Artists and Climate Change

Auto Added by WPeMatico

New Monthly Post: Renewable Energy Artworks

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

As a renewable energy photographer, I can’t think of a better way to embrace the new year than to celebrate artists who are inspired by renewable energy and who, collectively, are changing the social narrative surrounding what (the late) President Obama calls our irreversible transition to a post-carbon future.

Throughout 2017, I will post once each month about an artist or group of artists whose work explores wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy from a variety of perspectives. From architects to poets to sculptors to musicians, these artists are changing the mood music about climate change while drawing much-needed attention to the many health and economic benefits of renewables, improved energy efficiency and electrifying transport systems in our increasingly crowded and polluted cities.

For our opening post on renewable energy artworks, we travel to the UK’s maritime city of Hull on the Yorkshire coast, where the multimedia artist Nayan Kulkarni recently transformed the historic heart of the city with the installation of a massive 28-tonne, 250ft-long (75m) offshore wind turbine blade. “The Blade” is the first major artwork commissioned as part of Look Up, a year-long cultural celebration of public artwork and installations marking Hull’s tenure as UK City of Culture 2017.

wind, turbine, blade, Hull, installation, renewable, energy, public space, urban, art, what is art

The Blade was built by local men and women newly hired at Siemen’s recently constructed state-of-the-art offshore wind manufacturing plant located in the revitalized Alexandra Docks on the Humber River.

According to The Guardian, this industrial blade-cum-artwork draws important links between Hull’s industrial past, its more recent slide into economic despair and – thanks to the promise of offshore wind – an optimistic future.

For example, up to one thousand new manufacturing jobs will be created by the new factory, in a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in the UK. Further development of Alexandra Dock will continue throughout 2017, including construction of a new harbour for pre-assembly and load out of wind turbine components destined for the construction of massive offshore wind projects off the coast of England and northern Europe.

In an online interview published by The Mirror, Martin Green, CEO and Director of Hull 2017, hopes that the installation of this enormous industrial object will start a debate about what constitutes art. “This is a very beautiful object, hand-made, in a really interesting context at a very interesting time in the city’s history. And to me, that makes art. But I think that debate will rage,” he added.

In a press release, Mr. Green added “Nayan Kulkarni’s Blade is a dramatic, yet graceful addition to Hull’s city centre. Despite its size, what is striking about the sculpture is its elegance. Putting this example of state of the art technology against the historic charms of Queen Victoria Square makes you look at this fine public space differently. It’s a structure we would normally expect out at sea and in a way it might remind you of a giant sea creature, which seems appropriate with Hull’s maritime history. It’s a magnificent start to our Look Up programme, which will see artists creating sight specific work throughout 2017 for locations around the city.”

The Blade will remain in Queen Victoria Square until March 18th.

Next month’s post: Land Art Generator Initiative‘s “Renewable energy can be beautiful”

Follow Joan Sullivan on Twitter @CleanNergyPhoto


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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Powered by WPeMatico

In Residence at the Former Apartment of Artist/Activist Friedensreich Hundertwasser

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Author: Yasmine Ostendorf 


Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000) was a rather eccentric Austrian artist, known for his colourful paintings and Gaudi-esque architecture. His work can be found all over the world, brightening up streets from Vienna to Osaka. He was unconventional and rebellious and stated  that “the straight line leads to the downfall of humanity.” He applied this rule to both his paintings as well as buildings, resulting in uneven floors and sometimes dangerously low ceilings. But the straight line wasn’t his only worry: he was an environmental activist concerned about our human relation to nature and addressing issues such as the quality of the air (“we are suffocating in our cities from poison and a lack of oxygen”) and dangers of nuclear power plants, through his art practice.


Use Public Transport – Save the City (1989), Hundertwasser

This month I’m staying in Hundertwasser’s original former apartment in Vienna, as Curator-in-Residence of Kunst Haus Wien. The apartment, located on top of the museum, is a true health and safety hazard (even the floors aren’t straight) but allows for a great insight into his work and philosophies. Hundertwasser believed that art has to be the bridge between the creativity of nature and creativity of man, and that art has to include nature and its laws. For Hundertwasser it means, amongst other things, that one should be able to hang out the window and change the exterior of a building as far as the arm can reach (I haven’t tried this yet) but it also means one should be surrounded by plenty of trees. From the house one should be able to see the trees from different perspectives. This is certainly the case in his own home; not only is there a rooftop garden, but the apartment is full of windows, large and small, from which you can peek outside, or to the other rooms. Hundertwasser stated the trees are also tenants of the apartment, and that their contribution towards the rent is actually much more valuable than any currency humans use. His ten-point manifesto celebrates the tree tenants, bringing oxygen and “the needed moisture to the city.”


Hundertwasser’s healing suggestion for a residential building, 1971/72 – Application of Window right and Tree duty

Already in 1975, Hundertwasser was exploring the idea of a “humus toilet,” a do-it-yourself composting toilet that doesn’t use electricity, water, or chemicals. He also developed a water purification system for urine and waste water using aquatic plants such as cypress grass and water hyacinth. Though none of these innovations are installed in his apartment on top of the museum (unfortunately?), what you do notice is how all the organic forms and shapes in his home – even the uneven floors – create a very relaxed, warm and welcoming atmosphere, like you are in a boat. Maybe it wasn’t all so crazy to think that “being forced to walk on flat asphalt and concrete floors […] estranged from man’s age-old relationship and contact to earth, a crucial part of man withers and dies.” According to Hundertwasser, living in these “designers’ offices” has “catastrophic consequences for the soul, the equilibrium, the well-being and health of man.”


Hundertwasser’s water purification system

Being in residence in his house allows me to learn more about this curious persona and see what his legacy means to contemporary artists in Vienna. To what extent are these 70s and 80s rhetorics and aesthetics still relevant? This month, in collaboration with curator Jade Niklai, I will be interviewing pioneering artists, architects, designers, thinkers, curators and other creative professionals focused on the key environmental issues of our time: flooding, drought, ecocide, extinction of species, loss of biodiversity, waste, ocean acidification, climate change, energy transition, resource use; and the notion of the Anthropocene. The aim of the research is to map existing efforts by Austria’s cultural communities, facilitate their amplification abroad and develop an ambitious exhibition on the topic.

