Artists and Climate Change

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Wild Authors: D.G. Driver

By Mary Woodbury

This month, we continue with the young adult/teen focus, certainly timely right now as youth have entered the front lines on fighting climate change. On March 15, 2019, an international march took place with thousands of students from dozens of countries skipping school and calling for government action. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg helped to spur this action last year, though before that youth were already in the arena. It’s such a positive and hopeful sign, and quite naturally, literature continues to remark on such issues. This week we look at works by D.G. Driver, author of The Juniper Sawfeather trilogy, a series of fantasy novels showing how a native American teenager, Juniper, deals with oil spills, logging, and endangered orcas.

D.G. has a degree in theater arts from U.C. Irvine. Her first short story was published in Catalyst Magazine, and her first original play was produced in Los Angeles. She is an actor and enjoys community theater in Nashville. She’s also a special education teacher in the same city and has written the novel No One Needed to Know, inspired by an autistic brother. D.G. is a presenter who explores environmental themes in novels, speaking at schools, libraries, and special events. She has spoken at Middle TN Youth Writing Workshop (at MTSU), Alabama School Library Association conference, Wizard World Comic Con Nashville, Southern Kentucky Festival of Books, LibertyCon, Chattacon, and Hypericon. D.G.’s Juniper Sawfeather series, published by Fire & Ice Young Adult Books, has been nominated for the Purple Dragonfly book award, Green Books/Environmental award, and Green Book Festival award. You can learn more about D. G. Driver’s books here.  Find excerpts, reviews, and links to all booksellers. The box set is available at Amazon.

I was always impressed by D.G.’s positive ratings on Goodreads and her genuine enthusiasm on various social media, and knew that her novels would be exactly what I was looking for as a teenager. Even as an adult I enjoy them! So I was happy to finally catch up to D.G. and talk with her about the trilogy.

Can you describe for our readers what’s happening in your Juniper Sawfeather trilogy?

This series is about a teen environmental activist who discovers mythical creatures tied to her American Indian heritage during her efforts to protect the natural world. In the first book, Cry of the Sea, we meet Juniper as she and her father rush to the beach to report damage of an oil spill off the Washington coast. They discover real mermaids washed up on the beach. It becomes Juniper’s mission to protect these creatures from being exploited by the media or murdered by the oil company.

The second book, Whisper of the Woods, takes Juniper and her activist parents to a protest against the logging of old growth trees. The oldest tree of all seems to be calling to her, and soon Juniper finds herself trapped 170 feet up in its branches by an ancient tree spirit. She learns in this book of an American Indian myth that ties the tree spirit and the mermaids together.

In the final book, Echo of the Cliffs, Juniper is determined to find the third part of the myth: a warrior that has been turned into stone. Her family is now fighting construction pollution that is killing orcas and other sea creatures. One of her loved ones goes missing, and it might be vindictive mermaids who have captured him. Why would they do this and how does it tie to the myth? It’s the most exciting book of the three with a thrilling ending.

What are your thoughts on environmental issues and climate change in fiction?

When I originally came up with the concept for my first novel, Cry of the Sea, I didn’t intend for it to be an issue-oriented book. It was born out of a “what if?” idea during the reporting of the ten-year anniversary of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. I thought: what if mermaids were caught up in an oil spill? During the time that I was writing the novel, the Gulf oil spill happened, and there have been subsequent spills since then. In addition, we have all seen the dangers of ocean pollution, construction pollution, and of course the crisis with plastics in the ocean. By making Juniper and her parents environmental activists, I was able to weave facts about environmental issues into the stories organically without having them be forced. In this way, I can make young readers aware of the issues without preaching. Hopefully, in addition to enjoying the action, they are learning something valuable. I believe that teens are very aware of the dangerous future ahead due to climate change, and characters like Juniper Sawfeather can hopefully give them some motivation to help make a difference.

In the final book, Echo of the Cliffs, there is a scene where Juniper and her boyfriend Carter are helping with some water testing. They get to chatting about ocean pollution. Here’s an excerpt:

“Did you know that there’s a mass of plastic garbage the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?” Carter said.

I patted his curly blond hair. “You’re so cute trying to tell something like that to the daughter of Peter and Natalie Sawfeather.”

“What? You knew?” He acted dumbfounded, and I laughed.

I leaned over so I could drag my hand through the cold water and let it trickle off my fingers. “Actually, the island of plastic trash is a myth. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, but it does slowly break down into small bits, sometimes microscopic, and is spread out all over the ocean. It’s estimated that there’s 25,000 microscopic pieces of plastic per square mile in the ocean. It’s impossible to clean up. The sea animals are eating it. We’re eating the sea animals.”

“So, we’re basically eating our own trash.”

“Yep.”

“Mind if I use all of that info for my paper in Environmental Studies?”

“You can use my whole essay. I learned all of that for an assignment in school last year.”

Carter glared at the construction site. “My dad has to do something about what’s happening here. We might not be able to fix the whole ocean, but we don’t have to add to the problem.”

“I hope this evidence will make a difference for him.”

Who are some of your favorite characters?

Juniper Sawfeather is the star of my story, and I love her so much. She’s headstrong, smart, and often very stubborn. She doesn’t really fit in with high school-minded people and is ready to move on to college and, hopefully, a career in marine biology. She both respects her parents and is embarrassed by them, especially her mother.

Carter Crowe is a freshman in college and an intern at the marine rescue center where the mermaids are brought. He’s handsome and driven, a perfect match for Juniper. Their relationship grows and is tested throughout the series.

My other favorite character is Juarez Pena. He’s an open-minded news reporter who has been a big supporter of Peter and Natalie Sawfeather (Juniper’s parents) when other reporters have refused to cover their protests. He believes Juniper about the mermaids, sight unseen, and is extremely helpful with the rescue attempt. Juarez winds up becoming pretty obsessed with finding the mermaids, though, and that leads to a whole subplot that is very important in the final story.

What environmental fiction stories inspired you as a child?

I’m not sure I recall reading anything that I would consider environmental fiction as a child. I grew up in the 1970s-80s. I didn’t discover Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax until I was an adult. I was also already an adult when I first read Hatchet. I did read Island of the Blue Dolphins and enjoyed it.  As a young reader, second through fourth grade, I was a big fan of animal books like Black Beauty and Bambi. These books gave me an appreciation for nature and caring about animals.

In sixth grade I became a huge fan of Harriet the Spy. I think of her as my first “activist,” someone who was determined to know things and learn how the world worked. Someone who stood up against mean people and had to learn a thing or two about how to get what she wanted without hurting people in the process. I’ve always been drawn to characters like her, and I think Juniper was born out of wanting to write a strong female lead with determination and a cause.

In my twenties I read Legacy of Luna, an autobiography about Julia Butterfly Hill, a woman famous for protecting old growth trees. Her story directly inspired book two of the Juniper Sawfeather series, Whisper of the Woods.

I also enjoyed many of these stories and am secretly thrilled every time an author mentions Island of the Blue Dolphins, my favorite novel as a young girl. What experiences or feedback have you had from your readers?

To my great joy, I’ve had a couple young readers tell me that they are interested in pursuing careers in marine biology, thanks to reading Cry of the Sea. Reviewers have been very supportive of the books and often comment on how well the environmental themes are woven into the plot – that the books make the reader think about ocean pollution or the timber industry without taking them out of the story. Cry of the Sea won two literary awards for its environmental awareness theme. I like when readers let me know that they are going to try harder to do more about limiting their use of plastics, not littering, and recycling more often.

That’s wonderful feedback. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Most people are drawn to Cry of the Sea initially because of the mermaid on the front cover, and I think they’re surprised to find that it is very different than other mermaid books. It’s not a paranormal romance. My mermaids don’t talk. They don’t grow legs and walk around on land. They are sentient sea creatures, and Juniper makes it her mission to protect them and defeat the oil company’s plans to destroy them.

