situations in a way that scientists cannot. In following a process of enquiry, many other enquiries emerge – my exhibition in Paris is certainly a point of resolution of some of these, but many other stories have opened up, and the interconnectedness of the parts has been astonishing. I am realizing the power of expression that visual art can bring in unleashing the potential infinity encapsulated in a given story.

What gives you hope?

As Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda wrote: “Buddhism teaches that the same power which moves the universe exists within our lives. Each individual has immense potential, and a great change in the inner dimension of one individual’s life has the power to touch the lives of others and transform society. When we change our inner determination, everything begins to move in a new direction.”

'Crystalline' is a series of artworks relating to the dying glaciers. This installation brings the elements of contemporary engineering together with prehistory in the use of carbon and charred bone. The artwork is created to mark the launch of the Solar Orbiter into Space in 2018.
‘Crystalline’ is a series of artworks relating to the dying glaciers. This installation brings the elements of contemporary engineering together with prehistory in the use of carbon and charred bone. The artwork is created to mark the launch of the Solar Orbiter into Space in 2018.

Artists and Climate Change is a blog 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 the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Curator-in-Residence, St. Mary’s College of Maryland

This post comes to you from EcoArtSpace

This is not my first residency, however, curators are not often invited to occupy space that is traditionally made available to artists. Last year, visual artist Sue Johnson, Professor of Art and Director of the Environmental Studies program and Artist House Residency at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, sent me an email and invited me to come out for a week, a month, or as long as I needed/wanted. I had included Johnson in an exhibition over a decade ago titled Bug Eyed: Art, Culture, Insects (2004), and was flattered that she invited me. This seemed like a great opportunity to spend time on a campus, interacting with college students, to give a lecture and a workshop, and possibly teach a summer session. We hammered out some dates, titles, and descriptions for my programs, and here I sit now at the Artist House on Mattapany Road in St. Mary’s City, home of Maryland’s first colonial settlement and the first capital of Maryland.

I arrived on February 6th and started prepping for an Art & Ecology lecture and an Art & Food workshop, creating Keynote presentations and curating video clips to share. I could tell right away that the students here–being embedded in a farming culture in rural Maryland, and with environmental science and biology programs on campus–were naturally interested in the interstices of humans and nature. For my lecture on Feb. 22nd, I presented Windsock Currents, an installation I produced on Crissy Field in the Presidio in 2005, and Cloud House, my more recent curatorial public art endeavor in Springfield, Missouri. I presented the evolution of ecoartspace and our activities such as the video archive (presented interview with Buster Simpson) and Action Guides (presented Eve Mosher’s HighWaterLine). I also shared a short video on painter John Sabraw, providing an example of the remediative art that will be the focus of my Summer session I’ve proposed titled Debris Fields: Aesthetic Solutions to Industrial By-products. Attendance was over 100 including students and community members who stayed seated until the end; a resounding success as I am told!

On Saturday Feburary 25th, I presented a six-hour workshop on art and farming, starting off with performative artworks from the 1970s including: FOOD restaurant in Soho by Gordon Matta-Clark and Carol Goodden; Making Earth by Newton Harrison; and The Farm an alternative school by Bonnie Sherk. I also presented Exchange Values by Shelley Sacks, an artist from the UK whose work inspired me to focus on art and food production after meeting her in 2005. And, I presented works by a few of the artists in my 2006 exhibition Hybrid Fields presented at the Sonoma County Museum, including: Susan Steinman’s Sweet Survival; Laura Parker’s Taste of Place; Temescal Amity Works Sonoma Preserves; Wowhaus’ Tree, Trust, True; and Matthew Moore’s Green Roof. More recent works that were shown included: The Waffle Shop in Pittsburgh; Lauren Bon’s Not-A-Cornfield; Amy Franceschini’s This is Not a Trojan Horse; and Matthew Mazzotta’s Harm-to-Table. We discussed how food miles are calculated and the challenges that this model presents. And, before breaking into two groups to brainstorm potential projects for St. Mary’s City, I took them down a “darker” path to examine the work of Hugh Pocock, MyFoodMyPoop, and Jae Rhim Lee’s Mushroom Burial Suit. We also watch segments of the documentary The Real Dirt on Farmer John an artist/farmer who comes close to losing the family farm, and excerpts from the play Map of My Kingdom about the transfer of farm land.

I’ve been here three weeks now, with five more to go. I’ll be giving a talk to an environmental economics class February 27th (tomorrow), and another talk to a sculpture class on March 22nd. I’ve also been invited up to Baltimore to speak to an Urban Farming class taught by Hugh Pocock at the Maryland Institute of Contemporary Art on March 20th, as part of his Sustainability and Social Practice program. Looking forward to experiencing the change of season, from winter to spring, here in the land of oysters on the Potomac River in the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the USA.


About EcoArtsSpace:

ecoartspace 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