Artists and Climate Change

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Harvesting Human Energy

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Calling all dancers! Ballet, jazz, tango, ballroom, Zumba, breakdance, tap, disco, swing, line, hip-hop, pogo, calypso, square dance, cha cha, jerkin’…

You are an incredible source of untapped renewable energy!

Each footstep, each cabriole, each moonwalk, each jerk produces kinetic energy. This kinetic energy can be transformed into electricity to light up the stage upon which you dance, to power the audio system in your theatre, to charge the LED lights in your dressing room, or even to feed into the larger grid.

The Dutch company Energy Floors has created the world’s first dance floor that harvests human energy. Welcome to the Anthropocene.

Power Of Dance (by Vice UK) from Energy Floors on Vimeo.

By “making energy fun”, Energy Floors is committed to raising awareness about energy production and consumption (note: we humans can do both!) in a way that is interactive, tangible and more accessible than, say, remote utility-scale solar or wind farms or hydroelectric dams.

“When you install an energy floor,” explained Energy Floors CEO Michel Smit to CNBC, “then the public is part of the solution, they are part of the energy contribution of that location, which makes them much more involved.” According to the company’s website, “We believe that consciousness about energy and the impact we have on it are the main conditions to create a sustainable world.”

renewable energy, dance, floors, energy

Photo courtesy of Energy Floors

Energy Floors wants people to understand the simple fact that “energy is everywhere” – it just needs to be harvested. Think about this: the average person takes about 150 million steps in a lifetime. “That’s a lot of steps, right?” says Sylvia Meijer-Villafane, Director of Marketing & Communication for Energy Floors. ‘Now multiply that by the billions of people on the planet. Harnessing all that kinetic energy and converting it into electricity creates an incredible opportunity to ensure access to sustainable energy for people across the world. Adding solar panels [starting October 2017] to our energy tiles makes this opportunity even more worthwhile.”

Energy Floors is not the only company experimenting with “smart floors” – UK’s Pavegen and Italy’s Veranu focus primarily on the built environment, with installations across the globe. But Energy Floors was the first start-up to promote the concept that human dancing is a potential source of renewable energy.

How does this technology work? The floor tiles produced by these companies convert the small vertical movement of human footsteps/dancesteps into a very high rotational motion (on the order of 1,000s of rpm) that drives a tiny internal generator to produce off-grid electricity. More movement, more energy; more dancers, more electricity generated. A diagram is provided in the following video beginning at 00:48.

Theoretically, almost anything could be powered through the simple act of a human footstep, multiplied hundreds of thousands times per day in heavy foot-traffic areas such as train stations, airports, museums, sports arenas, movie theaters, music festivals and exercise studios. As it turns out, there is a huge opportunity for harvesting human energy.

To date, renewable energy headlines are dominated by wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric power. But human-powered renewable energy will surely become a “thing” in the not-too-distant future. There are many applications already. For example micro windmills – 1/15 of an inch wide – embedded into our clothing can generate electricity from the kinetic energy produced when we swing our arms or legs by walking, biking, running or dancing.

micro, wind, turbine, micro windmill, renewable, energy, kinetic

A micro-windmill is pictured on the face of a penny.

Alors on danse!

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

Imagining Water

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Introduction to the Series, Imagining Water

This post is the first in a year-long series on artists who are making the topic of water a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances and publications that are popping up in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme. Why are so many artists and institutions concurrently recognizing the relevance of this subject matter? Primarily because dramatic water events are occurring at a rapid pace all over the globe, and artists – who generally have a pulse on the most contemporary global trends – are feeling compelled to respond to the immediacy of climate change and its threat to our very existence through their paintings, poetry, plays, novels, dances, films, music and installations.

Some examples from just the last four months demonstrate the prevalence of catastrophic events related to water or the extreme absence thereof: (1) As of April 2017, almost 11 million individuals in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are suffering from extreme hunger – the effects of a severe drought, which has shriveled crops and caused a critical humanitarian disaster; (2) a huge iceberg the size of the state of Delaware and weighing a trillion metric tons, broke away from Antarctica on July 12, 2017, threatening the stability of the entire ice shelf; (3) a few weeks later in July, and perhaps of more significance to the problem of rising sea levels, a chunk of ice the size of three Manhattans broke free in the Arctic, providing a “worrying sign” for what, according to Laurence Dyke, a researcher at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, says is “happening in the rest of Greenland;” and (4) unprecedented flooding caused by intense and sustained rain in the amount of 50 inches in some areas of Houston, Texas, is devastating the fourth largest city in the U.S., today, as I am writing this piece.

As a painter and public artist, I have been engaged since 2011 with the topic of water, its impressive power, its potential for causing global conflict, and how it serves to unite us all through our mutual need for this crucial resource. Imagining Water, #1, the first installment of this series on water, addresses The Wave, my own on-going, public art project on water.

What is The Wave?

The Wave is a national, interactive, public art project celebrating water and its vital function in our lives, which I co-created with my close friend and fellow artist, Elena Kalman. Since September of 2011, The Wave has been installed in 23 museums, galleries, schools, universities, community centers, festivals and parks including: The Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, MA); The National Aquarium (Baltimore, MD); The Rose Kennedy Greenway (Boston, MA); The Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford, CT); The Manny Cantor Center (NYC); Governor’s Island (NYC); The New Britain Museum of American Art (New Britain, CT); and others.

The Wave at National Acquarium.JPG

The Wave at the National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD

Origins of the Project

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.03 earthquake, centered in Japan, triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 133 feet and shifted the Earth on its axis a distance estimated between 4 and 10 inches. The ensuing tsunami devastated the island country, leaving millions of people without homes, electricity, and clean water and triggering nuclear meltdowns in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Waves resulting from the tsunami traveled across the Pacific Ocean, reaching the coastal areas of California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and western Alaska.

Here, in Connecticut, Elena and I began imagining a picture of that powerful 2011 tsunami in Japan literally “connecting” us all to one another: this enormous wave originating across the world and traveling from continent to continent before washing up on our own “back door.” We talked about developing a project that would visually represent how dramatically we are all connected, regardless of our nationality, religious preferences, race or other artificial divisions, by our mutual dependence on water – one of the most fundamental requirements for life on Earth – and by our mutual susceptibility to the impact of major water events like tsunamis, rising tides, floods and drought.

The Wave as Public Art

During our conversations, we discussed an appropriate format for the project, which we eventually dubbed The Wave. Because we wanted to emphasize the universal nature of water, our individual and community responsibility to protect this vital resource, and the theme of “connected-ness,” we felt very strongly that it needed to be a community engagement, interactive, public art program.

Public art is generally described as any work that is exhibited, and sometimes created, in public spaces so that it is accessible to the general public, not just those who frequent museums and galleries. We chose to create a public art project because, by its very purpose, public art is meant to enrich communities, provoke discussion, and heighten awareness of significant public issues and events. An interactive, public art project enables members of the community, not just the artists, to participate in the creation of the work of art itself. Interactive public art inspires creativity among participants around a specific topic, generates community pride and fosters connections among the participants.

The Wave Participants.jpeg

Wave Participants, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT

The Wave Design

We designed The Wave with these goals in mind. Because the material we use (recyclable, polycarbonate film) is especially unusual, enticing and beautiful, and because it is so easy to simply cut a piece of it into a wave-like shape, each individual coming to a Wave site can feel successful. Thousands of children as young as five, entire school communities including parents, staff, teachers and students of all abilities and ages, adults who are normally intimidated by making art, and seniors, have all embraced the opportunity to “connect” their pieces to the growing, glowing, and undulating Wave that we hope will roll right across the country and beyond. People have asked us why we join the pieces together with black parachute cord that shows up so prominently as an integral part of the installation. Why not use transparent fishing wire or some other invisible material? And, of course, that is the point. We are using the black cord to emphasize how this Wave is being created, piece by piece, connecting individuals, communities, states and, hopefully, an entire nation, to one another.

Wave Participant New London Public Library.jpg

Wave Participant, New London Public Library, New London, CT

Wave Participants National Aquarium.jpg

Wave Participants, National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD

For more information on The Wave, including hundreds of photographs of all the installations to date, resources for teachers on water issues, and my own blog entitled “On Water and Public Art,” please visit The Wave website.

(Top image: The Wave at the Chase Gallery, West Hartford, CT.)

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

In Conversation with Food

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Last month, I put my food play up onstage in its most fully produced iteration. Even though I had heard it aloud in front of an audience before, I didn’t really know what was going to happen. That’s the beauty of theatre, right? We never really know. But I had expectations, anxieties, hopes. I hoped audiences would connect with the piece, with the issues, with moments in a personal and political way. I hoped they would tell someone in their lives about the experience. I hoped everyone would have a good time.

Logo graphic design by Lucy Ressler.

For the most part, it felt like everyone – audiences and actors – did indeed have a good time. But in the weeks since, I’ve been ambivalent about UPROOT’s effectiveness. How does my play fit into a world where tragedies like the violence in Charlottesville and disasters like tropical storm Harvey are coursing through news media and every-day conversation? I consider this because I hold my processes and work to a socio-political standard, because myself and my collaborators and my work do not exist in a vacuum. Stepping back, I’m considering some of the moments of UPROOT that held particular socio-political resonance.

Over the past decade, I’ve been consuming various food documentaries and writings, which expose another side of the food industry not seen in the restaurants and stores where we actually get our food. These investigations have directly informed my food play, in which I raise questions about where our food comes from and how we in Western society got to be disconnected from those sources. I attempt to address metaphysical ideas in a pedestrian mode, through anthropomorphized foods, and utilizing multiple theatrical conventions. I use group scenes and two-handers and monologues and movement because I want to tear down the artifice of theatre. I am not looking for audiences to have an emotional catharsis by the end of the show: I am looking for audiences to feel a collective energy, to be ready to share their thoughts and questions with others. Not that these are mutually exclusive, but I personally prefer to circumvent and reutilize theatrical conventions to more aptly make space for dedicated conversation around pressing issues.

UPROOT, August 22, 2017. Photo by Ran Xia.

What I found in making a play about food is that I naturally took a route of exploration through words. I used my characters and their circumstances as a vehicle to explore my own ideas about food in America – a very particular Western, privileged culture. My food characters grappled with the existential questions that I ask my peers and myself on a regular basis: What is our purpose? Where do we have control? How do we have agency? In thinking about food, I think about existence, and thus, these broad, human questions arise.

The play also had moments without dialogue – moments between the lines, music, movement. My favorite element was the movement sequence in which the foods go through their physical life at the opening up of the grocery store. Choreographed by my collaborator Tyler Thomas, the store-opening movement sequence encapsulated the experience of a hectic grocery store from the foods’ perspectives. Without words, this part of the play opened up room for interpretation, but was also clear enough – with sounds of price-checkers and cash registers – for the audiences to identify and track the story. This sequence was fun, fast-paced, participatory, and provocative. It brought a new level of energy into the room, and I realize now that it needed a reprise, another offering of action between the lines.

UPROOT, August 22, 2017. Photo by Ran Xia.

This production had double the instances of audience interaction as the staged reading. This came most prominently in the form of audiences receiving things – coupons, snacks, resource sheets. Breaking the convention of the fourth wall in this way suggests to me that I take my play out of a conventional theatre space altogether, so that I might better position audiences to participate. At the same time, I am accustomed to the traditions and boundaries of theatres, and will remain interested in forging new dynamics and practices within such spaces. It was exciting to de-formalize theatrical norms, and I was pleased by the audiences’ receptiveness to the direct-engagement moments, when the house lights turned dimly on and the actors crossed into the seats, to either ask questions or pass out something.

At one point, the actors pass out coupons, to be “redeemed later.” About forty minutes later, they cross back into the audience to receive these coupons in exchange for one of two snacks: carrots or Cheetos. I could not have expected the responses – some audiences were disappointed in their snack, some were guilty at feeling disappointed, some were content with food of any form. While the snacks are being passed out, one actor tells the story of a town with different neighborhoods. One neighborhood has substantial economic resources, the other does not. I chose the snack types on impulse – carrots, a literal and symbolic fresh food, for the neighborhood with means; Cheetos, an epitome of processed, packaged food, for the neighborhood without. Audiences clicked into similar connotations: Cheetos are cheap, everyone is supposed to want to eat their vegetables, we aren’t supposed to eat the highly-processed fake-cheese crunchy goodness. I didn’t expect such excitement or aversion to one food or the other, or the degree of consideration that landed amongst audiences at this scene. It felt satisfying.

I was particularly excited about the post-show conversation on the first performance night. As a frequent theatre-maker and go-er, I am apt to steer away from such very hit-or-miss experiences as a talkback. But given the universal need to eat, audiences stuck around to hear from our panelists – Onika Abraham from Farm School NYC, Ashley Rafalow from CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute, and Benjamin Sacks from the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University – who localized the issues in the play, and spotlighted the people working on them. Our panelists broadened the topic of food and food justice, and hit on the intersectionality of the food movement, which cross-cuts immigration, workers’ rights, and trade.

I will continue to develop UPROOT, to write and edit, and to talk about food. Through this production process, I’ve felt that the topics and themes I want to hit upon, the vision I have for what role my art can play in society, both encompasses and transcends words (especially in the English language). In this way, I will continue to involve actors and audiences and experts in the development of UPROOT, to cultivate communities, and to usher in the spirit of a sustainable and equitable future for all.

UPROOT, August 22, 2017. Photo by Ran Xia.

Take Action
Donate to the Houston Food Bank to support victims of Harvey.
New York City has a primary mayoral election coming up. Know who’s on the ballot, and where they stand on issues of immigration, workers’ rights, and other justice issues.

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

Biophilia and Beauty

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Over the last three years, I have sought to develop work in new ways in order to offer an alternative discourse to the overwhelming pessimism of climate change debates. Taking my artwork out of the frame, and then off the wall, into three dimensional installations, and ultimately short films, has allowed me to explore original and diverse forms of artistic expression.

My journey started in 2009, following a year as Artist in Residence at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, where I exhibited a series of 27 mixed media drawings featuring extinct and endangered plants. Since then, I have continued to explore ways of communicating the escalating impact of climate change, while trying to reinforce that appreciating the beauty of nature – biophilia – is a necessary need for all people.

I was able to integrate a lifelong passion for meditation and mindfulness into my work as it evolved, and this has presented an opportunity to draw not just from the knowledge of the scientists I worked with at the Royal Botanic Garden, but from recent studies in neuroscience and ecopsychology, about how the brain constructs emotional responses which flow through the body.

Living Fossils: The Shape of Loss (series), Drawn Thread, Australian National University, Canberra, 2017. Drawings of cross sections of fossil wood on cut paper backgrounds symbolizing urban environments and maps.

I sought not only to represent the plants’ precious beauty, but to explore how plants can heighten our abilities to feel and connect with nature. My work seeks to bring this sensibility into galleries and other spaces in less conventional ways. It aims to enhance our ability to reconnect with our own nature, and to reflect on potential loss, explored through the incidental and concomitant beauty found in Herbarium collections, and in the wild.

The first of these new experiments was selected in 2016 for the “Future Stratigraphy” exhibition at the Sydney College of the Arts, Sydney University. The Archaeology of Absence featured drawings of endangered plants in free floating circles and cut paper pieces, across the length of a three meter-long wall.

As a passionate educator, I also wanted to be involved with the community in Sydney. This led me to take part in The Big Anxiety Festival, where I will present a large scale solo exhibition, Art + Nature: Antidotes to Anxiety, and conduct two drawing workshops, hosted at the Fisher Library and the Royal Botanic Garden.

Recent surveys and statistics suggest that an increasing number of people are disengaged from the issue of global warming, and actively avoid thinking about it. Yet the human species needs to be integrated with nature more than ever before. Research in biophilia and ecopsychology continues to provide us with evidence of the positive impacts that being connected with nature – and seeing images of nature – can bring, to both our physical and mental health.

Requiem (Red) showing details of one of three large glass vitrines. The exhibition was distributed across three floors of the Fisher Library, Sydney University, 2017. Red sections relate to The Red List summary of endangered species, and the pressed branches in the foreground are from the critically endangered Eucalyptus Copulans tree.

The first series of works in “Future Stratigraphy” featured free floating circles, the second an installation in the Fisher Library, and the third series used scanned images of my drawings to create a visual meditation and narrative in two short films co-created with Margaret McHugh. The first film was called “Micrographia” and the second, “Deposition Lines.” Both films used soundscapes and combined real images of endangered plants with the drawings. They integrated cut paper layers, changing focal points, alternating light sources, and other visual devices to evoke a calm, meditative experience.

Recent studies have shown that looking at images of nature for as little as five minutes provides health benefits such as reduced blood pressure, increased immune response, and lower depression and anxiety. We are not separate from nature; we are nature. Exploring plant images through artwork, and extending their reach, can provide a way of creating emotional empathy, as a type of touchstone to bring us back to ourselves.

We need antidotes to the negativity of climate change – and nature is ready, and waiting for us.

(Top image: Micrographia, still, at 0.09 in video. The layering in this drawing was inspired by the writing and research of Rachel Carson, in the 1962 book Silent Spring.)


Emma Robertson researches developments in creative thinking processes, exploring the relationships between words, objects and memory in mixed media drawings, installations and bookworks. She is an Associate Professor at UNSWAD and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, London. Emma has exhibited in eight countries, and her prize-winning artwork is held in seven international public collections. For her current PhD practice-based research at Sydney University, she has extended her previous Artist in Residence work with scientists at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, to explore new ways of communicating about the impact of climate change on rare and endangered Australian flora.

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

Recipe for Change

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

What is your favorite food? Not your special-occasion favorite, but your everyday, go-to favorite thing to eat. Are you picturing it? The form it comes in, the smell, the temperature, the flavor. Zoom out on that picture. What’s the context? Where you eat the food, how you eat it, the place you get it from. Zoom out a little further. The place where you get this food from: where does the food come from before that? Can you visualize it? Is the image blurrier now? Maybe not, maybe it’s clear as day. But you see how this sequence could go on and on, so that at some point, the link between you and the food you eat is muddled. I am interested in this sequence, this telescoping through the lens of what we eat and where it comes from. I situate my thoughts on food alongside my theatrical processes, as I pose questions about our relationships to one another and to our natural environment.

At this time three years ago, I was composing my undergraduate thesis production. With this play, GAIA: an eco-theatre project, I posed questions like: How do we—humans—impact the natural environment? What do our actions, in relation to the natural environment, say about what it means to be human? Through found text, live music, movement, video, and processes of improvisation, my ensemble and I built a sequence of scenes that brought audiences on a journey through varying perspectives on how citizens in Western culture—in our culture—make everyday choices with regards to food, transportation, and energy. We sought to challenge ourselves, and by extension our audience, to see beyond what is printed and spoken, and to enrich our knowledge through continued exploration.

Scene from GAIA: an eco-theatre project, Julia’s thesis production at Butler University. Photo by Madeline Carey.

I am not suggesting that the work I make in theatre has answers, or that any potential solutions laid out are the magic bullet for ending climate change, not at all. But as climate disasters persist—displacing people from homes they’ve had for decades or longer—and with our country’s political climate fueled by fear and hate, I am thirsty for alternatives. We need change, and we needed it yesterday. In the couple of years since GAIA, I have collected additional ways of thinking about how theatre artists can address climate change, about what elements make up the stories we tell ourselves, and how we can deepen those themes in the theatre to help us navigate a rapidly transforming world.

Last year, I gathered with a group of artists and climate activists for an exploratory conversation on performance, climate change, awareness, and resiliency as part of a weekend conference with Theatre Without Borders and NoPassport. We shared our questions, our thoughts, our practices of how we use art to tackle the vast topic of climate change, and we shared in the unexpected: pickle making. Looking back, how could such a gathering not have included some good-old-fashioned transformation? With the ingredients gathered and the recipe structured out, we collectively prepared the cucumbers for their new form. I found playfulness in the process. Sometimes recipes are strict: if you have slightly too much of something, it could compromise the consistency of the entire thing. But with pickling, especially in a group of at least fifteen varying preferences, there is flexibility. A few weeks stood between us and our homemade product, but like so much of the theatrical projects I work on, the final product was not the purpose of the pickling exercise. It was about the preparation. As artists, we must prepare for our work, build a structure and be willing to adapt. And as humans in an age of climate change, we must prepare for the major shifts that are already impacting our ways of being.

Pickling preparation at the Performance and Climate Change Exploratory Conversation as part of the Theatre Without Borders and NoPassport conference in March 2016, facilitated by Emily Mendelsohn, Sarah Cameron Sunde, and Moe Yousuf. Photo by Sarah Cameron Sunde.

This idea about preparation has stuck with me. What are the ingredients we must assemble as we formulate a more sustainable future? We need critical thinking, undoubtedly. Critical thinking is at the foundation of uprooting the current status quo of oppressive systems on local and global scales. Here lies part of our responsibility as artists: what are the relationships we are putting onstage, who has the power, and how is it distributed? These What, Who, and How questions manifest in some way through every theatrical narrative, and we must be intentional with the ways in which we lay them out, for ourselves, and for our audiences.

In his recent documentary, artist and activist Josh Fox collects stories of communities around the world directly impacted by climate change, from Hurricane-Sandy-stricken Rockaway Beach to heavily-polluted Beijing. How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change highlights these stories to illuminate factors that make us human, that we can use to keep up with the global climate. Across all of the communities depicted in the film, moral imagination arises as a key factor, a bedrock for bridging the categories of “us” and “them” and “present” and “future.” Along the lines of a collective consciousness, of viewing the world through a lens beyond our own, we can use a moral imagination to visualize the unforeseen consequences of human action, or inaction.

In my current play, UPROOT, I seek to re-draw the connection between Americans and where our food comes from. Fueled by food documentaries including King Corn and Darwin’s Nightmare, and by writers like Michael Pollan, UPROOT strives to empower individuals to (re)consider the situation of their choices. The characters in my play are personified foods, displacing literal human circumstances for more symbolic relationships, and therefore orienting the scene in an absurd, ridiculous way—it’s talking food after all! In stepping back, and metaphorically seeing ourselves in our food, I want to employ critical thinking and moral imagination as part of the process in reconfiguring our culture’s unsustainable status quo.

Picture your favorite food. What senses does it light up? Zoom out. What’s the context? Are there others around? Maybe you hear conversation, laughter, community. Is there talk of where this food came from? Maybe. Are you enjoying each other’s company? Definitely. The elements are there. The directions are structured out. It’s up to us to put it all together and get cooking.

Learn More
Julia’s play UPROOT performs August 22 and 23 at HERE (NYC), as part of SubletSeries@HERE: Co-Op, HERE’s curated summer rental program, which provides artists with subsidized space and equipment, as well as technical support. You can follow the play, and her entire series, The Food Plays, via Facebook.

(Top image: From the staged reading of UPROOT as part of the International Human Rights Art Festival at Dixon Place, March 4, 2017. Photo by Ariella Axelbank.)

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on September 23, 2016.

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

Everything is (Dis)connected

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

“Art could help us to question our perceptions and relationships to the climate and its changes. Artistic explorations should not be restricted to illustrating our scientific discoveries, as is done in contemporary climate-change showcases. Art should instead help us to experience and reveal our inner participation with climate, the rupture of its balance and its meaning for our inner world, in the same way that landscape artists reframed the relationship of humans to their environment.”
—Julien Knebusch, The Perception of Climate Change (2007)

I have always loved the idea of using art to advance social causes, to make us reflect and rethink what it means to be human today. My artwork is an ongoing exploration of the unresolved environmental concerns of this century. It attempts to define the world we live in by contrasting aspects of a disintegrating planet with the beauty of all living things. Yet despite this overwhelming beauty, the reality is that we are on a precipice of extinction, balancing on the edge of a global meltdown. The ravages of climate change have already been experienced in the form of more frequent floods, violent storms, drought, and the destruction of wetlands and other natural habitats. All of this has contributed to the loss of tens of thousands of species of animals, birds, and bees. As human beings, we are dependent on Nature for our survival. Everything humans need to survive and thrive has been provided by our natural world: food, water, medicine, materials for shelter, etc. Supplies of coal, gas, water, steel, wood are seen as infinitely available. Technology and industry have distanced us from nature, but our reliance on the natural world is still as important as ever.

A Question of Balance.

How do we make climate change real? Many of us have difficulty recognizing the link between our environmental problems and the way we live. A large percentage of the world’s population doesn’t feel the effects of climate change, unlike the farmer who works the land, the fisherman who harvests the sea, people living in low-lying coastal areas, and inhabitants of drought-ridden developing countries. One of the consequences of urban lifestyles, industrialization, capitalism, nationalism, the global economy, and social divides is that we have lost our connection to the natural world. These deep divisions are preventing us from addressing the problem collectively. We must recognize that because of our carelessness and neglect of our planet, climate change has become the greatest threat to future generations. Those least responsible for the damage will have to carry the greatest burden. Is this really the legacy we want to leave?

What role can the artist play in this debate about the environment?

The informed artist is an observer. The artist can ask questions, help shape our understanding of the world, open up hearts and minds to new ways of thinking, and offer visual interpretations of various global issues. Through my own personal practice, I express my concerns by adopting a balance between realism and surrealism. When attempting to open up people’s perspective, it is important that art be presented in a language that is accessible. Ultimately, I hope I can communicate the idea that if we manifest a positive outlook, protect, nurture, and realize what we have, we  can make a difference. Change needs to be radical, both globally and politically. We need to consume less, destroy less, conserve more, and embrace the abundance of renewable energy resources. If we want to protect future generations, immediate action is required before it is too late.

The Erosion of Eden.

Everything is (Dis)connected and A Question of Balance are part of my “Split World” series. Water divides the images, creating two separate worlds; one above, one below, each with their own message to the viewer. I use water in many of my images, such as in Plastic!, to create scenarios that communicate the devastating effects of rising sea levels, pollution, melting ice caps, etc. The images are messages of beauty presented at the dawning of the apocalypse. They warn of what the future might hold. They question our failure to integrate with the natural world, our failure to realize that we are dependent on our planet to survive, our failure to take responsibility and acknowledge the consequences of our actions.

