Monthly Archives: July 2020

Tiny Coronavirus Stories: ‘What is the rain to give me permission to forget?’

By Ahmed AliCeline PirardClaire YuanPhyliss Merion Shanken

Reader-submitted stories of the COVID-19 pandemic, in no more than 100 words. Read past stories hereSubmit your own here.

LESSONS I DIDN’T LEARN ON ZOOM

The pandemic has taught me that ugliness is the only definition of beauty. That beauty can be found in the most mundane places. That the mirror is beautiful. That life pivots on the balance that we ourselves define. That we can be as happy as we can be sad. That the half glass is only as empty as it is full. That God lives through nature and nature lives through us. That Little Earthy feels just as we do, and takes breaks just as we do. That love is essential. That love is essential. That love is essential.

— Ahmed Ali (Tubli, Bahrain)

Regression to nature.

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CORONA CONNECTION

My glasses fog; my mask sucks in as I breathe. My toddler grandson looks at me but can’t see my smile. He cries. “We’re safe. We’ll social distance. Spread antiseptic after each bathroom use.” The baby plays on the floor ten feet away. I wave. I readjust my seat cushion so I won’t be in pain like last night. They wipe down the dinner dishes, tiptoe to me; hand me my plate. I take the other end while they scurry back to the safe zone. After four days of “being with” my children, why am I so depressed?

 Phyliss Merion Shanken (Atlantic City, New Jersey)

Safe enough?

* * *

COVID: A BURDEN, A REMINDER

Ding! Phone notifications make my stomach drop. What’s wrong? My touch ID fails, my mind is flustered. Preseason cancelled? School cancelled? Where will I go? “It doesn’t matter,” I convince myself on those nights, overwhelmed with guilt. Hands chapped, touch ID fails again. Anxiety weighs heavy. Is my family safe? Is she home yet? Can mom wait without a doctor? Now an empty summer approaches. I helplessly want to help. Do I risk my safety for loved ones? I’d be okay… right? Still, there’s beauty in disarray. Coronavirus reminds me of what matters, what I have. I’m vulnerable, but grateful.

 Celine Pirard (Cologny, Geneva, Switzerland)

Views of time passing.

* * *

AN EVENING RAIN-SHOWER

Yesterday, I saw the heavens open up. I stood in the grass, arms uplifted, and marveled at the gentle teardrops streaking through the air. For a moment, I forgot who I was. For a moment, it was like I didn’t exist.

That night, as I sat in my room accompanied by the groaning sky, I thought I had been deceived. Amidst our crumbling world, an unfeeling moment feels like a betrayal. Today, impulse leans us toward hyperawareness – not apathy.

What is the rain to give me permission to forget? What is the rain to patch that hole?

 Claire Yuan (Woodbridge, Connecticut)

(Top photo: A rainy day captured from a place I have missed this quarantine.)

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This series is edited by Thomas Peterson. One of the editors of Artists & Climate Change, he is also a theatre director and researcher whose work focuses on the climate crisis.

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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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Black Artists and Storytellers on the Climate Crisis: Introducing a New Series

By Thomas Peterson

The climate crisis is intrinsically linked to environmental racism – there can be no climate justice without racial justice.

Like most of this country’s major institutions, the mainstream American environmental movement is engaging in a much-needed and long-awaited reckoning with its history of racism and white supremacy, with what Van Jones called “the unbearable whiteness of green.”

While Black American leaders have been trailblazing innovators in climate science and activism for decades, they have often gone unrecognized by white media and institutions. Furthermore, despite the disproportionately white public face of the environmental movement, Black and Latinx Americans are far more concerned about the climate crisis than their white counterparts, and are much more likely to express willingness to take action on climate.

This imbalance in mainstream recognition for Black leaders in the climate movement also extends to Black American artists and storytellers engaging with the climate crisis. Across nearly every imaginable form and medium, Black artists are making remarkable work on climate, environmental destruction, and the sociopolitical consequences of global warming.

However, taking the many lists of American visual artists working on climate as a representative example, it is clear that Black artists are dramatically underrepresented in popular accountings of climate art (Artists & Climate Change is by no means exempt – the artists featured and profiled on this website have heretofore been predominantly white). On the four lists hyperlinked in the preceding sentence, each of which features between five and twelve artists, only one African American artist – the photographer, sculptor, and performance and installation artist Allison Janae Hamilton– is mentioned (though she appears on two of the lists). There is no mention of Torkwase Dyson or Tavares Strachan, to name just two prominent US-based Black visual artists who work on climate. The Wikipedia article on “climate change art” does not mention a single Black artist.

Greater representation of the many Black artists and storytellers who engage with these topics is not only an essential corrective to the white-washed public image of climate art, it is also necessary for the success of any movement for climate justice: if we are to act in time, we must center the voices of those who are already facing the worst impacts of the crisis. In the words of Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, “whether it’s Hurricane Katrina or air pollution, storms and exposure to toxins cause much greater harm to communities of color.” And if we are to act in a manner that protects the communities most vulnerable to global warming, we must prioritize the work of artists who come from those communities.

“We need more artists in climate, and I think it’s important for people who care about climate to be committed to telling intersectional stories. Unfortunately, we have too many white spokespeople – when people think about artists engaged in climate, they think of Leonardo DiCaprio. We need to move away from white men holding this narrative and instead help inspire communities of color. And that’s going to be through storytelling; through telling a different kind of story around climate that really speaks to a lived experience that is not just a white one.”

Favianna Rodriguez of the Center for Cultural Power
quoted in Grist

Centering the work of Black artists on climate will mean featuring artists who are well known for their engagement with these issues, as well as those who are too rarely recognized for their work on climate. It will also mean including both artists who engage with the climate crisis directly, and those who create work that speaks more obliquely to the crisis, perhaps focusing on environmental racism, Afrofuturism, or the relationship between the human and more-than-human.

Childish Gambino, “Feels Like Summer”

Prominent Black musicians have led the way in bringing the climate crisis into popular music: the multi-talented actor-director-musician Donald Glover, for example, released the best climate song since Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)”(way back in 1971) when he dropped “Feels Like Summer” in the summer of 2018 under his musical stage name Childish Gambino. With over 180 million views on YouTube and nearly 140 million streams on Spotify, it might be one of the farthest-reaching pieces of climate art ever. Other Black musicians have devoted their entire careers to environmental activism, such as the rapper DJ Cavem Moetavation, who coined the term “EcoHipHop” in 2007. DJ Cavem includes kale, arugula, and beet seed packs with each purchase of his album BIOMIMICZ to educate and inspire under-resourced BIPOC communities to grow their own organic, sustainable food.

Among the widely-acclaimed Black artists too-rarely mentioned in the climate space is the filmmaker and video artist Arthur Jafa. His 2016 video essay Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death, described by the Smithsonian as a “contemporary Guernica,”appears in the collections of a who’s who of major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Infrequently identified as a piece of climate art, the critic TJ Demos argues compellingly that Jafa’s video essay should be: “if we can describe Jafa’s video as expressing an environmentalism of sorts – which I argue we can, even though the video’s reception to date has largely evaded such an analysis – then it’s one attuned to what Christina Sharpe terms ‘antiblackness as total climate.’” Demos argues that “Love is the Message expresses potential solidarity with the oppressed and excluded, both human and non,” thus challenging what he terms the “neoliberal Anthropocene… the threat of white supremacist tendencies and colonial, extractive futurism,” a threat that, according to Demos, is represented by advocates of geoengineering as a solution to the climate crisis.

LaToya Ruby Frazier, “A Creative Solution for the Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan”

LaToya Ruby Frazier is another immensely influential Black artist who, despite widespread recognition for her work on environmental racism, is rarely in the conversation around climate art. To be sure, Frazier’s most well-known work on environmental degradation is a photo essay called Flint is Family, on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. While the water crisis in Flint is not directly tied to climate change, it is a horrifying example of the consequences of “sacrifice zone” thinking – when corporate and government interests decide that some communities do not deserve safe and healthy environments, that their lives matter less than profits or budget savings. As Naomi Klein famously argued in her 2014 book This Changes Everything, this is precisely the kind of thinking that got us into the climate crisis: world leaders have decided that the lives of those whose homes have already been engulfed by rising seas do not matter, that the lives of those who have been forced to migrate by unbearable heat or water scarcity do not matter. The idea that some lives, some communities, some civilizations can be sacrificed before action is taken has brought us all to the climate precipice. Work like Frazier’s offers a compelling critique of this idea, among other systems that create and exacerbate the climate crisis.

There is also much to be gained from re-centering the definition of climate art around Black artists who are already part of the climate canon, such as the late, great writer Octavia Butler (pictured above). Though her disturbingly prescient 1993 science-fiction novel, Parable of the Sower, has long been recognized as a genre-defining work of climate fiction, her writing is increasingly seen as fundamental to the world of climate storytelling writ large. Somini Sengupta concluded her recent New York Times piece on the “Links Between Racism and the Environment” by describing Butler’s Earthseed series as “the one piece I go back to again and again.”

Re-defining “climate art” around such works as Jafa’s Love is the Message and Frazier’s Flint is Family, alongside Glover’s “Feels Like Summer,” Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy Me,” and Butler’s Parable of the Sower can re-center the climate narrative on climate justice and a focus on the historical, present, and imminent harm caused by rising global temperatures. A conception of climate art that includes and prioritizes the work of Black artists and storytellers is essential to a movement for climate justice.

We are therefore thrilled to introduce a series of interviews, features, and profiles showcasing the work of some of the myriad Black artists and storytellers engaging with the climate crisis through their creative work. The series, a collaboration with Imara-rose Glymph, an eco-artist and cultural organizer interning with Artists & Climate Change this summer, will feature artists and writers working in a wide range of disciplines and media. There are, of course, an incredible array of Black artists working on climate issues globally, from John Akomfrah to Abdoulaye Diallo and beyond, but as the content of this essay might suggest, this series will focus on Black artists based in the United States (at least initially). Look for Imara-rose’s wonderful interviews as we kick off the series in the coming days. 

In the meantime, explore the stunning Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, edited by Camille T. Dungy. In Imara-rose’s words, the collection “upends the traditional narrative of the Black lens on land in the Anthropocene or Plantationocene.”

(Top image: The writer Octavia Butler, in an undated photograph)

This article is part of our Black Artists & Storytellers series.

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Thomas Peterson is a theatre director and researcher whose work focuses on the climate crisis. He is an Artistic Associate with The Arctic Cycle, co-organizing Climate Change Theatre Action. He recently returned from a Harvard Williams-Lodge Scholarship in Paris, where he wrote a thesis on the aesthetic of the sublime in the theatrical representation of the Anthropocene. He created Roy Loves America, a multi-form performance piece about Roy Cohn, and is developing an original adaptation of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, set on a dying planet. His engagement in climate activism stretches back to high school, when he led a successful fossil fuel divestment campaign.

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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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It Starts with Us

By Beth Osnes

YOUNG WOMEN’S REFLECTIONS ON PERFORMANCE INTERSECTING WITH CLIMATE

Part of developing an empowered public voice is being able to take time away to listen deeply to your own inner thoughts. A group of young women I work with did just that as they prepared for a public performance in support of climate change awareness and action.

Sitting on the rocky side of a hill outside our retreat cabin in the mountains, one of them – sixteen-year-old Leela Stoede – wrote a response to the climate change play she was rehearsing, It Starts with Me:

It starts with me because even though my life is utterly ordinary, it’s different from any other story told. It starts with me, a life that has not yet been lived. It starts with me because I’ve been surrounded by more love than ever believed possible and want to share it. It starts with me because I’ve been raised in a culture different from my own, a culture that became my own.

YOUNG WOMEN’S VOICES FOR CLIMATE

Leela is a member of Young Women’s Voices for Climate (YWVC), a group I co-facilitate with Chelsea Hackett that’s made up of nine middle and high school–aged women in Boulder, Colorado, along with several University of Colorado (CU) students. We are brought together by a partnership between SPEAK, an initiative for young women’s vocal empowerment for civic engagement, and CU’s Inside the Greenhouse, which focuses on creative climate communication (both of which I co-founded). Together we have collectively “art-ed” forwards toward our mission to advance climate awareness and action through performance.

I’ve been working with Chelsea – a recent PhD graduate and co-founder and director of SPEAK – for over ten years. In 2014, based on creative work and research we had done in Guatemala years previously using theatre for women’s participation in sustainable development, we began partnering with what is now the Maya-run Guatemalan girl’s school, MAIA Impact, to create a curriculum for vocal empowerment for their students. The resulting twelve-session curriculum combines vocal training and creative expression to support young women’s voices. It is being used by the MAIA Impact school but is also available for use by any organization working to support young women’s empowerment through SPEAK.

