Yearly Archives: 2020

A Sense of Home during a Pandemic

By Julia Levine

I thought I had retired from my Persistent Acts series. Then a pandemic happened, and I felt many a creative spark! This installment looks at my very personal sense of home, reviving Persistent Acts after a year-long hiatus, and focuses on one of my favorite creative-action tools, Beautiful Trouble.

Over the course of this pandemic, I’ve been reflecting on my role in the municipal, national, and global theatre ecosystems that I occupy. I am a generative theatre artist – I develop and direct new work out of collaborations and research. I am an arts administrator, managing a marketing department at a performing arts venue in downtown New York City. I am driven to support a culture shift toward a more just and sustainable world, which I get to do as Artistic Producer of The Arctic Cycle. 

Over these past few years, my personal theatre work has taken a back seat to my arts administration work, and I’ve been expanding what theatre and the arts in general mean to me. I’ve also been volunteering with Sunrise Movement, supporting young leaders for a Green New Deal (GND), by sharing resonant stories across social media and by phone banking for GND candidates. Galvanized by Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns in both the 2016 and 2020 election cycles, I am determined to see GND champions elected to public office this year.

Still from the viral matches video from today.com.

At the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic, I felt like my mind, body, and soul were preparing for crisis-mode. Like others across the country, I wanted to prevent the spread. I was like one of those matches in the animated depiction of physical distancing. Then I burnt out. Not because of COVD-19 directly, but mentally and emotionally. My entire nervous system got overwhelmed, similarly to how my laptop overheats and crashes because it hasn’t been replaced in a decade.

What I’ve been experiencing over the past eight weeks or so is all relatively manageable, given that I’ve been able to move and get out of the city that I’ve called home for nearly five years. I had to and got to take a break, thanks to my incredible network of supports – my family and friends. I’ve spent more time outside in these past few weeks, I’ve been making changes to my diet, I’ve been reevaluating my routines. The extended quality time, with people I care about, has been glorious.

Greenway Bridge in Northampton, MA.

I’ve been noticing my tendencies, and reflecting on the more-than-human world. I’ve needed a lot of space in my life to heal – which looks different for me now than it ever has. I’ve stepped back from work and the news, taken screen breaks and social media breaks. Yet, my creativity flourishes; the joy and pride that I take in my collaborations has been a motivating fuel. I’ve been returning to my creative spaces with care – both for myself and my collaborators – as we all negotiate these uncertain times.

I’ve hit a reset, because of my burnout. I’ve been reintegrating mindfulness into each of my senses, including my sense of self. It’s been scary as hell, and hilariously absurd. In addition to nurturing creative collaborations, I’ve been curious about my conceptualizations of home. Home is my apartment in New York City. I don’t have a childhood home to return to, and that’s been the case for the entire time that I’ve lived in New York. So when I needed to take a break from home, where could I go? Where could I take refuge?

My apartment in New York City, featuring Lady Liberty, which was made for the 2017 Women’s March on Washington.

In my apartment, I was flourishing. I was consuming some amazing art: The Overstory by Richard Powers, Beyonce’s Homecoming (the documentary-concert and the music), Dear Climate visuals. I was picking up my camera again. I also realized that I needed a huge break from this place I had called home for three years. Thankfully, my partner lives in a safe, welcoming home in Connecticut, about an hour from the city. Even then, it was challenging for me to leave, because I wasn’t going to a home that I grew up in, and frankly, I didn’t feel ready.

Part of my apartment’s poster collection, featuring Dear Climate (top row).

I’m so grateful that I have been able to take this break from the city. Fortunately, home is with me, whenever and wherever I need it. In finding my renewed sense of home, I’ve also found joy and solace in Beautiful Trouble, a toolbox for revolution. This project “exists to make nonviolent revolution irresistible by providing an ever-growing suite of strategic tools and trainings that inspire movements for a more just, healthy, and equitable world.”

Earlier this year, I attended the launch of Beautiful Trouble’s Strategy Card Deck, and I’ve been turning to these cards throughout this shelter-in-place time. While I love the deck because of how shareable it is, I have been taking a step back from my activism and advocacy, in order to heal. In order to not burnout again. 

I’ve been turning to Beautiful Trouble for perspective during this unprecedented time. I pose questions to the cards in order to better understand the contents of the deck, and how I might put it to use during my current and future creative processes. Using the Strategy Card Deck, I’ve found inspiration. I’ve used the card deck in conversations with friends and creative collaborators, and in turn I’ve found a reinvigorated sense of imagination, vulnerability, and resiliency. Ultimately, I’ve found a supportive structure for my springtime energy.

My Beautiful Trouble Strategy Card Deck, which contains 6 categories (tactics, principles, theories, stories, methodologies, debates) as well as games to play with the deck.

