Artists and Climate Change

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Acting for Climate Goes Into the Water

By Peterson Toscano

Helping the public engage in climate change requires skillful communication and a lot of creativity. One troupe of performers in Northern Europe decided to break out of the box altogether. In the summer of 2019, they presented a performance piece in Norway and Denmark. Instead of bringing the audience into a theatre, Acting for Climate took their show to eight different harbors. For a stage, they used a very large wooden boat. Into the Water is a theatrical circus performance aimed at raising ecological awareness. In addition to the performance, they organized festivals at each of the harbors.

Acting for Climate members Abigael Rydtun Winsvold and Nathan Biggs-Penton recreate the performance for our listening audience. Hear about the circus artists and their amazing feats as they climb the eight-story high mast, do acrobatics, and take the audience on a wild and moving ride. After each performance, the troupe connected with the audience for further discussion.

Abigael found the response to be better than she imagined:

People came up to us and said that they were really really touched. Even sixty-year-old men, which I don’t normally see crying. I barely have seen anyone I don’t know crying in this age group. They came up to us and said, “Wow! I’m really touched. I’m just going to take a walk and cry for myself right now.” That was really touching for us to hear people were touched by the performance, not only excited, but also shaken a bit somehow.

Coming up next month, Rooted & Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis, a new book that fuses faith and personal narrative with climate action.

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunesStitcher Radio, Spotify, SoundCloudPodbeanNorthern Spirit RadioGoogle PlayPlayerFM, and TuneIn Radio. Also, feel free to connect with other listeners, suggest program ideas, and respond to programs in the Citizens’ Climate Radio Facebook group or on Twitter at @CitizensCRadio.

(Photo courtesy of Acting for Climate.)

This article is part of The Art House series.

______________________________

As host of Citizens’ Climate Radio, Peterson Toscano regularly features artists who address climate change in their work. The Art House section of his program includes singer/songwriters, visual artists, comics, creative writers, and playwrights. Through a collaboration with Artists and Climate Change and Citizens’ Climate Education, each month Peterson reissues The Art House for this blog. If you have an idea for The Art House, contact Peterson: radio @ citizensclimatelobby.org

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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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Helping the public engage in climate change requires skillful communication and a lot of creativity. One troupe of performers in Northern Europe decided to break out of the box altogether. In the summer of 2019, they presented a performance piece in Norway and Denmark. Instead of bringing the audience into a theatre, Acting for Climate took their show to eight different harbors. For a stage, they used a very large wooden boat. Into the Water is a theatrical circus performance aimed at raising ecological awareness. In addition to the performance, they organized festivals at each of the harbors.

Acting for Climate members Abigael Rydtun Winsvold and Nathan Biggs-Penton recreate the performance for our listening audience. Hear about the circus artists and their amazing feats as they climb the eight-story high mast, do acrobatics, and take the audience on a wild and moving ride. After each performance, the troupe connected with the audience for further discussion.

Abigael found the response to be better than she imagined:

People came up to us and said that they were really really touched. Even sixty-year-old men, which I don’t normally see crying. I barely have seen anyone I don’t know crying in this age group. They came up to us and said, “Wow! I’m really touched. I’m just going to take a walk and cry for myself right now.” That was really touching for us to hear people were touched by the performance, not only excited, but also shaken a bit somehow.

Coming up next month, Rooted & Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis, a new book that fuses faith and personal narrative with climate action.

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunesStitcher Radio, Spotify, SoundCloudPodbeanNorthern Spirit RadioGoogle PlayPlayerFM, and TuneIn Radio. Also, feel free to connect with other listeners, suggest program ideas, and respond to programs in the Citizens’ Climate Radio Facebook group or on Twitter at @CitizensCRadio.

(Photo courtesy of Acting for Climate.)

This article is part of The Art House series.

______________________________

As host of Citizens’ Climate Radio, Peterson Toscano regularly features artists who address climate change in their work. The Art House section of his program includes singer/songwriters, visual artists, comics, creative writers, and playwrights. Through a collaboration with Artists and Climate Change and Citizens’ Climate Education, each month Peterson reissues The Art House for this blog. If you have an idea for The Art House, contact Peterson: radio @ citizensclimatelobby.org

———-

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

Powered by WPeMatico

Helping the public engage in climate change requires skillful communication and a lot of creativity. One troupe of performers in Northern Europe decided to break out of the box altogether. In the summer of 2019, they presented a performance piece in Norway and Denmark. Instead of bringing the audience into a theatre, Acting for Climate took their show to eight different harbors. For a stage, they used a very large wooden boat. Into the Water is a theatrical circus performance aimed at raising ecological awareness. In addition to the performance, they organized festivals at each of the harbors.

Acting for Climate members Abigael Rydtun Winsvold and Nathan Biggs-Penton recreate the performance for our listening audience. Hear about the circus artists and their amazing feats as they climb the eight-story high mast, do acrobatics, and take the audience on a wild and moving ride. After each performance, the troupe connected with the audience for further discussion.

Abigael found the response to be better than she imagined:

People came up to us and said that they were really really touched. Even sixty-year-old men, which I don’t normally see crying. I barely have seen anyone I don’t know crying in this age group. They came up to us and said, “Wow! I’m really touched. I’m just going to take a walk and cry for myself right now.” That was really touching for us to hear people were touched by the performance, not only excited, but also shaken a bit somehow.

Coming up next month, Rooted & Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis, a new book that fuses faith and personal narrative with climate action.

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunesStitcher Radio, Spotify, SoundCloudPodbeanNorthern Spirit RadioGoogle PlayPlayerFM, and TuneIn Radio. Also, feel free to connect with other listeners, suggest program ideas, and respond to programs in the Citizens’ Climate Radio Facebook group or on Twitter at @CitizensCRadio.

(Photo courtesy of Acting for Climate.)

This article is part of The Art House series.

______________________________

As host of Citizens’ Climate Radio, Peterson Toscano regularly features artists who address climate change in their work. The Art House section of his program includes singer/songwriters, visual artists, comics, creative writers, and playwrights. Through a collaboration with Artists and Climate Change and Citizens’ Climate Education, each month Peterson reissues The Art House for this blog. If you have an idea for The Art House, contact Peterson: radio @ citizensclimatelobby.org

———-

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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Energy Transition Coloring Book

By Joan Sullivan

Over the five years that I’ve blogged for Artists and Climate Change, I have never pitched a product. Until today. It feels a bit sacrilegious to do so, especially in the context of next week’s ritualized over-consumption frenzy, but hear me out. This is important.

With this post, I’m temporarily stepping outside my comfort zone – where I shine a light on global artists, designers, and architects experimenting with renewable energy as an emerging art form – to boldly suggest that our readers consider purchasing (several copies of) the Infographic Energy Transition Coloring Book as #climate-themed holiday gifts this year.

This award-winning coloring book (an updated version is currently being printed in Germany and will be ready for distribution in early December) is a visually stunning communication tool that I believe can help shift the needle on our mostly dystopic climate narrative. It is designed to engage all generations: young, old, and anyone in-between.

What I like most about this coloring book is its appeal to broad sections of the population, including those not yet convinced of the need to shift to sustainable energy sources, those for whom the jargon-heavy scientific climate reports are difficult to decipher, and even those already working on climate change and the energy transition.

Created by two Berlin-based organizations – Ellery Studio in collaboration with the Institute for Climate Protection, Energy and Mobility (IKEM) – the Infographic Energy Transition Coloring Book hits the sweet spot for me on so many levels.

First, not only is it scientifically accurate and visually stunning, this book manages like no other to take a complex, geeky subject like the energy transition (which I have tried to write about here, here, and here from an artistic perspective) and makes it highly accessible to the general public.

As Bernd Riedel, head of Ellery Studio’s visual strategy lab explained to FastCompany, “The energy transition will only succeed if people are aware of and enthusiastic about the possibilities of a decentralized, renewable energy supply.”

Secondly, this coloring book draws you in, no matter your point-of-view on the climate crisis. Once you pick up a pencil or crayon to start coloring, it is impossible not to feel engaged, to feel empowered, to feel part of a larger whole. That alone is reason enough to purchase this book.

