Yearly Archives: 2018

Exorcizing Harveys: Writing for Women of the Arctic

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Harveys suck, let’s start with that. They utterly and despicably suck. Harveys, as we brutally found out last summer, are abusive and dangerous. They have power, a ridiculous amount of power, and nothing will stop them. The first one, Harvey the hurricane, pounded the Gulf Coast of the United States for several days in August 2017, dumping Biblical amounts of rain on Texas, and leaving thousands of people stranded. The second one, Harvey the Hollywood producer, assaulted and silenced women for decades with, if not the blessing, at least the obliging blind eye of an army of people around him for whom it was convenient to keep their mouths shut.

Since then, I can’t help it: I see Harveys everywhere.

Harveys are fed and fattened by money and power, and prey on vulnerable people. Particularly women. (If you haven’t seen this gut-wrenching article in the New York Times about one man’s desperate fight to save his wife as Houston was flooding, I highly recommend it.) Harveys wouldn’t exist without capitalism. They wouldn’t exist without colonialism. And they wouldn’t exist without patriarchy. And, of course, Harveys thrive with the changing climate. For example: the melting Arctic is opening up new territory for extractive industries, these industries bring in a bunch of outside workers – mostly men – near isolated indigenous settlements, and that quickly becomes a breeding ground for Harveys who turn young women into victims of sexual assault and/or trafficking. #MeToo.

Director Jennifer Vellenga, playwright Chantal Bilodeau, actor Julie Jesneck and the Women of the Arctic organizing team: Tahnee Prior, Gosia Smieszek, and Olivia Matthews. Photo by Nancy Forde.

To exorcise the Harveys haunting me, I wrote a play titled Whale Song. It’s a short play, about 15-minute long. I wrote it for a day-long event titled Women of the Arctic: Bridging Policy, Research, and Lived Experience, organized by Tahnee Prior, Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar and PhD Candidate in Global Governance at the University of Waterloo and Gosia Smieszek, researcher at the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland. Women of the Arctic was held at the UArctic Congress in Helsinki in September 2018.

The goal of the event was to carve out a non-academic space for women and girls who work on or live in the Arctic to explore the roles and contributions of women to northern policy-making, research, exploration, art, activism, and daily life. It consisted of three related 90-minute panels: “Northern Women at the Table: From Community to Business Leaders;” “Women in Arctic Science & Exploration,” and; “Grappling with ‘Uncomfortable’ Conversations: From Past Traumas to Future Generations.”

Interestingly, because of the context, I couldn’t rely on any of theatre’s usual artifices. The performance was presented in a large café as part of a reception. There was no fancy lighting or set design, no beautiful projections, and certainly no big cast (there was a small stage, however). Because we had to fly from the US to Helsinki, I could only travel with two people – director Jennifer Vellenga and actor Julie Jesneck. Therefore, the words had to carry all the weight. But most exciting was the fact that we would be performing for a crowd who doesn’t typically attend the theatre. And, just to make things a little more challenging, a great majority of these people would be non-native English speakers.

At the heart of Whale Song is the concept of migration. A woman has run away, or, as she puts it, “migrated,” from her abusive husband named Harvey. Following a somewhat cryptic advice from her father – “When in doubt, go North” – she picked Alaska as her destination. Alaska is where her friends Teri and Allison live: strong Indigenous women who have dealt with their own Harveys and, wisely, chosen to migrate. But the woman’s husband seems to have caught up with her when she got to Alaska because she’s now in Helsinki, addressing the conference attendees.

Julie Jesneck in Whale Song. Photo by Veikko Somerpuro.

Migration, as she describes it, is a survival skill: Both humans and animals migrate, and we’ve been doing it since the beginning of time. Whales in particular are very good at it:

Whales used to be land animals. Fifty million years ago, they had four legs and huge teeth. Then the ice sheets melted, the oceans rose, and when it became clear there wasn’t gonna be enough land for everyone, the big mamas were like: “We’re outta here.” And they migrated to the ocean. How’s that for a winning strategy? “Shrink those legs and grow some fins, ladies! We’re diving in!”

But her admiration for the whales’ pluck in taking their destinies in their own hands hides a painful question. After listening to a whale song, she asks:

I wish I spoke Whale… Or is it Whalish, like Finnish? Or Cetaceanese? … I’d ask them: “How did you know?” Because, think about the people in Texas who didn’t leave until the water was up to their second floor. Think about the women in Hollywood who didn’t walk out of that hotel room until he had gotten his way. Think about me and Teri and Allison and all the beautiful wonderful women out there who have found themselves in the same situation. Why didn’t we know? Why didn’t we get out before it was too late? Is there something wrong with us?

Is there? Is it human nature to refuse to see the inevitable?

Julie Jesneck in Whale Song. Photo by Nancy Forde.

We spent a week rehearsing at Think Corner – the University of Helsinki café in the heart of the city – fighting jet lag while students chatted and sipped coffee all around us. Three hundred people had reserved for the performance/reception. We had no idea what to expect. Would we have to compete with food, wine and conversation to get the attendees’ attention? Were they going to politely watch the play and go right back to what they were doing? Or would our artistic “interlude” in this heavily programmed conference have an impact?

On the night of the performance, the atmosphere was mellow. A DJ played music, people mingled over wine, then helped themselves to the buffet and sat down to eat. At the appointed time, Julie got up on stage and performed Whale Song Ted-talk style. All of the women and most of the men gave her their full attention. But a handful of men, no doubt Harveys, proceeded to talk louder than her, annoyed that she was interrupting their Very Important Conversation. Would they have done the same if it had been a male actor? One of them was sitting next to the stage with his back turned to Julie. He didn’t move or even attempt to be discreet. Afterwards, we received many positive comments. One Sami woman confided with a smile that she had kicked all of the Harveys out of her community. Several men, on the other hand, avoided making eye contact with Julie.

For me, the experience was exhilarating. New city (Helsinki is beautiful), new context, new audience, and a chance to add my voice to the voices of women fighting to carve a place for themselves in a world that still sees us as “less than.” It was theatre at its best – naked, raw, and unapologetically engaged.

Women of the Arctic panel “Grappling With ‘Uncomfortable’ Conversations: From Past Traumas to Future Generations” with (l to r) Katarzyna Pastuszak, Louise Fontain, Sigþrúður Guðmundsdóttir, Liisa Holmberg, and Michelle Demmert. Moderated by Tahnee Prior. Photo by Chantal Bilodeau.

The next day, I attended the Women of the Arctic panels and saw some of the themes addressed in the play reflected in these women’s lives. These were highly accomplished women who, in some cases, had overcome great obstacles to get to where they are today. But despite their accomplishments, they are routinely overlooked in conferences where most presenters tend to be male. A photo of a session of the UArctic Congress, showing rows of men in suits, speaks volumes about the ongoing problem of gender inequality.

UArctic Congress 2018. Photo: Juha Sarkkinen.

The Harveys are still out there. (In a strange déjà vu, as I was writing this CBS executive Les Moonves resigned after allegations of sexual misconduct and hurricane Florence started flooding the Carolinas.) For as long as we continue with business as usual, they will keep wreaking havoc on our environment and our lives. I don’t know if we can ever completely exorcise them – they have left an indelible mark on our collective consciousness. But we can take steps so they are less likely to occur in the future.

At the end of the play, the actress delivers a final plea to the audience before she has to leave. I’m making the same plea to you today:

No more Harveys, OK? For me. For Teri and Allison and the whale. For all of us. No more Harveys.

(Top image: Julie Jesneck in Whale Song. Photo by Veikko Somerpuro.)

______________________________

Chantal Bilodeau is a playwright and translator whose work focuses on the intersection of science, policy, art, and climate change. She is the Artistic Director of The Arctic Cycle – an organization created to support the writing, development and production of eight plays that look at the social and environmental changes taking place in the eight countries of the Arctic – and the founder of the blog and international network Artists & Climate Change. She is a co-organizer of Climate Change Theatre Action, a worldwide series of readings and performances of short climate change plays presented in support of the United Nations COP meetings.