The Erosion of Eden and Coming Undone make use of the triptych format. Both images depict one scene: a landmass that provides a rich, unkempt, and decaying environment. Both of these eroded landmasses are strewn with “found” objects, some a testament to the throw-away society we live in, others gifts from nature. They serve as symbols of hope, negligence, reverence, destruction, ignorance, awe, and desolation. All reference mortality, impermanence, and the widespread and consequential harm that is being done to plants and animals that are trying to adapt to new conditions. The use of the triptych format differs in both images; The Erosion of Eden depicts one moment in time and Coming Undone portrays different instants, albeit the same location. The panels descend from a heavenly, idyllic scene to a world in ruins. It could be said from heaven to hell!

Coming Undone.

Artists throughout history have made significant contributions to social, political, and environmental challenges by using their creative practice to reflect upon and confront the issues at hand. If we are to alter, even reverse climate change, we need to reach out to people through their emotions to inspire action. Art is one of the ways of doing this.

(Top image: Everything is (Dis)connected.)


Christine Simpson lives in County Waterford, Ireland. She is employed as a Lecturer on the BA (Hons) Design Communications and BA (Hons) Fine Art at Waterford Institute. Outside of academia, Christine is a practicing artist. Recently, the National Museum of Living Treasures in Tokyo purchased The Erosion of Eden, and she was invited to show at The Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin. She has received numerous awards including the Waterford Crystal Arts Award; a Gold Award from Graphis, New York; and The Silken Photo Award, Brussels. She was shortlisted in the top ten for the Sony World Photography Awards. Christine’s work is in many private collections.


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

We Are the Climate

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

The task here is to look at theatre and climate change within the context of the current administration. Yep, that administration. The one that is attempting to eliminate climate consciousness from the national narrative by removing the climate page from the White House website, threatening to slash the EPA by one-third, and green-lighting the Keystone Pipeline project in the face of enormous coordinated dissent. Yep, the one that favors entertainment—heck, the one that is entertainment—but is not at all interested in artworks activating complex, nuanced conversation around current issues, and proposed to eradicate the NEA and the NEH completely from the federal budget. Yep, that administration.

Well, shall we start the way we often do? Theatre is a storytelling, community-based phenomenon that manages to survive, if not thrive, on next to nothing and is the perfect means to effectively counter the current administration’s “alternative facts” and erasure, especially in these divisive times…blah, blah climate blah f*cking Trump blah Pruitt EPA zzz blah NEA slashed z zzzz Betsy DeVos zz zzz education zzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzz.

I’m sorry, I fell asleep.

It’s not the argument that’s wrong. It’s just exhausting. Theatre may be the perfect vehicle to keep necessary counter-narratives alive, but has never, under any administration I’ve ever known, been well-positioned to do so. Embedded in the familiar argument about theatre’s potential is the deeper argument about theatre’s worth. I’m tired of endlessly justifying on grant applications, in marketing campaigns, and in fundraising letters the relevance of what we do. On a federal level, our country just doesn’t believe in theatre’s worth. This feels especially true now under Trump, but even under administrations more friendly to liberal creative causes, theatre is rarely considered necessary to our national well-being. For a time, the NEA’s tagline was “Because a great country deserves great art”—an assertion I find problematic because it makes art seem like dessert, rather than something with actual value, like grains, meat, and vegetables.

The conversation amongst the theatre community about ways to keep (or make) our theatre relevant, equitable, and inclusive is ongoing. There is rigorous debate and concrete action, including the way so many of us—regional theatres, and independent artists, and companies—are putting more resources towards building relationships with the communities we work with and for. I’m also thinking of nation-wide actions like The JubileeThe Ghostlight Project, and the wave of support for projects in Creative Placemaking, and other socially engaged work. But in light of the ongoing global climate crisis and the Trump administration’s policies, the conversation is ready to take another giant step, brought to a head, like it or not, by the sheer, audacious rebuttal of things that we artists and citizens know to be true and important.

Let’s talk about climate.

At the end of eight hours, the build team for HOW TO BUILD A FOREST (PearlDamour + Shawn Hall) extracts the last bit of breath from their forest ecosystem. Photo by Paula Court.

New Allies: Theatre and Climate 

Imagine this: Theatre and Climate as allies, thrown together by the Trump administration as being two things it discredits, discounts, and largely disregards. Well of course! Both have power beyond the control of a single man or administration. Interestingly enough, both have that power because they’re situated outside the administration’s market-based lexicon. Environmental issues don’t sit easily within a profit-based model. Creativity—like theatremaking—doesn’t either. When the environment is forced to bend in order to “produce,” the effect can be similar to when theatre artists are pressured to produce—and when humans are seen only in terms of their use. The soul gets squished. Language gets co-opted and compressed.

When my company  PearlDamour was researching our piece HOW TO BUILD A FOREST,we met with people in the timber industry. They spoke to us of “product” instead of “trees.” On our tours, we often saw a field of trees planted around the same time in regular, mathematical rows just to be cut down for profit as soon as they matured, therefore, “product.” But calling trees product shifted both my perception ofthem and my relationship to them. It severed our connection as fellow living things. Words matter. What changes in our country when, as Toni Morrison notes, we go from being called “citizens” to being called “taxpayers”? When the new administration took down Obama’s climate policy page on the White House site and replaced it with the America First Energy Plan, a friend posted on Facebook: “Since when does ‘Energy’ mean ‘Fossil Fuel’?”

That word is being shut down, actually enervated, by being forced into a one-to-one relationship with oil. What does “Energy” really mean? So much more than solar versus petroleum. If we look at the word through a Theatre Lens, energy means: connections, interactions, and reactions. It’s powerful to remember that the only meaningful way to really understand climate and environmental systems is this way as well, via connection, interactions, and reactions. Energy in both the theatre and the climate is its dynamism, its process, its transformation. Energy is story.


I watch Trump as a storyteller and for the first time, I really understand storytelling’s power as a market-driving medium. Trump is a professional entertainer and racketeer, a storyteller who knows his audience and knows how to play to them. Where the climate is concerned, his stories affect the entire planet. He boils complex issues down to sound bites that sway mass markets, sell tickets, cement opinions, erase experiences, and win elections. And they have the advantage of being carried by every media outlet into living rooms, kitchens, car stereos, and ear buds across the country—an advantage our plays and performance works don’t have.

Can we compete? Our storytelling offers a different kind of narrative, driven by a different kind of energy—one that deepens thinking, expands empathy, introduces new worlds, explores imaginative possibilities, and rebuts current conditions. We could take it as our responsibility, our mandate, to keep using our storytelling to keep the realities of our climate in front of audiences, even as Trump’s cabinet is doing everything it can to make those same audiences believe those stories don’t matter.

Sure. We could do that. But the focus can no longer be on impactful storytelling. We can’t stop there because those stories aren’t reaching enough people. We can’t stop there because our current metrics of success, including getting reviewed in major publications, keep us from heading towards different kinds of performance work that might have a different kind of impact, and affect more change. We can’t stop there because as theatre artists, our power doesn’t merely exist in the plays we create and the stories we tell. It also exists in our creativity itself. It also exists in the way we move through and think about the world, as people, as artists, and as citizens.

In Lost in the Meadow (PearlDamour + Mimi Lien), climbers get ready to hoist a giant megaphone up a 60-foot tower so the meadow can speak directly to the audience. Photo by Katie Pearl.

The Artist Citizen is also a Citizen Artist

For years, I’ve responded to current events by making theatre about it. It made sense that as a theatre artist, I would do that: “Oh, I’ll do a performance about Hurricane Katrina…” or “I’ll write a play about the Dakota Pipeline, or building a wall, or the BP Oil Spill…” It was how I brought my citizenry into my artistry, and it led to some good work that many people saw and were affected by. But lately I’ve been thinking about those two words “artist” and “citizen” and wondering if I haven’t been giving myself—ourselves—enough credit. We spend so much time arguing about the power of theatre, and the importance of our product, that we’ve neglected the fact that we as theatre artists have power too. My provocation here is: how can we bring our artistry into our citizenry, rather than the other way around? How can our creative minds, our ability to make imaginative leaps, envision futures, and empathize and connect with others serve the communities that live outside of our theatremaking?

Perhaps we need to start showing up not only as people who make plays and performances about issues, but also as people who think deeply and have smart things to say and know how to say them well. We know how to tell a good story—do we only need to tell it on a stage? What about in board rooms? In Town Halls? At the Parent Teacher Association?

Inviting versus Welcoming

I’ve spent the past four years working in small towns named Milton across the US. One thing The Milton Project has taught me is the difference between “inviting” and “welcoming.” Over and over I hear, particularly from one racial community regarding another, “we invited them, but they didn’t come.” The lesson is this: inviting is very different than welcoming. Ironically, to welcome someone into a relationship with you, you often have to invite yourself to where they are. To their space. As theatre artists, a quality many of us share is a sense of adventure. We can use this quality to propel us not just towards new projects but towards new people. Towards new issues, new places. As this administration seeks to divide us both from one another and from our relationship to the natural world, we cannot wait to be invited to connect. Let’s welcome ourselves into civic, policy-making conversations about the climate and otherwise. Let’s welcome ourselves into conversations with political leaders, neighbors, disenfranchised communities, small town conservative communities, and business executives. And then, bam! Suddenly, our expansive, imaginative, and creative thinking is right in there, opening up possibility, creating connection, and making space.


At the Women’s March in Washington, DC, California Senator Kamela Harris described a time when she arrived at a meeting and someone said, “Oh good, you’re here, we’d like to talk about women’s issues.” Kamela responded, “Oh good. Let’s talk about immigration. Oh good, let’s talk about climate. Oh good, let’s talk about race relations, about civil rights, about education, about health care, about poverty. These are all women’s issues because they are all issues.”

The Women’s Marches empowered us by shifting the idea of multiplicity from being something that diffused power to intersectionality—something that increases it. I started this essay proposing the alliance between theatre and climate, but as I finish, I want to widen our gaze. Alongside theatre and climate, there is an extensive network of phenomena sharing a debased status under the Trump administration. Rather than feeling drained by the fight to assert our relevance and importance, let’s feel empowered and energized by the new collaborations and cross-currents of our intersectionality! Here’s a partial list:

The dangers of climate change
The importance of theatre
The systems of racism
The realities of classism
The saturation of white privilege
The pervasiveness of xenophobia
The prevalence of misogyny

These phenomena aren’t just aligned by being maligned by the Trump administration. More interestingly, in terms of storytelling, they are deeply, dramatically linked. Issues of climate cannot be extracted from economics; economics cannot be separated from race and class; issues of race and class cannot be untied from white privilege, xenophobia, and misogyny. Can you tell a story about any one of these issues without involving the rest? Sure you could—many of us have. But the final provocation is: let’s not. Let’s welcome this intersectionality into our stories, performance structures, collaborative models, and visions of where we make work and who we work with. Let’s keep the climate foregrounded in both our artistic and our civic lives (and perhaps there will be less and less of a difference between them) by seeking out and acknowledging its connection to, and influence on every story we tell.

There is no us versus them when it comes to our climate because we aren’t just in relationship to the climate, we are the climate. And if that’s the case, then every story is about climate—no matter how loudly the administration argues otherwise.


Katie Pearl is a director and writer of new plays and performance for both traditional and alternative spaces.  As co-Artistic Director of PearlDamour, the interdisciplinary company she shares with playwright Lisa D’Amour, she has received an OBIE Award and grants from Creative Capital, Map Fund, and the NEA. Current work includes: the multi-year project Milton in five small towns named Milton around the country, and a new performance about climate and the deep ocean co-commissioned by the ART and the Harvard University Center for the Environment.  Katie is currently an Anschutz Fellow at Princeton, where her teaching and research focus on the concept of the Artist-Citizen.

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 Garden as Exhibition Space

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Museums and others cultural agents are key interfaces between the government and the public. As a centerpiece of the Age of Enlightenment, public institutions were founded to advance ideas, knowledge exchange, and to offer new perspectives on all forms of scientific research and humanistic endeavors. However, by the 19th century many art museums in Europe had become instruments of power for colonial regimes, classifying and “exoticizing” nature and its species. Many of today’s art institutions and artists are expressing awareness and concern about prevailing power structures and critiquing their inherent impact on our cultural discussions and commercial interests. A genuine quest for new forms of art production, interpretation, and dissemination is spreading across the globe. Central to this attitude is a new consciousness based on an awareness of one’s own contributions, resources, and relation to audience as well as nature.

Cornucopia, 2017. Climbing holds, plastic drainage tiles, metal screws. Orti Ghiglio produce garden, Parco delle Cave, Milan. Photo Delfino Sisto Legnani e Marco Cappelletti.

The work of Italian artist Mirko Canesi fits right in with this movement; his work bypasses traditional art spaces and power structures, and is activated directly by audiences. Canesi’s work Cornucopia proposes a community garden as an exhibition space. The selected cultivated vegetable garden is located in Milan’s Parco delle Cave, a park that used to be home ground to the mafia. In recent years, this previously rather dodgy place has been through a process of regeneration and is being revamped as an ecological area where people can recreate and fish. The Municipality of Milan, who is leading the project, has given the park back to the people through a “bando public” (an open call). It triggered Canesi’s interest as he has been working on the idea of the garden as exhibition space in Milan for a few years.

Though Canesi is an artist working on vegetable plots, he is not focusing on production of art or production of vegetables. Rather, his work is about process and observing the use of space. Canesi explains his fascination: “I like it how people use the land as an expression of the self; some plots are very wild, some very orderly, some build with wood and some use cables, the latter one actually being cultivated by an electrician.”

Pls… 2017. Apartment plant, plasticine, variable dimensions. Photo Delfino Sisto Legnani e Marco Cappelletti.

Canesi’s subtle art interventions are like treasures amidst the veggies, in some cases only spotted by the diligent observer. For instance, some leaves might be carved using artisan skills, have plasticine coatings, or be carefully laser-cut. His key not-to-be-missed intervention, however, is located between the zucchini, spinach, and tomatoes in the middle of the garden, and between the peppers, zucchini, and salads on the left of the garden. This work is as philosophical as it is practical. He changed the existing paths in the garden with alternative ones made of stones that only loosely remind us of what nature looks like: the paths are made of rock-climbing handles. The quality of the material is odd in this environment and the handles are only vaguely reminiscent of that which was once natural. These simulated stones, shaped to pleasantly fit around the human hand, are nature in its most extreme artificial version: these rocks are produced by humans, for pleasant and safe use by them. Canesi, however, proposes a reversed use for them; instead of helping you climb your wall, the handles form a climbing path that is horizontal, on the ground. Canesi is interested in questions such as “What if the gardens were an exhibition space?” Can artworks exist like an agricultural cycle that never stops? Can artmaking be a seasonal process?” Though I’m not sure pumpkin sculptures or ice-art are particularly good ideas, I find the thought of an artistic practice being in line with natural cycles interesting. I agree that the garden as exhibition space can be much more than land-art or sculpture parks. It can be an alternative to the system, a place for un-planning and process, for unexpected and non-art related encounters and conversations, a place to Touch instead of Not-Touch, and a place with inhabitants rather than viewers.

Laser cut, 2017. Laser cut pvc with wooden effect, variable dimensions.

Infamous artist Vito Acconci, known from his groundbreaking and pioneering performance art and for first introducing “Body Art” in New York knew it all along: “What I never wanted in art, is that I never wanted viewers. I think the basic condition of art is the viewer: The viewer is here, the art is there. So the viewer is in a position of desire and frustration. There were those Do Not Touch signs in a museum that are saying that the art is more expensive than the people. But I wanted users and a habitat. I don’t know if I would have used those words then, but I wanted inhabitants, participants. I wanted an interaction.”

(Top image: Cornucopia detail, 2017. Climbing holds, plastic drainage tiles, metal screws. Orti Ghiglio produce garden, Parco delle Cave, Milan. Photo: Delfino Sisto Legnani e Marco Cappe.)

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

On the SAARI/ISLAND Exhibition

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

My exhibition SAARI/ISLAND was on display March 15-June 15, 2017 at the Nordic Northwest in Portland, Oregon. SAARI/ISLAND takes a nostalgic look at my childhood experience growing up in Finland, where nature is all encompassing and gives life its rhythm through the passage of the seasons.

SAARI/ISLAND started with the idea of water. The concepts of melting and flooding have a special resonance for me. I grew up an urban kid in the winter, enjoying snow play, and lived an island life in the summer, planting, harvesting, picking berries, and fishing. Reading the signs of Northern nature and memorizing the names of plants, berries, and flowers, along with their seasonal patterns, was part of my life.

Much later, I studied at the University of Hawaii in Manoa. I discovered many different climate zones on the islands of Hawaii. In addition, life next to the Pacific Ocean left me with a sense of existential vulnerability. I became fascinated with the contrasts in our existence. The vast scales of the Global North and Global South needed attention. From a climate change perspective, the distance and gap between the two was overwhelming.

With climate change, everything might be different. How will the changing temperatures affect growth in the Arctic region? Seasons are a necessity in the North. What will happen in the Southern hemisphere, which is so sharply different from the Northern hemisphere? These questions left me with many more questions. I moved to New York City, and from there, traveled to the California coast, visiting national parks and trying to reconnect with the Pacific Ocean. During these trips, I collected photographs of each place I visited. I started doing this while living in Hawaii. I felt that the contrast between different places called for a documentary lens, and created much of the artistic work by itself.

All the photographs in SAARI/ISLAND come from a close investigation of California’s Big Sur, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks. Burned forests and the Pacific Ocean became images of beauty. However, experiencing these things first-hand was shocking and humbling.

Burnt Tree, Big Sur, 2014.

The images included in the exhibition were a selection from my nature portfolio. I chose to juxtapose photographic and painted works to reflect my experience of coastal forests, showing how nature shifts between beautiful and horrible. The Pacific coastal region struck me as barren and isolated. The scale of nature there creates a sense of prehistoric time. I wanted to trace back and re-imagine prehistoric and early times in our human existence. My paintings offer a glimpse of changes over time – metaphoric landscapes inspired by the Finnish Kalevala, Viking symbols, animals such as swans, lizards and insects – thus hinting at possible futures.

Island of Pearl, 2016.

Artist as Expert
Global warming is changing life’s balance. Artistic works contribute to this global conversation. Making art is an act of sharing, and this sharing becomes a contribution to our knowledge bank. Art can support climate science. Through the scientific method, science looks for evidence to validate a hypothesis. Art is also a research method that explore hypotheses, or questions. The artistic process includes multiple layers of adding, revealing, going back, and correcting. Artists can acquire knowledge from direct experience. They have the advantage of being able to dive deeper, and go beyond the normative process of science questioning. Some of the knowledge gained from artistic practice is tacit, hard to express or re-tell. When it comes to climate change, a deep interest in the subject is crucial.


1-button Rainjacket, 2016.

SAARI/ISLAND included an installation titled 1-button Rainjacket. It was inspired by Hurricane Sandy, which hit the East Coast of the United States in 2012. The rain jacket used in the piece dates back to 20 years ago, and is labeled “Landsend unisex apparel.” It was used in New York City during Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Then it became an installation piece.

How can we give tribute to one person’s experience, and at the same time, make it a shared experience? One way to look at this is from the point of view of phenomenology. Phenomenology is a philosophical, first-person methodology used to explore the structures of experience and consciousness. It stresses the importance of our perceptions, and states that we are in the world ultimately as bodies. What is great is that phenomenological philosophy already has lots of ideas about art and artists.

In 1945, French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote Phenomenology of Perception(Phénoménologie de la perception). In this book, he builds upon the idea of phenomenon as simplistic being-in-the-world structure, and develops further the role of perception in our actions. We are primarily here as intentional bodies; the body is not a separate entity from our consciousness.

Artists can use phenomenology – in other words, they can use personal experience to access knowledge from within. From this perspective, an artist can only directly address her own perception. Again, from this perspective, there is no one single idea or experience of climate change.