Another thing that surprises people is that the mermaids are not in book two, Whisper of the Woods. The series follows the adventures of Juniper, wherever they take her. Readers should stick with the series, though. The mermaids come back with a vengeance, joined by some shape-shifting killer whales, in the final volume: Echo of the Cliffs.

Thanks so much for talking about your novels. I’m looking forward to seeing more!

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Drain You Dry

By Eric Herbig

Last summer, when Seattle’s skies were smoke-filled from the wildfires in British Columbia, I started creating the music to my song Drain You Dry. I recall going nearby to Alki Beach and seeing first-responders assist an elderly gentleman who was having trouble breathing. It was also during this time that an orca mother known as Tahlequah pushed her dead calf (the first born to the pod in the prior three years) around the waters of Puget Sound for seventeen days, traveling over 1,000 miles. I remember feeling that this was a communication – a cry for help, a warning, and an act of protest from our intelligent and potentially wiser counterparts of the sea.

Over the course of the last three years, I have been participating in climate justice activism via a local chapter of 350.org called 350-Seattle. We accomplished much in the area of climate change; for example, we recently led the Seattle City Council to unanimously pass a resolution around the Seattle Green New Deal. We also have a multi-year campaign involving a coalition of organizations calling for big banks, particularly JP Morgan Chase, to stop enabling fossil fuel companies.

350-Seattle activists shutdown Second Avenue in front of the Seattle Chase Headquarters to protest their funding of fossil fuels. Police were quoted as saying the deployment of the “Tarpees” was akin to a Nascar pit crew in action.

In the summer, while I was making the music video for Drain You Dry , 350-Seattle deployed a series of “Tarpees” (Teepee-inspired structures walled with tarps instead of traditional materials), which shut down the major thoroughfare of Second Avenue directly in front of the JP Morgan Seattle Headquarters and resulted in the arrest of fourteen activists. I mention my involvement in 350-Seattle, because I feel it has provided me with vigor and hope, both of which inspire and motivate me to make music. Through 350-Seattle’s close alliance with local indigenous groups, I have heard Native speakers express their perspectives around nature in ways that has resonated in my soul. When I am symbolizing purity of nature in the video and music, it is a reflection of these experiences.

At the root of both the song and the video are my own contradictory feelings of love for nature (I am also a molecular biologist), and anxiety from feeling trapped in a system of oppression in which climate change, while eminently pressing, is but one of many threats. These feelings are expressed in my music; the song starts as more of an exotic-feeling folk song and later morphs into a full-blown, technology-infused, post-apocalyptic world, where the organic elements are largely consumed. Also informing the chorus and video imagery is the emotional weight of constantly considering and engaging in ideas around climate change. The song isn’t just about climate change; it’s about the devastating impacts of climate change resulting from systems of oppression as a metaphor for both internal strife and societal decay.

When representing nature in this song, I wanted to use acoustic guitar, world music percussion, and piano, which, for me, evoke a natural spirit. The vocals are more of a hybrid element in which the voice is human and angry, and at the same time, occasionally (literally) being warped by technology and to some degree fused with it (e.g., as accomplished by layering unaltered vocals with vocals altered to sound robotic). In the video, the images of Earth from space are meant to juxtapose life and technology. When it comes to the lyrics, the opening theme reflects a world in decline, which hasn’t yet sunk into total madness. The line “your apathy is killing me” is directed largely at big oil, big banks, and the politicians they control, but also slightly at a portion of the general public not yet motivated around climate change. Among the visual elements, I wanted to include images of climate activists as a motivator to viewers, a call out to groups such at 350-Seattle, and also a symbol of hope.

For the chorus portion of the video, I took a pretty straightforward approach to the catastrophic context – using images of fossil fuel extraction and climate change-related disasters. In particular, fire felt relevant not only for hinting at the concept of a burning Earth and at the smoke that was filling the Seattle skies, but also as a symbol of the intense emotions of those on the frontlines who are facing the immediate impacts of climate change, of the activists battling for change, and the money-addicted players driving the problems. The pacing of the disaster imagery is intended to reflect the chaos gripping our minds as different thoughts race in and out of our consciousness. The general absence of people, or their presentation as isolated and in a state of peril, is meant to further reflect both a concerning apathy towards climate change and a potential for apocalyptic outcomes.

Musically, greed-driven technology was expressed through the step-wise introduction of synthesized elements made to feel volatile by use of distortion, and powerful by addition of synthesized sub-bass. This is in full effect when the chorus hits around one minute into the song. The repetition of the lyrics is borrowed from short chants often heard at demonstrations to create a sense of desperation and panic around a voice experiencing climate change and crying out for help. The lyrics about being “left for dead,” followed by the repetition of the phrase “in the desert of someone else’s making” during the chorus could be spoken by a being now facing catastrophic climate change. The final repetition of “(they are going to) drain you dry” is a warning and plea from an already condemned voice.

Finally, the title was partially inspired by the famed Seattle band Nirvana, who has a song called Drain You. I was once obsessed with Kurt Cobain, who succumbed to addiction. To me, it is fitting as a title since it might be argued that addiction, in this case to money and power, is ultimately what may end our species.

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Eric Herbig is a former molecular biologist turned activist, who uses the music he makes as Broken Ocean to express his perspective on a myriad of topics such as love, exploitation, oppression, and climate change. Broken Ocean is an indie-electro-experimental project that Herbig came to as a songwriter and producer after acknowledging the societal inequities present in his community. At odds with his position in creating costly medical interventions, while other folks lacked access to basic care, he left medical research to pursue social justice causes, with a focus on how climate change not only impacts the planet, but specifically people of color and the poor. Broken Ocean’s newest release We Are Antennae is available now.

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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An Interview with Artist Noel Kassewitz

By Amy Brady

This month I have for you a thought-provoking interview with Washington D.C.-based artist Noel Kassewitz. Her work is intentionally low-tech and has a “jerry-rigged” feel. She explains why and how her aesthetic speaks to concerns about climate change in our discussion below. We also discuss her work’s relationship to significant historical events like the French Revolution, and why she thinks understanding the past will help us to better understand our present.

Your work blurs the lines between painting and sculpture, and cultural artifact and survival tool. What do you seek to communicate by creating work that crosses so many boundaries?

“How does an artist prepare for climate change?” This has been the essential question I have returned to time and time again over these last few years. Understanding art’s cultural value but non-essential nature in disaster scenarios, I recognized the need to expand my work’s utility. When great calamity strikes a civilization, the “superfluous” – that is, the arts, literature, humanities – are often the first things to be eliminated in favor of the basics needed for survival. So by trying to make my works inherently useful, I attempt to safeguard them from being left behind or destroyed. I create painting hybrids that exist as aesthetic objects and conversation starters in times of stability and function as flotation devices in potentially flooded future-scapes.

What inspired you to address climate change in your work?

My works have always conceptually dealt with environmental concerns and questions, which I believe stemmed from my childhood in Miami and the Yucatan of Mexico, where I spent time in the ocean and around marine mammals. I remember being concerned with climate change even as a child (I was a voracious reader), but as I got older, I was increasingly alarmed by how little had actually been done to mitigate it. When I first started specifically addressing climate change in my works, in 2015, still so few people were taking the topic seriously. It actually felt like some kind of cultural faux-pas to be addressing it in my work – as if being concerned about the environment was inherently uncool as an artist. Yet, the role of the artist is to synthesize the cultural moment and present it back to the viewer for self-reflection, so I was spurred on by this existential societal apathy. It’s been heartening to see the shift in conversation that has occurred in this past year, but there is still so much to be done.