As Anika Nicolaas Ponder, Head of Sustainability & Innovation at IKEM, wrote on Medium:

Fostering public engagement in climate change activism will require a new approach to communication. Reporting shouldn’t just highlight the risks and challenges involved as global temperatures rise, but also the opportunities that can emerge from smart responses to climate change. This means that we need to communicate our message in a new format – and with a new narrative.

Thirdly, this coloring book focuses on the positive, on solutions, on the way forward. All music to my ears. According to Ms Ponder:

These are the tales that need telling, and these are the narratives we need to hear. We will be more effective messengers if we reframe the way we talk about climate change and the energy transition. We can do this by focusing on opportunity and empowerment and drawing more people into the conversation through accessible communication formats.

I can’t think of a better playful gift with the potential to open the conversation between friends and family who may not always have seen eye-to-eye on the climate or the energy transition. For more information about the Infographic Energy Transition Coloring Book, follow “My Energy Transition” on Instagram.

I’ll end here with my favorite illustration in the book. It would have to be the clever “Meet The Renewables” (which somehow reminds me of The Incredibles). This “family portrait” includes five of the most popular members of the renewable energy family: onshore and offshore wind, hydropower, biomass and solar. They are displayed on a modern electronic tablet which contrasts starkly with four cracked and cob-webbed frames in the background of the fossil fuel family (which reminds me of the original Addams Family!) Kudos to all who worked on this brilliant project!

(All images copyright and courtesy of Ellery Study, Berlin.)

This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.

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

By Peterson Toscano

What does it take to create a poetic masterpiece that is also able to express the complex emotions we feel around climate change? Poet Catherine Pierce describes her process crafting her moving poem, Anthropocene Pastoral.

This Art House segment is heavily influenced by the podcast Song Exploder, where musicians unpack a song and talk about almost every aspect of it, as well as their creative process. In this podcast, Pierce does something similar with Anthropocene Pastoral, which first appeared in the American Poetry Review.

Inspired by the California Super Bloom of 2017, Pierce captures the strangeness of living in a world that is rapidly and dangerously changing, but at the same time can be unseasonably pleasant and beautiful.

She opens the poem with the line, “In the beginning, the ending was beautiful.”

In our conversation, she reveals the many choices she made to create the haunting mood of the poem, and its lush landscape filled with a riot of images, animals, and life. She explains some of the techniques and devices she uses to construct the poem. Then she reads the poem for us.

You can read more of Catherine Pierce’s climate change-themed poems online including High Dangerous and Planet. Pierce’s last book of poetry, The Tornado is the World is about an EF-4 tornado/extreme weather event. The filmmaker Isaac Ravishankara produced a beautiful short film out of one of the poems in the collection The Mother Warns the Tornado.

Catherine Pierce is co-director of the Writing Program at Mississippi State University, and the author of the award winning collection of poetry Famous Last Words. She is working on a new book of poetry, Danger Days, which continues her exploration of climate change.

Coming up next month, a group of circus artists hop on a ship to engage the public in a performance that defies gravity and provides wisdom and guidance in a time of climate change.

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, Podbean, Northern Spirit Radio, Google Play, PlayerFM, and TuneIn Radio. Also, feel free to connect with other listeners, suggest program ideas, and respond to programs in the Citizens’ Climate Radio Facebook group or on Twitter at @CitizensCRadio.

(Photo by Megan Bean/Mississippi State University.)

This article is part of The Art House series.

______________________________

As host of CitizensClimate Radio, Peterson Toscano regularly features artists who address climate change in their work. The Art House section of his program includes singer/songwriters, visual artists, comics, creative writers, and playwrights. Through a collaboration with Artists and Climate Change and CitizensClimate Education, each month Peterson reissues The Art House for this blog. If you have an idea for The Art House, contact Peterson: radio @ citizensclimatelobby.org

———-

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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My Hudson River Primer

By Ellen Kozak

It is likely that the Hudson River, which runs the length of the state of New York, will be at the doorstep of my studio within the next couple of decades. This is my twentieth-year painting along the river’s edge in the town of New Baltimore. Direct observation is the core of my painting practice. I work on site with a field easel. My process, and the circumstance of having a subject in constant motion, influenced my return to work in video. In 2008, I received a commission for a single-channel video from the Katonah Museum of Art.

Bodies of water and their physical properties, atmospheric conditions, and natural phenomena are mesmerizing sources of inspiration. I work with these elements in a responsive and experimental way, pairing ephemeral luminosity with tidal motifs, and natural phenomena with man-made disturbance. As I paint, use my camera, swim, kayak, and live with the presence of the Hudson throughout the seasons, the river starts to feel like a close companion.

Painter’s Log

The river is a living organism. While it is resilient, its fragility is once again being challenged. As many know, the Hudson suffered extreme abuse over many decades, notably from the multinational company General Electric’s dumping of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Like any injured organism, it requires care and respect for the systems that support its life and health.

In my own work, I strive to depict the river’s supple and subtle shifts in color, luminosity, and transparency. Its surface may appear smooth or disturbed. Entering the sphere of my interest are aspects of optical phenomena such as after-image, conjured by intensely bright light reflected from the river’s surface.

Certain Slant
 

As a painter also working with video, my practice brings together concepts and crafts from both media. Dialogue between these forms raises new ideas and possibilities. My approach is empirically responsive and quotidian in exploring conditions, natural or manmade. One imperative in my dual practice is close study through which sensations can be intoxicating and intense. Abstract in appearance, my work conveys the movement and luminosity of rivers without offering views or realistic representation. Yet, while painting, I feel sure that I am reporting a precise account of the landscape.

I am attracted to bodies of water for their perceptual properties as well. Their mirror-like surfaces are an interesting way to indirectly observe the world through reflection. This can create collisions and magnify attributes by imposing distance, both perceptual and psychological. Mediated observation can suggest metaphor and render what is known equivocal.

Field Notes
 

I use the surface of the river as a giant watery lens that absorbs reflections, colors, and patterns. It collects activity from the sky above – the movements of clouds, fog, foliage, planes in flight – and on the Hudson, tankers transporting crude oil and barges carrying “restricted use soil” from Newtown Creek as fill beside tributaries of the Hudson. This is a violation that reintroduces contaminant into the environment. Last year, one loaded barge containing this restricted use soil sank and no notice of violation was issued by the DEC. The re-industrialization of the river is evident and problematic.

My interest in water and attendant attributes, such as the repetitive motion of waves, is longstanding. In graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I experimented with one of Nam June Paik’s wacky video synthesizers. From oscillators, the contraption generated images based on electronic waveforms. Analog technology, more physical than digital, revealed the inner workings of monitors, tubes, and electron guns spewing streams of electrons. Now, working beside shorelines, the watery surface of the river provides a different kind of synthesizer – organic and embedded in the landscape.

Oil paint shares an aqueous attribute with my subject, but each has different viscosities. In recent years, I have been approaching paint as a mimetic medium; I use its physicality to perform in ways similar to my subject.

Twilight Transcript
 

Spending so much time along the shoreline lets me experience the Hudson as a commercial waterway and see the consequences of superstorms such as the flooding of whole neighborhoods, the ripping away of staircases, and large appliances including cars being carried downriver. The clear evidence and certainty of sea level rise is inescapable.

Some sightings of note include entrapped ships waiting for a rising tide to lift them from where they have run aground; barges transporting enormous turquoise struts – bridge parts for the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge (now renamed the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge) that crosses the river from Grand View-on-Hudson to Tarrytown; the annual assembly of a pumping station, across from my studio, to carry dredging spoils from a large swath of the riverbed to the top of Houghtaling Island, where they reenter the ecosystem; and the ongoing illegal rezoning of wetlands.

Many people are surprised to learn that most of the Hudson is actually a tidal estuary extending from the mouth of New York Harbor to the Federal Dam in Troy, approximately 153 miles north. The tidal zone in New Baltimore is surprisingly deep, about twelve feet. While painting, if I don’t want to get caught by the tide, I have to constantly back up from the shoreline.

All of these years working directly beside the Hudson inspired me to find a way to become an advocate for it. My awareness and concern, while not expressed directly in my artistic work, offered me a path to seek involvement. In joining the membership of the environmental organization Riverkeeper, I signed on to their mission “to protect the environmental, recreational and commercial integrity of the Hudson River and its tributaries and safeguard the drinking water of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents.” More recently, as a board member, my practice of working on site has been a useful and practical kind of monitoring and surveillance in and around our river.

Vertical Roll
 

One look at the environmental issues, the campaigns, and cases that Riverkeeper is tackling daily gives me hope. This short film about the Gowanus Canal reveals just one of Riverkeeper’s ongoing efforts and its hard work.

Recently, I have noticed an inverse relationship between my paintings and video. In the former, I collapse hours of observation onto the still surface of a painting, while in the latter, I use still imagery to refer to time and imply constant motion. Subverting expected characteristics of each medium creates unexpected paradoxical disjunctions.

(Top image: riverthatflowsbothways, 2016, four-channel video installation, Ellen Kozak & Scott D. Miller)

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Ellen Kozak is a painter and video artist whose work brings together concepts and crafts from both media. She lives and works in New Baltimore, NY and in New York City. A Professor at Pratt Institute for twenty-three years, she received degrees from MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies and the Massachusetts College of Art. Her work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the Fogg Museum among others. Seventeen solo exhibitions of her work have been mounted in the US, Japan and France, and her work has been included in numerous group exhibitions

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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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Wild Authors: Renato Redentor Constantino

By Mary Woodbury

In this feature, I look at, and re-enjoy, Agam, a 2014 book project from the Philippines. Thanks very much to Redentor Constantino, from the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities – publisher of the book Agam: Filipino Narratives on Uncertainty and Climate Change – for permission to excerpt the cover and other information about the book, and for providing assistance in finding out more about this amazing title. Block quotes are text from the Agam website.

Agam reflects the confrontation between climate change and diverse cultures across the Philippines. It combines original new works in prose, verse, and photographs and depicts uncertainty – and tenacity – from the Filipino perspective, minus the crutch of jargon.

The title, Agam – an old Filipino word for uncertainty and memory – captures the essence of this groundbreaking work. Inside are 26 images and creative narratives in eight Filipino languages (translated into English), crafted by 24 writers representing a broad array of disciplines – poets, journalists, anthropologists, scientists, and artists.

All proceeds from the sale of Agam will go to the project Re-Charge Tacloban, an integrated solar and sustainable transport services and learning facility in Tacloban, a city devastated by Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), the strongest storm ever recorded at landfall.

I have recently been in touch with Renato again, who stated:

Agam has been launched in several capitals. In addition to a huge number of events in the Philippines, Agam has been launched in Washington DC, Manhattan, Berkeley, Denver, Berlin, and Bonn. The book has won three national book awards. For two years now we have partnered with Iyas, an annual creative writing workshop run by some of Agam‘s contributors. We have helped organize activities as well as provided lectures and insights into the climate issue and the way it intersects with the creative process. We are working on an international version now, helping put some shape into the overall scope of the book.

He also stated wisely:

Get your bearings, lose your marbles – this might very well be the basic principle by which advocacy and literature will meld in the face of the climate crisis. I can’t think of a period in history when poets and writers are more needed than the present. This is our Thermopylae, our defining moment; we are faced with change that will only become more violent the longer the spectatorship of the public remains ascendant. We face likewise the opportunity to survive and thrive and, most importantly, to sweep aside vestiges of the old order constructed by anthropomorphic conceits thinking we, particularly the few, can live so large and so indifferently without any consequences.

Agam is a song, a poem, a story, a photograph, a calligraphic sweep of the hand. It is all of these and more. One of its descriptions: This is a book that asks you to sit down and take a deep breath, it draws a line in the sand and whispers in your ear, “This is where our stories begin.” It tells of the archipelagic country’s people and natural landscapes and environmental changes. It roars with the wind carving through coconut groves and buildings. It swims with the rising Abra River, it counts fingers from the past while observing the many storms. It eyes the haunted wreckage from typhoons and floods. It follows the uprooting of trees, the remaining dust. Naomi Klein said of the book:

Agam is exquisite: a deeply original concept executed with tremendous artistry. Rather than asking readers to care about the whole world at once, these elegant vignettes distill the climate crisis down to its most intimate and human details. By focusing on the small, the biggest questions of all are cracked open. How do we heal after our most beloved and nourishing places have turned against us? How do we live in a world that has itself become a question mark? And most of all: How can we stop inflicting such violence on one another?

This glance into the dwindling wildness of the Philippines is told beautifully, thoughtfully, and with an eye to how humanity is impacted. According to Ecowatch:

The Global Climate Risk Index 2015 listed the Philippines as the number one most affected country by climate change, using 2013’s data. This is, in part, due to its geography. The Philippines is located in the western Pacific Ocean, surrounded by naturally warm waters that will likely get even warmer as average sea-surface temperatures continue to rise.

The Stories Within

The stories in Agam are accompanied with beautiful artwork and photography. These people are not fictional. The storms are not fictional. Agam fuses storytelling and reality in an artistic medium.

In “Tulo Ka Hinumdoman,” Merlie Alunan writes poetically of the strength of wind and how it slashes through groves of banana and coconut trees and rice fields, how the same wind could be so strong as to turn a person into dust, how the wind ruins buildings and urban objects, how it–with the rising seas–takes what’s in its path. There’s an overwhelming sense of nature being boiled up by climate change, and turning more powerful.

In “Agayayos” (Ever Flowing), Arnold Molina Azurin recalls a former town being entirely moved to higher ground away from the Abra River as wild waters rose and rose. He says this constant environmental and climate shifting: “Sometimes very slow in coming and almost imperceptible, but sometimes severely and instantly catastrophic.” Landmarks end and new ones begin–sometimes so subtly, sometimes strongly–always forever changing.

Merlinda Bobis, in “Sampulong Guramoy” (Ten Fingers), asks us to see the invisible. Ten fingers of the mother…of the father. How many times does one count when rotten rice needs to be scavenged from a storm, when a roof needs fixing, when the village is evacuated. I can see a child using the fingers to count and see the shadows and light dash to and fro in these terrible storms, which become haunting memories. Over and over.

In “Unnatural Disasters,” Sheila Coronel finds power in the bayanihan spirit, as the compassionate people help each other through each crisis. According to TheMixedCulture.com: The Bayanihan (pronounced as buy-uh-nee-hun) is a Filipino custom derived from a Filipino word “bayan”, which means nation, town or community. The term bayanihan itself literally means “being in a bayan”, which refers to the spirit of communal unity, work, and cooperation to achieve a particular goal.

In “Sa Laylayan ng Bahaghari,” Ni Honorio Bartolome de Dios tells the story of a beach that is now gone, swallowed by the sea. As with the other stories, the tale is haunting and reminiscent of loss and death. But there is still hope. Maybe a rainbow will come.

May Ling Su, in “The Power Couple,” shows the spirit and strength of Filipino people–and hints at the disparate contribution to climate change vs. the uneven results. The power couple recycles. They do not do social media. They have no education, money, or opportunities. They do what they can to survive and live in the culture–fishing, hunting, toiling in extreme weather. They are hit hard by climate change:

We’re called “resilient” by the system that ravages our resources and spits us out, the remains of the carcass they have consumed and now consider waste.

Authors

Agam‘s authors are Regina Abuyuan (also the Executive Editor), Merlie Alunan, Dr. Leoncio Amadore, Arnold Azurin, Romulo P. Baquiran Jr., Herminio S. Beltran Jr., Merlinda Bobis, Renato Redentor Constantino, Sheila Coronel, Honorio de Dios, Daryll Delgado, Grace Monte de Ramos, Ricardo M. de Ungria, Marjorie Evasco, Alya B. Honosan, Susan S. Lara, Padmapani L. Perez, Mucha-Shim Lahaman Quiling, Joel Saracho, Jose Enrique Soriano, May Ling Su, Ramon C. Sunico, Mubarak M. Tahir, Dr. Michael L. Tan, and Criselda Yabes.Among these authors are winners of the Carlos Palanca award, a Magsaysay Awardee, a SEAWrite Awardee, the Chancellor of the University of the Philippines-Diliman, public intellectuals, and pop culture experts. All of them in one book.