So, yes, I took a break. I’ll be taking more care around my healing needs, which includes organizing my tools as an artist and advocate. I’ll continue to read, explore, and find peace during this already tumultuous time. In addition to Beautiful Trouble, I’ve found particular solace in Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy and in the Dear Artists, #wfh in the time of COVD-19 workbook. When I get overwhelmed, I return to my senses, to what my body is telling me. Recovering from the overwhelm, for me, has started with fresh air – opening a window.

Resources to watch/listen/do:
Earth by Lil Dicky Music Video
World famous Stupid warm up dance
Dear Climate
Beautiful Rising

(Top Image: Morning view from my New York City apartment.)

This article is part of the Persistent Acts series which looks at the intersection of performance, climate, and politics. How does hope come to fruition, even in the most dire circumstances? What are tangible alternatives to the oppressive status quo? The series considers questions of this nature to motivate conversations and actions on climate issues that reverberate through politics and theatre.

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Julia Levine is a creative collaborator and vegetarian. Originally from St. Louis, Julia is now planted in the New York City downtown theatre realm. As a director, Julia has worked on various projects with companies that consider political and cultural topics, including Theater In Asylum, Honest Accomplice Theatre, Superhero Clubhouse, and Blessed Unrest. She is the Marketing Manager at HERE and is Artistic Producer of The Arctic Cycle. Julia writes and devises with her performance-based initiative, The UPROOT Series, to bring questions of food, climate, and justice into everyday life.

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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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Q28: Animating Ancestors

Guest Edited by Feresteh Toosi. Animating Ancestors is a special themed issue of the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts Quarterly journal which features projects that breathe life into the past. The word “animate” comes from the Latin verb animare meaning “giving life to.” Ancestors are all the plants, animals, people, fungi, soil, water, that constitute our lineage on this planet. This issue includes contributors who bring these inherited realities alive for their audiences through their creative research.

Melting Goddess of Fertility: Photographing Icelandic Glacial Caves

By Barbara Bogacka

The notion of a glacier is rather abstract for most of us. We often associate glaciers with increasing global temperatures and melting, but we do not quite know what they are like on an experiential or sensorial level. I had been fascinated by documentary films showing the vastness of ice caps, the harsh weather conditions, and the scarce life there. Still, I could not quite connect to glaciers. I needed to be close to one, to touch it, to smell it, to experience the weather, the light, and the ice.

In March of 2018, I went for a photo-tour in Iceland, which included a visit to the glacial caves of Breiðamerkurjökull, one of the outlet glaciers of Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap in Iceland. The two caves we visited, in the area called Treasure Island, were just amazing. I came back home understanding the glaciers better, but this short visit was not nearly enough to appreciate them fully. Overwhelmed by what I saw, I did not pay enough attention to detail. It was only when working on my pictures at home that I noticed how much was hidden there. A fragment of one image in particular was emotionally striking. At the bottom of the cave wall, in black ice, I could see a shape of a woman, which reminded me of an ancient figurine of a Goddess of Fertility I saw many years ago in a museum in Ankara.

Goddess of Fertility. Treasure Island cave, Breiðamerkurjökull, March 9, 2018.

How symbolic, I thought: an ancient icy goddess reclining under the glacier with dripping icicles hanging above her, indicating that her time was coming to an end. The reality of the threat of global warming struck me. Sometimes, a powerful symbol may convey a message just as well as scientific evidence can. This discovery triggered my desire to return to the glaciers, and this desire has not changed since. I wanted to capture on camera the unique impression of the moment and the place, a close view of the ice and its secrets.

Glacial caves vary greatly; some are wide open to light and some are more enclosed. Some have a wide entrance with a narrow tunnel going far into the glacier. The flickering light and the structure and color of ice make the caves alive and mysterious. The ice at the lower parts of the cave walls is often black, sometimes even opaque, the upper parts are lighter in color and more transparent. Shades of sapphire and of blue are mesmerizing, but we also see green, yellow, or brown, depending on the incoming light and the surroundings.  

Crying Glacier. A fragment of the wall of Sapphire Ice Cave, Breiðamerkurjökull, March 3, 2020.
Icy Coral. Fossil air in small tunnel well exposed to light in the area of Treasure Island. This feature was discovered by Solla Sveinbjörnsdottir. Breiðamerkurjökull, February 7, 2019.

We can see air bubbles, stones, volcanic ash, and even parts of plants caught in ice. Glacial caves reveal much about climatic history. The air bubbles contain information on the concentration of various gases in the atmosphere from many hundreds of years ago. The layers of ash indicate volcanic activities and the tree fossils say something about the flora before the ice age. Scientists take ice cores from the Arctic to research the climate’s past, but I could also see it through my lens. I will not make any scientific discoveries from my images, but they allow me to better understand the importance of the research based on ice cores. At the same time, I can enjoy the complexity of the ice’s content, its color, and the plethora of imaginative features changing as the ambient light changes.

Troll. A part of the ceiling in Sapphire Ice Cave, Breiðamerkurjökull, March 3, 2020.
Leaves and Twigs. A small fragment of the wall in Blue Dragon cave showing tiny leaves and twigs caught in ice. Skeiðarárjökull, February 27, 2020.

I was particularly moved by my experience in a cave called Blue Dragon in Skeiðarárjökull, another outlet of Vatnajökull consisting of several tunnels. A short time on my own in one of the tunnels made a special impression on me. It was dark and quiet, just a delicate trickle of water somewhere nearby and tons of ice above and around me. A ray of light was coming from the entrance to the cave and my eyes started to adjust to the darkness. The outside world disappeared for a moment as I was surrounded by what seemed to be Icelandic fairy tale beings, trolls and frozen creatures blinking their weird eyes at me. I wondered what they wanted to tell me.

Two-headed Dragon. A part of the ceiling of the Blue Dragon cave, Skeiðarárjökull, February 27, 2020.

I set my camera on the tripod and got close to one of them, hoping it did not mind being photographed. It was their kingdom and I was an outsider, but I did not feel like an intruder. I felt their friendly welcome, even some warmth in their icy home. I wished they could talk and tell me their story. After all, they were much older than me, at least several hundred years. What had they experienced over time? Could we understand each other?

I pushed the shutter button and waited for 30 seconds; this is how long it took to get a picture with a low ISO. The camera screen still showed a rather dark image, but I could see that the shine of the eye was there. How privileged I was to be in their home and to photograph it. I tried to respect the place, not to tread too much on the icy ground, not to break it. My camera was making too much noise but the trolls did not complain. How kind they were.

Photographing in such a dark environment is somewhat hit and miss. The exposures were long, but the camera recorded what was there, well-hidden from the naked eye: creatures floating in dark blue ice, momentary impressions of real physical entities.

Jellyfish. Fossil air bubbles and volcanic ash around a small cavity in the wall of Blue Dagon Cave, Skeiðarárjökull, February 27, 2020.
Octopus. Skeiðarárjökull, February 27, 2020.

The caves I visited in 2018 and in 2019 in the Treasure Island area on the edges of Breiðamerkurjökull do not exist anymore. They disappeared together with the retreating glacier. The creation of caves and under-glacial tunnels is a dynamic process and new ones form while the old ones change or disappear. The two caves I visited this year may not be accessible next year. Blue Dragon Cave on the side of Skeiðarárjökull and Sapphire Cave on the very edge of Breiðamerkurjökull have rather small chances of surviving the summer in their current forms. I could see the meltdown occurring rapidly over my three annual visits to the same area. The place was quite different each time, with the lagoon Jökulsárlón enlarged and packed with floating icebergs calved from Breiðamerkurjökull’s terminus.

The images I froze in my camera stay, while the subject of my photography melts. These pictures cannot be taken again, but they can be seen. I want to show what is so fragile, unique, and valuable, and what we must try to save. 

None of this work would have been possible without the wonderful help and support of my guides: Haukur Snorasson in 2018, Einar Rúnar Sigurðsson over the three years, and Solla Sveinbjörnsdottir and Guillaume Martin Kollibay in 2019 and 2020. Einar’s beautiful pictures can be seen in his recent photography album Crystal Ice Cave, published by Blurb.

(Top image: Blue Dragon Cave. One of the tunnels of the cave on the east side of Skeiðarárjökull, February 27, 2020.)

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Barbara Bogacka is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society. She is interested in a wide spectrum of photographic genre, particularly abstract images of nature. Since retirement in 2015 from her academic job at the University of London, she has revived her interests in the environment and in climate issues. Pollution and its effects on the meltdown of glaciers are of her special concern. Currently, she is working on a photography project to bring remote and unfamiliar views of ice closer to our homes. Barbara is a Polish citizen based in Northern England.

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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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Tiny Coronavirus Stories: ‘I can see by your eyes ’

By Mitchell WardShaunael MiltonSophie GledhillValerie Cihylik 

Reader-submitted stories of the COVID-19 pandemic, in no more than 100 words. Read past stories hereSubmit your own here.

A MIRROR OF PRIORITIES

On March 12, I started manically offloading my thoughts into my phone. These times – the penny had dropped – were not ordinary. Rereading these thought-bites has been a process of defining what is important. And, through the restriction of “locking down” at home, I’ve been granted freedom to subconsciously create a space which shines a light on my priorities: books I’ve taken off the shelf, half-finished rainy day projects I’ve resurrected, people I’ve gravitated towards through cyberspace. With the filler of “normal” life stripped away, we create a home-based microcosm of the world we wish to sustain upon release.

— Sophie Gledhill (Erith, London, UK)

(Top photo: Books liberated from shelves: a mirror of priorities)

* * *

THE CAMPFIRE

Living with others in a flat never felt cramped when schedules differed. Four people unemployed makes for tight living. You long for community, just not the one rubbing your elbows. A change of venue! We threw on backpacks, rolled sleeping bags. Our little camp among the wilderness flipped perspective. We got to forget, to breathe. Solitude shrunk with isolation. We laughed again. We felt new kinds of fear – together. Nights later we returned to the flat. Our elbows touched and we remembered. The world grew again. When I look in my roommates’ eyes now I still see the campfire.

— Mitchell Ward (Chicago, Illinois)

White flower in the leaves.

* * *

DEAR GENERATION ZOOMERS

Dear Generation Zoomers,

A cool breeze rests under the leaves
Full of life
Technology cannot sync up our heart
So out of touch
So out of reach
Adults told us: Get off your phones. Face to face is not FaceTime
We thought it was fine
We had choices, free will
No, there is no way to escape these electric bars
If only your touch could soothe my pain
So please let’s stay in touch even if we are out of each other’s

Love,
Your future

— Shaunael Milton (Inglewood, California)

Through the screen.

* * *

THE EYES HAVE IT

I was exiting Central Park after an afternoon walk with Pumpkin The Punk Pup. As the new normal, I was wearing a bandana to cover my nose and mouth. I fancy myself a bandit. Just as we were about to leave, a woman, a complete stranger, stopped me and said, “I can see by your eyes that you have a beautiful face.” What a gift! For a moment I actually felt beautiful.

— Valerie Cihylik (New York, New York)

Punk and me smiling.

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This series is edited by Thomas Peterson. One of the editors of Artists & Climate Change, he is also a theatre director and researcher whose work focuses on the climate crisis.

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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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Tiny Coronavirus Stories: ‘We both have bodies after all’

By Andrea CarlisleErica BenderJeanne EgasseSydnie Leigh

Reader-submitted stories of the COVID-19 pandemic, in no more than 100 words. Read past stories hereSubmit your own here.

LETTERS TO MY MOTHER

It occurred to me early on in this saga that I might never see her again. And if I do, maybe she will no longer recognize me. She’s really been gone a long time now, with little memory left except of her life as a young girl, a life that began shortly after the 1918 pandemic. Now, she, who was a nurse, is annoyed at a health crisis she cannot comprehend. No phone calls, she is deaf. No visits, so I write long rambling letters. And I bake her cookies. I can think of nothing else to do.

— Jeanne Egasse (Santa Ana, California)

Mom between pandemics.

* * *

WHAT LASTS

I could tell stories to the boldly staring swallows on my deck: how I’ve kept cats away from their ancestors’ nests, scrubbed the ancestors’ droppings from under the houseboat eaves many summers, awoken with swallow babies peeping outside my bedroom window so early in the morning my eyes couldn’t remember how to open, but they don’t care. They stare at me, like this one, as if I am nothing, as if they’ll go on and on building nests and laying eggs, and I won’t go on and on, and this is true so I shut up and perform my services.

— Andrea Carlisle (Portland, Oregon)

(Top photo: Swallow on my houseboat deck.)

* * *

TRAPPED BREATH

Bushels of orange, yellow, and pink geraniums lift their heads towards the sun by the side of the grocery store. Behind me the line wraps the corner. Every face is covered by swaths of colorful fabric, but bright designs can’t mask the defeat in their eyes. We trudge forward, like strange soldiers. We have rules, spoken and unspoken. Six feet apart, eyes ahead, and absolutely no talking. No one feels like talking much anymore. The cloth bandana around my face traps my warm breath, and my upper lip begins to sweat. I want to smell the flowers.

— Sydnie Leigh (San Diego, California)

My definition of freedom.

* * *

BLINK

I’m definitely not blinking enough. I love teleporting into work meetings – not worrying about wielding legs and arms through space to sit in a new chair in a new room. But, alas, I’m not blinking enough. Captivated by screens from morning to evening, it’s easy to forget about my body. I feel nonphysical. Then, a cold dog nose nudges my elbow, sending my mouse cursor flying across the screen. I blink, finally. I look down at a fuzzy face and expecting eyes. We both have bodies after all, and it’s time to go outside and soak in the sun.

— Erica Bender (San Diego, California)

Zoie, who loves to listen to the birds.

______________________________

This series is edited by Thomas Peterson. One of the editors of Artists & Climate Change, he is also a theatre director and researcher whose work focuses on the climate crisis.

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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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ecofeminism(s)

curated by Monika Fabijanska

June 18 – July 24, 2020
press day – June 18, 2020, 12-6 PM
opening reception – no public gatherings is planned
artists talk & walk through (online) – tba
gallery hours: Tue-Sat, 11-6 (through June 27); Mon-Fri, 11-6 (from June 29 onward)

Thomas Erben Gallery
526 West 26th Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10001
tel. 212-645-8701

ecofeminism(s) explores the legacy of some of the pioneers of ecofeminist art: Helène Aylon, Betsy Damon, Agnes Denes, Bilge Friedlaender, Ana Mendieta, Aviva Rahmani, and Cecilia Vicuña, and how their ideas and strategies are continued, developed or opposed by younger generations – Andrea Bowers, Eliza Evans, Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Carla Maldonado, Mary Mattingly, Jessica Segall, and Hanae Utamura. It also features the ecofeminist works of Lynn Hershman Leeson and Barbara Kruger, who escape these categories.

