A ‘Typical’ Day

This post comes to you from Shrimp Boat Projects

Actually, there is no such thing as a typical day for us. Nothing is ever the same on the bay. But our second season of shrimping got going back in mid-April and we have settled into somewhat of a routine. Now thanks to the photography of our friends David Feil and Oopey Mason,  we . . . → Read More: A ‘Typical’ Day

Shrimp Boat Projects is a creative research project that explores the regional culture of the Houston area. The primary site of the investigation is a working shrimp boat on Galveston Bay which serves as a catalyst for labor, discussion and artistic production. Shrimp Boat Projects is co-created by Eric Leshinsky and Zach Moser, artists-in-residence at the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.

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Turning the Tide, or at least trying to

This post comes to you from Shrimp Boat Projects

The shrimp fleet at Hillman’s Seafood on Dickinson Bayou. One of the few remaining visual cues that shrimping was once a thriving industry on Galveston Bay.

We just got back from Foodways Texas‘ annual symposium event, an incredible gathering that brings together a real variety of people whose work and interests connect them to food as a cultural force. As we learned in attending last year’s symposium in Galveston, this event ends up being much more than a discussion of food traditions and regional culinary practices (although that would probably be pleasant enough). What this event fosters is a rare conversation that engages the key questions of regional culture both broadly and specifically– what is it? why does it matter? where does it come from? what are people doing to appreciate it? It’s a true interdisciplinary discussion that requires a real cross-cutting knowledge.

We were honored to be asked to give a talk about our project within this year’s symposium theme “Preserved”, but humbled by the challenge of this.  We always acknowledge that we are not trying to save the shrimping profession, we are not trying preserve its culture as an artifact, and frankly, we don’t even like to freeze the shrimp we catch!

Of course preserving something, does not need to imply that it becomes static. And with this, we could acknowledge that what we are interested in preserving are the conditions–political, economic, social– that once allowed primary producers (farmers, ranchers, as well as shrimpers and other commercial fishermen) to earn a decent living in confidence, as these ways of working in direction connection to the land are the root of dynamic regional culture. Or alternatively, how do we preserve regional culture as something that is dynamic and not rendered as the content of static museums?

To help us answer these questions, we had met Priscilla Weeks last spring just as we were embarking on our project. An environmental anthropologist working with the Houston Advanced Region Center (HARC), Pris has done a ton of research over the years on coastal communities, both on the Gulf Coast and elsewhere, which tries to assess the threats to fishing-reliant communities and the consequence of declining fishing industries, not just economically but also socially and culturally. Her research, both in the data she’s accumulated and the frameworks she’s developed for understanding the situation, really help clarify that the decline of small-scale commercial shrimping here on Galveston Bay is not unique. It’s part of much larger pattern and really, very little is being done to turn the tide of this. We thought that if we could offer any food for thought to a gathering of food-minded people, it would be to both explain what is exactly at stake in losing the work of bay shrimping and so many other small-scale food production industries, and what we believe needs to happen to truly reverse the trend.

So we asked Pris to join us in making this case and we all went up to Austin to present a talk entitled “The Work of Gulf Coast Regional Food Culture”, which was a small nod to a great essay by Wendell Berry entitled “The Work of Local Culture” where he explains that the existence of local culture relies on the accrual of knowledge that comes from working on the land and dedicating yourself to a place.

With this introduction, here’s an excerpt from our talk (the part delivered by Zach):

“Well so the state of the Shrimp Fishery is clear, it is in rapid decline and in all likelihood will end as a way of life with the next generation of shrimpers not joining the fleet.

We are here today because we believe that embodied in the demise of the shrimp industry is the demise of regionally specific cultures in the face of global capitalism.   With this demise we are not just losing one of the major parts of life that makes it interesting ( “variety as the spice of life” if you will) but also our identities and the potential for an ecologically responsible future.  We are interested in preserving the specificity of gulf coast culture and its potential for a better future.

How do we do this?  What is Gulf Coast culture?  Who gets to define it?
We are more clear on what we do not want to do.  We do not want to save a defined cultural identity. Cultural preservation should not be limited to the practice of curating the cultural attitudes, behaviors, and artifacts of a subjective definition of the region.   This way of looking at culture creates static museums where cultural artifacts lose their meaning to everyday life and become relics of an imagined past.  It turns what we value into commodities to be sold back to us. It allows others free reign to essentialize and degrade what we value.

For defining culture we are interested in culture as an idea, understood through examining our relationship to the land.  Gulf Coast culture is then the relationship to the specific landscape of our region with all of the problems and beauty that we express onto this land.   We do not want to preserve this either as we do not want more refineries or wetlands lost.  Instead we want to preserve the potential for a better future, a richer culture, one that maintains and strengthens a relationship with the land.

