Yearly Archives: 2020

Creating a Living Water Map: Stacy Levy’s Collected Watershed Employs 8,500 Glass Jars to Tell the Story of Towson, Maryland’s Watershed

We hear a lot about watersheds, but how many of us really know where we live within the dendritic system of our own local waterways? We may glance at highway signs telling us we’ve entered this or that watershed, but can we name the creeks, streams, and rivers that flow around us, and do we know how they connect to each other?

Environmental artist Stacy Levy sets out to give one community a visceral, lyrical, and ecologically accurate sense of exactly where they live, water-wise, with her new project, Collected Watershed. The project, on view now through April 25th at the Towson University Center for the Arts Gallery in suburban Baltimore, employs more than 1,000 gallons of locally collected stream water to bring an entire network of Chesapeake waterways into view.

In order to get all that water back to the gallery, Levy and her collaborators—including biology students and faculty, music students, and art students—ventured out into the Towson area landscape for a full week of water collecting. Using 5-gallon buckets, participants gathered samples from over forty waterways. “It’s a very involved process,” Levy notes. “Locating the tributaries can be difficult—we’re often working with waterways that have been sent underground, or that run behind strip malls and invisibly through our neighborhoods. We all become water detectives searching out these hard-to-see waterways.”

Levy and an assistant lay out the watershed map on the gallery floor using blue tape and flexible plastic chain.

Once back at the gallery, those ungainly 5-gallon buckets filled with gathered water became, in Levy’s words, “very important water, like fine wine that you label.” And while that precious water waited, the next step of “Collected Watershed” took shape: participants carefully placed jars along blue masking tape on the gallery floor, mapping the shape of the many waterways surrounding Towson, from Gunpowder Falls in the north to Jones Falls in the south. Then, over the course of many days, participants filled those jars with water from the corresponding streams and tributaries. Now viewers can literally walk through a giant living map of their watershed, comprised of 8,500 recycled glass jars branching across the floor of the gallery.

A project participant carefully fills one of 8,500 recycled glass jars with gathered water.

For many participants, this process of gathering water and watershed mapping was an eye-opening look at the state of their watershed, as well as the hydrological issues that intersect with issues of social justice. Erin Lehman, lecturer and director of the Holtzman MFA and Center for the Arts Galleries at Towson, points to issues like water justice, paying water bills, storm runoff, and crumbling infrastructure causing pollution in local creeks and tributaries. “This project felt really germane to our gallery and the Baltimore area in general,” said Lehman, “because water is so important here, and so much of it is underground.”

Visitors to Collected Watershed can literally walk through a giant water map of the Towson area

For Levy, the project’s ultimate goal is simple: To bring to the forefront waterways that are often hidden and forgotten. “Our waterways are like capillaries across the land, carrying water from sky to sea,” she says. “The same branching pattern as our blood vessels, the watershed carries the life blood of our planet. Nowadays we know our roads far better than our waterways. By not knowing where the water flows, we fail to protect it.”

Collected Watershed at the Center for the Arts Gallery, January 31 – April 25, 2020. For more information go HERE

Abby Minor is a poet and essayist living in the ridges and valleys of central Pennsylvania.

(Top image: Collected Watershed collaborators gather samples from one of forty different waterways)

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

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

Go to EcoArtSpace

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On Inundation: Art and Climate Change in the Pacific

For Pacific Islanders, sea level rise is an existential threat. Island communities in the Asia Pacific are seeing their traditional ways of life threatened and many are experiencing coastal erosion, diminishing fresh water tables and dramatically stronger storms. For example, the Marshall Islands, which lie only six feet above sea level, experiences tidal flooding once every month. According to Marshall Island Foreign Minister Tony de Brum, the island of his childhood is “not only getting narrower – it is getting shorter…There are coffins and dead people being washed from graves – it’s that serious.”