SAARI/ISLAND reflects a personal connection to nature, yet the bigger theme of climate change is a shared one. I was curious about environmental changes, and ways to portray them through the artistic process. The timespan between the different works was only few years. But rather than emphasize the years between the works, I planted the idea of change as affecting us in the future. If there had been a narration as backdrop for this exhibition, it would have started with stories from my childhood island environment and expanded to the current events. For sure, the stepping back and correcting would be partial. This artistic process requires more going-back, and adding to the current state.

An art show can contribute in a number of ways. SAARI/ISLAND added to the conversation about how changes in our environment affect our ways of being with and experiencing nature. This particular show looked at water and coastal forests, bringing forth the oppositional concepts of energy, conservation, and degradation. These ecosystems need our attention.

(Top image: Water Spirit, 2017.)


Inka Juslin is a dancer, visual artist, and writer from Finland, currently living in New York City.  She holds a PhD from social sciences/cultural studies, and artistic research. She was a visiting scholar in the Performance Studies Department at New York University in 2007-2010, and in the Department of Germanic Languages at Columbia University (2011-2014). She has created works in collaboration with artists and scholars, using dance, performance, video, photography, architecture, fashion, and other means of visual storytelling to create intersectional, interactive, and live performances as well as installations. Her recent exhibition SAARI/ISLAND was on display until June 15, 2017, at the Nordic Northwest in Portland, Oregon.

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

Confronting Earth’s Trauma

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Last year, I traveled to the Galápagos Islands. I felt I had stepped back to a place I recognized from my past but had only experienced in my imagination. As a child, when the world seemed so big and boundless, I explored landscapes like this, untouched by humans. But as I stood upon the volcanic rock of this dynamic ecosystem filled with life, I felt the fleetingness of its being in every step I took. Both beautiful and foreboding, I wanted to somehow envelop it, to enclose this place in a cavity of myself where I could keep it, protect it, defend it, and sustain it.

But, who am I? I’m not a scientist who can uncover data-based solutions. I am not a politician who can develop a multi-national logistical plan for action. I am an artist, and artists possess a unique and crucial skill – the ability to communicate. Scientists and politicians have their own particular vernacular, but artists have the ability to access that part of human interconnectivity that cannot be communicated through language. My artistic practice is a social practice – my task is to create methods and approaches that destabilize linear ways of knowing and understanding the world.

A Poem for Lonesome George by Allison Maria Rodriguez, Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, Dec. 2015 – Feb. 2016.

In December 2015, I created A Poem for Lonesome George dedicated to the last Pinta Island tortoise who passed away in 2012, 40-years the sole survivor of his species. The work was designed for the Boston Convention Center’s marquee – an 80ft x 24ft seven-screen outdoor video display. Inspired by the work of Krzysztof Wodiczko, I used the architectural structure of the building to create a memorial for George – its physical size a testament to the significance of George’s existence and his passing. I created the piece not only for George, but for us as well, because in 2012 on that research station in the Galápagos, a part of us died too. A part of our planet, a part of our humanity, and a part of our existence was gone. The work had its intended effect: people wanted to know more about George, and they expressed cross-species empathy for a dead reptile. That is the power and the possibility of art.

Wish You Were Here: Greetings from the Galápagos by Allison Maria Rodriguez, 3-Channel Video Installation Design, 2017.

My recent project, Wish You Were Here: Greetings from the Galápagos, is a three-channel experiential video installation. As an interdisciplinary artist, I utilized an assortment of mediums and strategies: digital animation, photography, collage, traditional drawing, and live action video. The viewer stands in the center of the piece, with imagery in front of them and on either side. The left and right screens represent the change of the seasons and atmospheric phenomena – the original habitat of now extinct species. Extinct animals begin to emerge on these screens; they appear chronologically as they disappeared from earth. The middle screen is filled with still present animals, a composite of travel photographs I took in Galápagos. Slowly, they transition into extinct species by changing from color imagery to pencil sketches, then disappearing from the middle screen and appearing on the left or right. A human figure (me) moves within the landscape as both a guardian of collective memory and as an embodiment of present-day eco-consumerism.

The installation navigates the unsteady terrain between environmental advocacy and tourism, conservation and consumption, sustainability and exploitation. There is a tension between the exploitation of the natural world, and the desire to preserve and sustain it. I appear as the artist, studying and sketching these extinct animals – acting as an archivist or a dreamcatcher – attempting to write them into our collective memory. I also participate in conventional tourist-based activities: taking and posing for photos, relaxing, reading, doing bad yoga. I appreciate the animals, but am completely oblivious to their transformation and eventual relocation to the realm of mythology. Through all my actions, I invite the viewer to recognize themselves.

In my work, I often create fantastical landscapes that are intended to provide a physical representation of a mental space. This surrealist approach to communication exposes the limitations of language, and opens up a space for the viewer to explore alternate ways of accessing and connecting to the emotional realities of others. In this piece, I make reference to the earth as a conscious being that experiences climate change as trauma – impact in one sphere creates profound effect in another. I utilize abstracted brain scan imagery, animated synaptic flashes, and the interactive compartmentalization occurring on all three screens to convey the interconnectivity of human action/impact, as well as how our existence is directly linked to the existence of other species. I’m also interested in the tension between our ability to employ medical devices to “read” physical changes in the brain based on trauma response, and the blatant inadequacy of language to convey the actual experience of trauma. The piece concludes when an ominous sun – visually akin to popular atomic bomb footage – devours the entire landscape and the viewer is left alone in a pure white light. The explosion of the visuals is in stark contrast to the sound of absolute silence; there is no life remaining to hear the destruction of our world.

Wish You Were Here: Greetings from the Galápagos by Allison Maria Rodriguez, 3-Channel Video Installation, 2017.

Ultimately, it is the interconnectivity of our existences that will save or destroy us. Wish You Were Here: Greetings from the Galápagos is intended to construct a quiet space for reflection on oneself and on one’s manner of engagement with the world. The meditative quality of the piece will kindle action by allowing time for reflection on our intimate kinship with other species. In today’s world, the space for this sort of contemplation is not readily available or even encouraged, but it is necessary if people are to make significant changes in their lives. My work creates an alternative space, a unique experience, in order to initiate a new dialogue about environmentalism. By providing the opportunity for a private moment, Wish You Were Here encourages radical thinking about the impact of our daily practices and the urgency of the challenges facing our planet.

(Top image: Wish You Were Here: Greetings from the Galápagos (detail image) by Allison Maria Rodriguez, 3-Channel Video Installation, 2017.)


Allison Maria Rodriguez is a Boston-based interdisciplinary artist working predominately in new media, film/video and installation. With themes ranging from human migration to data visualization, her work converges on a desire to understand the space within which language fails and lived experience remains unarticulated. Rodriguez’s work has been exhibited internationally in both traditional and non-traditional art spaces. Her most recent projects include several large-scale public art video installations commissioned by Boston Cyberarts and the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. She received her MFA from Tufts University/The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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.

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