My first visit was to Brazilian artist Kadija de Paula, in residence at art space M21 in Vienna. Dinner on Saturday with the artist meant eating what she and her partner Chico found during a local dumpster-diving expedition. They found a lot of bananas which meant we ate both banana compote as well as a banana peel stew. It was surprisingly delicious! During their month-long residency they take up the challenge to live and work with found resources, food and materials, avoiding the use of resources that should not have been created or that will soon be depleted. They will research habits and processes of disposal, recycling and social assistance in Vienna, and collect found objects in the house (which was already getting a bit full after one week in town!). But sharing the food together, surrounded by beautiful objects, you could not not think about our ridiculous obsession with buying and consuming. It was probably my most sustainable meal ever and I think Hundertwasser would have been proud.


Banana peel stew, photo by Yasmine Ostendorf

Diving into the life and work of Hundertwasser shows that artists working with environmental issues is nothing new, nothing “hip” and unfortunately it hasn’t become less urgent. Hundertwasser was a visionary artist expressing his concerns about nature almost 50 years ago and sadly we are still dependent on fossil fuels, addicted to consuming and creating unsustainable amounts of waste. This month I hope to find many more inspiring examples by artists and hopefully will be eating more banana peels.

For the whole of January Yasmine Ostendorf is in residence at Kunst Haus Wien. The research forms the foundation for an exhibition in late 2017, to be presented in the framework of The Garage Gallery’s ongoing programme on the topic. Follow Yasmine Ostendorf in residence at Kunst Haus Wien via her Instagram take-over.



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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Powered by WPeMatico

Embracing the Vulnerability of Others

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Feature: Storyboard from the animated film pilot for “Next to Now,” by Annette Mohr.

Marte Røyeng is a singer/songwriter based in Oslo, Norway. I met her on a trip to Norway a few years ago where, at the time, she had just finished creating a musical with at-risk youth that dealt with aspects climate change. I have been following her work from a distance since then, always delighted to listen to her haunting and richly textured songs. A gifted musician who plays mandolin, piano, guitar and banjo, Marte has performed in concert venues, cafés and smaller festivals in Oslo and as far north as Lofoten. Here, she tells us what drives her, why urgency must be accompanied with compassion, and why embracing the vulnerability of others is a source of hope.

Marte Røyeng© John Nordahl

What inspires you?

I often find inspiration in descriptions of a life that is different and more extreme than mine. When I feel like a stranger to what I am listening to, reading, or seeing, I feel the need to respond, and that response is usually a piece of music, or a song. For a while now I have been really drawn to dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction and films. I think what inspires me in these stories is that they often contain some kind of search for compassion. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is the strongest example I know of that kind of story. It is beautiful and horrible, and has become a point of reference for me. I want to bring some of that sense of human strength and vulnerability into what I do.

What can music do for climate change that other art forms cannot?

Music has a lot in common with other art forms, of course, but one defining feature is that it happens in time. It gives you something to react to, and then moves on. So what lingers, what resonates, what you find interesting or important is deeply personal. Music has many layers and it interacts with a complex mix of “materials” inside your mind: emotions, knowledge, memory, self-image, and culture. You pick up the song’s message, but you bring a lot of yourself, a lot of your own “material” to it. Music can be abstract and very open. In terms of climate change, it gives the opportunity to have a personal experience. I’ve written a song called “While You Can” which could bring to mind images of islands slowly being washed away by rising oceans. Or it could just as well be heard as a description of a relationship withering away – or even carry both meanings at the same time.

I really appreciate how music offers a mild and non-judgmental space for people to explore their own emotions. I like it when I listen to music and think “this is so important, I need to remember this.” And it is in part the music itself and in part my own personal “material” that brings out this sense of importance. The music and art project “Next to Now” is all about that. The words I sing can be direct and desperate, but the music softens them, or adds a question mark to them. When I make music and write lyrics about climate change, I try to balance the sense of urgency with the understanding that it is difficult and takes time. I don’t want to point fingers too much. My hope is that the songs become more open to many different listeners that way.

I know you often work with kids… Does your work with them influence your music?

The last time I worked with kids was on a theatre project called Black Sea / White Foam: The Little Mermaid, a collaboration between Scenelusa, America-based Experimental Theater Lab and Myers-Bowman Productions. Five teenage girls created and performed several versions of the fairy tale The Little Mermaid using experimental theatre techniques. Incorporating their thoughts on climate change into the performance was part of the project. In addition to making music for the pieces based on recordings of the girls’ own voices, my role was to give a few talks during rehearsals about different aspects of climate change. In these talks, I tried to stay close to the teenagers’ lives. I avoided exploring the issues from a too specific or political point of view, trying instead to give the girls a chance to check in on their own feelings and thoughts about climate change. We talked about things like responsibility, perception of time, and the relationship between us and nature. Listening to the discussions that followed the talks, and watching the performance itself (which was very emotional), I was struck by the blunt seriousness with which the teenagers treated the issue. It was sobering. I even felt a bit guilty as if I’m not serious enough about climate change myself. It still feels far away and unreal. But to them, it’s all very true. My impression is that young people look at their future with more stark realism than many adults do. Even though I’m less than ten years their senior, I haven’t grown up in the same way they have, listening to news that are becoming more and more dire.

What is the single most important thing artists can do to address climate change?

Artists are in a position to create works that act as reminders of something we perhaps already know: Every human being is part of a network that can make big things happen. Artists are really good at making hidden or forgotten connections visible, and at helping us overcome our feeling of being anonymous or insignificant by presenting alternative ways to view ourselves in the middle of our ongoing stories. They challenge our sense of responsibility. They hear and respond to our sense of being useless, of disappearing in the crowd, of being drowned out by stronger voices.

Speaking of making connections, I really support the idea that there is a lot of potential in collaborating with researchers and others working outside the art world. I am inspired by people like Heike Vester, who I met this summer in Lofoten, in Northern Norway. Heike is a biologist and the founder of a fantastic project called Ocean Sounds. She studies the vocal communication of whales and dolphins, using that knowledge to protect the marine ecosystem from harmful human impacts. Ocean Sounds lists Art Projects as one of their project aims, with the explanation that art can help bridge the gap between “dry” science and its audience and create deeper understanding. I admire Heike’s approach. Maybe artists need to be more actively on the lookout for collaboration opportunities?

What gives you hope?

Climate change is about equality and fairness and everyone having the right to a good life on a healthy planet. The fact that we can consciously choose between connection to, and rejection of, others gives me hope. It means that we can choose to care about people beyond those in our closest networks. It is so good to see growing movements of people who believe in the importance of looking after each other, not just one’s own interests. I am hopeful that more and more people will choose to embrace the vulnerability of others as well as their own.


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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Powered by WPeMatico

The Nature of Man

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

by Guest Blogger Mark A. Durstewitz

Featured Image: The Nature of Man poster

Madmen and Dreamers is a progressive rock band who writes, records, and performs original rock operas. Our first project, The Children of Children, enjoyed a limited run at the Bleecker Street Theater in New York City following its regional tour. The band, founded by Christine Hull and me, is raising funds for the tour of its new project, a climate change rock opera called The Nature of Man, written by Mario Renes, Christine, and me.

While we were touring The Children of Children, Mario, Chris and I began to talk about the next project. The environment was the obvious choice, but which aspect of climate change should we focus on? As writers are universally cruel to their characters we started tossing around worst case scenarios.

It didn’t take long to settle on water: the lynchpin of climate change and flash point of fracking and pollution. But… how to make this huge issue accessible to the audience?

While pondering that, Chris and I were invited to a WhyHunger fundraiser in New York City. We accepted to help a good cause. At the event, we found ourselves sitting with WhyHunger’s International Coordinator, Peter Mann and Aldous Huxley’s granddaughter, Tessa. I was seated at the right of Peter next to Ms. Huxley, and Chris was seated on Peter’s left.

While Ms. Huxley and I were talking, Chris told Peter about the project. He tapped me for the when of the story. I told him we’d set it 25 or so years in the future. He shook his head and said no, these problems were already underway. He invited us to meet in his office one night.

Mario and I met with Peter and a hydrological engineer named Greg. They laid out how much trouble we were in and supported it with a stack of data.

Basically, we’ve upset the planet’s hydrological cycle. Freshwater is evaporating as we raise the air temperature, leaving little for agriculture, animals, and humans. This causes conflicts and failed states. It’s a real mess.

And a number of large corporations are taking advantage of it. 

After the meeting we drove in silence, trying to take it in. The horror of the situation preempted any discussion of our story.

Being the one with some scientific training, I took the data and spread it out on the coffee table, highlighter in hand, and started to read. When Chris got up in the morning I was still there. She looked at the pile of data and asked how bad it was. I told her it was very bad and refused to comment further. I secreted the data in my office and began to ponder.

Any reasonable human being, carrying such knowledge about the survival of his species, is morally compelled to act. It would be monstrous to trash it all and party while waiting for the inevitable collapse. We all deserve a better fate than that meted out by the world’s industrial elite. This story must be told and it must be successful.

Our first attempt was released as the concept album Remembrance while we were running The Children of Children in NYC. We weren’t happy with it and we were torn between reworking it and moving on. Reworking it was a mammoth undertaking. The only way to get it right would be a series of readings with actors reading the lyrics (libretto) as characters. The reading isn’t the hard part, it’s the rewriting . . .

We talked seriously about dropping it, but . . . I have this friend with a lofty title at the United Nations and he would give me no peace. Every time we saw each other, he subjected me to an excruciatingly polite harangue about the importance of the story. He was seeing it play out on a global scale.

Then, on a certain night, I got home and Chris recounted a conversation she’d had with her acting coach. She’d brought her songs into class so they could work on the necessary emotions for each recording session. Maggie was of the same opinion as my friend at the UN. We both sighed and agreed that it was a story that desperately wanted to be told.

It’s about the last, clean freshwater aquifer in North America lying deep beneath the ground of Woodstock, NY., the farms that sit on top of it and use its water for agriculture, and the company who wants the water.

Could be happening anywhere in the world right now and, according to my friend at the UN, it is. But we added a few twists to the story (sorry, no spoilers). For starters, the woman who runs the farms (Sophia) and the man who owns the company (Geier) have history and it gets ugly quick.

When Sophia’s daughter, Demi, and her husband, Will, return from the desert west after The Great Los Angeles Fire, Sophia’s farm is a beautiful refuge from their dangerous and painful journey east. Green hills and rolling fields of crops greet them as Sophia tells them that her home is now their home.

What she doesn’t tell them however, is that Geier has his sights set on her land and the water beneath it. And he’ll stop at nothing to get it.

We are raising funds for the first leg of a college tour of The Nature of Man. Our aim is to involve the students in the production and bring in environmental groups to help get them organized and moving in defense of their future. If we leave every school with a dedicated group working on local problems, we can change our trajectory and move toward a future filled with hope.

Mark & ChrisMark & Chris


Mark A. Durstewitz lives in both the creative and technological worlds; the digital studio is his domain. He’s played keyboards for southern and progressive rock bands and has collaborated with fellow musicians, writing keyboard parts and lyrics during studio sessions. A published novelist who has also won awards for short stories, the nexus of music and storytelling is his home. His first rock opera; The Children of Children, garnered rave reviews and world-wide radio play.

Madmen and Dreamers’ blog can be found 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

Powered by WPeMatico

Theatre, Climate Change, and an Election Year

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Performance of Theater in Asylum’s The Debates: NY Primary Performance. Photo by Bailey Carr, 2016.

Different artists have different relationships to systems, particularly political systems. To me, as an artist seeking to illuminate the flawed status quo and to offer space for alternative futures, confronting political issues is a given. The political realm has been at the forefront of my thinking for the past year, as the U.S. wades through a divisive election season. As time counts down to Election Day, I have been reflecting on the trajectory of this campaign cycle, and how the political issues that I care deeply about have or have not been addressed in the public sphere.

Earlier this year, during the United States Primary Elections and about two-hundred days before the 2016 United States General Election, I assisted NYC-based theatre company Theater in Asylum on their adaptation of the Democratic Primary Debates for the stage. Their production, The Debates: Democratic Primaries Performance, sought to illuminate the characters of the 2016 Democratic candidates for President, and to dissect their political histories. The production did not show bias for or against any candidate, and was intent on empowering audiences to cast conscious votes. As a creator on the show, I myself was reinvigorated in the U.S. political process and in collaborative play-making.

The events of this summer and early fall – from Brexit, and war in the Middle East, to protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline – proved challenging. Why now? Political and social unrest is not new to human history. The development of technology in the past decades has increased how much and how quickly coverage of world events is circulated. This includes the leakage of information on both the major-party candidates here in the U.S. This unprecedented degree of media coverage has led to what Peter Pomerantsev terms “a ‘post-fact’ or ‘post-truth’ world,” in his essay “Why We’re Post-Fact.” Pomerantsev’s notion resonates with me and my concerns around climate change, as he goes on to describe this world: “Not merely a world where politicians and media lie – they have always lied – but one where they don’t care whether they tell the truth or not.”

