EcoArtSpace

Member Spotlight: Jenny Kendler

AUGUST 9, 2021

This week we recognize the work of artist Jenny Kendler.

Featured is her project Amber Archive, utilizing created amber and ethically-sourced biological material from species threatened by human activities.

The Amber Archive is an in-progress project — a genetic ark or “deep archive” of our planet’s bio-genetic wealth.

Each created amber nodule contains a fragment of a species threatened by humankind’s transformation of Earth’s ecosystems, preserving a single species’s DNA for millennia to come.

Fur, scale, leaf, bone, feather, insect wing — each carries a genetic code which might be used by scientists at the appropriate time — in some far future when habitats and resources are available for de-extinction of potentially lost species.

The Archive is a biodiversity time capsule for a world generations hence, and a potent reminder to us today of what we stand to lose in the Sixth Extinction.

Though a number of fantastic cryobanks at research institutions exist with similar goals, their high tech deep freezers rely on large amounts of electricity. Were a climate event, pandemic or major conflict to disrupt the electrical grid for a long period of time, these DNA samples would be irrevocably lost.

The Amber Archive seeks a more analog and more ancient method of preservation — one that could survive the potential collapse of Western Civilization and carry these genetic treasures into the far future where there may be a culture willing to, once again, make space on our planet for these marvelous others.

Jenny Kendler is an interdisciplinary artist, environmental activist, naturalist and wild forager who lives in Chicago and various forests. She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006) and a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art (2002, summa cum laude). Kendler is a co-founder of the artist website platform OtherPeoplesPixels, and created the OPPfund, which gives grants to arts, environmental and social justice organizations, and awards the MAKER Grant each year to two socially or environmentally engaged artists in partnership with Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Kendler was also named one of Chicago’s Top 50 Artists by Newcity in their biennial list in 2018 and 2020. 

jennykendler.com

Featured Images: ©Jenny Kendler, Amber Archive, 2018-2021

Above: Jenny Kendler/Photo: Nathan Keay for Newcity’s “Chicago’s Top 50 Artists,” 2020

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ecoartapace was conceived in 1997 by Patricia Watts in Los Angeles. In 1999, Watts partnered with east coast curator Amy Lipton, operating as a nonprofit under the umbrella of SEE, the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs in California. 2019 marked twenty years that Watts and Lipton have curated art and ecology programs, participating on panels and giving lectures internationally. Combined, they have curated over sixty art and ecology exhibitions, many outdoors in collaboration with artists creating site-specific works. They have worked with over one thousand artists from across the United States, and some internationally. Starting 2020, ecoartspace became an LLC membership organization based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

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Interview with Meredith Nemirov – Amy Guion Clay

July 31, 2021, Amy Guion Clay

Meredith Nemirov is a lover of trees. She grew up in the “the space between these trees and I feel their presence and carry them with me.” She has made it her artist work to focus on trees, from her part time homes in Colorado and also in Spain. Her travels, particularly to Spain and Portugal, have been a critical part of her creative development.

Please tell us about your background – where did you grow up, did you go to art school and where are you based now?

I was born and raised in New York City where I studied at The Art Student’s League and received a BFA from Parson’s School of Design. I moved to SW Colorado in 1988 and have maintained a studio there and part time in Spain. 

When did you first realize you were an artist and how did that define your life choices to follow? Were you encouraged by your family/teachers to pursue art?

Both of my parents were artists and very encouraging so I knew at a very young age that I wanted to spend my life as an artist. I limited my involvement in other activities that would take a lot of my time and devoted myself to drawing and painting. 

Entangled Two, 2020, watercolor, gouache and ink, 11” x 28” Meredith Nemirov

Tell us about the work you do and how it has evolved to this point. What is your medium etc.

I was a figurative artist in NYC. After I moved to the Rocky Mountains I felt compelled to focus on the landscape. I painted the mountains but was looking for a figure and found it in the form of the aspen tree. For twelve years after we moved West we had a gallery that specialized in the prints, maps and books about the exploration of the American west. I was drawn to the topographical maps in the Haydn Survey and USGS Surveys because of their abstract quality, the linear and patterned aspects of them. These lines and various patterns made their way into the work and onto the images of the trees. This led to a recent series title RIVERS FEED THE TREES in which I am painting the trees onto the old maps using Acrylagouache. 

Why travel as an artist? How does it shape your work and lifestyle?

The Black Paintings by Goya at El Prado in Madrid, Agnes Martin and Hilma Af Klint at the Guggenheim and Cezanne’s drawings at MOMA in New York City, this is a big reason I travel to cities, to look at the work of artists I have admired and to discover and learn about ones whose work I am not that familiar with. If I cannot go I will buy the catalog of the exhibition.

To continue reading this interview go HERE

(Top image: RIVERS FEED THE TREES #469, 13.5” x 17” – Acrylagouache on old topo maps, mounted on wood panel, 2021 Meredith Nemirov)

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ecoartapace was conceived in 1997 by Patricia Watts in Los Angeles. In 1999, Watts partnered with east coast curator Amy Lipton, operating as a nonprofit under the umbrella of SEE, the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs in California. 2019 marked twenty years that Watts and Lipton have curated art and ecology programs, participating on panels and giving lectures internationally. Combined, they have curated over sixty art and ecology exhibitions, many outdoors in collaboration with artists creating site-specific works. They have worked with over one thousand artists from across the United States, and some internationally. Starting 2020, ecoartspace became an LLC membership organization based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

Go to EcoArtSpace

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Meet Virginia Katz: SHOUTOUTLA

July 22, 2021 SHOUTOUTLA

We had the good fortune of connecting with Virginia Katz and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Virginia, how does your business help the community?
Social Impact: how does your business help the community or the world?

The intent behind my art work is to communicate our deep connection to the environment through association. Through a range of painting media, I hope to achieve in the viewer a heightened awareness and response to the environment that elicits a more nurturing view toward it. I believe that a reevaluation of our relationship to our shared landscape is one of the most important considerations of our time.

I work with a range of painting media, technique, and imagery to create metaphorical relationships between natural events and scenes in the environment and our lives. Since we are entirely dependent on the landscape for our survival, we share in its state of well-being whatever that condition may be.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.

“Please tell us more about your art. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about?”

My approach to painting is conceptually-driven and process based. Using specific methods and materials that are closely related to the content of the work, I investigated landscape “form” from the invisible, such as wind and decay, to the tangible through painting and drawing. Currently, I am focused on three bodies of paintings: Relief paintings and Interventions, Mixed Media Prints, and transparent Watercolors. All address natural form through painting in characteristic ways.

The relief paintings bring actual three-dimensional form that is our world to a painted scene. By working with the drying time of the paint and building up inches-thick, hand-formed acrylic paint, these forms mimic those found in the landscape, such as leaves, vines, flowers rocks and earth. After the forms have been created in the studio, I implant them into the landscape during Interventions, when I allow them to mingle with the environment. After a time, all of the paint forms are retrieved and readapted into paintings on panel or other supports.

In the prints, I use found natural materials in the making process and their forms become embedded into the paper called “debossing.”

The transparent watercolors represent the natural form found in the landscape that is ephemeral or on the verge of materialization or dissipation.

These replicas of land formations and plant life in paint are meant to imply our entanglement with the environment through integration and cycles of decay and regeneration. Paint “becomes” the landscape itself and landscape painting is united with its source. Another way to experience the landscape may be through the lens of painting.

Continue reading on SHOUTOUTLA HERE

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ecoartapace was conceived in 1997 by Patricia Watts in Los Angeles. In 1999, Watts partnered with east coast curator Amy Lipton, operating as a nonprofit under the umbrella of SEE, the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs in California. 2019 marked twenty years that Watts and Lipton have curated art and ecology programs, participating on panels and giving lectures internationally. Combined, they have curated over sixty art and ecology exhibitions, many outdoors in collaboration with artists creating site-specific works. They have worked with over one thousand artists from across the United States, and some internationally. Starting 2020, ecoartspace became an LLC membership organization based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

Go to EcoArtSpace

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Member Spotlight: Jean Brennan

MEMBER SPOTLIGHT

AUGUST 1, 2021

This week we recognize the work of artist Jean Brennan based in Beacon, New York.