We first assembled and ran the curriculum in Boulder in the fall of 2017, with Leela and her cohort. We had such a wonderful time together that we’ve been meeting ever since, focusing on the intersection between feminism and climate change. In our weekly sessions, we do exercises and activities, talk about big ideas, take part in political actions (such as adding our voices to letter-writing campaigns for environmental preservation), and support each other – always working towards some climate-related public performance or showing. As an intergenerational group, we reflect deeply on what we create and how we express our creativity, but we also play hard and goof off. Each semester we gather for a weekend retreat in the mountains in a rented cabin, which are much-anticipated highlights of our time together and fulfill an essential role in reconnecting us to our ecological roots and the beauty that surrounds us in Colorado.

All of the energy from our time together is harnessed when we focus on the powerful connection between challenges faced by women and challenges associated with climate change, since they both stem from similar acts of patriarchal domination and exploitation that have presided over women and the natural environment. In many parts of the world, women experience climate change with disproportionate severity largely because of gender inequality and lack of voice.

INSPIRATION FROM OTHER WOMEN

I was educated in understanding the role performance could play in climate awareness and feminism by a group called Climate Wise Women (CWI), a global platform for the promotion of women’s leadership on climate change that ensures their voices as frontline climate change community leaders are heard at conferences and summits. I heard the women speak at the United Nations Conference for Sustainable Development Rio+20 in 2012 and hosted several of them at the University of Colorado for a public performance in 2014. I feel a solidarity with their performative methods that draw upon their personal experiences through the age-old art of storytelling.

Members of Climate Wise Women from around the world bear witness to the ravages on women due to climate change. For example, in Constance Okollet’s Ugandan community, floods have disrupted growing seasons, resulting in poverty and hunger that, in turn, led to increased crime such as sexual violence against women. Elsewhere, communities are vulnerable to rising sea levels, like Ulamila Kurai Wragg’s small island state Cook Islands. Wragg shares stories about how women always endure the most hardship during ecological crises due to their lack of voice and lesser status in society. The Climate Wise Women tell these truths about the hardships caused by a changing climate, but they wrap these harsh truths in personal stories. A key to their performance-based strategy is the rich details and strong emotions that increase receptivity towards these truths and lock them into their listeners’ memories.

Rehearsing It Starts With Me on our retreat. Photo by Beth Osnes.
YWVC AND CLIMATE CHANGE THEATRE ACTION

We likewise want to ensure that young women’s voices are a part of international public platforms about climate change. In November 2019, YWVC hosted a Colorado event that was part of Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA), a worldwide series of readings and performances of short climate change plays presented biennially to coincide with the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP). One of YWVC’s CU students, Sarah Fahmy, chose two short plays that focused on women and climate change: The Butterfly That Persisted by Jordanian playwright Lana Nasser, a challenging piece due to both the subject matter and the poetic language that dramatizes an intense conversation between humanity and the Earth, and It Starts with Me by New York–based Canadian playwright Chantal Bilodeau, which not only further educated us on the interconnected realities of women in relation to climate change but also unleashed a powerful conviction through the students’ embodied voices.

A few weeks before the performance, we all went on a weekend retreat near Rocky Mountain National Park. We rehearsed for hours in a clearing outside our cabin on a rare warm fall day, a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains behind us. Being immersed in nature – the pine-scented air, a nice breeze that tossed our hair around, and the Earth beneath our feet – definitely helped the process and deepened our connection to the content of the plays. As part of the retreat, we invited the young women to find their own spot in the hilly woods behind our cabin and, using pen and paper, to free write on their feelings and thoughts about each of the plays they were rehearsing; Leela, writing from her perspective as a girl raised in India who had to move back to the United States as a young woman, penned what came above.

About the play It Starts with Me, Eliza Anderson, another of the young women, wrote, “In a world with seven billion people, it’s hard to feel as if you have the ability to make a difference; reading this play helps me feel as though I can.” Sofie Wendell wrote, for her part, about stopping the pillaging of our planet. “Yes, we have a right to be angry at all the past generations who have started and continue to destroy this Earth,” she articulated, “but we can’t be mad at the fact that old generations are not trying to preserve our future. … We need to embody this anger and make the changes ourselves because it is our future.” Another student, Lerato Osnes, wrote: “I am the one who can make change and help other people make change. It starts with me, a female in a male-dominant society and a minority in a white society.”

Olympia Kristl’s writing seamlessly intersected other life forms and ecosystems with her own embodied experience. “It starts with me… My feet stand on the ground, roots spreading down deep into the Earth,” she wrote. “I stand tall and strong like a tree, knowing that it starts with me. … I can see figures coming into view. They are my friends, the ones who are not afraid to think about the future. The ones that take a step with me. It starts with us.”

The young women performed these two brief plays as an ensemble at the Old Main theatre at CU for an audience of 150 people. Between the plays, they led attendees in a creative process of their own expression. We asked the audience to equally divide themselves into groups, and one of the young women guided each group in creating collective word clusters based on the phrases “Our vision of Boulder’s future includes…” and “Our vision of the World’s future includes….” The contributions were added to two posters. The first was presented to the City of Boulder Environmental Planning team heading up Boulder’s Climate Mobilization Action Plan. The second was taken to Madrid for the UNFCCC Parties Conference of the Parties (COP) just weeks after our event and displayed at a meeting on gender. We were told attending women were deeply touched by the messages expressed.

Young Women’s Voices for Climate members. Photo by Lianna Nixon.
FOSTERING A COMMUNITY OF WOMEN

At its heart, YWVC is about vocal empowerment for young women to creatively support their civic voices. A powerful way to do so is to share the collective wisdom of the women in their community who have effectively used their own voices to work towards positive social change. During the performance, eight female community leaders (including Boulder’s mayor), activists, and artists assembled on the stage with the young women and each shared advice for being empowered.

It’s important that the voices of young women are strengthened so they are able to advocate for a survivable future. Connecting to each other as young women, to the natural world, to their supporting community, and to their voices through performance has contributed towards their self-expressed empowerment and their ability to – as Eliza wrote – make a difference.

(Top image: Ting Lester writing in the Rocky Mountains. Photo by Lianna Nixon.)

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on April 30, 2020.

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Beth Osnes PhD, is an Associate Professor of Theatre and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado and co-director of Inside the Greenhouse, an initiative for creative climate communication. She recently toured an original musical, Shine, to facilitate local youth voices on energy and climate in resilience planning, and her book on this, Performance for Resilience: Engaging Youth on Energy and Climate through Music, Movement, and Theatre was recently published. Her book Theatre for Women’s Participation in Sustainable Development includes her work on gender equity. She is featured in the award-winning documentary Mother: Caring for 7 Billion.

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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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A Possible Path Toward an Infinite Eden

 Vegetal Ontology: Intro (https://www.botanicalmind.online/chapter-vegetal-ontology

The Botanical Mind: Art Mysticism and The Cosmic Tree

Reviewed by Olivia Ann Carye Hallstein

There are many lessons to be learned from the transition to virtual art exhibitions online as well as from the exhibition The Botanical Mindpresented by the Camden Art Center in London. For one, there’s a foundational comparison between a plant’s ability to adapt and navigate changing circumstances from a “rooted” place, and the resilence of the human species quarantined inside during an ongoing pandemic. The in-person exhibition has been postponed (not cancelled), so if you happen to be in the UK, here’s my recommendation. As for the rest of us, cooped up inside all over the world, a thorough and ever-growing version of the The Botanical Mind is on view for free. 

Peu Yawanawá of the Yawanawá community, Nova Esperença Village, Rio Gregório, State of Acre, Brazil. Photo: Delfina Muňoz de Toro (https://www.botanicalmind.online/chapter-indigenous-cosmologies)

The selected works represent a constructive attempt to invite an international and integrative dialogue. Indigenous practices are presented alongside western intellectuals like Hildegarde von Bingen, Sigmund Freud and the scientific documentation of plant life. Though still holding certain Eurocentric biases in artist choice and a strong emphasis on the shamanistic stereotypes surrounding Amazonian and Pre-Columbian practices—which has been pointed out as less productive in “The Role of Shamanism in Mesoamerican Art: A Reassessment” by Cecelia Klein, Eulogio Guzman et al. in 2002—the good intentions are welcome. 

Screen shot of “The Cosmic Tree” viewer (https://www.botanicalmind.online/chapter-cosmic-tree)

The exhibition is expansive in multiple ways: from its viewing possibilities to its range of topics. Adapting to the “new normal” the website provides text, digital images and video in combinations that are well organized and easy to navigate. One can experience the work from an overview page where several images are arranged similarly to the much beloved Instagram format. Or, if you want to dig deeper into each topic you can watch a 20-minute introductory video. Viewers can also look at individual pages for each of the six sections that comprise the exhibition. The video gives a catchy overview, which combines contemporary video, close-ups of plants and manuscripts and historical video to the sounds of enrapturing minimal techno beats. The digital experience attends to multiple senses by being visually and aurally sophisticated. Some pieces represented, such as the Adam Chodzko video of scanned undergrowth paired with Bingen’s choral compositions is meant to generate “a system of channeling… a possible path toward an infinite Eden.” 

Delfina Muñoz de Toro, Vimi Yuve (Fruit of the Serpent), 2019. Watercolour on paper, 61 x 45.5 cm. Credit: courtesy the artist (https://www.botanicalmind.online/chapter-cosmic-tree)
Hildegarde von Bingen, Liber Divinorum Operum (The book of divine works), 13th Century. Illuminated Manuscript. By concession of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities – Lucca State Library (https://www.botanicalmind.online/chapter-astrological-botany)

An infinite Eden could be exactly what many of us are daydreaming about in our endless hours sitting in front of digital screens, while occasionally peering at the bursting plant-life just outside our windows. The Botanical Mind certainly bridges that expanse between digital and natural while covering a wide range of peoples, philosophies, inquiries and time periods. The six topics covered are: Cosmic Tree, Sacred Geometry, Indigenous Cosmologies, Astrological Botany, As Within, So Without and Vegetal Ontology. Each contains high-resolution imagery of incredible paintings, manuscripts or photographs that are lush with vegetal and spiritual goodness, including Delfina Munoz de Toro’s depiction of the sacred plant with serpent that is represented in some form throughout the world and history from genesis to Amazonia. The bright and high contrast image is especially well suited to a computer screen whose RGB span broadcasts those pop neon greens expressively. For example, the historical manuscripts of Hildegarde von Bingen, the German healer and spiritualist whose mandala of the divine expresses seasons and elements as well as harbingers who send their visions from above. There’s a strong emphasis on German and Catholic expansions on the topic of the sacred, and the many variations of this vision seem to be mixed into an unclear theory surrounding the new age.

Giorgio Griffa, Undermilkwood (Dylan Thomas), 2019 – acrylic on 20 canvases, 200 x 650 cm (installation reference dimensions only) – work cycle: Trasparenze, Alter ego (https://www.botanicalmind.online/chapter-sacred-geometry

Though less spiritual, the contemporary artists presented reflect further on the vegetal cosmos and its complications, many of which leave the sacred or cosmological out of the equation. One example is the world of Giorgio Griffa where it is “rhythm” that is the determining force for his painted works. This “rhythm of Griffa’s extends to sowing, harvesting, the sun, the day and the night” is from an interview in Apollo Magazine by Thomas Marks (2018). His repetitive phrases express “irrationality, madness and elation” that expand past what the sciences can penetrate. These sections on contemporary art are also ever-expanded and are updated on a semi-weekly basis. 

Former plant beds and greenhouses from the herb gardens and plantation at the Dachau Concentration Camp, 2019–2020, series of photographs, dimensions variable. Photography: Marion Schönenberger. Courtesy Hollybush Gardens, London, David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, and Galerie Tschudi, Zuoz. © Andrea Büttner / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020. (https://www.botanicalmind.online/chapter-cosmic-tree)

From patterns of thought to patterns on the page, this broad ranging exhibition leads us into new frontiers where wide-lens perspectives can grow uninhibited by the walls of a gallery. Perhaps this “infinite Eden” of research, communion and perpetual growth, like the cycles of plant life, exists now more than ever before, through the expansion onto the digital internet plane. Though, like looking at a tree outside your window rather than smelling its luscious flowers, it cannot be the same visceral experience as sitting in front of the smell, feel, textures and imprints that exist in real-life, personally viewing of an exhibition. And just as Buettner’s work of the Dachau Greenhouse reminds us of the chilling reality of time passing and the resurgence of the natural world when humanity makes way, there is much that we can learn from what we do not control. 

(Top photo: F. Percy Smith, Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F Percy Smith, 2016, directed by Stuart Staples. Film Still. Copyright unknown)

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ecoartapace ecoartspace is a nonprofit platform providing opportunities for artists who address the human/nature relationship in the visual arts. Since 1999 they have collaborated with over 150 organizations to produce more than 40 exhibitions, 100 programs, working with 400 + artists in 15 states nationally and 8 countries internationally. Currently they are developing a media archive of video interviews with artists and collection of exhibitions ephemera for research purposes. Patricia Watts is founder and west coast curator. Amy Lipton is east coast curator and director of the ecoartspace NYC project room.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

Go to EcoArtSpace

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Tiny Coronavirus Stories: ‘The unrelenting stillness of this time’

By Anatalia VallezLolis VasquezSarah PaselaStephanie Nicolard

Reader-submitted stories of the COVID-19 pandemic, in no more than 100 words. Read past stories hereSubmit your own here.

FOR ALL THE BIRTHDAYS

I count the velitas in rows of five
I’m always adding another year
28 and a ha – 29
last year we went out to a local market
ate individual slices of vegan cake that stuck to the roof of my mouth
I miss celebrating others’ birthdays
I miss seeing all my cousins and their babies grow up
how we huddle around when we hear CAKE
serenading, queremos pastel, pastel, pastel
I miss getting my face smashed into a cake
that’s how you know you’re loved
because while people laugh
there’s always someone there to tenderly clean you up

 Anatalia Vallez (Santa Ana, California)

Baby girl posing after getting her face smashed into a tres leches cake.

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IT MOSTLY AFFECTS THE ELDERLY

I work at an assisted living facility in the small town in which I attend college. I have had to move back home, which is approximately two hours away, meaning that I won’t get to see any of my residents for the next six months due to the virus. They are the most vulnerable to this virus. I hope every day that they will all be there when this is over and that I will see them all again. I miss you.

— Lolis Vasquez (Worthington, Minnesota)

(Top photo: It was a bittersweet drive home.)

* * *

THE ROLLER COASTER OF COVID-19

Waves of feelings, up and down. Breathe, think about breath, then think about how COVID attacks the lungs. Go outside and enjoy nature, could the virus be on the bottom of my shoes? Enjoy my family, what would I do if they became ill? Up, down, all day long on a roller coaster of emotion. I am forced to relinquish the illusion of a stable ride. I have always been traveling on this wild one. With COVID, though, I can’t lie to myself and pretend that I am the one running the ride.

— Sarah Pasela (Big Lake, Minnesota)

Living in the moment through a daffodil in my garden.

* * *

PAW SPOTS

It’s summertime and the cat’s pink paws are turning black. Lentigo, says Google. The spots will spread over time. I wonder if the cat notices. These spots are as unsightly and asymmetrical as our most tender bruises: that thing I wish I’d never said, your secret I couldn’t keep. It is the unrelenting stillness of this time that is most unsettling – there is, at last, nowhere to hide from the self. The comforts of modern life (yoga studios, trinket shops) dutifully obscured the truest things we will ever know: who we are, alone at night, our paw spots spreading insidiously, imperceptibly.

— Stephanie Nicolard (Los Angeles, California)

Paw spots, called lentigo, are benign marks that can develop on a cat’s paws, nose, or gums.

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This series is edited by Thomas Peterson. One of the editors of Artists & Climate Change, he is also a theatre director and researcher whose work focuses on the climate crisis.

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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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Climate Storytelling Collaborative Practices: an Artful Process and Adaptation

By Peterson Toscano

Jennie Carlisle and Laura England are both part of the Climate Stories Collaborative at Appalachian State University in North Carolina.

“The Climate Stories Collaborative is our response to the growing call for more transdisciplinary and creative approaches to climate change communication,” they explain. “Our mission is to grow the capacity of our faculty and students to be more creative and compelling climate storytellers.”

While many of the students finish with completed pieces of art, Jennie stresses that the process required to produce the art is their primary goal. Of course, they also want to reach out to the wider world whenever possible.

At the end of the school year, the Climate Stories Collaborative hosts a showcase for the student artists. This provides them with an opportunity to engage with the wider public in a large gallery space. Laura explains that in the past, students, faculty, and community members would mingle in the gallery to view the art and see performances.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the school closed and the showcase had to be cancelled. But like so many others, they adapted and took the showcase online. As a curator, Jennie initially worried about creating a virtual showcase but quickly saw multiple benefits, including seeing viewers become deeply engaged with the art and the artists through their comments. The Climate Stories Collaborative now reaches many more people all over the world through this Instagram online showcase.

Taking this step to go virtual also models an essential part of climate action – resiliency.

Next month, creative non-fiction writer, Elizabeth Rush, reveals how seeing a stage adaptation to her award winning book, Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, helped her see her own climate grief in a whole new light.

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

This article is part of The Art House series.

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

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Tiny Coronavirus Stories: ‘Observation may inoculate us’

By Jennifer DorrellKathleen BergenRoss RichardsonSherry Bokser

Reader-submitted stories of the COVID-19 pandemic, in no more than 100 words. Read past stories hereSubmit your own here.

NATURAL COMFORT

Mom itched to return to NYC, so on March 13th I rented a car and headed to Florida. Thirteen hours in, an epiphany: “We’re safer in Orlando. Lower population density, more hospital beds per capita, more living space for us.” She acquiesced, but ten weeks later she remains homesick. Masked and gloved, we take daily walks; I extol the sunshine, blue skies, blooming magnolias, swaying palms. I point out the hawks and herons, egrets and ducklings, and occasionally an otter who plays in the ponds. I do this with a joy I pray is as contagious as the virus.

— Sherry Bokser (New York, New York)

A great white egret greeting us at the first pond on our mile walk.

* * *

IS YOUR SKYLINE LIKE MINE?

Having a houseguest for two months was one oddity. Normally, she would take road trips to South Lake Tahoe or to The City. But not this time. Because all but the natural rotation of the Earth stopped, my friend was waylaid in my home. As a pre-coronavirus germaphobe, using masks, hand sanitizer and gloves was not too far from her errand-filled routine. My life, unchanged mostly, danced on the edge of depression. My commute, an eerily fast step each morning into a surreal workday, was essential. On the way, I could see the crisp city skyline. The news was the pollutant.

— Jennifer Dorrell (Folsom, California)

(Top photo: It’s a small world after all!)

* * *

FRAGMENTS OF THE SELF

Sunlight seeps through the windows, pooling at my feet in bright silver puddles. The puddles slowly slither along the ground, their form seamlessly stretching and contracting. They climb the four walls that contain me, before gradually withering away and evaporating into the cool winter air.

Outside the windows, clouds sheepishly cross the sky. My eyes follow them. I watch as they sail across the great expanse. I’m envious of their freedom, of their naivety. But I watch them dance all the same. Then the sunlight sinks into the soil, and I’m bathed in darkness once again.

— Ross Richardson (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia)

Fragments of the Self, original artwork.

* * *

TWO DAUGHTERS: WHAT IS COVID?

Leah, psych major, says COVID is karma – mental health’s reprisal for its public stigma. Fear of sickness, fear of going out – they’re not so crazy now, are they?

Madeline, poet, says COVID is a media metaphor. Tech disconnect has sickened us socially. The cure lies in noticing. Hummingbird on wire still or delicate petal snow-fall. Slow down, look up, breathe, pay attention.

I think the answer lies in between these disparate views: perhaps COVID is a reminder that we cannot prevent all ills, but observation may inoculate us from the myopic view of the screen. Protect yourself.

— Kathleen Bergen (Santa Monica, California)

Slow down, look up…

______________________________

This series is edited by Thomas Peterson. One of the editors of Artists & Climate Change, he is also a theatre director and researcher whose work focuses on the climate crisis.

———-

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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Indigenous Theatre and the Climate Crisis

By David Geary

Ko Taranaki tōku maunga / My mountain is Taranaki
Ko Hangatahua tōku awa / My river is the Hangatahua
Ko Kurahaupo tōku waka / My canoe is the Kurahaupō
Ko Taranaki me Ngāti Pākehā tōku iwi / My tribe is the Taranaki Māori Nation of Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pākehā (non-Māori settler/colonial nations of England, Ireland, and Scotland; and I’ve been a Canadian citizen since 2008)
Ko Ngā Mahanga tōku hapu / My sub-tribe is the Ngā Mahanga
Ko Etahi Taputai me William Geary tōku tīpuna / My ancestors are Etahi Taputai and William Geary
David Geary taku ingoa / My name is David Geary
“Ua Tawa ! Ua Tawa! / “Purple Rain! Purple Rain!”

This pepeha is how I introduce myself on formal occasions. When asked by Chantal Bilodeau (co-founder of Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA)) to write about the intersection of Indigenous issues and the climate crisis in relation to theatre, my pepehawas my first thought. It’s a monologue Māori perform to embody our place in the world wherever we might go. We introduce our mountain and river first because they are the natural world we all come from. They are part of Papatūānuku, the Earth Mother. In Te Reo, the Māori language, the word for land and placenta are the same: whenua. Some words just don’t translate and the poetry is lost.

A disclaimer: I’m aware of the dangers of speaking for other Indigenous artists in writing this article. However, here goes. I feel that for many of us the land we belong to is where all our art comes from. The climate crisis is just the latest effect of colonialism disrupting our relationship to our land. How we respond to that depends on the individual.

One of the most visible responses in early 2020 was the blockades set up across roads, railways, and city streets in Canada. They were in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who didn’t want a gas pipeline across their land. I see this as street theatre. The barricades are the set. Drum songs and dance celebrate the people of the land. Speeches are made to the audience (the public, via the media), and also to the reluctant audience (the police). It serves as educational theatre for Canada to learn the difference between the elected band council chiefs who approved of the pipeline, hereditary chiefs who don’t, hereditary chiefs who do, and how the Indian Act continues to divide nations.

Vancouver street blockades in support of the Wet’suwe’ten Hereditary Chiefs. Photo by TravisStump2020.

In my pepeha I also acknowledge my great-great-grandmother, full-blooded Māori Etahi Taputai of Taranaki, and my great-great-grandfather, William Geary. He was an Irish labourer convicted of stealing two bushels of wheat in a Nottingham court in 1834. His punishment: eight years transportation in Australia. Once released he became a whaler in Otago, New Zealand. After some shady transaction with a sack of spuds (potatoes), William and Etahi shacked up, and here I am. They are part of my whakapapa, my bloodline.

The whakapapa section of a pepeha can go on for some time as we acknowledge many ancestors. But it also gives listeners a chance to see if we are related or if they know our relatives. There is a legend that a visitor once asked a Māori Elder who he was, and the old man started to trace his whakapapa back seventeen generations to a Polynesian canoe that had arrived from the Pacific, then back to the islands, and eventually up into the stars. He was still telling his story the next day… Maybe you feel a bit like this now?

The point is that after our land and our canoe, our whakapapa and whanau, family, is of greatest importance. Our tīpuna, ancestors, are with us all the time. They are woven into us as part of our Indigenous DNA. So how can we honour them? And if the climate crisis threatens what our ancestors were guardians of, how are we defending Papatūānukunow?

Ko tuatara toku tipuna. The tuatara, an ancient reptile, is also my ancestor. A tuatara was the lead character in my first short play for Climate Change Theatre Action, Morehu and Tītī. The gender of tuatara is dependent on the temperature of the ground in which they bury their eggs. Global warming has meant more males are being born than females. It’s put the tuataras’ world out of balance.

Sketch of Tuatara by David Geary.

Tuatara are some of the oldest creatures on Earth and only exist in Aotearoa, New Zealand. They whakapapa back to a reptile species that flourished 240 million years ago. The cats, dogs, and rodents of colonisation almost wiped them out, but a few hardy populations survived on offshore islands. I include them as my ancestors because they were of the world humans evolved from, and my Taranaki iwi, my tribe, includes them in our stories and carvings on wood and stone. They can be messengers of death and disaster. They can also indicate tapu, the border with the sacred and restricted. For example, there are stories of wahine, women, having them tattooed near their genitals.

The tuatara’s name means “spiny back” but to hold them they feel like vinyl. I had this privilege only after I had convinced some breeding program scientists that I wasn’t a rare species smuggler. One of the tuataras’ most remarkable features is the remnants of what might have been a third eye on top of their head. Some speculate this was to detect birds of prey above, but other stories say it was an eye to see the future.

One thing they do have an eye for is free room and board. A tuatara is the worst sofa surfer you could ever imagine. They gatecrash and move into the burrow of the sooty shearwater bird, crap everywhere, and if peckish eat an egg or chomp the head off a chick.

In my play the tuatara and bird are a slob and a neat freak, in a parody of the ancient American comedy The Odd Couple. They’ve had to abandon their island due to rising tides and temperatures. They make a raft to travel to Antarctica so the tuatara can lay their eggs in colder ground and restore the gender balance. In a madcap musical moment, Al Gore floats by on an iceberg to say, “I told you so!” then sings an operatic agitprop remake of “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen.

My approach to the climate crisis is a satiric one. I see it as honoring the tradition of tricksters who are essential to the survival of Indigenous Peoples. Kiwi filmmaker Taika Waititi, who won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Jojo Rabbit this year, is the latest and greatest trickster manifestation. Taika started in theatre with comic and satirical shows. He likes to be known as a filmmaker first and foremost, one who just happens to be Māori. (When I first met him he was Taika Cohen, his mother being Jewish.) In Jojo Rabbit, he brings the trickster’s cheek and chutzpah to his portrayal of Hitler as the imaginary friend of a naïve Nazi youth. He whakapapas back to Mel Brooks’ Hitler in To Be Or Not To Be, and in Jojo Rabbit Taika is set on mocking and exposing a new generation of wannabe white supremacists. Where does the climate crisis fit into this? Well, let’s start with the white supremacist idea that Indigenous traditional knowledge isn’t up to the level of Eurocentric science.

Design idea for David Geary’s play Science Is Dead! by Patrick Rizzotti.

Not that I don’t respect Western science. In fact, my second play for CCTA was Science Is Dead!, which lampoons those who deny that there is any science behind the climate crisis. In a brainstorming meeting, modern Madmen-type spin doctors jam ideas on how to discredit science and scientists. It ends in a tribute to playwright Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist with the “scientist” being thrown out a skyscraper window. When the underling questions how they’ll explain this act to corporate, their superior quips, “We’re downsizing.”

There was nothing ostensibly Indigenous about Science is Dead! However, I saw it as the work of the trickster to mock and expose those who refuse to see the facts even when they’re right in front of them. Those people who then construct a whole new reality where anything goes in the name of progress, including murder, and Indigenous Peoples understand that all too well.

My third play for CCTA was OWN NOW! It went a trickster step further to imagine a future where a righteous self-help guru and author considers climate change a God-driven natural process. “We’re going to capture the rapture in my next chapter,” he rejoices. He goes on to demonize those who bring foreign diseases into his homeland, celebrates that journalism is dead, and looks forward to the day Jesus returns. When he’s confronted by the actual return of Jesus, it turns out to be his stooge of a wife, and it all ends happily ever after with more ebook sales and everyone dancing to Blondie’s “Rapture.”

This brings us back to the pepeha. Mine ends with: David Geary taku ingoa, my name is David Geary, and Ua Tawa!, “Purple Rain!” The big waiata, song, at the end honors both the Western musical but also how we finish a pepeha. It comes after you finally tell everyone your name, right near the end to emphasize your lowly place in the order of things. Your land, ancestors, tribe, and family are far more important than you. Their needs come before yours. You must serve them, whether it be by doing the Marae committee accounts, cleaning the toilets, or writing plays that lift community spirits. The song is to support your pepeha and hopefully add entertainment value. A traditional waiata is usually used, but I like to mix it up, hence Prince or….

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think… I’ve said that community comes first, but a lot of what I’ve done here is talk about my work and myself. I would like to do some shoutouts.

Bruce Hunter (left) as Angu’juaq and Jani Lauzon as Huumittuq in The Breathing Hole. Stratford Festival, 2017. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Reneltta Arluk, the Inuvialuit, Dene, Cree director, playwright, actor, and artist, who is also the director of Indigenous Arts at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, made one of the biggest splashes for Indigenous theatre and the climate when she directed The Breathing Hole at the Stratford Festival in Ontario in 2017. The play is an epic saga of a polar bear named Angu’juaq, born in an Inuit community in 1534, who encounters the doomed explorer Franklin in 1832 and lives on to experience global warming today. Though the play was written by Colleen Murphy (a well regarded non-Indigenous playwright), Arluk and Murphy worked with Qaggiavuut!, the Iqaluit-based theatre collective. Hailed as a breakthrough for its use of four different sorts of puppetry (and extensive consultation and collaboration with Indigenous theatre artists), it is also darkly satirical in the spirit of the trickster.

Kim Senklip Harvey premiered her play Kamloopa in 2019 at the Cultch in Vancouver. It’s a riotous celebration of matriarchy and the search for Indigenous identity, but doesn’t mention the climate at all… Or does it? Kim became exhausted as an actor performing in Indigenous productions where she was always having to “cry or die”; several Canadian plays about the intergenerational trauma from residential schools, and the tragedy of murdered and missing women, fit this bill. They’re important in terms of witnessing, but, like Kim, I’m interested in the evolution past “trauma drama” to the transcendent.

Kim Senklip Harvey

Truth and reconciliation are big buzzwords in Canada, and the telling of “the truth” will be an ongoing project. These stories need to be told, heard, and held, but there needs to be healing. As Kim says: for every tough truth-telling story, there also needs to be a celebration of Indigenous resilience, survival, and humor. Kamloopa has this in spades. It’s ultimately also a story of going back to honor the land, with ceremony, as the three young women leave the city to journey back to participate in a powwow.

Reneltta and Kim have both worked with a leading light in Indigenous dramaturgy, Lindsay Lachance. She is the Artistic Associate of Indigenous Theatre at Canada’s National Arts Centre. Lindsay’s dissertation for her PhD at the University of British Columbia, The Embodied Politics of Relational Indigenous Dramaturgies, features land-based, place-based and community-engaged dramaturgies. It provides a foundation and inspiration for all those working in Indigenous theatre.

Lindsay, Reneltta, and Kim are examples of a new generation of Indigenous artists making theatre that engages all our humanity, including our relationship to the land. They prove we’re not sitting back being victims – people can save their white tears for poverty porn. We Indigenous theatre creators want to tell hard truths but we also want to celebrate the power, passion, and humor of our people (for more trickster satire, check out Walking Eagle News). We want to tell the full story, to laugh, sing, and dance on and with the land that created us and that we will one day return to. Yes, the climate crisis is real, but we are strong and our theatre can help the people and Papatuanuku heal.

As the Indigenous rapper JB the First Lady sings: “We’re still here!” despite multiple attempts to erase, assimilate, murder, and muffle us. So any time an Indigenous artist represents, in any way, it’s an act of artistic resistance. Climate change began as soon as colonial ships arrived to survey our lands. It was decided our forests would make great masts for more ships, our lands were ripe for extraction and fine real estate for the tide to follow, but we’re still here. Kia Kaha! Mauri Ora!

(Top image: Vancouver street blockades in support of the Wet’suwe’ten Hereditary Chiefs. Photo by TravisStump2020.)

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on April 29, 2020.

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David Geary is of Māori, English, Irish and Scottish blood. His iwi/tribe in New Zealand is the Taranaki. He grew up immersed in the Polynesian trickster tales of Maui and is now honoured to live, work and play in the lands of the Coyote and Raven tricksters of Turtle Island/Canada. He is an award-winning playwright, dramaturg, director, screenwriter, fiction writer and poet. David works at Capilano University in North Vancouver, Canada. He teaches screenwriting in the Indigenous Digital Filmmaking program, documentary, and playwriting. 

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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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Tiny Coronavirus Stories: ‘A wild peacock shows up’

By Eileen E. SchmitzNoa HickersonRachel HeymanYumiko Yoshioka

Reader-submitted stories of the COVID-19 pandemic, in no more than 100 words. Read past stories hereSubmit your own here.

THE FACE ALWAYS GIVES IT AWAY

When the pupil in her right eye shakes subtly and the skin beneath her eyes turns red, she’s hurting. When she catches herself mid-smile, she’s happy but afraid of weakness. An abstract movement, an uneven blink, or a sharp smile always gives it away. She trapped me in lies that I unknowingly took onto myself. People take attention. Attention that I failed to acknowledge before I found fear in the way my hands clung to one another, or the way I bit my lip on the right side. I learned to read feeble movements because they are fragments of forgotten stories.

— Rachel Heyman (Pacific Palisades, California)

Wooden pier, Venice, Italy.

* * *

STILL MOVING FORWARD

At first I think outside is empty. It’s hard not to as I walk along that barren sidewalk. I see rows of houses with flickering TVs inside big windows. Outside is empty and we’re all trapped inside like zoo animals, cages so close together but lives separated.

A bird flew and rested close to me. I almost held my breath as I watched it, free and unaware. In the silence of my birdwatching, I heard it. The wind blew through the trees in an ancient melody as birds sang along. Outside isn’t empty. It’s alive, moving forward, with or without us.

— Noa Hickerson (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Pencil sketch of a bird.

* * *

WHERE IS MY SPRING?

Ever since I was forced to return home from college in the United States, my life has been moving very quickly. Everything has changed and the life I knew has suddenly disappeared. I was anxious about the situation and very scared to go home on an airplane. But honestly, I was missing home and looking forward to graduating as soon as possible. 

There was one thing I missed from campus: spring at Gustavus. I see beautiful cherry blossoms here at home, but they make me sad all the same. 

Where are my lovely flowers?

— Yumiko Yoshioka (Japan)

Flowers on campus.

* * *

HOME TO ROOST

Gold and green, with an iridescent blue head, nowadays a wild peacock shows up, infatuating me with full plume, feathers down, then helicopter leaps onto the rooftop, resting beside the front door, eating the proper birdseed – banana when I have it. He doesn’t care for apples. Absolute supermodel material.

In an organizational fete both cultural and digital, I discover photographs of his visit last autumn. Could explain why housecats yowling is reserved for raccoons on the deck.

The unnamed peacock’s telling begins: Strawberry blonde, midlife, nowadays a friendly human shows up, seems she was a workaholic, now birdfeeder slash photographer.

— Eileen E. Schmitz (Sequim, Washington)

(Top photo: Between online meetings, it’s feeding time.)

______________________________

This series is edited by Thomas Peterson. One of the editors of Artists & Climate Change, he is also a theatre director and researcher whose work focuses on the climate crisis.

———-

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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Tiny Coronavirus Stories: ‘That release will be harder’

By Dana SimsonJessica YaminLisa PatersonXanthe Muston

Reader-submitted stories of the COVID-19 pandemic, in no more than 100 words. Read past stories hereSubmit your own here.

MY PLACE

2020 was supposed to be my time to explore more and wonder about my place. My country. My being. My life. I was to embark on living overseas, in a new career, moving from health into education. But instead of imagining riding the Oxfordshire countryside into a classroom of young faces, my reality: preparing to work in the ICU with ongoing COVID updates. What 2020 has brought forward is that my place is based on my assessment and appreciation of a situation, then my choice in my action to improve it. I feel lucky to have learnt this useful life lesson.

— Jessica Yamin (Melbourne, Australia)

This is one of the art activities, based on my studies in education, that I organized for my workplace to bring mindfulness into the hospital during this time.

* * *

TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS (A REMIX)

On the 62nd day of isolation, COVID-19 gave to me:

176 coffees drunk
64 dog walks
17 board game nights
9 books read
7 TV seasons binged…

Some viewed this as an opportunity to get fit, to order their lives, to revel in uncertainty. For me, reality has paled in comparison. No great novels were written. No entrepreneurial businesses were created.

But I’ve never been more thankful for health, for simplicity. I didn’t realize how little I call my grandparents. Or how peaceful the city looks with no one around, with only the sky dragging its weary feet until nightfall.

— Xanthe Muston (Sydney, Australia)

(Top photo: A watercolor I painted of an empty Town Hall.)

* * *

ADRIFT IN A TIMELESS SEA

The world quiets. We pull back into ourselves. This too is medicine for what shadows our health. Waking each day to a gift of time and the news that for others time is up. We have been heedlessly poisoning our planet for our convenience and comfort. Now we are ill and she breathes easier; skies clearing across the globe. Nature rises and blooms for us. It is time to return the gift. We can change for the better. The future is now.

— Dana Simson (Maddux Island, Maryland)

“Adrift in a Timeless Sea,” from The Animals Are Innocent.

* * *

YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN

An “empty nester” no more, my twins back home. I’ve gotten good at crises. Facing fears and unknowns. My children just four when their dad was murdered in the 9/11 attacks.

This plight is tougher. They should be out socializing, working, finding more of themselves. It’s a pandemic, where else should they be? Precious time back for us three. Re-bonding. My privilege to show up, yet this crisis is really testing my proclivity to keep my energy upbeat.

Playing together each day, till I can resend them into the world. Again. That release will be harder than the first time.

— Lisa Paterson (Hudson Valley, New York)

Having hope on our hikes.

______________________________

This series is edited by Thomas Peterson. One of the editors of Artists & Climate Change, he is also a theatre director and researcher whose work focuses on the climate crisis.

———-

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

Powered by WPeMatico