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Wilderness: Wild/Bewilder

Posted Saturday September 05, 2015 At 02:14AM . Artists, Blog

In anticipation of my first foray into wilderness last year, I wondered if I would yield to the ‘wild’ of these unfamiliar environs – leaping instead of climbing, crawling instead of walking, screaming instead of talking – joyful escapes from the constraints of social protocols and engineered technologies. Or perhaps, I imagined, I might feel inclined to skulk through the wilderness on tip toe, whispering quietly or refusing to speak to minimize my intrusion into a territory where neither humanity’s greed, abuse, nor its generosity are welcome. Alternatively, I considered the possibility of joining generations of prophets who ventured into wilderness to seek the glory of god. On their behalf I conjured descriptions of wilderness from literature that evoked mysterious light, eternal renewal, and fearsome powers, imagining that this excursion might provide my closest encounter with the divine.

I was reminded of this trip this week when I read a headline  in the Wall Street Journal,  "Nature Runs Wild in Greenwich Village," describing the postage-sized 'wilderness' in Manhattan created, with great care and dedication, by Alan Sonfist. My journey had led me into the vast, unsettled territory surrounding Questa, New Mexico. It was preserved, fifty years ago, by the Wilderness Act, a landmark bill that created the first legal definition of “wilderness” and established the National Wilderness Preservation System that now protects over 100 million acres of land.  Sonfist's artwork is praised in the article for including one 'stowaway elm' that is 40 feet tall. It is not wilderness. Instead, it is an artistic representation of wilderness, bearing the same relationship to the grandeur and expanse of authentic wilderness as a 24" landscape painting might.
 

Immortality as Defined by Jae Rhim Lee

Posted Wednesday August 12, 2015 At 17:15PM . Artists, Blog

By fostering the decomposition of her future corpse, Jae Rhim Lee makes certain she will make a beneficial material contribution to  ‘earth’ (soil) that supports life on ‘Earth’ (planet). The prodigious transformation of inert substances into living matter occurs within the narrow zone where the bottom layer of sky and the top layer of our planet intersect. It is precisely the zone where burial is located.

These contrasting districts opeate on complementary but opposing power sources. The energy that drives the above ground food web issues from the sun, while the energy that propels the soil food web emits from decaying organic matter. Thus photosynthesis and detritus are functionally related.  When these energy sources are synchronized, the bacteria and fungi underground conduct the heavy work of nourishing above ground populations of all kinds. This miraculous assemblage ultimately accounts for every living entity that ever existed on our special planet.


 

Mother Nature or Lover Nature?

Posted Friday July 24, 2015 At 15:42PM . Blog, Eco Issues

Switching metaphors from Mother Nature to Lover Nature indicates a radical shift from relating to nature as a provider, healer, and comforter, to relating to nature as recipient of protection, augmentation, and attention. This supremely special lover thrives on adult mutuality, as opposed to infantile dependence and lack of responsibility. 

According to biologist E. O. Wilson, humans are entering an “Age of Loneliness” because we are not only losing the companionship of non-human species, we are converting opportunities for love into acts of warfare.

Wilson notes, "Step into places of diversity, complexity and abundance and you find yourself going straight into the heart of eros. You encounter love, and from love one is moved to care, and from care to action, and from action to imagining a world without all this violence."

Monsanto Loses!

Posted Wednesday July 22, 2015 At 00:26AM . Artists, Blog

Monsanto GMOs Defeated by Oregon Organic Farmers as Federal Judge Upholds Seed Ban. June 1st, 2015

Beyond congratulating the organic farmers in Oregon for this triumphant victory, this headline may be a game-changer for the GMO industry as a whole. As Steven Rosenfeld reports on   AlterNet:

A coalition of Oregon organic farmers has beaten Monsanto—the corporate agriculture giant—in a landmark federal lawsuit that will make national waves by the way that their rural county banned the use of genetically modified seeds.

The legal challenge brought by commercial farmers who use Monsanto’s genetically modified alfalfa seeds was challenged by the non-organic farmers.Technically, the $350,000 fine is not a lot of money for a major corporate entity. In the fall of 2014, Montano posted total sales of $15.86 billion. At the same time Monsanto reported that the company lost $156 million in that quarter, presumably, one reason is that it spent a significant amount of money to defend the use of GMOs and destroy efforts to require labelling of GMO products. 

Read more at http://www.inquisitr.com/1942875/monsanto-loses-will-pay-350k-to-settle-more-gm-wheat-lawsuits/#34c7vD8J7rE0fdHC.99
 
 

 

Which Myth Will Be Ours?

Posted Saturday July 18, 2015 At 02:15AM . Blog, Eco Issues

The drama that is currentlyunfolding is being played upon a planet-wide stage that reaches far into the atmosphere and into the depths of the seas. It engages the mighty forces of raging winds and torrential rains, shattering earthquakes and collapsing towers of ice, flushes of invasive populations and witherings of beloved species. Consensus holds that the future will not resemble the past. But it is not known if we are heading toward a worldwide ecosystem adjustment or an epic terminous! 

The works of art being created by contemporary eco artists present compelling samplings of material conditions and options. This is an emotional narrative, as fraught with dread and uncertainty as it is invested with optimism and humor. However diverse the outcomes they are imagining, none anticipate a return of the Medieval belief that Paradise on Earth that they envisioned as a congenial climate, abundant vegetation, and perpetual daylight seven times brighter than a sunny day.

At the same time, eco artists hope to avoid updating the mythic tales that describe disasters wrought by angered deities to punish humans for their wanton ways.  The international precedents for this tragic scenario include:

Greek: Zeus sent a flood to destroy humans.

Lithuania: the supreme god Pramzimas saw nothing but war and injustice among mankind so he sent the giants of water and wind to destroy earth.

Egypt: people had become rebellious so Atum destroyed all he made and returned the earth to the Primordial Water.

ONsite / INsight / OUTside

Posted Friday July 03, 2015 At 19:57PM . Blog, Eco Issues

JOIN ME AT OLANA STATE PARK

11 am July 18 or Septebmer 23

ONsite / INsight / OUTside

Tour Guide: Linda Weintraub

Like Frederic Church, the contemporary artists in River Crossings designed their studios to optimize their creativity.  Aesthetics and pragmatics converge in each of their working environments. This tour invites participants to explore the fascinating relationship between an artist’s output and the architectural style, location, window views of the studios in which the artworks were produced.

 

Creativity and Tools: Boom and Bust

Posted Thursday June 25, 2015 At 02:28AM . Blog, Eco Issues

Humans evolved late in the lengthy, intricate, and wondrous progression of organisms that inhabit the Earth.  To this day, evidence of our connection to our less complex ancestors is imbedded in our bodies and brains. But humans are not merely archives of evolutionary history. We have also evolved life-styles that resemble a grand experiment in expanding capacities to remember the past, to analyze the present, to anticipate the future, and to manage the materials that realize these conceptualizations in the physical environment.

The history of strategies humans have devised to provide for their sustenance range from prying out roots with a stick, to excavating millions of cubic feet of earth with giant bucket-wheel excavators. The vast majority of the entries in this diverse accounting of material interactions have either been motivated by self-interest or undertaken to benefit other humans. Such anthropocentrism has been the cultural norm since pre-history. Self-interest, as a driving force, is not unique to the human species. Nor is it necessarily objectionable.  Self-interest is a biological imperative shared by humans, lions, dandelions, and every other form of life. Lions are not venal and greedy when they devour their prey. Likewise, dandelions are not intrusive and imperious when their seeds float on breezes and flutter down on a well-tended lawn. However, humanity’s self-interest seems to earn the adjectives ‘venal’, ‘greedy’, ‘intrusive’, and ‘imperious’ by exceeding its survival needs. The checks and balances of entire eco systems have been thrown out of whack by the unique abilities of people to surpass their biological imperatives.

Bigger. Faster, Stronger. Further. Bolder.

Posted Monday June 15, 2015 At 02:54AM . Artists, Blog

An all-consuming self-interest is not unique to the human species; it is a biological imperative shared by humans, lions, dandelions, and all other forms of life. However, humanity’s self-interest violates biology’s checks and balances whenever we exploit our unique and ever-increasing ability to exceed our biological imperatives. This story begins approximately 12,000 years ago when humans first developed agriculture, cities, architecture, labor specialization, bread baking, beer brewing, personal property, slavery, governance, trade, barter, war, and more. Since then, interactions with the physical environment have been heading, at an ever-accelerating rate, toward ever bigger, faster, stronger, further, and bolder interfaces.

If success of a species is measured in terms of control over conditions of the environment to secure our needs, we are an extremely successful species. But if disruptions to the lithosphere, atmosphere, biosphere, and hydrosphere are taken into consideration, humanity’s controlling activities resemble hubris more than success. The current environmental movement is founded   on the belief that responsibility for the well-being of the non-living environment, dissimilar species, and less fortunate humans is a corollary to the expansion of our powers.

"RACKET! Too Much! Too little!

Posted Thursday May 28, 2015 At 16:04PM . Blog, Eco Issues

Noise is ‘too much’ when it exceeds annoying and becomes debilitating. Noise is ‘too little’ when it appears on lists of environmental concerns. Both terms apply to artists who address noise pollution. Art abounds that offers analysis, reports, and solutions regarding air pollution and water pollution. But noise is missing from their accountings.  Air pollution is typically associated with emissions of harmful chemical gases like carbon monoxide and particulates like soot. Water pollution is typically associated with harmful changes in its physical, chemical and biological properties caused by the release of waste, oil spills, and atmospheric deposition. The racket bombarding the air and the water that is being generated by current technologies is missing from these equations.

Humans have been creating bothersome clamor for a very long time, at least since 1700 BCE when a Babylonian text was written on a clay tablet. The poem relays that the gods were angered because humans were making such a racket, it prevented them from sleeping. The poem, entitled ‘Atrahasis’, intones, “The country was as noisy as a bellowing bull. The God grew restless at their racket”  These celestial beings were so outraged the rude noisemakers that they created an epic flood that they followed by famine and plague.
 

It's Not Natural: The Triumph of the Techno

Posted Wednesday May 20, 2015 At 01:48AM . Artists, Blog

When a polar standing on a chunk of ice floats past an island of heaped e-waste, the scene is set for the conflict between the cost to animals of humanity's fetishistic allure for techno-updates. Marina Zurkow dramatizes the dire environmental consequences of humanity indulging in the newest versions of convenience and fun. This shift in cultural value is also apparent in non-art circumstances.Marina Zurkow <br />The Poster Children <br />2007 <br />Duration: 9-minute loop <br />Medium: animation <br />Dimensions: variable <br />© 2007 Marina Zurkow <br />Courtesy of Marina Zurkow

Consider, for example, the changes made in the latest edition of the dictionary for schoolchildren published by Oxford University Press. Words that were judged to be obsolete were deleted. They included dandelion, beaver, heron, magpie, otter, acorn, clover, ivy, sycamore, willow and blackberry. Words that were considered current, and therefore essential for children to know, included blog, MP3 player, voice mail, and broadband.

The replacements reflected the frequency with which the words would be used by children. These vocabulary shifts signal the wholesale immersion in territories dominated by engineered experiences, and indifference to situations that are not engineered and the species who occupy them.

The rejection of the biological vocabulary for electronic terms provides compelling evidence of the alienation between children and the wondrous world of plants, rocks, critters, puddles, and twigs. Without words for the non-human realm of existence, children can’t conceptualize it. Without such concepts, they can’t become familiar with it. Without familiarity, they won’t respect the dynamic forces that permit life to exist on this planet. Without respect, they won't attend to the non-humans with whom they co-inhabit the planet. Marina Zurkow's polar bears are symbols of multi-species crises. Her islands of e-waste are symbols of humanity's multi-pronged abuses. 

Since human survival depends upon plants and animals, water and air, soil and sun, 'nature' words can never be obsolete. Electronics are luxury items to enjoy after we attend to our non-human relationships. Let us retain these words before they die and require a miracle for their resurrection - if we live that long.  

 

 

 

Diversity Seen and Heard

Posted Wednesday May 13, 2015 At 02:33AM . Artists, Blog

Bernie Krause and Nicole Fournier both derive their aesthetic formulations from actual ecosystem diversity.
Fournier's diversity encompasses a broad range of botanical species - edible, medicinal, exotic, ordinary, plain, cultivated, wild, woody, succulent, etc. She presents these species of plants as a glorious smorgasbord of temptations to sustain and delight multiple species of wildlife and humans. 

Krause also revels in the abundance of natural systems, which he documents and measures through audio recordings of wild places that he has been collecting for several decades, in locations
around the globe. Krause is a soundscape ecologist who combines music and scientific research, attempting to ascertain the health of ecosystems through acoustics. He discovered, that the healthiest and most undisturbed environments have the most acoustic diversity. This is measured in terms of the range of biophany (sounds created by living creatures) and sounds of geophany (sounds created by the physical environment, such as water or wind). The Krause Natural Soundscape Collection consists of more than 4,500 hours of recordings of over 15,000 marine and terrestrial species.  Krause's recordings of pristine sound environments are commissioned as works of art and as science.  He has produced fifty field recording albums from the world's rare habitats. Sadly, over half of these habitats are now either diminished or silent.

Composting Human Corpses!

Posted Monday May 04, 2015 At 01:42AM . Artists, Blog

Nervous giggles or stunned silence - these are the two typical responses to my descriptions of Jae Rhim Lee's Decompiculture Burial Suit. She designed it to accelerate the decomposition of her corpse after she dies, and to decontaminate her remains if her body has accumulated toxins from pharmaceuticals, processed foods, cosmetics, or exposure to environmental contaminants while she was alive. But a recent article in the NY Times reports on a burial system that may be even more extreme in its commitment to replenishing the environment.

Katrina Spade, a 37-year-old Seattle architect is designing a human composting facility. There is no scientific reason why human beings cannot be composted. Farmers regularly compost the bodies of dead livestock, while some state transportation departments compost roadkill.  Spade comments, “Composting makes people think of banana peels and coffee grounds,” Ms. Spade said. But “our bodies have nutrients. What if we could grow new life after we’ve died?”

Spade---Urban-Death-ProjectgUrban Death Project

WATER: Cause for Grieving

Posted Monday April 27, 2015 At 14:56PM . Artists, Blog

The current perspective more than justifies the somber journey of grief and yearning that Steiner and Lenzlinger beckoned museum-goers to undertake in 2009. The message of alarm conveyed by "Pipe Dreams: The Water Hole" becomes more urgent with each passing year. The 2015 World Water Development Report issued by the UN warned that by 2030, the world would face a 40 percent water deficit if the "business as usual" climate prevails. The mounting crisis has numerous sources: increased populations, rampant urbanization, inappropriate agricultural practices, industrial demand, depleting groundwater, deforestation, and pollution.


SteinerSteiner-Lenzlinger-Water-HoleIronically, this sculptural rendition of a 'water hole' contradicts its common celebration as the place where life originated and where animals converge because it provides the opportunity to drink that is essential for maintaining their lives. These popular associations intensify the loss of water, apparent in the muddy, half empty urban reservoir that serves as the focus of this installation.

The mood of grieving is evoked by the blue-tinged light at the entry. Visitors wander through a tunnel made of dried branches and reflective survival foil that leads to a room that epitomizes drought and scarcity. This mood is reinforced by the clutter of parched items. The lack of water is made evident by empty PVC piping, buckets and bottles, handbasins and toilets, bathtubs, bones. They are presented amid misshapen flowers, mops of dried kelp, and crystals.  Urszula Dawkins provides a vivid description of the focus of this chaotic accumulation, "High up and brightly lit is an IV bag, half-empty; a longish tube dangling down into the sterile black sky of the gallery. It drips slowly into a mud-caked depression on a quilt-covered bed, into which a few pipes leading from the installation drain ineffectually. The dried clay and smooth, slurried pool are golden, like the coverlet."


Invitation to Dentists, Barbers, Butchers, Backhoe operators, and Plumbers

Posted Wednesday April 15, 2015 At 17:29PM . Blog, Eco Issues

Today I would like to reverse my usual tactic. Normally, I plead on behalf of eco artists, asserting their leadership position among environmental advocates, providing evidence of their imaginative solutions to environmental problems, and demonstrating their capacity to inspire environmental reforms.

Today, I am offering a plea for leniency regarding their critics.

I am taking the side of scientists, politicians, educators, and others who refuse to entertain the possibility that artists can make significant contributions to resolving current environmental disruptions and avert pending environmental disasters. They have every right to ask us (proponents and practitioners of eco art:
    Why do you feel insulted and rejected when we co not include art in interdisciplinary environmental ventures?
    Why should we include artists when we make lists of those who are eligible for funding, or those who merit comment in media reports?

A PopUP Forest in Manhattan!!??

Posted Friday March 27, 2015 At 01:30AM . Artists, Blog

There might be two artist-initiated forests in Manhattan, but they could not be more different in terms of their concepts and methods.

Alan Sonfist's Time Landscape provides an opportunity for native plant and tree specimens to evolve without human interference in perpetuity. In contrast, if Marielle Anzelone fulfills her vision, the "PopUP Forest: Times Square" she has proposed will disappear three weeks after its sudden appearance, leaving behind the memory of a bizarre anomoly, effluents from the fuels combusted to realize it, the depleted forest that provided the temporary botanical specimens, and exorbitant bills (the cost is estimated at $1.7 million).

Anzelone promises that her project "will give visitors an immersive natural area experience in the most un-natural place on the planet. In the middle of the night, we'll transform a public plaza in Times Square into a large-scale temporary nature installation. Towering trees, native wildflowers, and ferns underfoot will bring a piece of wilderness to the heart of Manhattan.

The hustle and bustle of Times Square will momentarily slip away with flowering shrubs, mosses, and understory vegetation providing beauty and important sustenance for migrating birds and pollinating insects. The cacophony of street noise will be quieted and replaced by a live stream of wildlife sounds from nearby woods. Visitors' sensory experiences will be enhanced through guided woodland walks, interpretive signs, and hands-on educational activities for children. Then - after three weeks - it will all disappear. Reaching our goal of $25,000 will fund the critical first steps of this project. The Kickstarter funding will empower us with very basic design, marketing and outreach materials and a small-scale prototype to help us move toward securing the estimated $1.7 million cost of PopUP Forest."

One gets the impression that Anzelone has cast the botanicals in the roles of aspiring starlets awaiting their debut on Broadway.

A few comments from me, a bewildered reader: