Yearly Archives: 2020

Multispecies Care in a Time of Pandemic Crisis

In a time of pandemic crisis, how do we re-value what care means for all living beings?

There is a species of moss growing on the outside of my bedroom windowsill that I hadn’t noticed until recently. Two clumps of bryophyllum hiding in the shadow of a ventilation duct that extends to the roof of my apartment building in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Known for their love of cool, moist and dark spaces, moss or byrophyte is a phylum of three kinds of non-vascular plants that use rhizoids instead of roots and reproduce using spores. Although an uncommon site in some parts of New York, my windowsill is apparently a desirable habitat and has offered unlikely solace during an increasingly precarious time.

As a member of the Environmental Performance Agency, an artist collective founded in response to the dismantling of the US Environmental Protection Agency, I have been thinking a lot about the view from my window as of late. From my bedroom, I can see a rapidly expanding border of knotweed encircling a now desolate restaurant patio, a Siberian elm making use of an underused backlot, and a weedy patch of shepherd’s purse, plantain, dandelion and horseweed. These marginal spaces offer a habitat for insects, squirrels, birds and other organisms, and more recently has become my only view of urban “nature” or multispecies life.

In New York, we’ve been on PAUSE since March 22, 2020, a collection of social distancing policies that have prompted those with the privilege to do so, to work from home while “essential and frontline workers” continue to keep the City in a reduced state of operation. The impacts of Covid-19 have been uneven to say the least, with communities of color and low income residents hit hardest in terms of confirmed cases but also a range of social and economic impacts. Cities like New York are now the “vanguard” on the pandemic front, making visible the complexities of urban density, as well as decades of disinvestment in health care, education and affordable housing among other issues.

As both a response to our current moment and continuation of the EPA’s past work, we launched a new effort called the Multispecies Care Survey on Earth Day 2020. The project is a public engagement and data gathering initiative that aims to provoke new forms of environmental agency to de-center human supremacy and cultivate the co-generation of embodied, localized plant-human care practices. What do we mean by plant-human care practices? Methods for attuning oneself to a vegetal perspective – moving, breathing, listening, and working with spontaneous urban plants and other organisms as guides, collaborators, and mentors. Invitations for developing new forms of environmentalism and stewardship that decenter the human and honor the agency and possibility of multispecies communities. Spaces to reimagine and embody what care means in a time of global crisis.

Originally conceived of as a public artwork launching at the Old Stone House that would travel to communities throughout NYC, the project was re-designed as a digital platform integrating a need for social distancing. Although hesitant to move our embodied and physical practice of being together with the city’s weedy and spontaneous urban plant communities, the EPA collective felt a need to reframe our practice to reflect our current context, and to collect data on how communities across the city and US are adapting, coping and developing new strategies for resilience and connection.

The Survey website currently includes 6 “protocols” or prompts for noticing and engaging with multispecies communities through a window, balcony, backyard, or stoop. “Protocol 01: Temperature Check” for instance invites participants to consider which window you look out of more often since the crisis, to move towards this window and place an area of your body against the window pane to consider how it feels. What temperature does the glass offer? What temperature does the sunlight offer? How do you feel the climate’s temperature? After a brief engagement, the participant is then prompted to submit a photograph and brief audio recording to describe the experience, and what the view they encountered. In Protocol 04: Avian Transmissions, participants are invited to notice birds as they pass by one’s window by first observing and then placing a piece of paper to the window and create marks that follow the bird’s flight/position. A quick documentation creates an archived record of the experience. We use the term “survey” broadly, drawing from a history of public land surveys that have defined our artificial borders and notions of land use, and also survey practices that range from national undertakings like the US Census to regional biodiversity counts to collect large datasets.

Each protocol is also linked to a specific call to action related to recent changes and rollbacks to environmental policy occurring at the US EPA, or other federal and state agencies. An email notification reminds the participant to learn more about each issue and to further act by signing a petition, calling their congressional leader, or getting involved in a local movement or direct action. In “Protocol 05: Essential Tree Labor”, which prompts participants to notice and care for a street tree, we call attention to the rollback of the Clean Power Plan. This Obama-era policy required utilities to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The rule was replaced in 2019 with the “Affordable Clean Energy” (ACE) rule which weakens emissions standards. Through the survey, we ask: “What kind of energy policy would street trees endorse?”