 

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

I Walk Towards Myself: Traveling Around the iForest

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

“Aren’t you coming over?”

The long-awaited moment had arrived early; I’d thought I had two more days.

By now the woodland of the Wild Center in upstate New York was well known to me. I had been coming here for two years in a noisy little eight-seater plane from Boston, my head pressed against the ceiling as we flew at cloud level into the six-million-acre wilderness of the Adirondacks. Now came the culmination of all the work.

Before me was the iForest. Twenty-four speakers had been placed on telegraph poles hidden throughout the woods with cables running underground to each from a central hub that housed multiple racks of amplifiers and interfaces. In my hand was the thing that would bring it all to life: a hard drive containing a choral piece that featured the Grammy winning choir, The Crossing, singing primarily in the Indigenous Mohawk language. What made it unique was that each of the 72 voices was separately recorded and assigned to a location throughout the woods. It was all fine in theory – the question that now weighed on me was: What would actually happen when I plugged it in?

I made my first sketches for immersive sound pieces back in 2000. It took until 2004 to make my first piece. Simultaneity recorded various locations simultaneously then played them back together to create a “God’s ear view of the world.” I began what was to become the iForest in 2005, as a room full of iPods titled iPod Forest. Since then I’d created all manners of works that, as well as using pitch, rhythm, tone and dynamic, also used spatiality. By 2014 this had led to apps that synchronized choirs across cities such as with And Death Shall Have No Dominion across Manhattan.

There were plenty of setbacks. When I started out, gear was specialized and expensive. Worse, the whole area in the UK seemed to be run by a sonic-arts clique and if you wanted funding, the funders, not knowing this world, would call the clique who would duly cast doubt on your work (it’s dog eat dog at the waterhole) and then get grants from those same people.

Gloucestershire, UK.

But I was convinced that immersive sound was part of the future. I grew up in Gloucestershire, a beautiful rustic area of the UK. As a teenager I played guitar in Led Zeppelin-inspired bands, but I was transfixed by the sounds of birds singing at dawn; each had its own unique song yet the song was part of an extraordinary whole and the experience constantly changed depending on how you moved through it. It was a million miles away from theories of music harmony or stereo reproduction. Throughout my entire career as a composer, I have tried to find a way back to those moments. Now, in these woods, that time had come.

Dave, the site manager, was waiting for me at the hub. Unflappable and unstoppable, he’d done the hard work of getting all this in place.

“You ready to give it a try?”

The hub was an intimate space, tall enough to stand in, crammed with electronics and countless mosquitos and black flies. I connected the drive. The interface whirred to life. The amps were all powered. There was no more reason for delay; it was time to find out if all the work had been worth it.

I’d spent time imagining sound in the woods. I’d listened to birds, to animals, to people, to the whispers of the wind. How far away was that sound? How much could you detect its direction? What happened when the weather changed? When the season changed? There were so many ways it could fail or disappoint. But instead, something magical happened: I pressed the button and suddenly, through the woods to my left, a vast choir began to sing. It was answered by a second choir to my right and then by a third directly ahead. Then they sang together, as though a synchronized choir of 72 voices was all around us. It sang back and forth across the woods in ways surprising and inspiring to me. It was more than I had hoped. We grinned at each other, listening.