What I find doubly troubling about this “post-fact” world is Pomerantsev’s explanation of how the lies play out in our everyday lives, with search-engine algorithms collating website searches and clicks to target and confirm existing biases. This also happens on social media, which Pomerantsev depicts as “echo chambers of similar-minded people, feeding us only the things that make us feel better, whether they are true or not.” As someone who relies on social media to stay in touch and spread word about projects important to me, this framing of social media is tricky but useful. As a theatre-maker, I see the possibilities in social media to attract audiences through a direct appeal to their emotions, in the way that social media sites can craft narratives. But I recognize the limitations of such stories, and the nature of their relative truth. Stories through social media can dangerously paint one-sided perspectives. Social media is just a tool, a tool among many. Another tool I am interested in wielding is directly connecting to the beast of the political system itself.

About fifty days before the Election, I moderated a HowlRound Twitter Chat on “Theatre in the Age of Climate Change in an Election Year.” Artists tweeted their questions, concerns, and suggestions around tackling the topic of politics within the context of theatre that addresses climate change. Participants via Twitter ruminated on the challenge to send messages through the form of theatre without alienating audiences. Others expressed feelings of overwhelm around the world of politics itself. One recent concrete example of reaching politicians comes from a New York University student from Montreal, who confronted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while he was visiting New York earlier this fall. In an exchange caught on video, this student asked the political leader “‘Will you reject the Kinder Morgan pipeline?,’” a British Columbia tar sands project, proposed by Texas-based company, Kinder Morgan. This student took direct, courageous action to engage a politician, if only for a moment. I cannot help but hope that instances like this, of undeniable human interaction, are what will change our world for the better.

debates-general-logo4Poster for Theater in Asylum’s The Debates. Design by Ran Xia, 2016.

About fifteen days before the Election, I began rehearsals with Theater in Asylum on the continuation of their Debates project, The Debates: General Election Performance. The two-week rehearsal process commenced after all of the General Election Debates had taken place, so we had to prepare for scenes quicker than ever before. The condensed timeline for this project also highlighted where my interests lie, including my interest in using theatre to craft alternate realities. In an alternate reality, climate is regularly on our political leaders’ radars. Journalists both in the U.S. and abroad have noted the lack of attention on climate issues by the two major-party candidates over the past year. Being in a rehearsal room with collaborators on The Debates has provided necessary space to decompress from the absurd topics that are being covered in this campaign season, and to brainstorm what we can make of it all.

In the final days before the Election, I am ambivalent about the outcome. I anticipate I am not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the outpouring of media content throughout this campaign, especially around what he said or what she did. And as “facts” in our society become more relative, the more surreal the circumstances feel. The more surreal our political systems appear, the more we need each other – the stories, the human voices, the feelings we can share with other humans – as these elements will keep us tied to who and where we are, and avoid being sucked into the magnetic vortex that is the polarizing political candidates before us. I am not proposing we all disengage from the political process, not at all. I am propelling the opposite: that we join as communities to speak out about our dissatisfaction, about our disillusionment around our political processes, in order that we might surpass the surreality that is now overwhelming the airwaves. In an age of climate change, this is especially necessary, if humans are to continue living on this planet. On a smaller scale, coming together to engage politically is a necessity because – in a political system like that in the U.S. – decisions are made in local or national governments that impact individuals’ everyday lives. I do not know what the outcome of this election will be. Regardless of who wins, the shape of American politics has shifted. I am hopeful that we – artists, activists, citizens – can continue a shift in a direction towards more sustainable alternatives, in political and social circumstances.

14560051_1340141442685282_9015114395964112029_oRehearsal for Theater in Asylum’s The Debates: General Election Performance. Photo courtesy of Theater in Asylum, 2016.

Take Action
Want to check United States Congresspeople on their entanglement with fossil fuel money? Learn more and sign a petition encouraging Congressional candidates to reject funding from fossil fuel companies.




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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Powered by WPeMatico

Building into Water

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

by Guest Blogger Lisa Reindorf

Hurricane Matthew blew into Florida the same night as my exhibit “Building into Water” opened at Galatea Gallery in Boston. The installation, consisting of aerial view paintings, is an interpretation of the coastal ecosystems of Florida.

The aftermath of the storm demonstrated the very issues that I was depicting in my work – the clashes between building and nature that are exacerbated by climate change. Climate change has resulted in floods, waves, and winds that inundate infrastructure and wash away beaches, land, and buildings.

The art that I find most intriguing involves artists confronting social, political, and economic issues. I’ve been an architect, artist, and teacher and I put a lot of thought into why we do things and what is the meaning of our work. My art has been concerned with architectural structures and systems, and their intervention in the natural world. Formally, a grid system is often overlaid with free flowing organic shapes.

Content-wise, I’ve begun focusing on climate change because it is vital to our planet’s survival. As an architect, I dealt with creating structures and considering their impact on the land. My practice has been to minimize negative effects, emphasizing energy conservation and utilizing the land and natural systems in a beneficial manner, such as siting to maximize daylight, reusing water, and minimizing disruption of ecosystems. Now that I am a full time artist, I’ve taken some of these ideas into my artwork.

Artists have a long history of landscape painting, but I wanted to explore current human impact on the land. Land is being drastically reshaped by human intervention and affected by climate change. My work visually addresses the inherent conflict of built infrastructure and ecosystems. Natural systems that have been disturbed by the expansion of man-made structures apply counter-pressure in response to disturbances. In other words, man intrudes into nature and nature strikes back.

Sand, Sludge and Sea

In these aerial views, I depict some aspects of this conflict and its confluence with climate change. By building into natural habitats, we interrupt ecosystems, pollute water, put carbon into the environment, and raise temperatures. Nature responds with storms, flooding, and rising tides. Rampant development has invaded and distorted that natural land formation and the systems that keep it healthy.

I begin by looking at aerial views of coastal areas and maps of cities. While these are my inspiration, the works are visual imaginative interpretations. Each piece portrays a specific issue. I decide on the scale, where some areas are zoomed in close and others depict a larger landscape. These square panels are in multiples that can be recombined and reoriented so that it is a general rather than specific interpretation and viewers can create their own narrative.

Florida Aerial View

Paintings such as Toxic Green and Algae Bloom look at the redirection of natural waterways and polluted aquifers that result in toxic algae blooms. Here, neon green shapes bloom in aqua waters. Sand, Sludge and Sea concern runoffs that contribute to sludge, and sandbars that block natural waterways and reshape land.

