Artists and Climate Change

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90N: North Pole Installations

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

The Arctic Cycle is partnering with Xavier Cortada and Creative Pinellas to support the global reach of 90N: North Pole Installations. As Cortada’s work demonstrates, the melting of the North Pole will have implications for every being on this planet, from the eight Arctic states to the Florida coast, and everywhere in between. And we cannot tackle this challenge alone. By amplifying the local exhibition of 90N to a broader global community, we seek to inspire, motivate, and equip more audiences with tools for action. Through the course of this summer, we will share the visual and participatory elements of 90N on our A&CC blog and social media platforms. The outcomes of this process are exponential, and we are working with Cortada and Creative Pinellas to note and promote the sparks of connection along the way.

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90N: North Pole Installations and Florida Is Nature is an exhibition of artwork by internationally-acclaimed artist Xavier Cortada, a Florida-based artist who has developed numerous art projects globally, including art installations at the North and South Poles to address environmental concerns at every point in between. 90N features over 400 pieces, as part of the following categories:

ARCTIC ICE PAINTINGS
In the summer of 2008, Cortada used Arctic ice to create a series of Ice-paintings aboard a Russian Icebreaker as it made its way back from the North Pole.

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Xavier Cortada, Arctic Ice Painting | “90N-01,” 12″ x 9″, North Pole sea ice, acrylic, and mixed media on paper, 2008.

NATIVE FLAGS
At a time when melting polar sea ice had many focus on which political power control the Arctic (using the Northwest Passage shipping lanes and the petroleum resources beneath the sea ice), Cortada planted a green flag and reclaimed it for nature. To do so, he developed Native Flags, a participatory eco-art project that engages others in planting a green flag and native tree in their homes to prevent the polar regions from melting. Reforestation sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, helping reduce greenhouse gases that warm the planet.

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Xavier Cortada, “Native Flags | North Pole,” 2008.

ENDANGERED WORLD
Cortada highlighted the need to protect our endangered species by placing the names of 360 endangered animals in a circle around the North Pole, each aligned with a longitudinal degree in which the struggle to survive in the world below.

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Xavier Cortada, “Endangered World | North Pole,” 2008.

LONGITUDINAL INSTALLATION
As he did in the South Pole, Cortada placed 24 shoes in a circle around the North Pole, each shoe representing a person living in a different part of the world affected by climate change. Afterwards, he approached each shoe and recited a statement from each person about the impact of global climate change in their lives.

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Xavier Cortada, “Longitudinal Installation | North Pole,” 2008.

NORTH POLE DINNER PARTY
On June 29th, 2008, Cortada arrived at the North Pole to create ritualistic installations addressing global climate change and the melting polar caps. One of Cortada’s performances included a ritual where he fed his fellow travelers pieces of ice collected at the North Pole, thereby integrating the North Pole into their very being. “I figured that if they ingested a piece of the North Pole, it would become part of them.” said Cortada. “The North Pole water molecules would be swirling through their bodies. The North Pole atoms would be incorporated into their very cells. My sense was that after having North Pole communion, they would protect the North Pole. If nothing else, they would do so for self-preservation.”

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North Pole Dinner Party/Miami 2008: The Green Project | Claire Oliver Gallery.

90N: North Pole Installations by Xavier Cortada is being exhibited at Gallery at Creative Pinellas, 12211 Walsingham Road, Largo, FL 33778, from June 29, 2018 through September 2, 2018. Follow along via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and learn more at www.cortada.com/90N

This post is compiled with permission from Xavier Cortada’s website, where full details and more images from 90N: North Pole Installations can be found.

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About Creative Pinellas
At Creative Pinellas our mission is to facilitate a vibrant, integrated, collaborative and sustainable Pinellas County Arts Community and cultural destination. We strive to be the premier Local Arts Agency, recognized locally and globally for our contribution to arts and culture. We are focused on creating vibrant communities; supporting artists, arts organizations and the creative community; supporting economic development; showcasing Pinellas County as a cultural destination, and making arts and creative expression and experience available to all. As the County’s Local Arts Agency, Creative Pinellas and the programs we deliver are funded by the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners, Visit St Petersburg / Clearwater, the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and by sales of the State of the Arts specialty license plate in Pinellas County.

About the Artist
Xavier Cortada created art installations at the North Pole and South Pole to address environmental concerns at every point in between. He’s been commissioned to create art for CERN, the White House, the World Bank, Miami City Hall, Miami-Dade County Hall, Florida Botanical Gardens, Port Everglades, Florida’s Turnpike, the Museum of Florida History, the Frost Science Museum and Miami-Dade Children’s Courthouse. Locally, his work is in the permanent collection of the Frost Art Museum, PAMM and the NSU Art Museum of Ft. Lauderdale. Cortada has also developed numerous collaborative art projects globally, including peace murals in Cyprus and Northern Ireland, child welfare murals in Bolivia and Panama, AIDS murals in Geneva and South Africa, and eco-art projects in Taiwan and Holland. His studio is located in Pinecrest Gardens. For more information please visit www.cortada.com

About The Arctic Cycle
The Arctic Cycle uses theatre to foster dialogue about our global climate crisis, create an empowering vision of the future, and inspire people to take action. Operating on the principle that complex problems must be addressed through collaborative efforts, we work with artists across disciplines and geographic borders, solicit input from earth and social scientists, and actively seek community and educational partners. We manifest this mission through our ongoing initiatives, including Artists & Climate Change. Through the publication of essays, interviews, and editorials, the blog and international network Artists & Climate Change creates community and promotes the inclusion of the arts in the global climate change conversation. Since its launch in 2013, A&CC has become an educational resource for art, environment, and social change classes.


 

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

Grief and Melancholia

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

After reading the artwork’s mission statement, a mother carefully removed her shoes and socks, and waited patiently for her teenage son to do the same. He did so between gazes at his phone – completely absorbed with his handheld device. Per the rules of the installation, the mother put her phone away and opened her palm to receive the roughly two tablespoons of tiny black pellets she was instructed to carry into the exhibit.

She looked at her son.

“Put away your phone,” she said.

Her son did not look up from the screen. The mother, exasperated, retrieved the phone from his hand and put it in her purse.

“You buy a bottle of Gatorade every day,” she said. “Own your part.”

Confused but captured, the young man opened his palm, received the pellets, and followed his mother into the vast warehouse. Far ahead of them, reaching up towards the light of three massive sunlit windows, loomed Omega.

***

I created Omega from various forms of plastic. It spirals in structure, reaching up and outward like a post-apocalyptic tree covered in pitch. The majority of the sculpture consists of black plastic wings cast from taxidermized goose and pheasant. These wings twist, bend, and arch in a posture of both growth and deflation. Black morning glory vines climb from the base to the top, dripping with shiny black plastic ooze. Crawling around the work are the molted husks of cicadas, their backs split open and empty, their claws gripping the plastic “trunk” of the sculpture.

In five places are pools of imagery and natural relics. Cupped by black wings, the painted images of grasses, seaweed pods, and flowers float in pools of solid clear resin. Fake meets real in each pool, where a 3-dimensionally painted jellyfish floats with bright red wasp nests. A coyote skull – topped with a massive black wolf spider – bisects another pool… its teeth jutting out from beneath. Children often see this skull first because it sits low to the ground.

The base of the sculpture is made of thicker wings that were poured directly from a local recycling plant. Thick and spindly ropes of black plastic – the leftover purges from the massive machine – reach and crawl out from the base of the sculpture. They dive and scatter out into the space of surrounding pellets.

Amongst the antlers, the flowers, the insects, and the dripping resin, a story unfolds that wraps back on itself like a mobia strip. Is this sculpture alive? Are the colorful pools full of newly adapted forms of growth? Are they proof of Life’s unstoppable potential to evolve from dead seas, oil-soaked beaches, and charred landscapes? Is it an uplifting sign of rebirth? Or a post-apocalyptic monument to the hubris of our species?

Finally, there are the nurdles.

Tiny virgin and recycled pellets, or “nurdles” as they are known in the industry, are the means of transporting plastic around the world so that it can be melted down into various products. They can often escape into the environment, threatening wildlife. I purposefully chose to use something this controversial because I wanted to make a point…. a rather colossal point.

The sculpture is sitting in three and a half tons of these little black pellets… or, roughly eighty-seven million of them. If one black pellet represents one plastic bottle, then Omega is sitting in eighty-seven million metaphorical bottles. This is an abstract number and thus an abstract concept. It becomes significant when one enters the space holding in their hand 200 metaphorical bottles (the average for an American to purchase in one year).

But when one’s foot touches the pellets in Omega, where eighty-seven million pellets only represent the number of bottles that will be purchased globally in the next seventy-three minutes, the experience moves past significant.

It becomes undeniable.

***

We are in the midst of overlapping, abstractly huge, relentless environmental deaths all around the world because of climate change. Every day we hear of more melting glaciers, rising seas, burning forests, extinguished species, and bleached coral. We also hear of doubt-seeding climate change deniers, or leaders who opt out of climate change treaties. All of this is damaging us, and all are forms of death we cannot bury, and consequently cannot mourn. How does one have a funeral for habitat loss, let alone the death of our most treasured ideals and ethics?

When we cannot mourn something (via ceremony, symbol, or symbolic act) we enter a state of melancholia. When that loss is related to the Earth, it is considered environmental melancholia. Last year, I published a paper which argues that the melancholia, if left festering, will be overrun by an unconscious attempt to find another focus. A melancholic person can become manic… meaning they will shop, drink, smoke, overwork, watch tv, or dive deeper into their devices. I call this behavior collective social mania.

Why is this so common, and yet so misunderstood? Think about it: we are all encouraged to do this by advertisers, because a culture that is driven, encouraged, and addicted to consuming – and by that, I mean consuming everything: products, data, land, information, and entertainment – is a culture that is numb, indebted, and controllable.

In the paper, I argue that our environmental melancholia and collective social mania are connected in a loop, and the loop is destroying the planet. We are horrified and sad by what we see, so we check out… we consume. The more we consume, the more strain we put on the planet. The more strain we put on the planet, the more climate change happens. And on… and on… and on.

My argument is that in order to stop the cycle, we must allow ourselves to reconnect to our evolved, inherent affinity for other living beings on the planet, something that E.O. Wilson calls biophilia.

When we love something, and it dies, we grieve its passing. We have a funeral. We burn a love letter. We release doves to symbolize a soul’s exit. Yet, with all of these simultaneous ecological “deaths” happening, how do we have a funeral? How do we break our gaze from our devices, and feel our surroundings again? How do have conversations about how painful it all is? How do we pause to reflect on our part in both the collapse, and the rebuilding? How do we allow ourselves to grieve this very unique and crucial time in the Earth’s history?

***

The docent who volunteered at the gate of Omega was the one who told me the story of the mother and son that day. The pair apparently wandered around in the artwork for a long time, whispering to each other about what they saw. There were evidently long, silent pauses as the young man made the connection between his seemingly uneventful Gatorade purchase and the pellets that both spilled from his hand and stuck to the sweat of his bare feet. How overwhelmed he must have felt. How angry, perhaps… or determined? Saddened? Fearful? Responsible?

The amalgamation of all of these emotions is, in fact, the goal of Omega. If nothing else, the abstraction of numbers crystallizes into a tangible response… an emotion. With an artwork like this, the indisputable distance between one’s actions and one’s consequences dissolves. Distraction gives way to awareness, melancholia is replaced by mourning, and suddenly there is room for grief.

The more individuals can utilize artistic symbolism to experience their grief (and thus, their love for what has been lost), the more authentically they can connect with themselves, and then move towards meaningful, pragmatic changes of behavior in the face of overwhelming collapse. The goal, if there is one, is not to solve the world’s problems, but to first get individuals to confess that they hurt at all.

In the age of climate change, artists are not just helpful.

We are crucial.

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Regan Rosburg is an artist and naturalist. She lives in Denver, Colorado where she teaches Fine Arts and Foundations at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design and Metro State University. She is known for her carefully constructed, layered resin paintings, as well as her sensory-laden, emotionally evocative installations. A published writer and passionate speaker, Rosburg’s commitment to environmental causes is evident in her poignant artistic imagery, talks, and writing. Her first curated show was Axis Mundi, a massive exhibition on the topic of eco-psychology (2017 Denver Biennial of the Americas). She is represented by William Havu Gallery.


 

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

Renewable Energy Soundscapes

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

This is an exciting time to be alive: we are living witnesses to the third energy revolution.

  1. The first energy revolution – wood to coal – was in the second half of the 18th century with the invention of the steam engine;
  2. The second energy revolution – coal to oil/gas – at the beginning of the 20th century with the invention of the internal combustion engine;
  3. The third energy revolution – oil/gas to renewables – is currently underway.

Some have described this third energy revolution as a tsunami. I would add: a tsunami that has already crested. There is no turning back. As an artivist, I am inspired by a sense of awakening, by the promise of clean abundance, of jobs, and justice. No more wars for oil.

Joan Sullivan, wind, Canada, photographer, winter, blur, renewable, energy, transition

Photo © 2017 Joan Sullivan

The dominant visuals in our collective memory of the third energy revolution to date are photos/videos of white horizontal axis wind turbines, blue rectangular photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, and large hydroelectric reservoirs. Yes, there are many other forms of renewable energy, but at this early stage of the current energy transition, our visual landscape is dominated by wind, solar, and hydro.

In contrast, the soundscape of this energy transition is not yet clearly etched into our collective memory.

A new exhibit in Venice by American composer and sound art pioneer Bill Fontana could change that. According to Fontana’s artist statement, Primal Sonic Visions “aims to awaken a sense of astonishment, wonder and curiosity in the power and beauty of wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal energy sources.”

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IRENA’s Director-General, Adnan Z. Amin (left) and the artist Bill Fontana (right) at the Venice opening of Fontana’s Primal Sonic Visions exhibit on May 26, 2018. Photo downloaded from IRENA flickr stream.

Commissioned by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Fontana’s Primal Sonic Visions is an “immersive series of sonic and visual abstractions” that focuses our attention on the primal beauty of renewable energy. During the exhibit’s opening in May, the former President of Iceland, Olafur Grimsson, suggested that Fontana’s work could be the “missing link” in communicating the transformative power of renewable energy to a larger public audience.

For me, this quote says it all:

Primal Sonic Visions prompts deep reflection on the power and effectiveness of energy capable of ensuring the future of our planet and triggers an emotional response to the environment, now under violent attack from the effects of climate change and atmospheric agents. As people enter the space, they are met with an emotional experience that at first instills a sense of wonder, and later transforms into a deep reflection of the potential and power of these energy sources to be used in securing a future for our planet.
Bill Fontana

To get a sense of the exhibit, click on each of the photos below (reprinted with permission) to view Fontana’s immersive videos of geothermal, wind, solar, and hydroelectric projects around the world.

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Bill Fontana, Fontana, Primal Sonic Visions, Venice, biennale, soundscape, sound sculpture, Austria, hydro, hydroelectric, renewabable, energy

Internationally renowned for his pioneering use of sound as a sculptural medium to transform our visual perception, Fontana has only recently begun exploring renewable energy from his unique artistic perspective. “The IRENA commission has transformed me as an artist,” he explained in a phone conversation. “It gave me the chance to experiment with moving images in ways that I had never done before. This project has helped me to invent a new visual language, one that has shifted from the literal to the abstract.”

“This whole project has been quite liberating,” he continued. “I’m 71, and have been working with sound for over 40 years. It’s really great at my age to feel like a beginner. I feel reborn!”

A blogger from Paris described Fontana’s Primal Sonic Visions as a “musical cathedral” that seduces visitors to “follow the call of the wind” and “surrender completely” to this abstract world. As a renewable energy photographer, I can’t think of a more beautiful paean to an artist whose highly technological methods stir such visceral emotions about renewable energy. To the best of my knowledge, no other renewable energy artist has accomplished this to date.

So how does he do it? Fontana’s work speaks to us at a primitive, subconscious level. Visitors are virtually bathed in the primordial ooze and steamy atmosphere of ancient Earth. This immersive experience helps us to embrace the undeniable fact that we live on a truly magnificent planet that has been generating its own carbon-free energy for millions of years. This energy is literally bubbling right below our feet and shining down upon us from above. It promises a future of limitless potential. It is free for the taking. Enough for everyone.

What the hell are we waiting for?

This must be the “missing link” that Grimsson was referring to at the exhibit’s opening. I would take it one step further and suggest that Fontana may have discovered the holy grail of climate change communication: a hypnotic combination of elemental sound and visuals that gently remind us – without politics, without environmentalism – that the solutions to climate change already exist. In fact, they have always existed, long before our species evolved. Yet somehow, wise man chose to ignore these incredible gifts of nature.

It is time to put the pedal to the metal and embrace the third energy revolution. Artists like Bill Fontana can help us get there faster.

Primal Sonic Visions continues through September 16, 2018 at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. Sponsors include the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment of the United Arab Emirates and the Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea. The exhibit was organized by Arthemisia in collaboration with IRENA, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, and Science Gallery Venice.

For those who missed the exhibit’s inauguration in May, Mr. Fontana will return to Venice in September to direct a two-day accompanying workshop at the Ca’ Foscari entitled Acoustic Phenomenology (September13-14). I wish I could attend!

(Top image: Video still of a waste water electric turbine in Austria, downloaded with permission from Bill Fontana’s website.)

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Joan Sullivan is a renewable energy photographer based in Québec, Canada. Since 2009, Joan has focused her cameras (and more recently her drones) exclusively on the energy transition. Her goal is to create positive images and stories that help us embrace the tantalizing concept that the Holy Grail is finally within reach: a 100% post-carbon economy within our lifetimes. Joan collaborates frequently with filmmakers on documentary films that explore the human side of the energy transition. She is currently working on a photo book about the energy transition. Her renewable energy photos have been exhibited in group shows in Canada, Italy and the UK. You can find Joan on Twitter and Instagram


 

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

Born of a Singularity: Art and Our Position in the Ecosystem

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

If you look through critical writing about Siobhan McDonald’s artwork you would not be immediately aware that she is pre-eminently a painter. But it is with the sensibility of a painter that she views the issues of our time. On the day on which I first met her, at her studio in the Science Faculty at University College Dublin, it had just been announced that Cheddar Man, the oldest known human inhabitant of the British Isles and ancestor of the British (and Irish) people was not white, as previously thought, but black. New DNA evidence revealed that the ethnic purity of the white ‘master’ race was based on nothing more than a false, and generally, harmful assumption. Science has a way of reviewing even the most cherished beliefs, and confronting us with alternative hypotheses to what we think is the truth. As an artist, Siobhan McDonald has devoted herself to bringing visibility and sense to subtle, even invisible shifts in knowledge.

Siobhan McDonald – art pieces and source material

Like the great painters of the past, she is interested in the mystery of existence, “what is still unknown to science, exploring the origins of life and plants as a way to see clearly into the future.” Her field of vision is large. It extends across time and space in search of artistic vehicles that can carry the wonder, the mind-numbing terror of change over temporal and spatial spans that we cannot begin to imagine. She invites us to consider how past and future might come together, keeping a forensic as well as an aesthetic eye on the traces and residues of past activity and the scientific studies that suggest future direction, bringing her closer to an understanding of the phenomena that feed her art project. She moves between examination of the evidence of biological and historical activity hidden in the icy landscapes of the Arctic Circle, to volcanic activity in the same region, creating her own seismometer to record tectonic shifts in the earth’s substrata, making artwork to reflect the fossilization of an object as modern as an abandoned Dakota DC3 aircraft, bringing a painter’s eye to bear on the accretions painted by time on to its surface. This merely parallels her own painting process. “Paint congealed and reacting to time for me suggests possibilities… a form of alchemy that transforms our understanding”.

Her philosophical landscape is filled with evidence of the strength and continuity of natural forces. While there is something biblical about the power and might of geological change, McDonald is just as quick to spot and be moved by quieter, but no less inexorable temporal alteration. Thus, Silent Witnessing (2017), is simply composed of a sheet of paper, which once formed the backing to a collection of rare butterflies in UCD. The butterflies had long since turned to dust, and been swept away to prepare for other research species. Only McDonald was sensitive to the potent image left in their wake by dust and melanin, describing their patterned imprint as “a natural photogram.”



In pursuit of her goals she has embraced sculptural installation, photography, sound, video, found objects and chance occurrences, even materials so new, they are only being invented as she uses them. Her paintings, as the short documentary video Chrystalline: Disappearing Worlds reveals, are informed by all of them. What does it mean to take a pre-existing image, literally frozen in time as the plate glass photographs of failed, nineteenth century Arctic expeditions were, and to re-imagine them in paint? The act of painting becomes a means to feel your way into the experience of the original photographers, to consider what they saw, to add the dimension of present time and your own thoughts as you examine each mark, scratch and erasure in the original. The paintings are influenced by the ravages of a century of concealment in ice on those glass plates; their tracery becomes part of her painterly alphabet. The battered figures in paintings such as Unknown Landscape (2016), blurred and partly obliterated as if time and snow and desperation withholds them from our re-discovery, result in a real sense of encounter with the ill-fated expedition team. Their moment in time and the climatic conditions which paradoxically caused their deaths but preserved the evidence; simultaneously showing the “then” and the “now,” become the emotional stimulus for the contemporary painting. Importantly, the time-based painting process, itself, adds an emotional dimension to mere scientific “evidence” of time, cold and certain death. Inevitably the little expedition paintings evoke Caspar David Friedrich’s figures gazing over the cliffs at Rügen. But no matter how terrible Friedrich’s sublime is, his well-dressed protagonists retain a sense of agency over the landscape. It is clear from McDonald’s paintings that the blizzards of ice that already sweep her human inhabitants away from each other, deny such power. In this, McDonald’s paintings are closer to those of Turner, speaking of vulnerability, refusing the comfort of a church spire, however distant.

Writing about McDonald’s work in 2012, Tim Robinson noted, “Since the Cosmos and all that’s in it were born of a singularity, all things are related”. If the narratives of the cosmos from the Jurassic periods to the Anthropocene yield the subject matter for McDonald’s work, time, matter and space are also implicated as co-workers in it and it is her role as a painter to make that visible. The charred animal bone, the chambers of air, preserved since the Triassic period and toxic to humankind today, the 190-year-old seeds, preserved in ice since the ill-fated Franklin Expedition, the crystalline deposits grown and metamorphosed by atmospheric action in an old drawer; the seismic drawings on charcoal-dusted paper made by imperceptible movements of the earth all perform themselves. They are like other kinds of paint, growing, layering, removing, creating meaningful surfaces. McDonald recognizes that and frames them on the walls.

Where Leonardo da Vinci, observed, sketched and pondered the movements of water and wind, land-locked fish fossils, the flight of birds, McDonald, the UN Climate Action Program’s first artist of the week, (2017), took her thoughts out of the sketchbook and into the public domain. Leonardo had time on his side. But there is a sense of urgency now, as man’s actions on a global and industrial scale change the nature of the universe, and appear to be hurtling us to an unpreventable catastrophe. McDonald has to work across a wide range of data, using every tool in her scientific and artistic repertory to inform and persuade us that the pace of deep time and geological change may still have lessons for us. Leonardo and his contemporaries believed in the harmony of the spheres, where every organ contributed to the balance and order of the universe. McDonald asks us, instead, to look at the effects of imbalance, to listen to the drips of the dying glaciers, to witness the impacts of global warming in Crystalline, where large panels of sponge, coated in Solar White – a mix of carbon and bone (about to be used on the European Space Agency’s 2018, Solar Orbiter) –recall frozen wastelands and dried out riverbeds. Leonardo constantly reminded those around him of the inter-dependence of science and art. Nowhere is this more evident than in McDonald’s Solar Skin which combines seismographic drawings on smoked paper, basalt and stretched calfskin. Science may have dictated the seismographic technologies and even the use of basalt, but the calfskin is a direct link to the Book of Kells and a reminder of McDonald’s artistic heritage.

For the first time in history man is responsible for climate change. Somewhere along the vast spread of time that McDonald’s work examines, it would appear as if mankind forgot that it, too, is part of the natural world. Leonardo’s blunt language about human biology, “the tree of the heart has its roots in the dung of the liver,” brings us right back to our roots, to the dust and bacteria that reach far beyond Darwinian and Freudian analysis. The vulnerability so evident in the Arctic expedition paintings, or the narratives of cosmic activity in paintings such as her Peter Doig-like Meteorite hits Savissivik 2017 insist on the centrality of change, implied in every living thing. Two-thousand years ago, Ovid, brooding over the way rocks, animals, people and plants developed in Metamorphoses, concluded:

Thus are their figures never at a stand
But chang’d by Nature’s innovating hand:
All things are alter’d, nothing is destroy’d,
The shifted scene for some new show employ’d.
Then to be born, is to begin to be
Some other thing we were not formerly:
And what we call to die is not t’appear
Or be the thing that formerly we were.

Although mindful of the damage man’s actions have caused to age-old habitats and processes, Siobhan McDonald’s work, like Ovid’s words, remind us that the seeds of a different future, not necessarily the end of life, are contained in the scientific evidence. It is the emotional energy transmitted through the artworks that will decide how the wider community, beyond the laboratory, engages with that knowledge.

(Chrystalline: Disappearing Worlds is available for purchase as a full-color book designed by Oonagh Young with texts by Helen Carey and Catherine Marshall.)

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Catherine Marshall, is a curator, art historian and writer. She taught history of art at Trinity College, Dublin and the National College of Art, before becoming the founding Head of Collections at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. She is Co-Editor of the Art and Architecture of Ireland, Volume V, Twentieth Century, Yale University Press and Royal Irish Academy, 2014. She has curated exhibitions of Irish Art all over Ireland and as far afield as China, the United States of America and Canada.


 

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

An Interview With Writer Krista Foss

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

I am pleased to share this interview with Krista Foss, an Ontario-based writer of novels, essays, short stories and journalism. Her first novel Smoke River was published by McClelland & Stewart (2014). Krista recently published a short story in Granta called “Cloud Seeding” about a futuristic company that learns to control the weather through technology and human activity. We spoke about why the story resonates in the Anthropocene era, how climate change is intertwined with capitalism, and why storytelling is key to getting the public to take climate change more seriously. I hope you enjoy it!

Amy: Your recent story in Granta is about a “cloud seeding” company that uses technology and child labor to generate and move storms. What inspired this idea?

Krista: The technology of cloud seeding has been around for at least 80 years, deployed most commonly for farms and ski hills. But a decade ago, Moscow’s mayor used it to prevent rain on parade days (he wanted to reduce his snow clearing budget with it too.) Beijing has its own weather modification office; it was used to hustle stormy skies away from important events at the 2008 summer Olympics, for instance.

This was all news to me: I stumbled upon it while researching something else and of course got hooked.

In Canada, weather is religion. The idea that it could be so easily manipulated (although weather modifying technology is expensive and not always reliable) was intriguing and disillusioning.

So this hubris, this god-like posturing, became the story’s starting point. I speculated about a world where weather mod was a more effective and competitive remedy for climate change and asked myself, what happens when we’re no longer in awe of the weather?

Amy: Do you think about extreme weather patterns, environmental issues, and/or climate change beyond what you write about in your fiction?

Krista: I live in a mid-sized southwestern Ontario city that’s physically scarred by its industrial past and in the midst of reinvention. It’s surrounded by a unique escarpment and swaths of Carolinian forest. This ecology is vulnerable to every variety of human encroachment. Climate change is a biggie.

As I write this, it’s 40 C. (with the humidex). Grass is brown and crispy and it’s only mid-June. New species and diseases have migrated here – possums (adorable), Lyme-disease infected ticks (less adorable). Emerald ash-borers and gypsy moths regularly attack the tree canopy. Our storms are wild – they’d be thrilling if they weren’t so damaging.

But compared to the whole country, my corner of Ontario is not getting the worst of it. The severity of forest fires, flooding and infestation is on the rise in other provinces. For our First Nations communities, climate change converges with all the other injuries inflicted by colonialization.

It’s impossible not to think about it; it’s right there, just outside my front door.

Krista Foss on her bike. Photo by John Martin.

Amy: Your story speaks to so many real-life issues, including the capitalistic mindset that drives climate change. In “Cloud Seeding” the capitalist critique manifests as the company’s willingness to let children die to increase their profit margins. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the intersection of capitalism and climate.

Krista: Where to begin? By using the technology to write these answers, I participate in capitalism and will contribute to climate change by pressing the send button. My choices are made at that intersection. So how do I square my individualism with the collective needs of the planet, and those displaced by climate change?  One way that’s fresh for me is how I vote.

We just had an election in Ontario that brought in an inexperienced politician who leaned on the Trump playbook: He leveraged public outrage over high electricity costs to win votes. One of his first promises is to end our cap-and-trade system that makes companies pay for greenhouse gas emissions in his quest to create a more business-friendly environment (code for trashing environmental regulation among other things.) Two-thirds of voters did not choose him. (So now we have an issue of electoral reform converging with climate change.) But his appeal to the “big-government-stealing-from-your-wallets” mindset highlights an essential tension. What are we individually willing to give up for a greater good?  Or, alternatively, why are we so okay with climate–the natural world – acting as a subsidy for big business and the artificially low costs we pay here for food, fuel and stuff?

Our political economy, our corporate oversight, reflects our shared values. On a fundamental level our values got us here. Every kid who walks outdoors and looks at bugs or salamanders or wants to identify a bird, gives me hope. Because they’re engaged: They’ve got a personal stake in something bigger than themselves. And those kids grow up to be activists and leaders and voters.

Amy: The ending of your story cuts through the heart by suggesting that the people in charge of the company have grown emotionally numb to loss, to death. Again, I can’t help but think of this story in terms of our larger cultural moment, of how there still seems to be such a psychological barrier to climate change. There’s lots of discussion about how best to break through. Some say that stories of hope are the answer. Others argue that fear is a more useful tool. What do you think?

Krista: A story breaks through when it leaves readers thinking with more complexity about the world or themselves. We have to earn that: we have to enchant readers with that complexity. It can be ugly or it can be beautiful.

I know my barriers are broken down by writing that moves me from my comfortable pieties to somewhere else, disorienting even distressing, wholly unexpected. As long as I’m left looking at the world in a way I didn’t have the imagination or the subtlety for before, I’m paying attention. I’m changed.

The litmus then isn’t whether it’s hopeful, or fearful, but rather, did it wake me up?

Amy: What can fiction show us about climate change that perhaps scientific reports can’t? 

Krista: I go full nerd for scientific reports, journals and writing: it’s a source of inspiration. But of course, scientific objectivity and evidentiary rigor limit the way I can be moved by that information. I don’t expect a lot of pathos with data. Fiction that is scientifically, as well as imaginatively informed, doesn’t have these limits. It can bridge the silos of art and science and show us what we care about (or don’t), understand (or don’t). It can confront us with our sanctimony and unreliability and that intriguing gap between our actions and words. It helps us imagine where we’re going, fathom what is gone and leaves us with a richer understanding of what’s happening out there right now.

This post was originally published in Amy Brady’s “Burning Worlds” newsletter. Subscribe to get her 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 Times, Pacific 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. 


 

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

Manifesta 12: The Planetary Garden

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

During the renovation of the sanitary system of Palazzo Butera, one of the many crumbling yet spectacular palazzos of Palermo, Sicily, a Jacaranda tree’s centuries-old root was discovered. The seed of this beautiful fragrant tree, native to tropical and subtropical regions, had found a new home in the humidity of the Italian palace. Palermo is a city of human and non-human migratory flows. Over the centuries, plant and tree seeds from all over the world have travelled to Palermo and found new habitats. There, they adapted, grew, reproduced, and combined.

This cosmopolitan (bio)diversity is apparent in Francesco Lojacono’s 1875 painting View of Palermo, which depicts the Orto Botanico – the city’s lush botanical garden. The garden was founded at the height of the European colonial period as a place to collect and crossbreed different plant species, and classify them according to Linnaeus’ classification system. It comes as no surprise that none of the plants, flowers, and trees in Lojacono’s painting are indigenous. One can recognize aspen from the Middle East, agave from central America, eucalyptus from Australia, prickly pear from Mexico and loquat from Japan. The citrus tree – now a symbol of Sicily – was originally from Asia and introduced under Arab rule. Today, Palermo’s botanical garden is one of the main venues of Manifesta 12, the European Nomadic Biennial. It was Lojacono’s painting that inspired this year’s theme: The Planetary Garden. Cultivating Coexistence.

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“View of Palermo” by Francesco Lojacono, as printed in Atlas Palermo by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture for Manifesta 12.

Based in Amsterdam, Manifesta travels to a different European city every two years, and transforms it into a large contemporary art exhibition. The organization’s aim is to “prompt reflection through contemporary culture on what it means to be European.” After Zurich (2014) and St. Petersburg (2016), Palermo is a timely and interesting choice. Located in the south of Europe and northwest of the Middle East, Palermo exemplifies Europe’s history of multiple identities while at the same time being a place where key transnational issues – such as climate change and trafficking – converge. Above all, the architecture of Palermo is an incredible backdrop for an art exhibition. The slowly disintegrating palazzos, with trees piercing right through them, ensure that pretty much any art is going to look good. From the incredible State Archives of Palermo with papers piled to the eves, to the magical oratorios, the venues steal the show at Manifesta 12.

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Protocol no. 90/6 (2018), MASBEDO at the Archivio di Stato di Palermo (State Archives of Palermo, Gancia venue – Cortile della Gancia).

Though it might be highly enjoyable for visitors, it is slightly colonial to fly to a new place every two years, take over the city, and hope to transform it with contemporary art. The Manifesta team must be aware of this as this year more in-depth, pre-Biennial research was conducted. The urban research study of the city of Palermo was (ironically?) done by the also Netherlands-based Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) and resulted in the Palermo Atlas – a collection of stories gathered on the ground and supported by data. The book aims to enable a more integrated approach and allow for a deeper understanding of the urban realities and cultural, social, religious, ethnic, and geo-political complexities of the city. To me, this investigation is not a luxury but the basic foundation of any Biennial – especially one that lands in a new country every two years. The art event stands or falls according to how genuine the city’s interest is. This can even influence the quality of the artworks; the more the work interacts with its context, the stronger it seems to be.

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Un-Built Palermo, Palermo Atlas, Office for Metropolitan Architecture for Manifesta 12.g

The most striking example of this is the work that filmmaker Laura Poitras did with a group of Italian film students. Building on her personal interests and expertise, Poitras pointed the students towards the strong U.S. military presence in Sicily, the island being crucial to the U.S. military communications and drone operations. She worked with them and guided them for several months. Though she has shot incredible footage herself at the Sigonella station – supposedly the hub of U.S. naval air operations in the Mediterranean – the real revelation came from the students. Their confidence boosted by their world-famous mentor’s reputation, they produced four short films that each tell a different story about the U.S. military bases. The films are informative and telling, but also manage to keep their artistic and poetic character. The students got their moment of fame at the opening of Manifesta 12 at Teatro Garibaldi, the main venue. It was clear that the audience was there to see Poitras, but she generously gave the stage to them, showing sneak previews of their work and letting the (very shy) students speak about their films.

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Still from Signal Flow, 2018 – one of the films Poitras made with Italian film students.

The question remains as to what the Manifesta legacy might look like. After all the confetti has blown away, has the art crowd really contributed to Palermo’s transition to a city that is not under unlawful control? Will the palazzos turn back into decaying homes for Jacaranda trees and crumble away over time? Will the students’ films be seen by international audiences? Though it is hard to say, it is clearly the elephant in the room. But it appears that all the praises and appreciation for the handsome venues have sparked a renewed interest by local citizens to look after them. I call it the holiday effect. Sometimes all it takes is a foreign eye to recognize the beauty of what you already have. Now let’s nurture this renewed appreciation for these Sicilian gems – without becoming colonial about it.

Teatro Garibaldi

Manifesta 12: The Planetary Garden. Cultivating coexistence. is on June 16–November 4, 2018 in Palermo, Sicily.

(Top image: Bo Zheng, Pteridophilia, 2016. Video in the Orto Botanico Palermo as part of Manifesta 12.)

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Curator Yasmine Ostendorf (MA) has worked extensively on international cultural mobility programs and on the topic of art and environment for expert organizations such as Julie’s Bicycle (UK), Bamboo Curtain Studio (TW) Cape Farewell (UK) and Trans Artists (NL). She founded the Green Art Lab Alliance, a network of 35 cultural organizations in Europe and Asia that addresses our social and environmental responsibility, and is the author of the series of guides “Creative Responses to Sustainability.” She is the Head of Nature Research at the Van Eyck Academy (NL), a lab that enables artists to consider nature in relation to ecological and landscape development issues and the initiator of the Van Eyck Food Lab.


 

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

Persistent Acts: Gun Violence, Climate, and the Status Quo

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Through Persistent Acts, I look 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? My Persistent Acts series considers questions of this nature to motivate conversations and actions on climate issues that reverberate through politics and theatre. This month, I consider the similarities between movements on gun reform and climate justice.

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In recent 24-hour news cycles, gun violence in the United States has gotten a lot of airtime. Since the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February, I’ve been curious to unpack the intersection of gun politics and climate politics in the context of performance in the U.S. The rapid increase in mass shootings this year (and prior) has shocked me, and I am not alone. I found shared space at a recent Resistance Soup on the topic of gun violence organized in support of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Resistance Soup is an activist party and sporadic performance-based event around a particular justice issue, organized by Jake Beckhard and Serena Berman at New York space Chinatown Soup. I attended last year’s Resistance Soup on immigration reform, featuring music, conversations with Michael Velarde of the Immigrant Defense Project, and actions (like postcard-writing to our local representatives). I’ve written specifically about the intersection of immigration, climate, and performance here. This year’s Resistance Soup was an opportunity to piece together the phenomena of gun violence and climate chaos in a performance setting.

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From the recent Resistance Soup for Moms Demand at Chinatown Soup.

Helmed by MC Larry Owens, the performances at Resistance Soup kicked off with lots of laughs. Despite the grave topic of gun violence, there was plenty of humor to go around, including a sketch about a theatre company attempting to make a play about NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch. This little bit of satire went a long way towards building a more familiar space amongst strangers and motivating people to participate. I see a similar effectiveness in performances about climate – laughter is a common entry point for challenging topics. In addition to the comedy, the performances at Resistance Soup, which included praise-worthy music by Daisy the Great and Larry Owens himself, had tremendous soul. The beauty and self-expressive quality was deeply felt by the audience. As Larry ushered us through the evening, there was an overarching reminder to take care of one’s needs in these challenging times. Through this communal experience, with laughter and music, the audience got more comfortable with one another. The reminders about beauty, self-expression, and care resonated with me and how I think about work on climate – it starts with deep self-awareness and actualization.

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Larry Owens and Diane Rinaldo at Resistance Soup.

It was interesting to hear from Moms Demand Action representative Diane Rinaldo about the organization’s use of language. Diane explained that Moms Demand uses the term “gun sense” as opposed to “gun control” or “gun reform.” Given polarized attitudes on the issue of guns, I appreciate this attempt to neutralize the language in order to reach a wider audience. In conversations with artists about climate, there are many buzzwords tossed around – Anthropocene, climate change, climate chaos, climate justice, and so on. Colleagues and I often make choices about titles or use of these terms depending on our audience. Most of the time, we’re past the point of trying to convince people that the climate is changing because of human activity; climate issues are so immense and urgent. I’m taking a page from the Moms Demand book with regards to the word “sense” as a strategy to lessen the politicization of issues where humans are on the line.

One other component of this year’s Resistance Soup was a voter guide table, where audiences could submit their addresses to glean information on the candidates in their districts. Given the elections coming up this year, it is important to make it as easy as possible for our peers to vote. This election cycle is a chance to shift the power balance on gun issues, and to elect candidates with a climate justice focus. For me, empowering voters with the information they need to make sensible choices is one of the first steps in electing candidates for justice, on all levels of government.

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The bulk of the energy going towards holding politicians accountable is coming from youth, as they speak out via the media and organize public demonstrations, including March for Our Lives and Youth Over Guns. The number of people that turn up in support of gun sense and youth leadership is inspiring. The Youth Over Guns rally crystalized the intricacies of gun violence, as young people of color took the stage to denounce governmental silence on gun crimes. These young people called for a power shift, highlighting issues of safety and protection – who is in charge of defining “safety,” and for whom? And what is being protected? As a symbol of the immediacy of gun violence issues, there was a white coffin at the foot of the rally stage. This emblem of death and grief stirred up questions about how we got to this point, via our current political and economic systems. What is and can be sustained by systems? What do the systems uphold? To me, the answer to both questions lies in a status quo of oppression and divisiveness.

I most certainly don’t have the silver-bullet solutions to gun and climate issues. But bringing these movements in conversation with one another has helped me highlight what’s working – the strength of youth leadership, the space for grief, and the necessity of tangible action steps. The status quo subsists by perpetuating apathy, detaching individuals from their collective agency. The power of the people, however, is persisting to magnify voices from the margins, towards a safer, more positive reality for all.

Next Steps
Learn more and take action with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America
Follow Everytown for Gun Safety
Check your voter registration and upcoming election dates

(Top Image: Youth Over Guns in NYC. Photo: CNN.)

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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, and Superhero Clubhouse. She is on the Marketing team at HERE Arts Center and is Artistic Producer of The Arctic Cycle. Julia writes and devises with her performance-based initiative to bring questions of food, climate, and justice into everyday life.

 


 

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

(Im)possibility of Plants in Exhibitions

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

I get a phone call asking if I’m interested in purchasing some greenery for “a very good price.” A contemporary art space is selling legions of tropical plants that were part of an exhibition attempting to re-create an Amazonian rainforest – an endeavor where the moist, damp, sticky and deafening wilderness of the Amazon is supposed to take our breath away in the middle of the European winter. My curiosity is triggered because it sounds rather presumptuous. The description of the exhibition includes: “Once you’re inside, there is no escape. The pressure of the environment is so powerful and hypnotic that it propels people into a dreamstate.”

It sounds very enticing and dreamlike but when I enter the space a few months later, it is more akin to a nightmare: the local Amazonian rainforest is a battlefield of dead plants. I wonder how it was ever a good idea to put plants with different temperature and humidity needs next to each other, let alone import tropical plants to a gallery space in February. I am told that when the plants arrived it was minus five degrees Celsius outside and the plants’ soil was frozen – a problem that was solved by pumping up the heat (and carbon emissions). These tantalizing forces of the jungle were clearly dreamed up with little understanding of the plants’ needs, presenting us a with a naive and romanticized notion of nature. Do we really want to raise awareness of the Brazilian rainforest’s declining ecosystems by creating a slowly dying ecosystem in a gallery space? It would be ironic if it weren’t so sad.

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I am excited about this new desire from artists and art spaces to address environmental challenges, but using plants in cultural spaces often proves problematic. We’re all familiar with the iconic image of the half-dead palm tree in a corner of the theatre, there to fill and freshen up the stage during the Q&A. Cultural spaces are designed to make the art and artists look good, and air-conditioning and lights are always going to favor the art over the plants.

In search of better practices, I consulted artist Ju Hyun Lee working with Ludovic Burel as the duo KVM. Though their practice is very much rooted in (art)theory – Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects: Philosopy and Ecology after the End of the World being a central reference – their most recent work currently exhibited in Tubology – Our Lives in Tubes in Dunkirk, France, includes edible plants. They have grown 75 varieties of hot peppers and 21 varieties of edible tubers, marrying them with the art and design collection as well as the architecture of the FRAC Grand Large. The duration of the show (April-December) reflects the bio-rhythm of the plants. Just like farmers, the artists started early in the season, meeting and engaging with local gardeners, using the heated surfaces in their greenhouses to germinate chili peppers. Growing chili pepper in early spring in the north of France proved a challenge. The artists brought in many experts including Bernard Dupont, who succeeds in growing hundreds of varieties of peppers near Besançon, and ethnobotanist Jean-Claude Bruneel, who is studying wild plants in the era of climate change.

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Ju Hyun Lee and Jean-Claude, a specialist on wild edible plants.

Even with all this gardening expertise at hand, there were more barriers to overcome. The exhibition space, like most exhibition spaces, is designed for “non-living artwork,” meaning there are plenty of protocols about temperature and humidity levels. This created a conflict of interest between the living and non-living artworks. The protocols were designed to conserve the art collection, not to maximize the plants’ wellbeing. What conditions were needed to have both living and non-living artworks successfully co-habit?

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Living and non-living artworks temporarily covered for treatment in the exhibition space at FRAC.

Art institutions are not prepared to deal with art that is alive and needs permanent care. While the bulk of the work usually takes place before the opening, living artworks require ongoing care. Plants need to be watered, aired, and given proper treatment. The first week of the Tubology show, midges appeared because the enriched organic soil had not fully decomposed. The second week, the chillies suffered from an attack of aphids due to accidental overwatering. The show had to close in order to clean and treat the hot pepper plants, but the artists were adamant about re-opening again. After covering the chillies with protective sheets, they engaged the local community – including chefs, gardeners, and botanists – and the staff to help solve this problem. Ju Hyun states: “Animals, including snails and insects, are a common problem familiar to gardeners. In the industrial agriculture world, these vegetable-eating creatures are considered the enemy, fought with chemical weapons. But there is no need to panic; there is a wide range of natural remedies out there, including black soap and nettle manure.

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The gallery staff had to step out of their comfort zone and the process of looking after the plants became a binding force between different parties. Ju Hyun adds: “We will certainly have more issues to face together. Growing plants indoor is not ideal. The attention and care they require is the most important part of our work. Artists and art institutions have to invent a successful model for the ecological transition of the art world. We believe living artworks can help. Our society largely relies on division of labor and delegating, but today’s ecological urgency asks us to take responsibility towards living things – humans, plants, animals and the planet.”

It is interesting to bring the notion of collective care and responsibility into the exhibition space. We need to recognize the layered complexity of the discourse around ‘Nature’. With ecosystem collapse, species extinction, climate change and other environmental issues becoming more pressing, artists all over the world are responding and creating exhibitions that include plants and other living things. However, good intentions or spectacle do not contribute to this discourse nor make interesting exhibitions. We have to remain aware of the complexity of ecosystems as well as the associated dialogues, realizing that if the artwork is alive, it can also die.

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Curator Yasmine Ostendorf (MA) has worked extensively on international cultural mobility programs and on the topic of art and environment for expert organizations such as Julie’s Bicycle (UK), Bamboo Curtain Studio (TW) Cape Farewell (UK) and Trans Artists (NL). She founded the Green Art Lab Alliance, a network of 35 cultural organizations in Europe and Asia that addresses our social and environmental responsibility, and is the author of the series of guides “Creative Responses to Sustainability.” She is the Head of Nature Research at the Van Eyck Academy (NL), a lab that enables artists to consider nature in relation to ecological and landscape development issues and the initiator of the Van Eyck Food Lab.


 

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

Imagining Water, #10: Walking the Howsatunnuck River with Uncí Carole

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

The tenth in a year-long series on artists of all genres who are making the topic of water a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances and publications that are popping up in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme.

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Although Uncí (Grandmother) Carole Bubar-Blodgett is not trained nor does she self-identify as an artist, her Water is Life Walk, now in its 8th iteration, has all the characteristics of a site-specific, interactive public art project paying homage to the water that sustains us all. From May 15 through June 13, 2018, Uncí Carole walked 220 miles, the full length of the Howsatunnuck (Housatonic) River beginning at its source in Pittsfield, Massachusetts and ending where it spills into Long Island Sound in Milford, Connecticut. Each day as she walked, Uncí Carole conducted indigenous ceremonies, leaving colorful sacred bundles that offered respect, gratitude and healing to the threatened waterway and invited the public to participate with her. On June 3, I did just that.

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Uncí Carole with a vessel carrying the Sacred Water from the five major headwaters of the Housatonic River.

I met Uncí Carole beside the allotted trail for the day in Kent, Connecticut. She had just completed a sacred ceremony at one of the five confluences of the Housatonic River. There were six of us walking with her that stunningly beautiful day: Pam – a resident of Kent – and her 8-year-old daughter Lena; my friend, Felicity who had joined me; Uncí’s granddaughter Gwen; Gwen’s other grandmother, Lou-Ann; and me.

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The river walkers (from left to right): Pam, Lena, Lou-Ann, Uncí Carole (carrying the water vessel), Gwen (holding a Macaw feather acknowledging the Eagle and Condor prophecy) and Felicity.

UncÍ Carole told me the outlines of her life during the course of the morning: Uncí (then simply Carole) had been raised without the knowledge that her mother’s family were members of the Wabanaki Confederacy. At 35, when she discovered this information by accident, she began a personal quest to “decolonize her ways of thinking and being” and learn as much as she could about her Native heritage. Carole studied with many teachers and danced the Sun Dance at Chief Leonard Crow Dog’s Paradise Grounds on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. In 2011, the spirit guided her to Walk the Sacred Water in order to “heal what had been contaminated” and to rebuild a vital connection that has been lost between human beings and the water that nourishes them. Uncí Carole is now a traditional Pipe Carrier and Bundle Keeper. As such, she feels a grave responsibility to The Seven Generations who will come after her. According to the philosophy of many Native American nations, tribes and other indigenous people around the world “in every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” Protecting and healing the water that they need to survive is part of that sacred duty. As Uncí spoke about her Seven Generations responsibility, I thought sadly about how different our global environment would be today if we all practiced that gracious philosophy.

The Howsatunnuck (Housatonic) River

To the naked eye, the Housatonic River flowing through Kent seems idyllic. Waiting for Uncí, Felicity and I sat on a stone outcrop overlooking a lovely waterfall that spilled rushing water over a series of granite rocks. Behind us, to complete the picturesque scene, the river flowed under Bull’s Bridge, one of the last surviving covered wooden bridges in New England.

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The Howsatunnuck (Housatonic) River flowing under Bull’s Bridge in Kent, Connecticut.

The Walk

Before we began the day’s walk, Uncí Carole and her granddaughter, Gwen, conducted a smudge ceremony. Using dried sage and sweet grass, which was set on fire in an abalone shell and which represented earth, air, water and fire, Gwen “bathed” each of the walkers with the smoke in order to turn any negative energy that we carried in our bodies into the positive energy we required for our journey. Our tasks ahead included “Feeding the Water,” and placing bundles in specific locations along the river: in areas that were known to be polluted; above and below obstacles that impeded the natural flow of the river (like dams and buildings); at graveyards; at sacred spaces where confluences occurred; and on bridges, which afforded the best access to the water. All along the way, Uncí Carole carried the Sacred Water in a vessel, which she had collected from the river’s source, and which she would add to with water from the confluences where it entered the Housatonic.

Uncí’s explanation for “Feeding the Water” was as follows: We feed the water with rice, berries, dried meat and corn because it feeds us every day. We use wild rice because it symbolizes the medicines and foods that grow in the wetlands. When we use wild cranberries, we are remembering the tart foods, without which, we would not understand the meaning of sweetness just as we would not understand the sweetness of life without its hardships. When we use dried meat, we are acknowledging the four-legged, winged and finned ones that give their lives to sustain ours. And when we use the corn, we are remembering the three sisters (corn, beans and squash) that are traditionally planted together and like a community, lean on each other in order to grow.

Each of us was handed one of the foods to toss into the river at one of the bridges crossing the Housatonic in homage to the sacredness of the water. At this same bridge, we also hung a healing bundle that consisted of seven bunches of tobacco knotted by seven individual colored cotton ribbons. The bundle was tied loosely to the structure of the bridge so that it would eventually fall into the river where its healing blessing would enter the river’s flow and then biodegrade.

Takeaways

Uncí’s project was a moving experience that left me with a number of powerful feelings and observations. The slow, intentional pace of the walk created a sense of slow-motion – just as Uncí Carole was hyper-focused on the significance of each of her actions, I too was pulled to pay closer attention to the individual features of the natural world as I passed through them. I was also reminded of how little attention I normally pay to procuring water (and appreciating it) when it flows easily from a faucet and I am not required to fetch and carry it for my daily use (as Uncí was doing over 220 miles). And I was newly conscious of how hard it was to actually access the river when the built environment prevented us from walking close to its shore in many areas along the way. Although Uncí Carole may not have known this, her clear intention to create an interactive experience at a specific site for participants that (1) reconnected them with the Earth using colorful and meaningful artifacts that served as an ephemeral installation; (2) called attention to the pollution that was destroying our sacred water sources; and (3) built a sense of community among those that came to the Water Walk, are all characteristics of a interactive public art project that is highly effective.

(Top image: The Water is Life Walk ended on June 13 when Harbormaster Ross Hatfield took Uncí Carole Bubar-Blodgett out on a boat so that she could mingle clean source water from the headwaters of the Howsatunnnuck into the salt water of Long Island Sound. Photo courtesy of Water is Life Walks.)

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Susan Hoffman Fishman is a painter, public artist, writer, and educator whose work has been exhibited in numerous museums and galleries throughout the U.S. Her latest bodies of work focus on the threat of rising tides caused by climate change, the trillions of pieces of plastic in our oceans and the wars that are predicted to occur in the future over access to clean water. She is also the co-creator of two interactive public art projects: The Wave, which addresses our mutual need for and interdependence on water and Home, which calls attention to homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in our cities and


 

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

Museo della Bora

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

A quick Internet search for the world’s windiest cities suggests that Wellington, New Zealand, is the most tempestuous:  its average annual wind speed is 26.7 km/h (16.6 mph). Close runners-up include the cities of:

  • Rio Gallegos (Argentina) – 25.7 km/h (16 mph)
  • Saint Johns, Newfoundland (Canada) – 24.3 km/h (15.1 mph)
  • Punta Arenas (Chile) – 23.3 km/h (14.5 mph)

But despite their blustery reputations, none of these famously windy cities has honored the wind gods with a museum dedicated to the wind. For that, you have to travel to the magical city of Trieste, the architecturally stunning seaport in northeast Italy at the head of the Adriatic, tucked inside the Slovenian border. The city James Joyce called home for 11 years.

Not only have Triestinos embraced the cold north winds that define their city, they discovered, way back in 1999, how to capture the wind: Bora in scatola. Once captured, the wind began to work its magic, and soon afterwards, Rino Lombardi’s dream of creating the world’s first wind museum – Museo della Bora – was born. A humble home for the most mischievous, volatile and invisible of elements, in which we spend our entire lives.

Rino Lombardi, Lombardi, Trieste, bora, bora in scatola, wind, Italy, Museo della Bora, museo

Rino Lombardi, founder and director of the Museo della Bora, carefully releasing the bora from a can of “bora in scatola” (wind in a box).

A professional copywriter with a dry sense of humor, Mr. Lombardi opened, in 2004, a temporary home – magazzino dei venti – for the restless and impetuous bora. “She is free and easy; she is not willing to remain trapped,” he explains. “She wants to steal hats, snap umbrellas, overturn trash bins and cars, sink boats, and roar at the trees. The only way to calm her is to give her a stage all her own.” And so, the search for a larger and permanent home for the Museo della Bora continues.

Nota bene: bora (μπόρα) derives from Boreas, the Greek god of the north wind, whose windswept hair and beard were tinged with ice and snow. Meteorologically, the bora describes the cold east-northeasterly (ENE) katabatic winds that sweep down from the foreboding limestone Karst plateau, and descend rapidly – sometimes violently – towards the Adriatic coastline. Trieste is right in its path.

Museo della Bora, bora, Trieste, Italy, wind

Currently located on Via Belpoggio, the Museo della Bora’s magazzino is literally bursting at the seams with sculptures, kites, weather vanes, anemometers, miniature windmills, wind socks, crampons, pinwheels, whirligigs, flags, hats, maps, poems, postcards, posters, paintings, photographs, cartoons, newspaper clippings, books, documentary films, audio and video recordings. Collectively, these found / donated / purchased objects illustrate the infinite ways our lives are touched and shaped by the wind: mythical, historical, cultural, political, architectural, meteorological, literary, journalistic, artistic, technological or just plain whimsical.

Museo della Bora, bora, Trieste, Italy, wind, museum

“Like any self-respecting museum,” said Mr. Lombardi, tongue in cheek, “the Museo della Bora has several collections.” He walked me through each collection, crowded impossibly into a 60 square-metre space that is at once fantastical and fascinating. At times, I felt like a child again, filled with awe at the craziness of it all. Crazy and alive like the wind.

The most popular collection seems to be the ever-expanding wind archive: bookshelves and display cases overflowing with jars, bottles, pots and cans; each one contains a unique sample of wind collected by wind lovers from the four cardinal directions. The majority of these bottles arrive by the post, with hand-written notes attached documenting the date and place of collection: Halifax, Oslo, Mount Fuji, Chicago, Padua, Rio. My bottle of Québec’s westerly winds – carefully sealed inside a Christmas tree-shaped bottle no less! – has just been mailed. When it arrives in Trieste, I will join the prestigious ranks of other “wind ambassadors” whose bottled donations make up the Museo della Bora’s eclectic wind archive.

bora wind archive-1

For history buffs, the archive of Silvio Polli, considered one of the world’s leading experts on the bora, is a treasure trove of old black and white photographs, newspaper articles, scientific publications and meteorologic instruments. This archive was donated by the Polli family to the Museo della Bora.

Museo della Bora, Silvio Polli, Trieste, anemometer, bora, wind, museum

One of the many antique anemometers in the Museo della Bora’s collection.

I particularly love the museum’s collection of Roberto Pastrovicchio‘s black-and-white photographs of broken umbrellas abandoned in the streets of Trieste, umbrellas that obviously had displeased Boreas for one reason or another. With his project Analisi Catabatica (Katabatic Analysis), Pastrovicchio attempts to create an “aesthetic catalogue” of the bora through its impact on everyday objects.

Museo della Bora, bora, wind, Trieste, Pastrovicchio, Roberto Pastrovicchio

Roberto Pastrovicchio. Analisi Catabatica #03 / data 20.11.2011 / ora/hour 15.30 / velocità raffica / guts speed 91,08 Km/h. Reprinted with permission.

But I am saving the best for last. The Museo della Bora’s most impressive collection, in my humble opinion, is the library that Mr. Lombardi has lovingly curated over the past 20 years. So many books about my muse in one place! Art, architecture, history, fiction, poetry, mythology, meteorology, renewable energy… Don Quixote tilting at windmills; the poems of Umberto Saba; architectural techniques to funnel wind into buildings in order to provide natural air conditioning; the history of French weather vanes; several university theses.

This library would be an invaluable resource for artists in residence, especially those researching the question: how have artists represented the invisible through the ages? As one example, see Zephyr and Aura gently blowing Boticelli’s Venus to shore on the cover of Il Libro del Vento, an incredibly beautiful book by Italian art historian Alessandro Nova. This is but one of the more than 400 titles in the Museo della Bora’s documentation center.

Boticelli, zephyr, wind, bora, Trieste, Museo della Bora, renaissance, painting, Venus

The cover of Alessandro Nova’s Il Libro del Vento, one of the more than 400 titles in the Museo della Bora’s collection.

In addition to founding and directing the Museo della Bora, Mr. Lombardi is the regional coordinator of the National Association of Small Museums (Associazione Nazionale dei Piccoli Musei), for Italy’s Friuli Venezia Giulia region. Over a glass of hugo, the popular Triestien cocktail of elderflower, prosecco, mint, and lime, he shared his vision for this small museum:  to encourage the free circulation and exchange of scientific, artistic, cultural and social ideas. In this way, Mr. Lombardi hopes that the bora can be used as a metaphor for opening borders.

Given the European Union’s current refugee crisis, this is an extremely pertinent point. And it will no doubt become even more salient as climate migrants begin to abandon their homelands due to crop failure, sea level rise or extreme weather.

Museo della Bora is still a work-in-progress. But don’t let that stop you from visiting. Schedule your visit in early June, to participate in the annual Boramata, Trieste’s city-wide celebration of its most famous citizen. Or, schedule your visit between November and February in order to experience the bora, like James Joyce, in all its fury. “For my part I love the bora,” wrote Joyce. “It acts on me as a spirit of health that brings air from the sky.”

Visits to the Museo della Bora’s magazzino are by appointment only. Be prepared to be carried away by Mr. Lombardi’s enthusiasm, by the bora, by the magic of it all. The Museo della Bora is a rare gem.

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Joan Sullivan is a renewable energy photographer based in Québec, Canada. Since 2009, Joan has focused her cameras (and more recently her drones) exclusively on the energy transition. Her goal is to create positive images and stories that help us embrace the tantalizing concept that the Holy Grail is finally within reach: a 100% post-carbon economy within our lifetimes. Joan collaborates frequently with filmmakers on documentary films that explore the human side of the energy transition. She is currently working on a photo book about the energy transition. Her renewable energy photos have been exhibited in group shows in Canada, Italy and the UK. You can find Joan on Twitter and Instagram


 

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