Inundation: Art and Climate Change in the Pacific currently on view at the University of Hawai’i Manoa, includes nine Pacific artists who address the impacts of rising of sea levels resulting from climate change, and the flood of emotions that the inundation unleashes. Curated by Jaimey Hamilton Faris, Associate Professor of Art History and Critical Theory at the University, the exhibition features works that convey the aesthetics of water and the vulnerability of Asia Pacific Island communities in Hawai’i, the Kingdom of Tonga, the Philippines, Okinawa, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Singapore both visually and through the spoken word. Artists included in the exhibition are: Hawai’i-based fiber and installation/performance artist, Mary Babcock; Kanaka Maoli sculptor and installation artist, Kaili Chun; Philippine artists and siblings, Martha and Jake Atienza, who work under the platform DAKOgamay; socially engaged Singapore artist, James Jack; Marshallese poet and performance artist, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner; artist and scholar of Native Hawaiian, African-American, Japanese, Caddo Indian and Punjabi descent, Joy Lehuanani Enomoto; Singapore performance artist, photographer and videographer, Charles Lim Yi Yong; and New Zealand-born artist of Samoan and Australian heritage, Angela Tiatia.

In a recent conversation with Faris, she explained that her goal was to create an exhibition on the climate crisis that did not follow the usual formula for addressing well-known scientific and technological factors but was primarily seen through the lenses of climate justice and culture. She also wanted to “bring regional artists from large coastal island cities together with artists from small islands so that they could dialogue with each other about the shared challenges they face as a result of the climate crisis and potential alternative solutions for their homelands.”

All of the artists in Inundation promote the inclusion of Indigenous voices and environmental knowledge in the discussion of the current climate crisis in the Pacific islands. Rejecting traditional governmental solutions to flooding based on colonial history, including coastal defense systems and land reclamation projects, they imagine alternate ways of remediating the environment.

In her work, entitled Hū mai, Ala Mai, for example, Kaili Chun has created maps displaying the past and projected future shorelines along Waikiki, the Honolulu airport and the Marine Corps Base Hawai’i in O’ahu. Indicating where inundation will most likely occur and how it’s connected to the history of land appropriation and reclamation during colonization and development, the maps are overlaid with native varieties of fish that once swam in the estuary streams. Hū mai, Ala Mai imagines how a reconnected watershed can be restored into an abundant tidal ecosystem by letting the rising waters back into the places they had previously been. Her work also emphasizes the native Hawaiian values of “abundance, care and respect for the moving waters.”

Left: Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner and Joy Lehuanani Enomoto, Sounding, installation with baskets, sounding line, drawing and sound recording, 2020 ; Mary Babcock, Lotic Sea, (Center), stitched wax paper and sea salt, 2020; and Right: Kaili Chun, Hū mai, Ala mai, Ink-jet digital collage on archival paper, 24”X 96”, 2020 Installation View. Photo Credit: Chris Rohrer

In a complex installation entitled Sounding, by Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner and Joy Lehuanani Enomoto, the artists employ the patterning, intersections and strands of weaving, with the sounds of water to suggest how all Pacific island voices, including women and Indigenous ones and all strands of knowledge, including ancestral, should be part of the planned solutions to the climate crisis.

A poem by Jetn̄il-Kijiner in the exhibition catalogue reminds us of what happens when “strands” are left out of the conversation:

Look – I missed a strand.
I missed a strand, and now could we be unraveling?
Has the day come when we can talk? Maybe the day has come when we must talk. Because something is eating islands. There are islands dying. There are voices telling us to destroy thousand year old limbs like it’s nothing.
Like it’s not another strand unraveling. Like it’s not another woman sinking to the bottom. Sinking boulders tied to feet, body caged in a woven tomb.
We missed a strand and we named her monster.

Accompanying the exhibition is a comprehensive catalogue and a full range of community events, including HIGHWATERLINE: HONOLULU, which invites community participants to visualize how rising tides will impact Honolulu by walking through the Kaka’ako area. Organized by Christina Gerhardt, Associate Professor at the University of Hawai’i Manoa, this activity is a recreation of artist Eve Mosher’s original 2007 HighWaterLine community art project that marked over 70 miles in the New York City boroughs at risk for major flooding from rising tides. The Guide to Creative Community Engagement was written by Eve Mosher and Heidi Quante, and provides a roadmap on how to realize a HighWaterLine locally.

Inundation: Art and Climate Change in the Pacific is on view through February 28, 2020 at the University of Hawaii Manoa. The exhibition will travel to the Donkey Hill Art Center in Holualoa, on view March 28 – June 26, 2020.  

(Top image: Front: Charles Lim, SEA STATE 9: proclamation, 4K video, 2017, SEA STATE 9: proclamation: the sandpapers, bookshelf and books, 2017 and SEA STATE 9: proclamation: sand graph, photographs, 2017; and Back: James Jack, SEA BIRTH THREE, 4 K digital video, 2020, SPIRITS OF ŌURA, handmade walnut ink on paper, 53 “ X 174.4 “  2020, and HOME FOR PĪDAMA, aged driftwood, 29.5 “ x 13” x 8,”2020; Photo Credit Kelly Ciurej)

Mention: ecoartspace founder and curator, Patricia Lea Watts, coined the phrase “replicable social practice” in 2012 and was the lead writer for the original HighWaterLine ACTION GUIDE, co-written with Eve Mosher, offering a range of strategies for making a high water demarcation. Funded by The Compton Foundation, San Francisco.

Susan Hoffman Fishman is a painter, public artist and writer. Since 2011, her paintings and installations have focused on water and climate change. She is the co-creator of a national, interactive public art project, The Wave, which addresses our mutual need for and interdependence on water. As one of the core writers for the international blog, Artists and Climate Change, her series “Imagining Water” is published monthly.

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

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

Go to EcoArtSpace

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Opportunity: Artists wanted for Climate Action art exhibition!

Climate Emergency Scotland is planning an exhibition on the theme : Climate Action…

Climate Emergency Scotland is a newly formed group of volunteers with the goal of spreading awareness and encouraging action regarding the Climate Crisis. We are an offshoot of ELREC (Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equalities Council) and we are based in Edinburgh.

We want to create an event in May this year where climate change and climate action is at the forefront, and we are looking for local artists to get involved with the project and display their art. If you sell any of your work during the exhibition we welcome a small donation to our cause, but this is not mandatory.

We cannot accept work that requires a screen/projector.

Upcycling and environmentally friendly materials are preferred and encouraged.

How much you want to get involved is up to you! We are a volunteer-run organisation so we are always happy to get more volunteers involved with planning, setup, etc, but we are happy to just get the chance to display your art if that’s all the involvement you are interested in.

If you are interested, please email us at CEMscot@gmail.com

The post Opportunity: Artists wanted for Climate Action art exhibition! 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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Coronavirus Update

We are aware of the ongoing situation concerning the spread of the covid-19 virus and its potential implications for public events.

In line with current government and NHS recommendations, any public events we are involved in organising will continue as planned and we will be taking reasonable precautions to ensure good levels of hygiene and minimise any risk. We encourage attendees of any events to also take reasonable precautions as suggested by the NHS.We continue our standard practice of improving the accessibility and minimising the carbon emissions of our events by filming or recording at many of them, and recommend taking advantage of these resources going forward should anyone require an alternative to attending in person. We are monitoring the national situation and will make those of you who have signed up to one of our events aware of any changes or updates.

The post Coronavirus Update 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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Wild Authors: Jennifer Dance

By Mary Woodbury

For this post,  I travel to North America to look at historical and modern Canada, and the environmental, social, and economic cruelty and injustice befallen to its people and land. I talk with Jennifer Dance, author of Red Wolf, Paint, Hawk, and the play Dandelions in the Wind. We’ll concentrate mostly on Hawk here, though the three novels have been bundled together in the White Feather Collection. I stumbled across Jennifer’s novel Hawkrecently on a trip up to 100-Mile, British Columbia, as my husband and I had some time to kill on a snowy afternoon and, as is usually the case, ended up in a bookstore.

I found the book immediately gripping, and the subject matter right up my alley. Hawk, a First Nations teen from northern Alberta, is a cross-country runner who aims to win gold in an upcoming competition between all the schools in Fort McMurray. But when Hawk discovers he has leukemia, his identity as a star athlete is stripped away, along with his muscles and energy. When he finds an osprey, “a fish hawk,” mired in a pond of toxic residue from the oil sands industry, he sees his life-or-death struggle echoed in the young bird.

Slipping in and out of consciousness, Hawk has visions of the osprey and other animals that shared his childhood home: woodland caribou, wolves, and wood buffalo. They are all helpless and vulnerable, their forest and muskeg habitat vanishing. Hawk sees in these tragedies parallels with his own fragile life, and wants to forge a new identity – one that involves standing up for the voiceless creatures that share his world. But he needs to survive long enough to do it.

Here is my conversation with Jennifer.

Can you briefly describe your thoughts on each novel (Red Wolf, Paint, and Hawk)?

All three books use an animal to help shed light on a sensitive human problem. Although each is an independent story, when taken as a whole, they join the dots between the colonial policies of the past and the situation that Canada finds herself in today, regarding both the environment and racism against indigenous people. They open the door to reconciliation as well as to activism, and as such, they have a place in classrooms across Canada, from middle grade up. Having said that, these books are not just for children. They are equally suitable for adult readers. Red Wolf for example is the adventure story of an orphaned timber wolf and the First Nations boy who raises him, but on a deeper level it’s about colonialism, the Indian Act of 1876, and the residential school system that grew out of that legislation.  Paint, set in that same era, is the story of a mustang on the prairies at a time when settlers are moving West. Through the life experiences of the horse, we see that greed and racism virtually eliminated both the buffalo and the Plains Indians, and made irreversible changes to the grassland itself, ultimately leading to the Dust Bowl.

Hawk, rooted in that same colonial pastfast forwards to today, to the Alberta oil sands. The story compares the struggle for survival of both fish hawks and humans who live downstream of the industry. Racism rears its ugly head again. Sure, the Canadian economy is benefitting immensely from the oil sands industry, but what if the Athabasca River ran the other way? What if instead of flowing north to a few First Nations and Metis communities, it flowed south to Edmonton and Calgary. What if people there were getting sick? And what if the last hundred years had taught you that the government would do nothing to help you? The honest answer to that question brings us back around to Canada’s endemic racism toward indigenous people, racism that was seeded by colonialism and fed by residential schools.

What inspired you to write these novels?

All three books were inspired by the subject matter. Writing is my form of activism. I write, to tell people about the shameful things, past and present, that I see happening in Canada, things that my peers don’t know or understand. I write to inspire today’s youth to take a stand for justice or equality or the environment, or any other cause that’s important to them. Our youth are the leaders of tomorrow, they are the ones who will win justice and equality for indigenous people in this country. They are the ones who will clean up the environmental mess that my generation has caused, but only if they know about it and only if their hearts have been touched. I try to educate young and old about the issues without leaving the after-taste of a history lesson. I try to pull at their heart-strings, in a story that keeps them turning the page, and helps equips them to make the world a better place.

My passion for justice and equality goes back to when I was 17, to that pivotal moment in 1966 when I met the boy who I would later marry. He was black and I was white. To put that in the context of the times, it was still two years before the assassination of Martin Luther King. I was naïve and I really thought that we could make a difference, and show those around us that skin color didn’t matter! The reality was harder than I imagined. The day-to-day racism that we experienced as a couple culminated in an unprovoked attack by Skinheads. Keith was left with a fractured skull and broken ribs. It took a while, but he recovered and we came to Canada looking for a safer place to raise our mixed-race children. Shortly after we got here, Keith died – unexpectedly – a complication from the earlier head injury. I was 30. Our daughter was 3, our son not yet two and I was 5 months pregnant. It was hard. But I came through it with an even greater passion for fighting racism. I know for a fact that without Keith’s influence on my life, these stories would never have been written. So, looking back, I guess Keith was my inspiration.

You also wrote the play Dandelions in the Wind. Can you talk some about that?

Dandelions in the Wind is a musical drama, and it’s my life’s work. It contains much of my own experience as a young white woman married to a young black man during the sixties and seventies. But I set my personal story into the backdrop of the United States to raise awareness about the Civil Rights struggle and the countless young people who bravely confronted hatred with love.  Fifty years later, that struggle is far from over, making Dandelions in the Wind really timely.