The historical perspective gained over the last fifty years reveals how revolutionary the work of pioneer feminist artists was, and how relevant it remains, whether for women’s rights or the development of social practice. The most remarkable, however, is their voice regarding humanity’s relationship to nature. The foundation of ecofeminism is spiritual feminism, which insists that everything is connected – that nature does not discriminate between soul and matter. Their recognition that Western patriarchal philosophy and religions have served to exploit both women and nature is particularly resonant in the era of the #MeToo Movement and Climate Change. But if the ecofeminist art of the 1970s and 1980s was largely defined by Goddess art, ritual performance, anti-nuclear work, and ecological land art – the curator poses the question – what makes female environmental artists working today ecofeminists?

Since the 1970s, ecofeminism evolved from gender essentialism to understanding gender as a social construct to gender performativity. But today’s feminists still address the degradation of the environment by creating diverse responses to patriarchal power structure, capitalism, and the notion of progress. They invoke indigenous traditions in maintaining connection to nature and intensify the critique of colonialist politics of overextraction, water privatization, and the destruction of native peoples. They continue to employ social practice and activism, but focus on denouncing global corporate strategies and designing futuristic proposals for life on earth.

MORE

Image: Jessica Segall, A Thirsty Person, Having Found a Spring, Stops to Drink, Does Not contemplate Its Beauty, 2011, performance/video still, archival print. © 2011 Jessica Segall. Courtesy of the artist

21st Century Renaissance

By Joan Sullivan

In a previous life, before becoming a photographer, I spent nearly two decades in Africa helping to fund and design public health responses to prevent the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS. This wily and virulent retrovirus, constantly mutating, has killed an estimated 32 million people since 1981, the official start of the global AIDS epidemic. Although AIDS has faded from the headlines, HIV continues to infect millions each year (most recent statistics: 1.7 million new infections in 2018), and it remains the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age globally.

Those of us who lived through, and in many ways are still haunted by, the AIDS crisis are well aware that AIDS and COVID-19 are microbiologically, clinically and epidemiologically distinct. They are two very different pandemics – wisdom tells us that they should not be compared. Yet compare we do, groping in the dark for something, anything, to make sense of the current chaos.

So imagine my surprise when, after searching through my library for a small book that I hadn’t read since graduate school – William McNeill’s landmark Plagues and Peoples – I realized that the COVID-19 pandemic is more comparable to the Great Plague (the second bubonic plague – see footnote) than it is to AIDS, at least from a socio-historical perspective.

The similarities are uncanny! Even though COVID-19 and the bubonic plague are caused by two very different microorganisms – a coronavirus and a zoonotic bacterium, respectively – several writers have noted “strange and startling” parallels between the two pandemics. The following similarities were published independently by Rukmini Bhaya Nair in New Delhi and Vicente G. Olaya in Barcelona:

  1. Infection originated in China or nearby.
  2. The infectious agent followed trade routes and travel routes from China to Europe.
  3. Initial transmission was from animal to human.
  4. Human to human infection happens via respiratory droplets.
  5. The first major epicenter in Europe was Italy.
  6. Health services were overwhelmed; health care providers exhausted.
  7. Corpses piled up; officials resorted to mass graves.
  8. There were no funeral services for many victims.
  9. The economy grounded to a halt.
  10. Physical distancing was a key prevention strategy.
  11. Foreign people were blamed and regarded with hostility.
The Citizens of Tournai, Belgium, Burying the Dead During the Black Death of 1347-52. Detail of a miniature from The Chronicles of Gilles Li Muisis (1272-1352), abbot of the monastery of St. Martin of the Righteous, Bibliothèque royale de Belgique, MS 13076-77, f. 24v.

The second bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, the Plague, the Great Plague, or the Pestilence, was the most fatal pandemic in human history. It was gruesome, lethal, apocalyptic.

The Black Death peaked between 1346-1353, but recurred in periodic waves over the next 300 years. It spread quickly and relentlessly across Eurasia and North Africa, resulting in an estimated 75-200 million deaths. This estimate includes nearly 60% of Europe’s entire population in the late Middle Ages. (By comparison, the deadly 1918 influenza pandemic, known as the Spanish Flu, “only” killed an estimated 20-40 million people over a two-year period at the end of WWI.)

Such massive loss of life fundamentally changed the course of history. But according to McNeill and several other historians, not all of these changes were for the worse. For some survivors, the plague proved to be “a good thing.” Among peasants and serfs, wages rose across Europe due to a severe labor shortage, marking the beginning of the end of centuries of oppressive feudal servile dues and restrictions for the poorest of the poor. Working-class women, especially teenage women, filled occupational gaps in the textile and agricultural sectors, while dowagers flourished among the gentry as women inherited their deceased husbands’ titles or property.

For entrepreneurial-minded and creative individuals, the death of huge numbers of merchants, officials and aristocrats was literally a boon: it provided unprecedented opportunities to test and embrace new ideas. Most importantly, the plague hastened the collapse of feudalism, which had calcified Europe for nearly 1,000 years following the fall of Rome. In this way, the Black Death accelerated the conditions that ultimately ushered in the Renaissance, a period of vibrant cultural, artistic, philosophical and economic transformation that brought medieval Europe out of the Dark Ages and pushed it towards modernity. 

As Leonard Cohen would later remind us: “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”

The Leonard Cohen Crescent Street Mural, a 10,000 square-foot tribute to the Montréal singer, songwriter and poet

This quote by Montréal’s favorite son is what inspired me to write this post. Five months into the COVID-19 pandemic – with many more months to come, possibly years of death and collective rage – I know that I am not alone in wondering what life might look like on the other side. I can’t help asking the question: If humans in the late Middle Ages, devastated by the Great Plague, were able to find the moxie to literally rise from the ashes and transform society into a vibrant Renaissance, why would we – third millennial humans – not be able to do the same?

Since re-reading Plagues and Peoples, I’ve started thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic in a whole new light: a once-in-a-generation opportunity to learn from the pastin order to transform our “calcified” fossil fuel-dependent economy into a more resilient 21st century renaissance. This post-COVID-19 renaissance should be built upon a regenerative, cradle-to-cradle circular economy powered by renewable energy, with climate justice and resilience at its heart.

Even Fatih Birol, executive director of the typically conservative International Energy Agency (IEA) believes we are facing a historic opportunity to usher in a new era for global climate action by scaling up the technologies needed to turbocharge the energy transition. Birol predicts “the energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before.”

Among politicians, city mayors representing more than 750 million people – from Bogotá to Milan to Seoul – have issued a Statement of Principles that warns that there can be no return to “business as usual” following the COVID-19 pandemic if humanity is to escape catastrophic climate breakdown. In a series of articles, The Guardian quotes Mark Watts, chief executive of the C40 group of cities: “There is now a hell of a lot of collaboration among very powerful politicians who do think a green economic recovery is absolutely essential.” As just one example, New York City’s mayor Bill de Blasio said: “Half-measures that maintain the status quo won’t move the needle or protect us from the next crisis. We need a new deal for these times – a massive transformation that rebuilds lives, promotes equality and prevents the next economic, health or climate crisis.” A rebirth.

To help us get there, Bina Venkataraman, author of The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age, dares us to rethink what we measure, change what we reward, and be brave enough to imagine what lies ahead. Professor at MIT and Editorial Page Editor of the Boston Globe, Venkataraman passionately argues in her 2019 TED Talk that modern societies spend far too much time focusing on the immediate and ephemeral (stock prices, election cycles, happiness, social media) compared to “imagining all the possibilities the future holds.” According to Venkataraman, our culture, workplaces and institutions are designed in ways that impair foresight, making it difficult to think ahead and avoid an epidemic of recklessness. To exercise foresight, we need tools for “looking across time to the future.”

I was so moved by Venkataraman’s TED Talk closing statement that I am taking the liberty of transcribing it here in its entirety. Using an old family heirloom as a metaphor for foresight, Venkataraman explains: 

My great-grandfather protected this hand-made instrument by giving it to the next generation, my grandmother, who gave it to me. This instrument is in my home today, but it doesn’t belong to me. It’s my role to shepherd it in time. This instrument positions me as both a descendant and an ancestor. It makes me feel part of a story bigger than my own. And this, I believe, is the single most powerful way we can reclaim foresight: by seeing ourselves as the good ancestors we long to be. Ancestors not just to our own children, but to all humanity. Whatever your heirloom is, however big or small, protect it. And know that its music can resonate for generations.

Thank you, Bina.

Collectively and individually, we are standing at a crossroads. We can choose to go “back to normal” – in which we fail to heed the warning signs of future consequences until it is too late (as per Jared Diamond). Or, we can choose to keep the memory of the past alive to help us imagine and navigate a more resilient and vibrant future. 

Artist Olafur Eliasson expresses this far more eloquently than I in a recent Instagram post

Memory and imagination are the twins of future-thinking; without memory, there is no fantasy, no story of what was and what could be. Anticipation of the future based on how we remember the past greases the wheels for the mental time travel that generates our possible futures. 

Thank you, Olafur.

