Monthly Archives: January 2019

Three Marias

by Megan McClain

The photograph was faded, but the spirit of the figure it contained was bright. A Puerto Rican woman with dark hair and a knowing smile seemed to defy her two-dimensional state as she was passed around the group at Superhero Clubhouse’s December Salon meeting.

The picture was of Maria, Fellow Shy Richardson’s grandmother and a core inspiration for the performance project she and Fellow Karina Yager are working on this season with Superhero Clubhouse. The team is preparing to travel to Puerto Rico in January to explore Hurricane Maria through the lenses of oral history, climate change, and environmental injustice. What was to be an examination of community survival through on-the-ground interviews is now shaped by a personal loss. Shy’s grandmother passed away very recently; however, she continues to influence the heart and direction of the piece.

The team is using three different “Marias” as their creative entry points to explore the displacement of Puerto Ricans following Hurricane Maria. The first, Shy’s great grandmother, represents the legacy Shy inherits through her Puerto Rican heritage. The second, her grandmother, was the conduit through which she understood Puerto Rico in the present. And the third Maria, the 2018 hurricane, created more damage to Puerto Rico than any other in modern times.

At the Salon meeting, while we were introduced to her grandmother through photographs, Shy shared a poem called “Territory.” A love letter to Puerto Rico, the poem captures the connection between the island and New York City as well as the people who mentally and physically traverse these two spaces. When the speaker shares having “heard people wonder aloud about what makes a people so proud to be from a place, a territory,” the answer surges: “…it is the resilience, the resolve to create something new.”

The group discussed how art can be an offering to and for those who might find healing in the work as well as a way to lift up experiences that are so often rendered invisible. As they prepare for their trip to Puerto Rico to conduct interviews, the Fellows will be investigating multiple questions: What does community look like before and after the hurricane? What is left to rebuild and how? What values guide the reconstruction?

Karina, a climate scientist, is also bringing the personal and the global to bear on this project. She is interested in the connectivity of water and following the imagined journey of a single water droplet through the global water cycle. A droplet might live in the ocean for thousands of years before being evaporated and deposited in another part of the world. It might become part of a hurricane and drop through the roof of a family in Puerto Rico. Water plays the role of both a sustainer and a destroyer.

Karina plans to interview climate scientists who study hurricanes from Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. She also noted climate scientist Piers J. Sellers as a personal inspiration. A NASA astronaut and Deputy Director of Science and Exploration at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Sellers created computer models of the global climate system to better understand the dynamics and future of our changing climate. Though Sellers was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, he was determined to use his very limited time left to continue to work to address climate change.

Shy and Karina are looking at the many layers of loss. The collective grief of climate change (characterized by Per Espen Stoknes as “The Great Grief”), the losses of those directly affected by our warming world, and the personal losses of loved ones are in conversation with each other in the work. As they consider the three Marias, Shy and Karina will be exploring questions of identity, resilience, and hope. In the face of so much loss, what do we have to give? How do we heal? What keeps us grounded in the chaos?

(Top image: Maria Montes.)

This is the third of seven blogs in our Building Bridges series about the intersection of environmental justice and performance. These blogs will be responding to a monthly Salon taking place at The Lark in New York where our Fellows, Associate Fellows, and others in the Superhero Clubhouse community are exploring this intersection in their own ways.

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Megan McClain is the resident dramaturg for SHC’s series of Planet Plays, Flying Ace, and other projects and co-leads The Salon. As R&D Program Director at the Civilians, she’s guided the work of over 70 writers, composers, and directors creating original works of investigative theatre. She is also the Accessibility Manager at The Lark. Additional dramaturgical/literary work for Goodman Theatre, Disney Theatrical, Hartford Stage, PlayPenn, Playwrights Realm and more. M.F.A Dramaturgy: UMass Amherst.

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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 Possibility of Generative Futures Through Embodied Practice

by Annalisa Dias

In June 2018, I had the privilege to attend the Theatre in the Age of Climate Change convening hosted by HowlRound. It was a full weekend. While I was there I was grateful to reconnect with Jayeesha Dutta, who is a fierce advocate, artist, and cultural organizer. She and I first met while organizing for the 2017 People’s Climate March, but the HowlRound convening was the first time we really got to learn more about each other’s work.

During the convening, we were given the space to facilitate an activity using dynamized image theatre (from Theatre of the Oppressed) to ask convening participants to embody the concept of a Just Transition.

We asked convening participants first to embody the idea of “extraction” by making a static image using their bodies. Next, we asked everyone to look around the room at all of the varied images we had made and then, using words to name them, reflect back some of the common themes. We made images of crushing, tension, scratching, harm, pain, images with sharp edges and angles. After everyone shook those images off, Jayeesha and I asked everyone to make a new image of the idea “generative.” We repeated the process of naming and reflection, and this time the common themes included lightness, peace, softness, offering, circles, images with gentle curves and upward focus. In the final step of dynamizing these images, we asked everyone to try to find a way, using a simple movement phrase, to transition from their first image to their second image. The goal of the activity is to use the body to explore possible solutions in the move from extractive to generative economies. Rather than spending ages and ages talking about theoretical hindrances in the work of moving toward climate justice, why not use the tools of the theatre in visioning possible futures? This is what we’re good at!

Convening participants being led through an image exercise by Annalisa Dias and Jayeesha Dutta. Photo by Carolina Gonzalez.

What Is a Just Transition? 

