Artists and Climate Change

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Representation Matters for Climate Justice

By Amy Brady

This month I have for you something a little different. Rather than an interview, I have a transcript of a luminating panel that took place on March 22 this year. Co-presented by New York Women in Film & Television and the National Democratic Institute, this panel, called “Representation Matters for Climate Justice,” took place as part of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women. It features remarkable women filmmakers and activists, including the award-winning documentary film producer Emily Wanja, two-time Emmy Award winner and Oscar nominated producer Lydia Dean Pilcher, pan-African feminist and activist Mwanahamisi Singano, and documentary director, producer, and cinematographer Rachel Lears. The panel was moderated by journalist Natasha Del Toro. Together, they discuss how filmmaking can help move the needle on climate action and the importance of representation in the arts, especially the kind that pushes for climate justice. Their conversation was riveting and wide-reaching.

Natasha: Let’s kick off the conversation by hearing from each of you. Why do you think that representation matters in achieving equitable climate justice?

Emily: To me representation matters a great deal because it gives visibility. It helps other people understand your perspective, and it helps other people understand where you’re coming from, what you’re struggling with, where you could be needing help, or maybe some of the solutions that you’re developing in your context and how that could lead to much more collaboration.

Let me just give a very short example with this film that we did, Thank you for the Rain. [This man] is a farmer and he is in deep rural Kenya. And he’s representing so many farmers like him, and especially women, of course, who are going through that daily, right? They are on the frontline. The thing is what has happened traditionally, that voice, that experience of our communities, where I come from, are hardly seen in many places. In fact, they are hardly heard, even on platforms or events where climate decisions are being made or policies are being passed, decisions that will affect their lives.

Lydia: [Matters of representation are] probably the most important conversation because one of the things that we’ve seen as climate change has amplified and accelerated is that it affects people disproportionately. We’re living in an era of globalization where we’re all much more aware of what’s happening in different parts of the world. We’re living in a very interesting moment right now with what’s happening in Ukraine. And we can see how much we need each other and how much we need to support each other. And we can only do that by really making sure that we are including all the voices in the conversation that need to be there. And so, in the work that we all do, the conversations that we’re having, we need to really pay attention to what voices are represented.

Mwanahamisi: I echo what everyone has said already, but for me representation boils down to three key words: inclusion, perception, and impact. It’s really important for all of us to be included and to be seen, and it’s important for all of us to be told that what we do matters.

The vast world that we live in is diverse in terms of culture, in terms of identity, in terms of region that we come from, but also in terms of gender. All the identities combined make us who we are, but also involve perception and impact, because those who are not included cannot be remembered. When it comes to impact, the evidence has shown us that if you don’t have a certain group at the table, chances are their issue is not being discussed. The impact to the solution might not resonate with them, might not fit their reality.

Rachel: I’m very interested in this question and for a while my film work has been focused on exploring the nature of power and how politically impossible things become possible. This is my third film about multiracial cross-class coalition building, and my second film that highlights women’s leadership. And when I turned towards climate justice, I found as others have mentioned, that it’s no coincidence that many of the most compelling leaders in the climate justice movement are young BIPOC women. Because across the world, young people, women, and people of color are often the most affected by the climate crisis. Many would say they don’t have the luxury of cynicism on this issue. But these are not necessarily the voices and the leaders that are usually highlighted as leaders in media narratives.

There’s a really powerful cultural shift that can happen with storytelling narratives, with film, where the tables can turn. Everyone, including viewers from dominant groups, can identify through the empathy that film creates with protagonists from underrepresented or marginalized groups. So I think that’s a really powerful cultural shift. In my film To the End, we’re presenting young women of color as leaders representing everyone, the broader multiracial, multi-gender, cross-class, intergenerational movement that we’re going to need to stop the climate crisis. At the end of the day, how we get to decarbonization matters as much as getting it done.

Natasha: Emily, how did you get into media and politics, and were there any big obstacles that you had to overcome?

Emily: Getting into climate storytelling in film was an obstacle in the sense that I felt I needed to learn so much and very quickly some of the language that is used to describe climate issues. Things like adaptation, things like resilience, and all this very important jargon that goes with research and science. It felt intimidating because I come from storytelling and we use different kinds of jargon, but when it comes to climate storytelling, specifically, I needed to understand these things. This is because when you’re running an impact campaign, you have film as this powerful tool, it forces you to work and partner with NGOs, civil societies, who are in this field and who’ve been in this field for much longer than I have. I needed to understand their language. It is the only way that I could put together proposals that would support this work.

I say this knowing that sometimes language can be a barrier. When we go down to our communities, for example, that are represented in these stories, well, my grandmother may not necessarily describe the experience of climate in the language that we are describing [it] with. It affects her economics, her tradition, and all these things. She, in fact, may not think that her Indigenous knowledge is needed and needs to be taken into account as we are all trying to find a solution.

Natasha: Mishy, how did you get into politics and media? Did you have any obstacles to overcome?

Mwanahamisi (Mishy): Yes and no. Yes, I grew up from a caste of society where it was prescribed for me that I should be a housewife and that should be the world that I operate [in]. But, no, because earlier on when I was young, I made the decision that I just don’t want to conform to the norms and to the traditions. We were born three of us, all girls, and I remember when my youngest sister was born, my dad was so sad because it was another girl. And I made the decision at that age that I would be my daddy’s boy. I wanted to do everything that everybody thought I wouldn’t do. I had that intentionality within me – that I have to operate in the spaces that had not been operated in [by women].

And I have been an activist engaging in politics. It has been hard, but I knew what I was getting into. And every now and then, I affirm my conviction and my commitment that I have to do this. And I have to do this for the right reason, because for me doing it is also to rewrite the narrative and [that] representation matters. I happen to be an activist, Black, a Muslim woman wearing a head scarf. And that is not the symbol or that is not the identity you see often in the spaces where I operate. So I knew that by me being here, I’m not just fulfilling and serving my dream, but also opening doors, because there are young women coming from my community.

Natasha: Rachel, did you have an “aha moment” that led you to know that you needed to work in the realm of climate justice. Was there a moment for you?

Rachel: Yes, actually there was. I had been working in films about social justice and been really deeply involved in movements for some time already, but in the fall of 2018, when the IPCC report came out, it was a real wake up call for a lot of people. I think that was the report that stated that we have until 2030 to make drastic changes in every aspect of our economy and society in order to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis. And beyond that, this is not a question of technology or finance. It’s a question of political will and political courage. And that really struck me. At the time I was in post-production for my film Knock Down the House, which was about courageous female candidates challenging political machines across the United States.

I became really obsessed with this idea on the broader scale of the climate crisis. We need to look toward politics because that is the process through which we negotiate power in our society, and in all societies. That’s what politics is. So that really became the focus point of my interest at the time. And now, the way I see it, is that there’s this really productive interplay between large-scale movements for large-scale policy change and local knowledge, locally-led solutions that are being spearheaded by frontline communities. I think Emily mentioned that, in a lot of cases, Indigenous knowledge is really key in so many of the solutions. And these are the solutions that we need to scale up in order to actually solve this crisis. I became really interested in that juxtaposition.

Natasha: Lydia, did you have an “aha moment” that led you to want to work in this realm? [Your film] Radium Girls – I didn’t know about that story. I’m so glad that you brought it to light.

Lydia: Well, I’ve always loved stories. Since I was a kid, I was a huge reader, loved to put on plays, loved to watch movies. Never really understood that it was a possible career, but when I found out that it could [be], I felt like my life began. But there was something I wanted to add that sort of bridges a little bit from the last question to this – the word “network,” because it’s one of the things that really made the Radium Girls story super powerful to me as a storyteller, aside from the fact that it’s a true story and that the EPA still uses their court case today to go up against big corporate chemical companies.

At the time these were just young factory workers. They didn’t imagine this was their life. They had dreams of things that they were going to go off and do. And when a group of them realized that they were being poisoned and there was a corporate coverup, they felt compelled to do something, but they didn’t have any power. Most of them were still teenagers and came from Italian immigrant families. New York was across the river. They were in Orange, New Jersey. And what happened was they went to the head of the Consumers League and met with Wiley Stevens. Because one of them was sick and Wiley Stevens had been seeing these reports come across her desk from the New York, New Jersey health department, she knew something wasn’t right.

And these girls were there and living proof that something wasn’t right. We find out that the corporation had done the research. They knew it was poisoning, and they were continuing to let the girls lift the paint brushes and the radium, even as they were being diagnosed with syphilis by the corporate doctors. But the interesting piece to me: we found a letter at the Library of Congress from when Wiley Stevens called her friend, Alice Hamilton, a scientist, a physician, who was a pioneer in industrial toxicology. She had been working with Jane Adams at Hull House. She was all about women in social issues. Women had just gotten the right to vote in America and they were organized and they wanted to use that power. They wanted to use those networks and networks is the operative word, because I think that there’s a version of the world where we might not have ever even heard of the radium girls, but those women went into action.

My career spans a time when female storytelling was considered non-commercial. We were told by the powers that be in Hollywood that women don’t go to the movies. I think as my career as a producer grew, I was naturally gravitating toward women storytellers and telling female stories. I could really see that the narrative that was being told wasn’t true. And that was when a lot of things started to change, when data came into the equation with the internet, when we were able to prove what people like or didn’t like, where the audiences were or where they weren’t. We didn’t have to listen to the powers that be who wanted to just put their narrative out there. So again, this is all, I think, network representation, the power of your voice. They’re my “aha” about why I do what I do.

Natasha: We know that women hold the post of “environment minister” more than any other ministerial post in the world. We also know that particularly in underserved and geographically marginalized communities, women are at the forefront of climate justice movements. Emily, how representative are you of the leadership on this issue in your sectors?

Emily: I don’t know. I feel that I’m doing what I’ve got to do, right? With this new understanding I have of the power of storytelling and how it can be used to actually accelerate change and play a big part in the way we need to start reimagining solutions, the way we need to start reimagining partnerships and collaboration towards our common solutions. But I feel like there needs to be a whole lot more of us. I do what I can, but I don’t think that doing anything on my own is enough. There needs to be a whole lot more of us. I respect and I’m so happy to see Mishy here.

If we talk about representation touching on visibility, touching on your ability to drive impact, touching on where – forgive me for using this phrase – where on the pipeline, I wanted to use the phrase “on the food chain,” where do you see it? Are you able to influence decisions? Are you able to make decisions that actually have an impact on the lives of the people you represent or the people whom you identify with? The people who most need solutions and interventions? If I look at it that way, then there needs to be a whole lot more of us in this kind of space advocating, amplifying and uplifting, elevating others like us, who don’t yet get the limelight or who don’t get the visibility that they deserve, despite doing so much on the ground. I don’t know if that answers the question, but that’s how I interpreted it.

Natasha: Given that New York City and cities like Miami, which I just moved from, and New Orleans, where I lived before, are preparing for the impact of climate change, what can indie filmmakers do and what can other content producers do to inform the public? Rachel?

Rachel: I love this question because I really think climate change should be included in all our stories. It doesn’t even have to be the focus. This is the backdrop of all of our lives. It’s covered in ways in the mainstream media that are very disempowering. So independent film has a really incredible opportunity and responsibility to challenge the narratives that we’re going to hear on the mainstream media, which is just like, “oh, disaster’s coming, but there’s nothing we can do because nothing’s ever changed before. So why would it change now? Why don’t you just give up?” There’s such an opportunity to tell the stories of people who are most affected by the crisis, to include characters who are really grappling with grief and fear about the climate crisis and moving beyond that, stories of action and visions for how we can solve this crisis.

There’s an incredible resource by the Good Energy Project called The Climate Storytelling Playbook. I only found out about it after I had finished To the End, but they worked with many, many writers in Hollywood and other parts of film and television, as well as activists and cultural producers, to talk about how we can begin to shift narratives as writers, how writers can begin to think about putting this into their stories. And when I say writers, I include that to mean documentary storytellers as well. I think it’s a great resource.

Natasha: Mishy, can you talk to us about being a feminist, an African feminist? Somebody might not necessarily connect that immediately with climate change. What does your work have to do with climate change?

Mwanahamisi: I work with organizations to support women and coordinate them, and to ensure the voices of women are at the center of the decision processes. That includes, for example, coordinating engagement of women in the UNF processes, coordinating engagement of women in UN SDG processes. So our work has centered climate change and gender. Most of our members, when they get to the UNF spaces, see decisions being made because they demanded decision. They bring to this space the reality that women are facing, but also the solutions that women are doing across the board and their stories and their voices.

Our work in so many ways fits into the idea that we need to be there, at the table, not on the menu. When you are represented, you are representing the un-represented, those who are supposed to be represented. I think there has been a structure of biases where, when you are coming from a minority community, people see you [as] nothing more than that identity. So you end up carrying the burden of representing the entire [experience of an] African woman, when engaging the space. I’m supposed to represent a billion people, but I might not have the legitimacy to do that because at the end of the day, I might be in that space in my capacity as a policy.

We have been taught that if women don’t raise their hands and speak about gender, the whole hundred men in the room won’t speak about it. If a feminist won’t raise that conversation, nobody will, because we have delegated this work to this specific group. And if that is how we operate, then that representation will continue to be tokenized and won’t lead to structural change because I strongly believe there is no voiceless people, but there has been a deliberate decision to silence some of the groups.

Natasha: This year’s CSW topic is “gender equality today for a sustainable future.” So do we need to talk about men, Mishy?

Mwanahamisi: Oh, yes. We need to talk about men. We need to tell them strongly that they need to pass back the room so that more women can sit and make decisions.

Natasha: The impact [from] climate change that [we] will experience 25 years from now has already been set into motion. What is the one practical thing that each of us can do to become activists and representatives on climate justice? Lydia?

Lydia: Well, we did a study in the industry. The Hollywood studios had been calculating carbon footprints for a long time. And when the data was all put together, it was very interesting. It didn’t matter whether it was an independent film, a tentpole film, or an episode of television, anywhere from 46% to 54% of the carbon footprint was fuel consumption. And so, [the thing to do at this point is] to influence and model behavior [through] clean energy. And we have to look at it no matter what industry we’re in across the world. I think we all need to become experts in clean energy, and in our industry, we’re trying to make sure people in LA know that every 76 station has renewable diesel.

There’s no reason not to be using it, and we are also saying that we need to create demand with the studio, the financers, the powers that be, we need the infrastructure to run electrified productions. We don’t need diesel generators. It’s over. We’re working with a UN initiative right now: the Entertainment Industry Net Zero Accord. And clean energy is really what we’re leading with out of the gate.

In terms of the global conversation, the resources aren’t as available, but we have to create that demand. As the UN is saying, we have eight years left. If we can’t reduce our carbon emissions by 50% within the next eight years, we will hit a point of no return. And last year, our emissions increased 6%. So we haven’t yet hit a point where we’re going in the right direction.

Natasha: Emily, what is the one practical thing that each one of us can do to become activists and representatives on climate justice?

Emily: Scientists will do their thing. Researchers will go and research. Musicians will sing. Storytellers will tell stories. Looking at it from the perspective of a storyteller, we need to challenge ourselves as well and work a whole lot more closely with the climate movement. We need to constantly ask ourselves: What are the stories that are needed right now? What are the stories that we must tell right now?

Natasha: I’m getting some questions coming in from the Q&A. This was a question that was submitted for everyone. What actions do you wish men would take to support women’s leadership in your industries? Who wants to take that one? Rachel?

Rachel: When I think about representation in the film industry in the United States, which is the context I work in, I think a lot about social democracy and the way institutions are funded by national governments in many other parts of the world. I’ve done a lot of work in Latin America, but of course [government funding] exists across Europe and other parts of the world – institutions that support work that will not necessarily be supported by what the prevailing market forces want to see at that moment in time.

So in the United States, we need a huge social democratic transformation of our society in order to really create the conditions of possibility for a more equitable film industry. And that includes policies like universal healthcare and free college tuition, the sorts of policies that are going to make it possible for people who don’t usually have the luxury to take the risk of becoming a filmmaker. It’s a risky job proposition. So, I would like for men and everyone to be doing [this] in our industry.

Natasha: And Mishy, this is a question that came in from our listeners: How can climate change advocacy become powerful and impactful in authoritarian states where rights and representation are absent?

Mwanahamisi: The answer is complicated because you really need to understand the intersecting structural issues that gave us the climate crisis. We strongly believe that climate change is the product of capitalism as the model of production, colonialism, authoritarianism, like all those that brought us the crisis that we are [in] now. We really need to imagine a different world. The one thing I think all of us should do is to educate ourselves on these intersecting structural issues and oppression. Because if we hand over that power, that’s only a certain class or a certain group that can theorize, that can imagine a new world, that can invent solution. Then we are denying ourselves the power to change the system.