Over the past 4 years, the U.S. EPA and other federal agencies have rolled back over 95 rules put in place to protect environmental health, supporting the interests of the coal, gas, and oil industries, along with Big Agriculture. The Multispecies Care Survey continues our work to bring awareness to these increasingly alarming rollbacks under the 2016-2020 presidential administration. Even in this time of global crisis, the US EPA continues its assault on environmental policy and health protections for communities across the country. In late March, the US EPA announced new “guidelines” for how companies monitor environmental violations, pollution and hazardous waste waiving a requirement for reporting, and will not issue fines for violations. Former EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, called it “an open license to pollute.” On March 27, 2020, the US EPA announced changes to how gasoline will be mixed in the face of potential shortages, which will likely result in more air pollution nationally. Just last month in April 2020, the US EPA extended public comments on the rollback of regulations for safe methods of coal ash disposal, the byproduct of dirty coal power plants. Power companies and private interests dump this waste into unlined ponds, which contain deadly poisons and radioactive substances, including carcinogens like arsenic, and neurotoxins such as lead and mercury, threatening drinking water nationwide. And on April 16, 2020, the US EPA weakened regulations on the release of mercury and other toxic substances from power plants and other industries, which the New York Times and environmental groups point out would effectively loosen the rules on other toxic pollutants.

This is all happening at a time when we are dealing with a collective global trauma unlike many have seen in their lifetimes. And alongside an ongoing effort to censor scientists and undermine what little confidence the US had left in scientific research for the public good. (See the so-called “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” which public health advocates and environmentalists have dubbed the “Censored Science Rule”.)

Since launching the project we’ve received dozens of responses from communities across the US, offering a glimpse into the multispecies worlds on view from one’s window. We are hoping to deepen engagement with the Survey through virtual Care Circles starting on May 9th, bringing together participants to share their experience of engaging with a particular protocol and to think through what new forms of embodied environmental action we can collectively envision. As a long-term and ongoing effort, we intend to maintain the Multispecies Care Survey  through the US Elections in early November. The data collected — images, audio recordings, videos, embodied experiences — will ultimately be used to draft a new piece of policy we’re calling “The Multispecies Act.” This Act aims to offer a set of embodied, actionable principles for centering spontaneous urban plant life as one means (among many) of contending with the failure of our environmental regulatory apparatus to deliver policy that protects and values life both human and non-human.

As I write, this is day 56 of quarantine in my own apartment. Although I only have a few windows overlooking a patchwork of under-used lots and backyards, the emergence of Spring and the Survey’s protocols have brought new discoveries of life along the margins. And perhaps offer a set of novel interactions and embodied practices that help me cope through uncertain times. Now when I look out my window, I see things a bit differently and my powers of attunement sharpened. The simple practice of embodied observation offering some inspiration for how to persist in a time of global crisis and collective reimagining.

Submitted by Christopher Kennedy, assistant director at the Urban Systems Lab (The New School) and lecturer in the Parsons School of Design. 

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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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Climate Anxiety to Climate Action with and through the Arts – Webinars with CSPA Director Ian Garrett

Tuesdays June 30th and July 7th 7:00-8:30 pm Mountain – log on at 6:45 pm

Presented by the Boulder County Arts Alliance in collaboration with EcoArts Connections and the Arbor Institute.

For more information and registration for webinar links:

https://www.bouldercountyarts.org/workshops/business-of-arts

Webinar information:

Tuesday, June 30th, 7:00-8:30 pm – Sustainability and the Arts for the Uninitiated

For arts makers, administrators, curators, producers, presenters, funders, policy makers, and others, this webinar will provide a forum for recognizing the individual realities of cultural workers and help to dispel myths, assuage fears, and contextualize how to start thinking about eco-positive change across all aspects of the arts.

