Monthly Archives: March 2017

Reimagined Conversations, Empowered Narratives

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Since November, I’ve been engaging in more and more conversations around climate. Some formal, like the series of Environmental Justice Roundtables at The Lark, and the formation of Climate Lens (a collective of theatre-makers connecting on climate issues); others informal, like brainstorming with my collaborators about addressing climate issues through our theatre practices. These conversations, in their various forms, are inspiring in the sense of like-minded individuals sharing experiences and support toward bettering our collective future as humans on Earth. More than the “echo chambers” of social media, these in-person discussions make manifest a harness-able positive energy. It is increasingly easy to succumb to fear and discouragement, but I remain steadfast in the power of narrative to buoy us through these dark times, and want to reclaim narrative around issues of power itself to persist in the path to justice.

A majority of Americans are in support of governmental regulations on climate issues, yet the current administration wants to draw back what measures have already been put in place, because why listen to science anyway?! There are also climate denial conferences, like this month’s Conservative Political Action Conference, focused on diminishing the negative impacts of increased carbon in the atmosphere, in turn misrepresenting scientific consensus on what more carbon dioxide means for various life forms on Earth. What can be done to elevate our daily conversations to overcome the will of the powers-that-be? This month, I was inspired by Nicholas Kristof’s Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, And Jesus Said Unto Paul of Ryan, a commentary on the U.S. health care battle. I wanted to take a stab at a mythical conversation between a couple of the men in power, and my ideal of a positive shift in their positions on an issue for which they have such sway.

Rex Tillerson and Scott Pruitt are seated at a bar, unwinding with tall cocktails after a long, hard day at the office. Raising their glasses, they toast each other on their current positions: Tillerson – former ExxonMobil CEO – as Secretary of State for Trump’s USA, and Pruitt – former Oklahoma Attorney General – as Head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Rex indicates with his glass: “Cheers, Scotty, to another day of fossil-fueled success.” In return, Scott raises his: “To a future where the environment is ours!”

Upon the clinking of their glasses, a gust of wind rustles their salt-and-pepper hairs. Mother Nature bursts onto the scene, surrounded by a posse of interspecies collaborators. Discombobulated yet curious, Tillerson and Pruitt trail Mother Nature, observing her various encounters.

“What is she doing? What could she be thinking?” Tillerson and Pruitt mutter to themselves, as Mother Nature becomes the life of the party among a group of climate scientists.

“They say they are carbon-based life forms, that if they control carbon, they control life,” Mother Nature starts. “Well, they are right about carbon as necessary for life, but controlling life? It’s a misrepresentation, an alternative perspective with no testable evidence.” The climate scientists join her in flabbergasted chatter about “global greening” as an excuse to continue business-as-usual, blinded to human impact on the environment.

“We’ll tax the carbon, we’ve already got that plan in the works,” says Scott, leaning into Rex. Rex nods, adding “Taxes will get the job done! We don’t need any of those pesky regulations; they crush American businesses.”

Mother Nature turns on the punitive men: “Rex, your former position at the top seat of one of the world’s largest oil organizations illuminated the threat of mounting carbon dioxide levels. You now occupy a top seat in the executive branch. Speak out against Trump’s gutting of the Clean Power Plan!” Mother Nature whirls him around, unveiling images of devastation across the globe.

“And you!” Mother Nature gusts to Scott: “You’ve initiated, signed onto, or filed briefs in fourteen different lawsuits challenging the EPA’s climate regulations. And you think you’re apt to head the agency yourself? We are watching.” Again, she leaves the men whirling, finally able to see for themselves that they have a stake in the threat of large-scale inaction.

She makes her way to a throng of renewable energy workers. Rex and Scott are fixated. “Solar panel installers? Wind turbine salesmen? What’s American about that?” Pruitt whines. “The real American jobs come from real American pipelines!” Tillerson adds. Mother Nature guides them by the shoulders, “It’s not just about America. Pipelines run through Canada, using steel from across the world. Consider the images I have laid out for you. To recuse yourself from a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline, Rex, is irresponsible, given what you know of the potential dangers from your time at Exxon. Renewable energy projects harness what is already coming straight to America. They work with Americans and for Americans.” And just as quickly as she arrived, Mother Nature is gone in a gust. Rex and Scott take in a breath, for the first time savoring the clean air afforded to them, their heads still spinning with the images, and their roles – our role as privileged Americans – in a broader context.

As Spring tentatively approaches in the Northeastern United States, I’m looking forward to conversation, with the environment, about the environment, and concerning the stories we tell about ourselves. My practice as a theatre maker revolves around narrative, and I am seeking now more than ever narratives that empower the vulnerable (human and non-human), that imagine a world where power is distributed equitably. I’m also looking forward to engaging with Mother Nature and her cohort at some upcoming Marches, including the March for Science on April 22 and the People’s Climate March on April 29. Physical displays of community, solidarity, joy, and persistence towards justice. My collaborators and I are sketching out creative elements to offer to these gatherings, ways to use our practice in narrative to target specific climate-justice concerns in support of these marches’ broader message. I look forward to sharing these creative actions as they come together next month. And persisting all the while!

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About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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ART+CLIMATE= CHANGE 2017 program launched

CLIMARTE’s highly anticipated festival of provocative climate change related arts and ideas, ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE, has now launched the 2017 program. View the Program Here!

Running from 19 April – 14 May across venues in Melbourne and regional Victoria, ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2017 provides a platform for the discussion of the challenges, opportunities, impacts, and solutions associated with climate change. Printed copies of the program are available in their media partner Assemble Papers’ current issue and at participating galleries and museums.

These six exhibitions have already commenced.

Yhonnie Scarce, Hollowing Earth, 2016-17 (detail)
blown and hot formed Uranium glass

dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery

TarraWarra Museum of Art in Healesville is currently hosting an exhibition titled Hollowing Earth by Yhonnie Scarce. Scarce was born in Woomera, South Australia, and she belongs to the Kokatha and Nukunu peoples. She is one of the first contemporary Australian artists to explore the political and aesthetic power of glass, describing her work as “politically motivated and emotionally driven.” Scarce’s new work Hollowing Earth examines the issues related to the mining of uranium on Aboriginal land.

18 February – 14 May
TarraWarra Museum of Art
311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Road, Healesville

Rebecca Mayo, Porous Borders, Impermeable Boundaries, 2017 (detail), hemp, wool, natural dyes, sand

In her installation Habitus at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Rebecca Mayo reflects on the history of the Heide site to create imagery for a series of cloth sandbags. Printed with dyes made from indigenous and introduced plants gathered locally by the artist, they are stacked to form a wall in the exhibition space, symbolising the crisis point of climate change and highlighting the cumulative impact of everyday and habitual activities.

4 March – 18 June
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Kerry Gardner & Andrew Myer Project Gallery Templestowe Road, Bulleen

Ted Barraclough, Super Fruit Dove  2014, Acrylic on Pine

Over 250 of Ted Barraclough’s hand-carved Native Australian birds are currently exhibited at Chapter House Lane’s exhibition space in Melbourne’s CBD for the exhibition Birdman. Wrens, honeyeaters, magpies to the critically endangered Swift Parrot will take over the laneway windows, and offer the opportunity to critically reflect on the role of birdlife in the environment around us.

2 March – 29 April
Chapter House Lane
entry via Flinders Lane,

 Wesley Stacey, Burning forest remnant on the Monaro, 1981 chromogenic print

Monash Gallery of Art presents Wesley Stacey: the wild thing. Stacey is a living legend of environmental photography. In the 1970s he dropped out of city life and set up camp in the wilderness of the NSW south coast. Living close to the land for over 40 years, Stacey’s photographs offer a unique, immersive perspective on Australia’s complex ecology. The wild thing, curated entirely from the MGA’s own photography collection, surveys four decades of Stacey’s work. From his lively colour snapshots to his epic black-and-white panoramas, Stacey pays tribute to the wildness at the heart of our existence on Earth.

4 March – 28 April
Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill

Anne Noble, Dead Bee Portrait #1, 2016

Internationally renowned New Zealand artist, Anne Noble, has developed a number of projects in recent years concerned with bees, global species loss and the revitalization of human relationships to complex living systems. No Vertical Song is a series of portraits of dead bees, installed as if populating an imaginary museum of the future from a time when the bee no longer exists.

24 March – 7 May
Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy

The Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, in partnership with the Melbourne Friends, is hosting an exhibition of the astounding artwork featured in award winning children’s author and artist Jeannie Baker’s new book Circle. This beautifully illustrated story follows the 11,000km migration of the Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica baueri), the longest unbroken migration of any animal – traveling from Australia through Southeast Asia to its Alaskan breeding grounds and then back to Australia.

16 March – 14 May
Domain House, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria
Dallas Brooks Drive, South Yarra

Holly Keasey and Anna Macleod: An Atomic Journey

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

“We tour the disparate surfaces of everyday life as a way of involving ourselves in them, as a way of reintegrating a fragmented world” – Alexander Wilson (1991)


As international residents at SFAI, Holly and fellow resident Anna Macleod, have conducted their ‘Atomic Journey’ together through New Mexico including trips to The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, the Red Water Pond Road Community Association (RWPRCA), the roundhouse for Uranium Workers Day and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. A journey which has drawn out questions around activation within the act of witnessing, and whether visiting artists are complicit in a contemporary act of exploitation – extracting what they need and then leaving.

Anna’s initial proposal to SFAI was to research community resilience in the face of climate change uncertainty as the next addition to her series of projects known as Water Conversations. These projects explore the complex interstices between landscape, technology, science, culture and geopolitics through the emotive global context of water. In recent years, these projects have included an investigation into the legacy of mining and wastewater in a variety of global contexts. The scarred and poisoned landscapes that Anna has journeyed through are often admired as places of pristine wilderness. Yet hidden deep within these landscapes are many unresolved negative emotions stirred by the socio-economic traumas these landscapes have endured. Typically, ‘Water Conversations’ accumulate into the production of portable sculptures that then act as focal points for community gatherings, where thoughts and emotions can be expressed in the safety of a shared collective action.

During the SFAI Water Right’s Round Table, Susan Gordon of the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment presented an oil and gas map which initiated an urgency to dig deeper into the history of uranium mining and nuclear exploration within New Mexico.

The majority of uranium mined in New Mexico is found in the Grants mineral belt, the second largest uranium deposit in the United States. Looking at a map of New Mexico, layered with information on the extractive industries dotted throughout the territory, one can draw a triangle from the North Western uranium mining area of the Grants mineral belt at Gallup, to Los Alamos, and then south-west to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) at Carlsbad.*

As was mentioned in the previous post, Policy, Possession and Place, the reality of lives lived on land that was contaminated continuously for twenty year by uranium mine discharge before the 1979 Church Rock Uranium tailings pond spill, were shared with us through conversations with members of RWPRCA. Situated in amongst geological stacks, recognisable to a European as backdrop landscapes for the Hollywood Westerns, this landscape is entirely barren apart from the over-looked brown-ish hills constructed from contaminated scrape-off pointed out to us by the community, the dry-board constructed homes of this ‘forgotten’ community and the intentional plantings of non-regional salt bushes by the EPA.

In stark contrast, 230 miles North of Red Water Pond Road is Los Alamos, a self proclaimed ‘Atomic City’ complete with promotional tee shirts, shot glasses and coffee cups. It is a prosperous well-mannered place. Originally constructed in secret to house the scientist of the National Laboratories, this small city continues to be primarily for current and retired laboratory workers and their families. The centre of the city, where the first nuclear bombs were designed and produced, is now one section of the three-part Manhattan Project National Park, where visitors can join the Park Ranger for a free tour of the central pond area and collect a stamp for their National Park Passport. Los Alamos boasts of an intelligent and healthy population, with the highest per capita of residents with PhDs and the 7th most affluent per capita city in the USA. The location of the city within the forty-three mile site is surrounded by mountains, ski slopes and a well serviced recreational culture. The hyper-reality of middle-class affluence at Los Alamos, a realised model of the American Dream ideals, is magnified by the automated countdown at pedestrian traffic crossing points. Ten seconds to safely cross a road. Ten seconds to experience the anxious anticipation of an explosion.

Countdown at Los Alamos from Chris Fremantle on Vimeo.

The unholy uranium trinity is completed at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. WIPP is located in the Delaware Basin of New Mexico. This 600m-deep salt basin was formed during the Permian Period approximately 250 million years ago. In 1957, the National Academy of Sciences recommended salt for radioactive waste disposal because at over 600m below the earth’s surface, salt would plastically deform, a motion called “salt creep” in the salt-mining industry, to close and seal any openings created by the mining, and in and around the waste. It is here that the mined uranium, and all radioactive waste produced in the US, returns to the ground having been through a series of processes, a journey, in which its original state has changed.**

Similarly, our journey to these sites of nuclear relevance has, most likely, changed something within us. There is an activation through the act of witnessing that shifts something within the witness. Their witnessing also enacts a reintegration of occurrences that have otherwise become fragmented from each other – in this case the intentional disjointedness between the mining of uranium, weapons development, nuclear energy and radioactive disposal. However, as international artists-in-residence, this comparison to the nuclear fuel cycle and our journey draws out critical questions about the responsibility of the visiting artist to ensure we do not ‘mine’ communities to the point of exhaustion, especially whilst attending a thematic residency in which sixty artists with over-lapping areas of interest pass through a single institution and therefore small grouping of communities. How do we also ensure, as socially-engaged artists, that our methods of practice whilst working within short-time frames is beneficial to a community rather than detrimental?

Upon hearing about Anna’s artistic practice and through engagement with the RWPRCA community, a suggestion was made to produce a new banner with a water focus that could be used during the community’s Uranium Legacy, Remembrance and Action Day, a day of protest, awareness raising and memorial that takes place annually on the 16th July, the anniversary of The Church Rock Uranium Spill. Focusing on how to create a water banner that incorporated these three purposes, we hosted a co-design workshop at a community member’s home. Using mono-printing, we worked with the community to discuss their differing ideas about what such a banner should include. It was also a time to share methods for using visual attributes such as colour, language and symbolism to produce strong statements that reflect the Navajo relation to place.

The final banner will be realised by Anna over the course of April before being gifted back to the community. It is hoped that this hand sewn banner will hold within it care, solidarity and gratitude that will continue beyond our stay in New Mexico. Whilst we will take away the experienced knowledge from our ’Atomic Journey’, having temporarily been active in the everyday fabric of this place through loosely stitching fragments together.


* The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, is the world’s third deep geological repository licensed to permanently dispose of transuranic radioactive waste for 10,000 years that is left from the research and production of nuclear weapons and energy.

** It is assumed that at this depth the radioactive material is encased away from interference but with the drastic increase in fracking within New Mexico especially in the Carlsbad area, questions can be asked if these two processes really co-exist in the same landscape?


Wilson, Alexander. 1991. The Culture of Nature: North American Landscape from Disney to the Exxon Valdez. Ontario: Between The Lines Press.

About Anna Macleod:

Edinburgh Scotland, lives and works in Ireland

Anna Macleod is a visual artist based in Ireland. Her art work utilizes a variety of methods and processes to mediate complex ideas associated with contemporary, historical and cultural readings of place. She employs quasi-scientific methods, interdisciplinary collaboration, performance and socially engaged activism to critique contemporary landscapes and to build metaphoric spaces for re-imagining the future. Recent projects have focused on the socio-political and cultural issues surrounding water, looking at questions of access, management and ritual.

Anna Macleod has exhibited Nationally and Internationally. Recent residencies include: Food Water Life, themed residency with Jorge and Lucy Orta, Banff Art Centre, Alberta, Canada. 2015. Joya, Arte & Ecologia, Spain 2016. Leitrim Sculpture Centre, Co Leitrim, Ireland 2015 & Broken Hill Art Exchange, New South Wales, Australia, 2015. Recent solo exhibitions include: Water Conversations – A Survey of Works 2007 – 2015 at The Dock, Carrick on Shannon, Ireland. Staid na Talún – A State of Land, Leitrim Sculpture Centre, Co Leitrim, Ireland, Water Conversations – Broken Flow, Broken Hill Art Exchange, New South Wales, Australia.

Macleod is the recipient of the Firestation Artists’ Studios, Dublin, International Residency Award for ‘A Thousand Points of Light’ residency in Joshua Tree, California in March 2016. She was awarded an Individual Artists Bursary from Leitrim County Council Arts Office in 2015 / 2016 and Arts Council of Ireland Travel and Training Award towards the costs of residencies in Australia (2015) and USA (2016 & 2017) and the Jim Dinning and Evelyn Main Endowed Scholarship for Visual Arts for Banff Art Centre residency in 2015

.About EcoArtScotland:

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.
It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge Research, Gray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.

Go to EcoArtScotland

Leverhulme Trust terminates Artist in Residence Grants

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

We recently discovered that the Leverhulme Trust has discontinued its Artist in Residence Grants Scheme.  This isn’t just sad, it’s frankly tragic.

In our view the Leverhulme Artist in Residence scheme is one of the few on-going and established schemes that supports artists to work with other researchers across the natural and social sciences as well as humanities.

The scheme has enabled a wide range of interesting, challenging and provocative work to emerge and is perhaps one of the foremost mechanisms in the UK for interdisciplinary collaboration involving artists. It is one of the few opportunities which really understood that artists collaborating with other research disciplines should start not from an assumption of illustration and public communication, but from first principles of mutual interest. It provided time for genuine dialogue and for unexpected results.

As one recipient commented, the scheme is also important because it paid artists directly and at a rate that was commensurate with the investment of time in research. The importance of this point cannot be underestimated. No other schemes that involve artists with academics actually provide sensible funding for the artists.

And note it’s probably a scheme that invested £200,000 per annum out of a total annual grantmaking of something like £110 million annually.

We are familiar with a number of artists who have benefited significantly from receiving Leverhulme Awards and I believe that these awards have also opened up research teams to new experiences and understanding coming from the arts.

  • Alec Finlay‘s current work Gathering developed with the Anthropology Department at the University of Aberdeen is in part funded by a Leverhulme Artist in Residence Award.
  • Hannah Imlach’s immently opening show From the Dark Ocean Comes Light at Summerhall in Edinburgh developed in collaboration with The Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics & Bioengineering at Heriot-Watt University and the Changing Oceans Group at The University of Edinburgh.
  • The publication Gut Gardening just reviewed is the result of the Center for Genomic Gastronomy‘s Leverhulme Artist in Residence work with Dr Wendy Russell at the Rowett Institute for Nutrition and Health, University of Aberdeen.
  • Hanna Tuulikki has been working with Professor Simon Kirby, Chair of Language Evolution at the University of Edinburgh.
  • Rachel Duckhouse worked with Professor Maggie Cusack School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow, which resulted in an exhibition Shell Meets Bone, opening imminently at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.
  • Andrea Roe has been working with Dr Kenny Rutherford, Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Scotland’s Rural College.

And these are only recent examples in Scotland.

In response to a request for further explanation beyond the statement on the website, the following was received from the Trust,

The Trust Board periodically reviews all the Trust’s funding schemes and considers how best its funds might be used. This scheme had been running for a number of years, and last autumn, in view of the pressure of funds and low success rates for some other schemes, the Board took the decision to suspend the scheme and reallocate the funds. It is, of course possible, that the same or a similar scheme will be reinstated at some time in the future, but I’m afraid that there are no immediate plans to do so.

I realise that this decision is disappointing for you.


From this we can understand that a ‘land grab’ has been made, possibly on the basis of ‘greater impact’ and a vital support for artists and interdisciplinarity has been erased.

Should you feel strongly about this, you can also write to Mr N W A FitzGerald KBE FRSA, Chairman, The Leverhulme Trust, 1 Pemberton Row, London, EC4A 3BG.  Direct emails to the Chaiman via Assistant Director Jean Cater .


About EcoArtScotland:

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge Research, Gray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.

Go to EcoArtScotland

Upcoming Events for The Chicago Green Theatre Alliance

Chicago Green Theatre Alliance Meeting

Thursday, April 13, 5:30-7PM
The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Join us for the next meeting of the Chicago Green Theatre Alliance and hear about some new CGTA initiatives. Actors, administrators, designers, technicians, stage managers, production managers and anyone that is interested in helping Chicago theatres adopt more evironmentally-friendly practices is welcome! We’ll gather to hear a guest speaker, continue work on current projects, discuss new ideas, and share bright spots.

Click here to RSVP
Review the 1/30/17 CGTA Meeting Notes

Save the Date!
3rd Annual E-Waste and Textile Drive/Costume Exchange
Monday, June 5
Steppenwolf Theatre’s Parking Lot, 1650 N. Halsted

E-Waste Drive: 10AM – 4PM in the Parking Lot

Textile Drive/Costume Exchange: 9AM – Noon (Drop off), Noon – 4PM (Costume Exchange)

download fliers to post at your theatre.

Review: Gut Gardening

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Ewan Davidson reviews Gut Gardening, Food Phreaking:issue 03 from the Center for Genomic Gastronomy, published Oct 2016.  You can order copies here.

Ewan Davidson is a blogger and self-identified psychogeographer ( His recent wanderings have taken back into familiar territories, those of ecology, natural metaphors and causality, he first visited as a student thirty years ago. He is also really fond of lichens and birdwatching.

It is only about a decade since the microbiome became a thing. Fuzzy boundaried notions collect all kinds of aspirational, utopian fluff, and the microbiome – a paradigmatic concept of the cyber-age – has the capacity to multiply these as quickly as (aerobic) bacteria grow on a Petri dish.

The role of microbiologists is to culture the useful part of these into something that might grow and become valued. The Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health in Aberdeen has been involved in this research effort and the artists/designers known as The Center for Genomic Gastronomy have been Leverhulme Artists in Residence involved in the dissemination of the stuff.

The most recent publication in their Food Phreaking series of pamphlets, Gut Gardening, reaches for a compromise between populist publicity, sober accounting and dis-illusion. Most writing about the microbiome oscillates between potential and entropy in this way. For example the story which most of us will have heard in some form concerns the microbial base for obesity. This is drawn from a research programme described at length in I Contain Multitudes (Yong 2016) where generations of lab mice have been grown in a sterile environment, gnotobiosis, and are used as receptacles of cultures of microbes from obese or normal humans. Fat gut microbes produced fat mice, which in turn produced the headlines about gut microflora creating obesity, which in turn received the ‘Overselling the Microbiome Award’, which has at least 38 former winners for extrapolations from interesting test results (others including cures for IBD, diabetes and mental illness, as well as jeremiads about the harm of antibiotics).

This particular replication keeps happening because the scientists had to move beyond the simple correlation of one thing with another, and see if there were links which might be predictable or causal. This has proved much more complicated – in the case of our mouse, food, genetics and the developmental stage all matter. The gut microbiome, when studied closely, stopped being one thing and became many.


To improve the chance of establishing causality in the lab, anaerobic chamber cultures of the various bacterial species are grown in separate wells. They are mixed by a robot into different recipes, which are then transplanted into the gnotobiotic mice. The conclusions drawn from extensive trials are that 11 bacterial species are involved in some way in promoting obesity (in mice, and perhaps humans) and two other species seem to inhibit. But only if certain other factors apply, and only, so far, under controlled conditions.
Meanwhile in the outside, more chaotic world (what the scientists I trained with used to call ‘the filed’, with heavily inverted commas) the Human Microbiome Project, collecting submitted poo samples, has established that there is no such thing as a typical US volunteer gut community. Nicola Twilley, blogger and gastrophile, writes in Gut Gardening,

‘It now seems our gut microbiome is not a single organ,that can function well or badly. Instead it is a series of negotiations and trade offs, in which distinctions between good and bad have been increasingly difficult to extract from the white noise generated by up to a thousand different microbial spp, all interacting with each other in ways that we mostly don’t yet understand.’

The Scottish biologist D’Arcy Thomson’s 80 year old view that ‘we have come to the edge of a world of which we have no experience and where all our preconceptions must be recast’ (1992) still seems apt.


Dr Wendy Russell, lead editor of Gut Gardening and a Senior Research Fellow at the Rowett, acknowledges that research into the microbiome creates a new set of challenges to scientific method (isolation, refinement, replication). In short the basic tools of instrumentalism are not effective in explaining or predicting the functions of microbial ecology. New forms of research which can deal with complexity might involve technologies like the anaerobic machine, but also strands of maths which can assess the relative contributions of parts of systems that can’t effectively be separated. And beyond those, new ways of thinking about causation.

It is not that utility can’t be found. One of the contributions to Gut Gardening is the story of Lactobacillus rhamnosus. Following observations that l. rhamnosus proliferate in a healthy vagina, Gregor Reid’s team cultured the GR-1 strain of this, and found it was linked to defence against Urinary Tract Infections and other types of immunity. Preparation and trials in yoghurt and capsule forms and have been developed commercially (sidestepping the restrictions involved in creating conventional medical products) and as part of a development project producing probiotic yoghurt in Tanzania. The efficacy comes from accepting the rough pragmatic tools of correlation and amelioration, without the poesis of understanding the nature of the thing and the process.

However there is another form of usefulness in new knowledge. The art work in Gut Gardening acknowledges this in background chaotic patterns of tangled and unfamiliar overlapping shapes with occasional highlighted (and even dayglo) squiggles. The publication gently lays down the challenge to its contributors to imagine and speculate.
One of the interesting speculations of the Center for PostNatural History is that the human gut flora, like our pets, will ‘reflect human desires and anxieties which influence them’. It’s a good trope, although so far most of us have been interested in the influences pulling the other way – that our bodies, lifestyles and consciousness are subtly directed by the growth and byproducts of our microbial partners/symbionts, through biofeedback loops between the flora, hormones, organ development and appetites.

Post natural and post human are spirallingly anthropocene ways of thinking about the world. For those of us whose interest in cultures is not mainly probiotic this is the great re-envisaging potential of the microbiome.


Jamie Lorimer’s jovial piece (2016), Gut Buddies about the related interest in re-infestation of humans with hookworms demonstrates the continual crossover between enthusiasts, scientists and entrepreneurs (sometimes the same figure in different guises) opening up an area of interaction with biota (or domestication if you will). What was once vermin is now a product or a pet. We should know that this happens – this replicates our human history. Are there new possibilities for envisaging being raised by the way we have to understand the microbiome..? Moulders and shapers need to understand things as material – as something with predictable usefulness. But time and again with the microbiome, there are ways in which our methodologies fails us. We retreat to scratch our head. The ways we come to understand the microbiome will have to challenge scientific paradigms too.

In a way which is less dystopian than the control metaphors of the yellow science press we are indeed being subtly influenced by our microbes.


Lorimer, Jamie (2016) Gut Buddies – Multispecies Studies and the Microbiome, Environmental Humanities, 8.1

Yong, Ed ( 2016) I Contain Multitudes – The Microbes Within us and a Grander view of Life.  New York: Ecco Press.

Wentworth-Thompson, D’Arcy (1992) – On Growth and Form ( abridged ed). CUP.


About EcoArtScotland:

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge Research, Gray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.

Go to EcoArtScotland

Biomorphic Shapes and Mutations

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding (pottery white clay), 72x75x60. 

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


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

About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Event: Nuclear Art and Archives

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

DCA in partnership with Visual Research Centre, University of Dundee, and Arts Catalyst.

A day of artists’ films and discussions about nuclear art and archives considering the kinds of knowledge and reflective spaces that contemporary art produces for rethinking the nuclear. As the civil industry starts to consolidate its archives at the new Nuclear Archive in Wick, Scotland, the European debate is focused on records, knowledge and memory of geological storage of high-level radioactive waste. The post-truth nuclear economy raises serious questions about the long-term security of the nuclear programme, and an investigation of contemporary nuclear aesthetics is becoming increasingly urgent. All the events take place within the DCA building which includes the gallery, cinema, Visual Research Centre, and bookshop.

Booking for the Film Programme £6:
The afternoon events are free but booking essential:

Day Schedule

10.30 – 12.30 Perpetual Uncertainty Film Programme, DCA Cinema
12.30 – 1.30 Lunch
1.30 – 4.30 Roundtable on Art and Nuclear Archives, Visual Research Centre
4.30 – 5.00 Time to view Mark Wallinger Exhibition
5.00 – 6.00 Nuclear Culture Source Book launch, DCA Bookshop
6.00 – 7.00 Premiere of Yellow Cake, Gair Dunlop

Nuclear Culture Film Programme

10.30am – 12.30pm DCA Cinema Tickets £6

A programme of artists’ films investigating contemporary nuclear concerns: Susan Schuppli investigates the remote sensing of radioactive isotopes in ‘Trace Evidence’ (54’); Lise Autogena & Joshua Portway’s film ‘Kuannersuit; Kvanefjeld’ explores the global politics of uranium mining and landrights in Greenland (30’); Karen Kramer’s ‘The Eye that Articulates Belongs on Land’ (23’) explores the post-Fukushima landscape; Nick Crowe & Ian Rawlinson’s film ‘Courageous’ captures the body of a British nuclear submarine (7.20’), whilst Andy Weir’s ‘Plureal Deal’ speculates on the deep time of the nuclear cycle and its waste products (8’).

Roundtable on Nuclear Art and Archives

1.30pm – 4.30pm Visual Research Center, Dundee Contemporary Arts.

The Nuclear and Caithness Archive at Wick will be home to the archives of the entire UK civil nuclear industry as well as the historical archives of the county of Caithness. It is designed to hold an estimated 20 km of records for generations to come. But what are the time scales of the nuclear? How do artists deal with questions of radioactive deep time? This event aims to rethink how the nuclear archive is embedded in complex forms of materials, culture, architecture and landscape. Presentations by: Ele Carpenter, Curator; Garance Warburton, Community Engagement Officer, Nucleus: Nuclear and Caithness Archive; artist Gair Dunlop; artist and co-ordinator of Power in the Land, Helen Grove-White.

1.30 – 1.45 Welcome Beth Bate and Sarah Cook
1.45 – 3.00 Presentations
3.00 – 3.15 Tea break
3.15 – 4.30 Roundtable Discussion

5-6pm The Nuclear Culture Source Book Launch, DCA Bookshop
Edited by Ele Carpenter, Black Dog Publishing, Bildmuseet and Arts Catalyst, 2016.

Yellowcake, A film by Gair Dunlop
6pm Visual Research Centre, DCA. Premiere
The rise and fall of the UK nuclear fission research programme, seen through its sites, archives, memories and remains. (63.26”)

About EcoArtScotland:

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge Research, Gray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.

Go to EcoArtScotland

The Science of Light

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Hall, solar, PV, stained glass, window

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hall further explained her multidisciplinary collaborative process to me:

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

Sarah Hall, solar, stained glass, PV

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 11.27.56 AM

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

Sarah Hall, solar, PV, school, stained glass

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

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

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

All photos courtesy of Sarah Hall Studio.

Follow Joan Sullivan on Twitter @CleanNergyPhoto

About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Last Call: The Guapamacátaro Center Residency in Art and Ecology

The Guapamacátaro Center

for Art and Ecologyis a site-based and community-oriented initiative where artists from different disciplines, scientists, educators and activists converge to foster culture, collaboration and sustainable development.

M I C H O A C A N   / /   M E X I C O


Our Interdisciplinary Residency in Art and Ecology Program has been around for 10 years, granting space and production support for people who are doing innovative work worldwide, across the arts and sciences. During their stay (3 weeks), participants use the hacienda grounds as a laboratory for the creative process and engaging with the local community. They are free to work whenever desired in the provided studios and anywhere in the property. Experimentation is encouraged as is discourse and collaboration.


* Open to professionals from all countries, cultural backgrounds and aesthetics.
* Language requirements: BOTH English and Spanish (at least beginner level).
* Up to 10 people per session are selected from a mix of the following disciplines:

  • Performing Arts (Music, Dance, Performance, Theater, Puppetry, etc)
  • Visual Arts (Painting, Drawing, Mixed-Media, Photography, Film/Video, etc)
  • Sculpture and Installation
  • Design and Architecture
  • Humanities and Social Sciences (Anthropology, Philosophy, Writing, etc)
  • Natural Sciences (Ecology, Hydrology, Biology, Geology, etc)

  • LIVE/WORK SPACE: Single or double occupancy bedrooms and studios, plus common areas at the hacienda, at NO COST (a $2,000 USD value per person).
  • PRODUCTION SUPPORT to realize one or more projects while in residency.
  • PUBLIC EXHIBITION at the Open House event on the last week of the residency.
  • DIGITAL CATALOG showcasing each participant’s work, with a review written by a guest curator or writer.
  • CONNECTIONS with Mexico’s cultural and academic presenters.
  • LIVING EXPENSES: All utilities, cleaning services, drinking water and three meals per day (self-serve breakfast, prepared lunch and dinner) at NET COST: $750 USD for the 3 weeks ($15,000 MX peso / € 700 Euro approximately).
  • TRANSPORTATION: We do not cover transportation expenses, but can assist you in pursuing additional funding with other sources, to cover such expenses.