Artists and Climate Change

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Imagining Water, #9: Pop Sea Art

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

The ninth in a year-long series on artists of all genres 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.

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Pop Art emerged as a movement in the mid-1950s in England and the United States in response to the growing consumerism, mass media and mass production that followed the austerity of World War II. Artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns and Claes Oldenburg appropriated everyday objects found on/in supermarket shelves, television, comic books, cartoons, magazines and advertising – such as Campbell’s soup cans, Coke bottles, Brillo soap pads and hamburgers – which had come to represent popular culture. Using the vivid primary colors and bold text found in advertising as well as a wicked sense of humor, they created paintings, prints and sculptures that mirrored the iconography and obsessions of daily life.

Karen Hackenberg, a Rhode Island School of Design-trained painter now living in Port Townsend, near Discovery Bay on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, has developed a new version of Pop Art that is a response to a cultural obsession plaguing today’s world: plastic in its myriad forms – product packaging, grocery bags, water bottles, toys, toothbrushes, straws, plates and cups, and thousands of other everyday objects. What Hackenberg sees as she walks along the Discovery Bay shoreline is the result of that obsession – an unending tide of cast-off plastic debris, which is washing onto the beach, impacting the health of the oceans and becoming what she calls “the new sand.”

In the same way that Pop artists of the 1950s and 1960s created images of cultural icons that were both visually seductive and culturally relevant, Hackenberg too beautifies and glorifies her cast-off, found objects by placing them in the forefront of her paintings as towering monuments along a pleasing, placid sea. She credits Claes Oldenburg’s oversized sculptures of iconic objects set in landscapes as her inspiration for the compositions of the “beach trash dramas” in her on-going Watershed series. The viewer’s perspective in all of these paintings is situated below the horizon as if one is lying flat on the sand looking up at the objects.

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Karen Hackenberg, “Shades of Green; Amphorae, ca. 2012,” 24” x 48,” oil on canvas, 2012. Courtesy of Clark Gallery, Lincoln, MA

When I asked Hackenberg which landscape artists have informed the light-filled, color saturated, seascape portions of her paintings, she acknowledged having taken inspiration from the dramatic, iconic landscapes of the Hudson River School of artists such as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Cole, the New York School landscapes of Gretna Campbell and Paul Resika, the mystical seascapes of Rockwell Kent, and the ironic landscape paintings of Ed Ruscha, which combine marketing graphics with images of nature. Hackenberg’s choice to combine the Pop Art treatment of her oversized plastic objects with seascapes that are referencing traditional landscape painters results in a sense of displacement, an angst suggesting that something is quite wrong in this universe.

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Rockwell Kent (1882 – 1971), “Afternoon on the Sea, Monhegan, 1907, oil on canvas, 34” x 44”, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Kent’s color-saturated seascapes inspired Hackenberg’s paintings.

Hackenberg is a constant scavenger of sea relics, a beach anthropologist and a keen observer of the “ironic absurdities in the ways we humans often regard the natural world as merely the resource for our self-gratifying consumer habits, while we ignore the destruction of life and beauty in our oblivious rush to purchase the next big thing.” A number of her paintings include images of plastic action figures, toy soldiers and dinosaurs that she found among the seaweed. Placed prominently in the foreground atop stones and other debris, they replace the starfish, crabs and sand dollars usually found on the beach and become an ominous reference to the destruction and extinction of marine life that is occurring at a rapid pace. In the painting Amphibious Landing, a lone green plastic marine patrols a seemingly peaceful shoreline. Is he guarding our way of life or entering a new battle for survival?

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Karen Hackenberg, “Amphibious Landing,” Gouache on Paper, 5.5” x 7,” 2012. Courtesy of Paper Hammer, Seattle, WA

Hackenberg’s discovery of debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami, whose waves reached as far as the Pacific shores of our own country, led her to develop a series of paintings that she calls, Ukiyo-e (The Floating World). In contrast to the Watershed paintings in which her plastic objects are rooted monumentally on the beach, the Floating World landscapes depict, as she says, “shards of plastic floating in the atmosphere above the ocean, obscuring the natural beauty of the view beyond and referencing the everyday tsunami of plastic trash.”

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Karen Hackenberg, “Toss Up,” Oil on Wood Panel, 45″ x 36,” 2017. Courtesy of Patricia Rovzar Gallery.

Many contemporary artists around the world have taken on the subject of the billions of pieces of plastic that are polluting our oceans, contaminating our water supplies and becoming toxic food for sea animals, but Karen Hackenberg is one of the few who has shined a light on our collective addiction to plastic for its inherent beauty, for its “Pop Art” value. She calls it, almost fondly, “our trash, our little shiny, beautiful plastic throwaways,” with an emphasis on the word “our.”

(Top image: Karen Hackenberg, “Flood Tide,” oil on canvas, 30” x 40,” 2018. Courtesy of Patricia Rovzar Gallery.)

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Susan Hoffman Fishman is a painter, public artist, writer, and educator whose work has been exhibited in numerous museums and galleries throughout the U.S. Her latest bodies of work focus on the threat of rising tides caused by climate change, the trillions of pieces of plastic in our oceans and the wars that are predicted to occur in the future over access to clean water. She is also the co-creator of two interactive public art projects: The Wave, which addresses our mutual need for and interdependence on water and Home, which calls attention to homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in our cities and towns.


 

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Beyond Borders

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.
—Leonardo da Vinci

Doing research, pioneering new approaches, changing mindsets and perspectives is what I am involved with as an artist. What other possibilities do materials have?

I look for boundaries and try to cross them. I search for different ways to use materials, expanding possibilities and, in the process, creating a foundation for sustainable development in the world of color and the world of art – worlds which strive for synergy with nature and the sciences. Sustainability, climate change, our relationship to the earth we live on and the species we share it with – these are the defining issues of my generation and the generations to come. The art world should take a stand. It has an important role to play. My focus on sustainability and cradle-to-cradle processes means that my work is becoming more and more intertwined with other disciplines in the creative industry and beyond.

This is a natural evolution and one I cherish deeply because I have seen and experienced first-hand how working (and growing) together creates the perfect circumstances for innovation and change. Of course, I could have settled for creating aesthetically pleasing images but for me that is not enough… I want to move beyond the borders of aesthetics to create real impact.

The installation “Waste of Color/Color of Waste,” 2017. On the left is the full installation, on the right is a close-up of the wall of prints.

Last year I made an installation piece called Waste of Color/Color of Waste for Cultura Nova Festival in the Netherlands, that challenged artists and designers to work with recycled materials. I research natural color pigments but for this occasion, I traded my traditionally (in)organic raw materials for processed materials. I chose to work with discarded roof tiles made from natural clay. As so many other building materials during the demolition process, roof tiles are considered waste and often end up in landfills. I processed these roof tiles, transforming them into two different color pigments. The installation illustrated every step, making the process from raw materials into art part of the artwork itself.