Please tell me about some of your most recent work, The Weight of Paradise (I Wish You Were Here)

A figure lays heavy and buried under sandbags while paradise-like video projections of sunset play across the blank slate of their face. But then, glitches begin to reveal themselves within the video projection, proving that the saccharin sweet story being consumed isn’t all that it seems.

I first started working on The Weight of Paradise (I Wish You Were Here) when I lived in Italy three years ago. While there I did an artist residency in Carrara, where the marble for Michelangelo’s “David” was sourced. I was taught the ancient art of hand carving marble. I didn’t fully know what form the final project would take, but I knew I wanted to fuse art history and contemporary culture, which seems to happen quite a lot in my work. I began with a traditional human bust, but carved it in such a way that I could later project a video onto its surface. A couple years later, after working with so much buoyancy in my works, I wanted to create a very heavy piece, and the final form for the sculpture came to me.

Your work is intentionally low-tech and jerry-rigged. Why did you decide to take this approach?

I think there is a lot of incredible artwork being made that explores and exploits new advances in technology, but I chose to go in the other direction for a specific reason. We live in a world where constant adaptation at breathtaking speeds has become the norm. I find it interesting trying to navigate this digital moment in a much slower paced physical body and find a lot of correlations to that within traditional forms of artwork like painting and sculpture. Simultaneously, the majority of the world’s population does not have the luxury of simply “moving somewhere else” or using technology to save themselves in climate crisis situations and will instead be forced to jerry-rig solutions to survive and adapt to newly inhospitable environments. Therefore, finding ways to adapt, or maladapt, my works to a world rapidly leaving them behind has become an interesting metaphorical concept for me. I don’t want these to look clean, crisp, and digital. I want the human-hand to be visibly present – raw, and messy.

What do you hope viewers take away from your work?

History has a way of repeating itself when forgotten, and I constantly liken this moment to the two decades preceding the violent French Revolution, known in art history as the Rococo period. This time during the final years of Versailles was characterized by a pastel palette and a focus on the playful, decadent, and frivolous by a governing aristocracy who were intently ignoring the warning signs of a system out of balance. Sound familiar? I want contemporary viewers to walk away with a deeper understanding of this moment we currently are in through foiling it against other pivotal time periods. This allows us all to realize how ridiculous some of our own priorities and choices actually are. I hope this understanding can help us choose to create a different reality for ourselves.

What’s next for you? 

My project, Rococo Remastered: Sunset on the Empire, where I floated past the monuments in Washington, D.C. on one of my paintings, was acquired by the University of Maryland for their permanent art collection this summer and will be on exhibit this September. In January, I have a solo exhibition opening here in Washington, D.C. with International Arts and Artists that will feature several of my newest works using re-purposed pool-floats in paintings to reference art historical counterparts. It should be playful, bizarre, and sobering all at once, and I’m really looking forward to it. Further down the pipeline in 2020 are exhibitions in New York and Miami; readers can stay tuned to any of these events by visiting my website for announcements and signing up to my email list serve (I limit my email updates to once every 3 months.)

(Top image by Kassewitz & Kassewitz, 2019.)

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

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

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Wild Authors: Ned Tillman

By Mary Woodbury

I continue my spotlight focus on authors whose novels are aimed toward a young adult and/or teen audience. These books might be interesting to teachers looking for titles that their students can read and discuss together; the storytelling about climate change is not entirely new but is settling deep into our collective consciousness as we become more aware, day by day, of the way our planet is changing.

This month I talk with Ned Tillman, whose debut novel, The Big Melt (South Branch Press), was published in August 2018. The Big Melt was inspired by a “1,000-year flood” that hit Howard County in 2016. Ned, part of the Howard County Environmental Sustainability Board, witnessed first-hand the resulting devastation. A scientist with two environmental stewardship non-fiction books under his belt, he decided to write a cautionary tale for middle and high school students. According to the Baltimore Sun, which ran an article on Ned’s novel:

Tim Singleton, a Columbia freelance writer who is co-chair of the board of the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, thinks bringing the issue of climate change to younger readers via fiction was an inspired decision. “The young adult mind is not really jaded by patterns that overtake life,” he said. “They have a fresh sense of wonder that is very heartening.”

While some fiction about global warming is subtle and might not even mention climate change at all, other stories, like Ned’s, are more advocative. They chronicle events related to climate change and, in the case of The Big Melt, introduce characters who take action. This helps readers who are deeply concerned about problems but might feel powerless. Story characters become friends to us, in a sense. These stories are necessary for our world’s youth today, just as they always have been with other looming issues.

Book Description

Sleepy Valley is a town probably similar in many ways to the one where you live. Things are fine on the surface, but no one is thinking about the future. Are you ready for what is about to happen to you and to towns all across the country and around the world?

Marley and Brianne, the main characters in our story, are not. Nor are their parents, their neighbors, or anyone in town. When they wake up the day after high school graduation they find their lives turned upside down as a series of climate catastrophes descend on their town. They struggle to find their voices and their purpose for living while attempting to save their family and friends, town, and civilization as we know it.

The Big Melt engages, informs, and challenges readers of all ages to consider a variety of perspectives on what is rapidly becoming the challenge of the century: Now that our climate is changing, what do we do? This work of contemporary fiction, with a touch of fantasy and hope, will inspire you to care a little more about what might occur in your town in the not-too-distant future.

About Ned

Ned Tillman is the author of three books, a keynote speaker and the creative force behind the Saving the Places We Love campaign. He wants to do whatever he can to give others the tools to save the places they love. He has published two non-fiction books full of ideas and examples of what it takes to accomplish these goals, and a novel to inspire all of us to take action. He speaks to and facilitates groups coming together to save places important to them.

During his career, Ned has provided energy and environmental consulting services to governments and corporations across the U.S. and abroad. He has presented keynote addresses at national conventions, colleges, and for a range of businesses and non-profit organizations. He serves on local, regional, and national boards working to ensure the health and sustainability of our country. Proceeds from his books go toward watershed restoration, climate, and land preservation efforts.

Interview

What’s going on in the Big Melt?

On the day after graduation,  a series of climate catastrophes strike the town of Sleepy Hollow. New graduates, Marley and Brianne, struggle to save their town and in the process discover their voices and purpose for living. They face melting asphalt roads, invasive kudzu vines and forest destroying beetles, wind and firestorms, lakes bubbling from decaying algae, and a host of migrating animals. Their biggest challenge is convincing the town fathers to take action. They fail, the town is abandoned, and they move on to more progressive towns in cooler parts of the country.

What are Marley and Brianne like?

Marley is an outsider, a skateboarder, and a maturing young man who cares for his town and his friends. Brianne is his best friend, a real energetic partner in crime/salvation, and his equal in trying to save the town. They become role models for young adult readers. There are five imperfect adults who become their mentors in the fight to save the town.

Have you gotten any feedback from younger people who have read the book? How do you think environmental fiction can truly inspire readers?

I had 100 teenagers read it during the writing phase, which was a huge help. I have had feedback from dozens of kids and adults since it was released this past fall. The general feedback was that they got really engaged in the storyline, learned a lot about how things work, and are much more motivated to do something about climate change. I wrote this book as a current story that could happen anywhere tomorrow – it is not a futuristic dystopian setting. It is also a very real life story. As a result, readers come away with a visceral feeling that things could get pretty bad if we don’t act now.  I am also very careful to give them a sense of hope – if they act now.

It’s amazing that you were so involved in having your audience read the book during your writing phase. Did you have similar experiences being wowed by fiction while growing up, and what were those novels?

Yes, starting with Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. I also was motivated by Edward Abby’s The Monkey Wrench Gang and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath – which still haunts me today. Carl Hiassin’s books taught me the power of fantasy and humor in getting a story across.

What is Saving the Places We Love?

My second book (my first was The Chesapeake Watershed) is a look at many of the iconic natural sites in this country that we all love. I wanted to help people get a real sense of the wonders of these areas by using a series of anecdotes of my experiences “touching nature” in each of these settings. I then explore how they were preserved and the threats they face today. This is a non-fiction call to arms to go outside and fall in love with nature and then do whatever you can to preserve it for future generations.

Do you have anything else to add?

I was interested to hear back from one teacher who used this book in class to help the students learn how to tell fact from fiction – an important challenge in the Internet age. I did hyperbolize a few anecdotes, which raises questions in the reader’s minds. So how do they test these questions out? Where do they go to get reliable answers? Who do they ask? Marley has this problem as well so he serves as a role model in this way as well.

Thank you, Ned! It’s interesting to see how many young adults and teens helped during the writing period and are loving the novel now. I wish you well.

This article is part of our Wild Authors series. It was originally published on Dragonfly.eco.

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Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs Dragonfly.eco, a site that explores ecology in literature, including works about climate change. She writes fiction under pen name Clara Hume. Her novel Back to the Garden has been discussed in Dissent Magazine, Ethnobiology for the Future: Linking Cultural and Ecological Diversity (University of Arizona Press), and Uncertainty and the Philosophy of Climate Change (Routledge). Mary lives in the lower mainland of British Columbia and enjoys hiking, writing, and reading.

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Atul Bhalla: On the Physical, Historical, Religious and Political Aspects of Water

By Susan Hoffman Fishman

Atul Bhalla is a New Delhi-based conceptual and performance artist. Using photography, video and installation, he has spent the last 21 years addressing the physical, historical, political and religious aspects of water.

In our recent video conversation, Bhalla described a number of events in his early life that provided the foundation for his on-going preoccupation with water and led him to question how water is distributed, stored, regulated, commercialized, wasted, disappeared and polluted. He noted that his hometown of Delhi, a city which receives only 17 days of rain on average per year, cannot provide a 24-hour continuous supply of water to its citizens. In order to distribute the city’s finite water resources, the taps in Delhi are opened only once in the morning and once at night.

Bhalla’s first significant influence relating to water was his childhood memory of the sound of water drops hitting a steel bucket when he woke up in the morning. The water in that bucket was used for the family’s drinking, cooking and bathing needs and had to last until evening, when the bucket could be refilled. That bucket of water was also Bhalla’s first lesson in water distribution, storage and conservation.

Nothing Reached Home, wooden construction, 5 x 4 x 6 feet, 2009

Bhalla’s second influential experience occurred when the first public swimming pool was opened in his West Delhi neighborhood. He distinctly remembers feeling that when he was immersed in the water, he was alone, just he and the water. His eyes and ears focused on the visual distortion and sounds under the water’s surface. Bhalla’s time in his community pool allowed him to explore the physicality of water, both its sensual and dynamic qualities as well as its potential for danger and death.

I Was Not Waving But Drowning II, archival pigment print, #5 of a sequence of 14 images, 12 x 18 inches, 2005

A train ride from New Delhi to Bombay in a second class car during the monsoon provided Bhalla with a third, pivotal experience with water. As he describes it, the train stopped on the bridge over the Virar River, whose flood waters had almost reached the train’s rails. As he gazed outside the car’s open door, Bhalla had an overwhelming desire to jump into the river and become one with the water. It was at this time that he began to understand water’s mysterious lure.

After an unsuccessful (according to him!) first exhibition in 1998, Bhalla traveled along the pilgrimage routes of the Ganga (Ganges) and other holy rivers in India, observing how people both bathed and drank from the same polluted water for spiritual purposes, but then ordered clean, bottled water when they ate in a restaurant. As a Hindu, he himself had done the same. His questions about his own and other people’s behavior around water, their relationships to water and the history that water contains grew exponentially and, along with his earlier memories, became the source of his photos, photo performances and installation projects.

Since Bhalla is such a prolific artist and doing justice to all of his work would require no less than a book (several do exist), I’ll focus here on three of his more recent projects.

Looking for Dvaipayana

In 2014, Bhalla conducted a series of performances entitled Looking for Dvaipayana. The Sanskrit word “dvaipayana” means “that which is surrounded by water” and can be found in two stories from the epic myth, Mahabharata. The first involves a fisherman’s daughter who gives birth to a son on an island in the Yamuna River; the second refers to a hidden, mythical lake. His performances for the project are indicative of the way he often incorporates his own body into his work. They also represent his personal attempt to look for or identify the “lost” water of Delhi. As he has written,

I “perform” at locations named after or for water within my home city, Delhi. Old wells, step wells, old water bodies like old wells have been covered over to make way for roads or for the ease of traffic. Some remain only within the memory of the older generations, referring to a water body lost to time or to greed. The body plays the indexical, of perhaps wanting or attempting to connect to the labyrinths of water tables and sources which keep the city alive over generations but are now disappearing. The sites are locations which may still carry names of old water bodies of Delhi, like ‘ChapparWalaKuh’ (the thatched well) in Karol Bagh Crossing, which was covered in the early 1980’s; Panchkuina Road (Five Well Road), KhariBaoli (the brackish step well), JantaPiau (one of the oldest wells in Old Delhi, right in the middle of the road opposite the Old Delhi railway station).

The abstracted silhouette/body, perhaps a de-humanizing shape and at other times a head in supplication, may be a metaphor for defeat, submission, confession; the head is so bowed down that it is almost about to be admitting guilt; of giving myself/yourself to Dvaipayana (in the form of a river/ lake/baoli/well). The work may be also mourning, a moment of silence…

Looking For Dvaipayana, archival pigment print, 16 x 24 inches, 2014

Objects of Fictitious Togetherness I

Bhalla’s goal with his 2017 installation Objects of Fictitious Togetherness I was to allude to the way in which water became a symbol of friendships and divisions, both cultural and physical, between Hindus and Muslims before and after partition, and to explore the “interplay between memory, post-memory and truth around the Freedom Struggle.” His large scale installation included, among other components, an elaborate round table on which dozens of traditional brass cups of all sizes were placed. In the installation, Bhalla has provided a visual representation of a fictional unity that defies the reality of how the government before partition had separated the Hindu Pani (water) drinking sources from the Muslim Pani ones in public spaces such as Railway stations. Here, though, Bhalla created an environment in which all of the cups of water were exhibited together, without divisions.

Objects of Fictitious Togetherness I, video, text, wood, brass, marble, running water, photographs, 2017

On the Edge of the Sea

In 2019, Bhalla completed an installation entitled On the Edge of the Sea in the Senate House of Madras University in Chennai, located in South India on the Bay of Bengal. He explained that he developed the project on behalf of the fishermen of Chennai who have been most impacted by industrialization and are the first to feel the effects of rising waters and climate change. Once located within the confines of the city, the fishermen were forced to move on several occasions to locations north and south of Chennai. In the first instance, they were forced out by the British who wanted to cleanse the city of local fishermen, and then again because of threats resulting from rising tides and erosion.

For the installation, Bhalla wanted to show how the fishermen’s lives and livelihoods have changed and how the historic fishing industry has disappeared from public consciousness. Using photographs of the sea, the fishing villages and the fishermen’s traditional boatmaking trade and homes, imprinted on 22 foot-high scrolls, he has returned them to their traditional location on the edge of the sea.

On the Edge of the Sea, latex print on fabric, 20 x 35 x 21 feet, 2019

At the end of our conversation, I mentioned to Bhalla that his dedication over decades to the topic of water reminded me of Roni Horn, an American artist living in New York City and Iceland whose work I highlighted in this series in January of 2018. He admitted to admiring her work and sees a lot of parallel thinking between them. He also appreciates the work of British environmental artist Chris Drury, and Indian artist Shweta Bhattad. Bhalla is currently working on several new projects, including one where he is exploring the way in which some villagers during times of severe drought and flooding blame themselves as if they have somehow angered the gods and, at the same time, are beginning to return to Indigenous habits of planting and accessing and storing water. All of Bhalla’s work challenges us to question our own relationships with water and to heed the changes that are affecting the bodies of water around us. In a non-didactic way, he wants us to see the truth in the way things were and are now.

(Top image: Deliverance, diasec, 40 x 72 inches, 2013. All photos courtesy of the artist and Vadehra Art Gallery.)

This article is part of Imagining Water, a 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, projects and publications that are appearing in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme.

 ______________________________

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, our new plastic seas 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

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Fifty Years of Creating Climate Conscious Art

By Tina Spiro

“Behold my works, how beautiful they are, but do not destroy them, as there is no one to repair them after me.”

Midrash (teaching of enlightenment)

The transition from being a trendy, hard-edged Minimalist artist in New York City in the 1960s to a climate activist artist in the Caribbean was both dramatic and irreversible when I moved from Manhattan to Jamaica in 1969. I had been caught up with the New York art scene, fortunate to have some of the great artists of that time as my friends – notably sculptor David Smith, Andy Warhol, and surrealist painter Mati Klarwein, who each shaped my work in diverse yet powerful ways.

My works vary and often combine diverse approaches: classical painting, multimedia installations, and collaborative projects with like-minded colleagues. These seemingly diverse styles and media keep reappearing in unexpected ways, as I approach each work as unique, applying those techniques most evocative to bringing the work of art to life and engaging the audience. Bridging the gap between the viewer and the artwork has long been one of my greatest ambitions, and I incorporate any and all means that further that communication.

Struck by the exotic tropical vegetation and verdant landscape of Jamaica, my work changed from welded steel sculpture to a personal hyper-aware form of realism both celebrating nature and the land, while raising awareness of ecological degradation. The earliest Jamaican works were quite literal celebrations of nature: intricate pen and ink drawings of the convoluted, slyly erotic tropical vegetation; airbrush watercolors of floral and foliate forms loaded with subliminal meaning; large-scale landscapes both celebrating the land while alluding to its painful history of agricultural and human exploitation; and symbolic portrayals of existential issues such as the rapid degradation of the sea, the wounding of the land through reckless agricultural practice, and the beauty and power of womanhood – women being the bearers and protectors of life. Yet some works were sheer celebrations of the beauty and power of nature itself, transcending our parasitic human intervention on the planet.

The Deep, oil and casein on canvas and driftwood, 7’6″ X 10′, 2019

For nearly twenty years, these themes were interwoven in my paintings, combining and overlapping to evoke “…life, hope and the spirit of all living things,” one of my favorite quotes about my work by art writer and curator Eleanor Hartney.

My husband, architect and urban planner Eran Spiro, who originally drew me to move to Jamaica, was a constant source of new ideas. He introduced me to the concepts of land use and human settlements interacting with nature, which completely altered the way I now viewed the environment around me. Along with Barbara Marx Hubbard and Bucky Fuller, Eran was a founding member the Committee for the Future in Washington, DC, which later became the World Future Society. We often discussed the future of the planet, and what was openly known for decades: that climate change was inevitable if no urgent measures were taken.

DEEP SEE, shipping containers and artworks, 48′ X 20′, Art Miami 2017

In 1988, my family and I barely survived Hurricane Gilbert. The most powerful and largest hurricane on record, Gilbert chewed its way across the backbone of Jamaica, causing apocalyptic damage. Our home was devastated as we were hit by the tornadoes in the eye of the storm. Eran, myself, and our two children, Benji and Yasmin, were nearly sucked away by the force of the wind. This was a wake-up call of biblical proportions, warning that climate change had begun and that every effort had to be made to change direction and chart a new course for the future.

DEEP SEE, The Living Room, Art Miami 2017

In the ensuing decades, I focused on a series of specific themes that addressed the interlocking issues of destruction of the planet and its life forms; spiritual renewal, necessary to repair ourselves and the damage to the planet; examination of our humanity as custodians; preservation of the life-giving sea, and, most recently; specific climate solutions, both immediate and futuristic.

One of my key works, Yamima was completed in 1996. Originally named Yemeya for the Yoruba goddess of the sea, she began as a maternal figure to protect the sea and travelers on her surface, particularly the Cuban balseros who were going to sea in droves on little more than toilet seats to reach the golden shores of Florida. Three-quarters through the painting, while struggling to bring her to life, I renamed her Yamima (in Hebrew “yam” means “sea” and “ima” means “mother”). All of a sudden she looked back at me, and the rest of the painting painted itself.

Yamima, oil and casein on canvas, 54′ X 36′

While painting these poems to the planet, my own climate awareness was evolving as a result of living with the work, encountering new scientific evidence about climate change, and moving to Miami for ten years from 1999-2009, which put me in the center of ground zero for climate change. In 2003, I founded the MiART Foundation in Miami to address environmental and humanitarian issues, advancing transformation through the power and beauty of art.

Searching for an aesthetically beautiful metaphor for reconnecting with the source, I began the Aurora Series of large canvases in 2009, embracing climate sensitive issues such as the extinction of species, eco-migration, hubris and the grandiose ambitions of man, the crossroads where fossil fuel encounters nature, and a personal narrative of my years in Miami.

More recently, I have embarked on a series of portraits exploring the qualities of human nature that give us hope for the future and indeed make us human, not greed machines. This series is ongoing, along with climate related projects and collaborations with other like-minded artists.

Will the world survive the current wave of greed, ignorance, and malice infecting humanity, which is destroying our planet? Hopefully, if all aware humans exert their will and their skill to turn us away from this nihilistic course. For my part, I will continue to communicate these issues through beauty and the universal language of art. We are the solution.

(Top image: Detail from Yamima, oil and casein on canvas, 54′ X 36)

______________________________

Tina Spiro is a New York-born artist residing in Jamaica and Miami. Her career in art spans five decades exhibiting in museums, galleries and biennials internationally. Her art is dedicated to environmental and humanitarian issues, embracing a combination of technical and conceptual practices: classical painting, minimalist sculpture inspired by her mentor David Smith, and pop elements derived from her friend Andy Warhol. She has also had a distinguished career as an art historian in the field of Caribbean Art, curator of large-scale exhibitions (Omniart I, II and II for the City of Miami) and educator in art history and studio art.

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Coral Universe

By Susan Hoffman Fishman

Courtney Mattison is a ceramic sculptor and ocean advocate based in Los Angeles, California. She creates monumental ceramic installations that reflect both the astounding beauty of coral reefs and the tragedy of human behavior threatening their fragile existence. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in marine ecology and ceramic sculpture and a Master’s degree in environmental studies with coursework in advanced ceramics, she is uniquely qualified to investigate the science and conditions of coral reefs and translate her observations into large-scale works of art.

Growing up in California and visiting Hawaii on a number of occasions, Mattison developed an interest in coral reefs as a teenager. That initial interest grew into a passion after she spent time studying abroad in Australia. There, she took classes in coral ecology that focused on the damaging effect of climate change and human behavior on the reefs and “fell in love with the forms and colors of corals.” Like others exploring the oceans, she is an advanced diver.

Mattison explained to me in our recent conversation that in her initial studies, she was stunned to learn about the speed at which coral reefs around the world are dying and asked herself, “how could coral reefs cease to exist in my lifetime?” That question prompted her to create works of art that highlight both the beauty of coral reefs as well as the conditions that are killing them.

Our Changing Seas I

For her graduate thesis in 2011, Mattison completed her first large-scale wall sculpture. Entitled Our Changing Seas I, the piece was installed in the lobby of the Department of Commerce in Washington, DC. While searching for a venue for the installation, she contacted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) “cold,” as she put it, and ultimately won the support of Jane Lubchenco, renowned marine biologist and environmental scientist, who was, at the time, the U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmospheres as well as the Administrator of NOAA. Mattison’s fortuitous cold call provided her with the opportunity to present her first public art project in this venerable space.

Our Changing Seas I took Mattison a full year to build and involved intricate and careful planning. The individual ceramic pieces represent corals, sea sponges, mollusks, anemones and other creatures that form the coral reef’s ecosystem. Each piece was formed, carved, glazed and fired. Mattison used different types of ceramic according to the coral’s place in the sculpture: larger, more structural pieces were made from stoneware, whereas smaller, decorative pieces were made from porcelain. She formed the shapes and patterns of the coral reef pieces using chopsticks and other simple tools. The sculpture was highly fragile, as is the coral reef ecosystem that it represents.

In addition to the colorful, living creatures, portions of the sculpture were glazed white, indicating where coral bleaching had occurred. According to NOAA, “coral bleaching takes place when corals become stressed by changes in water conditions such as temperature, light and nutrients.” As the waters in the oceans warm from climate change, the stressed corals “expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white.” If the algae loss is severe, the corals starve, are prone to disease, and eventually die.

Ultimately, Our Changing Seas I weighed 2400 pounds, including a support structure that Mattison and her father engineered so as not to touch the wall. As she admitted to me, realizing her thesis project involved a steep learning curve.

FWMD_ICT.jpeg

Our Changing Seas I. Installed in the lobby of the U.S. Department of Commerce hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2011. Photo courtesy of Derek Parks, NOAA, and the artist.

Confluence (Our Changing Seas V)

Over the next seven years, Mattison completed five more sculptures in her Our Changing Seas series as well as other major works. The fifth and largest of these, entitled Confluence (Our Changing Seas V), was commissioned by the U.S. Department of State through their Art in Embassies program, and in 2018, was installed in the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. By then, she had developed a way to build lighter components, mount her sculptures directly on the wall and fine-tune her working system. First developing a drawing of her proposed sculpture, Mattison digitized the drawing in Photoshop so that it could be enlarged to the scale she wanted. She then created a grid on the floor of her studio and measured out the drawing to scale on the grid. After making paper cutouts of all the individual components, she located them within her grid and was ready to focus on building the sculpture.

Our Changing Seas V measures 28’ tall, 18’ wide, and 2’ deep. In a 2019 article on her work in the Brown Alumni Magazine, she calls it “a gigantic, vertical, swirling hurricane spiral of corals with the really colorful, healthy ones at the kind of eye of the storm, and then trailing white, bleached coral skeletons that wind out toward the edges.”

CMattison-ConfluenceOurChangingSeasV-CourtneySitting-AmandaBrooks_for_ArtInEmbassies.jpg

Confluence: Our Changing Seas V. 28 ft. tall x 18 ft. wide x 2 ft. deep, 2018. Installed in the United States Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Amanda Brooks and the artist.

Semesta Terumbu Karang (Coral Universe)

From 2016-18, Mattison was commissioned to develop a large-scale sculpture for The Coral Triangle Center (CTC) in Sanur, Bali, Indonesia as a focal point for the organization’s new building. Rili Djohani, a marine ecologist and accomplished diver, and a small team comprised of others who shared her vision, established the Center in 2010 as an independent foundation to collect information/research on the reefs, inform individuals about the beauty and dangers affecting the reefs, and empower local communities to preserve them.

Mattison calls the coral reefs in what is referred to as The Coral Triangle off the waters of Indonesia, the “Amazon of the Sea” because they act as the planet’s lungs in the ocean. As she explained, the Coral Triangle contains the most diverse, the healthiest, and the most colorful reefs in the world.

After visiting the Coral Triangle Center for the first time in 2016, Mattison decided that, instead of simply creating her own installation, she would design the sculpture but then train volunteers and others to make the actual pieces. Over the course of the next two years, she conducted an initial workshop for lead project contributors, spoke weekly through Skype to oversee the project’s development and visited the site a number of times. Ultimately, over 300 volunteers created 3000 corals, of which 2000 were used to construct the sculpture. The installation was designed as six coral swirls surrounding a central “bullseye” along a 61′ x 8′ masonry wall. Coral Universe was Mattison’s first project that involved others in the creative process.

CMattison-CoralUniverse-CourtneyMattison_for_CoralTriangleCenter.jpg

Semesta Terumbu Karang (Coral Universe), 61’ x 8,’ 2018. Installed in the Coral Triangle Center, Sanur, Bali, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of the artist.

As I write this article, Mattison is participating in a month-long cultural exchange in Jakarta and the islands in Eastern Indonesia. She is spending nine days talking to Indonesians about her art and conducting outreach workshops hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta and the U.S. Consulate in Surabaya, sponsored by the Art in Embassies Project. She will also be participating in a diving expedition in Raja Ampat. The expedition is hosted by the Oceanic Society and will be exploring the world’s richest coral reefs, where she will most certainly renew her passion for these fragile ecosystems and derive inspiration for her next installations. Mattison’s motivation/goals for constructing her powerful and towering works of art can be most accurately summarized in her recent statement in reference to Confluence (Our Coral Reefs V) below:

I hope the idea of creating such a monumental, intricately hand-detailed ceramic sculptural installation inspires a sense of excitement in viewers about the connections we share with coral reefs while empowering individuals and policymakers to act to conserve.

(Top image: Confluence (Our Changing Seas V) Detail 5. 28 ft. tall x 18 ft. wide x 2 ft. deep, 2018. Photo courtesy of the artist.)

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

 ______________________________

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, our new plastic seas 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

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Wild Authors: James Bradley

By Mary Woodbury

I continue my spotlight focus this year on authors whose novels are aimed toward a young adult and/or teen audience. These books might be interesting to teachers looking for titles that their students can read and discuss together; the storytelling about climate change is not entirely new but is settling deep into our collective consciousness as we become more aware, day by day, of the way our planet is changing.

James Bradley is an Australian novelist and critic.  His books include the novels WrackThe Deep FieldThe Resurrectionist and Clade, a poetry book Paper Nautilus, and The Penguin Book of the Ocean, as well as The Change Trilogy for young adults, the first two books of which, The Silent Invasion and The Buried Ark, are published by Pan Macmillan Australia. He is currently in the process of finishing the final book of The Change Trilogy and working on a new adult novel, which will be published in 2020 by Hamish Hamilton. James has written for numerous Australian and international publications, including The Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Australian Literary Review, Australian Book Review, The Monthly, Locus, The New York Review of Science Fiction, Griffith Review, Meanjin, Heat, The Weekend Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. In 2012, he was awarded the Pascall Prize for Criticism.

James lives in Sydney, Australia, with his partner, the novelist Mardi McConnochie, and his daughters, Annabelle and Lila. If you’d like to know more about the author, this interview in the Sydney Review of Books isn’t a bad place to begin. Also of note is a talk that James had with Iain McCalman, professor and co-director of the Sydney Environment Institute, covering “Storytelling in the Anthropocene.”

I first spoke with James in September 2017 after reading his novel Clade. We also talked about Silent Invasion, the first book in his young adult trilogy titled Change. He told me:

The trilogy is set a decade or so from now in a world altered by the arrival of alien spores, which have begun absorbing Earth’s biology into a kind of hive mind, and although they deliberately play with a series of tropes from classic science fiction – alien invasion, replication, the uncanny – they’re also very much about using those tropes to explore the psychic and environmental disturbance of climate change, by suggesting a situation in which the landscape has become quite literally alien. So while the three books that make up the series are much more explicitly science fictional than Clade they’re also an extension of it in some ways, because they grapple with many of the same questions, albeit in a series of books that have been written with younger readers in mind.

Since we last spoke, the second book in the series, The Buried Ark (May 2018) was published. The trilogy begins in 2027, and the human race is dying. Plants, animals and humans have been infected by spores from space and become part of a vast alien intelligence. When 16-year-old Callie discovers her little sister Gracie has been infected, she flees with Gracie to the Zone to avoid termination by the ruthless officers of Quarantine. What Callie finds in the Zone will alter her irrevocably, and send her on a journey to the stars and beyond. In The Buried Ark, Callie is deep in the Zone – exposed, broken and alone – without her little sister Gracie, without Matt, the boy she loves. But when she stumbles upon a secret – hidden deep within herself – she realizes that she holds the key to defeating the Change. But the Change know this too, and they will stop at nothing to capture her. Fleeing from the officers of Quarantine, and the pervasive Change, Callie finds refuge in the unlikeliest of places only to find that she is in more danger than ever before.

In his article “Why I decided to write a novel for teenagers about catastrophic climate change” in The Guardian, James states:

The Silent Invasion is set in the age of environmental apocalypse, where even the landscape is frightening. But writing about climate change matters – most of all for those who will inherit the world…I also realized I was writing a kind of book I hadn’t written before, one aimed as much at younger readers as at adults. The notion that I might write something for teenagers had been at the back of my mind for a while, partly because having kids of my own had led me back to the books I loved when growing up.

What inspires James’ writing seems to be the haunting realization that climate change intrudes into our reality and unsettles our cultural and physical norms, like an alien – a common trope in ecological weird fiction. That he builds that into the Change trilogy may help the younger generation become more aware of the kinds of large changes that our world is seeing and will see. The trilogy brings to light weird biology and also reeks of beauty in the natural world that is eerie and mysterious. I talked some with James about this, particularly in reference to his novel Clade, a multi-generational story that includes teens and young adults as well. He said:

I think the idea of haunting is a really powerful one. One of the great ironies of contemporary Western culture is that many – if not most – of us exist in a state of constant denial about the human and environmental cost of our lifestyle. That sense of simultaneous awareness and willed ignorance emerges in different ways, but describing our sense that things are not right, that the weather is weird and wrong, that things are out of control as a sort of haunting is a good way of getting at how it feels, and has quite a lot to do with the thread of the apocalyptic and the disordered that runs through so much of contemporary culture. Robert Macfarlane argues something similar in his fantastic essay about the rise of the eerie in contemporary English fiction, but really, it’s everywhere.

So in that sense, I suppose Clade is a kind of ghost story, because it’s a book that’s quite consciously shadowed by a profound grief about what’s happening around us. In places, that grief is expressed through the characters and their lives, and through the steady sense of diminution the characters live through, but it’s also addressed more explicitly, through a dialogue with the actual physical effects of climate change.

That’s partly deliberate, but it’s also inescapable, because you can’t write about climate change without writing about loss, whether of species or abundance or simply of possibility. That loss was very much on my mind when I wrote the book, because I have young children, and I’m acutely aware that the world they will live in will be a poorer – and probably less pleasant – world than I’ve known, a world without coral reefs, with less diversity, fewer birds, fewer animals, and probably more conflict and violence. As a parent that makes me terribly sad, but as a human being it makes me incredibly angry, because it’s really a form of theft – our generation and the generation before us have stolen them and the planet’s future.

But while the book is very much about those things, I also wanted it to do a couple of other things. As I’ve already said I wanted to give people an affective sense of what it might be like to live through the next century or so. But I also wanted to create space for people to think about the possibility of change. Frederic Jameson famously said that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism, a notion the late Mark Fisher picked up on when he described capitalism as filling every horizon and blotting out all alternatives. But once I started thinking seriously about time, and deep time in particular, I found myself reminded of the degree to which a consideration of both reminds us that the future isn’t set; it’s contingent, which means it can be changed. So, although the book doesn’t set out to offer alternatives, it quite deliberately makes the space for them, both by setting the events of the book against the immensity of geological time, so we’re reminded that our lives, our economy, our politics, are really little more than blips, and by emphasizing the way history keeps happening, even after what appears to be the end.

In Strange Horizons, Octavia Cade explores the slow apocalypse and how it may be handled in fiction, opposed to a catastrophe that has a notable start and perhaps end – one that may even be able to be resolved with technology. Climate change, like the invasion in The Silent Invasion, is “…so massive, so widespread, that vast amounts of the globe – and of the country – has been abandoned.” The long slow invasion is spread by invisible spores – much like climate change, a hyperobject so massive and unseeable to the eye as a thing in and of itself. Certainly its byproducts are measurable and frightening, but when dealing with it, on its own, as either a hyperobject or a topic in literature, I think James’ idea of silent invasion is fitting and helpful to younger audiences grappling with global warming.

When talking about climate change in fiction, and how to deal with hyperobjects in storytelling, James says:

Anxiety about the climate and the environment is everywhere in contemporary culture, so that’s not surprising. Just personally I’m not keen on the idea climate fiction is a new genre, or a kind of sub-genre of science fiction. That’s partly because of the heterogeneity you mention and the fact so much of the work deliberately transcends traditional genre categories, as well as the fact describing it that way means we end up thinking about the whole phenomenon in such a literal way, when in fact the anxieties and experiences it explores intrude into so many things in more tangential and metaphorical ways. But it’s also because I think those experiences and anxieties are now so inescapable that it’s more accurate to think of them as a tangible condition, in the same way modernism was, and any work that genuinely seeks to engage with the contemporary world is necessarily shaped by our sense of environmental crisis, and the immense challenges it poses to us not just as writers and artists, but as a society.

As we move forward into the age of the tangible condition of climate crisis and will continue to engage with this condition in art and literature, I think we’ll have no shortage of creative and unique storytelling for all audiences, young and old. Boundary-less genres and alien subjects appeal to me, for they allow writers and readers to enter into a new world of storytelling that “blows our minds with wild words and worlds.” The Change trilogy does just this while also exposing its readers to the wilderness of Australia and the off-the-beaten-track world that seems forgotten in our modern world of screens and walls. And what better way to give teens and young adults a slice of hope than with a natural leader like Callie doing what it takes not just to survive but to take care of those she loves? So, for younger readers who like mystery and want to explore climate change within fiction, discover more about our beautiful and often eerie natural world, get to know a natural heroine like Callie, and get wrapped up in a great trilogy, I would recommend The Change.

For readers wanting to learn more about weird ecology in fiction, see my series at SFFWorld.com: Part III, and III.

This article is part of our Wild Authors series. It was originally published on Dragonfly.eco.

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Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs Dragonfly.eco, a site that explores ecology in literature, including works about climate change. She writes fiction under pen name Clara Hume. Her novel Back to the Garden has been discussed in Dissent Magazine, Ethnobiology for the Future: Linking Cultural and Ecological Diversity (University of Arizona Press), and Uncertainty and the Philosophy of Climate Change (Routledge). Mary lives in the lower mainland of British Columbia and enjoys hiking, writing, and reading.

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Solar Tapestry

By Joan Sullivan

Imagine future archaeologists, post-Anthropocene, discovering an ancient display of colorful solar panels arranged in a straight line. The archaeologists hypothesize that this “solar tapestry” was created to provide future generations with an illustrated epic story of how 21st century Homo Sapiens wisely – but narrowly – averted a climate emergency by embracing the sun.

Imaginative ideas like this – a Bayeux Tapestry for our times, according to UK artist Chloe Uden – inspired her to found the Art and Energy collective in 2018 with her long-time collaborator, the artist and botanist Naomi Wright.

Chloe Uden, Art and Energy, solar, solar art

“The Art and Energy collective re-imagines solar technology as an art material for the future,” explained Chloe in an email exchange. “We’re still at the experimental level, testing ideas, exploring the cultural dimensions of energy systems, and planning for future collaboration. We want to share our knowledge widely so others can design and make their own solar panel artworks. This will help create new stories for our energy future.”

