Artists and Climate Change

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Tiny Coronavirus Stories: ‘We both have bodies after all’

By Andrea CarlisleErica BenderJeanne EgasseSydnie Leigh

Reader-submitted stories of the COVID-19 pandemic, in no more than 100 words. Read past stories hereSubmit your own here.

LETTERS TO MY MOTHER

It occurred to me early on in this saga that I might never see her again. And if I do, maybe she will no longer recognize me. She’s really been gone a long time now, with little memory left except of her life as a young girl, a life that began shortly after the 1918 pandemic. Now, she, who was a nurse, is annoyed at a health crisis she cannot comprehend. No phone calls, she is deaf. No visits, so I write long rambling letters. And I bake her cookies. I can think of nothing else to do.

— Jeanne Egasse (Santa Ana, California)

Mom between pandemics.

* * *

WHAT LASTS

I could tell stories to the boldly staring swallows on my deck: how I’ve kept cats away from their ancestors’ nests, scrubbed the ancestors’ droppings from under the houseboat eaves many summers, awoken with swallow babies peeping outside my bedroom window so early in the morning my eyes couldn’t remember how to open, but they don’t care. They stare at me, like this one, as if I am nothing, as if they’ll go on and on building nests and laying eggs, and I won’t go on and on, and this is true so I shut up and perform my services.

— Andrea Carlisle (Portland, Oregon)

(Top photo: Swallow on my houseboat deck.)

* * *

TRAPPED BREATH

Bushels of orange, yellow, and pink geraniums lift their heads towards the sun by the side of the grocery store. Behind me the line wraps the corner. Every face is covered by swaths of colorful fabric, but bright designs can’t mask the defeat in their eyes. We trudge forward, like strange soldiers. We have rules, spoken and unspoken. Six feet apart, eyes ahead, and absolutely no talking. No one feels like talking much anymore. The cloth bandana around my face traps my warm breath, and my upper lip begins to sweat. I want to smell the flowers.

— Sydnie Leigh (San Diego, California)

My definition of freedom.

* * *

BLINK

I’m definitely not blinking enough. I love teleporting into work meetings – not worrying about wielding legs and arms through space to sit in a new chair in a new room. But, alas, I’m not blinking enough. Captivated by screens from morning to evening, it’s easy to forget about my body. I feel nonphysical. Then, a cold dog nose nudges my elbow, sending my mouse cursor flying across the screen. I blink, finally. I look down at a fuzzy face and expecting eyes. We both have bodies after all, and it’s time to go outside and soak in the sun.

— Erica Bender (San Diego, California)

Zoie, who loves to listen to the birds.

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This series is edited by Thomas Peterson. One of the editors of Artists & Climate Change, he is also a theatre director and researcher whose work focuses on the climate crisis.

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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21st Century Renaissance

By Joan Sullivan

In a previous life, before becoming a photographer, I spent nearly two decades in Africa helping to fund and design public health responses to prevent the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS. This wily and virulent retrovirus, constantly mutating, has killed an estimated 32 million people since 1981, the official start of the global AIDS epidemic. Although AIDS has faded from the headlines, HIV continues to infect millions each year (most recent statistics: 1.7 million new infections in 2018), and it remains the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age globally.

Those of us who lived through, and in many ways are still haunted by, the AIDS crisis are well aware that AIDS and COVID-19 are microbiologically, clinically and epidemiologically distinct. They are two very different pandemics – wisdom tells us that they should not be compared. Yet compare we do, groping in the dark for something, anything, to make sense of the current chaos.

So imagine my surprise when, after searching through my library for a small book that I hadn’t read since graduate school – William McNeill’s landmark Plagues and Peoples – I realized that the COVID-19 pandemic is more comparable to the Great Plague (the second bubonic plague – see footnote) than it is to AIDS, at least from a socio-historical perspective.

The similarities are uncanny! Even though COVID-19 and the bubonic plague are caused by two very different microorganisms – a coronavirus and a zoonotic bacterium, respectively – several writers have noted “strange and startling” parallels between the two pandemics. The following similarities were published independently by Rukmini Bhaya Nair in New Delhi and Vicente G. Olaya in Barcelona:

  1. Infection originated in China or nearby.
  2. The infectious agent followed trade routes and travel routes from China to Europe.
  3. Initial transmission was from animal to human.
  4. Human to human infection happens via respiratory droplets.
  5. The first major epicenter in Europe was Italy.
  6. Health services were overwhelmed; health care providers exhausted.
  7. Corpses piled up; officials resorted to mass graves.
  8. There were no funeral services for many victims.
  9. The economy grounded to a halt.
  10. Physical distancing was a key prevention strategy.
  11. Foreign people were blamed and regarded with hostility.
The Citizens of Tournai, Belgium, Burying the Dead During the Black Death of 1347-52. Detail of a miniature from The Chronicles of Gilles Li Muisis (1272-1352), abbot of the monastery of St. Martin of the Righteous, Bibliothèque royale de Belgique, MS 13076-77, f. 24v.

The second bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, the Plague, the Great Plague, or the Pestilence, was the most fatal pandemic in human history. It was gruesome, lethal, apocalyptic.

The Black Death peaked between 1346-1353, but recurred in periodic waves over the next 300 years. It spread quickly and relentlessly across Eurasia and North Africa, resulting in an estimated 75-200 million deaths. This estimate includes nearly 60% of Europe’s entire population in the late Middle Ages. (By comparison, the deadly 1918 influenza pandemic, known as the Spanish Flu, “only” killed an estimated 20-40 million people over a two-year period at the end of WWI.)

Such massive loss of life fundamentally changed the course of history. But according to McNeill and several other historians, not all of these changes were for the worse. For some survivors, the plague proved to be “a good thing.” Among peasants and serfs, wages rose across Europe due to a severe labor shortage, marking the beginning of the end of centuries of oppressive feudal servile dues and restrictions for the poorest of the poor. Working-class women, especially teenage women, filled occupational gaps in the textile and agricultural sectors, while dowagers flourished among the gentry as women inherited their deceased husbands’ titles or property.

For entrepreneurial-minded and creative individuals, the death of huge numbers of merchants, officials and aristocrats was literally a boon: it provided unprecedented opportunities to test and embrace new ideas. Most importantly, the plague hastened the collapse of feudalism, which had calcified Europe for nearly 1,000 years following the fall of Rome. In this way, the Black Death accelerated the conditions that ultimately ushered in the Renaissance, a period of vibrant cultural, artistic, philosophical and economic transformation that brought medieval Europe out of the Dark Ages and pushed it towards modernity. 

As Leonard Cohen would later remind us: “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”

The Leonard Cohen Crescent Street Mural, a 10,000 square-foot tribute to the Montréal singer, songwriter and poet

This quote by Montréal’s favorite son is what inspired me to write this post. Five months into the COVID-19 pandemic – with many more months to come, possibly years of death and collective rage – I know that I am not alone in wondering what life might look like on the other side. I can’t help asking the question: If humans in the late Middle Ages, devastated by the Great Plague, were able to find the moxie to literally rise from the ashes and transform society into a vibrant Renaissance, why would we – third millennial humans – not be able to do the same?

Since re-reading Plagues and Peoples, I’ve started thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic in a whole new light: a once-in-a-generation opportunity to learn from the pastin order to transform our “calcified” fossil fuel-dependent economy into a more resilient 21st century renaissance. This post-COVID-19 renaissance should be built upon a regenerative, cradle-to-cradle circular economy powered by renewable energy, with climate justice and resilience at its heart.

Even Fatih Birol, executive director of the typically conservative International Energy Agency (IEA) believes we are facing a historic opportunity to usher in a new era for global climate action by scaling up the technologies needed to turbocharge the energy transition. Birol predicts “the energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before.”

Among politicians, city mayors representing more than 750 million people – from Bogotá to Milan to Seoul – have issued a Statement of Principles that warns that there can be no return to “business as usual” following the COVID-19 pandemic if humanity is to escape catastrophic climate breakdown. In a series of articles, The Guardian quotes Mark Watts, chief executive of the C40 group of cities: “There is now a hell of a lot of collaboration among very powerful politicians who do think a green economic recovery is absolutely essential.” As just one example, New York City’s mayor Bill de Blasio said: “Half-measures that maintain the status quo won’t move the needle or protect us from the next crisis. We need a new deal for these times – a massive transformation that rebuilds lives, promotes equality and prevents the next economic, health or climate crisis.” A rebirth.

To help us get there, Bina Venkataraman, author of The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age, dares us to rethink what we measure, change what we reward, and be brave enough to imagine what lies ahead. Professor at MIT and Editorial Page Editor of the Boston Globe, Venkataraman passionately argues in her 2019 TED Talk that modern societies spend far too much time focusing on the immediate and ephemeral (stock prices, election cycles, happiness, social media) compared to “imagining all the possibilities the future holds.” According to Venkataraman, our culture, workplaces and institutions are designed in ways that impair foresight, making it difficult to think ahead and avoid an epidemic of recklessness. To exercise foresight, we need tools for “looking across time to the future.”

I was so moved by Venkataraman’s TED Talk closing statement that I am taking the liberty of transcribing it here in its entirety. Using an old family heirloom as a metaphor for foresight, Venkataraman explains: 

My great-grandfather protected this hand-made instrument by giving it to the next generation, my grandmother, who gave it to me. This instrument is in my home today, but it doesn’t belong to me. It’s my role to shepherd it in time. This instrument positions me as both a descendant and an ancestor. It makes me feel part of a story bigger than my own. And this, I believe, is the single most powerful way we can reclaim foresight: by seeing ourselves as the good ancestors we long to be. Ancestors not just to our own children, but to all humanity. Whatever your heirloom is, however big or small, protect it. And know that its music can resonate for generations.

Thank you, Bina.

Collectively and individually, we are standing at a crossroads. We can choose to go “back to normal” – in which we fail to heed the warning signs of future consequences until it is too late (as per Jared Diamond). Or, we can choose to keep the memory of the past alive to help us imagine and navigate a more resilient and vibrant future. 

Artist Olafur Eliasson expresses this far more eloquently than I in a recent Instagram post

Memory and imagination are the twins of future-thinking; without memory, there is no fantasy, no story of what was and what could be. Anticipation of the future based on how we remember the past greases the wheels for the mental time travel that generates our possible futures. 

Thank you, Olafur.

Footnote: The first bubonic plague, known as the Plague of Justinian, swept through what was then the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire, and lasted 200 years from 542-750, killing 25-50 million people. Eight hundred years later, in the mid-14th century, the second bubonic plague erupted, caused by a different strain of the same bacterium. A third bubonic plague pandemic, originating in China in 1866, eventually spread to India and resulted in 2.2 million deaths. The WHO considered this pandemic active until 1960, when worldwide casualties dropped to 200 per year. Today, plague is considered to be endemic in 26 countries; the three most endemic countries are Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Peru.

(Top image by Joan Sullivan.)

This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.

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Joan Sullivan is a Canadian photographer focused on the energy transition. Her renewable energy photographs have been exhibited in group and solo shows in Canada, the UK and Italy. She is currently working on a long-term, self-assigned photo project about Canada’s energy transition. In her monthly column for Artists and Climate Change, Joan explores the intersection of art and the energy transition. You can find Joan on TwitterVisura and Ello.

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Tiny Coronavirus Stories: ‘A tiny laughing dove’

By Laurie ParsonsMadeline HumphreyMargo ClausenRebecca Cohen

Reader-submitted stories of the COVID-19 pandemic, in no more than 100 words. Read past stories hereSubmit your own here.

PLAYGROUND WAITS PATIENTLY

These spring days whisper come,
come invent a new game, one that has
never been played,
come find a family of leaves in the shade
and roll them around in your palm as you
brace yourself for an ascent up to the
top of the slide,
dangle your toes from the monkey bars
and feel your belly drop into your ribs,
come chase someone, anyone,
reposition your scrunchy on your
wispy dirt-glazed hair,
oh to be innocent to the secret magic of touch.

— Rebecca Cohen (New York, New York)

(Top photo: The construction site across from the playground reads: “LET THE NATURE LOOK AFTER YOU.”)

* * *

BACKWARDS

Seemingly every aspect of what was once our normal has been flipped utterly backwards. Confusion and conflict struck me. Backwards. The way to help people is to not go out and help them? The way to keep people safe and healthy is to keep yourself safe and healthy? Backwards selflessness, I suppose. Socialization has become smiles through a screen. Backwards. The tired and the brave on the frontlines are the very same people who are least protected and provided for. Utterly backwards. Realizing that reality is a hand-in-hand dance of both the miracles and the misery. Pray.

— Margo Clausen (Plymouth, Minnesota)

Parachuting in pandemics with poorly provided protection!

* * *

WHAT LIFE WILL BE LIKE NOW

Maybe you can see it, maybe not. But right in the middle of that telephone wire, there’s this little hummingbird. At first I thought he might have been stuck there. I’d never seen a hummingbird sit still. But as I’ve gone for daily walks I’ve realized that the wire beside our home is his place, he likes it here. He leaves at night and comes back in the morning. He takes lunch breaks as well. It’s weird, what you notice when you’re forced to stop and look at things differently. I think this is what life will be like now.

— Madeline Humphrey (Orange, California)

Hummingbird on a wire.

* * *

HOPE’S CONSERVATORY

A tiny house in a tiny suburb of a city in a big country with big issues…

We have lived our tiny lives in our tiny home with big imaginations creating endless portraits of hope – painted and presented with pride. Now we have a tiny art gallery in our tiny conservatory where a tiny laughing dove struts boldly about collecting tiny sticks to build his tiny nest to raise his tiny chicks to fly freely into the big, blue sky.

Hope whispering to us that we will emerge from our tiny cocoon into a brave, new world… South Africa.

— Laurie Parsons (Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa)

The laughing dove of hope.

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This series is edited by Thomas Peterson. One of the editors of Artists & Climate Change, he is also a theatre director and researcher whose work focuses on the climate crisis.

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Tiny Coronavirus Stories: ‘We meet with the midwife on the phone’

By Irie CooperJennifer MacLatchyPawit (PJ) SethbhakdiSandra Henderson

Reader-submitted stories of the COVID-19 pandemic, in no more than 100 words. Read past stories hereSubmit your own here.

SLIPPING

Out for a walk with friends by the ocean, having arrived in separate cars, we talk about our fears, and what precautions we are taking. But it is hard to hear what they are saying through my hat, my hood, the ocean’s roar, and the strange distance that we hold between us. My attempts at speaking are lost in the wind, unnoticed. It is hard enough to gain footing in conversations at the best of times, never mind this. I stop trying and feel myself slip away from them, as I focus my attention on the waves, and the ground.

— Jennifer MacLatchy (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada)

(Top photo: The ocean’s roar.)

* * *

NO PROM? NO HONEY STICKS?

“So what are your thoughts on honey sticks?” I whispered as we lay in the grass on an oddly warm day in February. I didn’t even let you answer as I continued to mouth off about how I was going to bring you honey sticks and how fascinating bees are. I didn’t know that would be my last day with you. Soon enough I was on a plane back to California and living with my chaotic family for god knows how long. I watch the bees fly by my window. I think of us and what prom would’ve been like.

— Irie Cooper (Valencia, California)

Honey in a tube = a honey stick.

* * *

HER SMILE

Three hours ago, I was the happiest man in the world. My fiance and I exchanged rings and flew together to our honeymoon in the Bahamas. I can vividly remember the first time we met. It was her smile. I was running my first flight and she was my flight attendant. Her smile kept me relaxed throughout the entire operation. Once we landed, I had the courage to ask her out, and we have flown together since. Sadly, our honeymoon ended prematurely, and I’ll never get to see her smile again if we’ll all be forced to wear white masks.

— Pawit (PJ) Sethbhakdi (Bangkok, Thailand)

Sadly, I have never been to the Bahamas, but I took this photo in Kok Kut, Thailand.

* * *

WALKING DISTANCE

We meet with the midwife on the phone.

She answers our questions and we have that standard-issue conversation: how strange these times are, how we look forward to gathering, how certain we are that this is for the best.

The midwife cannot take my blood pressure or listen for the baby’s heartbeat, so I am left to trust that my body and its tiny resident are working as they should. We felt quite clever when we chose a clinic within walking distance of home, didn’t we?

— Sandra Henderson (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)

20 weeks.

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This series is edited by Thomas Peterson. One of the editors of Artists & Climate Change, he is also a theatre director and researcher whose work focuses on the climate crisis.

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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An Interview with Musician Fabian Almazan

By Amy Brady

Hello from Week Six in lockdown in New York City. The days are blurring together, but thanks to links sent to me from folks in this incredibly kind and creative community, I’ve kept myself busy by attending online art shows, live music performances over Zoom, and other interesting things.

Speaking of interesting things, this month I have for you one of my favorite interviews yet. Meet Fabian Almazan, an award-winning jazz pianist and composer, environmentalist, and founder of Biophilia Records. His most recent album, This Land Abounds With Life, is a gorgeous exploration of the relationship between humans and the natural world. His record label, Biophilia, supports the work of other great musicians who share Fabian’s love of nature. Indeed, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the record label organized volunteer efforts to help clean up rivers and other natural resources. 

In the interview below, Fabian and I spoke about what inspired him to start Biophilia and what sustains his interests in music and environmental justice.

Your music – especially your latest album, This Land Abounds With Life – evokes images of animals and natural landscapes. There’s even birdsong on some of the tracks. What animals and places – natural or otherwise – inspire your work?

I have been drawn to nature for as long as I can remember. I grew up in the Caribbean, in Havana, Cuba. We lived on the top floor of a four-story building in the heart of Nuevo Vedado, located a couple of blocks away from the zoo. Times were tough in Cuba in the early 90’s. Rather than being told when we wouldn’t have electricity, we were told when we would have it. This meant that I spent many nights doing homework by candle light, and because we lived so close to the zoo, I could hear some of the animals from our apartment. I was fascinated by those sounds.

We could also see the crisp blue ocean from our balcony off in the distance. Some of our family worked for the agricultural sector. We would sometimes visit them in Camagüey, where I would spend a lot of time in the countryside. Cuba is teaming with amphibians and reptiles, and as a kid I spent a lot of time seeking out these creatures. As an adult, this curiosity has continued and one of the things that I really enjoy about touring throughout the world with different bands is that I get to experience all sorts of ecosystems. Whenever I can, I will try to stay an extra day and make it out to local national forests or refuge areas to photograph the wildlife and just breathe it all in. There is life almost everywhere in one form or another, and I find it mysteriously miraculous and inspiring.

Your record label, Biophilia, has a unique mission. Please tell us about it.

In my late teens and early twenties, I became aware of two men without whom I would not have found my way through life: E.O. Wilson and Joseph Campbell. E.O. Wilson’s writings on the biophilia hypothesis helped me affirm the fascination I have with the natural world, and Joseph Campbell gave me the courage to, as he once said, “follow my bliss.”

On a tour with Terence Blanchard throughout the West Coast about ten years ago, we passed through San Diego and Seattle and I went to both zoos since I had some time off during the days. Upon seeing that Herbie Hancock was playing a concert at the Seattle Zoo, something clicked in my mind: my two passions did not have to live in separate worlds; they could be connected. Back in New York, I began going more and more to the Museum of Natural History where I met Michael J. Foster, who was doing research on biodiversity and was interested in the disparity of environmental injustices in wealthy versus poor communities. I learned a lot from him about the different perceptions of sustainability in society and how we can do something about it. 

Growing up in Miami, Florida as a young Hispanic male who was serious about classical piano, jazz and science, I felt pretty isolated sometimes. I didn’t feel like there were others around that fit my description. After meeting with Michael, my initial goal was to form some sort of music organization focused on historically underserved groups and the environment, so as to provide similar-minded artists with a supportive community of peers. Then I spent some time in Johannesburg, South Africa, where I was deeply moved by the experiences and conversations I had with people about apartheid and Nelson Mandela’s efforts to unify people. That was when the idea became clearer in my mind. I would establish Biophilia Records as a label of all genres that values imaginative music and takes an environmentally conscious approach to packaging and distribution.

Additionally, Biophilia Records would coordinate with a variety of sustainability-focused, non-profit organizations to participate in volunteering events that benefit society and the environment. I didn’t want to add more plastic to the world by printing thousands of CDs so I came up with the concept of having an elaborate piece of paper origami art which folds down to the same dimensions as a CD jewel case, containing a unique download code for the music. This, I felt, was a good middle ground between providing a plastic-free product for the super fans that ask for physical products and artists who can continue to have something to sell as merch at the end of their shows. That’s important, because merch sales supplement the ever-dwindling revenue from album sales due to digital pirating and streaming. This paper product became the Biopholio™. In an effort to steer the music industry in a more sustainable direction, we trademarked the Biopholio™ with the hope that fans would embrace this new environmentally conscious format and further push the social change needed to pave the way for better environmental policies in government.

Tell us about the volunteer work that your label’s artists participate in.

This is kind of a sore subject at the moment, because although I have very much enjoyed teaming up with many non-profits to organize such efforts, a big forthcoming event was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. We were all set to host our first large-scale volunteering event with permits from the NYC Parks and Recreation department on May 2nd alongside Riverkeeper to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Our artists and fans were going to help clean up the Hudson river, and I was very much looking forward to that. We were also going to have our first ever Biophilia Records Festival at the Jazz Gallery from April 22 to May 2, featuring 13 performances by all of the Biophilia Records artists. This all had to be cancelled due to the crisis the world is facing, and I absolutely support the decision to cancel everything – but it hurts a little bit.

You and your wife, the brilliant bassist Linda May Han Oh, have both spoken about your passion for environmental awareness. What sustains your activism? 

Love is what sustains me on all fronts. 

You’ve led your own bands and have played for years with Terence Blanchard. Who are some of your biggest musical influences? And who are some of your favorites playing today? 

My biggest musical influences are Keith Jarrett, Maurice Ravel, Jonny GreenwoodGonzalo Rubalcaba, Brahms, Stravinsky, Coltrane, and Mahler. Most recently, I’ve become obsessed with a brilliant composer from Philadelphia, David Ludwig. Some of my favorites playing today are all of the musicians on Biophilia Records, of course. 

Do you think that music has the power to move people to think more deeply about climate change and the environment? Why or why not?

The only answer I can give is that music and nature provide me with a visceral urge to live life to its most full and beautiful potential, and all I can do is try to share this feeling with people.

(Photo by Desmond White.)

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

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

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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A Call for Arts & Climate Courses and Syllabi

By Thomas Peterson

We are in the process of developing a new resource for this platform, collecting a database of academic programs, courses, and syllabi that integrate the arts and the study of climate change. Inspired by the International Environmental Communication Association’s resource on Environmental Communication Courses, we want to centralize a list of university courses from all disciplines that engage with climate issues through the arts.

These might be environmental science courses that incorporate artistic media as a means of engaging with a climate-related topic; courses in the environmental humanities, human geography, or environmental policy; art history or theory courses; practice-based courses in any artistic medium that engage with climate; or other intersections of the arts and climate that we have not yet dreamed up. 

We will list the course title, instructor, and institution at which the course is taught, and link to the syllabus, if the instructor is willing to share it. Separately, we will also list academic degree programs focusing specifically on the arts and climate.

Once compiled, this information will be freely available to all, a centralized academic resource for scholarly work and education at the intersection of the arts and climate. We hope this resource will serve as a guide for students looking for a place to start or deciding where to pursue their research, a site of exchange for professors and teachers looking to share knowledge, and a well of inspiration for artists working at this intersection. 