Prints were part of the installation. They were made according to an original design using my own hands and printed on biodegradable “growing paper” made from recycled paper in which seeds have been embedded. Each print is painted and/or drawn separately, making it one of a kind. It is all part of my concept, my vision … make art, not waste! The raw material comes from the earth; if the artwork is no longer desired, it can be returned to the earth, to nature… Place it under a thin layer of soil in the spring/summer and nature will bloom again. A new cycle can start.

As a result of this exhibition, I was asked to collaborate with architect Erol Öztan, designer of the Resource House and founder of ReUse Materials. I am researching the possibility of creating pigment out of buildings’ natural waste materials. The outcome of this research will hopefully provide a range of color pigments that can be used to paint walls, floors, ceramics, or other (bio-based) materials.

The goal of the Resource House is to create a circular system/economy within the building industry. The partners involved in this venture work together to move beyond borders and create impact. Their mission statement explains it well: “We no longer settle for the throwaway culture we live in. Raw materials are becoming scarce more rapidly than we think. Yet only an average of 3% of all building materials are qualitatively reused in the building industry. Instead of further draining our resources, the Resource House strives to only use materials sourced sustainably . Currently the rate of reused materials in the Resource House is 66% and we are striving for 100%.”

Architect Erol Öztan adds: “We need to see the true value of materials that are already available but considered obsolete and therefore waste. So instead of searching for materials that will fit my designs, I design with the materials that are available in mind. The Resource House will not only show that designing and building within a circular system is possible, but that it doesn’t have to be more expensive or less beautiful.”

The Resource House by architect Erol Öztan.

Collaborating with an initiative like the Resource House is a new direction for me. Of course, there may be more practical uses for building waste materials than turning them into color pigments. But that is not the point. My role is to trigger something, to change perspectives, make people look differently at things, materials, their surroundings, nature, their behavior. I try to make room for dialogue, for asking questions and wondering. And yes, sometimes this means you have to stop playing safe, be strong and brace yourself for failure and misunderstanding. It means you have to be ready to move beyond borders, out of comfort zones, and into change together with others brave enough to do the same.

I am nature. We are nature, earth, soil. Everything is connected. Nothing in life is permanent. Be humble.

(Top image: Down to Earth, paying respect to Mother Nature. The (biodegradable) paint on my legs, arms, and hands is made of soil, earth, nature.)

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Dorieke Schreurs currently lives in Maastricht, in the very south of the Netherlands. She studied Fine Arts, Stage Design, Art Education, and specialized in old painting techniques. She combines art with research, science, and education. Optimist and realist, she focuses on sustainable, cradle-to-cradle, nature-inspired solutions and innovations in her work and her personal life.


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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Queer Climate Performance Art in the Most Unlikely Places

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

“What is your presentation about?” Clara asks. Like most undergraduate science majors in this lecture hall, Clara has never seen a one-person performance art piece. Without stage lights or a sound system, I set up in the multi-purpose room. A console the size of a small car serves as lectern. Two hundred students sit in tiered seating above me. I tell myself, “It is just like an Amphitheater in Ancient Greece.”

I tell her, “Everything is Connected is a one-person play. Don’t take notes; just enjoy.” She must be thinking, “I could be doing real work right now.” A professor introduces me, “Peterson is a quirky queer Quaker, a playwright, actor, performance artist, Bible scholar, LGBTQ rights activist, and host of Citizens’ Climate Radio.” A handful of students applaud. I begin.

“What you are about to see is a performance lecture in three acts. These acts may seem unconnected. l will talk as myself and also perform in character.” I don’t tell them this type of presentation rose out of the tensions I feel being an artist, an activist, and an academic. These roles pull at each other, competing to take a prominent place. My shows attempt to give them each equal pull, like the cords that enable a tent to hold its shape.

I seek to use my skills as a playwright and actor to take on LGBTQ issues, justice, privilege, and climate change while revealing the interconnectedness of these issues. I also throw in a Bible story. Within these different frames, I repeat core concepts knowing audience members will begin to see patterns emerge. In first performing my own very personal story, then an ancient Bible story, and finally the unfolding global story of climate change, I lead them to a synthesis of abstract ideas as outlined in Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning.

Act One
The first act of Everything is Connected includes me talking about my weird coming out experience coupled with a scene from my one-person play Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House. The play comically exposes the dangerous world of gay conversion therapy—programs promising to “cure” LGBTQ people. As someone who survived seventeen years of this before coming out as gay, I want to highlight both the foolishness and the destructiveness of these “straight camps.”

The main character, Chad, a campy gay man who cannot tamp down his fem side, addresses the audience as if they just arrived for a tour of the house. This relationship heightens the audience’s experience; Chad addresses them as if they are totally on-board with the misguided facility.

Act Two
Something similar happens in Act Two where I talk about discrimination within the LGBTQ community—racism, sexism, and transphobia. I perform a scene from Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible about Joseph and his famous dream coat; I suggest it might actually be a princess dress. I narrate the scene as Joseph’s butch, gender-normative Uncle Esau. Scornful of Joseph, he never once makes eye contact with the audience until the final line. There is a pause and deep breath as Esau lifts his head and in a husky whisper admits, “He saved us all.”

I imagine Clara is thinking, “What on earth does any of this have to do with climate change?” I am performing stories about outsiders rejected—a white gay man who loses male privilege in an Evangelical church and brothers who assault and exile their gender non-conforming sibling. I reference the HIV/AIDS crisis, Ancient Egypt, and my own working class Italian-American family. I’m throwing out threads and asking, “Aren’t we all in the same boat together?” I’m setting Clara up for Tony Buffusio in Act Three who weaves it all together.

Act Three
Tony, a working-class, bisexual, Italian-American from New York City, pokes fun at polar bears, explaining coffee is also an endangered species. He jokes how he came out bisexual and vegan at the same time; his family struggles more with his diet than his sexual orientation.

Talking about queer responses to climate change, Tony revisits the Joseph story as a climate narrative, reveals how early responses to the HIV/AIDS crisis serve as a model for climate advocates today, and stresses climate change is about justice and human rights, “We’re all in the same boat together—just not on the same deck.”

Then in an explosion of emotion ranging from rage to frustration to fear, Tony demonstrates what many people feel today. He next admits he’s been hearing voices from people in the future. “You don’t expect they have anything nice to say to us. But I’m confused by what they’re saying. They’re telling us,” and he looks out an audience member, “Thank you!’” He looks at another, “Thank you,” and another, “Thank you for everything you did for us!” He scrunches up his face puzzled, and ends the show, “So I’m thinking, what the hell are we about to do that they’re going to thank us for it?”

In a proper theatre, there would be a black out. Exit Tony. In this multipurpose room, I slip behind the lectern and say, “We have time for questions.” Deep, thoughtful questions emerge. They are hungry for solutions, to discover their role.