The concept of a Just Transition has been developed over the last thirty years. Briefly, it’s a framework that seeks to unify the environmental movement with the labor movement. In many of the climate movement spaces that I’ve personally been involved with, folks prioritize talking about “climate justice” in place of just the problems of “climate change.” The reason for this important nuance has to do with how, historically, the US and international climate movements have been focused on the politics of environmental conservation at the expense of social movements. In many ways, conservationist movements are rooted in anti-indigenous and colonial white supremacist ideology that conceptualizes the environment or “nature” as separate from human activity and relies on the myth of the wilderness in determining environments deemed worthy of saving.

So instead, we seek to transition away from extractive and exploitative economies by using the framework of a Just Transition. This means we must center the voices, stories, and experiences of frontline communities who are most deeply and already impacted by the changing climate, including indigenous peoples, low-income communities, and communities of color. As theatremakers, we know deeply that stories matter. In the face of the climate crisis, this has never been more true. For more information, see this helpful definition from the Climate Justice Alliance.

Convening participants. Photo by Carolina Gonzalez.

What is Groundwater Arts? 

Ok, but now you might be thinking, “Sure that all sounds great, but what do we do about this?” Or, “Easier said than done.”

Well, right. I get that.

I’ve been working (individually and together with my frequent collaborator Anna Lathrop) over the last several years with other artists and with arts institutions on a number of projects related to decolonizing practices and climate justice. Thanks to a seed of inspiration from the HowlRound Convening, Anna and I have made the leap into launching a new consulting and producing collaborative called Groundwater Arts.

We’re an artist-led collaborative, and we want to begin working with like-minded artists to build a generative future through a just and equitable transition away from the exploitation of people and the planet.  We hope to create long-term partnerships, collaborations, and resources that foster accountable theatremaking and powerful alternatives to structural racism, oppression, and inequity in the face of climate change. This vision is directly inspired by the groundwork laid by Storyshift to articulate principles and praxis for this kind of work.

Basically, this means we’ll help you figure out how to implement programs and practices (or assess the ones you already have in place) to integrate a decolonizing framework with a vision for a sustainable future. We’re excited to work with individual artists, arts institutions, and service organizations who believe, as we do, that the arts have a crucial role to play in shifting the narrative around the climate crisis.

Start with the ground. Give thanks for the water. Seed a just future.

A Challenge to Theatremakers

In many ways, Groundwater Arts also comes from another seed. Over the last few years, I’ve continually noted a critical gap between the work we’re doing as a field to dismantle white supremacy and the work we’re doing to build more sustainable, green ways of working. These two efforts are not and cannot be separate.

If you haven’t read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, I’d highly recommend it. She does a phenomenal job of explaining how the global movements for racial justice, indigenous sovereignty and land rights, equitable labor, and the environment are poised to come together in the face of the climate crisis. This is urgent and hopeful work.

So, in the face of the climate crisis (which I see as directly linked to 500 years of colonial violence and white supremacy), here are some steps that I think we, either as individual artists or folks working in institutional roles, can take:

My hope is that these will help us begin to tie together our critical frameworks and align our values with our practice around creating a more just and equitable future.

(Top image: Annalisa Dias and other convening participants. Photo by Blair Nodelman.)

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on September 20, 2018.

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Annalisa Dias is a Goan-American citizen artist, community organizer, and award-winning theatremaker. She currently lives and works in Piscataway territory in Washington DC and grew up in Seneca lands around Pittsburgh. She is a Producing Playwright with The Welders, a DC playwright’s collective; and is Co-Founder of the DC Coalition for Theatre & Social Justice. Annalisa frequently teaches Theatre of the Oppressed workshops nationally and internationally and speaks about race, identity, and performance.

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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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Theatre’s Part in the Quest to Save Public Land

by Ashley Teague 

Making Theatre Off the Grid

My organization, Notch Theatre Company, seeks to engage communities that our brick and mortar theatres are not reaching—connecting in their neighborhoods, in their language, and around the issues that matter to them. Our nation seems stalled in an ever-polarizing inability to engage in productive dialogue, and I believe this requires us artists and cultural workers to find ways of being in proximity to communities with which we might not normally interact. This includes bringing the theatre experience to geographically marginalized and rural communities.

Photo Credit: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness © Brian O’Keefe, Chihuahuan Desert Rivers © Gosia Allison-Kosior, Grand Canyon © Jessica Pope, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument ©, Mojave Trails National Monument © Mason Cummings, Mount St. Helens © Michael Sulis, North Fork of the Gunnison © Jim Brett, Northern Red Desert © Kathy Lichtendahl

If a play falls in the forest and the New York Times didn’t hear about it, did it really happen? 

In the summer of 2017 I met Jessica Kahkoska, a Colorado-born artist now living in New York City, who was troubled by what’s happening to America’s public lands. When she brought it up with fellow New Yorkers, the reaction was: I don’t ever think about public lands. And how the heck can we? On Monday we are marching for immigration reform and on Tuesday we need to protect women’s rights and, as we mourn another young life lost to gun violence, the president signs an order allowing the NRA to conceal donation sources.

The onslaught is so great that it keeps us in a cyclone of constant vigilance and defensive activity. Meanwhile, our administration has unleashed a plan to sell (for $2 an acre) massive swaths of public lands to oil and gas companies—accounting for what would be the largest loss to public lands in American history. The information surrounding these leases is dense and obfuscating and demoralizing. In protest of the leases, a concerned citizen (who asks to remain anonymous) wrote this in a letter to their local government:

I write to comment in opposition to Alternative D, the BLM’s preferred alternative, contained in the Draft Resource Management Plan/Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Colorado Bureau of Land Management Uncompahgre Field Office (“Draft RMP”). Initially, it cannot be ignored that the Draft RMP is incomprehensible. It is incomprehensible in its volume, totaling more than 1,985 pages. It is incomprehensible in its massive use of cross-references. See, e.g., Draft RMP at Table 2-2. It is incomprehensible in its content. See, e.g., id. at Appendix Q (Equations 1-83). And it is incomprehensible in its adoption of a Preferred Alternative without any meaningful explanation, analysis, or justification.

Huh? So grappling with how best to confront this monster problem, Jessica reached out to The Wilderness Society (TWS) asking how theatre might be able to support their mission. It was also around that time Jess saw Notch’s work and enlisted us to personalize the conversation, and make phrases like “See, e.g., id. at Appendix Q (Equations 1-83)” relatable to affected citizens.

TWS has a campaign called Too Wild To Drill, which identified fifteen communities threatened by oil, gas, and mineral extraction on public lands. The campaign asks, “What if we destroyed some of the best wild places in America for short-lived commercial gains?” Inspired by their call to action, Jess and I developed, with TWS support, Too Wild to Drill: An Odyssey. The project strives to create a national discourse as it takes an epic journey through fifteen rural communities across the United States and documents a pivotal moment in America—a moment we may look back on for generations to come as we evaluate the consequences of the current administration’s re-zoning a record number of public lands to the oil and gas industry.

Director Ashely Teague and playwright Jessica Kahkoska venue scouting in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado. Photo by Jack Dwyer.

How it Works

In each community we hold public storytelling events to gather first-person testimonies about the issue. From those conversations, we develop a series of plays to be performed by community and professional actors in the very wilderness spaces that are under attack. The plays are interspersed with facilitated dialogue about local efforts to make change, offering audiences a chance to be in conversation with one another and feel more connected to the material presented, empowering them to become educators and advocates for their neighborhoods. The plays are an adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey, each community representing a section of the full story. Currently, the program is active in the North Fork of the Gunnison Region of Colorado.

This model works because in each town we collaborate with community stakeholders (policymakers, nonprofit organizations, activists, farmers, ranchers, forest rangers, ex-coal miners, and artists) to generate the plays. These individuals become the program’s Community Partners—or advocates within the community—who define and own the play, and sustain the larger activism beyond our production.

In addition to mobilizing civic engagement at a grassroots level, the plays also act as an indelible record of the largest loss to public lands our country has ever seen. They document a community’s unique history and culture at a particularly urgent moment in that community’s journey. Because they are based on true stories, the plays are marked by an authenticity of character and voice, and a sometimes-disarming honesty. They are very real and very accessible, and have the rare power to touch people on a deeply personal level, galvanizing communities to take action.

Photo Credit: Appalachian Trail © Mason Cummings, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge © Florian Schulz, Badger-Two Medicine © TonyBynum.com, Bears Ears National Monument © Mason Cummings, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness © Brian O’Keefe, Chihuahuan Desert Rivers © Gosia Allison-Kosior, Grand Canyon © Jessica Pope, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Mason Cummings

We also feel it is imperative to bring awareness of this socio-environmental issue to cities and directly to policymakers. Jessica speaks frequently about the fundamental disconnect between urban and rural cultures in America, and so this project strives to connect city audiences with stories about National Wilderness areas and the towns that depend on them. We hope (pending funding) to invite communities from each of these fifteen rural towns to travel to Washington, DC, Denver, and our home of New York City to produce the full Odyssey adaptation, where members from each town participate in their community’s section of the play.

Theodore Roosevelt, who, contrary to our current president, believed in protecting and cherishing the land said, “The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will.” Working on this program, we have encountered government employees so fearful of their own government that they are scared to talk to us. Us? I think, Community-responsive theatre makers? “We can’t be seen affiliating with you, it’s just too contentious right now,” one National Park Service official told us. And sometimes I forget, theatre can be dangerous, threatening—wild. Howard Shalwitz, co-founder of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, reminds us that “in repressive societies, theatre has often been aligned with the movement toward openness and freedom. In South Africa, theatre played a role in the struggle against apartheid. In Czechoslovakia, a playwright became the leader of a new democracy.” Theatre is playful and enchanting, transformative and inherently joyful, and when armed with a deep social consciousness, theatre is power.

One brave ranger met with us, anonymously, and told us that a forest is stronger the more diverse it is. “More diverse plant communities have higher functioning and survival rates, they just do, it’s just fucking science.” And while there is probably a more romantic way to phrase that, it makes me wonder, and I put to you: Can we harness the power of theatre to illuminate and be in proximity to the diversity of experiences and perspectives from across our nation (not just in our metropolitan centers), as a means of civil discourse, as a means of moving a functioning society forward?

Too Wild To Drill: An Odyssey strives to bring disparate communities together to influence environmental policy, to document a historic moment, to raise awareness in urban centers of what is happening in our rural communities, on our public lands, in towns you may not have thought to visit but which ultimately may unite us all.

(Top image: A first reading of new plays based on community testimony in Paonia, Colorado. Photo by Jack Dwyer.)

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on September 19, 2018.

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Ashley Teague is the founding artistic director of Notch Theatre Company and a recipient of the Embark Fellowship Award for Social Innovation in Entrepreneurship. Notch Theatre creates community-responsive theatre to drive change around the pressing issues of our time, offering communities across the nation a platform to tell their stories on stage and be their own change makers. In addition to the Too Wild To Drill program, Notch is a participating partner on Remember2019 in the Arkansas Delta, and on FIT, a play about the American eugenics movement of the 20th century that partners with the Intellectual Disabled Community. 

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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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OPPORTUNITY: ‘HUMANS TREATING E-WASTE IN INDIA’ Documentary filmmaker looking for partners

We are looking for collaborators for a Documentary made on E-waste Workers in New Delhi, India.

New Delhi becomes the hub of e-waste collection and dumping ground for the entire country. Not only the country waste, but it is also being imported from outside countries.

Dealing with e-Waste

Over 95% of e-waste generated is managed by the unorganised sector and scrap dealers in this market, dismantle the disposed products instead of recycling it. About 4-5 lakh child labourers in the age group of 10-15 years are observed to be engaged in various e-waste activities, without adequate protection and safeguards in various yards and recycling workshops. Children, who are unaware of the hazards become incapable of working by the time they reach the age of 35-40.
E-waste accounts for approximately 40 percent of the lead and 70 percent of heavy metals found in landfills. These pollutants lead to ground water and air pollution and soil acidification. High and prolonged exposure to these chemicals/ pollutants emitted during unsafe e-waste recycling leads to damage of nervous systems, blood systems, kidneys and brain development, respiratory disorders, skin disorders, bronchitis, lung cancer, heart, liver, and spleen damage.

Having explored the entire process of e-waste treatment in delhi, it can be seen that the workers treating it, are at the most immediate risk. The documentary focuses specifically on the lives of the e-waste workers living and working in the market. What are their experiences, and feelings related to their work? How do they face such hazardous activities almost on daily basis, knowing the fact that this work is actually deteriorating their lives. It is sad to know that these workers are actually paying for the technological privileges enjoyed by modern humans.

Malti, a 60 year old e-waste worker explains how well-informed she is regarding the health hazards of her work, but she still does it daily, due to lack of other opportunities. She says she suffers from breathing difficulties.

Collaborators wanted

The film is still in its production phase and the filmmaker is looking out for the partners – individuals or institutions, who can take this film forward in the right direction. The purpose of this collaboration is that the film could meet its right audience and generate awareness about this impending issue, which is destroying lives somewhere in the world.

Watch the short version of the film and contact the filmmaker Gagan Singh if you are interested in collaborating.


Share your news!

This story was posted by filmmaker Gagan Singh. Creative Carbon Scotland is committed to being a resource for the arts & sustainability community and we invite you to submit news, blogs, opportunities and your upcoming events.

The post OPPORTUNITY: ‘HUMANS TREATING E-WASTE IN INDIA’ Documentary filmmaker looking for partners appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.

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Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

Go to Creative Carbon Scotland

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Artist Commission: Your Point – External treatment and internal wayfinding

The Point, owned and managed by Eastleigh Borough Council is undertaking an Arts Council Funded Small Capital grant programme called Your Point throughout 2019. As part of this refurbishment and transformation, one of the strands of work is to light up the building from the outside making it more visible to visitors, audience and place it firmly as a vibrant cultural destination in Eastleigh town centre. The commission will also encompass internal wayfinding to ensure once visitors are within the building they can orient themselves and navigate from place to place with ease. This commission wishes to enable the design & implementation of a digital lighting treatment to the outside of the venue to make it visibly bolder using artist designed lighting and continue the work inside the building to ensure a connection between the external and internal environments.

Please send your submission digitally in PDF format by email to sacha.lee@eastleigh.gov.uk
By 12 noon on Monday 4th February 2019

The total budget for this work is in the region of £20,000 exc VAT. This is inclusive of design, materials, installations, all associated fees and expenses.

ARTIST COMPLETING HER 20-YEAR QUEST TO PAINT ALL THE WORLD’S OCEANS

Danielle Eubank’s 20-year quest to visit and paint the waters of every ocean on Earth will be complete in early 2019, when she ventures to Antarctica. This, the Southern Ocean, will be Eubank’s fifth and final ocean to visit and will cap her decades-long quest to paint every ocean on the planet, hence the name of her project: One Artist Five Oceans.

“Painting all of the Earth’s oceans is about showing, through art, that the oceans sustain us – literally and, for me, artistically,” says Eubank. “There is a unifying preciousness amongst these bodies of  water – and the people and animals that rely on them.”  

A Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant awardee and a member of The Explorer’s Club, Eubank’s relationship with ocean water began as a young girl growing up near Bodega Bay in Northern California. In her travels as a young artist, she was captivated by bodies of water. She focused on painting water in its myriad conditions, refining her techniques of abstraction and realism until she was able to render their ephemeral qualities in her own style.

Eubank’s 20-year quest to paint all five of the planet’s oceans started in 2001 in Andalucia, Spain after a bicycle accident forced her to abandon her travels and spend time in a fishing village, painting the Atlantic coast. This work led to an invitation to serve as the expedition artist aboard the Borobudur Ship, a replica ancient Indonesian vessel that rounded the Cape of Good Hope sailing from Indonesia to Ghana, in 2003-4. 

The experience cemented her commitment to paint the five oceans of the world and in 2008-2010, she sailed on a replica of a 2,500-year-old Phoenician ship that circumnavigated Africa, a trip originally made 500 years before the birth of Christ. Eubank most recently (2014) sailed aboard a barquentine tall ship on an expedition to the High Arctic that took her to the northernmost human settlement on Earth. 

In each of these journeys, the vessel she sailed on in the open sea inspired her to view the bodies of water in exciting new ways, capturing each ocean as an entity, with her work portraying individual portraits of mood and emotion. 

In February 2019, she is embarking on a rare voyage to the Southern Ocean, the fifth and final ocean for Eubank to visit and capture. This journey will complete her life-long quest and will inspire the creation of a landmark series of ocean paintings which will be exhibited beginning in 2019.

Eubank is exploring the consequences of the human footprint, including climate change, on seascapes all over the world. The body of work simultaneously communicates the preciousness of water and the impact of humans on the environment.

www.oneartistfiveoceans.com


Background:

The surface of the planet is approximately 71% wáter.

There are five oceans on Earth, as follows:  Arctic, Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Southern.

Boroburdur ship at www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borobudur_ship

The ship Phoenicia at www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenician_Ship_Expedition

Barquentine tall ship at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barquentine

Using Art to Empower Climate Action

by Susan Israel

I began thinking about using public art to engage people on climate issues in 2008. I was late to the party of climate artists, but not as late as the general public. I was practicing architecture at the time, and trying to build a green practice when I realized that I could offer green choices, but the client was the ultimate decision-maker, and there was little will to choose green. I heard confirmation at conferences – we have solutions but there is little interest in using them. We needed culture change on a massive scale, and I decided that I could have the greatest impact by working on that. I wanted to make a series of public sculptures that would generate renewable energy to create dialogue about renewables because data, and the way it was presented, clearly was not reaching people. In the US, there was widespread doubt about the veracity of climate change. When I would tell people of my idea of using art for climate engagement, they would look at me, puzzled. Art and climate?

ASK, Boston, MA, 2016.

Times have
changed. Although it may seem like Americans are still skeptical, according to a
report by Yale University
, 70% of Americans believe that climate
change is happening, and 62% are worried about it. Now when I talk about
climate engagement using art, people nod enthusiastically and even help make it
happen – “yeah, we want that.” I never did make the sculpture series, but instead
make ephemeral projects which can be done quickly, cost effectively, and are
scalable.

The first scalable project that I made was Rising Waters, which marks, in natural and built landscapes, future flood levels due to sea level rise and storms. The project is simple and direct, boiling down complex projections to three data points that you can relate to with your body as you walk past the lines. A lot of experimentation and 16 installations led me back to where I started – simple lines. Students helped make many of the installations, and going forward they will be made with local Rising Waters Chapters. The installations carry a URL to my website resources page which lists individual action items and links to research and other organizations.

Climate communicators – including climate artists – face a dilemma: show problems or show solutions? While it is tempting to show the problem, because that is what motivates us (climate activists), I try to link the impacts of climate change to information about personal actions. Climate change is a terrifying existential threat. Most people just want to shut it out, so only showing the problems can be self-defeating. But sometimes showing only solutions can make people feel like it is not an urgent problem, or they don’t need to take action.

Rising Waters, MacMillan Pier, Provincetown, Massachusetts, 2015.

Like many
climate artists, I turned to art so I could communicate information in a way
that allows people to absorb the message before they shut down, to appeal to
their emotions, and make data intuitive and personally relevant. We need
“both/and:” to show solutions alongside problems, empowering people to act.

ASK was an outreach project for the German Embassy and Transatlantic Climate Bridge that shows personal contributions to solutions. I made pith helmets with tiny wind turbines and sandwich boards that said “I’m a scientist, ASK me about climate change.” Companion information cards included individual action items and “Facts vs Myths” about the costs and benefits of renewable energy and aggregating small actions. I made ten sets, and volunteers wore them at public events. I addressed the question we hear so often – “the problem is so HUGE, what can I do?” While it seemed perhaps desperate to resort to one-on-one conversations, it really appeared to work. People would laugh at the hat, and then ask a question. The humor put them at ease, and allowed them to be receptive.

MISSING!, Boston, Massachusetts, 2016.

My projects
invite, and sometimes require, participation, engaging people at the outset and
providing some social buttressing. Rising
Waters
, Ask, and MISSING! involve people in the
making/distribution of the art, and give information about possible actions. With
MISSING!, people make missing pet
posters about endangered species. The activity is always offered in a social
group setting like public events or workshops. While they are deciding which
animal to draw, participants browse information about endangered species, effectively
learning without realizing it. By the time they finish their poster, I am
hoping they have made the analogy between their pet and a wild animal. Why do
we make a distinction between animals we care for and those we don’t? At the
end, they take home the poster to make copies and post in their neighborhood in
an effort to educate others. On the poster is a URL pointing to educational
resources on my website. Simple, direct, and fun while learning about
biodiversity, extinction and possible actions.

The response has been enormous and gratifying. So many people have told me how they remember the installations and have taken steps to have a lasting impact on climate change. I meet people who say they saw Rising Waters and now, whenever they are near the water, they wonder: “Where will the water be? How high and when?” These positive reactions keep me going.

MISSING!, Harvard Arts First, Cambridge, MA, 2016.

(Top image: Rising Waters, Courthouse MBTA, Boston, Massachusetts, 2014.)

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After 20 years of practicing architecture, Susan Israel founded Climate Creatives to make environmental issues accessible to the public, empowering and inspiring people to take action. Previously, she was a Founder and Principal at studio2sustain, Energy Necklace Project, and Susan Israel Architects. She is a licensed Architect, a LEED AP, ArtWeek Advisor, and long-time member of the Harvard Alumni Association Board of Directors. Susan speaks at events nationally and internationally. She holds an A.B. from Harvard College, Master of Architecture from Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and attended the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston.

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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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‘Connected by a Thread’

Arts Territory Exchange Residency in Sustainable Practice.

Submitted by Gudrun Filipska

The ARTS TERRITORY EXCHANGE is an organisation which facilitates creative exchange across borders and works with artists in remote locations and those whose work explores ideas of place, territory and environment. ATE’s work involves the pairing up of Artist’s across the world in creative long distance correspondences.

The first ATE Residency in Sustainable Practice took place on Art Aia’s Eco farm in Friulia, Italy this September and ran in conjunction with the Pordenone Litterary festival. The CSPA advised on the project and Meghan Moe Beiticks was on the selection panel alongside Veronica Sekules, art critic and curator at GroundWork Gallery, UK. Kelly Leonard in Australia and Beatrice Lopez in Norway had been corresponding digitally and by post for a year before they were selected by the panel and had developed an intriguing body of weaving and text based works forging a dialogue between their respective locations.

The idea behind the residency was for participants of the ATE to be able to meet face to face and spend a week intensively developing the work they had already begun, with specific focus on ideas of sustainability in its material and conceptual forms. The artists were provided with a series of contextual writings on ecology and arts practice and were encouraged to engage with some of the CSPA’s back editions.

Art Aia’s Eco farm in Fruilia provided an interesting backdrop through which to engage with ideas of sustainability extending beyond the materiality of the art world, the artists were able to visit vineyards and factories and discuss the crossovers of culture and sustainable agriculture with their host Giovanni Morassutti. Giovanni says his Art Aia residency space has its interests in ‘Creating the kind of connections between people that lead to collective civic action, political expression, community dialogue, shared cultural experiences’.

The artists already had shared interests in textiles, weaving, and installation as performative action in outdoor settings, performances which have political dimensions beyond the traditional uses of their chosen materials. Kelly installs woven works in the landscape around her home town of Mudgee, Australia – a location threatened by the open-cast coal mining. Her works are conceptual and ephemeral referencing 1970’s activist stitchers such Kate Walker and more contemporary iterations such as ‘Yarn bombing’, subverting the very domestic history of women’s tapestry weaving and stitching. They are guerrilla actions with serious messages about climate change and the destruction of habitats, stitched messages such a ‘resist’ and ‘Regent Honey Eater‘ – yet the works are sensitive to the local environment – photographed and then removed. This respect for the environment and the responsibilities of the artists within it was shared with co-collaborator Beatrice Lopez with her own practice, placing temporary compositions within the Norwegian landscape.

Beatrice and Kelly had already developed a number of ideas during their ‘digital’ and postal collaborations and began to adapt them in relation to the Italian landscape and residency space. Kelly Leonard says ‘Our year of working together in the virtual space meant we had a foundation to draw from when we met, we had a type of creative short hand already established’. Meeting in person the artists noted their physical differences in terms of, weight, body shape and age.

‘Sketch for a performance for two people’ Image Courtesy of the artists.

In the documentation of the performance works undertaken at the residency their height difference is particularly apparent, adding an interesting extra dimension to their performative works.

The artists made site responsive work in relation to a number of agricultural sites they visited, Beatrice says, ‘ Following a performance we did at the local biological vineyard, where we walked with a filtering fabric between us in front of a large deposit of processed soya that was used to create bio energy. The performance emphasised the necessity to filter and re cycle. It was also symbolic for our shared bond and collaboration for a sustainable future. The fabric was then hung up in the gallery space along with residue of soya.’

Installation in Art Aia Project space. Image courtesy of the artists.

Beatrice and Kelly share common interests in the politics of place and post colonial narratives, both researching, and feeling affinity with, the indigenous cultures of their homelands, Kelly, as an Australian of European heritage, acknowledging the cultural authority of the Wiradjuri people as the traditional owners of the land in which she makes her work.

Throughout their time working together the artists have used the phrase ‘Connected by a Thread’ as a motto through which to explore environmental causality and potential for spiritual affinity. In researching the cultures of Huichol Indians of South America, Beatrice had previously begun to work with ideas of ‘offerings’ made to the elements of the earth as a way of re dressing a balance tipped over by a culture’s obsession with production at the expense of the environment.

The Motif of the ‘offering’ is one which also comes through strongly in their collaborative work and is felt on a number of levels beyond symbolic reparations to nature. Their works are offerings to an audience, documents of performative actions, and act as residual templates of the artists physical experiences with the natural elements they work with. Regarding their work ‘Prayer Wheel’, one can imagine the performative and repetitive actions which led to its creation; the collecting of local grasses, the tying of grass bundles, positioning grass and read heads in a circle, winding sticks with colourful yarn… each wrapped stick containing a written instruction for an immersive call to action; referencing the prayers contained in a traditional Buddhist Prayer Wheel and offering potential for audience engagement.

‘Prayer Wheel’ Image courtesy of the artists. Art Aia Project space.

The ideas of repetitive and ritualistic practices are followed through in the other works made on the residency, In ‘Interconnected Walk’ the two artists walked over a three day period, in two large intersecting circles similar to a lemniscate symbol. (See a short Video documenting part of the performance Here). The work makes obvious reference to walking artists such as Richard Long and Hamish Fulton but, is conceived as a walking performance for two. Watching the artists courteously side step each other as they cross paths at certain intersections is touching, saying perhaps more about their growing relationship with each other than the land scape they are marking with their repetitive footsteps.

In ‘Soft Touch’, Soft white Icelandic wool brought to the residency by Beatrice, rests on top of local detritus, broken leaves, feathers and sticks. The piece evokes both a nest and alter – the clean pristine wool, an offering to temped hands, to touch and lift its threads.

Another work ‘Water talks’ was made by recording ambient sound of water near to their residency accommodation, a land of damp earth and agricultural irrigation ditches. Overlaying the sound of water, the two artists recite a poem by Norwegian Poet Lars Saabye Christensen, Kelly in English and Beatrice in Norwegian.


The sound piece ‘Water Talks’ housed in a metal frame structure interwoven with Puzzlegrass and Reed heads.

Image Courtesy of the artists.

A further work ‘South North’, makes connections between the three countries, Norway, Australia and Italy; a silhouette of Kelly traced in pebbles is connected by a thread which runs across an antique map of Norway, out over the lintel of the window, into the Italian countryside… As well as connection between the three locations, disjunctures were also keenly felt, departing Australia at a time of drought, Kelly was shocked by how verdant Northern Italy was, saying, ‘I found the area of Italy to be too green, too rich, too comfortable…’. The impact of climate change is felt very differently in Europe, not as urgently perhaps, although a short train journey from Art Aia’s residency space, sea levels rise around a sinking Venice.

About the artists.

Kelly Leonard

I first learnt to weave as a teenager from a German Master Weaver, Marcella Hempel,  in Australia. My art practice has been re-activated since moving back to my home-town two years ago; moving from a traditional craft based medium to one that is highly conceptual, collaborative and moves across art forms responding to the environment. My work is very much informed by environmental philosophy which provides a context for both making and showing the work.

I weave on a European floor-loom what I call props for the environment which are placed in site-specific locations around  Mudgee, photographed and then removed. The locations are chosen because they are under stress from the impact of the open-cut coal mines operated by the big coal mining companies. The images are exhibited on-line and one of  my goals is to develop some alternative broadcasting methods to reach a wider audience in the near future. The work I make is pretty much process driven and I derive a lot of satisfaction from thinking of the environment as a collaborator and audience.

I make work in Wiradjuri Country whose sovereignty was never ceded, I walk on traditional land.  I try to consider all aspects of a landscape by: how it smells, tastes, feels, sounds and the multiple narratives embedded into it. The landscape is never passive, always watching me make work.  It is also a collaborator, helping me to shape the work.

Beatrice Lopez

Beatrice is an artist that works in different mediums such as painting, installation and sound. Gaining a BA from Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti in Milan as well as an exchange from the Pratt Institute in New York. She has had a solo exhibition entitled `Ritual Lines` at Art Licks festival and taken part in various group exhibitions through institutions such as White Space gallery, MAMU galleria and most recently at Galleri Vanntårnet. Through her abstract paintings in ink and soft pastel, fleeting textures appear reminiscent of inner visions and organic forms. Her multimedia works are placed in nature, using thread and organic material to create curious compositions. Her continuous interest in nature and topographies has led her to take part in the Arts Territory Exchange, an ongoing collaborative correspondence project based on nature, ecology and topographies. Exchanging ideas by post with the artist Kelly Leonard based in Australia. They met for a one week residency this fall made possible by CSPA and ATE. Beatrice participated at Performance Art Oslo event `Contemplating landscape through art` this year at Steilene in Norway. Beatrice was born in 1986 and is currently based in Oslo.


Holding the ATE residency in Sustainable Practice at Art Aia In Pordenone was an attempt to forge connections between artists, farmers, eco entrepreneurs and members of the local rural community. A weaving together of conceptual and material iterations of ‘sustainability’, interests which ATE plans on developing in various forms and in different locations in future years. Thankyou to Beatrice Lopez and Kelly Leonard for their participation in this residency.


An Interview with Artist and Writer Susan Hoffman Fishman

I hope you and your loved ones are having a peaceful beginning of the year. 

This month, I’m thrilled to share a fascinating interview. Meet Susan Hoffman Fishman, an artist, painter, and writer whose work has been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the United States. Her latest projects focus on the threat of sea-level rise, the plastic in our oceans, and predicted wars over access to clean water. In 2018, her work was as resonate as ever.

You work with several different kind of materials. Please tell us about why and how you choose the materials you work with.

The materials I have used in my mixed media paintings have included: acrylic, pieces of documentary and original photographs, plastic, graphite, oil stick, charcoal, mesh, rags, cords, handmade papers, wallpaper, pieces of my old paintings that have been cut into sections and numerous others. For our collaborative installations and public art projects, my co-artist, Elena Kalman, and I have used polycarbonate film, parachute cord, corrugated cardboard, crayons, colored pencils, decorative papers and lengths of 2 x 4 lumber.

Because all of my work addresses social, cultural or political issues, I choose the materials for a given painting or installation that will enhance the content of and emotional reaction to the piece. For example, as part of my recent body of work entitled, Plastic Seas/Rising Tides, I completed a painting measuring 4 feet x 6.5 feet that is meant to pair the rising tides of plastic in our oceans with the rising tides of refugees seeking safety from drought, famine, violence and other environmental or political disasters. For that painting, entitled Rising Tides, #3, I used pieces of multi-colored plastic shopping bags from local stores that are swirling around and between waves of small World War II and contemporary photographs of refugees from all backgrounds and geographic locations (as well as graphite and oil stick). The result is a powerful, large-scale image of a roiling, abstract, plastic-refugee sea referencing the two critical rising tides currently impacting our world.

Much of your work addresses climate change and ecological disaster. What draws you to these topics?

For all of my career, I have focused my work on major events and situations that provide an insight into human behavior under duress. Early on, I completed a large body of work on the Holocaust (a catastrophe that has no precedent for the evil that was perpetrated against a single religious group) and its impact on 6 million victims. Later, in a series of paintings that I called Waiting Rooms, I addressed the intense fear and isolation that occurs during the process of waiting as disaster looms.

Then, in 2011, as I watched the waves caused by the tsunami originating in Japan travel throughout the world and reach even the shorelines of the western United States, it struck me in a visceral way that all of us are connected to one another, regardless of our religion, economic status, geographic location or culture, by what happens throughout the world to the air, water and land. That event was the catalyst for developing The Wave, a national, interactive public art project on water, a series of paintings and other work related to climate change, which ultimately became my primary focus.

Do you participate in climate activism beyond your artistic work?

Yes, I do, though primarily with groups that are concerned with water issues. Most recently, I participated in efforts by Save Our Water CT to prevent the Niagara Bottling Company from extracting 1.8 million gallons of water a day from the reservoir in my home town that supplies water to the Greater Hartford (CT) area. The deal, made in secret between the Metropolitan District Commission and Niagara, was done without regard to the needs of the local population in times of drought and will provide the bottling company with massive amounts of water at a marked discount from consumer prices.

The ultimate goal of Save Our Water CT, which has grown from a local group of volunteers to a statewide presence, is to “(1) support passage of the State’s first-ever State Water Plan; (2) prohibit discounted water rates and clean water project charges for water bottlers; (3) establish a permitting system for large commercial water bottling; and (4) prohibit the export of bottled water out of state when a Drought Warning is in effect.” I am participating in this effort to safeguard our water because I see it not only as an issue of local import but one, which in this time of climate change and its impact on global water reserves, that is playing out in many ways all over the world. At its core are three fundamental questions: Who ultimately owns the public’s water supply? Who gets to decide how that water is allocated? And what is our moral and civic responsibility to protect this vital public resource?

I was especially struck by Genesis Redux, your artist’s book on climate change. How did this project come about?

I undertook this project at this time primarily because of personal circumstances. In August of this year, I tripped over a concrete parking barrier and broke my kneecap, arm and nose just two days before I was to attend a retreat with the other four core artists/writers for Artists and Climate Change. Although very disappointed that I couldn’t attend the retreat, in pain and totally immobilized, I was determined to use my enforced convalescence in a constructive way. I normally work on large-scale paintings and installations but had been contemplating an artist’s book on climate change for a while and since I needed to work on a project that would accommodate my limitations, this was the time to do it. For those who are interested, I’ve written a post about the making of the book that was published on November 15, 2018.   

What do you hope viewers/readers take away from Genesis Redux?

I purposely left the ending of the story unfinished because I want readers/viewers to realize that each and every one of us needs to participate in solutions that limit the effects of climate change. We cannot leave it to political leaders who have their own political agendas to fulfill (most of which do not coincide with environmental reality). By using biblical language to describe the apocalypse that will come should we do nothing, I am suggesting that this new catastrophic “flood” will have been caused by the same evil, greed and lust that precipitated the flood in the story of Noah and his ark. Using simple images and text, my goal was to provide readers with a poetic and visual version of how we got in this mess in the first place. 

What’s next for you?

I have three projects in the works. The first is a major series of large-scale paintings that depict an abstract, chronological history of water from the origin of the planet to the present day, including references to water in various cultures and religions. The second project is a new interactive public art project on climate change and the third is another artist’s book. I’m also continuing to write a monthly series of posts for Artists and Climate Change, entitled, Imagining Waterwhich highlights artists of all genres who are working with the topic of water as a focus of their work and I’m researching publishing opportunities for Genesis Redux.

Read more about Susan Hoffman Fishman at her website.

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 Deputy Publisher of Guernica magazine and Senior Editor of the Chicago Review of Books. Her writing about art, culture, and climate has appeared in the Village Voice, the Los Angeles TimesPacific Standard, the New Republic, and other places. She is also the editor of the monthly newsletter “Burning Worlds,” which explores how artists and writers are thinking about climate change. She holds a PHD in English and is the recipient of a CLIR/Mellon Library of Congress Fellowship. Read more of her work at AmyBradyWrites.comand 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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Poet Tyree Daye Writes on Ancestors, Floods, and Justice

Joining us in The Art House this month is North Carolina poet Tyree Daye. Tyree weaves together stories and voices from his family. He artistically expresses the collective trauma they have experienced and the deep insights passed down. Rivers, water, and flooding continually come up in his book of poetry titled River Hymns. Tyree talks about his poetry and reads both excerpts from the book as well as new poetry. His second book of poetry is coming out in 2020 with Copper CanyonPress. Tyree Daye is the winner of the 2017APR/Honickman First Book Prize for his book River Hymns (APR, 2017). He is a 2017 RuthLilly Finalist and Cave Canem fellow, and longtime member of the editorial staff at RaleighReview. He received his MFA in poetry from North Carolina State University.

Coming up next month, singer/songwriter, Ashley Mazanec, talks about her album, Let’s Talk about the Weather and shares tracks with us.

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunesStitcher RadioSoundCloudPodbeanNorthern 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 will reissue 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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