The rising sea level and increasing tides that are a result climate change are shown in Florida City Aerial View, where the grid and system of cities face encroaching water and eroding shores. In the pieces Third Wave and After the Storm, man-made islands in vibrant colors of neon pink and day-glow orange project into the ocean, connected by long causeways. They are extremely vulnerable to weather events. Tidal Wave and Tsunami depict strong storms and sea water that inundate the structure of the city. In all these pieces, a systematic structure confronts free flowing organic shapes.

Tidal Wave

Why did I focus on Florida? Florida is literally ground zero for the United States and climate change. Florida’s east coast ranks as the region’s most vulnerable to sea-level rise. Just this week, Hillary Clinton and Al Gore devoted a speech to climate change, which they presented in Miami. They discussed the science behind climate change and concomitant issues such as rising tides and storms.

As the recent hurricane demonstrated, rising sea levels and storm surges inundate cities during major storms. What happens in Florida is just a precursor of what will happen to our coastal areas. Focusing on this issue is particularly important as some politicians even deny the existence of climate change, not to mention its drastic effect on our land.

My intention is not to lecture but to stimulate thought. Artists have a long tradition of exploring the landscape, environment, and planet we live on. We can interpret scientific data and information in ways that are accessible to the public. My hope is to communicate to the audience the urgency of the global climate challenge.

See the article in the October issue of Artscope Magazine for more information.


Lisa Reindorf is known for her vibrant mixed media works of architecture and landscapes. The color sensibility is influenced by time spent in Mexico in a community of artists. She has a BA in Design of the Environment from the University of Pennsylvania and received her MA from Columbia University. She was also an instructor at RISD. She is represented by Galatea Gallery in Boston, and has exhibited extensively in NY, California, Mexico and Europe.



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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Powered by WPeMatico

The Making of “Concert Climat:” A Tale of Words and Music

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

By Guest Blogger Joseph Makholm

Revelations don’t come very often, but when they do your head is never quite the same.

In the fall of 2014, a revelation came to me in the form of Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything. It confirmed what I suspected to be true about climate change, which is that no attempt to deal with it can succeed without challenging the economic system that created the problem and brought us to where we are today. Science, politics, economics, culture all had to be considered at once if there were any hope of confronting this potential apocalyse.

Her thesis is logically and brilliantly argued, and a pleasure to read. It reminded me of two other books, among many I’ve read over the past decade, which are revelations in their own right. Whereas Ms Klein’s book considers climate change through an economic and political lens, Bill McKibben’s Eaarth examines it from a cultural orientation, and Dr James Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren from a scientific perspective. Taken together, they’re an impressive trio.

I’m not a scientist, not a journalist. I’m a musician – composer, pianist and trombonist, specializing primarily in jazz. There are lots of trios in music, and, for a composer, just the idea of something in three parts can be an inspiration. I noticed an interesting three-part structure in Eaarth/This Changes Everything/Storms of My Grandchildren, with the middle section a sort of fast movement vis-à-vis the other two. Medium? Symphony, or sonata, or song cycle? That would work itself out. The real dilemma was how to adapt a book on current affairs into a piece of music.

What I did have was a potential deadline. The international climate conference COP21 was taking place here in Paris in November/December 2015. It would be great to premiere a piece during the conference, but by the time I got down to really thinking about it, it was only six months away. With that time frame the simplest option would be my own jazz ensemble, the Paris Jazz Repertory Quintet (PJRQ), whose repertoire is oriented toward classic compositions from the hard bop era.

I made a few phone calls to people whom I thought might have some influence, some useful suggestions. Nothing came of it, and the summer was spent on other projects.

Then, in late September I happened to be at the Sunside, one of Paris’ major jazz clubs – the PJRQ has played there often – and I asked the owner, in an offhand remark, what he thought of a climate concert during COP. His response: “Sound’s great. Send me a proposal by email.”

Oh, shit! Now I’ve got to do it, and I only have two months.

The first thing was I knew we’d have to expand the ensemble. The quintet already had excellent soloists and a fine rhythm section, but this sort of project would need a broader orchestral pallette. Two additional horns would do it, and fortunately my first choices – trombonist and second saxophonist – were both available. We were now the Paris Jazz Repertory Septet.

But I still had to tackle this book adaptation thing. I knew I wouldn’t have to reread the books in full, but I would have to dig in to find ideas, phrases, images that were evocative musically.

First in line was Eaarth, and the book’s central premise – and it’s title – was a workable point of departure. McKibben argues that the planet we now inhabit is not the same as the one we knew during millenia of human development. The stable, welcoming, nurturing world that brought about the flourishing of human culture has already become a harder and less accommodating planet, the result of a relentless exploitation of natural resources, industrialization, and the like. For us as a species, our earth is now a different place, i. e. “Eaarth.”

The dichotomy could become the basis of a balanced musical narrative: the reality of the new planet/memories of our former world. I couldn’t resist the double-A in McKibben’s title. The opening uses those two notes as a bowed ostinato in the contrabass beneath a procession of stark, dense chords in the brass. An anguished melody in the alto saxophone – improvised – emerges from the other horns in response to threatening gestures from the percussion.

The piano, absent in the opening, is the vehicle for an over-the-shoulder glance at what used to be. The dark A-minor harmony suddenly becomes a bright, colorful E-major – again from the title – with a warm, Ellingtonian richness. But it’s only a momentary reverie that can’t reverse the inevitability of the inhospitable new planet Eaarth.

This became the first section of “Eaarth.” I could continue with a detailed account of the words to music process, but there isn’t the space here. Suffice it to say that the full program of “Eaarth” would ultimately follow a three-section narrative:

1.  The New Planet, and Memories of Our Former World

2.  Nature Pushes Back
Melting Ice Caps—Rising Oceans
Drought—Crop Failure
Migration—Resource Wars

3.  Surviving, Not Thriving
Memories of Our Former World (reprise)
A Durable, Stable, Robust Future
The New Planet (reprise).

To give a sense of scale, each of the subsections in the text is a separate jazz theme – six in all – which are connected with transitional passages. The entire suite is 45-55 minutes in length without a break.

The second suite, “This Changes Everything,” came together in much the same way, and was finished only ten days before the premiere. It had become clear a couple of weeks earlier that I’d never get around to composing the third suite, but that was fine. The music had grown into something much bigger than originally planned, and we already had enough material for a full concert.

The unfinished “Concert Climat” was premiered at the Sunside/Sunset on 1 December, shortly after COP21 opened in Paris. The house was full, and the reaction from the audience was, to say the least, positive. Next step was to complete the third suite, “Storms of My Grandchildren,” and arrange for a performance of the full trilogy. That took place in Paris on a rainy Sunday afternoon in late May. The concert lasted four hours, and the room was full from start to finish. (Video clips from the May concert are available via this link.)

The piece is scheduled to be played again by the PJR7 at the Sunside in three separate concerts this season beginning on 13 November, each concert focusing on one of the three suites. Full details are available at the club’s website as well as our own Concert Climat website.


Jazz pianist/trombonist and composer Joseph Makholm has been active in Paris since 1982.  He currently teaches composition at the Bill Evans Piano Academy. Much of Makholm’s music draws on the rhythmic and harmonic character of modern jazz.  His “Three Impressions for Solo Piano” is listed on the syllabus of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in the United Kingdom. In the spring of 2013 “Five In One (Monk’s Moods),” a symphonic portrait of Thelonious Monk was premiered by the Turning Point Ensemble in Vancouver, Canada. He performs regularly in small groups and with the Paris Jazz Repertory Quintet.


Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Filed under: Guest Blog Series, Music


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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Powered by WPeMatico

Going Up: Climate Change + Philadelphia

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

By Guest Blogger Christina Catanese

Featured Image: River print (detail) by Kaitlin Pomerantz & John Heron.

In Going Up: Climate Change + Philadelphia, eight artists from around the country – Daniel Crawford, Lorrie Fredette, Jim Frazer, Eve Mosher, Jill Pelto, Kaitlin Pomerantz and John Heron, and Michelle Wilson – explore the future of a hotter, wetter Philadelphia.

Several of the artists use data as a point of departure, and others suggest imaginative ways of thinking about problems and solutions, even considering the responsibility of art to reduce its own carbon footprint. The gallery contains artwork made for indoor display as well as pieces that document social practice or conceptual art that happened outside the gallery or studio, less focused on the product than the process. Many help us to notice our surroundings more closely, observing the small and incremental changes around us that track global change.

Going Up opened on September 24th at the Schuylkill Center, and runs through December 2016.

Artist duo Kaitlin Pomerantz & John Heron explored waste and water pollution, presenting an imaginative way to think about the problem and potential solutions.  They created handmade paper works they call river prints during a residency at Recycled Artists in Residence, a program which gives artists access to the waste stream at a Northeast Philadelphia recycling facility.  The fourteen-foot-long piece in our gallery was made from discarded paper and denim, and then dipped into a polluted estuary in the Delaware watershed, drawing up oils and residues from the water surface to “print” on the surface of the paper.  Pomerantz writes, “Though I wouldn’t venture to say that our river prints did anything real in the way of remediation, for me, they began to suggest new ways of thinking about how to act on the messes we’ve made of our planet’s water…Our river prints project got me thinking about the value in making people actually see pollution, as a way to spur more conversations about new ideas in remediation.”  These artists also raise the question of the responsibility of art to reduce its own carbon footprint – their work is created entirely from found materials with no new art products needed.

Other artists in Going Up are interpreting dimensions of climate change related to health, biodiversity, water, waste, and food – encompassing of a broad range of kinds of climate change impacts.

Daniel Crawford created a string quartet composition from climate change data that uses music to highlight the places where climate is changing most rapidly.  In Planetary Bands, Warming World, each note represents the average temperature of a single year of four regions of the globe, demonstrating change over time and inspiring listeners to use different senses to understand these warmer years.

Lorrie Fredette presents a ceramic installation responding to Lyme disease, which is projected to spread as climate change increases the range of suitable tick habitat. Made up of 685 individual ceramic pieces referencing the form of the Lyme disease bacteria, the shape of the installation responds to the shape of the Schuylkill Center’s zip code, one of the highest incidences of Lyme in Philadelphia.

13x19 – Jim Frazer, Glyph 16

13×19 – Glyph 16 by Jim Frazer

Jim Frazer’s paper works are derived from bark beetle chewing patterns, an issue for forests which is expected to increase with a warming climate.

Jill Pelto uses climate change data as a point of departure for her watercolor works to communicate scientific research visually.  In addition to three works exploring global trends, Pelto created a new work for Going Up interpreting four sea level rise scenarios for Philadelphia.

Eve Mosher’s High Water Line (in Philadelphia and other cities) engaged communities with local issues of sea level rise and flooding. In 2014, Eve Mosher used surveyor’s chalk to mark ten feet of storm surge, the level to which water would rise in particular Philadelphia neighborhoods under certain climate forecasts.

Michelle Wilson’s Carbon Corpus project explores the implications of individual food choices for global climate change. A conceptual project, she shows a video documenting the project along with an 8.5 foot cube, which occupies the space that 35 kilograms of CO2 takes up in the atmosphere, the amount saved by eating a vegan diet for one week.

Landscape of Change by Jill Pelto.

Landscape of Change by Jill Pelto.

Dichotomies of scale pervade the gallery space. The colors and forms of the works, though, have a quietness and subtlety to them. In this way they are analogous to climate change itself: massive in scale but local in effect; happening gradually yet creeping up on us; a dominant presence, yet allowing us to move through and around it without making much of a change to the path we are on, at least for the present.

The show’s title references this trajectory along with scientific trends which often point in a terrifying upward direction. Yet, in invoking rising movement, we also pull hope into the climate change conversation. Climate change doesn’t only present challenges and doom-and-gloom scenarios, but also opportunities for innovative solutions, cooperation on an unprecedented scale, perhaps even a more sustainable and equitable society. These eight artists turn our focus both inward, toward the impacts in our own lives and communities, and upward, toward what we can do about them.

High Water Line

Eve Mosher and assistants draw the High Water Line in Northeast Philadelphia.

In 2014, Zadie Smith wrote on climate change that, “In the end, the only thing that could create the necessary traction in our minds was the intimate loss of the things we loved.” Art can be an anchor for this traction. Though art about climate change often contains elements of loss, the end result somehow feels more optimistic. Smith continues, “I found my mind finally beginning to turn from the elegiac what have we done to the practical what can we do.” Artists today have the unique potential to help more minds make this same, critical turn.

Together, the artists in Going Up have created a new avenue into the tangled knot of climate change. Instead of bombarding us with data, the information is transformed into beauty, into innovative communications and evocative images that stand in their own right as works of art, but which also invite the visitor to understand our warming world in new, personal ways.

Going Up is supported in part by a grant from CUSP – the Climate & Urban Systems Partnership, a group of informal science educators, climate scientists, learning scientists and community partners in four Northeast U.S. cities, funded by the National Science Foundation to explore innovative ways to educate city residents about climate change.


Christina Catanese is the Director of Environmental Art at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.  Founded in 1965, the Schuylkill Center is one of the first urban environmental education centers in the country, with 340 acres of fields, forests, ponds, and streams in northwest Philadelphia. We work through four core program areas: environmental education, environmental art, land stewardship, and wildlife rehabilitation. The environmental art program incites curiosity and sparks awareness of the natural environment through presentations of outdoor and indoor art.



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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Powered by WPeMatico

The Carbon Lab – An Anthropocene Conversation Between Artists

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

by Guest Blogger Dr Carol Birrell

She was a tiny clot of earth, a nano particle of something finer than clay, finer than silt, but soil nonetheless. She was ancient with memory rushing though gills, feather, bone and gullet. She rubbed against scales, swallowed spore of dinosaur plants, arctic tundra and Devonian rocks. The ingestion of millions of earth years all held in one big watery sponge of memory. It adhered to her, refused to let go, to be absorbed by some other fleeting jolt of reality. It would not dissolve in those acidic depths, nor would it break up or break down. It just remained. It was the taste of infinity that knew no definitions between plant or animal, organic and inorganic, human or non-human. Her hair turned copper red, her skin became dark brown leather, creased at the edges of dreams, slipping in and out of viruses, bacteria and the DNA of a million frozen glaciers. She had become that, and all, a cosmic conflagration.

I am an artist, writer, and researcher who has always held a deep fascination with bogs: peat bogs. In Alaska in 2015, on a Writers Fellowship through the Island Institute, I was in a thick boreal forest late afternoon when the sun’s rays hit spots on stumps, branches, trunks, and leaves. The light was riveting as it seemed to illuminate those spaces from within. That moment encapsulated for me the moment of carbon capture and I was hooked into something.


Since then, I have pursued my interest and lack of knowledge about the carbon cycle. I want to understand how/why carbon is captured, stored, and released in a story of transformation from organic matter to inorganic mineral (peat, lignite, coal, graphite, diamond, and many in-between). In these Anthropocene times where concrete evidence of indelible human impact on the planet’s life systems has been acknowledged, carbon, the element, has become demonised. It is one of the major greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. I am keen to develop my own relationship and insight into this crucial life force. I look to the intersection of the arts and ecology as a way of deepening into my embeddedness with the earth, and as a means to make sense of these times. I trust the arts and creativity as a way of knowing, and I wanted to work with a group of artists to open new possibilities.

The project began with an invite for a gathering of an open group of artists, working across various arts modalities, such as writers, visual artists, poets, printers, photographers, story tellers, dancers, musicians, performance artists, all interested in the story of carbon, and working on one particular place: a peat bog on mainland Australia. This peat bog, a glacial relic, is estimated to be at least 20,000 years old and has been strongly disrupted from its trajectory by humans and domesticated animals, yet still survives, albeit in tattered form.


The type of questions I was hoping to explore were: What can this peat bog teach us? How can our own arts practice speak of the bog? What are the stories that emerge from this place? What might it mean to share the stories of this place and our art work in a series of conversations both private and public? How does our relationship with and our understanding of carbon and the earth itself develop through this process? Is it possible for humans to develop an understanding of Deep Time through the process of engaging with an ancient bog?

The idea was for people to go to the bog independently and develop their own arts response to it, then come together on a regular basis to share those responses, tease out ideas, see the art work in progress, and create a dialogue between artists, known collectively and fondly, as Bog Rats. A Secret Facebook page was established as a platform for people to share their work and ideas. ‘Secret’ because the bog is not legally accessible, hence this artistic work requires boldness and risk, just as we humans living in the Anthropocene need to think and act in a disruptive fashion in order to forge new relationship with the earth. The possibility has been raised of a podcast, or documentary and presentations at conferences, or an art exhibition. We were also hoping to grow the project so people living in other countries could be part of their own carbon lab and share ideas across the globe.


So far, we have had 30 or so artists express interest and embark on their own art work, as well as a public performance story telling group offering to be part of this work in re-telling and re-enacting our stories. We have had several meetings full of showing, sharing and asking questions. The dialogue is always rich and alive. When an artist speaks from her/his voice, I am exposed to a different way of knowing expressed through their particular arts modality, and it makes me see and understand things differently. Like the bog, I ingest new layers of sediment, swirl them around together, then something settles in me for a time of waiting, to emerge, who knows when, as a new articulation.

I want to speak to some of the work that has emerged so far through my art: I have written four short pieces, a few poems, taken photos of the bog in golden light, of human presence insinuating itself into bog life, played with bog art using bog mud on paper, and tasted bog mud, bog plants. Finally, I have smeared my body with bog mud in an echo of ‘Bog Man’ stories of preservation. I have dreamt about the bog…


The ideas that are coming to me for further work concern the seeming surface stillness versus the seething mass of movement of sediment in water throughout the under layers of the bog; how my concept of time alters in dialogue with bog time/carbon time; the notion of a state of equipoise or suspended animation as regards the ‘hold’ on life the bog has – it reminds me of hibernation – when the normal process of life has been intercepted, so that decay, the natural process we associate with death, is held at bay or deferred; and the curious transition from organic to inorganic states.

What I thought to be a relatively short-term project (six months) is now looking like a few years. If you would like to be part of this project, begin your own or converse with other ‘Bog Rats’, contact me via


Dr Carol Birrell is an artist, researcher, and writer. She has taught in universities and schools, is passionate about the intersection between ecology and the arts, and Indigenous knowledge systems. Her land-based art practice, developed over 20 years, called Touching the Earth, is a dialogue with the earth. Carol knows, as part of her Climate Change work, she needs to urgently spend time in Greenland listening to glaciers melt, and in the Arctic Circle responding to permafrost thawing. You can FB Friend her at Carol Birrell where she may allow you to join the Secret Group of Carbon Laboratory.


Follow on Facebook and Twitter.



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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Powered by WPeMatico

What We Talk About When We Talk About Climate Change

Featured Image: Members of the Tidelines Ferry Tour from left to right: Hoonah high schoolers Cecilia George and Mary Jack, artists Heather Powell, Michelle Kuen Suet Fung, Chantal Bilodeau, and Allison Warden at the ferry terminal in Ketchikan. Photo by Peter Bradley.

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

by Guest Blogger Peter Bradley

This article originally appeared in the Capital City Weekly, June 22, 2016.