With this musical, as with my books, I try to make a difficult subject suitable for both youth and adults. Spoken Word acts like a pair of bookends, sandwiching more traditional genres of music, and asking where are we are now, as individuals and as a people? Are we still in chains, still bound by racism, or are we free?

The show has been performed in both Canada and England. I dream that it will become part of Black History month for school audiences throughout North America. The biggest problem however is money. It takes a fortune to stage a fully professional show of this calibre.

Can you explain the title Dandelions in the Wind?

Imagine dandelion parachutes blowing in the wind. That imagery represents the diaspora of the African people, blown all over the world by slavery and racism. But more importantly, it represents a powerful, personal memory. The day of Keith’s funeral, I took my children to the park. Our three-year-old daughter picked dandelions that had gone to seed, gathering them in a bunch to give to her daddy. The funeral had taught her that flowers mean “I love you,” but she was perplexed as to how to give them to her father. I blew some of the parachutes heavenwards. She watched them float back to earth, her bottom lip trembling. And then she said, “If I think really hard, can I think the flowers to daddy?”

This spotlight focuses on Hawk, as we travel to the Albertan oil sands in Canada and see the effects of Big Oil on Aboriginal residents. What’s going on up there?

It’s hard to even verbalize without using curse words! It’s appalling. It’s devastating. It’s heart-breaking. I still cannot fathom it, and I’ve been there! I’ve driven through it, at least the parts that I was given access to. And I’ve flown over it, all of it! Flying is the best way to grasp the extent of the devastation. The boreal forest has been stripped bare from horizon to horizon, and replaced with a heart-wrenching mess. Or it has been carved up by seismic lines which don’t look as bad from the air but which fracture the habitat for wildlife and are equally devastating as clearcutting and surface mining. Even talking about it now, makes me upset again!

The problems are immense and I have only just touched the tip if the iceberg with my story, but I hope it raises awareness at least. I was stunned that the processing plants are right on the edge of the Athabasca River. It makes sense of course, because the industry uses hot water to separate the bitumen from the sand. In fact, more water is taken from the river each day than is used by the entire city of Toronto. As if that’s not bad enough, they then pump the dirty water along with the carcinogenic waste (called tailings) into enormous open ponds to evaporate down. These tailings ponds are lined with packed clay. Some are literally right on the edge of the river, so if they leak or seep, the carcinogenic petrochemicals end up in the river. And the river goes north.

First the water floods into the Peace-Athabasca Delta – a precious wetland named by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. The world recognizes this delta as an environmentally significant area, yet hardly anyone in Canada knows about it, or realizes that it’s right downstream of the oil sands industry! And people don’t know that it’s on the migration route of literally millions of birds.

From the delta, the water trickles into Lake Athabasca and to the First Nations community of Fort Chipewyan where Adam in my story grows up.  The residents of Fort Chip have lived a traditional life style for eons, eating fish, duck, geese, moose etc., everything coming directly or indirectly from the river. And for twenty years or more, people there have been getting sick. These days most of the people have a family member working in the oil sands industry. It’s the only way they can afford to eat imported “safe” food and water. I try to show all these issues in my story.

Then there’s the land reclamation. The lease agreements between the oil companies and the government guarantee that the mined land will be reclaimed once all the bitumen has been removed.  The industry proudly advertises their reclamation successes, directing you to visit an area where tress have been planted and buffalo have been reintroduced. Only three species of tress had been planted and the buffalo were nowhere in sight – they are kept in paddocks most of the time, so they don’t over graze the land. 

The reality is that the land is never going to be like it was before. Wetlands called muskeg, will be gone. Thousands of species of flora and fauna will be lost for ever. Woodland caribou are already probably past the point of salvation. And even after all this time, the industry still doesn’t have a good long-term plan for what to do with the sludge from the tailings ponds. Right now, they are mixing it with gypsum to solidify it into “rocks” which they put onto the mined land as the first stage of the reclamation process. They then cover it with sand and topsoil, and plant trees. But gypsum is the same stuff they use in plaster casts, and I know that it crumbles when it gets wet. (One of my kids was in a body cast when he was still in diapers!) So, won’t these “rocks” crumble in the damp soil and release the toxins into the ground water? And won’t it all end up in the river?

Going up there – meeting the people of Fort Chipewyan, hearing their stories, seeing it all for myself – was a challenging experience, but one that impacted me greatly. As a scientist, I had hoped to find a balance between opposing views of the industry, but I discovered families, just like Hawk’s, trapped between earning a living and losing their health and traditional lifestyle. If you visit my website, you’ll find a photo journal of my trip.

I agree about this completely heart-breaking subject matter. I’m curious, what inspired your character Adam?

I wanted Adam to be a regular kid, one that non-Native readers could relate to, but I also wanted to show the generational effect of residential schools on Adam’s family, and the positive impact of a loving grandfather.

In the first draft of Hawk, Adam was a girl. I figured that the protagonists in both Red Wolf and Paint were boys, so it was time for a change. But although I tried hard, I couldn’t create a believable girl! I don’t quite know why. Perhaps because I was never a girly girl myself. I was always out playing in the woods, riding ponies, and befriending hurt animals.  Back in my own parenting days, there was not much material for boys to read, and based on my own experience, boys don’t take to reading the way girls do, so, I worked hard at keeping boys engaged in the story.

In developing Adam’s character, I tried to verbalize his emotions as he faces leukemia. Keith was an inspiration here. He was in a coma for the last month of his life.  Sitting at his bedside, I often wondered if he had already left his body and was flying free… getting a glimpse of heaven. That’s why I was able to write Adam’s out-of-body experiences as well as find suitable reactions and emotions for Adam’s friends and family as they sat and watched, helplessly.

Thanks so much, Jennifer. I can’t even begin to express my sympathy for your losses. Your activism through art is an amazing accomplishment.

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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Green Tease Reflections: Listening to the Anthropocene

This event brought together musicians, geographers and campaigners to discuss the concept of the Anthropocene, the proposed new geological epoch marked by human activity, and the role that music and listening could play as a means of illuminating our understanding of this particular issue and how we as humans interact with the rest of our world.  

Listening Exercise

Emily Doolittle kicked off the event by leading everyone in a listening exercise. We first listened to what we could hear now in our location at Civic House, which sits nearby to both green space and a major road. We then tried to remember a soundscape of the past and noted the things that perhaps we don’t hear now. Suggestions included children playing in the street, the sound of a horse and cart rag and bone man, typewriters, and electric milk floats. Then we were asked to imagine what a future soundscape might be and whether our impulse was to imagine this positively or negatively. Suggestions here included thoughts about no internal combustion engine cars, lots of drones, fewer planes, and maybe more kids playing in safer streets. 

The aim of the exercise was to open up attendees to considering how our sense of place is strongly (albeit usually unconsciously) influenced by how we hear it, as well as how listening can be a way of understanding our world, an alternative to our normal emphasis on the visual. Is the non-directional, diffuse experience of listening a more appropriate way of understanding how our world is shifting than the focused, specific experience of looking? The rest of the event sought to interrogate this issue. 

Presentations from Panellists

Deborah Dixon spoke about how early geologists used poetry, music, visuals, intersecting with the arts in a very different way to how we think of geology now. She further suggested that geology is a ‘field-oriented discipline’ in that tactile and sensory information derived from feeling, hearing and tasting is of vital importance.  

Deborah discussed how, from an earth sciences point of view, there exists a kind of ‘geosemiosis’. History is the signs which are written in the rock strata and can be interpreted. She also argued that we should use the term ‘an Anthropocene’ rather than ‘the Anthropocene’ and noted that there were many different definitions and names for it, depending on people’s point of view, but that all of them tend to miss emphasising the complex human processes that together have force enough to shape the entire Earth system.

How do we look for the sounds of human forcing of the climate? Bioacoustics! Sound and recording can capture biodiversity loss and change as well as variations in the environment in alternative ways. These sounds can intimate an exchange or a loss in the makeup of our world, as well as an indifference, or an obligation. She quoted some examples of discussions of the importance of sound by geologists, such as: 

‘Listen to your footsteps over dry and wet sand beaches. How different those sounds are from the coarse crunch produced while walking on a gravel beach or from the fine crunch of ash while walking up a cinder cone. And both are distinctively different from the clinking sound made while walking on the crushed glass and pumice of an obsidian dome’, Ray Pestrong 2000 

Emily Doolittle then spoke about how she had been interested in birdsong for some years now, and the difference between how humans and animals use and consider and organise sound. 

She noted that birds, in her example the Hermit Thrush, process sound much more quickly than we do, so what sounds like a babble to us has more structure to them – when you slow it down you hear much more detail. But nobody had written about this before as ornithologists and musicians don’t communicate with each other well. 

She noted that some mammals are considered to have ‘song’ as birds do – whales, seals, bats – and that the importance of communication through sound is prevalent throughout the natural world. 

She played some recordings of bird song and then the same slowed down, so that we could hear the detail and then she played an extract of her own composition, which responded to the birdsong. 

Tamara van Strijthem then spoke about Take One Action, a film festival that uses film screenings and discussions as a means of provoking positive social change. The 2019 festival hosted a number of screenings of the documentary film ‘Anthropocene: the human epoch’ alongside talks and discussions.  

She threw out a number of provocations, including ‘How do we communicate about a crisis as fundamental as the one we face?’ and how do we enable people to understand and accept the level of crisis and then seek to change?’, ‘What do we seek, as participants in an arts event that addresses climate change, that other forms don’t offer?’.  

Stuart Macrae spoke about his opera Anthropocene, with the libretto by Louise Welsh. It is set in the Antarctic, where a ship of scientists and researchers becomes stuck in the ice. 

The title was a bit playful. They initially called the ship on which the passengers are stuck ‘The Anthropocene’, seeking to indicate a sense of hubris, but also the sense that it is the humans who have caused the problem of climate breakdown and now they have to deal with it. Gradually the whole opera took on the same title. 

During the process of composition, many people asked him would he use recorded sounds from the Antarctic but he decided no: like the marooned people on board, he’d have to rely on the resources available to him – in his case in the orchestra and the theatre. 

Discussion

This was followed by a question and answer session. There was talk about the need to avoid trying to ‘bridge’ the gap between art and science in collaborations but to rather acknowledge the differences and seek the shared aesthetics. Scientists and artists share more than we think in terms of understandings and curiosity. 

After a break we then broke into four groups, each led by one of the panel members, as follows: 

Stuart focused on the question ‘What role can musicians have in aiding conceptualisation of environmental issues?’. The discussion centred around what skills musicians have to offer that are not found elsewhere in the environmental movement, whether musicians need to have a ‘unique’ role to be useful, and the difficulties in knowing which methods are effective. 

Tamara looked at ‘How can we make sure that artistic work produces real action?’. Responses included: 

  • Shared experience can be used as a means of precipitating a collective response, breaking through the tendency to emphasise individual responsibility. 
  • Artistic work can enable a radical re-imagining, creating new narratives that can contribute to future change.
  • It can enable emotional connection and solidarity.
  • It provides opportunities to acknowledge, process, and explore complex realities and emotions. 

Emily asked ‘How can artists and environmental practitioners forge useful relationships?’. Responses included: 

  • Arts and sciences are equally rigorous, but in different ways. 
  • We need to take the time to develop a shared understanding of the language we use. 
  • In an academic context, needing to frame artistic work as research can inhibitpossibilities. 

And Deborah asked ‘How can music/art go beyond ‘communicating’ about climate change?’. Responses included: 

  • Communication can take different forms through art. It can be embodied or affective.
  • Art can allow interpretation of data as experienced or felt.
  • It can provide a context for ‘slow thought’ on complex subjects.
  • Artistic  approaches can go beyond traditional reality or be speculative.
  • Art can enable ‘aesthetic transduction’, provoking new ways of thinking softly or unobtrusively, getting past defences.

The post Green Tease Reflections: Listening to the Anthropocene 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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Closing the Generational Gap Through Music

By Rena Marthaler

How could it be possible to sing without heart? Any musician I am amazed by is a musician who I know has poured their soul into a piece, maybe even when they didn’t feel an initial connection to it. A musician has to find a way for the music to mean something to them. Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to sing about something that already had deep meaning for me, something I could pour myself into – our global climate crisis. I am 15 years-old, scared for my world and future, and now not only opening my eyes to this issue, but opening my ears. 