But also we are denying the power of creating the world that is better for all of us. There is an urgent need for the process of creating the alternative, rather than just us seeking and expressing our dissatisfaction. I strongly feel those who have created the problem, well, they don’t have legitimacy to create the solutions. You’re speaking about the women who for so long have been the custodians of land. They have been custodians of waters. They know what is next. So having them in the room is not just a political critique, but also brings people who have expertise on how things can be done because they have been doing it. And they have never been part of destroying the planet, nor have they been part of oppressing people.

Natasha: I have another question here from the Q&A. Any ideas about how stories from the polar regions, especially Indigenous Arctic stories, could be amplified?

Lydia: There’s a big movement in our industry now to uphold underrepresented voices and there are groups that support this work actively: the Center for Cultural Power, Pop Cultura, Collaborative, Color of Change, even The Climate Storytelling Playbook that Rachel mentioned, which is out on April 19 and will be online. These are all endeavors to bring a democracy to the voices that tell stories. And I think it’s an interesting time. We live and work in an industry that’s highly skilled – there’s a lot of training that needs to happen to tell stories. But we are also seeing a movement in terms of international filmmaking and local filmmaking. And that’s where the real stories are going to come forward when people can tell their own stories.

Emily: I wanted to add onto what Lydia just shared. The person who asked that question, I’m happy to do a follow up with you if you have an actual specific request or a specific story that you’re thinking of. And I’d also like to talk about some of the work that we do at Doc Society, which is [that] we have a full climate unit and it has a climate fund, and it also has a climate story lab. What we do with the climate story unit is amplify narrative shifts on climate justice, especially amplifying Indigenous voices and marginalized experiences. What we say is that we need a biodiversity of storytelling that is as diverse as the ecosystem we are seeking to save.

Natasha: How do you think women can collaborate and build alliances across all sectors on climate justice? This is a really important question for all of you. Why don’t we start with Rachel.  

Rachel: My answer is going to be incomplete and I hope others will chime in. What I think about when I think about that question is really what it means to conceptualize systemic change and the transformational change of the systems that are causing the climate crisis. Women have incredible abilities to synthesize and to make those connections. It’s fantastic if any of us has the opportunity in our lives to [personally use] clean energy, but until we have a systematic change of infrastructure that’s available, we’re not going to be getting to the scale that we need to actually solve this crisis.

So to me, any conversation about change on the scale of the crisis itself has to really hone in on challenging the political power of the fossil fuel industry. And that takes a particular shape in the United States. It takes a particular shape in other countries around the globe, but in the United States, which I’m most familiar with, there’s a very strong connection between money and politics, and the type of change that is supported or not supported in our politics. Women are in an incredible position to forge these alliances around the world, to lead projects in individual, local, and national contexts, and also to build alliances between movements around the world. We can learn from each other’s successes and failures, as movements have had to do throughout history. We’re so interconnected. Now there’s an incredible opportunity to continue those conversations so that we can really take back the future.

Natasha: Mishy, how do you think women can collaborate and build alliances across all sectors on climate justice?

Mwanahamisi: The answer is hard because you have to acknowledge that women are so diverse. We are so diverse [as a] group and often our politics might not align, our interests might not align. And often, we think we want to come together assuming that we are all the same, because we just happened to be called women. But then we start to do that and we realize that there’s difference between us and then the movement starts cracking. So recognizing that we are very diverse and we need to do that hard work of reaching out to the diverse sector [is important].

We do have to work with filmmakers. We need to work with the policy makers and the women who are decision-makers in politics who are [being sent] by their government to negotiate, for example. We need that holistic engagement. And I feel that a lot of that work has already started to happen.

Also, we should be kind to ourselves, and take [it] genuinely slowly, because often the world will be telling all of us 3.7 billion women that we need to speak with one voice. So it can also be kind to know that we are diverse.

Lydia: I think about audience a lot. It’s been interesting to track the perception of climate change across the general public. We’ve gone from like a couple of decades ago, 40% of the public would acknowledge that climate change was a real issue or that it was something we should be thinking about. And then it creeped up to 60% and this year it actually spiked to 70%. To me, that means our audience has increased by a number of people who want climate stories and want to understand the issues and want solutions.

People are more personally affected. Now they want to understand [what’s happening with climate] so they can respond. But impact producing and what Emily is talking about is so critical. On Radium Girls, we did an impact campaign with the Sierra Club and we reached out and formed partnerships with over a hundred organizations in the U.S. It was interesting to me in this world of pandemic Zoom, how many living rooms you can go into and have these conversations. But we had women across the country working, everybody from the national Coalition of Labor Union women to state legislatures, congresswomen, and senators, all who wanted to talk about these issues that affected communities and their states.

Erin Brockovich got involved in our campaign and we did some panels with her and toxic chemical communities. We worked with Women’s Earth Alliance who organized it. There are women who go in and organize women leaders in different communities who need help standing up against the corporate powers that are polluting their neighborhoods. It went from worker safety to science, to health issues, political voices. It crossed so many issues, but it was amazing to me how many women were organizing in all these different areas, and that somehow we could connect the conversation [to] the movie. If there’s a conversation to be had, find it. Do it.

Natasha: What are some of the things that are misconceptions that may push someone away who should be a part of the conversation?

Rachel: Lydia, you mentioned changing attitudes. I’m most familiar with the statistics on communications around this in the United States, but I think one misconception that I’ve found in releasing this film and among many of the journalists I’ve spoken to, is that at least half of the population does not believe that climate change is real. That is not true. You know, as Lydia mentioned, 70% of people think it’s important and that we should be doing something major about it. What that misconception is reflecting is actually our political culture, where there’s an entire political party that does not acknowledge it.

And that blocks any action on it. And a huge part of the other political party is not particularly active on it either. So I would love for more people to know that it’s not actually as controversial as people think it is. There are controversies around exactly what we should do anytime. You’re talking about dismantling a huge, powerful industry. That’s going to be controversial, but the idea that we should do something big about it, and we should have those conversations – that’s not actually controversial.

Natasha: In the same way that I’m interested in how you all came to this work, I’m also interested to know what has informed you and what can inform some of our listeners as they’re educating themselves more about this issue and how to become more involved. What are some film sites that each of you suggests our audience should be aware of?

Emily: For those who are thinking about using storytelling for impact, for instance, I’d definitely recommend the Impact Field Diet. I got into the whole world of impact producing in 2016. And really before that, I had never heard of impact producing in my life. This is a really good resource and it’s been translated into so many languages and it’s a really good deep dive and very simplified into how can you use your material to drive any kind of social change.

Lydia: One of the books that came out last year that I carried around and read a little bit every night is All We Can Save. It’s edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Catherine Wilkinson, and it’s just a beautiful collection of essays and stories and poems. And it gives you so much, it just fills you up and it’s what we need because climate anxiety is real and it’s intense, and we need to feel hope. And the other one that I’ll just mention is Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown. She has developed a philosophy around nature and how we are nature. And therefore we need to take ownership of what’s happening with the planet as part of the nature that we are. Those two books have given me a lot of hopeful inspiration to put on my critical hat and do the hard work.

Natasha: We definitely need inspiration and hope in general. And especially with this topic which is so daunting. Unfortunately I have run out of time. I want to thank you so much for bringing your thoughtful answers to this panel and for all of the work that you do. It’s really incredible and it has ripple effects. So thank you for sharing your expertise and your heart with us today.

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

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Halcyon String Quartet & Climate Art Best Practices

By Peterson Toscano

Regular listeners know I feature artists who are using their art to explore climate change. Today, I feature Sophie and Josies Davis, sisters who grew up on the coast of Maine. After studying classical violin at conservatory, they became two of the founding members of Halcyon String Quartet, seeking to fuse their love of music and the natural world with their growing concern about the climate crisis. In speaking with them, we identified six principles that artists might found helpful:

  1. Know your stuff: This means both your craft as an artist and essentials of climate change messaging.
  2. Think locally
  3. Pursue collaboration: To date, Halcyon’s most successful collaboration has been with visual artist Jill Pelto.
  4. Pivot to solutions: Focus less on the many horrible impacts of climate change and instead, help your audience experience a future with the beneficial impacts of climate solutions in place.
  5. Promote Action: As Katie Patricks, the author of the book and podcast How to Save the World, stressed for us on Citizens Climate Radio episode 61, artists and event organizers have to find ways to offer people the next meaningful step for themselves and their communities.
  6. Remain faithful to the art: Halcyon seeks to find a balance between old time favorites that audiences love and new music, music by Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Excellence is the art is essential as they seek to help the public engage in good art and effective climate change discourse.)
ABOUT SOPHIE AND JOSIE

Sophie received degrees in violin performance and environmental studies from Oberlin College and Conservatory. Playing and sharing music are integral to her creative and professional practice. She has performed on NPR’s “From the Top,” at the Kennedy Center, Chicago’s Symphony Hall, the Monte Music Festival in India, and with the Jordan National Orchestra (JOrchestra) in Amman, Jordan. In 2017, Sophie was awarded a Fulbright Research Grant to spend nine months in the South Pacific island nation of Samoa where she explored the ways in which the arts can raise awareness of climate change. In addition to pursuing research, she taught and performed with the National Orchestra of Samoa. Sophie divides her time between musical performance and pedagogy. She serves as violin faculty and chamber music coordinator at Bay Chamber Music School in Rockport and is the co-founder and Artistic Director of Halcyon – an ensemble dedicated to using music and art to cultivate environmental stewardship.

Josie Davis received her undergraduate degrees in violin and sociology at Oberlin College and Conservatory where she was a student of David Bowlin, and her Ed.M from Harvard University. She has performed in a wide range of venues from Carnegie Hall to the Monte Music Festival in India, and has appeared with her sister on NPR’s From the Top. She actively explores ways to share classical music in new contexts and has performed chamber music with Emanuel Ax in a taco shop, played solo Bach for Chris Thile, and is currently a member of Palaver Strings. Her teaching has brought her to Panama, India, and Community MusicWorks in Rhode Island where she completed a two-year Fellowship. In past summers, she has studied at the Juilliard String Quartet Seminar, Bowdoin International Music Festival, and Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival. She is committed to creating more chamber music opportunities for young people and is the founder and director of summer workshops for young people in Maine and Connecticut. As a violinist, educator and arts administrator, Josie is interested in how the arts can be used as a form of cultural empowerment to build bridges and strengthen communities.

Next month: I share a comic audio essay, The Weight of Carbon Dioxide and Chihuahuas. Hear how I make the invisible visible.  

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

This article is part of The Art House series.

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

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Tamara Kostianovsky: Between Wounds and Folds at Smack Mellon

By Etty Yaniv

Tamara Kostianovsky was born in Jerusalem, Israel in 1974, and grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Between Wounds and Folds her Fall 2021 solo exhibition at Smack Mellon, featured sculptures linking gender-based violence, personal memory, and ecological destruction through consumption into a complex and speculative ecosystem. The dimensional forms, both soft and brutal, combined discarded fabric with industrial materials, often drawing their shape from mutilated fauna and flora in various states of decay, including tree stumps, cow carcasses, and birds of prey.

Tell me a bit about the genesis of this exhibition.

At the invitation of then-curator Gabriel de Guzman, in 2019 I accepted an offer to exhibit my work at Smack Mellon’s 6,000 sq. feet gallery in a large and ambitious solo show, my first exhibition of this scale in New York City. As time went by, I became familiar with the space and started having conversations with the new curator Rachel Vera Steinberg, who took over the position in 2021, and with Smack Mellon’s Director Kathleen Gilrain. We decided to plan for four interlocking but independent installations that will be configured to respond to Smack Mellon’s unique space, an industrial building built in the 1880s, creating an exhibition that wouldn’t just focus on my latest work but would rather present diverse bodies of work simultaneously.

Between Wounds and Folds, installation view
Between Wounds and Folds, installation view

Overall, the sculptures in the exhibition combined discarded fabric with industrial materials to address the increasingly urgent social and ecological concerns of material consumption and waste. I’ve always felt at ease in the symmetry of the Medieval galleries at the Met Museum, and I kept that configuration in mind when thinking of the exhibition design for this space. Although we mostly replaced saints with carcasses, we strived to give a sense of religiosity to my sculptures of the flayed body.

One of the installations included my well-known “Meat” sculpture series that uses my own clothing to visually transform the violence of slaughter in reference to femicides in Latin America. It was refreshing to me to be able to present these works in a completely new configuration compared to previous exhibitions, taking advantage of the triple height of the gallery space. Another installation presented sculptures of “Birds” made from decorative and floral upholstery fabrics that are mounted on an extremely large wall. I was excited also to exhibit the floor sculptures of my “Tree Stumps” series, a body of work that I love because it pays homage to my late father by using his clothes as material. And finally, I introduced a kinetic installation of “Tree-Carcasses”, taking shape as rotating, life-size cow carcass cavities that host vignettes of rich vegetation, and populated by sculptures of exotic birds.

This exhibition drew together threads from distinct series of works for the first time, offering an alternative to the notion that the only way out of the ecological crisis is through behavioral changes that at times appear punishing. Can we rebuild a new type of ecology using the remnants that material culture leaves behind?

Between Wounds and Folds, installation view

A monograph on the artist’s work entitled Rapacious Beauty was published by Hirmer in December 2021 to coincide with Between Wounds and Folds at Smack Mellon, Brooklyn, New York.

(Top image: The artist at Smack Mellon, photo courtesy of Rachel Vera Steinberg. All photos courtesy of the artist unless otherwise indicated.)

This interview is part of a content collaboration between Art Spiel and Artists & Climate Change. It was originally published on Art Spiel on September 24, 2021 as part of an ongoing interview series with contemporary artists.

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Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing, and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She has exhibited her immersive installations in museums and galleries, nationally and internationally. Yaniv founded the platform Art Spiel to highlight the work of contemporary artists through art reviews, studio visits, and interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. Yaniv holds a BA in Psychology and English Literature from Tel Aviv University, a BFA from Parsons School of Design, and an MFA from SUNY Purchase.

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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: Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki

By Mary Woodbury

Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki is an African speculative fiction writer and editor in Nigeria. His Ife-Iyoku novella was a finalist in the Nebula, BSFA, Sturgeon awards, and won the Nommo and Otherwise awards. The Dominion anthology he co-edited, where it appears, won the British Fantasy award, and was a finalist in the Locus and This Is Horror awards. His climate fiction novelette O2 Arena is a BSFA and Nebula award finalist. He edited the first ever Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction anthology and the Bridging Worlds non-fiction anthology. 

ABOUT THE BOOK

Occasionally, I explore anthologies and interview editors who produce them. Today, I’m talking with author Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, editor of The Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction (2021). Here is the description of the book from the publisher, Jembefola:

The Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction (2021) is a reprint anthology and the first ever Year’s Best African speculative fiction anthology, edited by Oghenchovwe Donald Ekpeki. It contains speculative fiction stories by some of the most exciting voices, old and new, from Africa and the diaspora, published in the 2020 year. It features 29 stories, by 25 writers.

Jembefola offers a free download of the anthology, and I highly recommend reading it. The stories drew me right away, not just for their individual wisdom, diversity, and wit but – if you’re interested – for the palpable connections between the human condition and the wild, which several of the stories highlight. The scope of the anthology is speculative; it includes stories with science fiction, fantasy, horror, post-apocalyptic, and other streams. Diaspora, myth, technology, and the philosophical find their way into it as well.

I want to point out, too, that after this interview took place, I learned that Oghenechovwe’s O2 Arena has been nominated for a 2022 Hugo Award for Best Novelette. The author stated on Twitter that makes him the first African to be nominated for Best Novelette, the first Africa-born Black writer nominated for the Hugo at all, and the first Black person nominated in the Best Editor short form category, with the Year’s Best. You can read more about the short fiction at Apex Magazine. Further, be sure to check out Africa Risen, coming this fall, which you can pre-order at Macmillan Publishers; it’s edited by Sheree Renée Thomas, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, and Zelda Knight. The anthology “celebrates the vibrancy, diversity, and reach of African and Afro-Diasporic SFF and reaffirms that Africa is not rising – it’s already here.” The cover is stunning.

A CHAT WITH THE AUTHOR

You are an award-winning author and editor and are active in science fiction, horror, and speculative fiction magazines and collections. What are some of your favorite memories while writing or imagining new stories?

Some of my favorite memories are banter and conversations with real persons that get adapted and make up some of the dialogue in my work. Fiction aims to imitate reality after all. I usually see no reason why it can’t be borrowed from. Also, having to infuse stories from my culture and childhood myths I learnt growing up.

You recently edited The Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction (2021). How did this anthology come about, and what are some common themes you found within?

While editing the Dominion anthology, after its release, and inspired by its reception, I naturally thought, what next? It was well received and highly appreciated, and it created amazing opportunities for the voices of writers on the continent to be heard. So, I thought, how can we continue this? What else can we do that can create more spaces for the works of speculative fiction writers of African descent to be appreciated? And the answer was the Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction anthology. The first of its kind; it’s something that was sorely needed but had not had the chance to exist until now.

Because I focus on ecologically-oriented fiction, I’d be interested in your views about how the environment and nature are manifested in African fiction in particular. I like to think of such fiction as rewilded and have noticed this in the anthology, where natural landscape and its elements are strong, and climate change is mentioned in at least one story.

Actually, I’d be hard pressed to pick any singular theme from it. One of the things that I loved about it was that it was multifaceted and showed so many styles of writing and perspectives from Black and African writers around the world.

Fiction, they say, imitates reality and African speculative fiction is no different. It examines issues that are vital to African and Black writers and the environment is definitely one of them. My own works, the Nebula finalist, Otherwise award and Nommo winning novella Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of Imadeyunuagbon, and Nebula and BSFA finalist, climate fiction novelette O2 Arena, deal with the environment. Though not in the Year’s Best, the works there also do the same, from the very first work in the anthology, by Somto Ihezue, “Where You Go”, which is set in a Lagos facing the impending danger of being submerged.

In your short story “Mercy of the Wild,” you wrote from the viewpoint of a lion. What inspired that story?

“Mercy of the Wild” was a point of experimentation for me. I love to experiment with forms and styles or speculative fiction, and that was one such experiment that I was delighted to follow up on. The story was inspired by an almost childlike, wide-eyed curiosity about what goes on in the minds of the creatures we share the planet with. What if we heard their story, from the horse’s mouth so to speak. Or as the Igbo proverb says, “Until the lion learns to tell its story, the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” This got me wondering, what if the roles were reversed? Its telling impresses on me the need for people of diverse cultures to champion and find spaces for their stories to thrive in the world of today.

Would you like to talk more about Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of Imadeyunuagbon, a post-apocalyptic novel? Also, O2 Arena? How did you build those worlds before writing, and how did the natural environment affect the plot and characters?

Ife-Iyoku was inspired by events going on around us. Nigeria is a society long-exploited by slavery and colonization, and is facing a huge deficiency of resources. It has dealt with conflict for decades in the form of Boko Haram, with the average Nigerian hungering to leave but unable to do so, hemmed in by racist and restrictive visa policies. Like the hunters, the people in the story have adapted and found ways to survive, having to push themselves like super-powered beings, to exist and thrive in the harsh climes we find ourselves in.

My recent novelette O2 Arena, the first by an Africa-born writer, is similarly inspired by events around me. Things like disability, cultism, cancer, reproductive health, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, post- and neocolonialism, and much more. It is my aim, by telling these stories, to document the experiences that people face and give readers a glimpse of the multifaceted and lushly dark world I inhabit.

You have taken on a huge role in storytelling the Black African experience, so thank you for all the work you’re doing in this arena. Thanks also for taking the time to chat with me!

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 Nova Scotia 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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The 2022 Artists & Climate Change Incubator

By Chantal Bilodeau

MONDAY, JUNE 27 – FRIDAY, JULY 1
10:00 AM – 5:30 PM
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA

FEE: $850 USD
FACILITATORSCHANTAL BILODEAU & JULIA LEVINE

Calling all artists, activists, scientists, and educators who want to engage or further their engagement with climate change through artistic practices! After a two year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, join the Arts & Climate Initiative for the Artists & Climate Change Incubator, June 27-July 1, 2022 in Anchorage, Alaska. We can’t wait to gather in person and connect around our shared desire to harness the power of the arts to address the climate crisis. All disciplines are welcome and individuals from traditionally underrepresented communities are encouraged to attend. The Incubator is an inclusive environment that supports diverse perspectives.

During this 5-day intensive, participants interact with accomplished guest speakers from fields such as environmental humanities, psychology, climate activism, and visual and performing arts. Through discussions and creative exercises, we exchange tips and best practices, as well as explore how to remain courageous in the face of inevitable losses; increase our collective resilience; and find joy in the work ahead. Together we will develop tools that can help us heal ourselves, our communities, and the planet.

FIND OUT MORE

Limited to 20 participants. Availability is on a first come, first serve basis. Participants are responsible for their own travel and accommodation, and are required to be fully vaccinated. A few scholarships and half-scholarships are available. 

All sessions take place at the SEED Lab, 111 W 6th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501 (a 2-min walk from the Anchorage Museum). 

The Incubator is taking place within Dena’ina Ełnena. We acknowledge and pay our respect to the Dena’ina Athabascan people and thank them for stewarding these lands and waters through the generations. We recognize that we are visitors and are grateful for the opportunity to discover and learn about this territory and culture.

In keeping with our value to keep our carbon footprint small, we offset our carbon emissions through Carbonfund.org

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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An Interview with Artist Maureen Drdak

By Amy Brady

This month, I have for you an interview with Maureen Drdak, an artist whose recent exhibition is called Ardens Mundi, Latin for Burning Worlds. Drdak is also the recipient of the 2011 U.S. Fulbright Fellowship for Art in Nepal. Her work can be found in numerous public, private, and university collections within the US and abroad, among them the Berthe and John Ford Collection, Shelley and Donald Rubin Collection, Lynda and Stuart Resnick, and Emir Hamad Al Thani and Sheikha Mozah of Qatar. In the interview below we discuss how her latest exhibition “presents the many faces of global warming” and the real-life events that inspired her work.

Please tell me about your latest series, Ardens Mundi. What does that title stand for, and how does the exhibition speak to the climate crisis?

Ardens Mundi is Latin for Burning Worlds. The series presents the many faces of global warming as it manifests across the planet, with each work showing a distinct cataclysmic phenomenon. The title also refers to the transmutational power of burning in the spiritual sense, in that humanity has agency – humanity can choose to purify itself from its worst addictions. The series is reflective of my long study and work in the Himalayan country of Nepal, a country and region where the conversation between spirit and matter is of long and particular intensity – and of special relevance to our rapidly heating planet.  

I conceived of this series as a sublime processional portrait of a planet in violent turmoil – as an Environmental Stations of the Cross – with each work presenting a specific calamitous force, the aggregate cumulating in our collective crucifixion of our planet. In totality, the series evokes through its heightened materiality a portentous vision of forms, processes, and energies hurling towards environmental cataclysm. Each work is four feet in diameter and four works have been completed to date; three feature in this exhibition: Inferno, the blackened furioso of firestorms; Conflatura, the melting of glaciers; Dessico, the desiccation of drought; and Tempestatis, the explosive force of bombogenesis. Five more planned works will eventually complete the series, with an even larger “keystone” work envisioned to anchor the series.  A number of viewers have remarked that the works remind them of Rothko’s Chapel in Houston, Texas; I’m heartened, as that’s exactly what I’m envisioning.

Tell me about your own evolution as an artist who cares about climate. What inspired you to address the crisis in your work?

When I first traveled to Nepal in 2005, I was profoundly awestruck at my first distant sight of the Himalayas – and that was while I was in the plane cruising at 30,000 feet. The range loomed on the horizon, rising above the cloud ceiling at approximately the same level as our plane. They were blazingly white – fully snow covered. That image is forever burned into my memory. Tragically, and ominously, that snow cover has diminished every year since, to the point now that I’m told, if you see a truly snow covered picture of the Himalayas, it’s invariably dated from many decades earlier. And as I’ve returned many times in the intervening years – I was last in Nepal in 2019 – I can personally attest to that fact. Running water has been heard by climbers at high altitudes on these summits – think about that!  Almost half of the Himalayan ice cap including glaciers will be lost by 2100. These snows directly supply most every major river system in Asia, and supports the lives of billions of people. Billions. The Himalayas are called “The Third Pole” for a reason; they make their own weather and the severity of the impact of global warming will affect not only their weather system, but weather worldwide. This is beyond terrifying.

But Ardens Mundi is also an homage to cultural preservation! The anthropogenic forces of globalization that drive these climate phenomena also drive cultural fragmentation and dislocation. Globalization has disrupted and destabilized many cultural practices and social structures. Of particular fragility are the material practices of many traditional artists. When I first visited Nepal in 2005, I was overwhelmed with not only its sublime physical beauty, but with the eloquence of its material culture. I was particularly taken with the gorgeous gilded copper repoussé toranas – hemispheric bas-reliefs – that surmounted the important entrances to temples and palaces. Their worn gilded surfaces exposed a rich variety of patinas; it was the chromatic opulence of these surfaces that inspired my idea of a synthesis of metalwork and painting, in quest of which I earned the 2011 Fulbright Fellowship for art in Nepal. My pursuit of this crazy vision led directly to the family of my guru, Master Rabindra Shakya of Okubahal, Patan.  

Repoussé is an ancient practice, yet an endangered one. Due to its technical demands, worldwide its practitioners remain few; the youth of Nepal are, understandably, attracted to other less physically demanding and more lucrative careers. Rabindra’s family is recognized globally as the finest remaining contemporary practitioners of the elite form, honored by the kings of Nepal, with an illustrious lineage dating back to 1564. This Newar Buddhist family created many of the regions greatest historic monuments! I was powerfully inspired to investigate the possibilities of this elite metalworking practice for contemporary expressive form, and I’m deeply rewarded to know that my resulting work demonstrates the dynamic potential of this traditional practice for contemporary artists, and by extension, is of possible aid in its preservation.

Ardens Mundi 1, Inferno, 48 x 1.5 inches, copper repoussé elements, mineral particle threads, and abraded acrylic on archival cradled wood  panel, 2017

What do you hope audiences take away from your work?

For a visual artist, the question of how to give form to the invisible forces of nature is immensely challenging. The insistent materiality of repoussé – in my works I use heavy copper sheeting – to convey elemental powers would at first seem to be antithetical. Yet it’s precisely both the very physicality of copper sheet, and the resulting marks of repoussé’s intensely physical process, that convey the weight, force, and power of the unseen wind, heat, and cold. It visually incarnates and communicates a sense of “felt-ness” of these invisible forces.

I want the viewer to become drawn into the materiality of existence – its power and its fragility. I want the works to draw them in through an experience and exploration of complex surfaces: the weight of metal, the granulations of crushed stones and minerals, ethereal abrasions of paint. I want them to experience this complex range of materials and treatments that go from the brutal to the ethereal, and through this material immersion, invite their minds to consider the forces they represent, and their relationship with the wonderment of the earth and her processes – and of our collective responsibilities for her current state. 

In its integration of material dichotomies and cultural engagement, Ardens Mundi speaks to humanity’s capacity for social and spiritual expansion. While working, I continually reflect upon this moment of humanity’s greatest challenge. In my synthesis, material dichotomies are harmonized, assuming properties formally relegated to the other. Paint ossifies. Copper weakens and thins under the blows of the hammer; fire renews its malleability rendering it akin to skin with all its associated vulnerabilities – yet paradoxically restores its inherent strength, rendering it supple and capable of taking on new expanding forms. Likewise, in its resistance to change, humanity is weakened. Yet with the acceptance of painful change, strength and renewal will follow, birthing new and finer possibilities for our collective future.

Speaking more generally, what role do you see art playing in our wider discourse on climate?

Our anthropogenic climate emergency impacts world cultures – indigenous traditions, practices, and the social frameworks that support them. While globalization and advanced communication have accelerated the development of so many positives for humanity, they have also resulted in cultural fragmentation and dislocation. A fundamental aspect of my work practice is its demonstration of the dynamic potential of traditional practices for contemporary applications. Through this exploration, I hope my work aids in their preservation.

The family of my colleague and teacher, Master Rabindra Shakya, created an immense repoussé colossus of a Buddhist saint in Bhutan. Surpassing our Statue of Liberty in both size and function, it houses within a fully functioning monastery! Paradoxically, this family’s legacy and practice are now threatened by two interlocking threats: globalization and climate change. And as Nepal lies within an epicenter of global warming, the increasing acceleration of climate change is severely destabilizing both Nepal’s delicate ecosystems and its cultural traditions.

Ardens Mundi 4, Tempestatis, 48 x 1.5 inches, copper repoussé elements, mineral particle threads, and abraded acrylic on archival cradled wood panel, 2019.

What’s next for you?

I am fiercely committed and single-mindedly focused on the completion of this series in its entirety. The four works completed to date represent the culmination of over a decade of devotion to the exploration of my new synthesis as embodied in the Ardens Mundi series. Several months are required for the completion of one Burning World, and the physically arduous nature of the metalworking process necessitates intervals of down-time recovery. Though I initiated pursuit of my repoussé-painting synthesis in 2009, it wasn’t until 2016 that I really felt my skills were up to the production needs for the first four major work in the series; Ardens Mundi1, Inferno was completed in 2017. I have five more Ardens Mundi works to complete – for a total of nine envisioned works – and additionally, one large anchor work which I anticipate will be possibly twice the size of the forty-eight inch diameter of these works. I’m in excellent health – with some impressive biceps! – but as we all know and witness in these intensely challenging times, anything can happen. So carpe diem!

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 Executive Director of Orion Magazine, and the former Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Review of Books. She is also the co-editor of The World As We Knew It: Dispatches from a Changing Climate (Catapult) and author of Ice: An American Obsession (GP Putnam’s Sons). Every month she edits the newsletter “Burning Worlds,” which explores how artists and writers are thinking about climate change. Amy holds a PhD in English and is the recipient of a CLIR/Mellon Library of Congress Fellowship. Read more of her work at AmyBradyWrites.com at and follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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The Ultimate Cli-Fi Book Club: ‘Stations Eleven’

By Peterson Toscano

How can we help the public embrace the science that reveals our climate has changed? Krista Hiser is back with another installment of the Ultimate Cli-Fi Book Club. This time she looks at a book that hits very close to home. She dives into the pandemic and climate change in Emily St. John Mandel’s novel, Stations Eleven.

Dr. Krista Hiser is Sustainability Curriculum Coordinator for the University of Hawaii Office of Sustainability, where she facilitates change management, interdisciplinary dialogue, and professional development opportunities for faculty to design, update, and transform courses to integrate sustainability across the curriculum. She serves on the advisory board for the Sustainability Curriculum Consortium (SCC), and on the Steering Committee for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

You can read a written version of Krista’s essay at The Ultimate Cli-Fi Book Club for Sustainability in Higher Education.

Next month: Josie and Sophie Davis are founding members of Halcyon String Quartet, based in Maine, USA. They choose to be good citizens as they remain faithful to their art. In speaking with them, we identified six principles that artists addressing climate change might find helpful.

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

(Top image: Nur Andi Ravsanjani Gusma from Pexels)

This article is part of The Art House series.

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

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Water Conversations, The Goddess Brigid, and Mayflies

By Susan Hoffman Fishman

Irish visual artist and researcher Anna Macleod has spent the last 15 years exploring the environmental, economic, spiritual, political, and scientific aspects of water through interdisciplinary collaborations, performance, public interventions, and socially engaged activism. 

Like most artists addressing water issues in their work, Macleod can pinpoint the time when she first became focused on the topic. In 2007, she attended a workshop/residency in Carrick-on-Shannon, Ireland, led by Chilean-born artist and architect Alfred Jaar, for which she developed a sculptural public fountain that operated solely with rainwater. The project was a resounding success for residents of the town, who were delighted with the fountain and began using the water for their personal needs.

At the same time that the workshop was taking place, the city of Galway in Western Ireland was facing what Macleod refers to as a “catastrophic failure” of its public water system. The drinking water serving the entire city and surrounding areas had become contaminated by human waste, forcing the government to provide bottled water for an extended period of time. Both the positive experience of community engagement around water and her observations of the disastrous impact of poor waste water management and failing infrastructure propelled her into an examination of water in all of its dimensions and the creation of an on-going series of collaborative interdisciplinary projects called Water Conversations

Water Conversations: Alberta. Performative walks around Lake Miniwanka, Banff National Park and Lefarge Exshaw Plant (cement factory), Alberta, Canada. Sculpture: recycled rubber and aluminum, steel bar, gas torch in custom-made holster, 2015.

At first, Macleod began looking at the colonial vestiges of water systems that had been built and left behind in countries ruled by the British Empire. She questioned whether or not infrastructure failures had occurred there as they had in Ireland. Ultimately, she developed a process that allowed her to visit communities all over the world, talk to residents about their local water concerns, and create artworks related to these issues using her own participation in artist’s residencies as a vehicle for realizing her projects. 

To date, Macleod has conducted Water Conversations work in Ghana, Canada, Northern India, Mongolia, the United States, Spain, Australia, and Ireland. Her goal is to address local water issues, empower people to lobby their own local governments for change, and help heal the emotional impact of water problems and climate change. 

In 2015, for example, at an artist’s residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Alberta, Canada, Macleod studied the complex issues related to fossil fuel extraction in Western Canada. At the same time that she observed how the process of extracting oil impacted local bodies of water and contributed to the global climate crisis, she acknowledged that by serving as consumers of fossil fuels, we ourselves are contributing to the degradation of this same environment. For her culminating project, she conducted performative walks around both Lake Miniwanka in Banff National Park and the Lafarge Exshaw Plant, which manufactures cement just outside the National Park. (See photo above.) Carrying a portable sculpture made from recycled rubber and aluminum as well as a gas torch, she became the living embodiment of our collective guilt, a counter monument in a changing landscape.  

Atomic Journeys: New Mexico Banner Project. Red Water Pond Road Community Banner, 214 x 107 cm. Cotton Fabric, mosquito netting, cotton embroidery threads, wooden poles, 2017.

During a three-month residency in 2017 at the Santa Fe Art Institute in New Mexico, Macleod researched the 1979 Church Rock Uranium Spill and its impact on Navajo Nation Tribal Trust lands as part of her on-going Water Conversations project. Caused by a breach in a dam wall, the industrial accident sent millions of gallons of solid and liquid radioactive waste downstream into the Puerco River and onto Navajo property. The spill contaminated the groundwater and left the local residents, mostly Navajo peoples, without water for drinking and irrigation.

As an act of solidarity with the Navajo community, Macleod proposed to make a banner that could be used at future lobbying and protest events and during their annual Uranium Legacy, Remembrance and Action Day, an event which raises awareness, commemorates, and protests the July 16 spill. The Red Water Pond Road Community Association (RWPRCA), a grassroots organization of Navajo Nation families and sponsors of the annual event, agreed to host a workshop to create the banner design, which was attended by twenty community members and approved by the community Elders. Macleod presented the embroidered banner to the RWPRCA on April 20, 2017. (see above) 

Walk North: Durational performative walk through Paonia, Colorado, USA. Hand-embroidered netting fabric, cotton yarn and thread, silver plated serving tray, cotton fabric, and 10-pound block of ice, August 2018.

Walk North, another example of Macleod’s Water Conversations project, was inspired by her attendance at an artist residency and symposium at Elsewhere Studios in Paonia, Colorado in August 2018. A two-hour durational performance walk, it referenced both the prolonged drought caused by the reduction of snow melt and the increase in summer temperatures in North Fork Valley, as well as the tensions between the farming and coal mining communities over the way in which water was being distributed for industrial, agricultural, and domestic use. Dressed in mourning black and wearing a hand embroidered veil, Macleod walked through the town of Paonia carrying a 10-pound block of ice on a silver tray. She describes the goal of Walk North as an effort to “mourn the receding glaciers of Colorado and highlight the threat that climate change poses to the human and non-human habitats in the region.”

When she was prevented from traveling during the pandemic, Macleod focused her attention on water issues at home. The growth of the agricultural and commercial forestry sectors has brought bigger and more powerful polluting machines, and an increase in the use of polluting fertilizers to what had once been environmentally clean waters. She also developed and maintained an interest in Irish mythology, still vivid in the imagination of local residents. The pre-Christian Goddess Breed (or St. Brigid), the guardian of nature, healing, poetry and metalsmithing, and the harbinger of the Celtic Spring Imbolc. is still celebrated with community-wide tributes on February 1st every year.  

Mayfly Research, Anna Macleod and Padraig Cunningham, 2021

Macleod is currently participating as one of 20 artists in the innovative Eco Showboat project, initiated by Paris-based Irish artists Anne Cleary and Denis Connelly. Eco Showboat is a traveling art expedition along the inland rivers and lakes of Ireland, taking place on a solar-powered electric vessel over a four-month period from May through August of 2022. Its goal is to foster awareness of and conversations about climate change and promote a zero-carbon future. 

Macleod’s contribution to the project will take place at Lough Key (Lake Key), the body of water near her home in County Leitrim, Ireland. Working with a group of 11- and 12-year-old students from the St. Michael’s National School in Cootehall, she will conduct a series of art/science workshops on the mayfly and its role as an indicator species that responds to changes in bodies of water. She will also teach students how to create sculptures using materials from nature. 

Mayflies are an ancient species very sensitive to water quality and temperature. An important component of freshwater biodiversity, they contribute to the diet of fish in rivers and lakes and to birds, frogs, beetles, and spiders on land. Macleod is focusing on the mayfly as a way to bring attention to the importance of biodiversity. To her, the mayfly is a metaphor for “the precariousness of our existence in the Anthropocene, and a symbol of survival and renewal.” As part of the project, she is collaborating with Dr. Mary Kelly Quinn, an expert on the mayfly and Associate Professor in the School of Biology and Environmental Science at University College Dublin. She is also creating a film on mayflies in collaboration with filmmaker Padraig Cunningham and musician Shahab Coohe

As Macleod continues to develop work on water issues across the globe for her on-going Water Conversations series, and create the Mayfly project close to her own home, she emphasizes that all water issues are in fact local and can be successfully addressed through activism and the concerted engagement of community. 

(Top image: 49th Uranium Mining Legacy, Remembrance Day and Action Day, Navajo Nation, Grants Mining Belt, New Mexico, USA, July 12, 2018.)

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

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Susan Hoffman Fishman is a Connecticut-based painter, eco-artist and arts writer whose work has been exhibited widely in museums and galleries throughout the U.S. Since 2011, all of her paintings, installations and photographs have addressed water and the climate crisis. Her most recent work, called In the Beginning There Was Only Water is a visual reframing of the biblical creation myth. In 39 panels, it speaks to the importance and beauty of all living beings and what we stand to lose as a result of climate change. She recently participated in an artist’s residency at Planet, an international company providing global satellite images, where she focused on the proliferation of sinkholes caused by climate change. 

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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: Joel Burcat

By Mary Woodbury

It’s been cool to meet Joel Burcat, an author and recently retired environmental lawyer, who has written a series of environmental legal thrillers. The first, Drink to Every Beast, was featured by Kirkus Reviews, Good Day PA, the Green Life Blue Water blog, and in theNew York Times article “Writing With Your Eyes Closed” about blind authors and their works. 

The second book, Amid Rage (Headline Books, February, 2021), can be read as a stand-alone novel and continues following up-and-coming Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection lawyer Mike Jacobs in a legal battle. This time, Mike finds himself caught in the middle of a potentially lethal legal situation when a local community is harassed by Ernie Rinati, the owner of Rhino Mining Co., who will stop at nothing to see that his new mine becomes operational.

Tell us about yourself – your life so far and how you got started in writing. What else have you published besides Amid Rage?

I have practiced environmental law for 40 years. I became a lawyer to practice environmental law and was fortunate to make a career of it. Now, I am a full-time writer. My second love (or maybe it was my secret love) is and has been writing. I began writing when I was young, but set it aside when I became a lawyer as I was too busy with work and a family to focus on it. While I now write mostly novels, I continue to write short stories (I just had two short stories published in anthologies).

My first novel was Drink to Every Beast, published by Headline Books in 2019. It is an environmental legal thriller about midnight dumping. It follows my very young (26-year old) PaDEP prosecutor, Mike Jacobs, on his first big case trying to stop illegal dumping into the Susquehanna River.

I have been fortunate to have eight of my short stories published in journals, magazines, and anthologies. They range from murder, to a wedding, to growing grapes, to the best beer I ever had. I’ve been published in the Montreal Review, Hobo Pancakes, Harrisburg Magazine, and others.

I’ve edited two major books: the first was Pennsylvania Environmental Law and Practice (1994, 1st through 7th eds., Pa. Bar Institute Press) and The Law of Oil and Gas in Pa. (2014, 1st and 2d eds., Pa. Bar Institute Press). These are the two major treatises on these subjects in Pennsylvania.

Tell us something about your newest novel. Who is the intended audience, and what’s going on in the story?

My new novel is Amid Rage, an environmental legal thriller, featuring Mike Jacobs. In it, a psychotic coal mine operator and cynical neighbors with an anti-mining agenda fight out a strip mine permit battle. Mike, a 29-year old environmental prosecutor with Pennsylvania’s environmental agency, DEP, is caught between the warring factions, but is ordered to “babysit” the case. All Mike wants to do is to protect the environment and neighbors from certain harm as a result of the proposed mining. Sid Feldman, the Philadelphia lawyer for the mine operator, who oozes power and privilege, offers Mike a job midway through the proceedings. Miranda Clymer, the lawyer for the neighbors, pulls out all the stops to win Mike’s affection and assistance. Mike’s nearest and dearest friend, Nicky Kane, is by his side as his paralegal. Mike must use all of his talents as a lawyer in the courtroom and rely on his discretion and courage to do what is right and not anger the political bosses for whom he works. In the cataclysmic ending, someone will die, but who?

The intended audience is people who enjoy a good legal thriller, suspense, or mystery novel. Also, it will be very interesting to those who follow environmental issues. My books are very descriptive of the issues (and hopefully educational) and I hope that readers will be both enthralled by the book and will learn something.

What sorts of ecological themes does your novel have, and how were you inspired to write about them?

Ecological themes include:

  • Coal strip mining: How it is done, what it is like, what blasting is like, and what kind of impact it has on the environment.
  • Litigating an environmental case: What is this litigation really like? What kinds of strategies do the sides employ? What can go right/wrong in these cases? What do the lawyers feel during the case?
  • The pros and cons of coal mining: While my main character, Mike, is against coal mining and is concerned about climate change, other characters take the opposite position. I hope to educate readers on the nuances of their positions.
  • Climate change is discussed throughout the book.

I have been interested in the environment for as long as I can remember. As a lawyer, I have lived some of these cases, read about many of them, and imagined the rest. My books present a realistic scenario of this world.

After publication, do you plan to do any book fairs or talks? How would you describe the reaction to your book so far? Is it hard to market during the COVID pandemic?

Amid Rage isn’t out yet [at the time of this writing], so I have not yet done any book fairs or programs, although I expect to do them. When my first book, Drink to Every Beast, came out, I had several “book launches” at book stores locally and in New York City, and made a number of appearances at bookstores and book gatherings (the biggest was the American Library Association’s annual gathering in Washington, DC).

I’m still awaiting the public reaction. However, I have had some early reaction from the writers Steve Berry and Doug Lyle, both of whom really liked the book and said very nice things about it.

It is harder – and easier – to market in a pandemic. I cannot do live programs and that is a problem as many readers really want to meet the author and buy a book that is signed by the author with an inscription to them. At the same time, I have already done a number of Zoom events for Beast and had many people from all over the US tune in. I would not have had people from hundreds or thousands of miles away attending an event if we did not have a Zoom event. So that is a plus.

Are you working on anything else right now, and do you want to add other thoughts about your book?

I am finishing up Strange Fire. That is the third book in the Mike Jacobs series and is about fracking. Again, while Mike Jacobs is against fracking, I am trying to present both sides of the issue. I present the “pro” side through characters who are pro-drilling. Also, I have included some interesting elements in the novel that are more than just whispered rumors about the industry and opposition to it. There is both courtroom drama and strong thriller elements in the story. I have some great antagonists and some people wearing various shades of gray. I really want this story to stay with readers and make them think.

I believe readers will love Amid Rage. It presents Mike at his most capable and also most vulnerable. He wants to do the right thing but is restrained both by his political masters, limitations, and reality. There is a love story in the book, and I am very happy with how that turned out, so it has something for all readers.

Thanks so much, Joel! It’s interesting to see the environmental law aspect in fiction.

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 Nova Scotia 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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Landscape Deconstructed at the Hammond: Mimi Czajka Graminski

By Jennifer McGregor

Landscape Deconstructed: Mimi Czajka Graminski and Linda Stillman is a virtual exhibition on view at the Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden website until June 2022. It is curated by Bibiana Huang Matheis. The opening on September 11, 2021, included a virtual conversation with Mimi Czajka Graminski and Linda Stillman, moderated by Jennifer McGregor, which has been distilled and reformatted for individual interviews with each artist.

The Hudson Valley artists met in 2011 and were immediately struck by the similarities in their work – and have continued a dialogue since then. Landscape Deconstructed is the first time their artwork is presented in tandem and underscores the way that both artists discover elements of their surroundings and reassemble them in ingenious ways. Through distinct processes, they each preserve fleeting moments of beauty in nature while documenting a particular time and place.

What inspires your use of petals and leaves in the pieces in Landscape Deconstructed?

Using these found natural objects goes along with my ideas about upcycling and using materials on hand. The roses came from a friend’s garden, and I was struck by their vibrancy. I was attracted to the shapes of the individual petals and the way the colors subtly shift within each petal. I wanted to highlight them by extending their life into artwork.

I discovered leaves on my many walks. The golden green lozenge-shaped locust leaves were like bright gems at my feet, and the sassafras leaves had many colors and shapes which intrigued me. Discovering them felt like coming across an abundance of treasures.

Pauline’s Petals 1, 10 x 8 inches, archival pigment print of photograph of rose petals, 2020-2021

How has your relationship with/in the environment deepened over the past two years, particularly since March 2020?

Last year, during the COVID lockdown, I had to move out of my studio due to a roof leak. Although I was able to use a small, dedicated space in my home to work, I was drawn to the outdoors and found myself working outside, mining the natural world for inspiration and materials. During this time, my senses were heightened, and I discovered so much in my environment that had gone unnoticed before. I observed plants closely, and the shifting light and shadows on them. It was finding an entirely new world and I happily translated this deeper connection into new work.

You create work that plays with the ephemerality of light and shadow and then use photography and video to capture it. How has this process developed? 

While exploring this new treasure trove found in the natural world, I realized the materials would not translate into permanent pieces. So, I came up with the idea of using photography and video as a way of preserving these ephemeral artworks. Since both media were somewhat new to me, I didn’t know the rules associated with either medium. This gave me the freedom to explore both. I take dozens of photos and videos of each work, experimenting and using trial and error to refine the process. At the same time, nature is collaborating with me, adding wind, shadows, shifting light. Then I go back to the shots to adjust and edit the results.

Locust Leaf 2, 10 x 10 inchesarchival pigment print of photograph of locust leaves, 2020-2021  

How does chance and instinct inform your work? For instance, where does the drawing come from with the sassafras leaves?  What’s the balance between spontaneity and editing in the petal pieces?

Both chance and instinct are big contributors to this body of work. As I mentioned, coming across the materials (leaves) happened by chance. The contribution of sunlight, wind, and shadow are all out of my control and I use instinct to work with them to create a final piece.

I happened upon the sassafras leaves and noticed that even though they came from the same tree, they were all different shapes and colors. They ended up on my worktable sitting next to pens. It was a natural progression to try drawing on the leaves which made wonderful small canvases for intuitive drawing. I let my hand direct the process and the drawing became very meditative.

With all of this work, I am taking dozens of photos and videos; some are planned, and others are left to the vagaries of the environment. For instance, the sun may go behind a cloud, or the wind might pick up, all contributing to the artwork. Creating the work is made with process in mind, and the editing is done with an eye towards the final product.

Sassafras 2, 10 x 10 inchesarchival pigment print of photograph of sassafras leaves, 2020-2021

You have lived in the Hudson Valley for quite some time. How does place inform your work?

Living in the Hudson Valley region of New York State has influenced me in many ways. I feel connected to the landscape here – the mountains and the river are a constant and are the western boundary to my everyday life. The flora, both native and invasive species, have found their way into my work. The changing seasons give me an opportunity to work in different conditions, as the light, weather, and temperatures fluctuate. Living near the woods, I observe the fauna and their habits, deer, woodchucks, moles, skunks, etc. All of these factors seep into my consciousness and inform my work.

Sassafras Series 3, photograph of drawing on leaves, 10 x 10 inches2020-2021

(Top image: Petal Series Rose 1, 10 x 10 inches, archival pigment print of photograph of rose petals, 2020-2021. All photo courtesy of the artist.)

This interview is part of a content collaboration between Art Spiel and Artists & Climate Change. It was originally published on Art Spiel on February 21, 2022 as part of an ongoing interview series with contemporary artists.

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Jennifer McGregor is a curator and arts planner who brings expertise in ecological art, curating/programing, and public art planning to artist-centered work. For over two decades she conceived place-based exhibitions at Wave Hill. There she activated connections to the environment by producing adventurous projects that explored nature, culture, and site. Through McGregor Consulting she works with clients and collaborators to develop strategies that engage non-traditional public spaces, diverse audiences and dynamic artists.

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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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