“As an interdisciplinary thinker, I work at the intersection between ecology, language, alchemy, and the body. Recurring themes include a fascination with atmospheric forces, plants, phenomenology, and color. Using the lyrical essay as method, I loosely assemble scientific research, historical and pop culture references with personal reflection, to explore our relationship to the natural world, interspecies dependency, and models of resiliency. I use design to publish, archive, and visually score projects that may include installation, video, sculpture and performance.”

Featured Images: ©Jean Brennan, Performing vowels in the note of blue, 2020, outdoor installation and video (49:14 mins)

Performing vowels in the note of blue is a score for nondiscursive communication with(in) a grove of red pines somewhere in the Catskills. Planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, this stand possesses the uncanny quality of a single species plantation gone wild. Five women (a,e,i,o,u) perform the vowels through the use of semaphore flags—a signaling system that augments the body to communicate across distances of land and sea. The movements—like language, like the forest—slip between structure and improvisation. Together, we consider how meaning is constructed in human and nonhuman worlds and imagine a space for communication between. Risograph-printed broadsheet acts as a choreographic score and was provided as a takeaway for viewers during the exhibit.

Watch Performing Vowels here.

Jean Brennan is a Professor in the Graduate Communications Design Department at Pratt Institute with teaching appointments in Transformation Design, Emerging Practices, Technology, Sustainability & Design, Thesis, and Design Research. With her students, she investigates making as a form of research, community engagement, and horizontal structures for learning and collaboration. jeanbrennan.com

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ecoartapace was conceived in 1997 by Patricia Watts in Los Angeles. In 1999, Watts partnered with east coast curator Amy Lipton, operating as a nonprofit under the umbrella of SEE, the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs in California. 2019 marked twenty years that Watts and Lipton have curated art and ecology programs, participating on panels and giving lectures internationally. Combined, they have curated over sixty art and ecology exhibitions, many outdoors in collaboration with artists creating site-specific works. They have worked with over one thousand artists from across the United States, and some internationally. Starting 2020, ecoartspace became an LLC membership organization based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

Go to EcoArtSpace

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‘A Letter to the Future’ is a call to save the planet earth

Luciana Abait’s exhibition ‘A Letter to the Future’ is a call to save the planet earth

Hyperreal iceberg series by the Los Angeles-based artist, Luciana Abait, part of the exhibition A Letter to the Future, talks about the fragile state of environment.

by Dilpreet Bhullar

The sky betrays its blue colour to appear pink and green in the hyperreal photo-digital collages by the Los Angeles-based photographer, Luciana Abait. The shift in the hues of the sky indicates climate change, the theme which has remained consistent in the works of Abait, who migrated from the place of her birth in Argentina to the US in the 1990s. The latest installation of the iceberg series at the exhibition A Letter to the Future by Abiat, in the Los Angeles International Airport, Terminal 7, talks about the alienation and dispersal, a corollary of human-led disturbance in the environment.

Wheel by Luciana Abait Image: Luciana Abait

The plaque with the label A Letter to the Future, written by Iceland’s acclaimed writer, Andri Snaer Magnason, when the majestic glacier Okjokull in Iceland melted in 2014, inspires the title of the exhibition. This episode coincided with the time when Abait was preparing for the iceberg series, displayed at the current exhibition. Furthermore, her tryst with the environment and nature could be traced to the times when she was living in Miami. The pristine blue of both sky and water triggered her interest to develop works that would epitomise nature in its purest forms. Later, when she settled in Los Angeles, its rich diversity of landscape and vegetation prompted her to critique the human interventions that have turned the environment into a state of fragility. 

Installation view of Day Image: Luciana Abait

In an interview with STIR, Abait mentions, “I am strongly committed to creating art that celebrates nature while raising awareness of environmental and social issues. California’s strong commitment to the environment has impacted me significantly since I moved to Los Angeles 15 years ago and started developing a series of works to address climate change in a very direct manner. My artworks have always been inspired by the natural world that surrounds me. My work imagines alternate (or perhaps future) realities marked by adaptation, assimilation and hope. Through manipulated photographic landscapes, installations and photo-sculptures, natural landscapes and human-made objects are impossibly adapted to new roles where they coexist in a magical reality.”

Continue reading here

(Top image: Artist Luciana Abait Image: Courtesy of Vecc photography)

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ecoartapace was conceived in 1997 by Patricia Watts in Los Angeles. In 1999, Watts partnered with east coast curator Amy Lipton, operating as a nonprofit under the umbrella of SEE, the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs in California. 2019 marked twenty years that Watts and Lipton have curated art and ecology programs, participating on panels and giving lectures internationally. Combined, they have curated over sixty art and ecology exhibitions, many outdoors in collaboration with artists creating site-specific works. They have worked with over one thousand artists from across the United States, and some internationally. Starting 2020, ecoartspace became an LLC membership organization based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

Go to EcoArtSpace

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Bonnie Ora Sherk (1945-2021)

It is with great sadness we share that pioneering ecological artist Bonnie Ora Sherk passed away on Sunday, August 8, 2021, in San Francisco, California (USA). Sherk will be laid to rest on Wednesday, August 11 at Noon at the Mendocino Jewish Cemetery, near where her parents are buried.

Bonnie Ora Sherk was an American landscape architect, planner, educator and international artist, and founder of Crossroads Community, known as The Farm, and A Living Library. She’s well-known for her environmental performance work in the early 1970s, including Public Lunch, where Sherk ate her lunch in a cage next to tiger and lion cages in the Lion House of the San Francisco Zoo. The performance took place on a Saturday at 2pm, during normal feeding time and prime spectator attendance, highlighting a human being fed and watched like the other animals.

Public Lunch (1971). San Francisco Zoo Lion House. © 1971 Bonnie Ora Sherk.

In 2012, Patricia Watts conducted a two-hour interview with Bonnie Ora Sherk for the ecoartspace archive. Excerpts from the interview are located on our website under Exhibits, Performative Ecologies, an exhibition curated by Watts in 2020, including Public Lunch at 826 Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Watts additionally interviewed Sherk with SITE Santa Fe last summer for their My Life in Art series here.

Former ecoartspace curator Amy Lipton too worked with Sherk, including documentation of her Roosevelt Island Living Library & Think Park in FOODshed: Art and Agriculture in Action at Smack Mellon in Brooklyn, New York, in 2014. 

The artist coined the term Funcshuional Art in 2003 to describe a new genre of art that combines the functionalism of the west with the sensitivity toward ecological alignment, natural systems and spirituality of the East. Her goal was that this concept would embrace the diversity of cultures from all directions. 

Bonnie Ora Sherk’s early groundbreaking performative work and fifty-year career focused on ecological issues with The Farm and A Living Library have been incredibly inspirational.

She will be missed and remembered. 

Her Instagram account is a_livinglibrary.

Sitting Still I (1970). Army Street/101 Freeway Interchange Construction Zone, San Francisco. © Bonnie Ora Sherk.

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ecoartapace was conceived in 1997 by Patricia Watts in Los Angeles. In 1999, Watts partnered with east coast curator Amy Lipton, operating as a nonprofit under the umbrella of SEE, the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs in California. 2019 marked twenty years that Watts and Lipton have curated art and ecology programs, participating on panels and giving lectures internationally. Combined, they have curated over sixty art and ecology exhibitions, many outdoors in collaboration with artists creating site-specific works. They have worked with over one thousand artists from across the United States, and some internationally. Starting 2020, ecoartspace became an LLC membership organization based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

Go to EcoArtSpace

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The Complex Interrelationships of Tending the Land

Olivia Ann Carye Hallstein

Sarah Augusta Lewison is an activist and creator who documents, researches, and builds platforms for the often-underrepresented farming communities worldwide. Her work speaks to both the social and environmental consequences of monocultural industrialized agriculture, emphasizing heightened indigenous and affected community representation. Her work has brought her throughout the United States to Yunnan, China, Mexico, and Argentina and her Center for Subsistence Research acts as a connecting space for artists, crafters, farmers, and researchers alike. In our interview, Sarah speaks about her work and experiences and her conclusions surrounding the state of agriculture today.

I am consumed with documenting and working within a real world, so I look for ways to draw attention to possibility, love, and connection.

(Melt with Us: An Essay About the Seed Bomb, Sarah Lewison, pub. Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, 2015)

Hi Sarah, thank you so much for speaking with EcoArtSpace today! Let’s jump right in: you describe your work as a semi non-fiction medium that integrates storytelling and narrative into real-world documentation. How did you decide to use semi non-fiction mediums?

I started out doing documentary videos but felt dissatisfied with the endings; I wanted something more hopeful and interesting than simple narrative closure. But I am consumed with documenting and working within the real world, so I look for ways to draw attention to possibility, love, and connection. For example, in the Monsanto Hearings, we overturn conventions of legal procedure to allow non-human animals to testify and collectivize claims of harm in a way that would never ordinarily take place.

Layering the speculative onto the document is also informed by the research and practice of my collaborator and son, Duskin Drum. Duskin drew my attention to crudely photoshopped scenes under climate change, such as Studio Lindfor’s Aqualta (2009) of rice growing on 42nd St in NYC, and his domed subsistence village in Yunnan, China, which protected people from the state and development more than weather. Imagination is so important – for all of us. We can productively consider Jameson’s famous conjecture that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. 

(Chicken Tenders, Sarah Lewison, Feb-March 2021)

There seems to be a strong connection between the environment and people living within these environments in your work. It reminds me of your most recent project, “The Brownfield Between Us,” where you are documenting a clean energy initiative on a piece of land with an industrial and racially discriminatory past. Many people criticize green initiatives of social-historical denialism because they do not offer social support. What have you noticed on the ground where you are?

Your question describes precisely the situation in Carbondale. Our documentary attempts to lay out the multiple different frameworks of knowledge and experience that inform peoples’ reactions to the city’s flirtation with a solar development on a contaminated site adjacent to a black neighborhood. The debate reveals how perceptions of safety or risk are tied to privilege in a situation where there is uncertainty.  Some neighborhood residents fiercely and repeatedly raise this uncertainty to the point that the city government and some lighter-skinned residents living at a distance treat it as irrational. The activists’ questions are not seen as valid by all, but isn’t it worthwhile to consider whether citizens should trust the EPA after what has happened in Flint? Should we have faith in the EPA’s system for evaluating contamination based on “acceptable levels” of chemical traces and on the presumption that toxins decay into innocent elements within the matrix of the soil?

Not everyone, but some people say, exhilaratingly, “Just leave the land alone!”

A tragedy continues to haunt the neighborhood: many people succumbed to death from the same kind of cancer. There is also a living memory of dust and foul odors from the creosote plant. For years the residents demanded more comprehensive soil testing and were refused by the city, the EPA, and the landowners. In this project, I wonder if there can ever be enough testing to satisfy a hunger for information that may never be retrieved. The metaphoric – or real ghosts – who perished from their labor or familial associations with the tie rod plant are hungry.

Another argument against the greenfield lurks as an anti-capitalist, decolonial subtext for some, the opportunistic profiteering of the “greenfield” solar company to the erstwhile extraction of value from humans in the form of enslaved labor, denigration, and diminishment under Jim Crow. The overall expectation of the landowners is that they will be able to continue extracting value from the land itself. Not everyone, but some people say, exhilaratingly, “Just leave the land alone!” 