We believe that the only way to preserve this potential for culture, as some of you might, is through food.  Not by preserving recipes or even ingredients but by saving small scale food production. We believe that if we want an ethical, sustainable, regionally specific culture we need to preserve the ability for people to have a way of life producing food through a connection to the land.  These are the ways of life that make regional culture specific and unique and with their connections to the land they hold the potential for an ecologically responsible future.  These ways of working are threatened from all directions as you have heard today about shrimping and they need to be preserved.

The local food movements and organic food movements make claims towards a connection to producers but these movements do not have the potential to save regional culture as a living and dynamic part of modern life. This is great work don’t get me wrong.  It has been the only way we could keep shrimping.  But these movements are not enough to save regional culture for two reasons:

First of all the profits and markups of these new markets are not making it to primary producers. The markup is at the distributor and at the restaurants. In addition these markets are tiny only allowing a few people in at a good price. With a little competition the price falls out again. The farmers, ranchers, and fishermen,  I know who have been able to gain access to these markets still just barely hang on.  As a primary producer going organic and/or local does not shield you from global commodity markets.

Secondly these movements have the potential to turn the remnants of these ways of life into more sanitized versions of working class cultures.  (Eric and I being prime examples) A culture connected to the land should be able to thrive on its own not just through the benevolence of consumers. We want culture to be dynamic, participatory, and just.  To do this we need to recreate the circumstances for small scale primary producers to be able to make a living from their connection to the land.

The demise of these ways of working is not natural, there are specific policies, laws, and enforcement priorities that are ending these ways of life.   No one but huge conglomerates turning food into industrial commodities are able to survive.  Food prices are artificially low, with subsidies and the true cost of production being pushed off onto future generations through the destruction of our environment and onto our healthcare system.

Saving the uniqueness and potential of regional culture is a political issue.  It will take organizing and advocacy to save these ways of life as a part of our cultural heritage and future.     For gulf shrimping to be a viable fishery we need to change and/or enforce international trade policies and our own laws.   This will include higher tariffs for subsidised shrimp farm imports, the banning of cancer causing chemicals in shrimp imports, and full accounting of the environmental degradation of these farms.  Then domestic wild caught shrimp can compete on an even playing field.

So in conclusion we ask for the focus of those who value the variety of regional cultures to focus their efforts towards changing the policies that are destroying the ways of life of primary producers.  Doing this will help to maintain the conditions to continue creating distinctive regional cultures and the potential for a  deeper relationship with the land.”

Shrimp Boat Projects is a creative research project that explores the regional culture of the Houston area. The primary site of the investigation is a working shrimp boat on Galveston Bay which serves as a catalyst for labor, discussion and artistic production. Shrimp Boat Projects is co-created by Eric Leshinsky and Zach Moser, artists-in-residence at the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.

Go to Shrimp Boat Projects

The Theatres Trust Conference 12: Delivering Sustainable Theatres

The Theatres Trust, The National Advisory Public Body for Theatres, has launched its sixth annual conference, ‘Delivering Sustainable Theatres’ -the challenge of achieving the triple bottom line.

Taking place on 12 June 2012 at Stratford Circus in London, next to the Olympic Parkin East London, the Conference will explore how theatre buildings are managing their building’s resources and addressing their future sustainability.

With its timing scheduled to take place the day before the ABTT Theatre Show, Conference attendees and sponsors will be able to take advantage of these co-located events, and network with the UK’s theatre sector as they congregate in London.

The 2012 Theatres Trust Conference will address the question of‘ Delivering Sustainable Theatres’looking athow theatres are addressingthe sustainability agenda in theserapidly changing times, and how they are providing a catalyst for social and economic recovery in the communities they serve. Conference speakers, sponsors and delegates will explore how UKtheatres arecoveringthe cornerstones of sustainability and merging green building principles whilst offering unique cultural experiences.The Conference will look at how theatre design, engineering, IT infrastructure and the use of space is changing to help navigate economic pressures, provide space for hospitality and social activity, and meet the challenges of environmental change.

With rising costs of buildings management, cuts to public subsidy and a massive change in the public ownership of theatres-what does it mean to be a sustainable theatre?Is the first rule of sustainability simply to stay in business? And significantly, what of the role of the theatre in sustaining our cultural and spiritual lives?

Four years on from when The Theatres Trust Conference addressed how theatres could become ‘greener’, it is time to explore what has been achieved in terms of sustainable development given the challenges of rising energy costs, tougher building regulations, and even more difficult economic times. A key feature of Conference 12 will be the case studies from the 48 London theatres on The Theatres Trust ERDF funded ECOVENUE project.

Mhora Samuel, Director of The Theatres Trust said, “With theatres facing challenging times ahead, our conference next year will be a really important event for anyone trying to maximise the value oftheir theatre building through redesign or adaptation. As a sector we’ve come so far since our Building Sustainable Theatres Conference in 2008 and I’m delighted that we’ll be looking at some of the success stories since that time. What we clearly and urgently need to do now is establish how we take the three pillars of sustainable development -economic, social and environmental -and relate these to a theatre’s ability to sell a unique cultural experience and make sure our theatre buildings have the capacity to deliver what’s needed for today, and into the future. I’m delighted that we are offering a platform to address this topical issue head on in 2012.”

During the day, up to 250 delegates, sponsors and speakers will debate the subjects raised and in the evening, participants will have the chance to informally unwind at the Conference Reception, drawing together both ABTT exhibitors and ‘Delivering Sustainable Theatres’contributors, sponsors, delegates, and invited guests.

‘Delivering Sustainable Theatres’, presented by The Theatres Trustwill providea high profile platform for companies and individuals in the theatre community to support the better protection of theatresanddemonstrate the industry’s commitment to the sustainable development and cultural influence of theatre in our society today, and into the future.

Just released! Energy Conservation Audits for Six Performing Arts Facilities

Between May and October 2011, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Factory Theatre, Tafelmusik, Tarragon Theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille, and Toronto Dance Theatre/STDT provided a year’s worth of utilities bills for analysis. The Energy Conservation Audits report is the first step in Toronto’s Green Theatres,  a concerted approach to greening performing facilities in Toronto.

Measures taken to green Toronto theatres will result in improved working and public environments – along with significant energy savings over time. Each of the participating companies received detailed, practical recommendations that will help them integrate greening into their facility upkeep and repair and renovation plans.

 Toronto’s Green Theatres is the first arts sector initiative of its kind in Canada and a possible model for other communities. Like all Creative Trust’s work, it was developed collaboratively and will rely on our collective muscle for its success. We thank both Toronto’s Cultural Services and Energy Efficiency Offices, which have been wonderfully supportive of our plans to work across our sector to reduce theatres’ carbon footprints. We hope that our results will act as a catalyst for changing awareness and behavior around one of the most compelling issues of our day.


Making a Splash #ShrimpBoatProjects

This post comes to you from Shrimp Boat Projects

The process of putting the Discovery back in the water began with a traditional christening including the smashing of a bottle of champagne over the bow of the boat.

We are happy to report that after nearly two months of work out of the water, our boat is now back in the waters of Dickinson Bayou…and floating. Prior to the splash, Katy Goodman (Zach’s wife) delivered a rousing christening to an anxious audience of five people, capped with the ritual smashing of a bottle of champagne over the bow of the boat. Following the christening, we once again placed our faith in the boatyard’s trackhoe and John Collins who deftly lifted the boat off its blocks and rolled it back into the water over a couple strategically placed rollers (repurposed telephone poles). As we continue to work nonstop to get our boat ready for action, we’re looking forward to the next big event, actually shrimping!


Shrimp Boat Projects is a creative research project that explores the regional culture of the Houston area. The primary site of the investigation is a working shrimp boat on Galveston Bay which serves as a catalyst for labor, discussion and artistic production. Shrimp Boat Projects is co-created by Eric Leshinsky and Zach Moser, artists-in-residence at the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.

Go to Shrimp Boat Projects

Big Welcome to #ShrimpBoatProjects

We would like to welcome Shrimp Boat Projects to our feed here at the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts. Shrimp Boat Projects is a creative research project that explores the regional culture of the Houston area. The primary site of the investigation is a working shrimp boat on Galveston Bay which serves as a catalyst for labor, discussion and artistic production. Shrimp Boat Projects is co-created by Eric Leshinsky and Zach Moser, artists-in-residence at the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.

We will be syndicating their posts as the project makes progress, highlighting this (agri)culturally system along the gulf coast!

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland rethinking energy-body-technology.

HALO is an autonomous in energy station, a mobile installation to set up in the public space. It is being built with different phases and versions since 2008, following an ethic in eco-conception in the elaboration of the projects.

Halo is conceived as an immersive and interactive experience, being connected in real time listening to the earth and its oceans. It lies in between a scientific zone and a sensitive art zone, a physical and mental exercise zone, but also a meditation zone.

This project links to the Makrolab, Ant Farm‘s Oceania, Dolphin Embassy Sea Craft (1976), as well as Arts Catalyst‘s recent project on research stations in the Arctic, amongst others.

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

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

Go to EcoArtScotland

Institute of Contemporary Arts : Talks : The Climate for Theatre

8 July 2010 –  £5 / £4 ICA Members plus + £1.20 booking fee per ticket in advance

As theatre makers struggle to create the iconic work about climate change, should they borrow the models of local activism practiced by the anti-globalisation movement? Can theatre that inspires change by virtue of its rootedness in real life concerns also connect and inspire on an international stage? Chaired by Chris Smith, previously secretary of State for Culture and now chairman of the Environment Agency, and with speakers including John Jordan, artist and activist and author of We Are Everywhere, this debate examines theatre makers’ attitudes to environmental concerns. Why, unlike AIDS, the conflict between Israel and Palestine or even the global financial crisis, has climate change not inspired a potentially attitude-shifting piece of theatre? Films and literature have tackled the subject through fiction and polemic; where is the theatrical equivalent?

But is there actually a need for a catalyst, a great inspirational moment, or should we just continue at a local level, building from the grassroots up and up? As climate change activists deal with the failure of the Copenhagen talks last year, there is a move away from global mobilisation towards specific and local targets such as particular fossil-fuel power plants or mines, focusing more on local grassroots campaigns, “to start from the bottom” as the Rising Tide spokesman puts it. Should theatre makers take a leaf from the activists’ book and think local? As a subject that touches the daily business of life, is it more appropriate that theatre that addresses climate change and the need for action should itself be created in a local and practical context, intimately connected to its audience or participants’ daily life?

Held in association with Artsadmin, This is the third of four LIFT Debates that form part of LIFT Club at the ICA. These debates aim to explore our new relationship with theatre in the company of international theatre makers, critics and commentators.

Special Offer

Buying a ticket for this event and for the ICA featured LIFT performances at the same time – Revolution Now, Best Before, FML or Oxygen – entitles the purchaser to a discounted ICA Members price on their chosen performance. Call the ICA Box Office for details.

via Institute of Contemporary Arts : Talks : The Climate for Theatre.

Autonomous technology and art in the North < The Arts Catalyst

Zacharias Kunuk and Matthew Biederman on live video satellite link from the Arctic wilderness to Canada House, London, 20 May 2010

The Arctic Perspective Initiative (API) is working towards the construction of free, open, information sharing infrastructures for people living in the Arctic. It is the brainchild of artists Marko Peljhan and Matthew Biederman, and grew out of Peljhan&apos;s 10-year Makrolab project. As the first step, the API is working in collaboration with communities in Arctic Canada to design a mobile work and habitation unit to support seasonally nomadic lifestyles. A prototype is currently being built in Pond Inlet, Nunavut. When complete, the unit will be customisable to suit a variety of needs and uses on the land: from basic survival and safety, to global media streaming, communications, and environmental monitoring.

API is an art project, conceived by an artist and presented in arts contexts, which sets out to highlight the cultural, geopolitical and ecological significance of the Arctic and its indigenous cultures. It is also a network of individuals and organisations working collaboratively on a practical project: a utopian quest for an a &apos;third culture&apos; beyond specialisation and national interests. It it art? It seems to me that more interesting questions are rather: Is this something that art can do? And how do we do it well?

–Nicola Triscott, Director

Read he full article here: Autonomous technology and art in the North < Blog < The Arts Catalyst.

Art as warning: David Olsen’s Vulture

Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of art around these days questioning our relationship with the natural world and the creatures that live in it. Arts Catalyst’s extraordinaryInterspecies series last year contained a series of works in which artists “collaborated” with animals in disturbing ways that disrupted our conventional ideas of the co-dependency of the natural and human worlds.

As part of their excellent Flash Point series “How do arts respond to the natural world?”, art:21 blog has just published an essay by curator Nova Benway on the artist David Olsen, whose work explores the toxic impact we have on the natural world. As part of it he adopts the persona of “Vulture”, dressing in bizarre protective handmade clothing to ape the vulture’s adaptive strategy of becoming resistent to the pathogens that it finds in the decaying food that it finds. His attempts to become animal appear ridiculous.

Benway explains how Olsen then suberges pieces of work beneath the polluted waters of Benway Creek in Brooklyn:

The creek is one of the most pollutedwaterways in the country, and the sculptures are, in a certain sense, tools for healing. Made from natural materials like clay, wax, and rope, they employ humble filtration devices to purify tiny amounts of water, or crystals intended to absorb negative forces. One recent work, Witness (2008), is a seal skull with crystals embedded in the eye sockets. A rope attaches the skull to a glass buoy, so when it is lowered into the water it can float through the depths, “seeing” and collecting information or negative energy, until it is retrieved by the artist. Olsen adopts the identity of “Vulture” for these actions, wearing a handmade protective helmet and suit to mimic the bird’s heightened immune system. Of course, these activities have negligible impact on the rampant pollution of the waterway. Olsen’s deliberate mixing of pragmatic and mystical solutions to the problem further obfuscate their effectiveness, while retaining the urgent desire for change.

Its an interesting idea, and I like the idea of art-as-warning, but I confess the Mad Max apocalypticism of this work puts me off. That it revels  in the aesthetic of decay seems to dent the point it may be trying to make about the awfulness of pollution.

Read art:21 blog’s How does art respond to the natural world series of Flash Point essays.

Pictured: Above, David Olsen as “Vulture”; below, Witness (2008) by David Olsen.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology