Yearly Archives: 2020

An Interview with Amy Howden-Chapman & Abby Cunnane

By Amy Brady

Meet Amy Howden-Chapman and Abby Cunnane, two artists who founded and edit The Distance Plan, a journal that includes art, essays, and experimental writing on climate change. The journal is an offshoot of The Distance Plan organization, a collective of artists and writers who produce exhibitions and participate in public forums on climate. In the Q&A below, we discuss what inspired them to launch the journal and what they hope readers will take away from it. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.

The Distance Plan journal is published by the Distance Plan organization, which is a collective of artists, writers, and activists. Can you describe your organization’s mission and the type of work you create and promote?

We founded The Distance Plan in 2011 because we felt that discussion about climate change wasn’t happening in humanities contexts that we knew. While there were people working on the issue in various fields, especially in the sciences, we wanted to bring them together with artists, activists, and writers, and to provide a platform that would present these interdisciplinary conversations to a broader audience. Today a lot of people understand that the response to the climate crisis will require a mobilization in the arts; we need to represent the problems of the past and present and imagine a better future, and telling stories that reflect the diversity of our experience is important in these regards. But back then, knowledge about climate change was relatively siloed within a few academic spheres, and the way this knowledge was communicated to the public involved equally remote images and narratives. All those photographs of polar bears and melting arctic ice!

The Distant Plan journal, issue #5: “Charismatic Facts”

The journal contains gorgeous poetry and prose about climate change. What do you hope readers take away from each issue?

Our most recent issue, “Charismatic Facts: Climate Change, Poetry and Prose,” focuses on the ways language can be used to circulate powerful pieces of information about the climate crisis (one example, borrowed from David Wallace-Wells, is the fact that humans have emitted more carbon in the last thirty years – since the premiere of Seinfeld – than in all prior history). For other issues, we’ve invited artists and scientists to produce images of local climate impacts: things happening within their various communities. The idea is that this may inspire others to attend to the more immediate effects of climate change while also acknowledging the global scale of the problem. The hope is that readers will take away an anecdote, image, or feeling – something that relates to their own sphere of life and work and enables them to imagine possibilities for climate action within their own practices and political endeavors. We want people to get involved. 

The “Lexicon” is a project you are exploring both in print and in your exhibitions. What is the “Lexicon” and how did it come about?

The Distance Plan “Lexicon” is a collaborative glossary of terms (each accompanied by an image) that describe aspects of the climate crisis, providing language through which we can address problems or giving names to under-represented categories of experience. One example is “Gendered Climate Impacts,” a Lexicon term that refers to the way global warming affects women and non-binary folk differently from others, often with disproportionately negative outcomes. Another term is “Real-Time Attribution,” which is a relatively recent phenomenon within climate science wherein extreme weather events are now being linked to anthropogenic warming, even as they are happening.  

Why are narrative and artistic responses to climate change important?

Climate change is a cultural problem as much as it is an economic, scientific, and political one. We need to radically transform our societies and social ideals (at least our contemporary capitalist ones) in order to meet this challenge. Historically, art – and especially storytelling – has played an important role in mobilizing social movements, critiquing wrongdoing, and envisioning positive change. But because the climate crisis is transcultural, the visual arts and other non-verbal forms are increasingly valuable as we seek to activate a global response. It’s wonderful to see Extinction Rebellion using creative modes of performance and a strong graphic-design identity to speak to people around the world.  

Large presses have given us several novels and poetry collections about climate change in the last couple of years. But what kind of freedoms does an independent zine allow you? Do you feel that there are ways in which you can discuss climate change in the journal that you may not be able to elsewhere?

Well, to begin with, we’re not subject to the constraints of a for-profit publishing model. But our independence also means that we can be more nimble and mobile when it comes to what we do and the audiences we engage. The Distance Plan is run between Aotearoa New Zealand (where Abby Cunnane is based) and New York City (where Amy Howden-Chapman now lives). The project has represented the work of contributors from all over the world and we value the ability to turn our attention in each issue to different places and concerns. 

What’s next for you both?

We just participated in the Our Futures Festival, which was associated with the UN’s Climate Week, and also hosted a discussion with Janine Randerson, a climate artist and writer, and Albert Refiti, an architect and researcher who studies Pacific spatial and architectural environment. Stay tuned for updates about more Distance Plan events in New York. And we’re working on the next print issue. Sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about everything and to receive our next call for submissions. 

How can my readers get copies of the journal?

Within the US and Europe the journal is available for purchase directly through our website. If you’re in New York City, you can find the latest issue at Printed Matter. There are a number of bookstores in New Zealand that stock our issue and they are listed at TheDistancePlan.org.

(Top image: The “Lexicon” on view at an art festival on Governor’s Island.)

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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The City and the Sea

Current-day Mumbai was originally an archipelago of seven separate islands in the marsh waters of the Arabian Sea off the western coast of India. As a result of large-scale civil engineering projects in the 18th and 19th centuries, the islands were joined into a single land mass appropriated from the sea itself. Now the financial capital of India with a population of approximately 20.19 million residents, Mumbai continues to build on every available piece of land, a policy that has dramatically impacted its natural ecosystem. In addition, unseasonable rains, stronger monsoons and higher tides – the results of climate change – have damaged the area’s crops and caused major flooding in a city with few places for the water to go.

Meera Devidayal

Mumbai painter and video artist, Meera Devidayal, has a lot to say about her city’s relationship with the sea that surrounds it. Born in Delhi and raised in Kolkata, she moved to Mumbai in 1967, where she has lived since. Devidayal’s work over the decades has focused on the city and has included subjects such as the city’s destination as a “dream city” for migrants, and the ghostly presence of its ruined textile mills. It was an experience in 2015, though, that turned her attention to the ocean waters around Mumbai.

On a visit to her husband’s office, which is located in a dense complex of high-rise buildings at Nariman Point, Devidayal suddenly noticed reflections of the sea on the windows facing the building next door. It was a stunning observation because she could not actually see the ocean from where she was standing. In a 2018 article in the publication Firstpost, Devidayal describes her initial reaction to what she was seeing:

It intrigued me because there were these reflections, but the sea was nowhere. Visually, it was surreal and very interesting. I had begun thinking about the idea that the sea had always been there. This area was built on reclaimed land, and the sea had been taken over by it. But it was still visible in the form of these reflections. That set me on the track to explore the sea as a metaphor for nature or the planet, while the concrete buildings are a metaphor for what man’s place on Earth is…You can’t go on and on disturbing the ecological balance. The sea is going to have its revenge…

MeeraDevidayal_Mirage-_-2018.jpeg
Mirage, charcoal, acrylic, digital print on canvas, 39” x 127”, 2018
Water Has Memory

Photographing the reflections on the windows over the course of the next year, Devidayal captured how they varied significantly depending on the time of day, the weather and the motions of the waves. She began to think that “it was almost as if the sea was trying to tell you that ‘I am here even if you can’t see me.’” The notion of the ocean “speaking up” to assert its presence and power over the man-made environment became the focus of Devidayal’s two-year project.

Devidayal used photographs and footage she had taken of the sea reflections to create a video entitled Water Has Memory. The video became the centerpiece of a 2018 exhibition of the same name at the Chemould Prescott Road Gallery in Mumbai.

Water Has Memory begins with a quotation by German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer, whose monumental body of work deals with the weight of memory. The quotation, which is particularly appropriate to the theme of Devidayal’s project, reads as follows:

No empty space is really empty. Everywhere it is filled with the traces of the past. The past will always be there in the present. Whatever we put into a place will be mingled with whatever was there before.

The video goes on to reveal a series of images of the worn-out façade of Mr. Devidayal’s high-rise office building and reflections of the sea on its windows. Employees are visible behind the reflections working at desks, talking on phones and conducting meetings without regard for the outside world. In one image, a window washer is cleaning right over one of the reflections as if he is actually erasing the sea.

The patterns of the water reflections are sometimes horizontal and sometimes diagonal; the water shimmers, moves quickly or slowly, consumes all of a window or just a portion of it. We hear sounds of the sea sloshing against the shore, fog horns and the motors of boats. Within some of the reflections, tiny vessels cross the window space, creating a surreal impression of an alternate world. Eventually, our viewpoint moves to a view of the sea itself overrunning a busy city street and then subsuming the built environment.Water Has Memory, 2018

A second video, entitled Mirage, was also part of Devidayal’s 2018 exhibition. Our viewpoint at the beginning of this video is from the sea looking towards Mumbai. At first, the city is just a shadowy image, a silent “mirage.” As the soundtrack kicks in, we begin to see a clear image of a bridge and then the skyline of the city. We move to a construction worker in the process of building a new structure and a series of high-rises, which morph into a skyline of ice. Then a barefoot laborer feeds slabs of ice into an ice-cutting machine until that frame morphs once again into a silent view of the sparkling sea. As Devidayal said in an April 2018 article for the Hindustan Times, “the buildings will ultimately melt away.” Mirage ends with a boat crossing the water with just the shadow of buildings appearing underneath the sea.Mirage, 2018

In addition to the videos, the Water Has Memory exhibition included poetry and a series of drawings grouped under the title The Serene Brutality of the Ocean (see above and below). In these drawings, the ocean is both calm and powerful. The boats, general travelers, and refugees that journey on its surface are under its control and will reach their destinations according to its ultimate will.

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The Serene Brutality of the Sea, graphite, acrylic and blue marker on paper, 11.5″ x 16.5″, 2018

In our recent Skype conversation, Devidayal spoke about her ideas for her next project, which will also focus on water. She stressed how precious water is in Mumbai, a city that relies on the monsoon rains that normally occur from June to September to satisfy the needs of its enormous population for the entire year. She spoke about the residents of Mumbai’s slums and the 50-60 tribal villages who don’t have access to running water. Although these villages are located near the main catchment area for the city, their residents must walk long distances to reach unreliable wells for their water. Devidayal plans to use images of the vast network of water storage tanks that are universally visible on the city’s buildings juxtaposed with images of the wells that villagers are forced to use.

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Water Tank, digital print, charcoal, dry pastel and acrylic on paper, 7.5” x 9.5”, 2019
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The Well, 11.5” x 9”, digital print, dry pastel, charcoal and acrylic on paper, 2019

In all of her work, Devidayal’s devotion to and affection for her city are apparent.  She tells what she calls “visual stories” that are not meant to be literal or didactic in order to encourage the public to think about and be aroused by what these “stories” represent. Water Has Memory, her tale of the city and the sea, is both a warning about what may soon occur as well as an aesthetically powerful portrayal of Mumbai.

(Top image: The Serene Brutality of the Ocean, graphite, acrylic and blue marker on paper, 11.5″ x 16.5,” 2018)

This article is part of Imagining Water, a series on artists of all genres who are making the topic of water and climate change a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances, projects and publications that are appearing in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme.

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Susan Hoffman Fishman is a painter, public artist and writer. Her work has been exhibited in numerous museums and galleries throughout the US and she has received numerous grants and commissions. Since 2011, all of her paintings, installations and drawings have focused on water and climate change. She co-created a national, interactive public art project, The Wave, which addresses our mutual need for and interdependence on water and has inspired thousands of adults and children of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to protect this vital resource. Her most recent body of work calls attention to the growing number of rampikes along our shores – dead trees that have been exposed to salt water as a result of rising tides.

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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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We need to talk about tipping points

By Chrisfremantle

This is from The Learning Planet a blog associated with The Climate Change Museum project. The article discusses the implications of ‘tipping points’ in relation to the language of ‘change’, ‘crisis’, ’emergency’ and ‘catastrophe’, all associated with climate and ecosystems.

The Learning Planet

A tipping point is a threshold that, when exceeded, can lead to large changes in the state of the system. In the case of global climate disruption, these changes could mean a cascade of feedback effects that could destroy conditions for thriving biodiverse life and human civilisation.

Screenshot 2019-12-22 07.40.43
From a thread by Andrew Dessler

The terms for climate have very quickly moved from ‘climate change’ to ‘climate crisis’ to ‘climate emergency’. (Side note, this should always be read as ‘climate and ecological emergency’, with intersecting causes and impacts of ecocide, fossil fuel emissions and ecosystems collapse.)

Arguably, there has been a climate emergency since it was known that fossil fuels were altering the global carbon cycle and raising temperatures (1940s – 1960s). On the other hand, there are valid criticisms of the use of the term ’emergency’ because it calls to mind authoritarian governments cracking down on freedoms to implement extreme action.

This recent paper by seven authors in Nature, ‘Climate tipping points – too risky to bet against’, offers an equation to define ’emergency’.

Screenshot 2019-12-22 07.26.34

The authors argue that the intervention time to prevent global tipping has shrunk to almost zero. However, there is still time – and an absolute necessity – to double down to limit the impacts of global tipping. The reality is that while rainforests dessicate and burn, they are also being deliberately cleared for agriculture, and that while fossil fuels cause ocean acidification, mass deaths of marine life and coral reef bleaching, several major countries are increasing their consumption of coal and drilling for more oil.

I wonder if ’emergency’ is not even a strong enough term for what is unfolding globally now, and perhaps ‘climate catastrophe’ is more appropriate. Most climate discourse in politics and economics places catastrophe at an indefinable point in the future. In the more problematic framings, this corresponds to ignoring that where ecosystems and people’s homes have been affected over past years (if not decades), climate catastrophe has already hit. Even advocates for urgent radical action, such as Greta Thunberg and Caroline Lucas, use phrases such as ‘if we want to avoid climate catastrophe…’. Although they give clear evidence that ‘climate change is here now’, the catastrophe is always still to come.

But, what is climate catastrophe if not this?

Screenshot 2019-12-22 07.40.54

We need to start talking about the Emergency in relation to tipping points, which means understanding that this is a non-linear situation. If the climate impact of Australia’s raging forest fires is equivalent to all its national emissions, this puts a new light on the incrementalism of climate action.

There is room for more, urgent, research on the locations, potential scale and knock-on effects of tipping point changes. Also, there is much more room for tipping points to be reflected in frameworks for action, activist demands and climate communication. Given that climate discourses have been overwhelmed by forces pushing for delay, licence to drill, and denial of the science, this is going to be really hard. When we’re so used to hearing that climate communication must not alarm people, it is hard to know how to avoid alarm when an image search, simply of ‘Australia’ with today’s date yields this array of images.

Active hope continues to be the most essential emotion we can harness, but the situation is as grievous as could be imagined. If anyone has thoughts on how we can start talking more about this through the work of Climate Museum UK and in general, please share.

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ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.

Go to EcoArtScotland

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Happy New Year! 2020

In 1997, I conceived of ecoartspace as a place where visitors could learn about the principles of ecology through immersive environments created by artists. I then published one of the first websites online with a directory of artists addressing environmental issues.  In 1999, I met Amy Lipton and we decided to join forces working from both the east and west coasts while operating under the umbrella of SEE, the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, a 501c3 fiscal sponsor.

2019 marked 20 years that we have been curating art and ecology programs, participating on panels and giving lectures internationally. When Amy and I began doing research in the 1990s, there were not many artists yet working in and with nature. We spent many years educating curators and arts institutions on earth and ecological art from the late 1960s through the 1990s. The movement has evolved from an interest in earth as artistic medium, to working with scientists collaborating on conservation and restoration efforts, to a more DIY, in your own backyard, community arts or social practice in the 2000s.

Combined, Amy and I have curated over 80 art and ecology exhibitions, many that were outdoors collaborating with artists doing site works. We have worked with well over one thousand artists from across the country, some internationally. This past year we have spent time reflecting on the work we have completed and had conversations on how to move forward.

We are preparing to make an announcement soon and wanted to let all of our fans know today that we are not finished with this work! The start of this decade offers us renewed perspective and there are many projects that we want to continue working on including in-depth video interviews with pioneering eco artists, ACTION GUIDES presenting replicable social practice projects, and curating exhibitions.

ecoartspace wishes you all a very inspiring 2020!!!

Patricia and Amy

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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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Wild Authors: Emin Madi

By Mary Woodbury

Today we travel to Borneo, to Sabah’s Lost World, a wondrous and isolated basin that surprisingly has not been too explored nor exploited like many other areas in the world that contain such beauty and abundant natural resources, all within a montane ecosystem. Nature explorers are allowed but must get advance permission from the Yayasan Sabah Group, a state-sanctioned organization in Malaysia, which designated the basin as a conservation area in 1981. Imagine rolling mountains and tall Agathis trees, white sands, and a jungle woodland snuggled beneath the place where the mist meets the sky.

Published in June 2018, The Green Gold of Borneowhich author Emin Madi describes as docu-fiction, takes us there. Emin, a Dusun, was born in 1949 in Sinungkalangan, a remote village in Tambunan District, and grew up in Kampung Bayangan, Keningau, Sabah, East Malaysia. He served in the Malaysian Armed Forces for several years before quitting; he took up journalism in the early ’70s. He is still freelancing for the Malaysian National News Agency (BERNAMA). He and his wife, Siti Habsah Abdillah, and their two sons, Mohd Ezrie and Mohd Erwin, live in Kota Kinabalu, the state capital of Sabah. He is currently working on a book about his life in the army.

The docu-novel introduces a strong-willed journalist who fails to heed a Murut shaman’s advice to conquer the unexplored, saucer-like forested mountain summit that sits in the middle of a 390 km remote nature paradise, better known as Maliau Basin (a.k.a. Sabah’s Lost World), in the Eastern Sabah State of Malaysia Borneo. Before embarking on his quest, the journalist encounters unusual happenings and experiences strange events in unlikely situations. He suspects these weird incidents have something to do with his plan to conquer the summit. He’s also suspicious that the Tingkaayoh have kept many secrets from him and dislikes the idea that anyone is about to reveal it to the world.

Maliau Basin

The book is a fast-paced read, which leaves the reader in suspense page after page. I caught a whiff of Socratic dialogue, somewhat similar to Daniel Quinn’s My Ishmael. In The Green Gold of Borneo, a journalist named Erwin has interest in entering the basin – but he is also engaged by a shaman who has wisdom to share about the importance of spirituality and sacredness of the nature within the basin. One could call this a cautionary tale.

I talked with Emin about his book, which had put me under a spell. Imagine a faraway land, which seems too good to be true, and then imagine it really exists. Here’s our conversation.

Can you tell us about your background and how it led to writing about the Maliau Basin?

The story incorporates historical and real life events, places and names of certain distinguished personalities, foreign and local institutions, environmental players, and environmentalists. The book also detailed the place and historical background of Maliau Basin Conservation Area (MBCA).

As a journalist, I had the opportunity to participate in many resource and wildlife surveys inside the Malaysian eastern state of Sabah’s last remaining virgin rainforests. My first foray into environmental reporting was back in the 1980s, covering a scientific expedition in the now world renown Danum Valley Conservation Area in Lahad Datu, Sabah. The scientific research also involved foreign researchers, including from the Royal Society, UK.

Sabah has three premier conservation areas (totally protected areas): Danum Valley, Maliau Basin, and Imbak Canyon, which were established for the purpose of scientific research, recreation, protection of ecology, environment, and climactic conditions.

In 2013, I spent 10 days with a group of researchers at the 58,000-hectare MBCA, and that was where I got the idea to write an environmentally-based docu-fiction or eco-fiction. I came to realize that natural wonders, and, in this case, the last remaining undisturbed wilderness in Sabah, are very interesting topics for creative writing.

I was even more excited after some expedition participants told me about mysterious events that took place around MBCA. So I used MBCA as a central theme for The Green Gold of Borneo and also based it on my own hands-on experiences working alongside scientists and researchers.

Being a journalist, I would say that environmental reporting was truly an awakening experience, because the survey and research works were meant to monitor potential threats to one of Southeast Asia’s last remaining stronghold of virtually undisturbed rainforest. In fact, the Danum Valley Conservation Area is one of the three leading rainforest research centers in the world, besides La Selva in Costa Rica and Baro Colorado Island in Panama.

My affinity for the forest must have come naturally, as my childhood upbringing is somewhat surrounded by great forests. My small thatched-roof house happened to be on the fringe of a vast virgin forest in the interior district of  Sabah (formerly a British colony), and almost every day I could hear birds singing, the calling of monkeys, and I watched all that crawls, leaps, and dances in its wake. Unfortunately, the forest has since disappeared to make way for agricultural activities. However, I could never forget those wonderful feelings of traversing the peaceful and magical tranquility.

In hindsight, it was a rather misguided passion, because at that tender age I had no way of understanding the meaning of a dipterocarp forest and ecosystem, let alone its great conservation importance.

What an amazing memory! What is “green gold”?

Green gold is a metaphor to describe the mindboggling wealth/value of the undisturbed natural resources (forests) in Sabah’s most important natural heritage areas, i.e., the Maliau Basin, Danum Valley, and Imbak Canyon conservation areas.

From my own observations, despite realistic conservation efforts by the Malaysian Government, particularly the Sabah State Government, the fully protected forest would still be vulnerable, especially if future political leaders or government of the day had little concern or passion for the natural environment, not to mention threats from poachers, gaharu (Aquilaria or eaglewood) hunters, and illegal logging. The biggest threat would be destructive, short-sighted political decisions, such as sacrificing the pristine jungle and wildlife habitat for “economic growth.”

Sabah’s wild is home to some 1,500 Borneo pygmy elephants, which are listed as endangered in the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red Data Book.

Let’s hope that no such destructive decisions happen in the area. Can you explain the spiritual beings in the book?

The shaman, spiritual beings, and certain characters are fictional and are based on my acquaintance with some local traditional healers, including the Murut people,  who are able to communicate with spiritual beings.

You mentioned that the spiritual beings might feel the effect of global warming. Is the tie-in between spiritually and natural areas real or common in North Borneo?

These are purely imaginary and not in any way related to physical characters. I was simply assuming that the spiritual beings are also very disturbed about the destruction of their world (the forest), and therefore voice out their grave concerns about the ecological impact and contribution to global warming. I used the spiritual beings as advocates of a particular cause or idea. Betarak is probably a myth about a person performing a solitary animistic ritual, usually in a quiet place, far away from human settlements, supposedly to gain supernatural power by submitting himself as “student” to the spiritual beings.

Is it true that nobody has ever really explored Maliau Basin?

Some areas have been visited but not the highest part of the rim. It’s difficult to say where the innermost part of the basin is, because as a basin shape area, the innermost part would probably be located on the valley floor or gorge of the river.

Dubbed as the “Lost World of Borneo,” Maliau Basin is one area where all the conditions for extremely rare human visitation combine. The 2003-2013 MBCA Strategic Management Plan did not specifically mention people having conquered Maliau Basin’s highest part of the rim, but stated that people have been to the basin often enough in the last few centuries for the local Tagal Murut to call it the “Land of the Giant Staircase” from its step-like rivers and abundant cascading waterfalls. Maliau means “bowl” or “basin.” One reason why there is no official record of people reaching Maliau Basin’s highest rim is because it is too rugged. The earliest reported sighting of Maliau Basin was in 1947 when the British pilot of a light aircraft, flying from the west coast of Sabah to Tawau on the east coast, nearly crashed into the steep cliff, rising 1,900 meters above the jungle floor.

It was reported that geological and soil survey teams passed nearby in the 1960s and early 1970s. Only in 1972 did a Forestry Department team reach Lake Linumunsut at the foot of Gunung Lotung. None of these groups tried to enter the basin, and the first attempt of the forest botany group in 1976 failed in the near-vertical terrain of the northern rim. In 1980, a Sabah Museum team attempted the western rim but was hampered by malaria and lack of supplies.

This is all fascinating. Thank you so much, Emin, for bringing to light the delicate nature of this basin in Borneo. And thank you for the gracious time you extended in providing this interview.

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The Green Gold of Borneo provides a fictional story surrounded by factual history and modern concerns about the basin; it’s an interesting novel that takes us to a different world, but the potentiality for crisis is real, something that people everywhere might connect to. Nature Economy and People Connected says that the basin is an area under threat:

Scientific exploration has established Maliau as a global biodiversity hotspot, home to more than 270 bird species, many of which are IUCN Red Listed species. BirdLife International has designated it an Important Bird Area (IBA), marking its importance within global biodiversity conservation.

Besides this, vast stocks of carbon are stored in its trees and soil, which only underlines its environmental importance. Failing to secure this carbon reserve will further fuel climate change.

The article goes into concerns about deforestation and palm oil extraction in Borneo – something that the Maliau Basin has escaped so far. It is great to see that Yayasan Sabah and other organizations are protecting this land. With books such as Emin’s, the forest – in myth, song, and nature – comes even more alive and important for those of us wishing to imagine it from afar.

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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Blog: Embedded artist processes – learnings from Swedish arts agency, TILLT

Back in November we travelled (for over 66 hours by train, bus and ferry) to Gothenburg, Sweden, to take part in the second transnational meeting of Cultural Adaptations, a cross-European project exploring how culture can be part of the transformational change required to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

In this blog Creative Carbon Scotland’s culture/SHIFT Producer, Gemma Lawrence, shares some key learnings from Swedish cultural partners, TILLT, from their 17 years’ experience of running projects addressing societal issues with artists playing a key role as creative change makers.

TILLT’s roots go back more than 100 years when the theatre company Skådebanan was founded in Stockholm in 1910. Since then the organisation has evolved to focus on creating a society where art contributes to human growth, leading to a better, more creative and sustainable society.

TILLT supports this vision by creating projects where artists and organisations collaborate to develop creative processes around key topics including leadership, innovation, values and diversity. Their work is also guided by important societal issues such as diversity and integration, elderly care and climate change. TILLT believe that artists have a special role to play in these situations by creating space to say new things, have new thoughts and bring new mindsets to challenging and complex issues.

Key project phases

On the second day of the transnational meeting, Maria Mebius-Schröder, TILLT’s Project and Process Manager, presented the key stages of setting up such collaborations. This was pertinent to Creative Carbon Scotland’s culture/SHIFT programme and Cultural Adaptations, which involves four new collaborations between artists and climate adaptation projects across the partner cities in DublinGlasgowGhent, and Gothenburg. Maria outlined the key project phases:

Phase 0: Project anchoring

  • Needs analysis jointly led by the process manager and commissioning organisation
  • Assignment of the project group, e.g. ambassadors from the commissioning organisation who will act as advocates for the project
  • Communication of the role of creative approaches brought through the artistic process led by the process manager
  • Agreement of the working culture of the project with the commissioning organisation
  • Artist recruitment led by the process manager

Phase 1: Research and development of project scope

  • Research, participant interviews and observation undertaken by the artist with project participants
  • Relationships and trust built between artist and commissioning organisation
  • Development of an action plan by artist and commissioning organisation

Phase 2: Project delivery

  • Project kick-off and communication of action plan including opening event with key partners
  • Delivery of action plan
  • Regular meetings between the project group, artist and process manager to check up on progress, arising problems etc.

Phase 3: Evaluation of the project and results

  • Evaluation of project outcomes led by process manager
  • Web survey undertaken by participants
  • Discussion of future plans and opportunities for future collaboration

Although not included in the project phases, we also discussed pre-Phase 0 – project financing – which can be a lengthy process to secure the funds for both the artist and TILLT’s involvement in the project.

Embedded artist meeting
Embedded artist project meeting, Day 2

Key learnings

Building trust

TILLT were open about the failures they have experienced in setting up new types of collaboration between arts and non-arts partners, which have played an important role in shaping their currently project methodology. For example, they identified that they left too much up to the commissioner and artist in earlier projects, and now place greater emphasis on the role of the process manager in building trust and overseeing the process. The process manager can bring additional benefits including increasing the scope and ambition of projects, but also adds to the overall cost, so their role needs to be communicated and understood. This is something that we have learnt in our culture/SHIFT programme, where we now play a stronger role as a contributor throughout projects, not just in the setting up stages.

Maintaining artistic freedom

Maria also emphasised the importance of maintaining the space for artistic freedom, which can sometimes feel in tension with the aim of meeting an end goal or outcome. TILLT is very clear that they do not get involved in steering the artistic process, and the anchoring phase is key to creating the right conditions for the artist to bring their different way of thinking and working to shape the project. In their recruitment process, TILLT focus less on artform and more on the mindset and what they describe as the “driving forces” behind the artist’s work.

Cultural Adaptations partners meet with Björn Siesjö, Gothenburg City Architect
Cultural Adaptations partners meet with Björn Siesjö, Gothenburg City Architect, Day 3

The rest of our time in Gothenburg included site visits and meetings with other actors engaged in making Gothenburg a more sustainable and climate resilient city including Kokokaka, a design studio based in an industrial warehouse in the port of Hisingen Island, and Björn Siesjö, Gothenburg City Architect. On the third day of the meeting TILLT hosted a day of presentations and workshops at the Museum of World Culture. This included Pecha Kucha style talks from each of the city embedded artist projects and a Climate & Creativity workshop where new ideas ideas for projecgs were developed between local adaptation stakeholders and international partners addressing key climate-related issues.

We’re very grateful to TILLT for such a rich and interesting three days of learning, discussion and exchange. We’re certainly taking a lot away from the meeting to apply to Creative Carbon Scotland’s culture/SHIFT programme, including the importance of building enough time at the start of projects for everyone to be clear of the aims and the commissioning organisation to be able to embrace the new approaches brought by the artist, and the value that the process manager can add at this stage.

You can learn more about Cultural Adaptations on the project website and our recent blog for Transform at Creative Europe.

(Top image: Cultural Adaptations project partners)


Cultural Adaptations (EUCAN) is co-funded with the support of the Creative Europe programme of the European Union and the Scottish Government.

The post Blog: Embedded artist processes – learnings from Swedish arts agency, TILLT 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: Fábio Fernandes

By Mary Woodbury

I’ve recently been enjoying Adam Kirsch’s The Global Novel: Writing the World in the 21st Century.

In his book, Kirsch states:

The global novel exists, not as a genre separated from and opposed to other kinds of fiction, but as a perspective that governs the interpretation of experience. In this way, it is faithful to the way the global is actually lived – not through the abolition of place, but as a theme by which place is mediated. Life lived here is experienced in its profound and often unsettling connections with life lived elsewhere, and everywhere. The local gains dignity, and significance, insofar as it can be seen as a part of a worldwide phenomenon.

One of the things eco-fiction is concerned about is the environmental destruction of the planet. Global eco-fiction lifts the gaze above the norm and into a worldly perspective in which authors and artists understand that ecological collapse is both a global concern and a local one. In essence, it’s something everyone is or will be affected by, yet in different ways. I’ve always been intrigued by diversity yet common ground – cultural differences yet universal understandings. I believe in travel through imagination, people world-round working together to mitigate such catastrophes as climate change, extinction, and dwindling biodiversity.

I want to first look at an anthology titled Solarpunk – Histórias Ecológicas e Fantásticas em um Mundo Sustentável, by Gerson Lodi-Riberio, originally published in 2012 by Editora Draco in São Paulo, Brazil. Last year, World Weaver Press began a kickstarter to translate this book to English, and I happily helped back the project, excited to read the book that seems to be the first using the term solarpunk, a concept I have been interested in for a few years now. The new anthology, Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastical Stories in a Sustainable World, came out on August 7, 2018. I’m thrilled that World Weaver Press took on this important translation project.

Here, I talk with Fábio Fernandes, who translated the book from Portuguese to English. Fábio lives in São Paulo, Brazil. He has published two books so far, an essay on William Gibson’s fiction, A Construção do Imaginário Cyber, and a cyberpunk novel, Os Dias da Peste (both in Portuguese). Also a translator, he is responsible for the translation to Brazilian Portuguese of several science fiction novels, including Neuromancer, Snow Crash, and A Clockwork Orange. His short stories have been published online in Brazil, Portugal, Romania, the UK, New Zealand, and USA, and also in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded and Southern Fried Weirdness: Reconstruction(2011), The Apex Book of World SF, Vol 2, Stories for Chip. He co-edited, with Djibril al-Ayad, the postcolonialist anthology We See a Different Frontier. He is a graduate of Clarion West, class of 2013, and slush reader for Clarkesworld Magazine.

The anthology features nine authors from Brazil and Portugal, including Carlos Orsi, Telmo Marçal, Romeu Martins, Antonio Luiz M. Costa, Gabriel Cantareira, Daniel I. Dutra, André S. Silva, Roberta Spindler, and Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro.

I bought the original anthology titled Solarpunk – Histórias Ecológicas e Fantásticas em um Mundo Sustentável, published in 2012 by Editora Draco in São Paulo, Brazil, and I was hoping back then for an English translation so that I could read it better than fumbling through it with broken understanding of Portuguese. Lo and behold, Word Weaver Press bought the translation rights from Editora Draco and ran a Kickstarter fundraising campaign in 2017 to translate the book, hiring you as translator. The campaign was very successful. Had you heard of solarpunk before this project, and what was it like working on this project?

I had heard of solarpunk before, yes, but only in passing. I had stories published in Brazilian cyberpunk and steampunk anthologies, but when I heard about Lodi-Ribeiro’s anthology the deadline had already passed, so I never got the chance to send a story – but I read it and loved it. When Sarena invited me to translate it to English, I was thrilled. I loved translating such good stories from awesome Brazilian writers (a few of them personal friends).

I first heard of solarpunk several years ago and eventually interviewed Adam Flynn, who, at least back in 2015, seemed like a spokesperson interested in getting the genre moving. To you, what is solarpunk? I think a lot of people are still wondering about the term as a genre, an aesthetic, possibly a movement.

Solarpunk is more than a literary genre, that’s for sure. It’s rapidly becoming a lifestyle. Approximately a decade ago, a few science fiction writers tried to coin the word Greenpunk, meaning pretty much the same thing, which is: caring for the environment and looking for quick-and-dirty short-term solutions to save the planet. In my opinion, Kim Stanley Robinson is spearheading a solarpunk movement, at least in literary terms.

You have previously worked with Jeff and Ann VanderMeer as well as translated Neuromancer, Snow Crash, and A Clockwork Orange to Portuguese. You’ve also written short stories and novels. Can you tell us some exciting stories about your background with such projects?

I worked with Ann and Jeff VanderMeer on the Steampunk II anthology, in which they published part of a story of mine in a very complex (and awesome) backstory that thrilled me. I became a Clarion West alumnus, having as instructors some of my literary heroes, such as Neil Gaiman, Chip Delany and Ellen Datlow. Since then, I’ve been honing my skills in English and publishing in English-language anthologies, such as Stories for Chip and POC Destroy Science Fiction. I just finished writing my first novel in English, and will submit it to an American publisher.

How many stories are in the anthology – and are they diverse? Can you give a sense of how they differ from each other?

There are eleven stories in the anthology, and they are very different from each other. There’s a noir murder mystery, several dystopias dealing heavily with politics (the “punk” half of the equation is strong in this book), utopian tales of future tech and quite a few alt-hist narratives featuring a modern Aztec and Mayan rule over Latin America, or an ecologically correct afro-Brazilian government. A smorgasbord of stories.

What are your favorite stories in the book – if that’s not too personal – and why?

I’d prefer not to choose a favorite – but I liked the more complex stories, such as Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro’s novella “Cobalt Blue and the Enigma,” “Xibalba Dreams of the West,” and “Once Upon a Time in a World.” Come to think of it, they all are alternate histories, which, I guess, makes my preferences clear.

I recently interviewed author Kathleen Dean Moore (Piano Tide, Counterpoint Press, 2017), who talked about hopeful literature in the times of climate change as “lyric polemical,” and I loved that genre idea. I think solarpunk fits into that. As a translator, what do you think are the roles that fiction can play in times of such environmental crises?

I loved the notion of lyrical polemical – solarpunk definitely fits the bill! I think that fiction can and must play an active role in defending a sustainable society. Kim Stanley Robinson has been doing this very successfully for decades now, since Red Mars. New York 2140 is a lesson on how to transform a city that in other times we’d promptly dismiss as totally uninhabitable. It’s a sort of pocket utopia, as once Robinson himself said. In my academic research, I started to call it a “logistic utopia.” I’m all for logistic utopias in science fiction – I think they’re the next big thing. Thank you so much for the thoughtful questions!

It’s been a pleasure talking with you, and thanks so much for our chat!

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I want to also thank World Weaver Press editor, Sarena Ulibarri, for her help in contacting Fabio and for her work on getting the solarpunk anthology translated. She spoke with the author, Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro, about the original anthology. He stated:

Both as an anthologist and as a reader, I would like to see a lot more optimist and greener future narratives. Even knowing it is not so easy to create dilemma and human drama inside post-scarcity mature and less Manichaean cultures, it would be lovely to read a greater number of those ecotopic science fictional scenarios.

In the Solarpunk anthology, we see that South American and Portuguese authors re-imagine old Mayan and Aztec cultures in new histories as well as explore dystopian and utopian futures. Place notwithstanding, the perspectives are ones we all can understand and enjoy from a storytelling angle.

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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