In its first year, iForest received around 160,000 visitors. One of the nice things about it has been the feedback. Countless people have described being moved to tears: “Now I know how angels sound,” said one child. A man recently wrote: “It was an amazing, remarkable, beautiful experience. The music seemed to heighten all of my senses and brought back the awe and wonder of being a child exploring the forests. I could smell the duff and the pines, feel the breeze, and see the forest as if it was for the first time. The sounds of the forests were amazing, almost as if they were part of the music. Red squirrels and chipmunks scampering about, chittering and chipping; birds singing and chirping; winds blowing through the trees. The feeling of tranquility was almost overwhelming. I had tears in my eyes as I came to the end of the trail…”

This deeper sense of connection to nature is my chief aspiration. For me, placing humans out in the woods alongside all the other species is a way to experience ourselves as a part of nature (I titled the choral work I Walk Towards Myself for this reason). The nice thing about iForest is that it can constantly reinvent itself. I am currently developing two new iForests in the US and installing new material to the iForest at the Wild Center for next year. As it spreads and develops, it may help generate not only a deeper connection to nature but new creative opportunities. Spatialized sound offers a whole new approach to music-making and it’s my hope to mentor new composers and sound creators to explore its numerous possibilities. It would be nice to think of iForest still growing, long after my time.

(Top image: Song of the Human commissioned by New Sounds, WNYC for Brookfield Place, Manhattan and performed by The Crossing. It used 18 independent speakers above, around and below the palm trees of the main atrium. It was performed live then ran as an installation for 3 weeks in October 2016.)

 


Pete M. Wyer is a composer and musician from England whose works often involve storytelling and innovation, especially in the area of immersive sound. He has created scores for the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Juilliard, the orchestra of Welsh National Opera, The Crossing, BBC Television and the Royal Opera House as well as writing seven operas and music theatre works. His immersive installation The iForest opened in a permanent home at The Wild Center, in the Adirondacks in 2017, receiving 160,000 visitors. It was described by Inside Hook Magazine as “Like hiking through Fantasia”.


 

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

News: Launch of the Library of Creative Sustainability

This post comes from Creative Carbon Scotland

We’re excited to announce the launch of the Library of Creative Sustainability during Climate Week 2018: a new digital resource showcasing best practice examples of collaborations between sustainability partners and artists seeking to make the world a better place!

New library on the block

The Library of Creative Sustainability is a new digital resource for people working to address the challenging issues of environmental sustainability and climate change, demonstrating the benefits of collaborating with artists and cultural approaches to help achieve their aims.

Taking its inspiration from the work of American civic artist Frances Whitehead and the Embedded Artist Project, and many other contemporary and historic examples, the library presents case studies highlighting the range of skills, expertise and practices which artists have contributed to bringing about positive change in society – addressing social, environmental, economic and cultural sustainability.

In developing the Library of Creative Sustainability we aim to:

  • Provide a very practical resource for non-arts organisations and arts practitioners to support working with ‘embedded artists’ over extended periods to develop new policy and practice
  • Showcase a selection of inspiring and innovative examples that engage organisational leaders in the potential of working with artists to help achieve their aims

In developing the Library we have spoken with users working in diverse fields including energy, local government, natural heritage and forestry to help us develop content relevant and applicable to the interests and needs of non-arts sectors, and have researched case studies with the aid of many of the featured artists and organisations.

Explore the library!

What is an Embedded Artist?

“Frances Whitehead is a civic practice artist bringing the methods, mindsets, and strategies of contemporary art practice to the process of shaping the future city” – A Blade of Grass

Credit: SLOW Clean-UP, Frances Whitehead

It is widely recognised that artists across all artforms can bring new insight and alternative perspectives to non-arts contexts. This is shown in exhibitions and performances, and also in artists’ processes working with organisations and communities. Artists can bring the perspective of the ‘stranger’, being able to see with fresh eyes and question things often taken for granted.

Some of the key principles of the Embedded Artist role highlighted by case studies include:

  • Working within non-arts institutions over extended periods – this requires organisations to be comfortable with ambiguity and not starting with fixed outcomes. It was important to allow time for the ideas to develop.
  • Bringing different ways of thinking and working to bear on challenging projects such as large-scale regeneration of post-industrial sites. Creating artworks is not the focus of projects, although may be an aspect of the outcomes.
  • Highlighting an integrated approach, ensuring that environmental and social sustainability are considered alongside economics.
  • Facilitating wider public participation and breaking down professional, departmental and disciplinary boundaries.

Launching the Library

“We wanted to put the power of creative thinking in the hands of community organisations and give people a chance to think positively in the face of climate change.” – Eve Mosher

Credit: Eve Mosher, HighWaterLine

We’re excited to launch the first five library case studies celebrating national and international examples of creative sustainability during Scotland’s 2018 Climate Week:

  • SLOW Clean-UP civic Experiments: tackling abandoned petrol stations through phytoremediation and community involvement (Chicago, USA)
  • WATERSHED+: a strategic long term programme embedding artists in the work of the Calgary City Utilities and Environmental Protection Department (Calgary, Alberta, Canada)
  • HighWaterLine: drawing a line on the cityscape to open up community dialogue on climate change and the impact of flooding (New York, USA; Miami, USA; Bristol, UK)
  • The Stove Network: a membership based arts-led project contributing to the regeneration of Dumfries (Dumfries, Scotland, UK)
  • Sutton Tidal Attenuation Barrier and Falkenham Saltmarsh Tidal Management Scheme: Estuarine protection works that involve artist Simon Read working with communities of inhabitants, landowners and public agencies (Suffolk, England, UK)

Keep an eye out on TwitterFacebook or Instagram for the latest updates and help to share case studies with your networks!

A Growing Resource 

This is just the beginning! We will continue to research and regularly publish new case studies with another round of examples on its way very soon.

We are actively seeking suggestions for new case studies from sustainability and arts practitioners about projects you are involved in or are aware of that could become part of this growing resource. We would also love to hear about your experience of using the library so that we can continue to make improvements to its functionality.

Please get in touch with Gemma Lawrence, culture/SHIFT Producer, Creative Carbon Scotland.

Project partners

The Library of Creative Sustainability has been developed in collaboration with Senior Researcher Chris Fremantle (Gray’s School of Art, Robert Gordon University) with the support of Allison Palenske, Elly White, and Niamh Coutts.

We are grateful to all of the artists and organisations who have kindly contributed their time to the development of library case studies.



The post News: Launch of the Library of Creative Sustainability appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.



 

Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

Go to Creative Carbon Scotland

Guest Blog: The joy of the present and the great unknown of the future

This post comes from Creative Carbon Scotland

Here’s the second in a series of blogs from playwright Lewis Hetherington about his work with Glasgow cycling charity Bike for Good and Creative Carbon Scotland. Lewis is working embedded with Bike for Good for two years to document their VeloCommunities project and contribute to their activities widening access to cycling and helping Glasgow to become a more sustainable city.

In my first blog I leant into the idea of cycling as a path to joy, freedom and empowerment. Nothing could have captured these ideas better than the recent trip I was lucky enough to go on with the Bike for Good team and some of the brilliant young people who come along to the after-school clubs. We went to Bute, we cycled, we ate chips, we laughed. We had one day out of life.

Joining me for the ride was the fantastic, inimitable and mega filmmaker Geraldine Heaney so we could start to introduce the filmmaking component of the project to the group.

From the moment we all gathered at Queen’s Park station, with some of our number about to ride on a train for the first time, we could tell that this would be a day to remember. We all piled in, the excitement at fever pitch even though we were still only minutes away from our own front doors.

We swapped trains at Central station and headed out to Wemyss Bay and from there onto the ferry. There was sweets, hot chocolate and more excitement. We saw dolphins playing in the water, a fitting salute to our arrival. Bute was enshrouded in mist, but even that couldn’t mute us as we pushed the bikes out from the car deck and got ready for our cycle.

All the while I’m thinking, “This is so easy. Why are we all not leaping on the ferry to Bute whenever we get the chance?”. But then here I am now, two weeks later, and I’ve not been back. That said I am in the park with the dogs four times a day, and the trip reminded me what a privilege and a pleasure it is to get out into green space. What I am trying to say is that as we all took in the sea air and the rolling hills I thought “If this is planting seeds in these young folks of a sense of connection to the outdoors, then something is going right”.

We cycled across the island and just as in all the best life-affirming buddy movies the sun suddenly burst through the clouds and we were drenched in light. We arrived at our destination, a beach with white sands stretching out and turquoise waters rippling. So of course we all went for a swim.

Playing in the sea on Bute – Credit: Geraldine Heaney

Gently rolling waves, the dramatic silhouette of Arran in the distance, golden light flooding us, the only sounds the squeals of delight from adults and children alike as we leapt into the ice-cold water…

…followed by lunch, football, gymnastics and more. It was a pretty special day.

As I said, Geraldine had brought her camera along, as well as having bought a brand new GoPro for the occasion. Geraldine and C assembled the new camera on the train out, so C got to attach it to his helmet and collect footage from the moment we arrived on Bute.

A young filmmaker – Credit: Geraldine Heaney

T was so enthusiastic about taking photos we were worried that he’d use up all the memory space and battery life just taking pictures of the inside of the train carriage. Thankfully however there were plenty of photos taken on the island which you’re seeing through this blog taken by either Geraldine or the young people. They really embraced the idea that they should choose where to shoot, what to focus on, where to direct our lens and our interrogation.

___________________________________________

This artist in residence is part of Bike for Good’s VeloCommunities Project, which is funded by the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund. We’ll keep you posted of updates and developments on this bi-monthly blog, and please get in touch with any questions or ideas!

 


The post Guest Blog: The joy of the present and the great unknown of the future appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.


 

Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

Go to Creative Carbon Scotland

Bringing Together Art and Science to Save Joshua Trees

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

I wasn’t expecting to return to my desert hometown for my PhD research, and didn’t imagine that I would be pregnant. But as I rested in the shade of the only Joshua tree at the hottest and driest of my field sites, I knew that I had made the right decision. Recent studies show that Joshua trees could be gone from areas like Joshua Tree National Park within 100 years – it may be getting too hot too quickly for the tree populations to survive. Unfortunately, this story is not unique to Joshua trees: we may be entering into the sixth major extinction event on this planet, which will have far-reaching consequences for life as we know it. We need radical societal shifts from extraction capitalism and unhinged consumerism towards sustainability. This requires multi-disciplinary approaches to find a path forward, but first we need to get people to care. I believe that art can connect people to difficult concepts at an emotional level, helping to increase public understanding of anthropogenic species loss, and motivate sustainable behavior.

People respond to science-based art when it has a strong personal narrative. By sharing my journey as a scientist and mother, and by researching the deserts of my hometown, I can tell the story of tree loss in a way that moves people to care about what is happening. In my recent publication, we found that art can evoke a powerful emotional response, connecting people to the concepts of climate induced biodiversity loss. People could identify with my story because it had ties to family and a connection to home. I found that we have to unravel the complexities of climate change and species loss through narrative or the science can seem overwhelming and the solutions unapproachable.

Art provides a way to connect the public to science, but it is also a powerful form of research and a pathway for innovative thinking. I work as both an ecologist and an artist, investigating the impacts of climate change on Joshua trees and their above and belowground symbiotic partners. In the branch tops, I study the teeny moths that provide the sole pollination services for Joshua trees, and that use the tree’s developing fruit as a nursery and food source for their young. Underground, I dig into networks of fungi that scavenge and trade soil nutrients and water with the tree’s roots in exchange for plant sugars. These complex and incredibly beautiful species interactions will most likely be impacted by the changing climate, with consequences for Joshua tree survival. Understanding species interdependence and how humans fit within the ecosystem is critical to overcome the widespread belief in human exceptionalism that drives environmental destruction.

Because I work professionally in science and art, my practices are deeply intertwined and feed each other. Art making is unbounded by rules and definition, so the entirety of my research, science included, is art. This echoes the work of eco-art researchers such as the Harrisons or Brandon Balengée, who have blurred the lines of art and science research. Art making gives me permission to ask exploratory questions and to approach my study system in new ways. During these times, I have found great inspiration for science research because I have gained a deeper understanding and relationship with these organisms. For example, while sketching Joshua tree blossoms during pollination season at their hottest locations in the national park, I realized there were no moths to be found. This led to a new direction in my ecological research, and my recently published discoveries linking tree distribution to moth abundance along a changing climate gradient.

Image still from the stop motion animation A Joshua Tree Love Story.

Science, however, has a stricter set of methodologies. While also a creative practice, it is often confining and painfully rigorous. Yet science leads to data driven recommendations for policy and management that can address real environmental problems. As a scientist, I have developed an eye for detail and the ability to ask ecologically meaningful questions. I have access to powerful tools such as DNA sequencing, and high-powered microscopy, allowing me to visualize unseen worlds.

I create art through a variety of ways to make these worlds accessible and also to challenge the stereotype of who does science – in this case a mother with a child strapped to her back. My stop motion animation A Joshua Tree Love Story, follows my experience across a desert research expedition with my baby to investigate if the changing climate is impacting tree survival or species interactions. The dire message of tree loss within a human lifetime is highlighted by the paralleled aging of the baby into an old man. Woven through the animation are highly detailed paintings about the Joshua tree-fungi symbiosis and how they change with climate. The paintings match data I collect across elevations, providing a window for the viewer to experience the complexities and beauty of plant-fungal symbiosis.

Experimental painting of Joshua tree roots and soil with mycorrhizal fungi. Acrylic, Joshua tree seed oil, Joshua tree root soap, Joshua tree fibers.

And the painting process is also scientific! In fact, I have long experimented with using natural pigments, such as wine and fungi, to capture the organisms I study. In this project, I use a novel painting technique where I manipulate the densities and behavior of acrylic paint using oil from the Joshua tree seeds, soap from the tree roots, fire, and alcohol, to create the organic shapes of soil, lacy roots, and fungal networks. This process requires detailed note taking to recreate desired textures and effects. The colors in the painted soils change to reflect levels of nutrients found at my different research sites. These illustrations give another avenue to expand upon in discourse around species loss. The intention was to connect people to species loss through bold imagery and a passionate musical score. I also created a second shorter animation, in response to the first, with a stronger science narrative that more effectively “explains” the research for use in education outreach.

To further encourage conversation around species loss, I have created Hey Jtree, an ongoing participatory art research project and online dating site to meet Joshua trees. As part of my art residency at Joshua Tree National Park, my goal is to bring together artists (53 and growing!) to make art about Joshua tree research, and to invite the public to meet and fall in love with the trees. The website details the ecological information for each tree, shows where they live, features art and music created for each tree, and includes a profile (similar to online dating site profiles). Every tree’s location is given in latitude and longitude. It is also recorded in miles as a “scavenger hunt” and in steps from identifiable locations in the park. People can participate as “citizen artists” by submitting love letters, poetry, music or art to their tree. These will be uploaded to the site, generating a collective shared love and social media following for individual trees. Additional information is provided about ways to care for your tree, how to visit the desert responsibly, and suggestions for political actions.

We will need to explore many untraditional methods to capture public interest and influence environmental policy if we want to sustain life on this planet. The potential for social change through science-art goes far beyond just translating science for public consumption. Multidisciplinary researchers have the potential to turn information into action by connecting these different methodologies to generate creative thinking and learning. This could open new lines of inquiry to engage the public as active participants in the design of a sustainable society.

(Top image: Experimental painting of Joshua trees, roots, and soil with mycorrhizal fungi. Acrylic, Joshua tree seed oil, Joshua tree root soap.)

 ______________________________

Juniper Harrower studies the complexities of species interactions under climate change as an ecologist and artist. Her dissertation research focuses on the interactions between Joshua trees, their soil fungi, and moth pollinators in Joshua Tree National Park. By approaching this research as a science-artist, she hopes to better understand the form and function of the organisms she studies, as well as to share the hidden beauty of these threatened species interactions with others. Through this work she aims to encourage dialogue around social and environmental issues, to contribute to science theory, and to make thoughtful recommendations for policy and management.


 

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