Read more https://www.bouldercountyarts.org/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=202

Tuesday, July 7th, 7:00-8:30 pm – Building a Critical Community of Sustainable Arts Practitioners

For cultural workers and others interested in gaining a broad view of sustainable initiatives in the cultural sector internationally through the lens of the Boulder community. It will begin to establish our shared value system, as well as connect you to available tools, resources, and ways to build the networks of support we need to integrate the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and other principles into our work, together.

Read more: https://www.bouldercountyarts.org/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=203

Read more about Ian Garrett

An Interview with Musician Fabian Almazan

By Amy Brady

Hello from Week Six in lockdown in New York City. The days are blurring together, but thanks to links sent to me from folks in this incredibly kind and creative community, I’ve kept myself busy by attending online art shows, live music performances over Zoom, and other interesting things.

Speaking of interesting things, this month I have for you one of my favorite interviews yet. Meet Fabian Almazan, an award-winning jazz pianist and composer, environmentalist, and founder of Biophilia Records. His most recent album, This Land Abounds With Life, is a gorgeous exploration of the relationship between humans and the natural world. His record label, Biophilia, supports the work of other great musicians who share Fabian’s love of nature. Indeed, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the record label organized volunteer efforts to help clean up rivers and other natural resources. 

In the interview below, Fabian and I spoke about what inspired him to start Biophilia and what sustains his interests in music and environmental justice.

Your music – especially your latest album, This Land Abounds With Life – evokes images of animals and natural landscapes. There’s even birdsong on some of the tracks. What animals and places – natural or otherwise – inspire your work?

I have been drawn to nature for as long as I can remember. I grew up in the Caribbean, in Havana, Cuba. We lived on the top floor of a four-story building in the heart of Nuevo Vedado, located a couple of blocks away from the zoo. Times were tough in Cuba in the early 90’s. Rather than being told when we wouldn’t have electricity, we were told when we would have it. This meant that I spent many nights doing homework by candle light, and because we lived so close to the zoo, I could hear some of the animals from our apartment. I was fascinated by those sounds.

We could also see the crisp blue ocean from our balcony off in the distance. Some of our family worked for the agricultural sector. We would sometimes visit them in Camagüey, where I would spend a lot of time in the countryside. Cuba is teaming with amphibians and reptiles, and as a kid I spent a lot of time seeking out these creatures. As an adult, this curiosity has continued and one of the things that I really enjoy about touring throughout the world with different bands is that I get to experience all sorts of ecosystems. Whenever I can, I will try to stay an extra day and make it out to local national forests or refuge areas to photograph the wildlife and just breathe it all in. There is life almost everywhere in one form or another, and I find it mysteriously miraculous and inspiring.

Your record label, Biophilia, has a unique mission. Please tell us about it.

In my late teens and early twenties, I became aware of two men without whom I would not have found my way through life: E.O. Wilson and Joseph Campbell. E.O. Wilson’s writings on the biophilia hypothesis helped me affirm the fascination I have with the natural world, and Joseph Campbell gave me the courage to, as he once said, “follow my bliss.”

On a tour with Terence Blanchard throughout the West Coast about ten years ago, we passed through San Diego and Seattle and I went to both zoos since I had some time off during the days. Upon seeing that Herbie Hancock was playing a concert at the Seattle Zoo, something clicked in my mind: my two passions did not have to live in separate worlds; they could be connected. Back in New York, I began going more and more to the Museum of Natural History where I met Michael J. Foster, who was doing research on biodiversity and was interested in the disparity of environmental injustices in wealthy versus poor communities. I learned a lot from him about the different perceptions of sustainability in society and how we can do something about it. 

Growing up in Miami, Florida as a young Hispanic male who was serious about classical piano, jazz and science, I felt pretty isolated sometimes. I didn’t feel like there were others around that fit my description. After meeting with Michael, my initial goal was to form some sort of music organization focused on historically underserved groups and the environment, so as to provide similar-minded artists with a supportive community of peers. Then I spent some time in Johannesburg, South Africa, where I was deeply moved by the experiences and conversations I had with people about apartheid and Nelson Mandela’s efforts to unify people. That was when the idea became clearer in my mind. I would establish Biophilia Records as a label of all genres that values imaginative music and takes an environmentally conscious approach to packaging and distribution.

Additionally, Biophilia Records would coordinate with a variety of sustainability-focused, non-profit organizations to participate in volunteering events that benefit society and the environment. I didn’t want to add more plastic to the world by printing thousands of CDs so I came up with the concept of having an elaborate piece of paper origami art which folds down to the same dimensions as a CD jewel case, containing a unique download code for the music. This, I felt, was a good middle ground between providing a plastic-free product for the super fans that ask for physical products and artists who can continue to have something to sell as merch at the end of their shows. That’s important, because merch sales supplement the ever-dwindling revenue from album sales due to digital pirating and streaming. This paper product became the Biopholio™. In an effort to steer the music industry in a more sustainable direction, we trademarked the Biopholio™ with the hope that fans would embrace this new environmentally conscious format and further push the social change needed to pave the way for better environmental policies in government.

Tell us about the volunteer work that your label’s artists participate in.

This is kind of a sore subject at the moment, because although I have very much enjoyed teaming up with many non-profits to organize such efforts, a big forthcoming event was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. We were all set to host our first large-scale volunteering event with permits from the NYC Parks and Recreation department on May 2nd alongside Riverkeeper to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Our artists and fans were going to help clean up the Hudson river, and I was very much looking forward to that. We were also going to have our first ever Biophilia Records Festival at the Jazz Gallery from April 22 to May 2, featuring 13 performances by all of the Biophilia Records artists. This all had to be cancelled due to the crisis the world is facing, and I absolutely support the decision to cancel everything – but it hurts a little bit.

You and your wife, the brilliant bassist Linda May Han Oh, have both spoken about your passion for environmental awareness. What sustains your activism? 

Love is what sustains me on all fronts. 

You’ve led your own bands and have played for years with Terence Blanchard. Who are some of your biggest musical influences? And who are some of your favorites playing today? 

My biggest musical influences are Keith Jarrett, Maurice Ravel, Jonny GreenwoodGonzalo Rubalcaba, Brahms, Stravinsky, Coltrane, and Mahler. Most recently, I’ve become obsessed with a brilliant composer from Philadelphia, David Ludwig. Some of my favorites playing today are all of the musicians on Biophilia Records, of course. 

Do you think that music has the power to move people to think more deeply about climate change and the environment? Why or why not?

The only answer I can give is that music and nature provide me with a visceral urge to live life to its most full and beautiful potential, and all I can do is try to share this feeling with people.

(Photo by Desmond White.)

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 at and follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Opportunity: QEST Craft Funding – applications opening soon

The Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST) are open for applications on 14th July – 24th August 2020.

The Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST) awards scholarship and apprenticeship funding of up to £18,000 to talented and aspiring craftspeople working in a broad range of skills, from farriery and cheese maturing to jewellery design, silversmithing and sculpture. Our next application round is open 14 July – 24 August 2020 and we are looking for more talented applicants!

QEST celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2020 and since 1990 has awarded over £4.5 million to more than 550 individuals working in over 130 different crafts. We define craft broadly and welcome applications from all areas including rural skills, contemporary craft, conservation, luthiery and much more.

A directory of all our alumni can be seen on our website, along with more details on how to apply. We have two application rounds each year.

The post Opportunity: QEST Craft Funding – applications opening soon 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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A Call for Arts & Climate Courses and Syllabi

By Thomas Peterson

We are in the process of developing a new resource for this platform, collecting a database of academic programs, courses, and syllabi that integrate the arts and the study of climate change. Inspired by the International Environmental Communication Association’s resource on Environmental Communication Courses, we want to centralize a list of university courses from all disciplines that engage with climate issues through the arts.

These might be environmental science courses that incorporate artistic media as a means of engaging with a climate-related topic; courses in the environmental humanities, human geography, or environmental policy; art history or theory courses; practice-based courses in any artistic medium that engage with climate; or other intersections of the arts and climate that we have not yet dreamed up. 

We will list the course title, instructor, and institution at which the course is taught, and link to the syllabus, if the instructor is willing to share it. Separately, we will also list academic degree programs focusing specifically on the arts and climate.

Once compiled, this information will be freely available to all, a centralized academic resource for scholarly work and education at the intersection of the arts and climate. We hope this resource will serve as a guide for students looking for a place to start or deciding where to pursue their research, a site of exchange for professors and teachers looking to share knowledge, and a well of inspiration for artists working at this intersection. 

If you teach, have taken, or know of such a course, fill out the form [HERE]. If you would like to share an academic degree program focused on the arts and climate, scroll down to the second form.

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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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Lockdown: Green Up!

Introducing Lockdown: Green Up! ☝️

A digital environmental theatre week, sharing the work of climate theatre-makers & artists, for those wanting to integrate eco-practices into their work 🌍 With livestreamed conversations & Q+As!

We hope this will contribute to the ongoing discussion over how artists, venues and producers can green up, engage with climate injustice & reimagine a more sustainable industry.

Conversations and Q+As will be streamed live on Facebook and most sessions will remain online afterwards to create a database of accessible climate theatre resources. We’ll also be sharing artists making climate work each day on social media.

🔎 Streaming is not entirely carbon neutral! To minimise our impact, we will be offsetting the carbon cost of people streaming our workshops, and the electric energy we’ve used preparing the week, with the advice of our friends Climate Stewards.

All sessions will be available captioned within one week of streaming.

All sessions are free of charge. However, if you’re able, we ask participants to donate the price of a £5 “ticket” (or whatever is appropriate!) to a fund, such as these supporting artists:

👉 ARTISTS FUND ARTISTS who are redistributing all funds raised before 1 August 2020 to Black artists in the UK:
www.gofundme.com/f/artistsfundartists

👉 TERRIBLE RAGE, covering essential costs for artists ineligible for the Self Employed scheme & unsuccessful in their ACE Emergency Funding application:
www.gofundme.com/f/theatre-makers-ineligible-and-unsuccessful

SCHEDULE OF LIVESTREAMED SESSIONS 👇
(Times BST, unless stated)

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‪Start with the Land 🍃

A conversation with playwright David Geary and site-specific theatre-creator Kendra Fanconi, on the relationship between art and nature, and making work with the land at its heart.

‪📅 Mon 29 June 4pm‬ (8am PT)

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‪How is theatre adapting in a time of climate crisis? 💚‬

A conversation with Lyn Gardner, and theatre-makers & Staging Change co-directors Alice Boyd & Josie Dale-Jones, about how emerging theatre makers are adapting for greener future 👊‬

‪📆 Mon 29 June 5:30pm‬

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‪Signalling Through The Waves 🌊‬

‪Creating a durational performance with the sea & approaching work through a ‘climate lens’, with pioneering eco-critic Una Chaudhuri, and artist & director Sarah Cameron Sunde 🌳‬

‪📆 Mon 29 June 6:30pm‬ (13:30 EST)

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‪Rethinking Design, and Embracing Eco-Scenography ♻️ ‬

‪What is Eco-Scenography? Pioneering eco-designers Tanja Beer (The Living Stage) + Andrea Carr on rethinking design practices & reinterpreting materials to integrate ecological principles. ‬

‪📆 Tues 30 June 10:30am‬ (19:30 ACT)

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‪Making the Digital LIVE 💻 ‬

‪Joe Ball, Artistic Director of Exit Productions and theatre-maker/political-activist Zack Polanski discuss digitalising their interactive environmental show, Eco Chambers.

‪📆 Tues 30 June 5:30pm

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Thinking Bigly: How to make an anti-TED talk

We talk to Ben Yeoh and David Finnigan about making their theatre-performance talk ‘Thinking Bigly: A Guide To Saving the World’ and finding hope in the midst of the climate crisis.

‪📆 Wed 1 July (Time TBC)

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Lighting a Greener Path 💡 ‬

‪Olivier Award-winning lighting designer, Paule Constable (associate of National Theatre, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and Lyric Hammersmith Theatre), discusses incorporating environmental sustainability into her practice for a brighter future.‬

‪📆 Wed 1 July 5:30pm‬

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‪Making Green Productions 💚‬

‪We discuss how Julie’s Bicycle are paving the way to green productions, and top tips on how to make your show sustainable with Julie’s Bicycle Creative Green Programme Lead, Graciela Melitsko Thornton 🦎‬

‪📆 Wed 1 July 6:30pm‬

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‪Running on Your Own Energy 🚲 ‬

Award-winning choreographer, Prue Lang, on powering theatre with renewable energy generated live during performance & how to create Green Guidelines for your practice 💃‬

‪📆 Thurs 2 July 11am‬

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‪Integrating Science & Eco-Philosophy into Theatre ✍️ ‬

We discuss the research process for climate play Dweepa with playwright Abhishek Majumdar (Pah-La The Royal Court Theatre): science, philosophy, and the lived experience of Bengali communities.

‪📆 Thurs 2 July 2pm‬ (18:30 IST)

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Telling Climate Stories Through Dance 💃

We talk to international award-winning dance company VOU Fiji about “Are We Stronger Than Winston?”, and investigating the human costs of climate change on Pacific communities through dance.

‪📆 Fri 3 July 9am (20:00 FST)

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‪Peddling sustainable practices with The HandleBards 🚲 ‬

An interactive workshop led by the HandleBards, cycling Shakespeare company & Edinburgh Sustainable Practice Award-winners, on how to implement sustainable practices into your company. (Details on signing up to follow!)

‪📆 Fri 3 July 5:30pm‬

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Towards Climate Justice 💪

A knowledge sharing with Groundwater Arts on re-evaluating your practise with a climate justice lens and their Green New Theatre proposal, applying the #GreenNewDeal to the theatre industry.

‪📆 Sat 4 July 4pm‬ (11:00 EST) TBC

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Making Saving the Planet Sexy 🎉 ‬

‪“Why can’t you enjoy a good sex story whilst wanting to save the planet?”‬ Award-winning comedian and climate activist, Steve Hili (Steve Hili – Comedy), on writing and performing climate comedy 🤪‬

‪📆 Sat 4 July 6:30pm‬

On the Visible and Invisible in the High Arctic

By Susan Hoffman Fishman

In June of 2017, New York photographer and painter Carleen Sheehan boarded the tall ship Antigua bound for the High Arctic as part of a three-week residency for international artists, scientists, architects and scholars. Sponsored by The Arctic Circle, the residency provides an opportunity for 30 participants to explore the Svalbard Archipelago, located 500 miles north of Norway, and develop new and often experimental work in response to the Arctic landscape.

Prior to being accepted for the expedition, each of the participants submits a project proposal that provides an overview of what they want to accomplish. Sheehan had long admired 19th century “ghost” photographs, in which unintended flares or blurs occurred during processing, creating “ghost” images. Her original concept for the residency was to capture the shadows of glaciers or what she referred to as the “ghosts” or memories that glaciers held. Upon arrival, though, she discovered that she wasn’t able to capture ice shadows via the cyanotype process she had planned to use, because the intensity of the twenty four hour solstice sunlight melted her ice samples too quickly. Shifting from her original idea, she began literally crawling on the ground, looking closely at the terrain and ice and shooting what she saw with her cameras. What she ultimately discovered serendipitously became the basis of powerful and impactful bodies of work.

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Twist, Blomstrand Glacier, Svalbard. Pigmented inkjet print on silver paper, 19” x 26”, 2017.
GLACIAL COSMOLOGIES

Sheehan developed several series of innovative photographs during the Arctic expedition. The series called Glacial Cosmologies was created by sliding the flat lens of a waterproof camera along the surfaces of pieces of ice found on the shore that had broken off or “calved” from melting glaciers. This scanning process captures the intricate internal structures, called Tydall figures, underneath the surface of the ice that are not visible to the naked eye. John Tyndall, a 19th century Arctic explorer and physicist, had first noticed the forms occurring in melting glacial ice as air bubbles trapped in the ice reacted to the intense heat of the solstice sun by releasing gases such as methane and CO2, as well as pollens and pollutants from previous centuries.

What Sheehan photographed are the forms that occur just before the ice melts, the bubbles in the ice that burst or “bloom” into shapes resembling flowers. She both reveals the invisible and preserves ephemeral moments in the history of the planet. By providing the viewer with a micro-view of elemental structures that appear repeatedly in nature, she is also emphasizing our inherent interconnectedness. All of the images in the series are printed on metallic silver paper, which, from certain vantage points, recreates the experience of ice glistening in the sun over the Arctic landscape. The Glacial Cosmologyphotographs are ultimately mystical, mysterious, reflective and requiring reflection.

Zariabones1final.jpg
Mound, Hvitfiskstranda, Svalbard. Pigmented injet print from infrared photograph on Hahnemühle paper, 22” x 30”, 2019.
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Ice Fall, Hvitfiskstranda, Svalbard. Pigmented inkjet prints on Hahnemühle paper, 8 x 20 ft in total, individual dimensions vary, 2018.
CHALK AND ICE FALL SERIES

The dictionary definition of the word “chalk” is “soft white limestone (calcium carbonate) formed from the skeletal remains of sea creatures.” Sheehan’s photographs in her Chalkseries were taken along the perimeter of a secluded cove in Hvitfiskstranda, Svalbard, and depict large piles of beluga whale bones exuding chalk that were discarded from whale hunts over a century ago. The bones have been cleaned and arranged in a number of dense piles. Using an infrared camera, which detects heat generated by an object and then converts it into an image, Sheehan created photographs where the bones appear as if they are abstract formations suspended in space. As in her Glacial Cosmology series, she developed a dramatic memorial to what no longer exists.

In her Ice Fall series, Sheehan photographed and printed individual pieces of calved glacial ice that had washed ashore as if they are falling from the sky. Installed as a series, the photographs measure 8 ft. high x 20 ft. long. Sheehan related to me her interest in the “fractal nature of ice,” the elemental patterns contained within it that appear in nature over and over again. It is these patterns, she says, that connect “everything to everything.” Looking at these lone pieces of ice that are in the process of melting away and disappearing, we can just as easily imagine a meteor, a small body of matter from outer space, entering the earth’s atmosphere and burning into nothing.

ART FOR ARCTIC’S SAKE AND CHANGE: A PERMANENT SHIP-BASED POLAR ART EXHIBIT

Since her return from the Arctic, Sheehan’s photographs have been shown in a number of exhibitions. In 2018, her work was included in the group exhibition Art for Arctic’s Sakecurated with JoAnna Isaak at Fordham University, where she has taught since 2007. The exhibition included eleven prominent eco-artists whose photographs, videos, projections, and films address, as the exhibition catalogue describes, “the profound impact climate change is having upon the sensitive ecosystem of the Arctic and the communities that rely upon the region’s natural resources… For many of us, the Arctic remains abstract and distant, but the work of the artists in this exhibition brings the Arctic and the disconcerting changes taking place there to our immediate attention, revealing the epic scale of global interconnectedness.”

Sheehan’s work is currently included in Change: A Permanent Ship-Based Polar Art Exhibition aboard the National Geographic Endurance, a brand new polar expedition vessel. Curated by internationally acclaimed New York artist Zaria FormanChange occupies each deck of the ship and explores “the themes of polar light, the intimate geometries of vast geographies, human history in polar regions and more.” Prior to the pandemic, the Endurance’s voyages in 2020 were scheduled to include Iceland, Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands, East Greenland and Norway, the wild coasts of Argentina, the High Arctic, the Russian Arctic, the Northeast Passage and Southern Patagonia.

All of Sheehan’s photographs are labeled with a name and the location where they were taken, telling a story about a particular place and time. She admits to being interested in disarming viewers with the ambiguity of the images she takes in order to encourage them to look at the photos with a different perspective, just as she was disarmed when she first experienced the Arctic landscape. As she describes it, she was totally disoriented by the sheer scale of the place and needed to reassess her place in it. Whereas many of the artists confronted by the Arctic’s grandeur try to capture that enormity, Sheehan ultimately turned to the micro-scale examples of invisible and visible natural wonders that are disappearing every day. For that reason, in addition to her role as an artist, she is serving as an historian of record as well as an heiress to the tradition of polar exploration.

(Top image: Blomstrand Glacier, Svalbard. Pigmented inkjet print on silver paper, 19” x 26”, 2017.)

This article is part of Imagining Water, a series on artists of all genres who are making the topic of water and climate disruption 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.

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