Yearly Archives: 2019

Wild Authors: James Bradley

By Mary Woodbury

I continue my spotlight focus this year on authors whose novels are aimed toward a young adult and/or teen audience. These books might be interesting to teachers looking for titles that their students can read and discuss together; the storytelling about climate change is not entirely new but is settling deep into our collective consciousness as we become more aware, day by day, of the way our planet is changing.

James Bradley is an Australian novelist and critic.  His books include the novels WrackThe Deep FieldThe Resurrectionist and Clade, a poetry book Paper Nautilus, and The Penguin Book of the Ocean, as well as The Change Trilogy for young adults, the first two books of which, The Silent Invasion and The Buried Ark, are published by Pan Macmillan Australia. He is currently in the process of finishing the final book of The Change Trilogy and working on a new adult novel, which will be published in 2020 by Hamish Hamilton. James has written for numerous Australian and international publications, including The Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Australian Literary Review, Australian Book Review, The Monthly, Locus, The New York Review of Science Fiction, Griffith Review, Meanjin, Heat, The Weekend Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. In 2012, he was awarded the Pascall Prize for Criticism.

James lives in Sydney, Australia, with his partner, the novelist Mardi McConnochie, and his daughters, Annabelle and Lila. If you’d like to know more about the author, this interview in the Sydney Review of Books isn’t a bad place to begin. Also of note is a talk that James had with Iain McCalman, professor and co-director of the Sydney Environment Institute, covering “Storytelling in the Anthropocene.”

I first spoke with James in September 2017 after reading his novel Clade. We also talked about Silent Invasion, the first book in his young adult trilogy titled Change. He told me:

The trilogy is set a decade or so from now in a world altered by the arrival of alien spores, which have begun absorbing Earth’s biology into a kind of hive mind, and although they deliberately play with a series of tropes from classic science fiction – alien invasion, replication, the uncanny – they’re also very much about using those tropes to explore the psychic and environmental disturbance of climate change, by suggesting a situation in which the landscape has become quite literally alien. So while the three books that make up the series are much more explicitly science fictional than Clade they’re also an extension of it in some ways, because they grapple with many of the same questions, albeit in a series of books that have been written with younger readers in mind.

Since we last spoke, the second book in the series, The Buried Ark (May 2018) was published. The trilogy begins in 2027, and the human race is dying. Plants, animals and humans have been infected by spores from space and become part of a vast alien intelligence. When 16-year-old Callie discovers her little sister Gracie has been infected, she flees with Gracie to the Zone to avoid termination by the ruthless officers of Quarantine. What Callie finds in the Zone will alter her irrevocably, and send her on a journey to the stars and beyond. In The Buried Ark, Callie is deep in the Zone – exposed, broken and alone – without her little sister Gracie, without Matt, the boy she loves. But when she stumbles upon a secret – hidden deep within herself – she realizes that she holds the key to defeating the Change. But the Change know this too, and they will stop at nothing to capture her. Fleeing from the officers of Quarantine, and the pervasive Change, Callie finds refuge in the unlikeliest of places only to find that she is in more danger than ever before.

In his article “Why I decided to write a novel for teenagers about catastrophic climate change” in The Guardian, James states:

The Silent Invasion is set in the age of environmental apocalypse, where even the landscape is frightening. But writing about climate change matters – most of all for those who will inherit the world…I also realized I was writing a kind of book I hadn’t written before, one aimed as much at younger readers as at adults. The notion that I might write something for teenagers had been at the back of my mind for a while, partly because having kids of my own had led me back to the books I loved when growing up.

What inspires James’ writing seems to be the haunting realization that climate change intrudes into our reality and unsettles our cultural and physical norms, like an alien – a common trope in ecological weird fiction. That he builds that into the Change trilogy may help the younger generation become more aware of the kinds of large changes that our world is seeing and will see. The trilogy brings to light weird biology and also reeks of beauty in the natural world that is eerie and mysterious. I talked some with James about this, particularly in reference to his novel Clade, a multi-generational story that includes teens and young adults as well. He said:

I think the idea of haunting is a really powerful one. One of the great ironies of contemporary Western culture is that many – if not most – of us exist in a state of constant denial about the human and environmental cost of our lifestyle. That sense of simultaneous awareness and willed ignorance emerges in different ways, but describing our sense that things are not right, that the weather is weird and wrong, that things are out of control as a sort of haunting is a good way of getting at how it feels, and has quite a lot to do with the thread of the apocalyptic and the disordered that runs through so much of contemporary culture. Robert Macfarlane argues something similar in his fantastic essay about the rise of the eerie in contemporary English fiction, but really, it’s everywhere.

So in that sense, I suppose Clade is a kind of ghost story, because it’s a book that’s quite consciously shadowed by a profound grief about what’s happening around us. In places, that grief is expressed through the characters and their lives, and through the steady sense of diminution the characters live through, but it’s also addressed more explicitly, through a dialogue with the actual physical effects of climate change.

That’s partly deliberate, but it’s also inescapable, because you can’t write about climate change without writing about loss, whether of species or abundance or simply of possibility. That loss was very much on my mind when I wrote the book, because I have young children, and I’m acutely aware that the world they will live in will be a poorer – and probably less pleasant – world than I’ve known, a world without coral reefs, with less diversity, fewer birds, fewer animals, and probably more conflict and violence. As a parent that makes me terribly sad, but as a human being it makes me incredibly angry, because it’s really a form of theft – our generation and the generation before us have stolen them and the planet’s future.

But while the book is very much about those things, I also wanted it to do a couple of other things. As I’ve already said I wanted to give people an affective sense of what it might be like to live through the next century or so. But I also wanted to create space for people to think about the possibility of change. Frederic Jameson famously said that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism, a notion the late Mark Fisher picked up on when he described capitalism as filling every horizon and blotting out all alternatives. But once I started thinking seriously about time, and deep time in particular, I found myself reminded of the degree to which a consideration of both reminds us that the future isn’t set; it’s contingent, which means it can be changed. So, although the book doesn’t set out to offer alternatives, it quite deliberately makes the space for them, both by setting the events of the book against the immensity of geological time, so we’re reminded that our lives, our economy, our politics, are really little more than blips, and by emphasizing the way history keeps happening, even after what appears to be the end.

In Strange Horizons, Octavia Cade explores the slow apocalypse and how it may be handled in fiction, opposed to a catastrophe that has a notable start and perhaps end – one that may even be able to be resolved with technology. Climate change, like the invasion in The Silent Invasion, is “…so massive, so widespread, that vast amounts of the globe – and of the country – has been abandoned.” The long slow invasion is spread by invisible spores – much like climate change, a hyperobject so massive and unseeable to the eye as a thing in and of itself. Certainly its byproducts are measurable and frightening, but when dealing with it, on its own, as either a hyperobject or a topic in literature, I think James’ idea of silent invasion is fitting and helpful to younger audiences grappling with global warming.

When talking about climate change in fiction, and how to deal with hyperobjects in storytelling, James says:

Anxiety about the climate and the environment is everywhere in contemporary culture, so that’s not surprising. Just personally I’m not keen on the idea climate fiction is a new genre, or a kind of sub-genre of science fiction. That’s partly because of the heterogeneity you mention and the fact so much of the work deliberately transcends traditional genre categories, as well as the fact describing it that way means we end up thinking about the whole phenomenon in such a literal way, when in fact the anxieties and experiences it explores intrude into so many things in more tangential and metaphorical ways. But it’s also because I think those experiences and anxieties are now so inescapable that it’s more accurate to think of them as a tangible condition, in the same way modernism was, and any work that genuinely seeks to engage with the contemporary world is necessarily shaped by our sense of environmental crisis, and the immense challenges it poses to us not just as writers and artists, but as a society.

As we move forward into the age of the tangible condition of climate crisis and will continue to engage with this condition in art and literature, I think we’ll have no shortage of creative and unique storytelling for all audiences, young and old. Boundary-less genres and alien subjects appeal to me, for they allow writers and readers to enter into a new world of storytelling that “blows our minds with wild words and worlds.” The Change trilogy does just this while also exposing its readers to the wilderness of Australia and the off-the-beaten-track world that seems forgotten in our modern world of screens and walls. And what better way to give teens and young adults a slice of hope than with a natural leader like Callie doing what it takes not just to survive but to take care of those she loves? So, for younger readers who like mystery and want to explore climate change within fiction, discover more about our beautiful and often eerie natural world, get to know a natural heroine like Callie, and get wrapped up in a great trilogy, I would recommend The Change.

For readers wanting to learn more about weird ecology in fiction, see my series at SFFWorld.com: Part III, and III.

This article is part of our Wild Authors series. It was originally published on Dragonfly.eco.

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Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs Dragonfly.eco, a site that explores ecology in literature, including works about climate change. She writes fiction under pen name Clara Hume. Her novel Back to the Garden has been discussed in Dissent Magazine, Ethnobiology for the Future: Linking Cultural and Ecological Diversity (University of Arizona Press), and Uncertainty and the Philosophy of Climate Change (Routledge). Mary lives in the lower mainland of British Columbia and enjoys hiking, writing, and reading.

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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

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Solar Tapestry

By Joan Sullivan

Imagine future archaeologists, post-Anthropocene, discovering an ancient display of colorful solar panels arranged in a straight line. The archaeologists hypothesize that this “solar tapestry” was created to provide future generations with an illustrated epic story of how 21st century Homo Sapiens wisely – but narrowly – averted a climate emergency by embracing the sun.

Imaginative ideas like this – a Bayeux Tapestry for our times, according to UK artist Chloe Uden – inspired her to found the Art and Energy collective in 2018 with her long-time collaborator, the artist and botanist Naomi Wright.

Chloe Uden, Art and Energy, solar, solar art

“The Art and Energy collective re-imagines solar technology as an art material for the future,” explained Chloe in an email exchange. “We’re still at the experimental level, testing ideas, exploring the cultural dimensions of energy systems, and planning for future collaboration. We want to share our knowledge widely so others can design and make their own solar panel artworks. This will help create new stories for our energy future.”

2019 has been super-charged for the year-old collective. In March, Chloe and Naomi unveiled their first solar panel artworks during MikroFest at Kaleider Studios in Exeter, UK. Comments posted from visitors included one from the poet Matt Harvey, whom I’ve written about previously, who wrote “This is wonderful and inspiring work – I would love to see it ‘scaled-up’ perhaps a cathedral or an enormous building.” In fact, this great suggestion is already a reality across the big pond: the Cathedral of the Holy Family in the Canadian city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was the first cathedral in the world to integrate solar cells into its stained glass windows, designed by Canadian glass artist Sarah Hall in 2011.

Several months after Art and Energy’s first unveiling, the collective was invited by Kaleider Studios in July 2019 for a year-long residency to research new processes, work on new pieces, deliver workshops and continue growing their new creative venture. In August, Chloe and Naomi are running solar artworks workshops at the International Festival of Glass in Stourbridge, UK. In September, they will be exhibiting artworks at the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI), as well as offering solar charger making workshops at the Totnes Renewable Energy Society (TRESOC) in Totnes.

In October, Chloe will be participating, along with 20 other start-ups from across southwest England, in the Dartington School of Social Entrepreneurs. Earlier in the year, Art and Energy exhibited at TEDx Exeter‘s “The Art of the Possible” event by providing phone charging points in the exhibition hall. For more information on Art and Energy’s incredibly busy 2019 schedule (yes, there’s more!), check out their website.

“Mostly, we are not just interested in art illustrating the existence of climate change, or going on about how terrible it is. We want to make art, and we want to respond to the climate emergency AT THE SAME TIME. So, our solar panel artworks generate electricity from the sun,” Chloe explained in an email.

Chloe Uden, energy, Art and Energy, solar, tapestry, UK, Exeter

“(But) some people have told us that art can’t be useful too – that it is too much to expect art to actually make a difference. If art is doing anything other than being art, then it isn’t art any more. In fact, they suggest that if our solar art panels didn’t actually work, THEN they might be art.”

As a renewable energy photographer, I have received similar unhelpful feedback on my work. In a climate emergency, perhaps the definition of “art” needs to change? Barry Lord, one of the world’s great cultural thinkers, explains in his 2014 book Art & Energy: How Culture Changes how major cultural and artistic shifts have accompanied each energy transition since humans first mastered fire. We are currently living through the third energy transition – from oil/gas to renewables. In this transition, Lord argues that “the so-called energy debate is really a conflict of cultures.” I will write more about his provocative and prescient thesis in my next post.

So. “Who cares really at this time of crisis what definitions (of art) we are using?” asks Chloe. “We will either respond to the climate emergency, or we won’t. And the way I see it is, if we can make beautiful things, why not make beautiful things that respond to the reality we live in and reverse global warming?”

Hear, hear!

Chloe Uden, UK, solar, Art and Energy, solar panel

Over the last 15 years juggling two careers – one in renewable energy, the other in art (puppetry and illustration) – Chloe has come to realize that creatives more than most will recognize what the climate emergency requires of us:

  1. A commitment to bring our attention to the challenge and work, work, work
  2. A compulsion to follow our curiosity, reflect, learn, synthesize and do
  3. A need to be brave and willing to find a way
  4. An acceptance of possible failure and the humility to accept whatever

“Responding to the climate emergency is like deciding to make art: some of us feel it is the highest form of human endeavour, and mostly you’re not in it for the money.”

Perhaps the same could be true of the artists (or shall we refer to them simply as “artisans”?) who created the magnificent 70-meters long Bayeux Tapestry, which preserved for future generations the details of the great medieval epic – illustrated in humble wool thread embroidered on linen cloth – of the 11th century conquest of England by the Duke of Normandy.

Perhaps artists like Chloe Uden, Naomi Wright and their many collaborators will find a way to weave a similar tapestry for future generations in humble silicon PV. I will be their biggest fan.

(All photos reprinted with permission from the Arts and Energy collective.)

This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.

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Joan Sullivan is a Canadian renewable energy photographer. Since 2009, Joan has found her artistic voice on the construction sites of utility-scale wind and solar projects. Her goal is to keep our eyes on the prize – a 100% clean energy economy in our lifetimes. Joan is currently working on a documentary film and book project about Canada’s energy transition. Her renewable energy photographs have been exhibited in group and solo shows in Canada, the UK and Italy. You can find Joan on ElloTwitter and Visura.

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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

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An Interview with Artist Jamie Martinez

By Amy Brady

This month I have for you a fascinating interview with artist Jamie Martinez, who recently participated in a climate-themed group show at Yi Gallery in New York City. Jamie is a Colombian/American artist who immigrated to Florida at the age of twelve, where he eventually attended The Miami International University of Art and Design before moving to New York. Jamie is also the publisher of Arte Fuse, a contemporary art platform that gives more visibility to art shows and is a home to several artist interviews. In addition, Jamie is the founder and director of The Border Project Space, which was recently featured in Hyperallergic’s top 15 shows of 2018. The space is dedicated to showing the work of immigrants.

Why do you focus on climate change in your art?

Climate change is very important to me. I believe that we have to protect and take care of Mother Earth. The way things are going, we are not going to leave much of a future to humankind, and this is a serious problem. It seems like we are only looking out for ourselves. Change has to come, and as an artist, I feel the need to say something.

Your work also addresses immigration. What role do you see art playing in the world at large when it comes to big, complex issues like immigration and climate change?

About a year and a half ago, I opened an art space called The Border to address the issue of immigration. I only curate group shows there with mostly immigrant artists. I want to give them a platform to display and nurture their work so that they can create even better work. It’s also a place where immigrant artists can network and meet other immigrant artists.

When it comes to climate change, it seems like a lot of artists are taking on this subject more and more. I think that [artists] can help influence and educate the young so they can be future protectors of this wonderful planet. Art can also help communicate the enormity of the problem and what might face us if things don’t change.

VR Unity – Global Warming. This painting is a simulation Jamie constructed using UNITY software (virtual reality software).

Triangulation is a repeated motif throughout your work. What draws you to these shapes and patterns?

I have always been obsessed with the triangle and especially the tetrahedron. I find this shape very strong and mysterious, and when you put a lot of triangles together, the shape becomes even stronger. That’s because it spreads its weight evenly throughout its form. I use the concept of triangulation throughout my work. My process involves constructing, deconstructing and fragmenting images, data, and information geometrically into triangulated segments.

Please tell me about your recent experience showing work at the Yi Gallery in New York City with other artists who are exploring climate themes. What did you take away from that experience?

I enjoyed participating in that show. Cecilia Jalboukh did a superb job of putting the show together. I thought that all the pieces complimented each other, giving the show depth and meaning. We got some great press, including coverage in Vogue China. It was also great to show with a friend and to get to meet and know the other two artists in the show.

Sacred Quetzal Mayan Poem, oil and spray paint with silver leaf and embroidered thread.

You lived in Miami after immigrating to the United States. Did spending some of your formative years in a city threatened by sea-level rise affect your views of climate change – and of art?

I am a surfer, so I pay a lot of attention to water. It is sad to see that every time I go to Miami, mostly for Art Basel, the threat of sea-level rise seems to be getting worse. The locals are taking it more seriously, at least; they see that it’s going to be a big problem. Miami didn’t really change my art – that happened here in New York City. But it will always be a place I care about deep in my heart.

What’s next for you? 

At the moment I am taking a break. I had the busiest six months so far of my career, and I feel drained. I needed to step back before coming back in September, which is when the art season officially opens. I will have a show at my gallery. It opens on September 13th at 7pm. I also have a show confirmed for early 2020 and some other projects and installations that I am starting to work on now.

This article is part of the Climate Art Interviews series. It was originally published in Amy Brady’s “Burning Worlds” newsletter. Subscribe to get Amy’s newsletter delivered straight to your inbox.

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Amy Brady is the Deputy Publisher of Guernica magazine and Senior Editor of the Chicago Review of Books. Her writing about art, culture, and climate has appeared in the Village Voice, the Los Angeles TimesPacific Standard, the New Republic, and other places. She is also the editor of the monthly newsletter “Burning Worlds,” which explores how artists and writers are thinking about climate change. She holds a PHD in English and is the recipient of a CLIR/Mellon Library of Congress Fellowship. Read more of her work at AmyBradyWrites.com and follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.

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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

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Opportunity/Open Call: “Four (plus one) Elements”

“ΚΟΙΝΩΝΩ” is a multidimensional cultural organisation located in Tinos (Greece) offering a unique opportunity to apply for four 15-day cultural residencies in 2020.

After four years of continuous presence on the island of Tinos (Greece), “ΚΟΙΝΩΝΩ” Tinos Art Gathering” invites applications from all disciplines in the arts and sciences to the Thematic Series of “Four (plus one) elements”, which will be implemented through four distinct 15-day residency programs until the fall of 2020 on the island of Tinos.

The “Four (plus one) Elements” project is supported by the Greek Ministry of Culture, the NEON organisation and in collaboration with the Athens School of Fine Arts, it will accommodate up to 200 guests of all disciplines in the arts and sciences, and it will be implemented through four distinct 15-day residency programmes (fire, water, air, earth) until the fall of 2020 on a set of more than 60 indoor and outdoor locations of great importance all around the island of Tinos.

With reference to the diverse cultural and natural landscape of Tinos, “ΚΟΙΝΩΝΩ”, with the “Four (plus one) Elements” thematic series, borrows the four natural elements (earth, water, air, fire) plus one, the element of time, to highlight both the seasons alternation and the era of human intervention on the natural landscape. The “Four (plus one) Elements” thematic series, is a lengthy, multidimensional project, which attempts to explore and reinvent the relationships between the material “environments” of the island both used and unused, the various manifestations of locality, the participants as individuals and the contemporary interdisciplinary practice in visual arts, music, theatre, dance, research and the humanities and new means of expression through place and time.

Four Open Calls will be made, one for each element with four distinct deadlines:

  • Fire – 15 November 2019
  • Water – 15 February 2020
  • Air – 15 June 2020
  • Earth – 15 August 2020

Each residency is 15 days. Fire: 18-31 January 2020, Water :18-30 April 2020, Air :18-31 August 2020, Earth :18-31 October 2020. “ΚΟΙΝΩΝΩ”, will select up to 50 participantsper element.

The works that are created by the residencies of each element will be presented respectively in the months: January, April, August, October 2020 throughout the totality of the natural and cultural landscape of the island. Priority will be given to collaboration between participants and/or the involvement of local organisations and communities.

The call is open to all with no age limit or restriction in art or science discipline.

Participants are offered:

  • free transport for a limited number of participants (in and out of the EU)
  • free transport to the island of Tinos and all residency sites
  • free accommodation (rooms and hostels)
  • free subsistence (common lunches-dinners, food supplies)
  • partial production and material costs

More information on the “Four(plus one) Elements” and how to apply you can find here (English version).

About ΚΟΙΝΩΝΩ

“ΚΟΙΝΩΝΩ” is a multidimensional cultural organisation located in Tinos, Greece since 2016, organising site-specific art exhibitions, open workshops, music and theatre performances, research projects, interactive tours in the natural environment of the island as well as in specific buildings of historical or architectural significance. “ΚΟΙΝΩΝΩ”’s objectives are: to intensify the inter-connectivity and mobilisation of participants from diversified geographical locations, the assimilation of the material environment as a vital part of the creative process and an essential element of sustainability, the emergence of particular elements of tradition and locality as a matter of public interest, the dissemination of knowledge and the acquisition of skills for a variety of disciplines, the exchange of ideas and the reinvention of collaboration in coordination with the various manifestations of culture and locality (tradition, environment, community) and the expansion and diversification of audiences.

The post Opportunity / Open Call: “Four (plus one) Elements” appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.

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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

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Off the Road: A Trip to the Arctic

By Nikki Lindt

I arrived early that cold spring morning to the only car rental in Fairbanks willing to allow their cars to be driven up Alaska’s James W. Dalton Highway. I examined the car with Mandy, an employee, who helped put me at ease as she described some of her adventures on that road. As an artist coming from New York City, I was more than a little out of my element. I was relieved to see a CB radio, as there would be no phone reception, but the two spare tires in the trunk worried me.

The Dalton highway is a 414 mile stretch of dirt, gravel and potholes that runs along the oil pipeline from the town of Livengood all the way north to the Arctic Sea. The road is one of the most remote and dangerous in the country with only three very small towns along the way. My partner Mark and I would be sharing the desolate road with occasional truckers.

Alaska’s Dalton Highway follows the old pipeline all the way north to the Atlantic Ocean.

I buckled down for the long drive, my worries dissolving as soon as we started our beautiful ride out of Fairbanks through the rolling hills. Several hours later, we crossed the Arctic Circle where alpine meadows surrounded us. This was followed by miles and miles of scrawny black spruce forests that seemed to come straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. Eventually, we drove through the snow covered Atigun Pass of the Brooks Mountain Range, which released us on the other end into endless tundra. I had assumed that this grand landscape was the true unspoiled beauty of the last frontier but I was learning otherwise.

Travel sketch, permanent ink markers and acrylic paint on paper, 6″ x 9″

This was a year ago. I had been working with a scientist from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks Permafrost Lab just days prior. He taught me how to identify various permafrost features just by looking at the landscape and also helped me understand the underground pressures and temperatures which affect the way permafrost behaves. Accelerated permafrost thaw due to warming temperatures expresses itself in many ways and can create a very extreme, unstable and surreal landscape. I saw forests, called drunken forests, growing at all imaginable angles, even horizontally. I also saw the sinkholes of the north, called thermokarst failures. I documented one larger than a football field with adult fir trees dangling off the edge like toys.

Travel sketch, permanent ink markers and acrylic paint on paper, 6″ x 9″

In the nine months that followed, I created a series of paintings called Tumbling Forests of the North. I decided to make the works on large scale paper, eight by five foot, in watercolor with acrylic pen. The images are expansive, airy, and bright in color. This stands in stark contrast to the surreal and at times ominous aspect of the changing landscapes. As I observed this destruction in the vast Alaskan landscape, what stood out to me was the duality of terror and inspiration I felt at once. Though collapsing, the places I saw were growing lushly in their new form. This duality reflected the complicated relationship and struggle between the immense destructive power of climate change and the insistent nature of growth. For me, the strong vibrant color also spoke to the strength and positive collective voice that are needed to best move forward to protect our ecosystems.

This summer I found myself back on the Dalton Highway with a new destination: a remote science research station. As I pulled out of the expansive tundra, with light still illuminating the nighttime sky, I focused my attention onto a cluster of structures at the end of a small road. They could have been mistaken for a tiny village, but all the buildings were either made of  shipping containers or tents. I wasn’t sure what to make of this odd place.


Drunken Trees, permafrost thaw, watercolor and acrylic on paper

I soon understood that this was a very special community of scientists and thinkers who come together yearly for their arctic field work. Dinner conversations were very lively. Everyone seemed dedicated and hard-working, and this collaborative environment was very conductive to new ideas. I spent my days hiking and scanning the tundra for thermokarst failures. I sketched, recorded, and documented them as future source material for my work. In the evenings, I shared what I had seen and, in turn, heard what others had been up to. Someone had measured plant growth in a nutrient treated plot. Others had taken infrared photos from a drone imaging carbon emissions, or done work in the field. I left the field station with new friends, collaborators, many ideas, and a lot of documentation.

As I was leaving, I wondered why I found it so hard to go. Outside in the transcendent landscape, I was reminded how enriching working as a team had been. As I traveled home, I started to think back to various times I had collaborated over the years. I realized how these collaborations came to define pivotal points in my personal growth in relation to my understanding of the broad implications of climate change.


Within the Thermokarst, Ghost Forest, watercolor and acrylic on paper

I thought back to my first collaborative work on climate change in 2000, in Amsterdam, where I initiated and then worked with a team of creatives to actualize a climate multimedia opera, The Noahs. And then to meeting Glenn Albrecht, an Australian philosopher, who coigned the term “solastalgia,” the feeling that people experience when they lose their natural environment due to climate change and development. The Solastalgia series then led to contributing to The Eco-topian Lexicon, edited by Matthew Schneider-Mayerson and Brent Ryan Bellamy. The book explores 30 new words introduced to the western psyche to help reshape our perception of community and relationship to our rapidly changing world. Without this type of collaboration with experts in other fields I would not have the same depth of understanding of the challenges climate change presents us.

This tiny remote place in northern Alaska, perched at the edge of the earth, reminded me of one of our greatest gifts: our capacity for collaboration, an essential tool for moving forward together in this age of uncertainty.

(Top image: Rapids, watercolor and acrylic on paper, 7.5” x 5”)

Nikki hiking the tundra in search of Thermokarst Failures.

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Nikki Lindt is a Brooklyn artist currently working on a series of paintings on the thawing permafrost in the Fairbanks area and North Slope Borough of Alaska. She has worked on more than a decade of projects dealing with the impact of climate change. She has given many talks about her work and exhibits nationally and internationally. She is represented by Robischon Gallery in Denver and Heskin Contemporary in New York City. She has received the Pollack-Krasner Grant, the Dutch Artists Grant (Fonds BKVB) among others and has been awarded the Environmental Cultural Award, Milieudienst (Environmental Protection Agency) Amsterdam, Netherlands. Nikki received her BFA from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and her MFA from Yale University.

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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

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The Future is Solar

By Joan Sullivan

If you haven’t seen the stunning results of the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI)’s sixth international renewable energy design competition, announced last month at the 24th World Energy Congress in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, you’re in for a treat.

Starlit Stratus, by Sunggi Park, first place winner, LAGI 2019 Abu Dhabi competition

Since 2010, the biennial LAGI competition has invited artists, landscape architects, designers, engineers and other renewable energy enthusiasts from around the world to submit proposals for large-scale works of public art capable of producing clean energy for a specific site. I wrote about LAGI’s first five competitions here and here.

For the special LAGI 2019 Abu Dhabi competition, nearly 300 teams from 65 countries responded to a free and open call to design artwork for a new public park that uses “renewable energy technology as a medium of creative expression.” At the same time, this artwork will provide on-site energy production consistent with the master plan of Masdar City.

“Renewable energy as a medium of creative expression”

LAGI

Sponsored by Masdar and in partnership with the 24th World Energy Congress, LAGI’s 2019 competition “Return to the Source” encouraged applicants to “design a clean energy landscape for a post-carbon world that will help to power the city and inspire the future.”

Of the 300 submissions, 28 were shortlisted in the first stage of the competition. Collectively, these magnificent and luminous proposals inspire us all to imagine how beautiful a post-carbon world will be. Below is a selection of some of my favorite shortlisted proposals:

Forest of Light, by Joo Hyung Oh, Jae Ho Yoom, Su In Kim, Sunjae Yu, and Hyuksung Kwon
Annual capacity: 9,500 MWh

The Solar Compass, by Santiago Muros Cortes
Annual capacity: 4,000 MWh

The Oasis at Masdar, by Aziz Khalili, Puya Khalili, and Iman Khalili
Annual capacity: 7,200 MWh and 18 million liters of freshwater

The 28 shortlisted designs were on display at the LAGI exhibition throughout the 24th World Energy Congress in Abu Dhabi. The jury, led by Yousef Ahmed Baselaib, Executive Director Sustainable Real Estate, Masdar, announced the two winning designs on the second day of the congress.

The $40,000 first place prize was awarded to New York-based architect Sunggi Park for his team’s innovative Starlit Stratus, an example of his studio’s focus on flexible, re-configurable architecture.

Starlit Stratus incorporates a folding pattern of solar modules inspired by Ron Resch’s origami tessellations. Sections of the triangular geometry are made from conventional rigid photovoltaic material to produce clean electricity during the day, while other sections are made from fabric that can easily fold at night to transform the canopy into glowing orbs that illuminate the urban park.

Starlit Stratus, by Sunggi Park, first place winner, LAGI 2019 Abu Dhabi competition

According to Robert Ferry, LAGI’s founding Co-Director, “What impressed the judges about this project is the pragmatic approach to maximizing solar surface area in a manner that radically and dynamically transforms public space.”

If constructed, Starlit Stratus would provide Masdar City’s grid with 2,484 MWh of clean electricity annually.

The two gifs below illustrate how Starlit Stratus is transformed from a rectangular light-absorbing “umbrella” during the day to light-emitting globes at night:

For a virtual tour of Starlit Stratus, check out this video which is downloadable from Sunggi Park Studio’s website. Such a brilliant and inspiring project!