We were at the Fish House in Ketchikan early in April, talking about climate; the room was full and the conversation was lively. Outside, the berries were blooming and the snow was gone. Ketchikan was the third stop of the Tidelines Journey, a nine-town ferry tour organized through my work at the Island Institute, a Sitka based nonprofit dedicated to fostering resilience by promoting creative, collaborative explorations of the connections between place and community. I was traveling for the month with a group of storytellers, artists, and culture bearers, all of us working in our own ways to better understand the relationship between the changing climate and our changing cultures. A week into the tour it was becoming clear that other people in Southeast Alaska are as preoccupied with climate change as I am.

For my entire adult life there’s been an environmental alarm in the background of my consciousness, sometimes faint, sometimes loud, but always buzzing away. I’ve come of age alongside our society’s growing recognition of climate change, and I think about it every day. I’ve heard people compare that feeling to what they experienced during the Cold War — a looming threat of global proportions far beyond their control or even the daily experience of any individual. The ferry tour was a way to step back from the distancing global perspective of climate change — the unprecedented environmental disasters, the ugly politics, the terrifying forecasts — to try to capture the Alaskan perspective on the ground.

Toward that end, we hosted conversations in nine coastal communities on the ferry network. We asked people to share observations about changes they’ve seen in the land, what they expect to see in the future, and what climate change means to them. We were excited to have these conversations because of the incredible eloquence of Alaskans when it comes to describing the natural world. As much of the country and world has gone through rapid urbanization and domestication, many Alaskans remain attached to seasonal rhythms, taking direction from seasonal cues and activities, engaging with wildness as a daily practice.

Tidelines Ferry Tour (2)

Allison Warden speak with three classrooms of students at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School in Juneau as her rap persona, Aku-Matu. Photo by Simone Machamer.

We believe that the world needs to hear those sorts of perspectives, and all of that knowledge and experience made for expansive conversations on our ferry tour. What we learned is that when Alaskans talk about climate change, there isn’t much that we don’t talk about. We talk about migration and exodus, blueberries and cedar, carbon and nitrogen. We talk about the snow-melt and the spawning salmon. We talk about higher tides, glacial rebound, and green mountaintops. We talk about forest fires and algal blooms and seabird starvation. We talk about steamer clams and the red tide and the forced decline of longstanding subsistence practices. We talk about jobs and lifestyles, about dependence and independence, about war and collapse and expansion and contraction and carrying capacity and our capacity for caring, about unpredictability and the difficulty of adaptation. We talk about winning and losing. We talk about grandparents and grandchildren. We talk about language and the words we won’t need or will need more than ever.

As the tour continued, we came to realize that most of us don’t have the scientific tools to differentiate between climate-related changes and the other forms of environmental imbalance that we’re witnessing. That’s why when we talk about climate change, we can’t help but talk about seals loaded with lead, about wastewater from cruise ships, tailings from mines, and coastlines riddled with trash from around the world. We talk about how mountain lions have arrived on Kupreanof Island as a result of moose arriving as a result of willow growing as a result of humans logging. We talk about science, but we also talk about storytelling, about tradition and about technology, about responsibility, and about regret.

As the tour unfolded, the conversations about climate change started to feel more and more like conversations about the values of Alaskans. We learned that the forces that have defined Alaska’s financial growth and expansion in recent decades are not the forces that define Alaskans as people.

At the Public Library in Petersburg, at the Salvation Army in Kake, at the Elks Lodge in Wrangell, and at the Center For Coastal Studies in Homer, we heard a great yearning to maintain the connection to the land that defines us as Alaskans. We heard people express that disconnection from nature and the unwilding of humanity have sparked climate change among a suite of other social ills. We heard people talk about finding hope in the idea of committing to ancient strategies and technique in the modern world. We heard the idea that culture and language grow out of place, and that within a language are keys to long-studied ways of living rightly in a place. We heard that intergenerational knowledge, communal wisdom, and hard-earned intuition capture more of the spirit of a place than technology can, and we heard that respecting the land as a vast, uncontrollable, and powerful entity is an essential part of moving forward.

Tidelines Ferry Tour (3)

Weaver Teri Rofkar and her husband Denny on the ferry between Juneau and Kodiak.

As a state, Alaska is reeling from the collapse of oil and coming to terms with the precariousness of our financially dependent relationship on this extractive industry. As people, however, Alaskans are reeling from the idea of collapse of the ecosystems on which our well-being and chosen lifestyles depend, coming to terms with the precariousness of our reciprocal relationships with the rich web of life.

As people the world over try to understand the implications of a warming world, Alaskans have an opportunity to share our knowledge about the wealth of the world around us, and the importance of establishing and maintaining sustainable practices that honor the earth. The world needs to hear the voices of people whose daily practice includes measured, close observation of the patterns and movements of the vast ecosystems they are part of.

Often, people feel small, insubstantial, and vulnerable in the context of climate change.

We’re used to that combination here, though it comes in a different form: awe. It’s a breathless feeling of tininess that we can experience standing atop a mountain, or rocking in heavy swell, or interacting with a bear. At our final event of the tour, at the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies in Homer, we asked people to share their stories of awe. Those stories of humble respect for the whims of the wild seem essential as we come to terms with climate change and talk about the damage that humanity has wrought by trying to tame and control the planet.

Tidelines Ferry Tour (3)

A beautiful scenery seen from the ferry during the Tour. Photo by Chantal Bilodeau.

At the Island Institute, we’re working to find more ways to gather the knowledge that Alaskans have about climate change, and share it among Alaskan communities and with the wider world. Our next step is to create a radio and podcast series. Through these stories, we hope to inspire our listeners with the lives of the adaptive people and species that will continue to have a close relationship to the land in the midst of change. We also hope to catalyze a larger commitment toward becoming more engaged participants in, and observers of, the broader natural world around us.

We’d like to hear from you. If you’re interested in sharing your perspective, observations, or ideas about what climate change means for you or for Alaska, please or write to Island Institute / PO Box 2420 / Sitka, AK 99835.


Peter Bradley is the Executive Director of the Island Institute, a Sitka based non-profit which runs a variety of artist residency programs, community conversations, and storytelling events, along with the Sitka Story Lab, a creative writing and storytelling program for youth. You can reach the Island Institute by emailing, writing to PO Box 2420 / Sitka, AK 99835, or calling 907-747-3794.


Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Filed under: Editorial, Guest Blog Series


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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Powered by WPeMatico