Artists and Climate Change

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Biomorphic Shapes and Mutations

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Mutation, 100 x 80 x 65. Colored wrapping paper and recycled materials.

I was born in 1974 in Romania to Greek immigrant parents. In 1980, my family was repatriated, and since then I have lived and worked in Serres, Greece. Serres is a small city with a population of around 100,000 inhabitants, located in the northern part of the country, eighty kilometers away from Thessaloniki. I live here with my wife and our two children in a house with a rather large yard, where I also have my studio. I feel fortunate since this arrangement allows me to easily divide my time between my family and my sculpting work. Having my studio next to the place where I live is essential to me. It is part of the normal flow of my life; I grew up in a ceramics studio working with my father, a visual artist himself, who often resorted to the study of nature to get ideas for his ceramic creations. I believe it was then that the idea of observing nature from a different perspective was unconsciously planted in me. It has compelled me to continue to observe the natural environment to this day, as well as the changes that occur in it.

This idea remained with me when I enrolled in the School of Sculpting Art, located on the island of Tinos, to study classical marble sculpture. After my graduation in 2001, I received a scholarship to continue my studies at the University of Athens’ School of Fine Arts. While studying there, I was fortunate to have exceptional and inspiring teachers like Theodoros Papayannis. It was also there, because I had to meet a series of requirements from the faculty, that I begun to consciously recognize nature as a storage of ideas. This marked the beginning of the creation of my first organic forms. I draw elements from the natural environment (plants, cocoons, fruits, living organisms), as well as from industrial materials and residues from our contemporary world. Then, through a variety of optical angles, I observe, conceive, and finally proceed to the fabrication of my “biomorphic forms.” Yet, although my work derives from an observation of the natural world, I try to avoid the representational mode. Instead, I strive to give new substance to my creations; an entirely new identity.Today, my efforts have moved towards expressing my growing unease about the genetic mutations that organisms must undergo in order to adapt to the constant technological changes of modern environments (i.e., genetically modified organisms, genetic pollution, technically mutant products, etc.). It is this feelings that gave rise to the series “Mutations” which, as described by art critics, is concerned with “foreshadowing mutations of organisms in a dystopian post-industrial era.”

Mutation, 80 x 80 x 75. Colored wrapping paper and recycled materials.

Drawing is almost always my starting point. My drawings continue to shape my work. However, when I move to other mediums, I don’t totally subject the work to the guidance of the initial drawings. Instead, I let the particularities of any medium lead me to new forms during the process towards completion.I wish to constantly challenge my audience. In fact, I hope that the people who see my sculptures learn to decode the complexity of the shapes I put before them through their own personal and subjective prisms. I don’t want to compliment viewers – to allow them to be passive. I like to challenge them to reflect on their choices and responsibilities within the living spaces of their actions. As the Greek critic Athina Schina remarks, it is in such a manner that viewers become better able to decode the “micro” or “mega” worlds that surround and besiege them.The works in my new series are made using white clay as the sole material. This natural, white matter, flexible yet also fragile, frees me from any compromises and limitations, thus avoiding the rather ephemeral nature typical of my previous works.

My new series titled “Findings” evolved from the previous series titled “Mutations,” which consists of works created using colored wrapping paper, as well as recycled cheap materials such as plastic, rubber, cartons and newspapers.

Finding (pottery white clay), 72x75x60. 

To conclude this brief self-presentation, I should note that it is not at all easy to pursue my artistic ambitions while living in Greece. We are in the middle of a difficult and grim financial crisis, where anything related to art is considered a luxury, and therefore expendable. However, I should also note that artists in Greece experienced a cultural crisis long before the advent of the economic one. I feel that new artists need to be freshly motivated. Most artists in Greece are unable to meet their basic living needs through their work alone. People interested in buying artworks are fewer and fewer and as a result, the number of galleries and art houses is dramatically dwindling.To many, it may sound strange that in such a discouraging socio-cultural and economic context, there are still people who talk about and value artistic creativity. Yet I make a concerted effort to remain optimistic, and hope that this plight will not prove detrimental to artistic inspiration in general. It is with such a hope that I prepare for a new exhibition of my recent work. It is going take place at the end of March at the exquisite ALMA Contemporary Art Gallery in Athens.

______________________________

Aris Katsilakis teaches Plastic and Pottery in the Department of Interior Architecture, Interior Design and Drawing Objects in the Technological Educational Institution of Serres, Greece. His work has been shown in some of the most influential galleries: He has presented solo exhibitions at Kalos & Klio Showroom (Thessaloniki), Kaplanon 5 (Athens), and House Papavasileiou (Serres), and participated in numerous group exhibitions at ALMA Contemporary Art Gallery, Kalos & Klio Showroom, Baton 7, Gallery Zoumboulakis, Gallery Myro, Kaplanon, House Shina, 8th Festival of Ancient Amphipolis, Municipal Gallery of Kallithea “Lambrakis,” 12th International Month of Photography, 11th International Month of Photography, and Biennale Internazionale Vicenza.


About Artists and Climate Change:

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

The Science of Light

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

In the third instalment of her “Renewable Energy Artworks” monthly series, Artists & Climate Change writer Joan Sullivan interviews internationally acclaimed solar stained glass artist Sarah Hall in Toronto, Ontario. 

Before introducing Sarah Hall’s beautiful and important work, I feel compelled to describe briefly the rapidly evolving energy landscape within which she creates. For those who have neither the time nor inclination to read about distributed energy, feel free to skip the first three paragraphs.

Sarah Hall, solar, PV, stained glass, Toronto, Harbourfront, Enwave

Micro-generation is the production of electricity on a small scale – typically using renewable energy sources such as solar and wind – to help homeowners, schools, commercial and industrial buildings, religious centres, and municipalities offset all or a portion of their electricity needs. Electricity produced, consumed, and/or stored on-site is called “distributed” since it exists at the distribution edge of the interface between consumers and conventional transmission grids that carry electricity from distant centralized coal-fired, gas, nuclear, or hydroelectric power plants.

We have all seen rooftop photovoltaic (PV) solar installations; they are the most prominent example of distributed energy generation today.

In addition to being distributed, this energy is highly disruptive: consumer-centric distributed renewable energy generation will ultimately replace our aging, profit-centric, monopolistic, centralized power stations. Author and serial entrepreneur Tony Saba has famously predicted that the centralized system of fossil fuel-based energy generation will be obsolete by 2030. Just 13 years from now. In our lifetimes. This is huge.

Sarah Hall, solar, PV, stained glass, window

So what does this have to do with artists, you may ask?

Historically, artists have embraced rapid change during times of great upheaval and disruption, such as the birth of the modern art movement at the beginning of the 20th century that portended the chaos of two world wars.

In the 21st century, climate change has already become the rallying cry for artists across the globe. If Tony Saba’s predictions come true, I believe artists will also draw inspiration from the massively disruptive energy revolution — currently underway — as we witness the emergence of virtual power stations that will blur the line between energy producers and energy consumers.

Canadian stained glass artist Sarah Hall is already doing just that. In fact, she has spent the last 10 years of her 40-year career pioneering the fusion of color, light, and photovoltaic technology for architectural glass.

Sarah Hall, solar, stained glass, PV, Toronto, Harbourfront

Hall’s large solar glass installations include: “Waterglass” at Enwave Theatre at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre (above); “Lux Gloria” at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon (below); “Lux Nova” at the University of British Colombia; “Leaves of Light” for the Life Sciences Building at York University in Toronto; and “The Science of Light” at Grass Valley Elementary School in Washington State, USA.

In a 2015 interview with Michael Todd, editor of The York University Magazine, Hall describes the evolution of her solar art glass installations:

“As a glass artist working in architectural installations, the idea to bring solar into my work came from a few sources which all converged within a couple of years. First, my mentor, Professor Ursula Franklin at Massey College, University of Toronto, encouraged me to explore connections to solar. Her physics colleagues in Santa Barbara had created a wonderful video “Power of the Sun” which she gave me. Second, I had seen many beautiful buildings in Europe creating in a technique called Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) and was convinced it was a great direction for solar. Third, I made connections in Canada, the US and Europe with architects and engineers working in the field of BIPV. Fourth, the studio in Germany where my work is produced made a prototype of art glass with embedded solar cells and encouraged me to create solar work. Fifth, and of great importance, was that I received a Chalmers Arts Fellowship from the Ontario Arts Council which gave me the time and resources to experiment with the integration of solar collection into my art glass projects. I am interested in using solar primarily as an environmental advocacy/educational tool.”

Hall further explained her multidisciplinary collaborative process to me:

“My projects are essentially collaborations with solar engineers. These projects have brought a rigour to my process of designing art glass because they require me to incorporate rigid graphic elements. There is a very big learning curve for everyone involved – and you need the team of engineers and electricians from the site to be on board with work they have never done before. This part of it can be very hard going and so I am very pleased with bringing many people into a new idea of solar – that it can both look beautiful and carry meaning.  The windows at the Cathedral in Saskatoon are important for me as a world first – a Cathedral whose stained glass windows are connected to the grid that results in an energy rebate for the Cathedral.”

Sarah Hall, solar, stained glass, PV

Each of Sarah Hall’s solar glass installations is unique, beautiful and wondrous. Each converts solar energy into electricity, but the end use of that electricity varies according to the intended design of the architectural glass. For example, two of her solar installations – “Lux Nova” and “Leaves of Light” (below) – were designed to absorb and store sunlight into the structure by day and then, when darkness falls, use this stored electricity to illuminate/backlight the glass. The result is a stunning sculpture that glows in the dark.

Sarah Hall, solar, PV, stained glass, York, Leaves of Light, gingko

In contrast, Hall’s “Waterglass” and “Lux Gloria” installations were designed specifically to produce clean electricity that feeds directly into their respective buildings’ energy systems.

I am particularly fond of Hall’s “Science of Light” installation at Grassy Valley Elementary School, which transforms the school’s main stairwell into an ever-changing flood of color and light, depending upon the time of day and season. This stairwell must be a delight for the students running up and down the stairs to their classes.

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 11.27.56 AM

This “teaching” window was one element in a larger project designed by DOWA Portland architects Barry Deister and Keith Johnson to showcase a variety of green technologies at an elementary school in northwestern United States: a roof garden, wind turbines, a community garden, and Hall’s solar art glass. A lovely sitting area was created at the stairwell’s main landing to encourage students, parents, and staff to pause, contemplate and enjoy the transformative color and light show.

Sarah Hall, solar, PV, school, stained glass

But what excites me most about this project is that Sarah designed it specifically “to delight, to teach, and to inspire.” The innovative use of solar cells embedded into the windows “offers students an ongoing lesson in science, ecology, and the positive use of technology.” How I wish I had gone to a school like this! I am sure that Hall’s magnificent teaching window will inspire many of these young students to study STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) in order to learn to collaborate across disciplines – as Sarah Hall is doing – to design and build our post-carbon future.

Here is a short video on Hall’s solar glass for art and architecture:

Addendum: In summer 2017, two students from the Glass Department at Sheridan College, Sarah Hall’s alma mater, will begin the process of curating the world’s first “Glass Library.” Under master Koen Vanderstukken, this library will curate hundreds of Hall’s glass samples produced over her career in a multitude of techniques and materials, including solar. According to Hall: “I am delighted with this project; there is nothing like it, not even at Corning Museum of Glass. Artists are inspired, energized and intrigued by what they see and touch – they will immediately think of how to do it differently or better.”

All photos courtesy of Sarah Hall Studio.

Follow Joan Sullivan on Twitter @CleanNergyPhoto


About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Artists Doing Nature Research

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

This week, the Jan Van Eyck Academy, a post-academic institute for art, design and reflection in the quaint town of Maastricht (Netherlands), opened a Lab for artists to do Nature Research. In addition to offering a range of (amazing) facilities that can support woodwork, (RISO) printmaking, photography, video, and metalwork, the institute now acknowledges that nature is not only a great inspiration for artists, but the lack of it is a growing concern for many. The Van Eyck is positioning itself on the frontline of international pioneering art institutions that are enabling artists to explore in depth, through their work, their relationship to nature. The playground for this new Lab is a studio, garden, and greenhouse. Named after Jac. P. Thijsse, a famous Maastricht ecologist, the Lab gives artists an opportunity to do active research (get their hands dirty) and to consider the subject of nature in relation to ecological and landscape development issues. It’s supposedly a place to build bridges – between humankind and nature, but also between art and other disciplines, including agriculture, biology, botany, and (landscape) architecture.

The Jac. P. Thijsse Lab launched during the Van Eycks annual Open Studios with two works, including one by artist Marcus Coates who will be a Van Eyck advisor this year. Outside in the gardens, people could hear birds enthusiastically singing, ready for spring. Inside the Lab studio, however, it was revealed that the cheerful chirping outside was human voices replicating bird songs. Coates’s Dawn Chorus (2007) features individuals sitting in their own habitats – a car, an office, a bedroom, a school staff room – singing bird songs. For this project, Coates recorded birdsong of individual birds and then digitally slowed down the songs by up to 20 times. Singers from amateur choirs were asked to mimic this slowed down sound, which is similar in tone to the human voice. The recording was then sped up to the original speed of the birdsong, creating a magical transformation of the human voice into that of a bird. The work shows us a new way to look at nature and highlights our interconnectedness. Solely by changing the speed of the sound, we end up speaking  the same language.


In the greenhouse, a mysterious installation by artists Fabio Roncato (Van Eyck participant of 2016/2017) and Ryts Monet was found. It consisted of original bricks from the greenhouse, infused with a bright blue Yves Klein-esque pigment that reminds us of chapel ceilings in small Italian towns. A galvanised meteorite seemed to have crashed on the floor among the blue bricks – an invitation from the artists to reflect on the topic of the unknown landscape and the outer space. Their work shows that a greenhouse in the context of the Van Eyck is not just a place to grow plants; it is really a laboratory for ideas, questions, experiments, and reflections on the landscape in the widest sense of the word.

The van Eyck is not the only art institution that has picked up on artists’ growing interest in growing. Other great European places that accommodate artists unafraid to get their hands dirty include Prinzessinengarten (Berlin, Germany), ZKU (Berlin, Germany), Pollinaria (Abruzzo region, Italy), Grizedale Arts (Lake District, UK) and AtelierNL (Noordoostpolder, Netherlands) amongst others. In the last few years, even upmarket commercial gallery Hauser and Wirth re-purposed an old farm and garden in rural Somerset (UK) into an artist residence, complete with restaurant and exhibition space (see photo at the top of the page).

We live in times that force us to formulate a response to a wide range of serious environmental challenges: mass extinction, loss of biodiversity, climate change. However, these crises aren’t just disasters. They’re also great opportunities to demand and help build new systems that serve people and planet more equitably than neo-liberalism has. Moving away from the old systems requires a new mentality, which includes a big re-think of our relationship to the natural world. Is nature solely a resource for us to enjoy and plunder? Or are we nature? We are stuck in the idea that the world revolves around humans. This is why, not so long ago, we refused to believe Galileo Galilei. We, humans, want to be at the epicenter of it all. The potential for non-human narratives has barely entered our consciousness.

Moreover, we have become so addicted to fossil fuels and raw materials that humankind is now a climatic and, some scientists argue, geological force. A new geological epoch called the Anthropocene – which marks the commencement of significant human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems – has now replaced the Holocene. This shift comes with a responsibility to ourselves, nature, and other species, and with plenty of new questions to grapple with. If art spaces that provide time for nature research can help artists to engage with some of these questions, we might be moving towards interesting answers.


 

About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Pages from the Frozen Sea

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Pages from the Frozen Sea is a scattering of photographs of the ways that ice can freeze a moment in time. Against a background of disappearing ice, the gathered photographs explore different ways to hold on to memory and emotion. Is it possible, as ice is melting more quickly than expected, to create a temporary stopgap? A photograph proposes a suspension of an experience, of an emotional state. It’s a suspension of disbelief, as if it might allow us to stop and steady ourselves, and find a way to think straight again (and reimagine the future).

Sarah Stengle and I wanted these explorations of ice to float in a digital sea. We wanted the pages to be fragmented and free, but to be considered a book all the same. We sent out an open call and received submissions from the US, Canada, England, Finland and Germany which we posted to a Facebook and an Instagram page.

Burning carbon is creating exponential change to the climate. Yes, fire and ice have always fought it out on this planet, but we’ve been working on the side of fire all these years now. Fire is winning. It would be wonderful to tell humans to cool it, because the rapid melting of the polar ice caps is terrifying. In the face of extreme weather, of upheaval and chaos, I think we feel frozen in our tracks. Freezing up is its own defense, and we lock down our fear inside ourselves.

Kafka imagines an interior emotional landscape that is trapped in ice. He writes, “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” A book can break through by delivering life-affirming warmth, truth, inspiration, art and craft. You need to be free. Your wellspring needs to flow.

In thinking about extremes of temperature and art, Sarah and I talked about Olafur Eliasson’s glacier melting in Paris, about Andy Goldworthy’s icicles and David Hammons’ sidewalk sale of snowballs. We thought about the decentralized spirit of Yoko Ono’s work, and her instructions to: “use things until they melt.” The material and the moment change completely in the hands of each artist.

Sarah and I are now the caretakers of photos floating in a digital sea, gathering around an idea. It seems to me these floating photos possibly reverse the idea of a glacier fragmenting. Instead of dissipating and becoming less, they have the potential to become more. Maybe our book is a gathering of ice, a growing of ice. If Kafka’s book is an axe, maybe this book of ours is a crystal.

AylinGreen

Aylin Green’s photo is of a frame frozen in ice: a freeze frame. It’s a portrait without a face, and darkly I feel I could know it well. There’s something important here, and if only it could be carefully melted, lovingly cared for, it would be revealed. Ice is very personal after all. They call this the Anthropocene age. Our stories are lurking everywhere on this planet, and this planet is lurking everywhere within us too.

KariannBlank

Karian Blank seems to be documenting geology and her photo could easily belong in a natural history museum. Photographed in the cold, clear light of day, this specimen tells a prehistoric tale. When I learn that it’s pure invention and that the marks are the imprints of vintage buttons, I have to marvel at the power of stories we tell ourselves. The marks then may be seen as a form of human fossils.

Veronika Irwin’s photo of wire lace frozen in a thin layer of ice is mysterious. She expresses mathematical concepts through delicate lines that gain strength through repeated patterning. Her lines are vulnerable and loopy and yet they suggest strength and a quiet musicality. They prove a logic capable of replicating themselves ad infinitum. Inhabiting a pale light, for the moment, they bubble with possibility.

SarahStengle2

Sarah and I have felt our imaginations stretched as we viewed these and the many other submissions we received. As artists ourselves, we too have been creating ice pages. Sarah’s art is always alert to the drama that occurs when strangely ordinary materials come into relationships with one another. In her photo, there are what look like nails scattered on the floor of what could be an invented ice cave. I see elements of rough construction work below contrasted with finely crafted and futuristic-looking angles above. What Sarah was doing was not quite what I am seeing. Her method was simple but not obvious: she recorded what happened to blue ink, water, straight pins and the force of a magnet in freezing temperatures. Nature had a hand in creating her fiction.

My process was to freeze a photograph from a magazine into a chunk of ice, leaving the image trapped in a stubborn form (see picture at the top of the page). An image of snow-covered trees appears, as if it were a mirroring of beautiful surroundings, but it’s only a torn sheet of paper. An illusion. I don’t know if Kafka’s axe needs to break it open to reveal its emotions.

Sarah and I will keep growing our crystalline book of ice when we announce another open call for 2018. The form may change in a year’s time. The weather may change. This winter there were not enough cold days in Sarah’s Minneapolis or my New Jersey to freeze our art outside and, anti-heroically, our explorations happened in our kitchen freezers. This year was an El Nino year, and so our hope is that next winter will be colder. Pages from the Frozen Sea needs more cold to come together.

______________________________

Eva Mantell is co-curator with Sarah Stengle of Pages from the Frozen Sea. Other curating projects include Start Fresh at the Arts Council of Princeton and Windows of the Future at Carrier Clinic, NJ. Eva’s artwork has been exhibited at the Hunterdon Museum, Jersey City Museum, the Brooklyn Museum of Art and in ongoing projects with the arts collective Overflow. Upcoming exhibits include Natura Mathematica at Central Booking, NYC and Animal Architecture at the Monmouth Museum, NJ. Eva has a BA from Penn and MFA from the School of Visual Arts and lives in Princeton, NJ.


About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Plastic, plastic, every where!

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Plastic, plastic, every where,
All the fish are bereft;
Plastic, plastic, every where,
Not a soul is left.

I met Hong Kong painter Michelle Kuen Suet Fung at an artist residency in Alaska in 2016. She is a diminutive woman with a big smile, a big vision, and an even bigger heart. Four four weeks Michelle and I shared meals, living quarters, hikes, hopes, and worries, and together navigated the intricacies of ferry travel in remote regions. I was lucky to get to know her and her work, and to see the world through her eyes for those four weeks. I gained a friend, a colleague and a new tip for avoiding all those environmentally harmful plastic utensils when eating out: carry bamboo travel utensils (like these) with you at all times…

Michelle draws inspirations from a wide range of sources and popular sub-cultures, including fairy tales, children’s picture books, the Japanese Otaku, fifteenth-century European etching, as well as traditional Chinese painting. Animals and their relationships with humans is a long recurring thread in her works.

What are you working on right now?

I have three main projects in 2017. For the past month, I have been working on a book manuscript of “Plastic, plastic, every where!,” a dystopia of plastic consumption. (See video interview.) The cautionary tale begins in the present and spans about a hundred years. The narrative, which borrows from fairy tales, children’s literature, and prophecy, presents a future where humans’ frenzied consumption of plastic (as in objects like lifesaver donuts, telephone hotdogs, etc. …) has led the human race past the point of no return:

In the first half of the 21st century, marine animals have developed such an insatiable appetite for plastic that the nations of the world set up feeding stations. Over time, however, fewer and fewer animals show up to the feedings, and eventually, none show up. The global craze for plastic-eating originates from the 2084 annual meeting of the Great Five Industrial Nations on Miami Island, cut off from the mainland because of rising sea levels. At the meeting, China (in the form of a pig) proposes that if animals can learn to eat plastic, why can’t children?

The work was presented as a drawing installation in 2015. I have adapted the narrative into book form, and the story is shortlisted in the Young Writer’s Competition in Hong Kong. I will complete the manuscript in the spring and hopefully the book will be chosen for publication.

Concurrently, I am making “Plastic, plastic, every where!” into a moving drawings video. The work-in-progress has been almost two years in the making and went through substantial changes after my artist residency at Art Omi (NY, USA) last summer. This year, I will invest time to complete the final draft before pairing music and sound to the visuals.

“Plastic, plastic, everywhere!” exhibited as a drawing installation at Hong Kong Baptist University in 2015.

Last but not least, China’s micro-narrative in “Plastic, plastic, every where!” has been developed into an autonomous work. In 2084, China has solved its pollution problems with Plan Polluta, condensing air pollution into building bricks. With these bricks, China builds floating artist colonies in the sky. I am making propaganda posters and banner paintings (loosely based on those from the Cultural Revolution era) to be shown in a solo exhibition at Pro Arts Gallery, Oakland, CA, in 2018. The gallery will be transformed into a promotional center for the Ministry of Polluta. Besides painting, I am also conducting research for the two performances that will take place during the exhibition.

You have lived in many countries. How do you think that influences your work?

I never quite knew how it affected me until last summer art critic Dominique Nahas described my works as cosmopolitan. It then dawned on me that I could only make cosmopolitan works because I was exactly that! I have lived in Hong Kong, Canada, UK and the US and speak three and a half languages (the half language is French.) I really enjoy looking at things from multiple points of views without realizing it. For instance, when I translate, I often find meaning differs slightly in different languages. It comes down to cultural sensitivity and connotations. However, I am poorly educated in the Middle Eastern, African and Native perspectives, and many other minorities. While it is impossible for any works to be truly inclusive, I hope my works are less about navel-gazing.

Do you consider yourself an activist? Why?

I have been asked that question before, and I don’t see myself as one. I think fundamentally activists work to bring about social change and artists focus on making their best possible work. I definitely belong to the latter group. Having said that, I do think the most compelling advocacy is to lead by example. Far from perfect, I strive to live a greener lifestyle. I stopped ordering anything take-out unless I have my own containers. I haven’t bought chemical household products such as laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, household cleaner for years. I make my own from food scraps or other greener materials. By persisting in my own habits, I see changes in people around me. I also share some of my insights on social media: the response is almost always encouraging.

The scene of the G5 annual meeting of 2084 where China comes up with a proposal, ‘If animals can learn to eat plastic, why can’t children?’

You participated in the Tidelines Ferry Tour in 2016. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience?

That was a humbling journey. We toured eight communities in Southeast Alaska in one month under the theme of climate change. Having lived in Canada for almost two decades, I barely had contact with First Nations. I had to reassess my presumptuous assumptions about a green lifestyle in the 21st century. On this trip, I developed enormous reverence for a community for its respect of nature. Meat-eating is damaging to the planet in most developed countries, but salad-lovers may cause more harm in Alaska if we consider all the fuel and energy needed to fly in the leaves. The trip taught me to take my urban arrogant attitude home.

I wrote bilingual (Chinese and English) weekly blogs on the tour for Altermodernists, a Hong-Kong-based media platform for local artists:

Week 1 Blog Entry
Week 2 Blog Entry
Week 3 Blog Entry
Week 4 Blog Entry 

Michelle Kuen Suet Fung working on a banner in Sitka, Alaska during the Tidelines Ferry Tour in 2016.

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

In this age of chaos and uncertainty, I hesitate to give artists an aura of visionaries. Artists should do what we have historically done well: Make great work. Facts do not compel change; pain and strong emotions do. If my work can elicit strong reactions that result in concrete change in one viewer’s behavior, I will consider my work successful.

What gives you hope?

It is relatively easy for those who live in the war-free First World to find solace: A blue ocean, a delicate flower, a cool breeze, a delicious meal, and our loved ones. When I gaze at these beautiful things, I have a fierce urge to protect them. When I look at my niece’s porcelain skin and watch her play with two leaves for almost an hour, I know we want to still have tigers, whales, elephants, and polar bears for her to experience. If we choose to have no hope, all battles are lost. I choose to have hope, because that is the only thing we have to go on.


About Artists and Climate Change:

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

A Hope I Can Live With

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on September 20, 2016.

I am a theatre director in an early stage of thinking about performance and climate change—more of an idea and question gathering place than a how-that-translates-to-process-and-dramaturgy place. This is a tour of some ideas.

This past fall, I co-organized a conversation with Sarah Cameron Sunde and Moe Yousuf in conjunction with the Theatre Without Borders Conference. About twenty-five folks (across disciplines and nationalities) shared personal entry points to making real the massiveness of climate change; themes I remember include anticipatory grief, environmental racism, individual vs. collective agency, and tempered hope in human ingenuity and the earth’s resilience. Then, Sarah invited Moe to lead us in making pickles. Pickling framed our conversation in a longer experience of time, and it gave (some of) us a reason to meet again later to experience our (well, failed) pickles.

Moe Yousuf facilitated a pickle making process as part of a climate change think tank held in conjunction with the 2016 Theatre Without Borders Conference. Photo by Sarah Cameron Sunde.

Also thinking of a conversation I had with Dehlia Hannah. Hannah is a curator-as-research practitioner whose current project A Year Without Winter, co-led with scholar Cynthia Selin, gathers scholarly and artistic responses to climate change over three years in resonance with the Year Without a Summer and its role in forming Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. (The Year Without a Summer, 1816), was a tumultuous global cooling event sparked, in part, by a massive volcanic eruption.) When I asked about hope in the context of climate change, Hannah expressed concern that hope can be an uncomfortably close bedfellow with denial. Even if climate change is not an apocalyptic disaster flick, it will effect real and unknown loss—to the planet’s ecological systems, and to the human (and other) life inside those systems. Imagining climate change will require being present to loss—anticipated and experienced. Maybe to replace hope with attention. How do we sustain attention in the context of climate change? A Year Without Winter provides a conceptual framework, a dialogical network, and a three-year incubation to connect wide ranging entry points in imagining and responding to anthropogenic climate change. This creative system models an ecological way of seeing.

I’ve been thinking, for my own work, about what makes up an ecological way of seeing. Some entry points that make sense to me include complexity, corporality, contingency, and collective action.

Anne van Galen’s Warriors of Downpour City (2015) is a collaboration between A Year Without a Winter and X and Beyond. The summer 2016 exhibition Dressing in a World of Endless Rainfall showcased Anne van Galen’s work and explored fashion’s anticipation of worlds to come. Photo courtesy of A Year Without Winter.


Complexity
Anthropogenic climate change happens on a scale that’s hard (for me) to imagine. It’s not drought, hurricane, or weather in general. It’s a change in long-term patterns of weather. This distinction feels important because chronic, systemic change requires different attentions than extreme weather events. Warming global climate doesn’t follow a dramaturgy of crisis, although, as we are seeing more and more, it can contain crisis. It follows more closely a dramaturgy of chronic illness. Something that will play out over time in unpredictable ways and that requires continual and curious action. It requires urgency, but urgency without attachment. We will not see all the consequences of our actions—good or bad—within our lifetime. How does my theatre rehearse a seeing with this kind of sustained and unresolved attention?

Corporality
As weather patterns change, stories about folks’ connection to land and life take on new stakes. Narratives about human control over nature contributed to seeing the natural world as disposable resource, contributed to actions that created climate change. I don’t think this assumption, especially embedded in Western culture, can get us out of climate change. How does my theatre center stories (remembered or reinvented) that situate human beings as part of larger living and evolving systems?

Contingency and Collective Action
Something that impacts the whole planet requires the whole planet to respond. I grew up wearing a lot of sweaters inside in the winter and rolling down car windows in the summer; and I think a performance of personal responsibility is a meaningful practice. I rehearse mindfulness, but I don’t think it’s an impactful practice in terms of emission reduction. This requires not just pooling individual actions, but changing regulations, energy sources. This requires collective action. How is my theatre rehearsing a personal awakening to collective action? And, what are the images I have for the collective? As many folks in this series have pointed out, climate change disproportionately effects many communities of color. Rebecca Solnit has some language I appreciate about natural disasters as policy disasters, as putting pressure on existing social inequalities (particularly referencing Hurricane Katrina and discussed cogently in an On Being interview.) How does my theatre enact and envision a global community that is multivalent, fluid, and offers specific critique to entrenched systems of oppression?

One of the formidable aspects of man-made climate change is that we don’t know exactly how the earth will respond to a rising average temperature. In order to be able to respond deeply and impact fully, it seems important that our attending prepares us to continue not knowing. An older image of apocalypse is not physical destruction, but disclosure of knowledge. As artists, we know something about waiting for this apocalypse, about doing the deep and urgent work of being changed, with the trust that changed seeing leads to changed action, changed policies. I admire projects like Chantal Bilodeau’s Arctic Cycle, Mondo Bizarro and ArtSpot’s Cry You One, and Lars Jan’s Holoscenes for crafting such spaces. And, I would add, this work, this orientation to apocalypse is also a definition of hope. A hope I can live with.

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Emily Mendelsohn is a Brooklyn-based director.  As a member of Waypoints, an ensemble of US/East African artists, Emily directed Erik Ehn’s Maria Kizito and Deborah Asiimwe’s Cooking Oil through residencies in Kigali, Kampala, New York, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. Emily co-curates Border Labs, a process and performance exchange between artists in Los Angeles and Tijuana. She is a recipient of the TCG Global Connections In the Lab program and a Fulbright Fellowship in Uganda. Affiliate artist New Georges, member Theater Without Borders. MFA CalArts.


About Artists and Climate Change:

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

How Theatre Renewed My Perspective on Climate Change

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on September 21, 2016.

Last February, I had the wonderful opportunity to perform in the new play Forward by Chantal Bilodeau at Kansas State University. Going into auditions for the production, I knew they play’s message was, at its core, about climate change. I’ll go ahead and admit now that, at the time, I was more excited for the opportunity to be doing a new play than I was to be performing a show about climate change as all my life, save for one special day in the eighth grade, I’d never really had my own, solid opinion on that subject. However, working on this play, the second in the Arctic Cycle series, completely renewed my perspective.

I was raised in a very small, very rural Kansas town of about 3,000 people. This town, as you might expect, is predominately conservative. Both of my parents held conservative values, and made sure to push them on me. Don’t get me wrong, I do truly love my family and my little hometown and to a certain extent, I respect all people of all political stances. But looking back, I definitely think there were issues with some of the things I was taught.

Up until the eighth grade, I had never really heard the words “climate change” or “global warming” or any other variation of these. I might have seen them in passing on the internet, but if I did, I had never paid any attention. Then one day, in my Physical Sciences class, my teacher attempted to enlighten us on the issue of climate change using, of course, pure scientific research. I vividly remember being shocked at how we were destroying our environment, and discussing the topic with my friends at lunch, talking about the issue and how we could change our own behaviors.

That mindset unfortunately did not last very long. I went home that evening and told my parents what I’d learned in school that day, my naïve fourteen-year-old-self unaware of the—what I consider to be unwarranted—controversy around the subject. My father became upset that I was learning something that he didn’t agree with due to his political stance. I’m sure you can imagine how confused I was—I had just been shown pure evidence that global warming was a real issue and here my father was getting upset as I was discussing it, telling me that it was a hoax and not to worry about it.

As a teenager, my mind was malleable. So, just as quickly as I had learned about the issue, I forgot about it. I think something similar happened with my friends. Either that or they became bored with the subject overnight and the next day none of us discussed it anymore. Later on, my father mentioned going down to the school to talk with my teacher. My teacher never mentioned it, nor ever talked about climate change again.

Sterling Oliver as a father saying his goodbyes to his child before leaving to work on an oil rig. Forward, Kansas State University Theatre, 2016.
Sterling Oliver as a father saying his goodbyes to his child before leaving to work on an oil rig. Forward, Kansas State University Theatre, 2016.


This was the extent of my knowledge of global warming for some time. Around my junior and senior years of high school, I became more and more politically independent from my family and community, and learned some more about climate change, but I never again had as solid or passionate a stance as I did in that one day in school. There was never another reason for me to think about it…until I went to Kansas State University and got cast in Forward. Almost immediately, as I began to read the script and fall in love with the story and subject material, that spark I had found in my science class was reignited. I completely immersed myself in research on the history of global warming and on our current state of affairs as a country and as a planet.

Now, thanks to Chantal and Forward, my lifestyle has changed and I’m pushing others to change, too. I haven’t had the opportunity to do a whole lot of work in the theatre since Forward closed, but I know that many times throughout my career and the rest of my time at Kansas State, I will make it a point to pass along messages and advocate for change in the way we go about our lives. If there’s one thing I want people to take away from this story, it’s to never silence a person’s desire to discuss topics that are new to them, and never close your mind to new subjects and ideas—it just might save the world.

Sterling Oliver (left) and Jacob Edelman-Dolan (right) as hikers, looking across the quickly changing landscape. Forward, Kansas State University Theatre, 2016.
Sterling Oliver (left) and Jacob Edelman-Dolan (right) as hikers, looking across the quickly changing landscape. Forward, Kansas State University Theatre, 2016.


Another is to not be afraid to push boundaries with your work, especially in a field like the theatre. Because of Chantal my attitude has changed and I know others’ attitude has changed as well, including that of my parents, whom I am happy to say are now changing their lifestyle and talking to others to help make an impact on our planet. While I was home over the summer, we made many attempts to cut down on our usage of non-renewable energy and recycle more. Any electronics we were throwing out, we remembered to take to a nearby recycling facility. Every Saturday morning, our hometown has a recycling drive where you can drop off recyclables so we tried to go every week and encourage others in the community to go as well. I’m hoping the small things we’re doing as a family will impact others in our community and create a snowball effect where green living becomes the norm. (Now, if only I could do something about their supporting a certain Republican presidential nominee… anybody know of any plays to help me with that?)

I want to leave you with a quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson that I take solace in whenever I have to discuss the subject of climate change with somebody who doesn’t believe that it is real, or more specifically, when they try to push that mindset on to me: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” Now, of course, this quote isn’t really inspirational or ground-breaking, but it’s humorous and impactful, and to me, that’s the best kind of message.

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Sterling Oliver is a sophomore at Kansas State University studying Theatre and Music. He plans on using his degrees to create works to spread the messages closest to his heart around to others and hopefully make an impact on audiences worldwide. For now, he’s doing what he can to make changes in the lives of those closest to him.



About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Painting the Mysteries of Science

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Irish painter Siobhan McDonald often collaborates closely with scientists in the creation of her work. Her sources of inspiration over the last few years have included early seismographs made by Irish Jesuits in the 1920s, the role of atmospheric oxygen in plant evolution over the past 400 million years, acoustic signals coming from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, and a set of 350-million-year-old Irish coral fossils. These collaborations have also led to the use of unusual materials in her work, such as crushed bones, prehistoric charcoal, and iron gall ink.

‘Tycho Star’
Siobhan McDonald in front of ‘Tycho Star,’ 168 cm x 88cm, photograph on paper. The map displays 2.5 million brightest stars in the sky. All-sky star map. (ESA 1997)

What are some of your influences?

I always wonder what is at the edge of the universe. I think about creation and our place within the living ecosystem of our planet. It might seem an enormous subject to tackle with art, but in my projects I like to consider disciplines like physics from an artistic point of view, and to think about the larger context in which the Earth exists. Working with the Herbarium at the National Botanic Gardens and their incredible collection of seeds that hold the answer to most of the mysteries of creation is a real privilege – they are a powerful symbol of life. The artists that I’m most lately drawn to include Giuseppe Penone, Wolfgang Tillmans, Olafur Eliasson, and the supreme painter Peter Doig.

How do you merge the poetic and the scientific in your work?

It’s not something I set out to do. A case in point is ‘A change in the Signal,’ one of the works in my current exhibition. Last year I found an old drawer in the Physics Department where my studio was located. Inside, tiny crystals had begun to form – traces of a myriad of chance chemical reactions that had taken place since the 1950s. Over subsequent months, I built up layer upon layer of paint on the rough old surface of the wood – in places, just light washes of color; in others, thick, textured smears applied, scraped back, and re-applied. The original crystals shimmer just beneath the surface of this fluid landscape. I was reading about Henri Becquerel’s chance discovery of radioactivity in 1896 and it had an important influence on this work in particular. Painting as a form of alchemy, as a process that transforms our understanding, is what I do.

'Solar Skin' (2016) combines seismograph markings on smoked paper overlaid by a very fine skein of woven basalt, with, on top of this, a calfskin within which can be traced the pores of the animal, open to the world around it.
‘Solar Skin’ (2016) combines seismograph markings on smoked paper overlaid by a very fine skein of woven basalt, with, on top of this, a calfskin within which can be traced the pores of the animal, open to the world around it.

What do you see as one of your biggest successes, either artistic (a piece you’re particularly proud of) or in terms of impact (reactions to your work)?

My current show Crystalline – I’ve been working on this for some years now, so it’s very exciting to see the work emerge in a solo show, which opened at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris last month and runs until March 12th. It’s extraordinary that the story of the 1845 Franklin Expedition only hit the headlines last year, because I’m including a set of 190-year-old seeds that came from the previous Franklin expedition in 1825. They join my series of paintings that draw on the deeply embedded natural world which holds all the secrets of our existence. Other works are ranged around objects using space technology alongside an especially composed sound piece by Irene Buckley with actual sounds I recorded in the Arctic Circle.  I want the visitors to the exhibition to delve into what comes from our natural world and its history, in this collaboration with European Space Agency and the Millennium Seed Bank.

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

Artists have a role to play in alerting people to certain situations in a way that scientists cannot. In following a process of enquiry, many other enquiries emerge – my exhibition in Paris is certainly a point of resolution of some of these, but many other stories have opened up, and the interconnectedness of the parts has been astonishing. I am realizing the power of expression that visual art can bring in unleashing the potential infinity encapsulated in a given story.

What gives you hope?

As Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda wrote: “Buddhism teaches that the same power which moves the universe exists within our lives. Each individual has immense potential, and a great change in the inner dimension of one individual’s life has the power to touch the lives of others and transform society. When we change our inner determination, everything begins to move in a new direction.”

'Crystalline' is a series of artworks relating to the dying glaciers. This installation brings the elements of contemporary engineering together with prehistory in the use of carbon and charred bone. The artwork is created to mark the launch of the Solar Orbiter into Space in 2018.
‘Crystalline’ is a series of artworks relating to the dying glaciers. This installation brings the elements of contemporary engineering together with prehistory in the use of carbon and charred bone. The artwork is created to mark the launch of the Solar Orbiter into Space in 2018.

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

Festivity in the Darkness

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

by Julia Levine

My inbox is flooded with petitions and calls to action. I’m calling and tweeting more than ever. These are amongst responses to the current political situation in twenty-first century America. Aside from anxiety-inducing news alerts and very tangible threats to our livelihoods at the hands of our national government, I catch glimpses of joy, ways to stay engaged, and reasons to remain hopeful.

During the first days of the Trump Administration, 350.org ran a Twitter campaign, tweeting up a storm of #ClimateFacts, just as the new President gag-ordered the EPA. I contributed a few tweets, as did my collaborators at Back To Work Collective. Within a few hours, #ClimateFacts was trending worldwide. Twitter is a rapidly moving medium, and while the flood of #ClimateFacts poured out on January 26, this particular “Twitter Storm” has past. Nevertheless, 350.org achieved a small virtual victory, in which the “master’s tool” was reclaimed by the people, and in a way, by the climate itself.

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From the 350.org “Twitter Storm” on January 26.

In the real world, something that has kept me afloat amidst horrifying news on the crumbling state of our democracy is the International Human Rights Art Festival, which I am assistant producing. This Festival, opening next week in New York City, brings together local, national, and international artists, activists, and community members around a weekend of arts events resonating human rights themes. The weekend also includes community-based events: happy hours for neighbors from across the city to commune, kvetch about the current state of affairs, and celebrate the arts; and a KidsFest, opening up the world of art activism to youth of all ages through hands-on art-making around socio-political issues.

On the climate front, the Festival features environmentally conscious events through an array of media. There will be two new theatre pieces on varying environmental themes: PLUTO (no longer a play) by eco-theatre collective Superhero Clubhouse, and UPROOT by yours truly. We’re screening Josh Fox’s climate change documentary, How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, with a special introduction by the filmmakers. And throughout the weekend, artist James Leonard will give climate change divination readings in his Tent of Casually Observed Phenologies.

Tent01_hi-res.jpg
The Tent of Casually Observed Phenologies, Childe Hassam Park, Boston, MA, 2015. Image Credit: Melissa Blackall

James’ Tent, fashioned beautifully from colorful second-hand clothes, is a unique performance, a one-on-one encounter, and a space for questioning and reflection. I asked James to describe the underpinnings of the Tent in his own terms, especially as he has been continuing his work in this particular political climate:

The Tent of Casually Observed Phenologies grew out of my own anxieties over ongoing ecological crises and my struggle to deal with impermanence. I have found that the divinatory practices I employ in my art give structure to deep contemplation, training the imagination to respond to the range of the possible futures before us. This contemplation, though at times painful, can provide calm, and amidst that calm can be found the clarity and strength to persist. In this way, I see my role as artist & activist as something of a spiritual M*A*S*H unit to the broader environmental movement.

My own work at the Festival, the first iteration of my play about the industrial food system, UPROOT, meditates on where our food comes from and how we – many of us in Western society – got to be disconnected from its source. Through anthropomorphized foods, I pose questions about the choices we make with regards to food – and what choices are made for us. The characters in UPROOT also encounter concepts of identity and agency. With these broader themes, I pursue a theatrical event that holds a time and space for every audience member to reflect on the world around them, and their place in it.

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Image for UPROOT at the International Human Rights Art Festival. Design Credit: Lucy Ressler

As I have been meditating on these ideas in my rehearsals, I was pointed to a piece in The Conversation: We need to think about redefining citizenship in the Anthropocene. Author Sam Solnick touches on the paradox of rising nationalism at the same time of rising sea levels (and rise in climate disasters). Solnick reconsiders borders and walls, proposing:

One way of negotiating the multifarious challenges of citizenship in the Anthropocene is to relinquish the fixation on ‘taking back control’ and recognise the radical challenges to our agency from forces not only beyond our borders but beyond our species. In doing so, we can create informed citizens who recognise that they participate in citizenship on a changing planet that, whatever the science-warping mouthpieces of Murdoch and the Koch Brothers proclaim, will not be fooled into altering its course by alternative facts.

The way that Solnick describes agency, and offers space to recognize these borderless forces, resonates with my characters’ relationships to the world they occupy.

These past months have pushed me – and my inbox – to maintain a balance of work, play, and resistance. The events coming to the Festival have helped me imagine a way for these elements of my life to come together. Considering the personal and political spaces that will be created by the participating artists – the spaces for art, activism, and joy – I get the sense that this weekend will be a form of resistance in and of itself. As history has taught, the dark forces of the Trump Administration will feed off of fear, complacency, even sadness. The events of the Festival are so antithetical to such energies, highlighting instead positive forces that transcend any border or wall.

Take Action
Want to block fossil-driven projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines, but can’t travel to the front lines? Stay up-to-date on ways to resist from where you are by signing up for 350.org’s Pledge of Pipeline Resistance.

Want to engage in peaceful public assembly and protest around climate issues? Consider the March for Science on April 22 (Earth Day) and the People’s Climate March on April 29.

The International Human Rights Art Festival runs March 3-5, 2017 at Dixon Place in New York City.


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

Native Communities and Climate Change, Center Stage

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, in April 2016.

by Jaisey Bates

A simple equation for survival:

  1. In this Anthropocene Age of human-wrought catastrophic climate change, Indigenous people including US Native communities are center stage in dual roles: as those disproportionately affected by the escalating environmental devastation, and as those uniquely voiced with perspectives of vital importance.
  2. If we wish to sustain this world for our children and future generations, we must with open minds gather and share information and expertise. We must commit to positive change and work together toward possible cures. Therefore, ergo, ipso facto, in sum:
  3. We need Native voices center stage. We need a good Ceremony:
Left photo of Flora M. Rexford by Darren Kayotuk. Right photo by Flora Rexford. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Left photo of Flora M. Rexford by Darren Kayotuk. Right photo by Flora Rexford. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

We need, collectively, to break up with Aristotle and elementally reframe and fast-track evolve a holistic understanding—an Indigenous understanding—of what it means to be human in a vibrant world that includes and transcends humankind.

We need Native voices—historically dehumanized, marginalized, silenced, and subject to appropriation—center stage in all discussions leading to effective efforts, as Native communities are center stage in the experience of climate change.

As artists and theatremakers, we can do this. We have a unique opportunity and imperative to bring Native voices center stage in the literal sense in order to raise awareness and foster inclusion, action, and change. Because theatre can unfold worlds and words which contribute to the way we choose to walk, in the precious few moments we are gifted, this beloved ground. Because theatre, at its heart, is a Ceremony.

An aside—actually, a request? Go outside, look at the night sky. Or picture it, if the predominant patriarchal sans pigmentation perspective and/or pollution-choked atmosphere currently screens the stars from your particular vantage point.

Take a moment. Breathe. Can you see a sky radiant with the songs and souls of gone stars? Starlight, the language of past stars’ lives, and infinite new stars as yet invisible from Earth exist across and outside of time whether or not we are here.

But manifolds and quarks and quantum fields and parallel/string theory/coincident dimensions and permutations and entanglement and math, lots and lots of math, and endlessly mutable extrapolations might supersaturate and/or give rise to existential angst and/or nihilism, which won’t help us in our current struggle against time to save our home and ourselves.

So for this one moment, for the–space–of–this–one–long–breath, simply watch the stars. Inhale. Exhale. Wonder at the existence, the essence, of the nonhuman entities before you. Open yourself to the vibrant infinite diversity of the nonhuman lives and languages around you. Be still. Listen. Everything speaks.

Now pick a star, any star, reverse the perspective and watch this planet recede until it’s almost impossible to distinguish. A ginormous ’50s era blazing lightbulb-bordered motel sign arrow appears, pointing to that distant tiny fragile blue place that is your home: YOU ARE HERE. The sign flashes once, twice, again. It and Earth and we are gone.

This is the end of the story we as humans are writing on this world.

But we can change this narrative.

b_j_bates_photo-2

the day we were born, one of my full-length plays in development, is set in the Iñupiaq Native Alaskan community of Barrow (Ukpiaġvik), the northernmost US city, within a culture and climate in crisis. This play about whales and words and wars and what it means to be human and how we can heal ourselves and this world that is our home has its origins on a windy LA October day in 2011, during a writers’ workshop hosted by Native Voices at the Autry, when Dr. Bernardo Solano gave us a homework assignment. After we read our work aloud, Native Voices Co-Founder/Producing Executive Director Jean Bruce Scott strongly encouraged me to expand the scene I’d written into a full-length play.

—“But I’m not Native Alaskan,” I said.

—“You’re Native American,” she said.

—“But Qi swears a blue streak and it’d be a big cast and—”

—“Please, write this story,” she said.

So I did, immensely grateful as an unknown writer of nontraditional stories that at least one person would read the play. But Jean did far more than just read the first draft—she included day in Native Voices’ Fall 2012 First Look Series—and, encouraged by the audience’s response, I’ve continued to develop the play through research and engagement of this vibrant and challenged Indigenous community and environment in the hope of rendering a healing ceremony of a story worthy of audiences and the trees. All the trees.

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The lessons have been immense. The quest to learn more is ongoing and each new experience, awareness, connection, correlation changes the text not just of this story but of me and my life. How I experience what it means to be human. How I navigate this journey.

Because I am a story made of words.

And we are a story together.

We can change our story. We, as artists, as theatremakers in this age of climate change, can do this. We can bring Native voices center stage.

A simple equation for Indigenous inclusion:

  1. Read Mary Kathryn Nagle’s HowlRound blog and #InsteadofRedface series.
  2. Develop and produce plays by Native playwrights. See MKN’s new play, Fairly Traceable. See Diane GlancyJoy HarjoLinda HoganDark Winter Productions, #InsteadofRedface. I and my words also humbly volunteer as climate change theatre action Tribute.
  3. Hire Native actors and directors. Reread the #InsteadofRedface series, especially Kimberly Norris Guerrero’s article.
  4. Seek Native partnerships, collaborations, consultancies. See Chantal Bilodeau’Silaand Sharmon Hilfinger’s Arctic Requiem.
  5. Consider Indigenous voices. See #StandingRock, #NoDAPL, #WaterIsLife, #‎MniWiconi, #HonorTheTreaties, #‎RezpectOurWater.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5.

For we are made of our words, you and I.

We stand this ground together. We are a story together.

Let us write together a strong and beautiful world worthy of our children’s children.

Let us heal our home and ourselves. Let us make a good Ceremony.

All depends on this.

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Photo one:
“I have lived in Kaktovik all my life, rich in culture and traditions. I love working with children and care deeply about language and culture of the Iñupiat of the North Slope.”
— Flora M. Rexford, Iñupiaq Language Teacher in Kaktovik, Alaska

Climate change is evident:

The Arctic’s receding ice is causing polar bears (nanuq) to seek food on the mainland, increasing encounters between polar bears and humans, like Ms. Rexford’s mother’s and grandmother’s experience.

Connection to the environment is elemental:

“In the new Iñupiaq to English dictionary by Edna Maclean, there are 92 terms for ice, 16 of which are based on the term siku, 76 terms listed for snow and frost.”
— Qaiyaan Harcharek, Taġium Iñuŋi forum posting, 8/15/16

Photo two:
“This world is changing, Qi. This world is fragile. We need to find new stories to help protect this world, our home, before it’s too late. This world needs us, Qi.”
— Benny

“I think about Benny every day. Benny cares so much about the world, his ever changing world. He wants to help heal the world and I admire his strength in trying to help the one world while standing in two. That takes guts. That takes balance.”
— Mosiah Salazar Bluecloud

L to R: Mosiah Salazar Bluecloud (Benny) and Dillon Griffitts (Qilalugak/Qi). Workshop staging of day directed by Ronald Deron Twohatchet during the 2016 OKCTC Native American New Play Festival. Photo: Mark Williams/Digital Feather Media. © Jaisey Bates/The Peoplehood.

Photo three:
“We need you to remember our songs, our stories / to heal this broken world, our home. We need you to dream new songs, new stories / to heal this broken world, our home. All depends on this.” — White Caribou Belly Woman

L to R: Maya Torralba (Mother), Russ Tallchief (Soldier) and Tiffany Tuggle Rogers (White Caribou Belly Woman). Workshop staging of day directed by Ronald Deron Twohatchet during the 2016 OKCTC Native American New Play Festival. Photo: Mark Williams/Digital Feather Media. © Jaisey Bates/The Peoplehood.

Photo four:
An Iñupiaq subsistence hunter studies the Chukchi Sea.
Photo by Mark Su’esu’e, Barrow, AK, 2015. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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Jaisey Bates writes, directs and performs her nontraditional work with her multicultural nomadic theater company, The Peoplehood. LA and NYC venues for her words’ development and performance have included the Agüeybaná Book Store, Art/Works, Eclectic, Lounge, Naked Angels, Native Voices at the Autry, Open Fist, Performance Loft, Samuel French Bookshop, Studio/Stage, Unknown and Victory theaters. Her words have enjoyed road trips to theaters in Arizona, Iowa, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

 



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

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