Click here for bios of Agam‘s authors.

The Photographer

Behind the lens is Jose Enrique Soriano, who took portraits of people he met. He imposed no story or caption behind their faces – no unnecessary drama, just “the people at the forefront of climate change.” In this case, it means those who live with its effects. There is no sweeping background of the devastation. The pictures are about the people, as the stories are too.

The Cover

The cover is a mix of new and old typography by Kristian Kabuay. It’s not very apparent, but the calligraphy is baybayin with modern techniques from the Hanunuo Mangyan tribe in Mindoro. (The black “squiggles” on the front cover reads “A-Ga-M” and on the back, the more traditional “A-Ga” is written.)

Please be sure to read the 10 Reasons Why We Love Agam.

For more information about ordering, please visit Agam’s Facebook page.

The featured image is by Dee Rexter, titled Boat from Bora, taken at Boracay Island Malay, Aklan. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

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

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

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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An Interview with Artist Anne Percoco

By Amy Brady

I have for you this month a fascinating interview with New Jersey-based artist Anne Percoco. Anne is a co-collaborator on an art project called The Next Epoch Seed Library – it comprises a custom set of drawers and shelves filled with plant seeds native to the region. The project also consists of walks, workshops, discussions, an open-access curriculum, deep-time seed storage experiments, and other activities. I spoke with Anne about what inspired The Next Epoch Seed Library, another work of art called Indra’s Cloud, and what she hopes people take away from viewing her work.

Anne Percoco. Photo by Colleen Gutwein.

Tell me about The Next Epoch Seed Library.

The Next Epoch Seed Library is a collaboration between myself and Ellie Irons. In 2015, we were both working with weeds and seeds in our own practices. During a studio visit soon after we first met, the idea of a seed library for weeds came up, and we ran with it.

We began by designing seed packets, going on some seed collecting walks together, and creating a small collection. Then, we had the chance to participate in a group show: Intersecting Imaginaries with No Longer Empty in the Bronx. We decided to build a custom set of drawers and shelves into an I-beam in the raw gallery space. The drawers held seed packets, including a special collection from the surrounding neighborhood, and the shelves held seeds in jars and some informational brochures.

Since then, we’ve broadened our activities to include more than just maintaining our collection, which is made available to the public in the form of a pop-up library that travels between exhibitions and venues, and is accessible by mail at all times. Our offerings now include walks, workshops, discussions, an open-access curriculum, deep-time seed storage experiments, and special projects. We also have a semi-permanent base at the Sanctuary for Independent Media’s Nature Lab in Troy, NY, where Ellie lives.

Where did the idea for the Library come from?

I was first attracted to this idea because of the seeming absurdity of carefully collecting, sorting, displaying, and distributing seeds of plants that easily propagate themselves on their own, even in the most challenging of environmental conditions. However, I quickly learned from Ellie, who has a background in environmental studies, that these intrepid plants provide tremendous benefits to urban and damaged landscapes. Many cities are lacking in green space, especially in underserved neighborhoods (an environmental justice issue). It turns out an overgrown vacant lot provides benefits similar to a natural landscape – it provides food and habitat for pollinators and other critters, absorbs excess stormwater, filters particulate matter from air, draws toxins from the soil, stores carbon and produces oxygen. Patches of weeds even provide mental health benefits to us humans: our heart rate and stress levels get lower as we walk past weedy greenery. Furthermore, weeds do not require intensive watering and fertilizing like cultivated plants and lawns. They are incredibly self-sufficient. For damaged and polluted landscapes, hardy weeds often act as healers. Their presence makes the land more habitable, allowing other species to move in.

We learned after starting NESL that there are a few organizations which are actively collecting seeds of wild cousins of our food crops, in anticipation of future pests or environmental challenges which they might face as climate change takes hold. These relatives may contain valuable mutations and adaptations in their DNA which can potentially lend their resiliency to our food crops. A few examples of wild crop cousins in our collection include: prickly lettuce (lactuca serriola), a relative of lettuce; Queen Anne’s lace (daucus carrota), a relative of carrot; and curly dock (rumex crispus), a relative of buckwheat.

What do you hope viewers of your art take away from the experience?

We hope that NESL prompts viewers to become more observant and appreciative of these humble but vibrant plants who live alongside us and are supporting us as we move through the sixth mass extinction. We’ve also experienced that handling plants, learning about them, and collecting their seeds is a tactile, pleasurable activity, which we enjoy sharing with participants.

Additionally, we hope that the binary concept of native vs. invasive species is broken down in some way by our project, particularly in the context of human-impacted landscapes. We cannot afford to label all non-native plants as harmful, as many provide important ecological services to urban and disturbed landscapes while other species struggle to adapt. Often the measures taken to remove these plants (such as herbicide) are quite destructive in themselves!

Indra’s Cloud is another fascinating piece of yours that speaks to environmental concerns. Please tell me about this work.

In late 2008, I was in residency in Vrindavan, India with a local environmental NGO, Friends of Vrindavan. For this project, I collected about 1,000 plastic bottles and sewed them together to create large half- and quarter-sphere domes. Friends of Vrindavan helped me transport the project in pieces to the bank of the Yamuna River, where I hired a boat for the day. I tied the overlapping domes of bottles onto the boat, which created a bulbous shape. From shore, the sculpture appeared to be a floating, plastic cloud. The boatman poled the sculpture around the town of Vrindavan on the Yamuna River, enacting a parikrama, a traditional circumambulatory walk meant to honor a town, temple, or deity.

The Yamuna River is widely known to be a physical manifestation of the goddess Yamuna, and it’s considered a blessing to bathe in her waters. However, the river itself is terribly polluted with raw sewage from Delhi and industrial effluent from surrounding factories.

Indra’s Cloud. Photo by Anne Percoco.

The image of a cloud made of water bottles on the Yamuna River references a well-known local myth about water resources. In the story, Krishna persuaded the cowherds of Vrindavan that the rain their cows drink does not come from the sky, but from the land itself. Therefore, he encouraged the people to gift their yearly offering to Mount Govardhan instead of to Indra, the rain god. In revenge, Indra sent a dark storm cloud which released a torrential downpour onto the town, but Krishna lifted the mountain like an umbrella, with his pinky finger, to protect his friends. The story is a reminder of the interconnectedness of nature, that the water we drink does not come magically from the sky or a plastic bottle – it is affected by the land and everything that is done to it by humans.

As a result of this project, one frequent tourist group to Vrindavan transitioned from single serving plastic bottles to reusable dispensers, saving an estimated 3,000 bottles per year. This project was made possible with the support of Friends of Vrindavan as well as the Asian Cultural Council.

What do you think that art can tell us about climate change that other forms of communication (like news reports and other types of nonfiction) can’t?

Whenever I wonder what individual artists like me can possibly contribute to this crisis, I think of these two quotes in tandem: Rebecca Solnit wrote that “environmental problems are really cultural problems,” and Matthew Coolidge wrote that “art is the R&D of culture.” If these quotes are true (I think the first is true and the second can be true), then it makes sense to use artistic forms to investigate what is broken in our culture, what would allow us (Americans & members of other industrialized societies) to so casually and regularly undermine our basis for survival – and to pose alternative value models. For example, in my work both with NESL and in my individual practice, I try to find value in materials, places, and species that are widely considered worthless. I also try to elicit from viewers their attention to small details as well as empathy, both of which I think would be important for the kind of cultural shift we need right now.

Coolidge goes on to say that art is an incredibly flexible discipline. Because there are really no hard and fast rules, artists can connect disparate ideas and hold space for nuance and contradiction in a way that might be difficult in other fields.

What’s next for you?

NESL has three group shows opening soon: In the Weeds: Art and the Natural World at Wheaton College in Norton, MA; an installation at Swale House on Governor’s Island NY in connection to The CURB Banquet event, and New World Water at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ. We have outdoor test plots currently installed on the campuses of both Seton Hall and Wheaton for our project, Lawn (Re)Disturbance Laboratory, and we’ll be leading two workshops at Wheaton next weekend.

For NESL, there are several things we’d love to do in the future, from creating a seed vault within a permanent public sculpture, to expanding our open access curriculum, to studying a particular plant that grows in Chinese copper mines, to just generally growing our collection and network of collaborators and participants.

In my personal practice, I’d like to remake a piece using pens that are running out of ink. Pens are such interesting everyday objects: disposable vehicles for expression, a connection between the body and mind. If anyone has empty or near-empty pens to donate, let me know!

(Top image: The Next Epoch Seed Library at William Paterson University. Photo by Anne Percoco.)

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

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

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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The Factory of the Future: A Collaborative Project for Imagining Otherwise

By Zoë Svendsen

“Those who tell the stories rule the world.” With that claim, George Monbiot opens his book Out of the Wreckage, a call to arms for a world beyond neoliberalism. When it comes to stories, it matters who tells them, as well as what the stories are and where space can be found in culture for imagining otherwise.

The fight over who gets to tell what story is ongoing, but there is also another role for the arts – to flesh out what those other stories might be. When this happens, a generative role for the arts in relation to politics starts to emerge. It is not necessarily a traditional message-based role of overt acts of persuasion, but one that undertakes the speculative and provisional work of imagining, depicting how we might live within very different social and economic conditions. It is a challenging requirement: I, for one, have had all my theatre muscles tested by the demand to imagine how possibilities for a world beyond climate crisis might work. For so many of us living in cultures built on fossil fuel use, it is much easier to see losses and sacrifices than it is to see what might be gained by a transition to a world that faced up to the crisis.

I work with a network of theatremakers and, having made a show called World Factory that immersed audiences in the ethical conflicts embedded in consumer capitalism, we asked ourselves: What next? Supported by an artistic residency whose aim was to explore future scenarios in relation to climate change, I looked at how the economic system could be changed, through a process I call “research in public,” where research that ordinarily goes on behind closed doors becomes a conversation held in public – at relaxed events publicized on social media and in cafés or theatre foyers or anywhere informal.

In response to these conversations, my collaborators and I devised forty-nine economic and legislative changes to enable human and planetary flourishing. We then put these to audiences in the performance installation WE KNOW NOT WHAT WE MAY BE at the Barbican Centre in London over five days in September 2018. Actors improvised stories of a transformed City of London based on the scenarios that were discussed, argued over, and voted on by audiences.

The task for audience and actors alike was to imagine what it might be like to live in a “new normal” of social and environmental flourishing. The creation of the imagined stories was structured in a way that was built on collaboration – not consensus. It was networked, multi-perspectival, and took place over time. No single person (maker, expert, or audience) was present at every moment. Each generation of audience watched stories created from discussions held earlier by other audience members and worked on scenarios themselves, which would be watched by others. This principle of generational, generative thinking is embedded in the heart of the future direction of the project.

In response to the Barbican installation, my performing arts company, METIS, was commissioned to create a bespoke version for the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019, which we developed in collaboration with the Cambridge Conservation Initiative. Entitled The Factory of the Future, the artistic “output” is now a video installation, but also encompasses workshops and consultative conversations in Oslo. Added to our stories of a post-capitalist London are stories of a transformed Oslo in a post-fossil fuel culture. To source the stories, we have been working with architects, urban planners, and local citizens to imagine what Oslo might be like under economic conditions designed to enable the flourishing of both humans and the environment. The actors will then create stories of what it is like to live in the city under these transformed conditions; these stories of Oslo will then be added to the video installation that presents an alternative London.

Anna-Maria Nabirye and Tom Ross-Williams imagine the future during WE KNOW NOT WHAT WE MAY BE at the Barbican Centre, September 2018. Photo by David Sandison.

Oslo is often already seen as a beacon of environmentally friendly, socially engaged practices. The project takes this as inspiration whilst challenging the city to imagine it is no longer able to derive its wealth from oil or the exploitation of its copious natural resources. Every scenario we imagine is based on conversations had with specialists, which means our imagined alternatives are not utopias, they have roots in reality. They are tried and tested, but never at a systemic level. This is what sets the artistic work apart from reality – the socioeconomic ideas are not necessarily new, or even wildly radical, but they currently swim against the tide of neoliberal systems and so remain outliers.

What we are attempting is not the fashioning of another utopia – the scenarios we generate are multiple, overlapping, partial, and also at times contradictory. They aim at the very act of imagining rather than achieving consensus about what is to be done. It is nevertheless a challenge.

The demand for “realism” (the term hovering somewhere between its social use and its use in drama) masks our embeddedness in neoliberal myths, which take, as a given, that the only possible economic structure is that of the “free” market and that self-interest is the main driving force behind all human behavior. Much has been written about this theoretically, but this project has forced us to recognize how we are living it, to notice our own internal barriers to believing a more collaborative, less self-interested social structure is possible. Still, despite now understanding the economic myths we are caught up in and their impact on our everyday decisions, we as a group of artists have had to train ourselves not to find it so implausible that global structural change could ever actually occur. The project, however, invites us to imagine otherwise, to immerse ourselves in the potentialities of such change.

We have even come up with a term for our current situation, “high-carbon culture,” which explains the contradictions we currently live in – that we, in high-carbon culture, are fossil-fuelled and environmentally damaging regardless of our motivation or capacity for change.

It is also, however, a myth that change cannot occur quickly or decisively, as the Rapid Transition Alliance demonstrates: humans are adept at large-scale, rapid, lasting, transformational change. By imagining our way beyond such “implausibility,” we’ve started to take a deep pleasure in willfully and doggedly ignoring those despairing whispers, enjoying instead our forays into a culture of repair, recuperation, and mutual value.

The act of storytelling embedded in alternative scenarios takes on a political dimension. Unlike traditional conceptions of political art, it does not directly argue for revolution – there is already so much brilliant and necessary directly activist work being done on this front globally. Rather, it creates a space for imagining what might be gained once transformative change does become possible. In this sense it doesn’t matter too much what particular detail of this alternative culture we exercise our storytelling muscles on. It just matters that we keep doing it, that we keep on fleshing out other realities in defiance of the current obvious systemic barriers.

Factory of the Future in workshop, Oslo 2019.

I am excited by the discovery that the more I stay in this space, the more I start to see this other reality emerging all over the place. The very act of imagining transforms my perception of possibility, suggesting that, as Monbiot implies, reality really might be shaped by the stories that hold the most sway in our imaginations.

Having experimented throughout this project with a variety of interactive performance forms, we have, ultimately, come to focus on to the simplicity of storytelling: drawing on terrain mapped by politicians, policymakers, economists, and future visionaries to imagine what it might actually be like to live in another world. This involves drilling down into everyday life, acting on writer Amitav Ghosh’s invitation set out in his seminal set of essays on culture, the climate, capitalism, and colonialism, The Great Derangement: “What we need […] is to find a way out of the individualizing imaginary in which we are trapped.” And, brilliantly, we are far from alone – there are proliferating examples of this kind of work, from Jonathan Porrit’s The World We Made, to the Paris-based Plurality University’s Future Fragments project, to Naomi Klein’s collaboratively created manifesto at the end of No is Not Enough. We hope to continue our work, to collaborate with cities and imagine them as otherwise in the face of climate crisis.

At the very least, then, this practice of imagining otherwise is a kind of bearing witness, offering a reminder in the historical record for those in a climate-crisis-ridden future of self-interested survivalism, who might look back and ask, How the hell did they let it happen? It is a testament to the fact that, right now, we have the ingenuity, the techniques, and the desire for our future to be collaborative and epic rather than isolationist and tragic.

(Top image: Introduction to the scenarios for WE KNOW NOT WHAT WE MAY BE at the Barbican Centre, September 2018. Photo by David Sandison.)

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on September 30, 2019.

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Zoë Svendsen directs the performing arts company METIS, making participatory theatre performances and installation works exploring contemporary political subjects, including: Factory of the Future (Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019); WE KNOW NOT WHAT WE MAY BE (Artsadmin Green Commission 2018/Barbican Centre London); World Factory (Young Vic, London, and UK tour); 3rd Ring Out (TippingPoint Commission Award; UK tour). Zoë has worked as dramaturg at theYoung Vic, the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, and lectures on drama and performance at the University of Cambridge.

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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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Wild Authors: Evie Gaughan

By Mary Woodbury

I still feel Ireland every day, though it’s been two years since I visited the country. Yet, I cannot quite get over it. I still see tiny orchids and Burnet’s roses and mountain avens poking through rocks in the Burren, and vast swamp and peat lands filled with rocky outcrops and hills. We climb one hill, and there’s even a higher one. The further we go, our perspective of the Irish green patched land is wide-ranging, but we never can seem to reach the very top. It’s somewhere up there. Our GPS gets confused and takes us down forgotten country lanes where abundant heather springs up around ruins of centuries-old cottages and barns.

I see the North Atlantic ocean swipe the rocky beaches below my run on the precipitous trail above the Cliffs of Moher, where tall grasses sway in the early June gales. I also feel cold winds slap my face on the boat to the same cliffs, where tens of thousands of seabirds nest in the rock shelves. At first, we didn’t see anything but whitish vague shapes in the rocks, but as the boat got closer to the cliffs and the seastack, it became so clear: puffins, razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes, gulls, and other birds everywhere.

I see the blackness in Doolin Cave (Poll an Eidhneáin), home of the longest free-hanging stalactite in Europe. We stand next to its waxy looking body in the dim light set up in there, and feel ancient. Running down a country lane, flanked by peat fields and bloody cranesvilles and stinging nettles, I feel like Gandalf will come along in his wagon at any moment. I hear our cottage shutters banging night after night from the strong cold Atlantic winds. No matter where we go, there are verdant fields and groves of trees and lazy cows in meadows. What existed at one time still remains: ancient ruins of old forts and castles and farmhouses, along with dolmens, cairns, and other megaliths. It’s a place where time is not linear, where the past transcends the present, where a fairy may take your hand and take you away to the waters and the wild. Much like eco-themed fiction can.

So it was with such experience after my journey there that I also began to seek novels and stories that would take me back to my time in Ireland, or perhaps further my experience there. And last summer I found the perfect tale: Evie Gaughan’s The Story Collector. Goodreads describes it as:

A beautiful and mysterious tale from the author of The Heirloom and The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris. Thornwood Village, 1910. Anna, a young farm girl, volunteers to help an intriguing American visitor, Harold Griffin-Krauss, translate “fairy stories” from Irish to English. But all is not as it seems and Anna soon finds herself at the heart of a mystery that threatens the future of her community and her very way of life…Captivated by the land of myth, folklore and superstition, Sarah Harper finds herself walking in the footsteps of Harold and Anna one hundred years later, unearthing dark secrets that both enchant and unnerve. The Story Collector treads the intriguing line between the everyday and the otherworldly, the seen and the unseen. With a taste for the magical in everyday life, Evie Gaughan’s latest novel is full of ordinary characters with extraordinary tales to tell.

Yes, that was something I had to read, and I was lucky to chat with the author about the novel and its strong connection to the wilds of Ireland, and the cultural myths, particularly that of fairies. So take my hand, and let’s go to the waters and the wild, as we talk with Evie.

The natural environment of Ireland has a strong presence in The Story Collector. When we meet Anna, from the journal that Sarah finds in an old tree, we learn that Anna feels close to nature. “The story of my childhood was etched all over this familiar landscape. Living this close to nature, I felt as though I was part of it; as much as the river flowing through it or the ever-changing clouds passing overhead. We altered together with each season, transforming…”

Part of it may be that during Anna’s time period in the early 20th century, there were more natural places than there are now. But Sarah, who is going through a tough time, also is inspired by the natural beauty of Ireland. How important is it to you to have this strong connection between story and environment in fiction?

For The Story Collector, the rural environment was always going to be a strong character in its own right. Irish culture and tradition is so intricately linked with nature, that it would be impossible to write a story like this and not pay homage to the natural world. One of the first books that really drew my attention to the environment as a main character was Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. The Yorkshire moors play a pivotal role in mirroring the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff and I wanted to create that parallel in my own book.

Relating to the above question, part of the plot centers around a Hawthorn tree – revered by fairies – being cut down by a landowner, which subsequently resulted in a fairy curse (or maybe just bad luck, depending on perspective). In your studies, how is the Hawthorn tree important? And do you think we have a new lore, or narrative, to create – that maybe we shouldn’t be cutting down trees at all? I learned some things about Hawthorn trees that I never knew, like you could eat the flowers and make wine too.

The Hawthorn tree is a sacred tree in Ireland. They grace every hedgerow and woodland across the country, blooming majestically with little white flowers every May. On many farms, you will come across a large, open field with animals grazing and one solitary tree providing welcome shelter. This will undoubtedly be a hawthorn, because no farmer would dare take a saw to it for fear of bad luck. Farmers are the true guardians of the land and her secrets, and that is why I wanted Anna and her family to be a part of that tradition. It’s hardly surprising that the hawthorn has become my favorite tree now and even though it blossomed late this year, it was just in time for my book launch, which I took to be a very good sign!

I hope that’s a good sign! There’s reference to William Butler Yeats – one of my favorite nature poets – in The Story Collector. While foraging in a used bookstore in Doolin, Ireland – one of those old cluttered places that are really beautiful – I found an old book by him, one of his books about fairies. How did you draw from his work for your novel?

Growing up in Ireland, it’s easy to take things for granted. Yeats was just another poet whose lines I had to learn off by heart at school and coldly analyze for exams. It was only when listening to an old record (remember those!) by The Waterboys, that I fell in love with The Stolen Child. They set the poem to music and really seemed to bring the words to life.

Novels are funny creatures, because you realize you’ve been collecting knowledge all through your life without realizing where it may lead. A few years ago, I visited Thoor Ballylee, Yeats’ tower home in my home county Galway. I was with my sister, who I always say is the poet in the family, and so I figured this pilgrimage was more for her than for me. But once there, I experienced such a sense of ease, of playfulness and yes, magic! I could completely understand how he had been inspired to write about The Good People. Maybe the spell was cast even then to write this book!

Speaking of The Stolen Child put to music, Loreena McKennitt also did a nice version of it. I felt the same way you did, when visiting Thoor Ballylee, when we sailed to the real “Lake Isle of Innisfree” in Lough Gill, so I understand that feeling of being under a spell.

There’s a place in the story where Sarah is thinking about Anna’s journal. She has observed that in modern day County Clare, people still protected their fairy tree, a sacred place guarded for centuries. This protection was also preserved in story. Anna’s friend Harold says, “If we lose our stories, we lose ourselves.” I’m struck by preservation and continuity of story, and wonder about your thoughts on that.

Folklore, I believe, is our collective unconscious and something we must preserve in order to retain a sense of ourselves and our place on this earth. I’m not an expert, but I do feel that the further we move away from our past, our ancestry, our heritage, the less human we become. I know that sounds dramatic, but when you think of how we are often described as “robots” sitting in front of screens, or “zombies” with our smart phones, it makes sense. There is so much beauty in the natural world, where we can find solace and (as Sarah did in the book) healing. At its very essence, my inspiration for writing this story was to re-engage people with our folklore and mythology, so the idea of preservation is very important to me.

I agree. There’s a sense of humans needing to connect to place in your novel. I have felt this so strongly myself, and sometimes living in cities makes a person feel a little lost. Yet, when I was in Ireland, near Doolin, I felt like Sarah finding ground there. I guess it’s because in Ireland, if you get away from the cities (and even in them, but particularly out in the wild) you find things unchanged: the ruins sticking up from the grasses, the elders walking down a road with their cattle, great places of natural and seeming untouched beauty – the woodlands, wildflowers, natural peat lands and Burren, the Cliffs of Moher, for example. This is good for the soul. I guess my question would be, given that your novel fields this experience, do you personally find solace in the country’s back places?

Absolutely! I live in a suburb, but I’m very lucky because I can walk five minutes down the road to a small inlet surrounded by woodland. I call it my soul space, because it’s where I can go to just breathe, listen to the birds in the treetops, or watch the herons perch upon the rocks. I love walking the dirt track, criss-crossed with roots and feel the wind on my face because my shoulders instantly drop and my mind can wander.

I was watching a program recently on the effects of living in an urban environment on our health and the expert being interviewed said that this is not our natural environment. For centuries, we have lived side by side with nature, according to her seasons and our belief system grew out of that natural affinity with the cycles of the moon, of life and death. So I really wanted to explore that and as you say, bring the importance and relevance of the natural world into the modern day segments of the book.

This exploration is so important. The continuity in The Story Collector makes life seem timeless, in the sense that what a woman experienced in 1910 and another woman in 2010 had similar foundations and outcomes – discovery, learning, appreciation of the natural landscape, and so forth. The premise of preserving stories and myths is also important here. How do you think we can survive in terms of connection to our past?

I love writing dual timelines and all of my books deal with the legacy of our past and how it can inform the present. It’s an important theme for me because I think it helps us to understand the cyclical nature of life and gives us a sense of continuity. Maybe it’s just me, but I love hearing old stories! I spent a lot of time chatting to my parents about what life was like for them growing up and what (if any) superstitions my grandparents believed in. Lots of these made it into the book and I feel really proud to have kept my ancestors’ stories alive.

I’d love to hear those stories sometime! I’d like to ask who your favorite authors and stories have been?

Oh, I’m always finding new favorites, so it’s hard to narrow down, but I have always loved Joanne Harris (especially Chocolat and Blackberry Wine) and of course, as I mentioned, Wuthering Heights. Special mention for Jackie Morris, a writer and illustrator whose book, The Wild Swans, is a firm favorite of mine. Anything with a hint of magical realism or gothic romance and I’m sold!

Is there anything else you would like to add – what are you working on now?

I’m taking a small hiatus at the moment, but I have already begun my fourth novel, which is like a colourful patchwork quilt – full of different stories and characters, all bound by one thread!

I’m hooked already, and can’t wait to hear more about the new story. Thanks so much, Evie.

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

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

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Wild Authors: D.G. Driver

By Mary Woodbury

This month, we continue with the young adult/teen focus, certainly timely right now as youth have entered the front lines on fighting climate change. On March 15, 2019, an international march took place with thousands of students from dozens of countries skipping school and calling for government action. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg helped to spur this action last year, though before that youth were already in the arena. It’s such a positive and hopeful sign, and quite naturally, literature continues to remark on such issues. This week we look at works by D.G. Driver, author of The Juniper Sawfeather trilogy, a series of fantasy novels showing how a native American teenager, Juniper, deals with oil spills, logging, and endangered orcas.

D.G. has a degree in theater arts from U.C. Irvine. Her first short story was published in Catalyst Magazine, and her first original play was produced in Los Angeles. She is an actor and enjoys community theater in Nashville. She’s also a special education teacher in the same city and has written the novel No One Needed to Know, inspired by an autistic brother. D.G. is a presenter who explores environmental themes in novels, speaking at schools, libraries, and special events. She has spoken at Middle TN Youth Writing Workshop (at MTSU), Alabama School Library Association conference, Wizard World Comic Con Nashville, Southern Kentucky Festival of Books, LibertyCon, Chattacon, and Hypericon. D.G.’s Juniper Sawfeather series, published by Fire & Ice Young Adult Books, has been nominated for the Purple Dragonfly book award, Green Books/Environmental award, and Green Book Festival award. You can learn more about D. G. Driver’s books here.  Find excerpts, reviews, and links to all booksellers. The box set is available at Amazon.

I was always impressed by D.G.’s positive ratings on Goodreads and her genuine enthusiasm on various social media, and knew that her novels would be exactly what I was looking for as a teenager. Even as an adult I enjoy them! So I was happy to finally catch up to D.G. and talk with her about the trilogy.

Can you describe for our readers what’s happening in your Juniper Sawfeather trilogy?

This series is about a teen environmental activist who discovers mythical creatures tied to her American Indian heritage during her efforts to protect the natural world. In the first book, Cry of the Sea, we meet Juniper as she and her father rush to the beach to report damage of an oil spill off the Washington coast. They discover real mermaids washed up on the beach. It becomes Juniper’s mission to protect these creatures from being exploited by the media or murdered by the oil company.

The second book, Whisper of the Woods, takes Juniper and her activist parents to a protest against the logging of old growth trees. The oldest tree of all seems to be calling to her, and soon Juniper finds herself trapped 170 feet up in its branches by an ancient tree spirit. She learns in this book of an American Indian myth that ties the tree spirit and the mermaids together.

In the final book, Echo of the Cliffs, Juniper is determined to find the third part of the myth: a warrior that has been turned into stone. Her family is now fighting construction pollution that is killing orcas and other sea creatures. One of her loved ones goes missing, and it might be vindictive mermaids who have captured him. Why would they do this and how does it tie to the myth? It’s the most exciting book of the three with a thrilling ending.

What are your thoughts on environmental issues and climate change in fiction?

When I originally came up with the concept for my first novel, Cry of the Sea, I didn’t intend for it to be an issue-oriented book. It was born out of a “what if?” idea during the reporting of the ten-year anniversary of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. I thought: what if mermaids were caught up in an oil spill? During the time that I was writing the novel, the Gulf oil spill happened, and there have been subsequent spills since then. In addition, we have all seen the dangers of ocean pollution, construction pollution, and of course the crisis with plastics in the ocean. By making Juniper and her parents environmental activists, I was able to weave facts about environmental issues into the stories organically without having them be forced. In this way, I can make young readers aware of the issues without preaching. Hopefully, in addition to enjoying the action, they are learning something valuable. I believe that teens are very aware of the dangerous future ahead due to climate change, and characters like Juniper Sawfeather can hopefully give them some motivation to help make a difference.

In the final book, Echo of the Cliffs, there is a scene where Juniper and her boyfriend Carter are helping with some water testing. They get to chatting about ocean pollution. Here’s an excerpt:

“Did you know that there’s a mass of plastic garbage the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?” Carter said.

I patted his curly blond hair. “You’re so cute trying to tell something like that to the daughter of Peter and Natalie Sawfeather.”

“What? You knew?” He acted dumbfounded, and I laughed.

I leaned over so I could drag my hand through the cold water and let it trickle off my fingers. “Actually, the island of plastic trash is a myth. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, but it does slowly break down into small bits, sometimes microscopic, and is spread out all over the ocean. It’s estimated that there’s 25,000 microscopic pieces of plastic per square mile in the ocean. It’s impossible to clean up. The sea animals are eating it. We’re eating the sea animals.”

“So, we’re basically eating our own trash.”

“Yep.”

“Mind if I use all of that info for my paper in Environmental Studies?”

“You can use my whole essay. I learned all of that for an assignment in school last year.”

Carter glared at the construction site. “My dad has to do something about what’s happening here. We might not be able to fix the whole ocean, but we don’t have to add to the problem.”

“I hope this evidence will make a difference for him.”

Who are some of your favorite characters?

Juniper Sawfeather is the star of my story, and I love her so much. She’s headstrong, smart, and often very stubborn. She doesn’t really fit in with high school-minded people and is ready to move on to college and, hopefully, a career in marine biology. She both respects her parents and is embarrassed by them, especially her mother.

Carter Crowe is a freshman in college and an intern at the marine rescue center where the mermaids are brought. He’s handsome and driven, a perfect match for Juniper. Their relationship grows and is tested throughout the series.

My other favorite character is Juarez Pena. He’s an open-minded news reporter who has been a big supporter of Peter and Natalie Sawfeather (Juniper’s parents) when other reporters have refused to cover their protests. He believes Juniper about the mermaids, sight unseen, and is extremely helpful with the rescue attempt. Juarez winds up becoming pretty obsessed with finding the mermaids, though, and that leads to a whole subplot that is very important in the final story.

What environmental fiction stories inspired you as a child?

I’m not sure I recall reading anything that I would consider environmental fiction as a child. I grew up in the 1970s-80s. I didn’t discover Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax until I was an adult. I was also already an adult when I first read Hatchet. I did read Island of the Blue Dolphins and enjoyed it.  As a young reader, second through fourth grade, I was a big fan of animal books like Black Beauty and Bambi. These books gave me an appreciation for nature and caring about animals.

In sixth grade I became a huge fan of Harriet the Spy. I think of her as my first “activist,” someone who was determined to know things and learn how the world worked. Someone who stood up against mean people and had to learn a thing or two about how to get what she wanted without hurting people in the process. I’ve always been drawn to characters like her, and I think Juniper was born out of wanting to write a strong female lead with determination and a cause.

In my twenties I read Legacy of Luna, an autobiography about Julia Butterfly Hill, a woman famous for protecting old growth trees. Her story directly inspired book two of the Juniper Sawfeather series, Whisper of the Woods.

I also enjoyed many of these stories and am secretly thrilled every time an author mentions Island of the Blue Dolphins, my favorite novel as a young girl. What experiences or feedback have you had from your readers?

To my great joy, I’ve had a couple young readers tell me that they are interested in pursuing careers in marine biology, thanks to reading Cry of the Sea. Reviewers have been very supportive of the books and often comment on how well the environmental themes are woven into the plot – that the books make the reader think about ocean pollution or the timber industry without taking them out of the story. Cry of the Sea won two literary awards for its environmental awareness theme. I like when readers let me know that they are going to try harder to do more about limiting their use of plastics, not littering, and recycling more often.

That’s wonderful feedback. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Most people are drawn to Cry of the Sea initially because of the mermaid on the front cover, and I think they’re surprised to find that it is very different than other mermaid books. It’s not a paranormal romance. My mermaids don’t talk. They don’t grow legs and walk around on land. They are sentient sea creatures, and Juniper makes it her mission to protect them and defeat the oil company’s plans to destroy them.

Another thing that surprises people is that the mermaids are not in book two, Whisper of the Woods. The series follows the adventures of Juniper, wherever they take her. Readers should stick with the series, though. The mermaids come back with a vengeance, joined by some shape-shifting killer whales, in the final volume: Echo of the Cliffs.

Thanks so much for talking about your novels. I’m looking forward to seeing more!

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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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Drain You Dry

By Eric Herbig

Last summer, when Seattle’s skies were smoke-filled from the wildfires in British Columbia, I started creating the music to my song Drain You Dry. I recall going nearby to Alki Beach and seeing first-responders assist an elderly gentleman who was having trouble breathing. It was also during this time that an orca mother known as Tahlequah pushed her dead calf (the first born to the pod in the prior three years) around the waters of Puget Sound for seventeen days, traveling over 1,000 miles. I remember feeling that this was a communication – a cry for help, a warning, and an act of protest from our intelligent and potentially wiser counterparts of the sea.

Over the course of the last three years, I have been participating in climate justice activism via a local chapter of 350.org called 350-Seattle. We accomplished much in the area of climate change; for example, we recently led the Seattle City Council to unanimously pass a resolution around the Seattle Green New Deal. We also have a multi-year campaign involving a coalition of organizations calling for big banks, particularly JP Morgan Chase, to stop enabling fossil fuel companies.

350-Seattle activists shutdown Second Avenue in front of the Seattle Chase Headquarters to protest their funding of fossil fuels. Police were quoted as saying the deployment of the “Tarpees” was akin to a Nascar pit crew in action.

In the summer, while I was making the music video for Drain You Dry , 350-Seattle deployed a series of “Tarpees” (Teepee-inspired structures walled with tarps instead of traditional materials), which shut down the major thoroughfare of Second Avenue directly in front of the JP Morgan Seattle Headquarters and resulted in the arrest of fourteen activists. I mention my involvement in 350-Seattle, because I feel it has provided me with vigor and hope, both of which inspire and motivate me to make music. Through 350-Seattle’s close alliance with local indigenous groups, I have heard Native speakers express their perspectives around nature in ways that has resonated in my soul. When I am symbolizing purity of nature in the video and music, it is a reflection of these experiences.

At the root of both the song and the video are my own contradictory feelings of love for nature (I am also a molecular biologist), and anxiety from feeling trapped in a system of oppression in which climate change, while eminently pressing, is but one of many threats. These feelings are expressed in my music; the song starts as more of an exotic-feeling folk song and later morphs into a full-blown, technology-infused, post-apocalyptic world, where the organic elements are largely consumed. Also informing the chorus and video imagery is the emotional weight of constantly considering and engaging in ideas around climate change. The song isn’t just about climate change; it’s about the devastating impacts of climate change resulting from systems of oppression as a metaphor for both internal strife and societal decay.

When representing nature in this song, I wanted to use acoustic guitar, world music percussion, and piano, which, for me, evoke a natural spirit. The vocals are more of a hybrid element in which the voice is human and angry, and at the same time, occasionally (literally) being warped by technology and to some degree fused with it (e.g., as accomplished by layering unaltered vocals with vocals altered to sound robotic). In the video, the images of Earth from space are meant to juxtapose life and technology. When it comes to the lyrics, the opening theme reflects a world in decline, which hasn’t yet sunk into total madness. The line “your apathy is killing me” is directed largely at big oil, big banks, and the politicians they control, but also slightly at a portion of the general public not yet motivated around climate change. Among the visual elements, I wanted to include images of climate activists as a motivator to viewers, a call out to groups such at 350-Seattle, and also a symbol of hope.

For the chorus portion of the video, I took a pretty straightforward approach to the catastrophic context – using images of fossil fuel extraction and climate change-related disasters. In particular, fire felt relevant not only for hinting at the concept of a burning Earth and at the smoke that was filling the Seattle skies, but also as a symbol of the intense emotions of those on the frontlines who are facing the immediate impacts of climate change, of the activists battling for change, and the money-addicted players driving the problems. The pacing of the disaster imagery is intended to reflect the chaos gripping our minds as different thoughts race in and out of our consciousness. The general absence of people, or their presentation as isolated and in a state of peril, is meant to further reflect both a concerning apathy towards climate change and a potential for apocalyptic outcomes.

Musically, greed-driven technology was expressed through the step-wise introduction of synthesized elements made to feel volatile by use of distortion, and powerful by addition of synthesized sub-bass. This is in full effect when the chorus hits around one minute into the song. The repetition of the lyrics is borrowed from short chants often heard at demonstrations to create a sense of desperation and panic around a voice experiencing climate change and crying out for help. The lyrics about being “left for dead,” followed by the repetition of the phrase “in the desert of someone else’s making” during the chorus could be spoken by a being now facing catastrophic climate change. The final repetition of “(they are going to) drain you dry” is a warning and plea from an already condemned voice.

Finally, the title was partially inspired by the famed Seattle band Nirvana, who has a song called Drain You. I was once obsessed with Kurt Cobain, who succumbed to addiction. To me, it is fitting as a title since it might be argued that addiction, in this case to money and power, is ultimately what may end our species.

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Eric Herbig is a former molecular biologist turned activist, who uses the music he makes as Broken Ocean to express his perspective on a myriad of topics such as love, exploitation, oppression, and climate change. Broken Ocean is an indie-electro-experimental project that Herbig came to as a songwriter and producer after acknowledging the societal inequities present in his community. At odds with his position in creating costly medical interventions, while other folks lacked access to basic care, he left medical research to pursue social justice causes, with a focus on how climate change not only impacts the planet, but specifically people of color and the poor. Broken Ocean’s newest release We Are Antennae is available now.

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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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