For fifteen years, I have been doing theatre for clients in venues that usually never hosted a queer theatrical production. These include the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Hartford City Social Workers, Offices of Sustainability at Penn State, University of South Carolina, and Villanova, Haverford College’s Office of Religious Life, Boston Public Schools, Britains’ National Health Service, the Church of Sweden, the Norwegian Christian Student Movement, the Lambeth Conference, Vanderbilt School of Religion, Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia Theological Seminary, and a Mennonite Church in Pittsburgh.

The solo stage work of Whoopi GoldbergJohn Leguizamo, and Lily Tomlin taught me marginalized people can use comic storytelling and character acting to communicate personal and political messages. These comic actors shape-shifted and embodied multiple personalities as they developed immediate and intimate relationships with their audiences. Unlike a traditional play with multiple actors interacting while the audience observes, the one-person comedy turns the audience into a character. We speak directly to them, casting them in roles.

Since I take on hot-topic issues in front of diverse audiences, I always expect someone to leave offended in a huff or to start an argument during the Q&A. Climate Change presentations can overwhelm audiences or they can become defensive. Instead after my shows people stick around. I hear laughing and chatting. I see people connecting with each other. Some approach me just to thank me. Others want to tell me their stories. There is a lightness in the audience as they disperse.

As I pack up, Clara smiles. “I get it now, and you gave me so much to think about!”

(Top image: Courtesy Peterson Toscano.)

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Using theatre, comedy, and character-driven one-person shows, Peterson Toscano explores LGBTQ issues, privilege, religion, and climate change. Peterson’s unique personal journey led him to performance art. After spending seventeen years and over $30,000 on three continents attempting to de-gay himself through gay conversion therapy, he came out as a quirky queer Quaker concerned with human rights and comedy. In 2017 Peterson produced Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible, a film about gender non-conforming characters. Toscano studied theatre at City College of NY and has authored eleven performance pieces. He is also the host of Citizens’ Climate Radio.


 

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

Catch of the Day

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

I’m interested in water and the different pathways it takes. Not only the recognizable flow of rivers and glaciers, or global currents of air and sea water, but the obscure shifts of water from one state to another or across cell membranes. I’ve been tracing water pathways and their stories while developing ways to create environments as art installations.

I was given the opportunity to mount my first installation, Catch of the Day, at the Contemporary Art Museum in Mazatlán, Mexico. The exhibition consists of a 45 x 7 meters suspended fishing net. Woven into the net is a school of plastic fish and plastic water bottles with notes inside of them. A series of 11 monoprints hangs on the wall and at the entrance there are 10 wooden boxes containing children’s toys accompanied by lost and missing posters. Catch of the Day opened March 15 and runs until May 11, 2018.

Catch of the day is derivative of the work I started at an artist residency in Rota, on the southern coast of Spain. My objective during this residency was to investigate how the tide could leave marks on paper. This was to be an extension of work I started in Ireland but I soon realized my plan was physically impossible. What I did instead was start a deep listening practice. For 2 months, just before sunrise, I walked the beach for several hours documenting the tideline marks and collecting plastic and other shoreline flotsam.

Photo credit: Joyce Majiski.

In effect, each tideline is a drawing, telling the story of that day’s tides through the marks on the sand and what has washed up on shore. I discovered that the variety and abundance of plastic landing on the world’s shorelines is astounding. Each day’s harvest was strangely and inexplicably unique, revealing plastic toy shovels one day, bottle caps, colorful plastic straws, and cutlery the next. For an entire week I witnessed lines of persistent oily brown foam, which was suddenly replaced by huge amounts of white Styrofoam that disintegrated and flew along the length of the beach. Some items became buried in the sand or pushed further away from the water line with successively higher tides, but most of the garbage was carried away by the wind or returned to the water, in an endless cycle. When clothing and shoes tangled in bits of fishing nets appeared I was alarmed enough to speak to the authorities about the possibility of refugees capsizing in boats offshore. But I was assured that the currents and the refugees’ countries of origin made it almost impossible for this to be the case.

Day after day I returned to the tideline while researching current marine ecology issues. This led me from plastics and global dumping of refuse to over-fishing, habitat destruction, changes in salinity, and dead zones. I discovered that despite the many innovative solutions that are being developed to mitigate our destruction, the problems we have created are massive and seem beyond our capacity to repair.

In Mexico, I began to look at the situation from another point of view. What if a collective of creatures such as whales, seahorses, and coelacanths decided they were fed up with humanity using their homes as dumping grounds or with their fellow tuna being overfished – creatures fed up with the toxic waste, the thoughtless plundering of resources, the accumulation of garbage, and total disregard for sea life on this planet of water? This Ocean Administration would be comprised of the Departments of Plastics, Human Relations, Toxic Waste, Lost Objects, General Neglect (to name a few), and would address the issues, sending messages back to us in our own discarded plastic bottles. This became the first component of the exhibition Catch of the Day and I included eight letters from various departments of Ocean Management. Each letter is signed by one of the ancient sea goddesses, stamped with the Ocean Management crest and suspended throughout the fishing net for people to discover.

Photo credit: Miguel Angel Roman.

Also interwoven in the net are schools of plastic fish that I created using a technique developed by Canadian artist Laurel Paluck, which involves ironing plastic bags together to create “ocean leather” fish, beautiful and tough.

We often overlook that plastic degrades in the ocean, becoming a particle soup almost impossible to clean up. Microscopic filaments are ingested by microscopic creatures, which are in turn eaten by larger invertebrates and so on. The chemicals (and the plastic) bio-accumulates and since we eat the largest fish in the food chain, we ingest more plastic/chemicals than we know.

I wanted to reinforce this idea so I included a tray of gelatinous fish-shaped h’or doers at the opening reception that had people wondering “What exactly did I just eat?”

Another component of the exhibition is a series of 10 “precious” boxes containing intact children’s toys that I found washed up on the beach in Spain. (See photo at the top.) Lost and missing posters that depict these toys as precious objects accompany the boxes, alluding to the fact that if we took better care of our things, perhaps we wouldn’t lose or discard them. Our thoughtlessness leads to more consumerism.

Photo credit: Miguel Angel Roman.

The final element of the show is a line of 11 monoprints mounted side by side on the wall behind the fishing net. These multi-layered pieces start in the light blues of the shoreline, and gradually get darker as we move towards the ocean depths. The last two monoprints feature images of plankton and the shadow of a coelacanth rendered with glow in the dark ink. The monoprints represent the intricacy and beauty of nature, reinforcing the interconnectedness of all life. Ironically the viewer cannot get very close to this work because the net is blocking their way.

I was heartened by the many conversations I had during the installation and exhibition opening, often referring to a collective consciousness about how we exist in this world and what we leave behind for future generations. My aim is always to walk people through an environment with the hope of raising awareness and posing questions from different perspectives. I believe that humanity has the capacity to make change as long as there is a clear direction and the public and political will to support it.

I am grateful to all of the individuals who helped me during my research and hanging of the exhibition. Special thanks to Cecilia Sánchez Duarte, Director of the Museo de Arte de Mazatlán, for her vision, and to the Canada Council for the Arts for travel support.

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Joyce Majiski’s work examines connection to place within a context of global environmental concerns. Past careers as a biologist and wilderness guide and several artistic residencies have taken her to remote wild places contributing to her artistic practice. Moving between wilderness and urban landscapes, she seeks out connections between these environments and how humans live and find connection within them. Joyce’s North of Myth exhibition travelled to Finland, Sweden, and Northern Ireland. Her current investigations about water have been exhibited in Spain and Mazatlán, Mexico. She lives in the Yukon



 

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

From Freelance to Fulfillment

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

When I was small, like most kids I loved to draw and was obsessed with animals. But as I grew up, my fascination never went away. I instinctively knew that art had to be an integral part of my life. I applied to schools and was lucky enough to be accepted into a prestigious college where I spent my first year immersed in foundation studies — drawing, painting, and sculpture. At the beginning of my second year, the time came to choose a major. Without giving it too much thought, I and the majority of my class chose illustration.

And so I began my artistic education in earnest. I learned to accurately represent people, places, and things on paper. I learned to boil down the concept of a magazine article or book and draw it in one frame. I learned pen and ink, watercolors, acrylic, and oil painting. I learned how to work with clients who needed to sell a product or an idea quickly and effectively. My work was not deemed successful unless the message and intent were easily gleaned in three seconds or less. Although I am grateful for the education I received, the career path this training led me to ultimately left me deeply unfulfilled.

Not wanting to live an unsatisfying life, I tried to figure out the reason for my discontent. It seems obvious now, but it took me about eight years to find that what I was missing was the ability to be regenerative to self and society. The concept of creating easily-digested images felt like I was fueling the capitalist machine and reinforcing our ever-shortening attention span. The more I researched, the more I realized I was not alone. Even the college that I went to, Rhode Island School of Design, now offers an MA in Nature-Culture-Sustainability Studies. The burgeoning fields of social practice and interdisciplinary art indicate to me that there is a whole generation of dissatisfied artists looking for ways to use their skills to find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.

I chose to radically change the course of my artistic practice when I enrolled in an Interdisciplinary Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Hartford. I sometimes find it hard to believe that both this program and my course in illustration fall into the same category of “art.” The artists that I have been introduced to in the last year, such as Mark Dion, Hope Ginsburg, Ernesto Pujol, and Linda Weintraub, have reminded me how art can be a powerful tool for social change, not just another trade to further the destructive goals of capitalism.

Through these and other artists, I have discovered the importance of making open-ended and sometimes ambiguous art. They have demonstrated why making work that requires contemplation and interpretation is so important in today’s fast-paced world. Slowly, I am learning to let go of the control over my own work that I cultivated for years as an illustrator.

Why is it so important to release control over your message? I have asked myself this many times over the past year. As a trained illustrator, it seems so fundamental that the point of art is to communicate. I still believe this to be true, but my understanding of the word “communicate” has evolved. An illustration conveys the client or illustrator’s point of view. It supports a campaign, article, or written piece. If it is successful, an illustration evokes the same response in most, if not all, viewers. The viewer understands that this is what they are meant to think or feel, and they move on. This happens to each one of us hundreds of times a day as we are bombarded with all forms of media. I believe it creates a numbing effect that cancels out the very intention of the work. Instead of feeling a certain way about an idea, we get so overwhelmed that we feel nothing at all. Apathy becomes a coping mechanism for most people just to survive the day.

When we create work that requires interpretation, we ask the viewer to stop, think, and most importantly, engage. Although we may not reach everyone, those who accept the challenge and create their own narrative begin to feel agency over the work. It becomes a collaboration through the mere act of a viewer’s engagement and interpretation. This connection is important because those who feel agency can begin to feel empowered to engender change on their own. It opens up dialogues that would not have occurred if everyone agreed on the subject and intention of a given work of art.

With many of my most recent paintings, I begin as an illustrator would with a specific story or idea in my mind. My painting E Pluribus Unum (2017) was conceived of when I read an article about the Trump administration’s decision to reverse the ban on lead bullets for hunting on federal grounds. This decision has led to thousands of raptors, including bald eagles, to die of lead poisoning in the wild. When I show the painting, I have rich and deep discussions with viewers because they see different things depending on their own experiences. Some latch onto the imagery, some to the text, others just to the colors and textures. Through this one piece, I have been able to discuss environmentalism, public policy, Greek mythology, race relations in America, the gun debate, and so much more. Although much of what has been brought up was not my original intention, I still feel a sense of satisfaction and success that I have never felt with an illustration, precisely because of these conversations.

Art in its myriad forms has many levels of power. It is often used as a tool for propaganda, but I believe its most potent use is to connect people through dialogue. I still use the skills I learned as an illustrator to point the conversation in a particular direction, but I no longer see any value in choreographing the conclusion to that conversation as well.

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Sophy Tuttle is an artist from Boston, Massachusetts whose work reflects her interest in politics and the environment. She received her BFA in Illustration from Rhode Island School of Design and is currently working on an MFA in Interdisciplinary Art from the University of Hartford Art School. Her work has been shown extensively in New England, as well as nationally and internationally. Influenced by artists such as Walton Ford, Mark Dion, Alexis Rockman, and J. J. Audubon, her work calls attention to the environmental consequences of humankind’s collective values and decision-making in the Anthropocene era. 


 

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

A Brief History of Wind Energy for Artists

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

We humans have been harvesting the wind for at least 5,000 years. A clay vase dating to 3500 BCE from Egypt’s pre-dynastic Naqada II period depicts what is considered to be the world’s first clear image of a boat under sail. The square sail illustrated on this vase, presumably made of linen, was used to propel early Egyptian rudderless boats upstream on the Nile River, catching the northerly winds against the flow of the river.

wind, sail, Egypt, Naqada, vase, jar, linen

Photo of the pre-dynastic Naqada II vase. Reprinted with permission from the British Museum online.

It would take another three millennia before humans transformed the wind’s kinetic energy into mechanical energy to operate machines to pump water, grind grain or mill wood. Early records suggest that by 200 B.C., simple windmills in China were pumping water. In 9th century Persia, vertical axis windmills with woven reed sails were grinding grain. In 14th century Europe, horizontal axis turbines were reclaiming land from low-lying marshland. By the 17th century, the Netherlands was home to approximately 9,000 windmills. Rembrandt’s The Mill, part of the National Gallery of Art’s Widener Collection in Washington, is widely considered to be one of his most famous paintings.

Rembrandt, The Mill, wind, windmill

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606 – 1669), The Mill, 1645/1648, oil on canvas, Widener Collection 1942.9.62, National Gallery of Art.

But it wasn’t until the late 19th century that sapiens finally figured out how to convert the mechanical energy generated by a windmill into electricity. In 1887, the Scottish electrical engineer James Blyth built the first battery-charging wind machine that powered his cottage for 25 years. Later that same year, the American inventor Charles Brush built what is considered to be the first automatically operated wind turbine. It took another 100 years before multi-megawatt wind farms became commercially viable, prompted in part by the oil crises of the late 20th century.

But who, you might be asking, was the first artist to incorporate wind energy into a work of art? We may never know. Perhaps it was an ancient musician, who created – accidentally or intentionally – wind chimes of shells, bone, or bamboo. Wind chimes, a type of percussion instrument, are an example of chance-based music due to the randomness of the wind, which acts simultaneously as composer and player.

Or perhaps it was an Egyptian or Persian architect. Windcatchers (malqaf in Arabic; badgir in Farsi), also known as wind towers or wind chimneys, were a traditional Persian architectural roof-top structure designed to catch the prevailing winds to provide top-down natural ventilation and passive cooling within thick-walled buildings (often constructed partially or completely underground) in desert environments. So effective were windcatchers at cooling buildings that they were routinely used as a form of refrigeration in ancient Persia. The beautiful photo below of abandoned windcatchers near Yazd in central Iran was taken by Dave Ways.

Iran, Persia, architecture, wind catcher, windcatcher, wind tower, wind chimney, ventilation, passive cooling

Photo by Dave Ways, reprinted with permission from The Longest Way Home.

For a stunning contemporary interpretation of windcatchers, look no further than avant-garde Paris-based Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut’s The Gate Heliopolis, currently under construction in Cairo. Callebaut’s design includes nine oval “mega-trees” which function as giant windcatchers to suck prevailing winds deep into the heart of the building as natural (and free!) air conditioning in Cairo’s hot urban environment.

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Image downloaded from http://vincent.callebaut.org/
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Image downloaded from http://vincent.callebaut.org/

Another example of a contemporary artist inspired by wind energy is the renowned American sculptor Anthony Howe. I first wrote about Mr. Howe’s hypnotic wind-powered kinetic sculpture back in 2014. Since then, whenever I needed a creative fix – to be carried away by the beauty of his hypnotic artworks – all I had to do was visit his YouTube channel and start clicking away…

A 2016 headline in the Dallas News says it all: “Anthony Howe creates art that seeks to slow your heartbeat down and make your life better.” I promise you: this is not hyperbole!

In case you missed the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, here is a video link of Mr. Howe discussing his massive two-tonne cauldron being “lit” by the olympic flame.  In an interview with PR Newswire, Mr. Howe explained that his olympic vision was “to replicate the sun, using movement to mimic its pulsing energy and reflection of light. I hope what people take away from the cauldron, the Opening Ceremonies, and the Rio Games themselves is that there are no limits to what a human being can accomplish.”

We Canadians are the lucky recipients of one of Mr. Howe’s most recent installations, right in the middle of downtown Montréal. Last year, Concordia University’s chancellor Jonathan Wener and his wife Susan donated Di-Octo II to their alma mater in honor of the 375th anniversary of Montréal and the 150th anniversary of Canada. This eight-meter-high kinetic sculpture now graces the northeast corner of De Maisonneuve Ouest and Mackay Streets.

Anthony Howe, kinetic, sculpture, Di-Octo, Di-Octo II, Montreal, Montréal, Concordia, wind

Photo by John Mahoney, Montreal Gazette, September 2017.

Although most of Mr. Howe’s sculptures are powered by the wind, they do not (yet!) generate electricity. Perhaps we will have to leave this challenge to the next generation of kinetic sculptors. In the meantime, the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) is leading the way: encouraging artists and architects around the world to adopt “solution-based art practice” by designing public art and sustainable infrastructure that generate renewable energy within urban environments. One of their visions: clean power stations as tourist attractions.

We’ve come a long way since 3500 BCE. In fact, we’ve come full circle, back to the future: the very first energy revolution was renewable (wood, wind, water); the second was coal; the third was oil; and the fourth – which we are currently living through – is renewable once again. But tighten your seat belts! This time around, the 21st century version of the renewable energy revolution portends virtual power plants, energy democracy and the break up of energy monopolies within our lifetimes. The Holy Grail is finally within reach: a post-carbon economy. Artists can help get us there faster by creating positive stories of clean abundance and endless possibilities.

(Top image: Wind turbines by Joan Sullivan.)

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Joan Sullivan is a renewable energy photographer based in Québec, Canada. Since 2009, Joan has focused her cameras (and more recently her drones) exclusively on the energy transition. Her goal is to create positive images and stories that help us embrace the tantalizing concept that the Holy Grail is finally within reach: a 100% post-carbon economy within our lifetimes. Joan collaborates frequently with filmmakers on documentary films that explore the human side of the energy transition. She is currently working on a photo book about the energy transition. Her renewable energy photos have been exhibited in group shows in Canada, Italy and the UK. You can find Joan on Twitter and Instagram


 

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, #8: Rachel Carson’s Poet Heiress of the Sea

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

The eighth in a year-long series on artists of all genres 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.

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Although most commonly known as the author of Silent Spring, the 1962 book that is credited with starting the environmental movement, Rachel Carson was also what historian and author Jill Lepore described as a “scientist poet of the sea.” In her recent article in the March 26, 2018 issue of The New Yorker, entitled “The Right Way to Remember Rachel Carson,” Lepore describes Carson’s enduring love of the ocean and its shorelines. Lepore notes that all of Carson’s books prior to Silent Spring, including Under the Sea-Wind (1941), The Sea Around Us (1951) and The Edge of the Sea (1955), focused on her decades of research on the life of the sea and her daily observations of ocean life. Carson’s lyrical and captivating writing style, which reinforces her own sense of herself as a poet of the sea is reflected in this excerpt from her first published work, “Undersea,” an essay that appeared in a 1934 issue of Atlantic Monthly.

Who knows the ocean? Neither you nor I, with our earth-bound senses, know the foam and surge of the tide that beats over the crab hiding under the seaweed of his tide pool home; or the lilt of the long, slow swells of mid-ocean, where shoals of wandering fish prey and are preyed upon, and the dolphin breaks the waves to breathe the upper atmosphere. Nor can we know the vicissitudes of life on the ocean floor, where the sunlight, filtering through a hundred feet of water, makes but a fleeting bluish twilight, in which dwell sponge and mollusk and starfish and coral, where swarms of diminutive fish twinkle through the dusk like a silver rain of meteors, and eels lie in wait among the rocks. Even less is it given to man to descend those six incomprehensible miles into the recesses of the abyss, where reign utter silence and unvarying cold and eternal night.

In 1964, right before she died and after Silent Spring brought environmental issues into public consciousness, Carson had been observing another puzzling phenomenon that, unfortunately, she did not have the chance to pursue. She wrote presciently: “We live in an age of rising seas…in our own lifetime we are witnessing a startling alteration of the climate.”

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Rachel Carson observing the sea.

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner is an internationally acclaimed poet and spoken word artist who was born and lives on the Marshall Islands, a remote chain of coral atolls located in the Northern Pacific Ocean halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Although she is not a scientist like Rachel Carson, Jetnil-Kijiner shares Carson’s love of the sea and her use of poetic language to express her feelings and concerns about the environment, especially her acute alarm about the rising tides that Carson had observed 54 years ago.

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Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, courtesy of the artist.

Jetnil-Kijiner’s poetry is focused primarily on her beloved Marshall Islands, which lay only six feet above sea level, the same six feet that scientists predict the seas will rise by the end of the century, and which are already experiencing significant tidal flooding once every month. According to Marshall Island Foreign Minister Tony de Brum, the island of his childhood is “not only getting narrower – it is getting shorter…There are coffins and dead people being washed from graves – it’s that serious.”

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A seaside cemetery on the Marshall Islands that has been eroded due to rising tides. Credit: New York Times.

In 2014, Jetnil-Kijiner was catapulted from her relatively obscure presence as a “YouTube poet” into a highly sought-after global poet/climate activist after she was selected to perform as the Civil Society Speaker at the opening of the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City. In the poem she recited that day, “Dear Matafele Peinam,” Jetnil-Kijiner promised her baby daughter that she and an army of others would work ceaselessly to ensure that her homeland would not be overcome by the rising tides threatening its shores and that she would not become a homeless climate refugee.

This excerpt from “Dear Matafele Peinam” is followed by a video of her 2014 UN presentation.

dear matafele peinam,

you are a seven month old sunrise of gummy smiles
you are bald as an egg and bald as the Buddha
you are thighs that are thunder and shrieks that are lightning
so excited for bananas, hugs and
our morning walks past the lagoon

dear matafele peinam,
I want to tell you about that lagoon
that lucid, sleepy lagoon lounging against the sunrise

men say that one day
that lagoon will devour you

they say it will gnaw at the shoreline
chew at the roots of your breadfruit trees
gulp down rows of your seawalls
and crunch your island’s shattered bones

they say you, your daughter
and your granddaughter too
will wander rootless
with only a passport to call home

Since her breakout 2014 performance, Jentnil-Kijiner has been featured in numerous publications and broadcasts, including CNN, Democracy Now, Mother Jones, The Huffington Post, NBC News and National Geographic. In 2017, her first collection of poetry, entitled, Iep Jaltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter was published by the University of Arizona press, giving her the distinction of being the first published author from the Marshall Islands. Not limiting herself to poetry as her only form of action against the dangers of climate change, though, Jetnil-Kijiner has co-founded Jo-Jikum, an organization empowering Marshallese youth to “seek solutions to climate change and other environmental impacts threatening their home island” and has spoken all over the world on climate change including at COP (Conference of the Parties) 22 in 2016 and COP 21 in 2015.

As she warns in her poem “Butterfly Thief,”:

But what if we don’t save Tuvalu
what if bees and butterflies become extinct
what if our/my islands don’t survive

just who
do you think
will be next?

I’m taking you with me

As a poet lover of the sea and environmental activist, Kathy Jentnil-Kijiner is a legitimate heiress to the spirit and work of Rachel Carson.

(Top image: The Marshall Islands during a King Tide.)

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Susan Hoffman Fishman is a painter, public artist, writer, and educator whose work has been exhibited in numerous museums and galleries throughout the U.S. Her latest bodies of work focus on the threat of rising tides caused by climate change, the trillions of pieces of plastic in our oceans and the wars that are predicted to occur in the future over access to clean water. She is also the co-creator of two interactive public art projects: The Wave, which addresses our mutual need for and interdependence on water and Home, which calls attention to homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in our cities and towns.


 

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Persistent Acts: Ask for Jane

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Through Persistent Acts, I look at the intersection of performance, climate, and politics. How does hope come to fruition, even in the most dire circumstances? What are tangible alternatives to the oppressive status quo? My Persistent Acts series considers questions of this nature to motivate conversations and actions on climate issues that reverberate through politics and theatre. The Persistent Acts series continues, zeroing in on the particular politicized topic of reproductive justice through the story of the Jane Collective.

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Near the end of Women’s History Month, and in preparation for the annual New York Abortion Access Fund (NYAAF), a cohort of political theatre activists, the Back to Work Collective, staged a reading of the 2018 screenplay Ask for Jane. We organized this reading to raise money and awareness for NYAAF, which provides safe and accessible abortions to anyone in New York.

White supremacy, colonization, and patriarchy – which keep people of color impoverished and LGBTQ+ people marginalized, and seek to restrict women’s right to choose when and how to have a child – are the same power structures that attempt to control nature, assert humans as the dominant species, and prioritize profits over anything else (including the future of life on Earth). Therefore, what happens to women and underrepresented communities cannot be separated from what happens to nature.

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Ask for Jane image by Paul Bedard.

Ask for Jane is based on the true story of the Jane Collective, an underground network of abortion providers in Chicago. In the years leading up to the Roe v. Wade decision, these women adopted the Jane moniker to support one another when needs arose for safe and affordable abortions. I had only heard of this story as an organizer of the Back to Work reading, but the Janes had a rippling effect on the movement for legal abortions, and for reproductive rights in general. As one of the Janes and author of The Story of Jane: The Legendary Feminist Abortion Service, Laura Kaplan, puts it:

Those of us who were members of Jane were remarkable only because we chose to act with women’s needs as our guide. In doing so we transformed illegal abortion from a dangerous, sordid experience into one that was life-affirming and powerful.

The impetus for the Jane Collective is inspiring because of this empowering energy. These young women saw the needs of their peers, recognized that establishments were not going to help, and thus took matters into their own hands. Close to fifty years later, as state restrictions counter the Roe v. Wade ruling and abortions are again driven underground, women are still leaning on and learning from one another.

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March in support of Roe v. Wade: WBUR.

When the creators of Ask for Jane embarked on their project, they thought the country would be in a much different position at the time of the film’s release. Instead, we’re sliding back to the same place as the conditions prior to Roe v. Wade. The film took on a new urgency, as we followed characters who faced similar conundrums to women today: from feeling option-less when it comes to reproductive “choices” to the insurgence of #MeToo and #TimesUp in the face of sexual violence. The underlying system of patriarchy has remained intact, pitting female (or non-binary) experiences as less worthy than a cis-male experience.

Ask for Jane is the tip of the iceberg in the abortion and reproductive rights conversation. It is also a significant instance of activism and organizing by and for the people. Bringing such stories back to life is an important step in undoing oppressive systems like patriarchy, to look back, remember when times were tougher, and recognize that for some, the circumstances haven’t changed. How can we not just look back on history and learn from it, but also take tangible steps towards equity? Shouldn’t the successes in justice of the past live on, so that we are continually building a world by and for everyone, not just the few?

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About 200 members of the Women’s Coalition marched south on State Street from Wacker Drive on May 15, 1971, to the Civic Center demanding equal opportunity, free child care and free abortions. (James Mayo, Chicago Tribune)

In a blink, I’m feeling history fold over itself. Hard-won rights and steps toward equity and inclusion are being threatened and trampled. What is different now, than in the early 1970s for example, is the proliferation of the Internet and digital media, to communicate, magnify, and organize. How can we take learning from history to another level, to get to the root of the oppressive systems, and take actions to stop repression in its tracks? A start is to tell and retell the stories from the margins, amplifying successes of the past and drawing courage from those who have come before. The arts play a role here, as I experienced in hearing Ask for Jane. Despite the differing decades and cities, the necessity of reproductive rights felt more urgent than ever. I am educating myself on stories of struggle and triumph, interrogating dominant narratives, and reevaluating my assumptions of history as static, to build on the momentum of the original Jane Collective and the contemporary Janes, and to tear down the patriarchy.

Take Action
Learn more about reproductive issues and how to take action via the Our Bodies Ourselves organization and the National Network of Abortion Funds.
Meet other performance initiatives on reproductive rights, including Words of Choice and writings by original Jane member Judith Arcana.

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Julia Levine is a creative collaborator and vegetarian. Originally from St. Louis, Julia is now planted in the New York City downtown theatre realm. As a director, Julia has worked on various projects with companies that consider political and cultural topics, including Theater In AsylumHonest Accomplice Theatre, and Superhero Clubhouse. She is on the Marketing team at HERE Arts Center and is Artistic Producer of The Arctic Cycle. Julia writes and devises with her performance-based initiative to bring questions of food, climate, and justice into everyday life.


 

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Abundance, Art, and Creative Social Research

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

As climate changes continue to impact upon the world, we as a species will need to create truly resilient systems for humanity to live in the natural world with more consideration. An excellent starting point could quite simply be to begin reconnecting with where our food comes from, how it is produced, and what we do with the waste. Thus, as an artist and anthropologist I began to consider ways in which I could find out more about how connected and aware our communities are of the food systems that sustain them.

In January 2018 I presented the creative installation Food for Thought at Rainbow Serpent Festival, an internationally-renowned festival drawing over 20,000 people for a four-day weekend of music and creativity in the Victorian bush in Australia. The installation sought to engage festival goers into dialogue about fresh food consumption and waste practices. I asked: Where does your fresh produce come from and where do you put the waste? The bigger question behind this is, of course, how we can achieve sustainability and resilience within our food systems.

The installation consisted of seven “pods,” each a little over 5-feet tall, with ribs made from marine grade ply, a middle hoop and a mesh fabric skin, hung from trees, lit up at night, and set in sympathy to the site. Natural and found objects were used to construct a walking maze around the pods, which represented different sites of fresh food purchase and waste disposal commonly used by people. In the centre, the earth pod showed four common consumption profiles that you could match your own food print to.

The food mapping installation seeks to provoke and make conscious questions about food consumption and our relationship with the natural world. Inside each of the source pods is information about how far your food has travelled to get to you. Each of the waste pods contains information about what happens to the waste and how it breaks down. Participants were asked to answer a simple question by clicking a hand counter inside the pods. Icons then allow participants to get a sense of their own food print profile from the accompanying information board. You can see more on the food prints here if you want to explore your own.

Our creative research method crosses the disciplinary boundaries of artistic practice and social research. As an interactive installation, the work has an educational and research basis grounded in empirical evidence. Part of the beauty of researching via art is that the piece was specifically designed to inspire curiosity and play, conversation and contemplation, while asking simple survey questions that allowed us to illustrate the consumption and waste practices of festival goers. Alongside this, my collaborators and I collected ethnographic insights on the kinds of conversations and experiences people shared with each other while engaging with the installation.

We estimate from the observed interactions and survey data that around 5,000 people actively engaged with the research side of the project. Throughout the long weekend, we witnessed numerous types of interactions ranging from vague acknowledgements that a pod was hanging down and needed to be sidestepped, to people settling down within the space and actively engaging with the work. Children ran through and around the installation, spinning the pods so that the tendrils splayed out to reveal the openings, leading to further interaction. We overheard people discuss their consumption and waste practices with others, and reflect on how their food print influenced their lifestyles. I also witnessed a grown man hanging and swinging off one of the pods – not the ideal behavior an artist wants to see in relation to their work, but it was good that the pod was robust and resilient enough to take it.

A key finding of the research to date is the sense of guilt and shame felt by many people. Working with Dr. Alexia Maddox and other collaborators, I have run three Food for Thought creative interactive research data collection installations, with the installation at Rainbow Serpent Festival being the latest iteration. High levels of consumption guilt (not linked to behavior change) became apparent in the first two installations. The data collection process in each of these installations asked participants to input their responses to the questions by using a potato or carrot stamp with egg tempura ochre paint onto a collaborative canvas. The first installation was in a gallery and featured a large community created artwork. The second installation took place at a market stall where children and adults alike added their potato or carrot ochre stamps to the initial collaborative piece. At both events, we occupied the installation space and struck up conversations with people about the work. The shame or guilt became known when participants made their marks on the canvas, along with statements like “I wish I could say that I do differently, but I shop at the supermarket and I dispose of the organic waste in the rubbish bin.” On occasion, people would express that they felt as though they had little control over these patterns of consumption and waste. These insights have led us to other questions about how we can, as a society, make it easier for people to behave in ways that they know are good for the planet. This finding on consumption guilt obtained in the first two installations was cemented for us during the festival weekend.

Red cabbage, 153cm x 76cm.

This mobile practice and multi-site installation work is part of a long-term research project that I hope to bring to a variety of places. The purpose is to collect representative data from people across the greater Melbourne region to creatively map fresh food consumption and waste patterns. The final component of the installation will draw together the other creative works, including my large-scale paintings of vegetables, into a collective installation.

Human interaction and perception of the natural world are common themes in my work. As an artist and anthropologist, I thoroughly enjoy the merging of the two disciplines. My new works aim to focus more upon memory spaces, value systems, and the ways in which humans engage with the natural world be it through resource extraction, waste production, or recreational activities. By designing creative low-tech interactive art installations, I ask for contribution from participants in order to stimulate thought and conversations, and encourage input on how we as a species relate to the natural world. Hopefully, this will unearth new and positive ways to relate to the planet that are reflective of different ontological understandings of the natural world.

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Dianna Tarr is an artist and anthropologist located in the Yarra Valley, east of Melbourne, Australia. Informing her creative practice is a deep interest in the ontological understandings of cultural relationships with the non-human, other, life, and the natural world. She explores ways to stimulate thought, response, and action through creative research methods that encourage conversation about some of the world’s most “wicked” problems. Dianna has been awarded numerous grants for creative research and has exhibited extensively over the last twenty years.


 

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

Does Laughter Have a Place Here?

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

I teach a class at New York University Abu Dhabi called Laughter. I hesitate to even say I teach—it’s more like… I lead a chaotic and artistic lab that produces different results every time, based on who is in the room.

Laughter is part of NYUAD’s Core Curriculum; students explore a big question and engage with different modes of thinking. In Laughter we ask: How does laughter function within us as individuals, in our relationships, and our greater communities? We look at sources of laughter (comedy and humor), and my students and I also become subjects of that inquiry. Every semester my fifteen students are from about ten different countries. They bring themselves—their social and cultural contexts and experiences, their overwhelming intelligence, their amazing sense of humor—to the room and to the work. Using my actor/theatremaker sensibility, I guide them through performances and presentations, collaborative and solo creative writing, devised group projects, peer feedback, and critical response to course texts—a curated compilation that includes live performance, play scripts and films, scholarly writing, and memoir.

Selfie of Aysan and her Fall 2017 Laughter class. Photo courtesy of Aysan Celik.

One such required “text” for our class was a performance of short climate change plays organized as part of Climate Change Theatre Action 2017.

On 8 October 2017, NYUAD’s Theater Program hosted a CCTA event which I co-curated and directed with my colleague and force of nature Catherine Coray. Our global company of NYUAD students, staff, and faculty read eleven plays by various playwrights. The readings were followed by a panel of climate change theatre activists: ecocritic and theatre scholar Una Chaudhuri, playwright Abhishek Majumdar, interdisciplinary artist and director Sarah Cameron Sunde, with Environmental Studies and Public Policy Professor Sophia Kalantzakos as moderator.

Many of my students told me they were surprised by what theatre could do or be, and how quickly the room could shift from joy to awkwardness to pain. They had a strong response to the experience of comedy and laughter with these plays. In this context, for them, laughter did not diminish or dismiss or distract. Rather, it enabled a kind of listening. That’s what interested me most about their response: the fact that laughter created a space, a gap, a gasp, a moment of relaxation to really hear an idea. My student Nikoloz Adeishvili wrote:

[…] the most important part of the whole theatre action was hidden under the punch lines, humor, and beautiful acting. Climate change is the problem we are facing today, but no one really wants to properly talk about it. People usually get bored at very formal events or get overly amused at informal humorous events […] The reading performance managed to grasp the golden middle of the two extremes.

Two moments in particular caused strong reactions: one from Chantal Bilodeau’s Homo Sapiens and the other from Katie Pearl’s Appreciation.

In Homo Sapiens, we’re in the future and audience members are the ancient remaining surviving homo sapiens on display at a nature park. My students were utterly charmed by the characters: evolved humans from the future intrigued by the homo sapiens in front of them, scanning them with their phones for their species name, taking selfies, offering them chocolate, carefully tickling them under their chins. At the end of the play, one character is left alone with the homo sapiens. I think my students were disarmed by the humor so when it came to the character’s last speech they had no time to brace themselves:

[…] you know, whatever happened, I’m sure it was complicated, these things always are, so I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume that you tried your best. It was a mess, some of you fucked up, some of you fought hard, and here we are. And isn’t it wonderful? You evolved. All of the shit you went through made you evolve into me, a new species, which, granted, is not the greatest thing since sliced bread but it’s a step forward. I mean, think about it. Six extinctions! Not one, not two, six! Six times the earth was nearly wiped out of all life so the odds that you and I would be standing here today…[…] So, thank you. Yeah… Thank you. Whatever you did wrong, you also did a lot of things right and that’s the story I want to remember. That’s the story I want to tell. That’s the story we need to celebrate: us, here, six extinctions later. I’m proud of being your kin, I really am. And I hope the species that comes after me will be proud of being mine.

When I read Katie Pearl’s Appreciation, the students did not immediately realize it was a play; they thought I was just warming the audience up, as co-host of the event. In Appreciation, the lines are a series of prompts to get the audience to applaud for different things (Katie’s stage directions to the actor include “whip them up”). The lines start innocently, with the actor asking the audience to give her a round of applause, and then picking someone in the audience to uproariously applaud for. The actor then prompts the audience with climate change related events that have a hopeful note:

Ok now me again. But wait, first imagine me as um, ice. Not ICE the immigration guys but ice. Like, I can be an icy glacial shelf that is trying not to break off a frozen landmass in the Antarctic. Can you imagine me like that? Ok here I am: I’m holding on tight, trying not to fracture… ok go! Applause!

[Audience applauds!]

Ok great!

Ok now I’m you. No, you’re you. No I’m me and you’re all a piece of land that went to court and won rights as a person, that won HUMAN RIGHTS! Let’s give that a round of applause, that is amazing! That took a lot of work!

[Audience applauds.]

A few lines later, increasingly devastating scenarios are introduced:

Ok now it is 2011 and a man is going diving in the ocean in Japan, looking for his wife who got swept away by a Tsunami.

Ok now it is 2011 and you are the mother who is still floating a lunch down into the waves for her daughter who never was found from that same tsunami.

Can we give that some love, a little applause, I mean: talk about commitment!!

The play continues on, brilliantly so, shifting back and forth to different images related to climate change, based on past, present or future possibilities.

Many of my students expressed that was the moment when they knew they did not want to applaud—for the man diving into the ocean and the mother sending the lunch into the waves. That moment interests me. The shift in the room could be physically felt: the quality of the silence was incredible and awful. My sense is that their experience was something like this: they breathed in, preparing to laugh and clap as they had done repeatedly. They listened in a kind of shocked suspension, and in that gap, in that open-ness they heard and felt that image in a whole different way.

NYUAD students, staff, and faculty read Oh How We Loved Our Tuna! by Amahl Khouri. Photo courtesy of the NYUAD Theater Program.

The same student, Nik, wrote:

We as humans constantly “clap” for issues like climate change, we recognize the problem, but our only response is clapping, liking stuff on social media, or reading an article. What humor—and in some cases, dark humor—manages to do is raise awareness through joy and fun. Maybe more performances like this will make people do more than just clap.

During the panel discussion afterwards, Una introduced the idea of toggling back and forth between right now and a larger sense of time. What a perfect lens to examine how theatre might help us grasp and respond to climate change. In those two moments I described from Appreciation and Homo Sapiens (and many more), laughter facilitated that toggling. The experience of laughter popped us into a very present, in-the-moment space of sensitivity to the reality of a not-too-distant future. It enabled us to imagine the consequences, right now. Could laughter, as counterintuitive as it may seem, catalyze connection, accountability, and action? At the CCTA event, for my students and I, it did: carefully, intelligently, artfully so.

(Top image: NYUAD students, staff, and faculty read Oh How We Loved Our Tuna! by Amahl Khouri. Photo courtesy of the NYUAD Theater Program.)

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Aysan Celik is an actor, theatremaker and Assistant Arts Professor at NYU Abu Dhabi. She is a founding member of Theater Mitu and is a Civilian. She was recently seen in The Civilians’ The Undertaking at 59E59 and the rolling world premiere of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s The Making of a Great Moment at Merrimack Rep and Z Space. With Mitu, Aysan recently co-created and performed Juárez: A Documentary Mythology. Aysan is originally from California, and splits her time between Abu Dhabi, New York, and the San Francisco Bay Area.


 

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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