Artists and Climate Change

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Climate Week NYC: When Women Lead

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

The Persistent Acts series continues its synthesis of Climate Week NYC, focusing on this recent week of events around solutions, optimism, and positive stories.

Last week, I recapped the Drawdown event presented as part of the tenth anniversary of Climate Week NYC. Drawdown kicked off a week of panels, concerts, exhibitions, and beyond, running concurrently to the UN General Assembly, all to encourage climate action across sectors. Another galvanizing event I attended was Women in Sustainability.

Organized by Women in Global Affairs (WIGA) and hosted at CUNY Graduate Center, Women in Sustainability brought together women from myriad disciplines to explore the challenges and opportunities within the field of sustainability. WIGA, whose mission is “to assist in bringing intelligent young women together both with their counterparts from across the country and with role models who wish to help mentor a generation of up and coming leaders,” curated panels about sustainability in academic and professional fields.


On the academic front, three women spoke to the institution of academia at large, and presented on their specific areas of research. Laxmi Ramasubramanian, Associate Professor, CUNY Graduate Center and Hunter College, discussed how women have been kept out of leadership positions in traditional academic settings, in part because of the limited scope of the career ladder metaphor. She offered an alternative mode of thinking, replacing the ladder with a more nimble trellis, broadening institutional notions of how to build a career.

Sara Perl Egendorf, PhD Student, CUNY Graduate Center and Brooklyn College, shared her process for mitigating lead exposure through soil, and her ongoing research with participating New York City Housing Authority residents. Sara outlined the scientific and social components of her research, indicating how community members can become more involved in their local green spaces after lead-free soil from other parts of the city has been mixed into the contaminated soil in an area.

Jennifer Cherrier, Professor, CUNY Graduate Center and Brooklyn College, also discussed science in action, through her expertise on waterways. In the age of climate change, as rain storms become more frequent and severe, Jennifer is researching how the city may better handle rainwater, especially when it surges during storms. She is working not only on how to better the gray infrastructure of New York City’s water system (the pipes and pumps), but also on how to incorporate green infrastructure into the way the city manages rain water (through existing and new green spaces).

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WIGA hosted Women in Sustainability on September 27 as part of Climate Week NYC.

The second part of the evening focused on a panel of women in the field of sustainability, moderated by Laetitia De Marez, Director of the New York City branch of Climate Analytics. Laetitia posed questions about success and career trajectories to an all-star panel: Sarabeth Brockley, Partnerships Coordinator at Business for Social Responsibility; Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development; Vlada Kenniff, Director of Sustainability at the New York City Housing Authority; and Bhakti Mirchandani, Managing Director at FCLT Global.

The conversation covered instances of sustainability in both public and private sectors, and in the fields of business, agriculture, and public interest. The women spoke about their mentors and career paths – why women must continue to be more and more a part of scientific, political, and financial decisions locally and around the globe – and instances of positive change when women ascend to leadership roles within various companies.

The tone that resonated with me throughout the evening was realistic optimism. As an artist, I felt the power of positivity in the room, especially since there are so many negative forces in our country right now. These scientists, and business and public sector leaders, know the weight and urgency of the climate crisis, and they tackle systems of oppression in various ways through their jobs. In spite of this (and because of it), they continue to do their work toward a more sustainable existence for us all. I spend so much time in my own silo of theatre, I don’t often hear the sustainability accomplishments in other sectors. We need to hear more about these positive outcomes across disciplines. This evening was an instance of palpable collaboration and camaraderie, which I try to emanate in my own creative endeavors.

The evening was broad, covering topics related to each woman’s expertise, and also went deep in connecting the issues to the roots of our problems – namely, colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism, and individualism. These systems of oppression will not self-destruct. With this Climate Week event as an example, when women come together, we proliferate alternative ways of being, and collectively pave more pathways for each other – that is a power which oppressive systems cannot take away.

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Lift Eachother Up illustration by Libby VanderPloeg.

There’s More
Among many other change-making folks at the WIGA event, I met Jordana Vasquez, who runs the blog Urban On Site, for “exploring, exposing and experimenting with sustainability” – Check it out!
(Re)Visit the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Peruse the candidates for the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change’s 2018 Best Climate Solutions Award.
Visit Chantal’s post Exorcising Harveys about tackling gender equity onstage in the Arctic.

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

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Julia Levine is a creative collaborator and vegetarian. Originally from St. Louis, Julia is now planted in the New York City downtown theatre realm. As a director, Julia has worked on various projects with companies that consider political and cultural topics, including Theater In Asylum, Honest Accomplice Theatre, 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, The UPROOT Series, 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

Climate Week NYC: Scales of Performance

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

This month, the Persistent Acts series focuses on Climate Week NYC, synthesizing a week of events around solutions, optimism, and positive stories.

There is plenty to be pessimistic about. It is easy to doubt, to spot alternative reasons and proofs at every turn. However, in these polarizing times, there’s Climate Week NYC. Organized by The Climate Group and in its tenth anniversary, “Climate Week NYC is the time and place where the world gathers to showcase amazing climate action and discusses how to do more.” Taking place in late September, “Climate Week NYC is one of the key summits in the international calendar and has been driving climate action forward since it was first launched by The Climate Group in 2009.” This global event is in coordination with the United Nations and the City of New York, and happens annually during the UN General Assembly. The event series that comprises Climate Week involves panels, concerts, exhibitions, and beyond, all to encourage climate action across sectors. I participated in a slice of Climate Week, and during the handful of events that I attended, positivity, collaboration, and sustained action were the refrain.

My Climate Week kicked off with some powerhouses of today’s U.S. environmental movement. Held at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, Drawdown’s Climate Week event featured headliners Bill McKibben and members of Project Drawdown, as well as panelists to engage in the local and global climate conversation. Given the nature of the event, I didn’t expect much art, so I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the Ethical Culture’s large theatre to hear a choir singing “Here Comes the Sun!” This brief opening act set a high-spirited tone, as New Yorkers gathered for the highly-anticipated main event. As the house lights lowered, an introductory video glowed, with clips about each of the night’s speakers: Lynne Twist of Pachamama Alliance, Dr. Katharine Wilkinson and Chad Frischmann of Project Drawdown, food justice advocate Karen Washington, Chief Climate Policy Advisor at the Mayor’s Office Daniel Zarrilli, and Lauren Zullo of Jonathan Rose Companies. I realized I wasn’t simply at a lecture or panel, I was at a climate conversations concert.

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The Street Tones Choir – DRAWDOWN: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming, presented at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on September 24, 2018. Photo by Erik McGregor.