If you teach, have taken, or know of such a course, fill out the form [HERE]. If you would like to share an academic degree program focused on the arts and climate, scroll down to the second form.

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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On the Visible and Invisible in the High Arctic

By Susan Hoffman Fishman

In June of 2017, New York photographer and painter Carleen Sheehan boarded the tall ship Antigua bound for the High Arctic as part of a three-week residency for international artists, scientists, architects and scholars. Sponsored by The Arctic Circle, the residency provides an opportunity for 30 participants to explore the Svalbard Archipelago, located 500 miles north of Norway, and develop new and often experimental work in response to the Arctic landscape.

Prior to being accepted for the expedition, each of the participants submits a project proposal that provides an overview of what they want to accomplish. Sheehan had long admired 19th century “ghost” photographs, in which unintended flares or blurs occurred during processing, creating “ghost” images. Her original concept for the residency was to capture the shadows of glaciers or what she referred to as the “ghosts” or memories that glaciers held. Upon arrival, though, she discovered that she wasn’t able to capture ice shadows via the cyanotype process she had planned to use, because the intensity of the twenty four hour solstice sunlight melted her ice samples too quickly. Shifting from her original idea, she began literally crawling on the ground, looking closely at the terrain and ice and shooting what she saw with her cameras. What she ultimately discovered serendipitously became the basis of powerful and impactful bodies of work.

02.+Blomstrand+glacier+5.jpg
Twist, Blomstrand Glacier, Svalbard. Pigmented inkjet print on silver paper, 19” x 26”, 2017.
GLACIAL COSMOLOGIES

Sheehan developed several series of innovative photographs during the Arctic expedition. The series called Glacial Cosmologies was created by sliding the flat lens of a waterproof camera along the surfaces of pieces of ice found on the shore that had broken off or “calved” from melting glaciers. This scanning process captures the intricate internal structures, called Tydall figures, underneath the surface of the ice that are not visible to the naked eye. John Tyndall, a 19th century Arctic explorer and physicist, had first noticed the forms occurring in melting glacial ice as air bubbles trapped in the ice reacted to the intense heat of the solstice sun by releasing gases such as methane and CO2, as well as pollens and pollutants from previous centuries.

What Sheehan photographed are the forms that occur just before the ice melts, the bubbles in the ice that burst or “bloom” into shapes resembling flowers. She both reveals the invisible and preserves ephemeral moments in the history of the planet. By providing the viewer with a micro-view of elemental structures that appear repeatedly in nature, she is also emphasizing our inherent interconnectedness. All of the images in the series are printed on metallic silver paper, which, from certain vantage points, recreates the experience of ice glistening in the sun over the Arctic landscape. The Glacial Cosmologyphotographs are ultimately mystical, mysterious, reflective and requiring reflection.

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Mound, Hvitfiskstranda, Svalbard. Pigmented injet print from infrared photograph on Hahnemühle paper, 22” x 30”, 2019.
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Ice Fall, Hvitfiskstranda, Svalbard. Pigmented inkjet prints on Hahnemühle paper, 8 x 20 ft in total, individual dimensions vary, 2018.
CHALK AND ICE FALL SERIES

The dictionary definition of the word “chalk” is “soft white limestone (calcium carbonate) formed from the skeletal remains of sea creatures.” Sheehan’s photographs in her Chalkseries were taken along the perimeter of a secluded cove in Hvitfiskstranda, Svalbard, and depict large piles of beluga whale bones exuding chalk that were discarded from whale hunts over a century ago. The bones have been cleaned and arranged in a number of dense piles. Using an infrared camera, which detects heat generated by an object and then converts it into an image, Sheehan created photographs where the bones appear as if they are abstract formations suspended in space. As in her Glacial Cosmology series, she developed a dramatic memorial to what no longer exists.

In her Ice Fall series, Sheehan photographed and printed individual pieces of calved glacial ice that had washed ashore as if they are falling from the sky. Installed as a series, the photographs measure 8 ft. high x 20 ft. long. Sheehan related to me her interest in the “fractal nature of ice,” the elemental patterns contained within it that appear in nature over and over again. It is these patterns, she says, that connect “everything to everything.” Looking at these lone pieces of ice that are in the process of melting away and disappearing, we can just as easily imagine a meteor, a small body of matter from outer space, entering the earth’s atmosphere and burning into nothing.

ART FOR ARCTIC’S SAKE AND CHANGE: A PERMANENT SHIP-BASED POLAR ART EXHIBIT

Since her return from the Arctic, Sheehan’s photographs have been shown in a number of exhibitions. In 2018, her work was included in the group exhibition Art for Arctic’s Sakecurated with JoAnna Isaak at Fordham University, where she has taught since 2007. The exhibition included eleven prominent eco-artists whose photographs, videos, projections, and films address, as the exhibition catalogue describes, “the profound impact climate change is having upon the sensitive ecosystem of the Arctic and the communities that rely upon the region’s natural resources… For many of us, the Arctic remains abstract and distant, but the work of the artists in this exhibition brings the Arctic and the disconcerting changes taking place there to our immediate attention, revealing the epic scale of global interconnectedness.”

Sheehan’s work is currently included in Change: A Permanent Ship-Based Polar Art Exhibition aboard the National Geographic Endurance, a brand new polar expedition vessel. Curated by internationally acclaimed New York artist Zaria FormanChange occupies each deck of the ship and explores “the themes of polar light, the intimate geometries of vast geographies, human history in polar regions and more.” Prior to the pandemic, the Endurance’s voyages in 2020 were scheduled to include Iceland, Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands, East Greenland and Norway, the wild coasts of Argentina, the High Arctic, the Russian Arctic, the Northeast Passage and Southern Patagonia.

All of Sheehan’s photographs are labeled with a name and the location where they were taken, telling a story about a particular place and time. She admits to being interested in disarming viewers with the ambiguity of the images she takes in order to encourage them to look at the photos with a different perspective, just as she was disarmed when she first experienced the Arctic landscape. As she describes it, she was totally disoriented by the sheer scale of the place and needed to reassess her place in it. Whereas many of the artists confronted by the Arctic’s grandeur try to capture that enormity, Sheehan ultimately turned to the micro-scale examples of invisible and visible natural wonders that are disappearing every day. For that reason, in addition to her role as an artist, she is serving as an historian of record as well as an heiress to the tradition of polar exploration.

(Top image: Blomstrand Glacier, Svalbard. Pigmented inkjet print on silver paper, 19” x 26”, 2017.)

This article is part of Imagining Water, a series on artists of all genres who are making the topic of water and climate disruption a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances, projects and publications that are appearing in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme.

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Susan Hoffman Fishman is a painter, public artist and writer. Her work has been exhibited in numerous museums and galleries throughout the US and she has received numerous grants and commissions. Since 2011, all of her paintings, installations and drawings have focused on water and climate change. She co-created a national, interactive public art project, The Wave, which addresses our mutual need for and interdependence on water and has inspired thousands of adults and children of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to protect this vital resource. Her most recent body of work calls attention to the growing number of rampikes along our shores – dead trees that have been exposed to salt water as a result of rising tides.

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Tiny Coronavirus Stories: ‘I tend to the pieces’

By Carolyn SandovalChloe CassidyDonna HokeJeffrey K. Johnson

Reader-submitted stories of the COVID-19 pandemic, in no more than 100 words. Read past stories hereSubmit your own here.

FRACTURED

It’s been nearly four years since we’ve felt such extremes. Anxiety. Stupidity. Complacency. Fear. Death. Anxiety. Complacency. Fear. Death. This should have been different. This should not have created divides between “this is really inconvenient” and “I just lost a son and husband,” between sold out shallots and sold out sympathy cards. We’re beyond fractured. There is gnawing fear of exposure but clawing fear of what has been exposed. And staying inside becomes not just sheltering in place, but also sheltering from the divide, sheltering in the only stillness.

— Donna Hoke (East Amherst, New York)

Sheltering in stillness.

* * *

NO HEROES HERE

Shelter in place, I’m told. COVID-19 is here. I button up my stiff white dress shirt and throw on a muted-color suit. I’m one of the privileged few that get to leave the house every day. I’m one of the people they don’t talk about on the news. In a footnote maybe, they mention the number of deaths. They never mention me. I am on the frontlines but don’t qualify for hero status. I’m called. I respond. I am always responding. At least I have N95 masks now. I may have been exposed. I could be next.

— Jeffrey K. Johnson (Pineville, Louisiana)

A local cemetery.

* * *

INSPIRATION

“Have a good day,” I tell my partner as I kiss her goodbye and head to work in the makeshift office in the dining room downstairs. I am grateful that it’s my day to Zoom all day where the comfortable office chair is located. Achy from weeks of staring at my computer screen, filled with my colleagues’ faces (and their pets and kids in the background on good days), I settle in and breathe a sigh of gratitude for the privilege of working alongside inspiring people, and within reach of hummingbirds and blooms that hang out on the patio.

— Carolyn Sandoval (Solana Beach, California)

Patio pals.

* * *

ODE TO GAIA

She is healing, but she needs our help. Her body has been ravaged by bushfires so furious they left her hollow. Floods of emotion swept through her outer edges, and afterwards burnt remnants of the fires washed up onto the shores. I discovered these fragile pieces left to slowly weather away, as the passers-by are now kept at a distance. I tend to the pieces as if I can mend and heal each through repair and reverie. The pieces are renewed. They awaken the senses once more. Gaia is beginning again. We are all in stages of healing.

— Chloe Cassidy (Sydney, NSW, Australia)

(Top photo: Healing and reverie.)

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This series is edited by Thomas Peterson. One of the editors of Artists & Climate Change, he is also a theatre director and researcher whose work focuses on the climate crisis.

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Tiny Coronavirus Stories: ‘Like Sisyphus, I’ve got nothing but time’

By Brooke St. GeorgeDavid CaudleMichelle Kuen Suet FungSarah Fisk

Reader-submitted stories of the COVID-19 pandemic, in no more than 100 words. Read past stories hereSubmit your own here.

MORNING MOURNING

I wake to the sound of chainsaws. Outside my window, on the street behind our house, is a man in a tree, trimming it, but what is that in the street? Peeking over my back fence I see an old oak, illegally felled by our new neighbors, and burst into tears.

Nothing will bring the oak back. Nothing will bring back the lives we’ve lost, or my 95-year-old grandmother, who died alone because we couldn’t visit the nursing home.

I stand alone in my backyard, in my pajamas and the bright morning sun, and mourn for the world.

— Brooke St. George (Tempe, Arizona)

RIP, Lovely Oak.

* * *

IS IT TIME?

Not too long ago, when this last guy first became President, my favorite (and only) sister called me. “Don’t laugh and don’t tell anyone I asked you this,” she said, “but do you think it’s time to move to Canada?” I said I didn’t think so. The idea scared me. It scared me to hear it come from her. Today I want to call her. My work is almost gone. The economy is crumbling. I want to ask her, “Is it time now? Australia, maybe?” But I know what she’ll say, “No, Sweetpea, we can’t. We can’t go anywhere.”

— Sarah Fisk (Berkeley, California)

My sister teaching me how to stick out my tongue, 1959.

* * *

QUARANTINE ARTIST RESIDENCY

In 2020, I lose gigs and gain more time. I make less money and more art. Instead of battling crowds on trains and buses, I sink in my couch of clouds and hungrily glean through books that weigh like rocks, neglected previously not by choice but by lack of time. Instead of making do with constant disruptions of life by necessity, I relish these long days where I indulge in nothing but my own art and research. I no longer remember what day of the week it is. This silky creative thread unbroken by errands and money. A quarantine artist residency.

— Michelle Kuen Suet Fung (Hong Kong)

(Top photo: Working from home is great.)

* * *

SELF-ISOLATING, WITH TREES

My cottage north of town borders wetlands protected by law (so far), and woods I love to walk. But Nature’s debris can trip you up. Especially if you focus on the canopies. (No crown shyness here. These trees don’t social distance.) Spent six days of quarantine clearing fallen branches. On the seventh, a storm threw down new ones. Like Sisyphus, I’ve got nothing but time. But hospitals are the new Hades. Health workers roll out one patient, Rona delivers two more. Me, I’m unemployed and high risk. All I can do is wander these woods. Five, six, pick up sticks.

— David Caudle (Putnam Valley, New York)

Sun through the pines with deer.

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This series is edited by Thomas Peterson. One of the editors of Artists & Climate Change, he is also a theatre director and researcher whose work focuses on the climate crisis.

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Survivor Generations 2165: An Original Radio Drama by the Climate Stew Players

By Peterson Toscano

The Climate Stew Players present Survivor Generations 2165, an original radio drama. Turns out television programs of the future will be obsessed with the past. Hear the story of Yuri Ivanovich Petrov. As a boy, he survived the infamous 900-day siege of Leningradduring World War II. Though he experienced unimaginable hardships, he also developed inventive ways to survive. The lessons he learned during the greatest crisis of his generation can help give us hope and guidance for our own.

That winter siege nearly destroyed the city and its emaciated inhabitants. But, miraculously, many survived. Speaking of that desperate first winter of the 900-day siege, poet Olga Bergholz wrote:

That winter death looked straight into our eyes and stared long, without faltering. It wanted to hypnotize us, like a boa constrictor hypnotizes its intended victim, stripping him of his will and subjugating him. But those who sent us so much death miscalculated. They underestimated our voracious hunger for life.

Based on archival interviews from actual survivors of the siege, the Climate Stew Players weave true stories into the life of young Yuri. Learn about the resiliency and the determination of the women, children, and elderly who had to find ways to survive in spite of all the odds against them.

The Climate Stew Players use storytelling, comedy, and character-driven short radio dramas to explore climate change and human rights.

Segment music by Skaj Da Waidah, Sean Pope Domeneko, Raúl Díaz Palomar, and J. Buckner.

Next month, creative non-fiction writer, Elizabeth Rush reveals how seeing a stage adaptation to her award winning book, Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, helped her see her own climate grief in a whole new light.

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

This article is part of The Art House series.

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

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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