Footnote: The first bubonic plague, known as the Plague of Justinian, swept through what was then the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire, and lasted 200 years from 542-750, killing 25-50 million people. Eight hundred years later, in the mid-14th century, the second bubonic plague erupted, caused by a different strain of the same bacterium. A third bubonic plague pandemic, originating in China in 1866, eventually spread to India and resulted in 2.2 million deaths. The WHO considered this pandemic active until 1960, when worldwide casualties dropped to 200 per year. Today, plague is considered to be endemic in 26 countries; the three most endemic countries are Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Peru.

(Top image by Joan Sullivan.)

This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.

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Joan Sullivan is a Canadian photographer focused on the energy transition. Her renewable energy photographs have been exhibited in group and solo shows in Canada, the UK and Italy. She is currently working on a long-term, self-assigned photo project about Canada’s energy transition. In her monthly column for Artists and Climate Change, Joan explores the intersection of art and the energy transition. You can find Joan on TwitterVisura and Ello.

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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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CAMP / MODELING RESILIENCE WITH ART / AVIVA RAHMANI

STARTS 11/07/2020 | 1 PLACE LEFT
ONLINE WORKSHOP

CAMP AT HOME

You’re viewing the distance learning part of this course. Our distance learning sessions are a great way to get involved with CAMP if you can’t make the trip, or as a preparatory step for an onsite workshop. Remember – if you sign up to an onsite workshop in 2021, you get the 2020 distance learning course free.

The onsite version of this workshop is here.

BOOK NOW

This online course costs €299 (or 2 monthly payments of €149.50). To reserve, click below – no payment is required at this stage. You’ll receive a booking confirmation email with secure payment links, and you’ll have three days to confirm your booking by making a payment.

BOOK NOW: ONLINE ONLY

BOOK NOW: ONLINE & ONSITE


At this turning point between Earth rights and Earth fragility, how might we divine messages from the non-human inhabitants of our ecosystems to protect our collective future and find hope, despite threats? Can the trees and small creatures of the world teach us to adapt to a global crisis even as much of the world holds its breathe in the face of catastrophe? Are there threads from cultural, scientific and even spiritual knowledge to lead us out of a labyrinth of trouble? Activities in this workshop are designed to go beyond mindfulness and hear the silent cries of alarm and the whispers of hope we can pass on to others to collectively find the answers we need, welcome or not.

Each day of the workshop will focus on employing familiar tools in new ways: walking, journaling, recording, sharing and discussing the implications of our observations. Our frame of reference for these exercises will be the rules of trigger point theory with the goal of identifying points for possible intervention in environmental cascades.

The session will be based around Trigger point theory (TPT) – this is Aviva’s original approach to environmental restoration, developed from her experience creating Ghost Nets (1990-2000), a project which restored a former town dump to flourishing wetlands and formal gardens. This workshop has been designed to develop TPT skills to connect theoretical and personal experiences to practical initiatives.

The course will take place over four sessions, on the 11th,12th, 13th and 14th of July. Each session will be split into three parts: a lecture/discussion, a period for individual exploration in your location along the themes of the day, and presentation of results, discussion of insights and challenges.

Aviva Rahmani is one of the most important artists contributing to the current movement of environmental art. Her public and ecological art projects have involved collaborative interdisciplinary community teams with scientists, planners, environmentalists and other artists, and her projects range from complete landscape restorations to museum venues that reference painting, sound and photography.

She began her career as a performance artist, founding and directing the American Ritual Theatre (1968-1971), performing throughout California. In 1971, she collaborated with Judy Chicago, Suzanne Lacy, and Sandi Orgel on Ablutions, now considered a groundbreaking feminist performance work on rape. After graduating from California Institute of the Arts and getting her PhD from Plymouth, Aviva began presenting workshops on her theoretical approach to environmental restoration, and her transdisciplinary work has been exhibited internationally. 

Aviva’s video documentation Gulf to Gulf sessions have made international impact, and it’s precursor “Trigger Points/Tipping Points” premiered at the 2007 Venice Biennale. In 2002, her pioneering community action project “Blue Rocks” helped restore degraded wetlands on Vinalhaven Island, Maine (triggering a USDA investment of over $500,000). “The Blued Trees Symphony” (2015 – present) has received numerous awards and had huge impact around the globe.

“Ghost Nets 1990-2000”, one of Aviva’s best known works, includes her original theories of environmental restoration and trigger point theory. In 2012, she applied trigger point theory and the “Gulf to Gulf” webcasts to “Fish Story Memphis,” a multi-part public art project. In 2006, she initiated a series of podcasts, “Virtual Cities and Oceans of If”, which segued into webcasts on climate change. She is currently an Affiliate with the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado (UCB), where she has been collaborating with the Director, James White since 2007 on “Gulf to Gulf”, a series of webcasts on global warming with other scientists, artists and thinkers. Their first collaborative work premiered with Cultura21 in the Joseph Beuys Pavilion of the 2007 Venice Biennale.

In 2007, in collaboration with White, Aviva appeared in the collective exhibition Weather Report, debuting her work “Trigger Points, Tipping Points”. She displayed a series of digital prints that superimposed satellite imagery with textual warnings on the morphing and changing of climate change on the global landscape. Her work embodies a discourse that focuses on the power dynamics of disaster and how rising sea levels will not only effect landscape, but also result in the relocation of communities and refugee migration. She seamlessly ties together climate change with the themes of class, power, and justice – a conversation frequently not as prevalent in the global warming conversation.

WHERE AND WHEN?

This is an online course, but it involves realtime sessions and contact time with your tutor – it’s not a “download these videos and watch them at your leisure” type of thing – it’s a real workshop with live lectures, individual tuition, assignments and feedback sessions. We’ve tried to make this remote session as close as possible to the experience of an onsite workshop at CAMP. The course starts on 11/07/2020 and ends on 14/07/2020.

HOW TO BOOK

To book your place on the course, click the button in the green section above. You won’t pay anything right now – we’ll send you a booking confirmation email with everything you need to know next. Your place is reserved without payment for three days.

You’ll find a payment link in the booking confirmation email – follow the link to make your course payment. All card payments are handled by Stripe, and are extremely secure. We don’t store any card data ourselves – all of this is handled securely off-site by Stripe.

Once you’ve made a payment, you’ll receive another email containing your receipt, links to resources, contact information and access to our group chat to discuss the workshop with other participants.

IMPORTANT: BY SIGNING UP TO A COURSE, YOU AGREE TO THE TERMS

Opportunity: Becoming Earthly – Arts and Ecology Seminar Series

Learning space hosted by artists and thinkers, to reflect and imagine new ways of working.

Becoming Earthly reflects a need to develop a shift in perspective towards care for the thin skin of the earth that is the atmosphere and topsoil on which all life depends. We surprisingly know very little about this skin. It is only a few kilometres in depth and yet all our futures, human and nonhuman, are dependent upon it. In the thinking of Bruno Latour, anthropologist and an influential political philosopher, we have to land, become terrestrial rather than seeking escape to another planet. We are locked into this thin skin of earth.

Latour calls upon the arts to support a process of becoming terrestrial. In a quieter period, he argues, it might make sense for scientists to limit the collaboration of artists to decoration and popularisation. We now need aesthetics to sensitise us to other ways of life. We need artists to sensitise us to the shape of things to come.

However, becoming earthly is disorientating. It fundamentally challenges our beliefs, values and interests. For many artists, the pressure to address the climate emergency in which we are all implicated, can feel like an intrusion into creative practice. It can feel fundamentally at odds with established notions of creative expression. How do we create and develop artistic practice inside the thin skin that is our world, towards a future where both people and the planet will flourish? How can we work as artists and arts organisations in a critically informed way in relation to art and ecology?

The Barn is inviting applications from artists working across all media who wish to participate in an experimental learning space, a thought experiment of sorts. We are interested in practitioners who are open to the challenge that Latour presents in becoming earthly.

It is not necessary to have prior experience of ecology, but essential to be curious about exploring new forms of work through dialogue. We want to encourage applications across all the arts and are particularly keen to encourage those artists working in theatre, dance, performance and new media. We will consider applications from collectives and ensembles, as well as individuals. While we cannot support artists financially, our aim is to create the conditions to open up new innovative forms of practice that respond imaginatively to the challenges we now face.

The Programme

Becoming Earthly has been conceived as a process of thinking through doing, informed by many years of hands-on interventions at the Barn. The process is in itself ecological rather than outcome driven. It will consist of six sessions, two hours in length, delivered via Zoom. Four sessions will be hosted by different thought leaders including internationally renowned artist John Newling, artist researcher Wallace Heim, philosopher Johan Siebers, and anthropologist and feldenkrais practitioner Paolo Maccagno. The introductory session will be led by curator and head of programme at the Barn, Simone Stewart and members of the Becoming Earthly Steering Group. The final session will be a work-in-progress/sharing session. We will present ideas and thinking we have explored during our time together. This could be in the form of a live presentation, readings, or performance. The format for this will be determined collaboratively by the group. To this final session, we will invite key arts and ecological stakeholders’ and funders including Creative Scotland along with the session hosts, with the aim of opening up connections for artists and potential partners.

The Barn has conceived these sessions around the thematic juxtapositions of doubt and pleasure, lament and improvisation, shame and play as provocations or openings into possible connections between ecology and art. These themes lend themselves to performative explorations raising questions such as; What does it mean to perceive our condition as a fragile, temporary state of being, wholly dependent upon the natural systems that surround us? How can these pairings help us to explore the paradigm of ecology not just on the level of concept and structures but though the aesthetic and bodily plains of feelings and perceptions?

Apply for Becoming Earthly; imagining new futures – arts and ecology seminar series

Applications close: Friday 10th July at 5pm.

The post Opportunity: Becoming Earthly – Arts and Ecology Seminar Series 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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