“With energy storage so key to a successful transition to renewables, a number of LAGI 2019 entries address this issue,” explained Mr. Ferry in an email. “One such example is the integration of gravity energy storage within the weighted armatures of Sun Flower, the second-place winning entry by Ricardo Solar Lezama, Viktoriya Kovaleva, and Armando Solar.

“As the solar modules of Sun Flower generate electricity during the day, they gently lift the armatures (“petals”) until they reach a vertical position at sunset. The weighted arms are then allowed to fall in a controlled manner to produce electricity after the sun has set and when demand is at its highest as the city begins to illuminate.”

If constructed, the Sun Flower artwork would contribute 1,400 MWh of clean electricity to Masdar City’s grid.

According to Elizabeth Monoian, LAGI’s founding Co-Director, “There were also some outstanding design entries to LAGI 2019 from Emirati design teams, many more than we received to LAGI 2010. For example, The Pulse by Fatima E. Almheiri, Haya M. Eiran, Moustafa M. Abou-Almal, Esam A. Essa, Joseph R. Limeta, and Husam Z. Almuzaini proposes a sinuous parametric form of solar energy that provides many paths of exploration through the park. The Atoms Light by Mona Abudalla Al Ali and Sreegith Madambi Karunakaran is inspired in its form by the microscopic shapes of sand particles, and inspired in its function by the respect for the natural environment instilled by the words of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.”

“The results of this year’s challenge have risen beyond our expectations and clearly point us in a positive direction toward a sustainable future,” said Monoian and Ferry in a press release. “Rather than despair about the havoc that human activity has already wrought on our planet, we can instead unite behind the manifestation of beautiful ideas such as these that reflect an emerging human culture of environmental stewardship.”

(Top image: Sun Flower, reprinted with permission from the Land Art Generator Initiative.)

This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.

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Joan Sullivan is a Canadian renewable energy photographer. Since 2009, Joan has found her artistic voice on the construction sites of utility-scale wind and solar projects. Her goal is to keep our eyes on the prize – a 100% clean energy economy in our lifetimes. Joan is currently working on a documentary film and book project about Canada’s energy transition. Her renewable energy photographs have been exhibited in group and solo shows in Canada, the UK and Italy. You can find Joan on ElloTwitter and Visura.

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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

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The Blued Trees Symphony

Aviva Rahmani will be presenting The Blued Trees Symphony this Thursday, November 7th, for “Law: Perspectives on Environmental Justice” the University of Minnesota Spotlight Series 2019-20, a collaborative partnership between Northrop, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University Honors Program. The event begins at 3:30 pm in the Best Buy Theater of Northrop, 4th Floor, 84 Church Street SE, Minneapolis, MN.

Please join us if you are in the area, the event is free and open to the public. I would love to connect and see you there!

Blue dots on the map indicate sites of “tree notes” in the Blued Trees Symphony.

Blued Trees Symphony

The Blued Trees Symphony launched on the Summer Solstice, June 21, 2015, with an overture in Peekskill, New York. It is now installed in many miles of proposed pipeline expansions, and each 1/3 measure of those miles has been copyrighted for protection. Variations of each movement are based on an iterative score created for the overture. All installations are created at the invitation of landowners. The overture was accompanied by an international Greek Chorus at a total of twenty sites internationally. Individual trees were painted and musical variations of the score were performed to echo the theme of connectivity to all life. The score is simultaneously spatial and acoustic and will conclude with a coda, a final movement that recapitulates and resolves previous themes, on the American presidential Election day, November, 2016. 

The Peekskill site was chosen because the pipelines would be 105 feet from the infrastructure of the failing Indian Point nuclear facility, 30 miles from New York City. The score corresponds to a pattern that prevents the movement of heavy machinery. The paint for each vertical sine wave is a casein slurry of non-toxic Ultramarine blue and buttermilk that grows moss (based on a Japanese gardening technique).

Blued Trees Facebook Page

Video Links: 

Blued Trees Symphony Overture

Virginia Film


Even if you can’t attend please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to the project through NYFA (the New York Foundation for the Arts)! 

Blued Trees is a division of Gulf to Gulf, a project fiscally sponsored by NYFA (New York Foundation for the Arts), a 501©3, tax exempt organization founded in 1971 to work with the arts community throughout New York State to develop and facilitate programs in all disciplines. NYFA will receive grants on behalf of the project and ensure the use of grant funds in accordance with the grant agreements as well as provide program or financial reports as required. Any donations made to the project through NYFA are tax deductible!