Yearly Archives: 2009

Darwin’s tree: the Eureka moment

Tania Kovats’ TREE will be unveiled at the Natural History Museum tomorrow. It’s a special commission for Darwin 200. In an interview with Tom Bailey for RSA Arts & Ecology, she talks about the process of thought that led her to take a thin section from a 200-year-old oak tree. There’s one great section in which she mentions the extraordinary page from Darwin’s notebook,  in which he’s written “I think”, then drawn his first representation of the evolutionary “tree of life”, and then about what it makes her aspire to as an artist:

What, if any, other artistic interpretations of evolutionary theory, or natural history, have influenced your work?

The I think drawing is definitely a drawing that I’ve been compelled by for quite a long time, partly because of how amazingly well it describes a moment of conception. It’s like the idea is happening in front of you when you look at that drawing. In drawing there’s an exchange between thought and the mark that you make, the drawing becomes a trace of that moment. So I think that drawing is so exciting, partly because it’s also very simple. The thing that compels me about Darwin’s evolutionary theory is that you have a really simple answer to a very big, complex question. A lot of the artworks that I feel are strongest (and I strive to do this in my own work) are incredibly simple in essence, but may have many complex readings that can be projected onto them. A dumb art work is one that you can usually talk about the longest. An artwork that has something very simple at its core then lends itself to constant reflection, and lots of layering can go on.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Postlethwaite protest over Kingsnorth

Actor Pete Postlethwaite is considering handing back his OBE if the UK government gives the go-ahead to the Kingsnorth Power coal-fired power station, linking the Kingsnorth issue to the Iraq War protests, the largest in modern UK history. “We tried to stop Tony Blair going to war in Iraq. But this time we’re not having it.”

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Jon Stewart and the Art of Responsibility


This will not be the first place you’ve heard of Jon Stewart’s interview with Jim Cramer, of Mad Money, on the Daily Show. This may be, in fact, one of the last places you’d expect to see it mentioned. This is a blog about environmental art. The Daily Show is a mainstream political comedy show. The interview was largely about finance, investment, and the economic crisis (which are not separate from natural resources, blah diddy you know the drill . . . )

But as comedian, Stewart provided an invaluable service. He called Cramer out. He urged Cramer and his network to use their visibility and connections for the public good, and not in service to investors, corporate interests, or mere ratings. He chided Cramer for misusing his powerful influence.

And that’s the essence of its relevance. At we’re constantly seeing artists who are using their craft as a tool for the public good, whether with education, aesthetic power, or literal utilitarianism. They’re doing it with the planet in mind, defending rivers, forests, communities, connections. Jon Stewart is defending the very nature of work, the transparency of media, and his parents’ retirement fund.

To all of those who voted to cut NEA funding: I defy you to look at the body of work on and not understand the public service that artists provide. Tell me that Jon Stewart lecturing Cramer like our nation’s Cultural Daddy isn’t achingly important. Come to grips with the incredible responsibility that comes with the work of culture. And I say: boo-yeah. Now let’s get some work done.

Go to the Green Museum

Treadmill Bike

I often talk to my students and people in workshops about Ancient Technology. What the term means refers to is old ways of doing things that are simple and forgo electronics. The most important part though is that they strip down systems instead of adding onto existing systems. 

An example of an ancient technology might be using steamed banana leaves for food service, or non-vitrified clay in drink ware that gets smashed and reformed. Both are sterile, both from the about of heat used to prepare them for use. The banana leaf is biodegradable entirely and the cup is truly recycled (as opposed to downcycled, though I guess you might be loose some clay in the process, but It’s just clay)

Ancient technologies are my favorites because they were created out of necessity out of what was available and they’re simple. 

A lot of our green technologies are now systems layered on other systems. Or, the incorporation of one technology into an existing one to make it greener. But, this doesn’t work as well as not making the first one benign in the first place. 

I’ll use Hybrid cars as an example.

By adding a battery into the power train of the car you do decrease emissions significantly. However, battery technology doesn’t last as long as internal combustion technology alone, so the life cycle of the car for the user is less. They would need more cars in the same period of time.

Also, the newness of the technology then asks people to buy new cars. If they already have a working vehicle and it continues to have a life with another user as a used car, you’ve not decreased the number of cars on the road creating emissions necessarily, you’ve added a car that isn’t as bad as another. 

Finally there is also issue of destruction at the end of the car’s life. New systems of disposing the hybrid batteries, or at least expansion of existing systems of disposal make are need to accommodate this new technology. 

And as it continues to evolve, like it will with plug in hybrids, more systems will be created to deal with the effects of changing existing technology. 

On the other hand, another approach to curbing emissions is building infrastructure that doesn’t require a car in the first place. Building an urban environment that is geared towards pedestrians and then added mass transit systems for longer distances that alleviate the need to have a dedicate personal car.

While these infrastructural changes might not be ancient, they do predate cars and thus would predate the issues of cars in their impact. 

As an example of what happens when you unnecessarily add technology onto another, I offer you the Teadmill Bike. It is a bike that instead of pedaling, you walk on a treadmill. 

While the intention is to give you a treadmill gym experience outside, it disregards the point of a treadmill. If you’re on a treadmill you don’t want to walk anywhere, you want to stay put in your gym. 

The better alternative? Walking… or just biking.

I personally hope this was a joke.


The phrase “Earth Peace Mandala” sounds awfully alterna-hippie. Brings to mind sage, and barefoot dreadlocked dancing, and the sounds of, say, Phish, or the Dead. Which sometimes is great for the worms, and sometimes is great for jokes.

Artist Veronica Ramirez created Earth Peace Mandalas along the route of the Sustainable Living Roadshow. She does indeed bless the circle first with sage, but she does not dance around barefoot, and she’s not necessarily a Phish fan. What she does create is a gathering space, a place for people to connect with something slow and beautiful, and she does it with foliage and flower cuttings she finds in each city.

There’s much about a big ol’ flower soil mandala that’s not designed for transport: at every city a series of about 12 boxes, tubs and bags were unloaded: pinecones, pebbles, corn and a heart-shaped rock make up the basic elements of each mandala. In contrast, most other gear can be characterized bu the EZ-up: designed to be lightweight, transportable, quick to set up and break down. When asked about her gear, Veronica simply says, “It’s a process.”

Which is the essence of mandala-making: the process. Traditional Buddhist mandalas are created with colored sand, following intricate lined patterns marked out on a level surface. The act of manipulating tiny grains of sand into endless and repeating forms is a kind of mediation in and of itself.The lines in such mandalas depict the four directions, significant gods, portions of legends, and symbolic colors.

Ramirez just uses sticks and petals. As she works, folks stop by, tuning out the music and surrounding carnival to help her pluck petals, strip branches, sift grains and spread them into a circular devotion of the planet. It gives a moment to pause and reflect, and to wonder for a moment at natural processes.



Go to the Green Museum

ecoartspace opens project room in NYC

After months of discussion, planning and minor renovations, ecoartspace opened our first public space at 53 Mercer Street in Soho, NYC. We are calling the space a “project room,” which will be open to the public on Saturdays and by appointment through the end of June before switching to summer hours (to be announced).

Plans for the space include art exhibitions, salon style discussions, film/video screenings, panels, readings, performances and last but not least an art sale fundraiser event.

The first exhibition in the space is by Simon Draper and the Habitat for Artists Collective, an ecoartspace sponsored project since summer 2008. (see prior blog post for more info). HFA artists include Chris Albert, Richard Bruce, Sharon L. Butler, Ryan Cronin, Simon Draper, Kathy Feighery, Marnie Hillsley, Matthew Kinney, Grace Knowlton, Michael Natiello, Sara Mussen, Steven Rossi, Todd Sargood, Matthew Slaats, Lynn Stein, Dar Williams, Grey Zeien, Donald Kimmel and Flying Swine live Theater. On display is a fully actualized 6 x 6 x 10 ft. “habitat” (shed studio space), re-created from many parts and components by various artists in the HFA Collective’s prior habitats. It is a truly recycled and collaborative effort – as all of the prior sheds were comprised of reclaimed components. The HFA project will remain on view through June before relocating to Solar One’s “City Sol Festival” at Stuyvesant Cove Park on the East River in NYC.

There were 2 separate opening events, the first was “Soho Night” on Saturday March 5th in conjunction with the Soho non-profits spaces – Apex Art, Art in General, Artist’s Space, Dia Art Foundation, The Drawing Center, Harvestworks, and Swiss Institute. All of the spaces stayed open late for an evening of extended exhibition viewing and special programs. The second official opening was on Saturday March 7th all day until 6pm. Despite the fact that the “Habitat” fills up a large central portion of the room, the space was filled with curious visitors for the entire opening. There are several other works on view including a HFA Collective wall of tiles, created by all of the artists for eventual use as shingles on another shed.

ecoartspace also has a private “front room” space where works are on view by several artists including Katie Holten, David Chow, Sara Mussen, Richard Bruce, Joy Garnett, Marnie Hillsley and Todd Sargood. The energy in the room was filled with optimism, many people were discussing the “return of Soho” as an art neighborhood, now that the recession has hit some of the high end shops are already closing – so the neighborhood could “downscale” and allow for more art spaces. This could be a good time for art making that involves artist-driven projects such as HFA, collaboration, sharing of ideas and ecologically inspired art activities – all things that ecoartspace has been promoting for the past 9 years.

images above: inside the HFA shed (top), HFA Collective tile wall, more images to be seen on ecoartspace Facebook group page

Go to EcoArtSpace