Our host, Bill McKibben, noted the “rapid disintegration” that he had witnessed in Greenland over the summer, and now in North Carolina. Then McKibben pivoted to the positive, the reason everyone was gathered: Drawdown, “a project without parallel.” In scientific terms, “Drawdown is that point in time when the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere begins to decline on a year-to-year basis.” As the tagline of the Drawdown book states, this is “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” The entire evening was rich with inspiring messages – I won’t try to replay it in this post. I will share some of my takeaways on the potential of Drawdown in local and national contexts:

  • For Lynne Twist of Pachamama Alliance, Drawdown was “like water to the desert.” Twist spoke passionately about flipping the narrative on climate change: climate change is not happening to us but for us, and is serious, urgent, comprehensive feedback for a species that has lost its way.
  • Following suit, Katharine Wilkinson of Drawdown outlined the history of the project as a way to map the path forward on a different (positive) side of the climate change story. Based on extensive research, including rates of carbon emission, sequestration, and dollar cost, Drawdown ranks solutions to climate change that humans are already doing, to contribute to the reversal of climate change – so that we might take an evolutionary leap toward a more vibrant, equitable, and resilient living world.
  • Karen Washington reminded us to keep pressure on institutions and to take responsibility for knowing our representatives, so that they know that they work for us. Dan Zarrilli and Lauren Zullo commented on some key transformations happening in New York City, including building retrofitting, sustainable design, and the city’s divestment from fossil fuels in favor of investments in climate solutions.
  • McKibben slid in: to reverse climate change, jobs one, two, and three are to get rid of the Trump Administration. In the meantime, Twist suggested that we shift conversations, because when we share the positives, our ways of living shift.
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DRAWDOWN: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming, presented at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on September 24, 2018. Photo by Erik McGregor.

Throughout the panel discussion, I was playing out reasons for the arts to participate in the climate conversation, as is my habit as an artist. I can see a role for artists around Twist’s suggestion of shifting conversations – I am constantly investigating how a performance-based event might spark the types of positive discussions the panelists proffered. Zarrilli also spoke about the future of New York City with a focus on imagination, on how the city can reinvent itself. In the hands of artists, these imagined possibilities are endless. While the arts were not an explicit part of this Drawdown evening, I couldn’t help but pick up on how many different sectors, whether city planning, real estate, or climate science, share values of consideration, imagination, and positive transformation with the arts sector.

The concert concluded with a video from Pachamama Alliance. The word that resonated for me most throughout the evening was “love” – love for self, locality, human and non-human neighbors, and our planet itself. As we left, we took tangible action, signing postcards to urge the New York State Comptroller to follow the city’s lead and divest from fossil fuels. In the way that marches instill a buzz of collective power, I felt energized at the start of Climate Week because 1) we Americans have a lot of work to do, and 2) tools for just, equitable change are in each of us.


Take Action
Call on New York State to divest from fossil fuels
Learn more about a fossil fuel free world
Participate in the Live Stream of Drawdown Learn on Friday, October 19

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

______________________________

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, The UPROOT Series, 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

An Interview with Novelist Cai Emmons

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Fall is officially here in New York City. For many on the East coast, and especially in the Carolinas, the season has been devastating. Evacuations are still taking place in parts of South Carolina a week after Hurricane Florence due to historic flooding. Scientific evidence predicts that climate change will cause storms like Florence to grow larger and more frequent in the years to come. Climate change communication efforts are therefore more important than ever, and the artists and writers I profile here are taking part in those efforts.

This month I have for you an exclusive interview with novelist Cai Emmons. Her novel Weather Woman hits shelves in October. It follows the story of 30-year-old Bronwyn, who drops out of her doctoral program and takes a job as a TV meteorologist. After being dumped by her boyfriend, she discovers that she has the ability to affect the weather. Weather Woman is a beautifully written and deeply engaging novel that had me hooked from page one.

Your novel has a fantastical element in that the protagonist, Bronwyn Artair, can directly affect the weather. But the novel is also rooted in reality with its references to climate-related phenomena like wild fires, extreme weather patterns, and the effects of Siberian methane field emissions on the atmosphere. What inspired such a rich and interesting story?

A novel idea crystallizes for me when two persistent thoughts dovetail. Since I was a small child in New England, I have always been fascinated by weather, extreme weather in particular. On many occasions I have wanted fervently to change the weather, to favor activities like swimming or trick-or-treating. As an adult, when I awoke to a downpour on my wedding day I desperately wanted to stop it. This idea connected with one of my favorite books as a child, Oliver Butterworth’s The Trouble with Jenny’s Ear, in which a young girl realizes she can read people’s thoughts. At some point along the way a what if sprang up in my mind: What if a person really could change the weather? That premise led to a consideration of what such a person could do in terms of changing the climate.

Are you concerned about climate issues beyond what you write about in your fiction?

Perhaps because of having been attuned to the weather, I have been obsessed with climate change for years. To my mind the warming planet presents an enormous threat to human survival, particularly because it gives rise to a host of other life-threatening circumstances such as drought, fires, floods, famine, disease, mass migration, war, etc. It is incomprehensible to me that this threat has not given rise to hysteria and a massive remedial effort in response. I am interested in the work of sociologist Kari Norgaard who has attempted to understand the general malaise regarding climate change, especially among people who acknowledge both that it is happening and that it is human-caused.

I, too, feel largely helpless in the face of the changes I see. The fires raging across the planet this summer are on my mind now. I support 350.org, I go to climate rallies, I try to ride my bike as often as possible, but I often feel that I come up short in terms of having significant impact. I try to guard against despair, but I confess to frequently feeling very bleak about the subject when I awake in the wee hours.

Weather Woman brushes up against how climate change is addressed (or not) in the press, both in the character of tabloid journalist Matt and Bronwyn’s own experiences. The question of how the American press in particular reports on climate change haunted me as I read. What are your thoughts on the subject?

I have read some excellent coverage of the climate crisis in The New York Times and The New Yorker, along with various other publications (The Washington Post, National Geographic, etc.). Some of these articles have been very informative, others have been deeply alarming. But I am always acutely aware of the limitations of journalism in a culture that is so heavily polarized as ours now is. I may be drawn to every article I see about the unfolding climate disaster, but are these articles reaching people who know nothing about how dire the situation is, or those who actively oppose the idea that a problem exists. I doubt it.

I ask myself when it might be appropriate for journalists and scientists who are well-informed about what is happening to become advocates for action. I have watched my friend, Jason Box, glaciologist and climate scientist, struggle with this question as he tiptoes in the direction of advocacy.

In some ways, Weather Woman is about personal responsibility. Bronwyn has the supernatural power to affect the weather, but looked at a different way, so do we all. Climate change has been brought about because of anthropogenic activity, and we’ve only begun to see the effects of that activity. The presence of this theme suggests that this is something you’ve thought a lot about. Would you discuss your artistic process for coming up with this theme and how you teased it out?

I think a lot about what the path forward is in addressing climate change. I see the U.S. as deeply crippled by the cultural attitude that prizes individual rights over the needs of the community. This prevailing ethos means that we tend to view solutions to climate change in individual terms. I live in a small liberal Oregon city whose residents (many of them) pride themselves on being good custodians of the Earth. People here recycle, drive hybrid cars, ride bikes, eschew meat. This is all laudable, and it makes people feel good about themselves, but the impact is minor and does not address the problem head-on. We need large-scale collective action to change laws, regulate emissions, ban human practices that are deleterious to the environment. Only when we act together will our actions be consequential.

At some point in the writing of the novel I realized I did not want Bronwyn to be a singular heroine of the climate crisis, letting the rest of us off the hook. This is what she comes to understand near the end of the novel. Even with her considerable power she is not capable of saving the planet alone. This is what the Arctic fox tries to tell her when he says: Where are your people? 

Throughout the book Bronwyn has to deal with skeptics. How do you deal with skeptics? 

Skeptics, OMG! This was actually a fun element for me to work with as a novelist, particularly in terms of who was going to believe in Bronwyn’s power. She is aware of moving in a world in which she is unlikely to be believed. A few characters like Nicole and Earl believe in her power immediately, but others—most notably her mentor, Diane—are hard to convince, even after they’ve seen her at work. I wanted to feature diverse reactions to make readers wonder how they would be likely to react.

I mostly feel that it is a waste of time to try to convince people to believe in something they are dead set against, whether it is a superpower or climate change. My brother-in-law does not believe in man-caused climate change, but to engage with him about this is to bring on a shouting match. People rarely change when they feel bullied or threatened or humiliated (I don’t think I bully or threaten or humiliate, but I think even a rational conversation can bring up those feelings). If people are going to change it is usually a process that happens over time, in private, when they have been exposed to new information and feel free to consider things differently without being judged.

What do you think fiction can show or teach us about climate change that, say, scientific reports can not?

I think novels can be stealthy in a way that it is hard for journalistic or scientific work to be. The questions a novel raises piggyback on the lives of characters with problems and emotions readers recognize and participate in. If we, as readers, have stepped into the shoes of a character we can often embrace experiences and feelings, and even thoughts and opinions, that are antithetical to our own. I think most of us have had the experience of discovering a friend thinks differently about something than we do. Usually, rather than dropping the friend, we reevaluate our own position. Novels can, at their best, have the same impact.

Weather Woman hits shelves in October via Red Hen Press.

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.comand 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

Imagining Water #12: One Year Later

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

It is a full year since I began writing this monthly series on artists who are focusing on the topic of water – water pollution, melting glaciers, rising tides, plastic in the seas and killing drought. What I have learned from the extensive research I’ve conducted and the many artists I’ve contacted is that there is a groundswell of poets, painters, musicians, architects, filmmakers, craftsmen, sculptors, public artists, playwrights, dancers, spoken word artists, novelists and installation artists all over the world with passion, energy and determination to address and educate the public through art about the very real threats to our most precious natural resource.

Like poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, these artists come from the Pacific Islands, where the tides already “gnaw at the shoreline, chew at the roots of your breadfruit trees, gulp down rows of your seawalls and crunch your island’s shattered bones.” They come from the Northern regions of our planet, like Islandic/American artist, Roni Horn and Danish artists, Bjornstjerne Christiansen, Jakob Fenger and Rasmus Nielsen, where glaciers are melting at a rapid pace. In tribute, they are building monuments – a permanent library of water containing samples from all of the regional glaciers (Horn) and even a mock McDonald’s restaurant flooded with water to show what happens when “a rising tide caused by global warming claimed the very thing that contributed to it.” (Christiansen et al.)

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Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Marshall Islands poet.
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Roni Horn, Icelandic/American visual and spoken word artist.
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Danish artists/filmmakers, Rasmus Nielsen, Jakob Fenger, Bjørnstjerne Christiansen of the Collective Superflex.

The artists also come from lands where there is not enough water or enough clean water for a viable future, like the 10 prominent musicians from Cape Town, South Africa who took on the challenge of creating 2-minute shower songs to help the local population limit their water use during a severe water crisis; or like Indian artist Vibha Galhotra, who used the thick sludge from the toxic river Yamuna as a medium for her paintings in order to stress how dangerous the river water is to the health of the New Delhi population.

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Vibha Galhotra, New Delhi conceptual artist.

They are innovators like Peter Thiel and Patri Friedman, who are designing seasteading colonies that offer a new way of living on the sea itself; and like Ben Morison, Ali Skanda and Dipesh Pabari, who developed the know-how to build the first traditional Swahili dhow in Lamu, Kenya, entirely out of plastic waste. And speaking of plastic, there are scores of artists like Karen Hackenberg, who are incorporating images of discarded plastic objects in their paintings to emphasize the significance of plastic in our contemporary culture and to call attention to the billions of tons of plastic that are choking our oceans and polluting our shores.

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Peter Thiel, American entrepreneur and co-founder of the Seasteading Institute.
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Ben Morison (left), co-founder of The Flipflopi Project and Ali Skanda, Kenyan boatbuilder.
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American painter, Karen Hackenberg.

Some artists engage the public as integral components of their work, like Native American Uncí Carole, whose annual river walks honor and attempt to heal threatened waterways for the sake of the “seven generations to come;” like Dutch artist Daan Roosgaarde, whose “Waterlicht” light installation provided visitors all over Europe with the visceral experience of rising seas overtaking the city; and like me and my fellow artist Elena Kalman, who along with thousands of participants from all walks of life and from cities and towns throughout the United States, are making a literal Wave, piece by piece, that emphasizes how we are all connected by our mutual need for water and by our mutual responsibility to protect our vital water sources.

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Uncí (Grandmother) Carole, founder of Water is Life walks.
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Daan Roosegaarde, Dutch artist and innovator.
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American public artists Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman, co-founders of The Wave, an interactive, public art project.

What If?

All of the artists I’ve covered this past year give me hope that we will ultimately win the battle to clean our rivers and oceans and make progress on mitigating the impact of climate change. They and an army of others are working hard to reach citizens and policy makers all over the world – to engage their hearts, minds and senses, which hopefully in turn will translate into caring and action.

But what if these individual artists weren’t operating alone in their own studios, in their own cities and countries? What if they came together in one place to create interdisciplinary projects with each other that then dispersed and reached millions all over the world? Theatrical productions with dramatic music, lighting, dance and scenic imagery held on a plastic stage that traveled the seas from port to port on a plastic boat? Or a poem created by thousands and thousands of poets and other artists that was broadcast globally? Imagine an international festival of art, the mother of all artist residencies, devoted entirely to addressing water pollution, melting glaciers, rising tides, plastic in the seas and killing drought – a movement of artists working in the same place at the same time that would create a “storm” of public art the likes of which we have never experienced. Who was it that said, “if you build it, they will come.?” Let’s build it.

(Top image: Three of the 10 South African musicians who created 2-minute shower songs.)

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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 towns.


 

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

Exorcizing Harveys: Writing for Women of the Arctic

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Harveys suck, let’s start with that. They utterly and despicably suck. Harveys, as we brutally found out last summer, are abusive and dangerous. They have power, a ridiculous amount of power, and nothing will stop them. The first one, Harvey the hurricane, pounded the Gulf Coast of the United States for several days in August 2017, dumping Biblical amounts of rain on Texas, and leaving thousands of people stranded. The second one, Harvey the Hollywood producer, assaulted and silenced women for decades with, if not the blessing, at least the obliging blind eye of an army of people around him for whom it was convenient to keep their mouths shut.

Since then, I can’t help it: I see Harveys everywhere.

Harveys are fed and fattened by money and power, and prey on vulnerable people. Particularly women. (If you haven’t seen this gut-wrenching article in the New York Times about one man’s desperate fight to save his wife as Houston was flooding, I highly recommend it.) Harveys wouldn’t exist without capitalism. They wouldn’t exist without colonialism. And they wouldn’t exist without patriarchy. And, of course, Harveys thrive with the changing climate. For example: the melting Arctic is opening up new territory for extractive industries, these industries bring in a bunch of outside workers – mostly men – near isolated indigenous settlements, and that quickly becomes a breeding ground for Harveys who turn young women into victims of sexual assault and/or trafficking. #MeToo.

Director Jennifer Vellenga, playwright Chantal Bilodeau, actor Julie Jesneck and the Women of the Arctic organizing team: Tahnee Prior, Gosia Smieszek, and Olivia Matthews. Photo by Nancy Forde.

To exorcise the Harveys haunting me, I wrote a play titled Whale Song. It’s a short play, about 15-minute long. I wrote it for a day-long event titled Women of the Arctic: Bridging Policy, Research, and Lived Experience, organized by Tahnee Prior, Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar and PhD Candidate in Global Governance at the University of Waterloo and Gosia Smieszek, researcher at the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland. Women of the Arctic was held at the UArctic Congress in Helsinki in September 2018.

The goal of the event was to carve out a non-academic space for women and girls who work on or live in the Arctic to explore the roles and contributions of women to northern policy-making, research, exploration, art, activism, and daily life. It consisted of three related 90-minute panels: “Northern Women at the Table: From Community to Business Leaders;” “Women in Arctic Science & Exploration,” and; “Grappling with ‘Uncomfortable’ Conversations: From Past Traumas to Future Generations.”

Interestingly, because of the context, I couldn’t rely on any of theatre’s usual artifices. The performance was presented in a large café as part of a reception. There was no fancy lighting or set design, no beautiful projections, and certainly no big cast (there was a small stage, however). Because we had to fly from the US to Helsinki, I could only travel with two people – director Jennifer Vellenga and actor Julie Jesneck. Therefore, the words had to carry all the weight. But most exciting was the fact that we would be performing for a crowd who doesn’t typically attend the theatre. And, just to make things a little more challenging, a great majority of these people would be non-native English speakers.

At the heart of Whale Song is the concept of migration. A woman has run away, or, as she puts it, “migrated,” from her abusive husband named Harvey. Following a somewhat cryptic advice from her father – “When in doubt, go North” – she picked Alaska as her destination. Alaska is where her friends Teri and Allison live: strong Indigenous women who have dealt with their own Harveys and, wisely, chosen to migrate. But the woman’s husband seems to have caught up with her when she got to Alaska because she’s now in Helsinki, addressing the conference attendees.

Julie Jesneck in Whale Song. Photo by Veikko Somerpuro.

Migration, as she describes it, is a survival skill: Both humans and animals migrate, and we’ve been doing it since the beginning of time. Whales in particular are very good at it:

Whales used to be land animals. Fifty million years ago, they had four legs and huge teeth. Then the ice sheets melted, the oceans rose, and when it became clear there wasn’t gonna be enough land for everyone, the big mamas were like: “We’re outta here.” And they migrated to the ocean. How’s that for a winning strategy? “Shrink those legs and grow some fins, ladies! We’re diving in!”

But her admiration for the whales’ pluck in taking their destinies in their own hands hides a painful question. After listening to a whale song, she asks:

I wish I spoke Whale… Or is it Whalish, like Finnish? Or Cetaceanese? … I’d ask them: “How did you know?” Because, think about the people in Texas who didn’t leave until the water was up to their second floor. Think about the women in Hollywood who didn’t walk out of that hotel room until he had gotten his way. Think about me and Teri and Allison and all the beautiful wonderful women out there who have found themselves in the same situation. Why didn’t we know? Why didn’t we get out before it was too late? Is there something wrong with us?

Is there? Is it human nature to refuse to see the inevitable?

Julie Jesneck in Whale Song. Photo by Nancy Forde.

We spent a week rehearsing at Think Corner – the University of Helsinki café in the heart of the city – fighting jet lag while students chatted and sipped coffee all around us. Three hundred people had reserved for the performance/reception. We had no idea what to expect. Would we have to compete with food, wine and conversation to get the attendees’ attention? Were they going to politely watch the play and go right back to what they were doing? Or would our artistic “interlude” in this heavily programmed conference have an impact?

On the night of the performance, the atmosphere was mellow. A DJ played music, people mingled over wine, then helped themselves to the buffet and sat down to eat. At the appointed time, Julie got up on stage and performed Whale Song Ted-talk style. All of the women and most of the men gave her their full attention. But a handful of men, no doubt Harveys, proceeded to talk louder than her, annoyed that she was interrupting their Very Important Conversation. Would they have done the same if it had been a male actor? One of them was sitting next to the stage with his back turned to Julie. He didn’t move or even attempt to be discreet. Afterwards, we received many positive comments. One Sami woman confided with a smile that she had kicked all of the Harveys out of her community. Several men, on the other hand, avoided making eye contact with Julie.

For me, the experience was exhilarating. New city (Helsinki is beautiful), new context, new audience, and a chance to add my voice to the voices of women fighting to carve a place for themselves in a world that still sees us as “less than.” It was theatre at its best – naked, raw, and unapologetically engaged.

Women of the Arctic panel “Grappling With ‘Uncomfortable’ Conversations: From Past Traumas to Future Generations” with (l to r) Katarzyna Pastuszak, Louise Fontain, Sigþrúður Guðmundsdóttir, Liisa Holmberg, and Michelle Demmert. Moderated by Tahnee Prior. Photo by Chantal Bilodeau.

The next day, I attended the Women of the Arctic panels and saw some of the themes addressed in the play reflected in these women’s lives. These were highly accomplished women who, in some cases, had overcome great obstacles to get to where they are today. But despite their accomplishments, they are routinely overlooked in conferences where most presenters tend to be male. A photo of a session of the UArctic Congress, showing rows of men in suits, speaks volumes about the ongoing problem of gender inequality.

UArctic Congress 2018. Photo: Juha Sarkkinen.

The Harveys are still out there. (In a strange déjà vu, as I was writing this CBS executive Les Moonves resigned after allegations of sexual misconduct and hurricane Florence started flooding the Carolinas.) For as long as we continue with business as usual, they will keep wreaking havoc on our environment and our lives. I don’t know if we can ever completely exorcise them – they have left an indelible mark on our collective consciousness. But we can take steps so they are less likely to occur in the future.

At the end of the play, the actress delivers a final plea to the audience before she has to leave. I’m making the same plea to you today:

No more Harveys, OK? For me. For Teri and Allison and the whale. For all of us. No more Harveys.

(Top image: Julie Jesneck in Whale Song. Photo by Veikko Somerpuro.)

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Chantal Bilodeau is a playwright and translator whose work focuses on the intersection of science, policy, art, and climate change. She is the Artistic Director of The Arctic Cycle – an organization created to support the writing, development and production of eight plays that look at the social and environmental changes taking place in the eight countries of the Arctic – and the founder of the blog and international network Artists & Climate Change. She is a co-organizer of Climate Change Theatre Action, a worldwide series of readings and performances of short climate change plays presented in support of the United Nations COP meetings.


 

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

I Walk Towards Myself: Traveling Around the iForest

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

“Aren’t you coming over?”

The long-awaited moment had arrived early; I’d thought I had two more days.

By now the woodland of the Wild Center in upstate New York was well known to me. I had been coming here for two years in a noisy little eight-seater plane from Boston, my head pressed against the ceiling as we flew at cloud level into the six-million-acre wilderness of the Adirondacks. Now came the culmination of all the work.

Before me was the iForest. Twenty-four speakers had been placed on telegraph poles hidden throughout the woods with cables running underground to each from a central hub that housed multiple racks of amplifiers and interfaces. In my hand was the thing that would bring it all to life: a hard drive containing a choral piece that featured the Grammy winning choir, The Crossing, singing primarily in the Indigenous Mohawk language. What made it unique was that each of the 72 voices was separately recorded and assigned to a location throughout the woods. It was all fine in theory – the question that now weighed on me was: What would actually happen when I plugged it in?

I made my first sketches for immersive sound pieces back in 2000. It took until 2004 to make my first piece. Simultaneity recorded various locations simultaneously then played them back together to create a “God’s ear view of the world.” I began what was to become the iForest in 2005, as a room full of iPods titled iPod Forest. Since then I’d created all manners of works that, as well as using pitch, rhythm, tone and dynamic, also used spatiality. By 2014 this had led to apps that synchronized choirs across cities such as with And Death Shall Have No Dominion across Manhattan.

There were plenty of setbacks. When I started out, gear was specialized and expensive. Worse, the whole area in the UK seemed to be run by a sonic-arts clique and if you wanted funding, the funders, not knowing this world, would call the clique who would duly cast doubt on your work (it’s dog eat dog at the waterhole) and then get grants from those same people.

Gloucestershire, UK.

But I was convinced that immersive sound was part of the future. I grew up in Gloucestershire, a beautiful rustic area of the UK. As a teenager I played guitar in Led Zeppelin-inspired bands, but I was transfixed by the sounds of birds singing at dawn; each had its own unique song yet the song was part of an extraordinary whole and the experience constantly changed depending on how you moved through it. It was a million miles away from theories of music harmony or stereo reproduction. Throughout my entire career as a composer, I have tried to find a way back to those moments. Now, in these woods, that time had come.

Dave, the site manager, was waiting for me at the hub. Unflappable and unstoppable, he’d done the hard work of getting all this in place.

“You ready to give it a try?”

The hub was an intimate space, tall enough to stand in, crammed with electronics and countless mosquitos and black flies. I connected the drive. The interface whirred to life. The amps were all powered. There was no more reason for delay; it was time to find out if all the work had been worth it.

I’d spent time imagining sound in the woods. I’d listened to birds, to animals, to people, to the whispers of the wind. How far away was that sound? How much could you detect its direction? What happened when the weather changed? When the season changed? There were so many ways it could fail or disappoint. But instead, something magical happened: I pressed the button and suddenly, through the woods to my left, a vast choir began to sing. It was answered by a second choir to my right and then by a third directly ahead. Then they sang together, as though a synchronized choir of 72 voices was all around us. It sang back and forth across the woods in ways surprising and inspiring to me. It was more than I had hoped. We grinned at each other, listening.

In its first year, iForest received around 160,000 visitors. One of the nice things about it has been the feedback. Countless people have described being moved to tears: “Now I know how angels sound,” said one child. A man recently wrote: “It was an amazing, remarkable, beautiful experience. The music seemed to heighten all of my senses and brought back the awe and wonder of being a child exploring the forests. I could smell the duff and the pines, feel the breeze, and see the forest as if it was for the first time. The sounds of the forests were amazing, almost as if they were part of the music. Red squirrels and chipmunks scampering about, chittering and chipping; birds singing and chirping; winds blowing through the trees. The feeling of tranquility was almost overwhelming. I had tears in my eyes as I came to the end of the trail…”

This deeper sense of connection to nature is my chief aspiration. For me, placing humans out in the woods alongside all the other species is a way to experience ourselves as a part of nature (I titled the choral work I Walk Towards Myself for this reason). The nice thing about iForest is that it can constantly reinvent itself. I am currently developing two new iForests in the US and installing new material to the iForest at the Wild Center for next year. As it spreads and develops, it may help generate not only a deeper connection to nature but new creative opportunities. Spatialized sound offers a whole new approach to music-making and it’s my hope to mentor new composers and sound creators to explore its numerous possibilities. It would be nice to think of iForest still growing, long after my time.

(Top image: Song of the Human commissioned by New Sounds, WNYC for Brookfield Place, Manhattan and performed by The Crossing. It used 18 independent speakers above, around and below the palm trees of the main atrium. It was performed live then ran as an installation for 3 weeks in October 2016.)

 


Pete M. Wyer is a composer and musician from England whose works often involve storytelling and innovation, especially in the area of immersive sound. He has created scores for the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Juilliard, the orchestra of Welsh National Opera, The Crossing, BBC Television and the Royal Opera House as well as writing seven operas and music theatre works. His immersive installation The iForest opened in a permanent home at The Wild Center, in the Adirondacks in 2017, receiving 160,000 visitors. It was described by Inside Hook Magazine as “Like hiking through Fantasia”.


 

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

Bringing Together Art and Science to Save Joshua Trees

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

I wasn’t expecting to return to my desert hometown for my PhD research, and didn’t imagine that I would be pregnant. But as I rested in the shade of the only Joshua tree at the hottest and driest of my field sites, I knew that I had made the right decision. Recent studies show that Joshua trees could be gone from areas like Joshua Tree National Park within 100 years – it may be getting too hot too quickly for the tree populations to survive. Unfortunately, this story is not unique to Joshua trees: we may be entering into the sixth major extinction event on this planet, which will have far-reaching consequences for life as we know it. We need radical societal shifts from extraction capitalism and unhinged consumerism towards sustainability. This requires multi-disciplinary approaches to find a path forward, but first we need to get people to care. I believe that art can connect people to difficult concepts at an emotional level, helping to increase public understanding of anthropogenic species loss, and motivate sustainable behavior.

People respond to science-based art when it has a strong personal narrative. By sharing my journey as a scientist and mother, and by researching the deserts of my hometown, I can tell the story of tree loss in a way that moves people to care about what is happening. In my recent publication, we found that art can evoke a powerful emotional response, connecting people to the concepts of climate induced biodiversity loss. People could identify with my story because it had ties to family and a connection to home. I found that we have to unravel the complexities of climate change and species loss through narrative or the science can seem overwhelming and the solutions unapproachable.

Art provides a way to connect the public to science, but it is also a powerful form of research and a pathway for innovative thinking. I work as both an ecologist and an artist, investigating the impacts of climate change on Joshua trees and their above and belowground symbiotic partners. In the branch tops, I study the teeny moths that provide the sole pollination services for Joshua trees, and that use the tree’s developing fruit as a nursery and food source for their young. Underground, I dig into networks of fungi that scavenge and trade soil nutrients and water with the tree’s roots in exchange for plant sugars. These complex and incredibly beautiful species interactions will most likely be impacted by the changing climate, with consequences for Joshua tree survival. Understanding species interdependence and how humans fit within the ecosystem is critical to overcome the widespread belief in human exceptionalism that drives environmental destruction.

Because I work professionally in science and art, my practices are deeply intertwined and feed each other. Art making is unbounded by rules and definition, so the entirety of my research, science included, is art. This echoes the work of eco-art researchers such as the Harrisons or Brandon Balengée, who have blurred the lines of art and science research. Art making gives me permission to ask exploratory questions and to approach my study system in new ways. During these times, I have found great inspiration for science research because I have gained a deeper understanding and relationship with these organisms. For example, while sketching Joshua tree blossoms during pollination season at their hottest locations in the national park, I realized there were no moths to be found. This led to a new direction in my ecological research, and my recently published discoveries linking tree distribution to moth abundance along a changing climate gradient.

Image still from the stop motion animation A Joshua Tree Love Story.

Science, however, has a stricter set of methodologies. While also a creative practice, it is often confining and painfully rigorous. Yet science leads to data driven recommendations for policy and management that can address real environmental problems. As a scientist, I have developed an eye for detail and the ability to ask ecologically meaningful questions. I have access to powerful tools such as DNA sequencing, and high-powered microscopy, allowing me to visualize unseen worlds.

I create art through a variety of ways to make these worlds accessible and also to challenge the stereotype of who does science – in this case a mother with a child strapped to her back. My stop motion animation A Joshua Tree Love Story, follows my experience across a desert research expedition with my baby to investigate if the changing climate is impacting tree survival or species interactions. The dire message of tree loss within a human lifetime is highlighted by the paralleled aging of the baby into an old man. Woven through the animation are highly detailed paintings about the Joshua tree-fungi symbiosis and how they change with climate. The paintings match data I collect across elevations, providing a window for the viewer to experience the complexities and beauty of plant-fungal symbiosis.

Experimental painting of Joshua tree roots and soil with mycorrhizal fungi. Acrylic, Joshua tree seed oil, Joshua tree root soap, Joshua tree fibers.

And the painting process is also scientific! In fact, I have long experimented with using natural pigments, such as wine and fungi, to capture the organisms I study. In this project, I use a novel painting technique where I manipulate the densities and behavior of acrylic paint using oil from the Joshua tree seeds, soap from the tree roots, fire, and alcohol, to create the organic shapes of soil, lacy roots, and fungal networks. This process requires detailed note taking to recreate desired textures and effects. The colors in the painted soils change to reflect levels of nutrients found at my different research sites. These illustrations give another avenue to expand upon in discourse around species loss. The intention was to connect people to species loss through bold imagery and a passionate musical score. I also created a second shorter animation, in response to the first, with a stronger science narrative that more effectively “explains” the research for use in education outreach.

To further encourage conversation around species loss, I have created Hey Jtree, an ongoing participatory art research project and online dating site to meet Joshua trees. As part of my art residency at Joshua Tree National Park, my goal is to bring together artists (53 and growing!) to make art about Joshua tree research, and to invite the public to meet and fall in love with the trees. The website details the ecological information for each tree, shows where they live, features art and music created for each tree, and includes a profile (similar to online dating site profiles). Every tree’s location is given in latitude and longitude. It is also recorded in miles as a “scavenger hunt” and in steps from identifiable locations in the park. People can participate as “citizen artists” by submitting love letters, poetry, music or art to their tree. These will be uploaded to the site, generating a collective shared love and social media following for individual trees. Additional information is provided about ways to care for your tree, how to visit the desert responsibly, and suggestions for political actions.

We will need to explore many untraditional methods to capture public interest and influence environmental policy if we want to sustain life on this planet. The potential for social change through science-art goes far beyond just translating science for public consumption. Multidisciplinary researchers have the potential to turn information into action by connecting these different methodologies to generate creative thinking and learning. This could open new lines of inquiry to engage the public as active participants in the design of a sustainable society.

(Top image: Experimental painting of Joshua trees, roots, and soil with mycorrhizal fungi. Acrylic, Joshua tree seed oil, Joshua tree root soap.)

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Juniper Harrower studies the complexities of species interactions under climate change as an ecologist and artist. Her dissertation research focuses on the interactions between Joshua trees, their soil fungi, and moth pollinators in Joshua Tree National Park. By approaching this research as a science-artist, she hopes to better understand the form and function of the organisms she studies, as well as to share the hidden beauty of these threatened species interactions with others. Through this work she aims to encourage dialogue around social and environmental issues, to contribute to science theory, and to make thoughtful recommendations for policy and management.


 

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 Painter Danielle Nelisse

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

This month I have for you an exclusive interview with Danielle Nelisse, an immigration attorney, private investigator, and – painter! Her Wildfires series, which was inspired by nine wildfires that surrounded her California art studio in May 2014, is on view at the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain through July 2020. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.

What inspired the Wildfires series?

My Wildfires series was first inspired in 2014 when nine wildfires simultaneously surrounded my art studio in Southern California. While I stood in my art studio creating the first Wildfires paintings on two canvases side-by-side, my family members checked in over the phone. I just kept painting. The sky became dark with charred ash.

The massive wildfires were fed for days by hot Santa Ana winds that blew in from the desert. To date I have completed nine wildfires paintings and luckily I haven’t been ordered to evacuate my art studio yet.

What led to the Wildfires series being shown at the US Embassy in Bahrain? 

When Justin Siberell was appointed as Ambassador by the President, he sought artwork from a California artist to exhibit at the U.S. Embassy in Manama, Bahrain. His staff contacted me and told me that he connected with my artwork because he is originally from California and as a former firefighter, he wanted to share his memory of the wildfires in California with the people of Bahrain.

Danielle Nelisse, “Wildfires V.,” 36″ x 36″ oil on canvas. Photo by EgoID Media.

What do you hope viewers will take away from Wildfires?

I often use art to depict imagery associated with climate change. I feel that a majority of people are overwhelmed with emotions regarding the negative impact of climate change, and the fact that solutions are too complex to implement quickly or easily by any one person or any one government or any one country.

I know when people feel they are not free to express their emotions, it compromises their emotional and physical health. By creating abstract paintings that address climate change, I invite viewers to vent their emotions about what is interpreted as a devastating and staggering problem for an international community to solve.

Many experts say that California’s wildfires are exacerbated by climate change. Do you think about climate change beyond what you paint in the studio?

I worry a lot about the negative impacts of climate change. Living in Southern California, I am exposed to the consequences of long term drought conditions and see lakes dry up, see mudslides take place after the fires, see lawns removed in favor of xeriscape landscapes, and see wildfires all year round.

These days wildfire firefighters are facing situations they have never encountered, such as a 100-foot wall of flames and triple digit heat for 25 consecutive days.

Eighty-nine large wildfires are currently burning in the United States, but I can’t help but notice that global warming has resulted in wildfires not only in California, but worldwide. Europe just suffered its deadliest fire season in more than a century.

According to Stanford University climate change scientist Noah Diffenbaugh, “We now have very strong evidence that global warming has already put a thumb on the scales, upping the odds of extremes like severe heat and heavy rainfall. We find that global warming has increased the odds of record-setting heat events over more than 80 percent of the planet.”

What role do you see art playing in our larger conversations about climate change and ecological disasters like wildfires?

For about ten years or more, artists like me have been expressing our concern by creating artwork about climate change and ecological disasters. Making my Wildfires painting series allows me to release anxiety and express my emotions about climate change. I can only hope that if my art is in the right place at the right time it might provide an opportunity to impact policymakers by sparking productive conversations.

Just a few days ago, the United Nations officially recognized climate change as a cause for migration, outlining ways for countries to cope with communities that are displaced by natural disasters as well as “slow onset events” like drought, desertification, and rising seas. I believe that artists can help keep this issue at the forefront by constantly reminding the public that climate change needs our immediate attention.

What’s next for you?

Within the next month I’m moving my art studio to the Hawaiian island of Maui. Rising temperatures, king tides, shifting precipitation patterns, warming and acidifying oceans and other climate change impacts are already affecting the islands in ways that will change them permanently. Given the rise in sea levels, it may be my last chance to experience and artistically record island life.

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.

For more on Danielle Nelisse, see this interview published on Artists & Climate Change in 2014.

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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

An Introduction to Our Food, Art & Climate Series

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Thanks to a generous grant from Invoking the Pause, the Artists & Climate Change’s Core Team recently went on a retreat to the Omega Institute, a holistic center located in Rhinebeck, New York. While there, the topic of food kept coming up in our conversations, and not (only) because we were having three gorgeous organic meals prepared for us every day. It became clear that when talking about climate, we also need to talk about what’s on our plate. The complicated infrastructure of large-scale, globally connected food systems irreversibly impacts bodies, tummies, animals, oceans, and ultimately climate. At the same time more extreme weather, including droughts and floods, impacts farmers across the globe. And that, in turn, impacts us. Since we all need to eat, we couldn’t think of a more democratic yet urgent topic to dedicate our next series to.

There are many different points of entry into this topic: as a farmer, consumer, scientist, nutritionist, designer, cook, businessperson, policymaker, etc. We all have agency when we make decisions about what we eat, and these decisions inevitably add up to become collective power.

In this new Foodstuff series, we – Chantal Bilodeau, Susan Hoffman Fishman, Julia Levine, Yasmine Ostendorf, and Joan Sullivan – will write about the relationship between art, food, and climate from our own backgrounds and interests. Below is a short introduction that outlines our respective views on this subject.

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Chantal: When we talk about climate change, we usually talk about food that will disappear. I’m interested in the flipside of that. What are the foods we will eat more of because the new climate makes them easier to grow, or because they have a smaller footprint? Many cultures already eat things like insects and worms – what will it look like when those show up in Western cuisine? Fine cooking has become so labour and energy intensive, it’s almost like chemistry! I wonder if somehow we have to rein that back a bit. What are other ways we can make cooking and eating fun? How do we do that with nature rather than with machines? How do we eat with the seasons rather than importing food whenever we feel like having it? Eating local can make us more creative because we’re challenged to do more with less.

Susan: My entry point into the food series will be directly connected to water resources. As the planet continues to heat and reliable sources of water dry up, crop growth and food supplies will continue to be impacted, setting off a chain of local, regional, and global events, including water wars, large scale migration, and political upheaval. These events are already occurring in many regions around the world. I am also very interested in exploring the ways in which indigenous populations have traditionally sustained their food sources by planting efficiently and by honoring, protecting, and conserving their water resources.

Julia: I want to connect with where my food comes from, and motivate others to do so as well. By tracing the food supply chain, we connect more deeply to the planet and to each other, thus strengthening our community in the face of climate change. Sharing meals as a community is vital. As a theatremaker, everything I do is about recognizing other people. I want audiences to feel that they’re not just at a play but part of something larger than themselves. The more I learn about others working on food, the more I see that food is a justice issue. What we eat is connected to a larger political and cultural system. I want people to feel driven by their own interests and equipped to make informed choices (whether in food or climate or otherwise). In these ways, I use theatre to pose questions about how, in Western culture, we got disconnected from our food sources. On the stage, my collaborators and I imagine alternative food systems and empower audiences to shift from apathy to action.

Yasmine: I’m interested in how artists, innovators, and designers are contributing to re-thinking and sometimes radically re-shaping some of our food systems: whether that means what we eat, how we eat it, or how it travels to our plate. Food-sharing apps, speculative foodfutures, co-ops, (experiential) food design, groundbreaking horticultural research around greenhouses, and start-ups producing artificial meat – all of this stuff really excites me. In addition, I’m really interested in microbes and the pivotal role of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, both in our bodies and beyond. Not to mention bio-art collectives, which are doing interesting research and projects.

Joan: I would like to explore food from a personal level, looking at my own life. My bachelor’s degree was in Nutritional Science and now I’m living on a farm. I’ve lived there for ten years and it has influenced and informed my worldview on food and the environment. My own child, who grew up on the farm, has become a vegan; her personal activism to address climate change is a plant-based diet. In addition, food waste really bothers me; we have 40 chickens and the tablewaste goes back to the chickens or is composted. But generally, the amount of food waste we generate is shocking and I would like to look into how this could stop. I find it unethical. I’m also very interested in the packaging of food. And I LOVE cooking and am interested in fermented food.

*  *  *

We hope you enjoy this new series and invite you to comment below with your own interests/concerns relating to food, art, and climate! And perhaps this might lead up to an offline event at some point…!

Note: For people in Europe interested in art and food, Yasmine is organizing the Food Art Film Week at the Van Eyck Academy in September 2018, transforming the academy into an open-air arthouse cinema, artist-run organic restaurant, site for debate on Food Futures, and forum for workshops and Artist’ Talks. Topics include Is Natural Possible?, Obsession and the Senses, Livestock vs Wild Animal, and Human-Non-Human Dependencies.

(All photos by Marente van der Valk.)

For previous articles related to food, check out:

Recipe for Change, In Conversation with Food and DIRT in Development by Julia Levine
Plants, Place, and Environmental Stewardship by Jimmy Fike
Maybe Tomorrow, The Fish Will Be Gone by Alison Weller
Abundance, Art, and Creative Social Research by Dianna Tarr
The Nature of Positive by Tanja Beer
Non-Human Narratives: Stories of Bacteria, Fungi and Viruses by Yasmine Ostendorf

This article is part of the Foodstuff series.

See the Core Team’s bios here.


 

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

Using Photography to Combat Climate Change

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

In 1963, Eliot Porter showed a series of color slides at the Sierra Club that he had taken at one of the underground pools of Glen Canyon in Utah. After showing the magnificent images on the big screen, he argued that the recently completed dam at Lake Powell would completely flood these enchanted pools, and they would be lost forever. His images inspired the members of the Sierra Club, and future nature lovers, to speak out against big construction projects as they increasingly threatened natural environments.

Caring for Our Environment

Porter’s famous contemporary, Ansel Adams, capitalized on Porter’s work and successfully argued for using his work, and the work of f/64 photographers – landscape photographers using visualization and the zone system to create the first modern landscape photographs we now know and love – to promote and protect the stunning nature of the Western United States.

I read this in a book about Ansel Adams written by contemporary landscape photographer Michael Frye, who is based in the same iconic Yosemite Valley as Ansel Adams was. I remember reading the book as I was writing an article on my website about my intention to use my images and love for the environment to help support environmental groups.

Recently, I have felt the urge to use my growing portfolio of landscape images for a greater purpose. I enjoy being in nature. It helps me find balance in my otherwise hectic life. I try to look for and find isolated places – places devoid of humans, and even of human interference. This is not always easy, as I do not have the time nor the money to visit the truly empty places far, far away.

Places close by give me enough energy to reload after a hectic day, week, or month. However, over the past year, I have realized that everywhere I look, there is human interference. The nature around me is for the most part cultivated and managed to fit within constraints set by us humans. Also, I am growing angry as I see more wildlife going extinct and nature being destroyed.

Everywhere I look I see human interference…

At home, we do our best to care for our environment. We religiously separate our trash, eat organic and an increasingly plant-based diet, and support local conservation groups. Every time I am out in the field, I pick up litter and stuff that has been thrown away. I try to use public transportation instead of my car and often think about my ecological footprint. I know I can do much more, but I at least try to be considerate about how I engage with my environment, my world, and our planet.

I often feel quite alone in this. Granted, a lot of my peers and other like-minded people are doing wonderful things to create greater awareness. But I also see many people littering, wasting resources, and simply not caring about the future of our planet.

Using Images for a Greater Purpose

One day, I sat down and scrolled through my portfolio with different eyes. I tried to find images that would encourage viewers to protect what they were seeing. This proved harder than I expected. Of course, there were images that did just that but overall, I was disappointed in what I found.

I turned to my small but cherished portfolio of urbex images. Urbex is the exploration of abandoned structures and buildings. Often the locations are off-limits – the idea of briefly trespassing to explore the unknown appeals to me. Also, the adage of urbex, “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures,” resonates with me. I live by it during my nature treks.

Abandoned housing at a deserted army camp.

Urbex images give the viewer a glimpse of a transitional world – a world where nature has taken over human structures after they have been abandoned. Sometimes it feels like walking through a post-apocalyptic world, and it makes me wonder if that might ultimately be the best outcome. I recently saw a video about what would happen if Man suddenly disappeared from the Earth. Within 10 years the air would be clean again, and structures would become one with the Earth – species would thrive, and balance would be restored. A sobering thought…

Here I found better images, more in line with what I was looking for – images that communicate a need to protect our environment from pollution and decay, and show the transience of our civilization. It wasn’t a portfolio or series yet, but it was a start.

I recently went to the Dutch coastline to photograph the beautiful Waddenzee area – a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. There too, I was painfully confronted with pollution and trash. This only increased my desire to educate my fellow human beings about these dangers.

Plastic trash on the tidal plains of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Capitalizing on the Idea

I am now in conversation with several like-minded photographers about creating a coffee table book and an exhibition around these themes. I also incorporated my views and this mission in the curriculum for my photography workshops. I hope to realise these projects next year and raise awareness and possibly even some money to donate to charities that champion these causes.

With this initiative, I am taking baby steps towards using my images for nature conservation and education. I also started a similar journey on another front: I became part of a local conservation group dedicated to preserving a row of ancient Poplar trees with a deep ecological and heritage importance. I created their website and donated my images to help them recruit Friends of the Trees – supporters who can donate money towards the trees’ preservation.

After a few months, we were able to enter into an agreement with the local council for the protection and transfer of the land to the council. We also obtained a grant from the provincial council to plant young Poplar trees in the gaps between the old trees. Not only will the new trees provide support for the old trees, but they will continue to play their role in the ecosystem after the old trees die or fall during a storm.

I feel at ease in this new role and hope to take more steps towards using my photography to combat climate change and raise awareness about environmental preservation. Together we can change the world!

Industrial remains on a British coastline.

(Top image: Stone furnaces at an abandoned brick factory.)

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Photographer Maurice Hertog was born and raised in the southern part of the Dutch province of Limburg. He started taking photographs as an avid aircraft spotter at the local airfield, also enjoying taking snapshots during holidays. Since 2008, he has transitioned to photographing landscapes and abandoned buildings, and learned to enjoy the wondrous world around him. “Inspired through the Lens” is his mantra. He feels most alive when he gets out into nature and can become one with the environment he so enjoys capturing on camera.

 

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

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