2019 has been super-charged for the year-old collective. In March, Chloe and Naomi unveiled their first solar panel artworks during MikroFest at Kaleider Studios in Exeter, UK. Comments posted from visitors included one from the poet Matt Harvey, whom I’ve written about previously, who wrote “This is wonderful and inspiring work – I would love to see it ‘scaled-up’ perhaps a cathedral or an enormous building.” In fact, this great suggestion is already a reality across the big pond: the Cathedral of the Holy Family in the Canadian city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was the first cathedral in the world to integrate solar cells into its stained glass windows, designed by Canadian glass artist Sarah Hall in 2011.

Several months after Art and Energy’s first unveiling, the collective was invited by Kaleider Studios in July 2019 for a year-long residency to research new processes, work on new pieces, deliver workshops and continue growing their new creative venture. In August, Chloe and Naomi are running solar artworks workshops at the International Festival of Glass in Stourbridge, UK. In September, they will be exhibiting artworks at the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI), as well as offering solar charger making workshops at the Totnes Renewable Energy Society (TRESOC) in Totnes.

In October, Chloe will be participating, along with 20 other start-ups from across southwest England, in the Dartington School of Social Entrepreneurs. Earlier in the year, Art and Energy exhibited at TEDx Exeter‘s “The Art of the Possible” event by providing phone charging points in the exhibition hall. For more information on Art and Energy’s incredibly busy 2019 schedule (yes, there’s more!), check out their website.

“Mostly, we are not just interested in art illustrating the existence of climate change, or going on about how terrible it is. We want to make art, and we want to respond to the climate emergency AT THE SAME TIME. So, our solar panel artworks generate electricity from the sun,” Chloe explained in an email.

Chloe Uden, energy, Art and Energy, solar, tapestry, UK, Exeter

“(But) some people have told us that art can’t be useful too – that it is too much to expect art to actually make a difference. If art is doing anything other than being art, then it isn’t art any more. In fact, they suggest that if our solar art panels didn’t actually work, THEN they might be art.”

As a renewable energy photographer, I have received similar unhelpful feedback on my work. In a climate emergency, perhaps the definition of “art” needs to change? Barry Lord, one of the world’s great cultural thinkers, explains in his 2014 book Art & Energy: How Culture Changes how major cultural and artistic shifts have accompanied each energy transition since humans first mastered fire. We are currently living through the third energy transition – from oil/gas to renewables. In this transition, Lord argues that “the so-called energy debate is really a conflict of cultures.” I will write more about his provocative and prescient thesis in my next post.

So. “Who cares really at this time of crisis what definitions (of art) we are using?” asks Chloe. “We will either respond to the climate emergency, or we won’t. And the way I see it is, if we can make beautiful things, why not make beautiful things that respond to the reality we live in and reverse global warming?”

Hear, hear!

Chloe Uden, UK, solar, Art and Energy, solar panel

Over the last 15 years juggling two careers – one in renewable energy, the other in art (puppetry and illustration) – Chloe has come to realize that creatives more than most will recognize what the climate emergency requires of us:

  1. A commitment to bring our attention to the challenge and work, work, work
  2. A compulsion to follow our curiosity, reflect, learn, synthesize and do
  3. A need to be brave and willing to find a way
  4. An acceptance of possible failure and the humility to accept whatever

“Responding to the climate emergency is like deciding to make art: some of us feel it is the highest form of human endeavour, and mostly you’re not in it for the money.”

Perhaps the same could be true of the artists (or shall we refer to them simply as “artisans”?) who created the magnificent 70-meters long Bayeux Tapestry, which preserved for future generations the details of the great medieval epic – illustrated in humble wool thread embroidered on linen cloth – of the 11th century conquest of England by the Duke of Normandy.

Perhaps artists like Chloe Uden, Naomi Wright and their many collaborators will find a way to weave a similar tapestry for future generations in humble silicon PV. I will be their biggest fan.

(All photos reprinted with permission from the Arts and Energy collective.)

This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.

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Joan Sullivan is a Canadian renewable energy photographer. Since 2009, Joan has found her artistic voice on the construction sites of utility-scale wind and solar projects. Her goal is to keep our eyes on the prize – a 100% clean energy economy in our lifetimes. Joan is currently working on a documentary film and book project about Canada’s energy transition. Her renewable energy photographs have been exhibited in group and solo shows in Canada, the UK and Italy. You can find Joan on ElloTwitter and Visura.

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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An Interview with Artist Jamie Martinez

By Amy Brady

This month I have for you a fascinating interview with artist Jamie Martinez, who recently participated in a climate-themed group show at Yi Gallery in New York City. Jamie is a Colombian/American artist who immigrated to Florida at the age of twelve, where he eventually attended The Miami International University of Art and Design before moving to New York. Jamie is also the publisher of Arte Fuse, a contemporary art platform that gives more visibility to art shows and is a home to several artist interviews. In addition, Jamie is the founder and director of The Border Project Space, which was recently featured in Hyperallergic’s top 15 shows of 2018. The space is dedicated to showing the work of immigrants.

Why do you focus on climate change in your art?

Climate change is very important to me. I believe that we have to protect and take care of Mother Earth. The way things are going, we are not going to leave much of a future to humankind, and this is a serious problem. It seems like we are only looking out for ourselves. Change has to come, and as an artist, I feel the need to say something.

Your work also addresses immigration. What role do you see art playing in the world at large when it comes to big, complex issues like immigration and climate change?

About a year and a half ago, I opened an art space called The Border to address the issue of immigration. I only curate group shows there with mostly immigrant artists. I want to give them a platform to display and nurture their work so that they can create even better work. It’s also a place where immigrant artists can network and meet other immigrant artists.

When it comes to climate change, it seems like a lot of artists are taking on this subject more and more. I think that [artists] can help influence and educate the young so they can be future protectors of this wonderful planet. Art can also help communicate the enormity of the problem and what might face us if things don’t change.

VR Unity – Global Warming. This painting is a simulation Jamie constructed using UNITY software (virtual reality software).

Triangulation is a repeated motif throughout your work. What draws you to these shapes and patterns?

I have always been obsessed with the triangle and especially the tetrahedron. I find this shape very strong and mysterious, and when you put a lot of triangles together, the shape becomes even stronger. That’s because it spreads its weight evenly throughout its form. I use the concept of triangulation throughout my work. My process involves constructing, deconstructing and fragmenting images, data, and information geometrically into triangulated segments.

Please tell me about your recent experience showing work at the Yi Gallery in New York City with other artists who are exploring climate themes. What did you take away from that experience?

I enjoyed participating in that show. Cecilia Jalboukh did a superb job of putting the show together. I thought that all the pieces complimented each other, giving the show depth and meaning. We got some great press, including coverage in Vogue China. It was also great to show with a friend and to get to meet and know the other two artists in the show.

Sacred Quetzal Mayan Poem, oil and spray paint with silver leaf and embroidered thread.

You lived in Miami after immigrating to the United States. Did spending some of your formative years in a city threatened by sea-level rise affect your views of climate change – and of art?

I am a surfer, so I pay a lot of attention to water. It is sad to see that every time I go to Miami, mostly for Art Basel, the threat of sea-level rise seems to be getting worse. The locals are taking it more seriously, at least; they see that it’s going to be a big problem. Miami didn’t really change my art – that happened here in New York City. But it will always be a place I care about deep in my heart.

What’s next for you? 

At the moment I am taking a break. I had the busiest six months so far of my career, and I feel drained. I needed to step back before coming back in September, which is when the art season officially opens. I will have a show at my gallery. It opens on September 13th at 7pm. I also have a show confirmed for early 2020 and some other projects and installations that I am starting to work on now.

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

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

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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