I am a member of the Shine Children’s Chorus organization, a nonprofit musical education and performance program for any youth in Portland, Oregon, directed by Lauren Fitzgerald. More specifically, I am in the organization’s oldest group, True North Acapella. In December 2019, we had the opportunity to join forces with the Portland Peace Choir for a “Beauty of the Earth” performance, performing pieces that engage with global climate issues with force and with grace. The Portland Peace Choir is a group comprised of singers of all ages who sing music for a cause – advocating for peace, equality, diversity, and unity. 

I was exhilarated at the thought of putting my passion for the climate into music, but I didn’t know going in that the very first rehearsal would bring tears to my eyes. I listened to the Peace Choir sing a gorgeous arrangement written by one of their own members, Janice Leber. As they sang Our House is on Fire, the youth in our choir spoke portions of Greta Thunberg’s speeches. I asked Janice after the event what led her to create something that had so much impact on me. She said, “I was already inspired by Greta Thunberg. The moment I heard that the choir wanted to sing about climate change, I started googling Greta Thunberg. The tune for Our House is On Fire was in my head by the time we got home.” The passion flowed from Janice and into the hearts of the singers as we performed her arrangement. 

Our other collaboration that night was I am the Earth, a piece that featured the Peace Choir as the Earth singing to the children, who responded in lines of song. This powerful conversation between generations felt alive, and resonated emotionally as we realized that this was a metaphorical conversation between the Earth and the next generation. The melody was dramatic, then becoming hopeful as the youth sang, “It is our time, we’re in your hands, together we stand, this moment in time we share.” 

This idea of coming together is vital to the climate change movement because while youth have the passion and desire to have their voices heard, older generations have the power to enact change. It is important for multiple generations to work together. The women in the Women’s Suffrage Movement had a generational gap between them that caused frictions in how to approach the issue. This led to conflicts within the movement, conflicts that I believe can be prevented with intergenerational partnerships such as ours. Barbara, a member of the Peace Choir, expressed, “It’s so incredibly beautiful to see all you young people here, knowing that you are going to step up and take stewardship of the planet, something we’re trying to do in our generation, which is such a struggle with the people that are such climate deniers. It gives me so much hope knowing that there won’t be so much of that by the time it’s your turn to take over the planet.”

One of the ways to close the generational gap is to find a common interest, such as the arts. The arts, in this case music, offer a way for people of all ages to protest and express care for the cause together. That is the mission of the Peace Choir, which is open to all ages. Jesse Cromer, director of the Peace Choir, explains it this way: “The goal is to come together – all ages, whether you read music or don’t read music – and sing for peace. We’re always looking to push the envelope for social change. If we’re going to come together intergenerationally, we have to come together musically. Children have a certain kind of wisdom, and people who have lived on the earth for longer – whether they’re middle-aged or older – have a different kind of wisdom. When you get all these different kinds of wisdom together, not only do the ideas flow like water, so does the spirit and the joy. We can see things and be open to things that we wouldn’t normally see and be open to.” 

The youth in the performance that night were able to see that there are adults who care enough to stand up for the next generation. We were able to get involved in the movement in ways that are familiar to us and that we feel passionate about. In many ways, the performance felt like activism – for one of the songs, we participated from seats in the audience, raising signs that you would normally find at a rally, during the chorus. 

Janice told us, “I have a poster up in one of my rooms that says, ‘Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, it’s a hammer with which to shape it.’” This just reflects and amplifies how each piece of art, every person, and every performance, shapes our future. 

(All photos by Sadie McRae.)

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Rena Marthaler is a sophomore in high school. She has been singing and playing instruments her entire life. She is the student director for True North Acapella, as well as belonging to another choir and to the two top school ensembles for band. She spends her time getting involved in her community, by volunteering at the Q Center every Saturday, facilitating a queer youth support group with her friend, and picking up any other volunteer opportunities that come her way.

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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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