(Still from Naxilandia, Sarah Lewison, 2008)

They bring out the complexity of subsistence life and the vast kinds of knowledge held by the farmers that allows them to make so many small decisions; about the weather, when to plant and harvest, what to cultivate for market etc.

It seems these topics are globally present: not just in the USA, your work in China speaks to social disparity as well. I have noticed that the flow of your films, such as “Naxilandia,” offers impressions of the “agricultural modernization to the nation’s indigenous highland homes” in Yunnan Province of China, allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions. What strategies do you use to create this work?

Although I was inspired by how artists such as Burtynsky have used scale, especially in China, to telegraphically reveal the destructive impact of human activities on the landscape, I only had a small camera and a variable lens, and myself. I aimed instead for intimacy and the temporality of the everyday.  Sometimes I videotaped for the entire period it took to seed or harvest a field, wash wheat, or wait out a rainstorm before returning to the field. I ended up with a lot of footage to sift through and used many of these long sequences in the installation, consisting of 3 or 4 videos playing synchronously. They bring out the complexity of subsistence life and the vast kinds of knowledge held by the farmers that allows them to make so many small decisions; about the weather, when to plant and harvest, what to cultivate for market etc. There is also an element of meditation to the tasks.

I contrasted this hand / physical work to paid labor and the appearance in the landscape of more and bigger machines for moving earth and controlling water, and managing people. These become more predominant over the duration of the film, finally appearing on all screens. There is also a video channel with text that narrates the historical and technical context.

They are forming cultural collectives that are re-energizing the use of indigenous language and cultural practices. They also are learning, through practice and research, a combination of agroecological, permacultural and traditional approaches to cultivating, foraging, and preserving.

(Still from Naxilandia, Sarah Lewison, 2008)

You mention the “complexity of subsistence life” revealed to you while creating “Naxilandia.” Can you speak more to the farmer’s experiences with which you were working? How much restorative agriculture is already practiced in the Yunnan Province, and is there information to uphold the environmental balance through agriculture in the face of “reforming and opening up”?

The farming communes under the Maoist period were encouraged to use “modern” farming techniques, so there is not necessarily a consistent change in farming approaches due to the reforms. Some subsistence farmers we met in Yunnan use organic cultivation for home consumption, reserving the use of manufactured fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides for their market crops. The coolest holdover we observed from the commune period is that people still communize their labor, especially the women, who will help each other with large jobs such as getting an entire field picked and loaded on a truck.    

In 2008, I visited a marvelous organic farm and eco-resort in Yunnan, experimenting with agroecological techniques. I had heard about a few others near Beijing, but they were struggling with a lack of market demand for organic food. To make a more significant environmental impact, they will need to out-pace the state policy drives to industrialize and off-shore farming. It’s depressing.  

In 2019, we met indigenous youth returning with their children to NW Yunnan villages. They are forming cultural collectives that are re-energizing the use of indigenous language and cultural practices. Through practice and research, they also learn a combination of agroecological, permacultural, and traditional approaches to cultivating, foraging and preserving. In the limited engagement I’ve had with farmers in China at this level, I’ve learned that they take their job of growing food for their families and communities very seriously. The imperative is to get bigger or consolidate as being pressed by the state is difficult to resist.

In rural areas in the United States, municipalities and counties now spray the roadsides with Roundup. Organic growers need to put up “no-spray” signs. Wherever the spray is applied, usually from an airplane, people are exposed to drift. It is a considerable problem in Argentina and Paraguay, a geographic area that artist Eduard Molinari calls “the Republic of Soy,” where children in nearby towns are directly hit and sickened from the exposure. It’s a terrible crisis on top of all the other crises; I’m not aware it has changed, although there have been a couple of successful lawsuits against the technology. And in the United States, these technologies and the big commodity farmers continue to win the greatest share of federal money, leaving the small farmers who grow real food to struggle along. 

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ecoartapace was conceived in 1997 by Patricia Watts in Los Angeles. In 1999, Watts partnered with east coast curator Amy Lipton, operating as a nonprofit under the umbrella of SEE, the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs in California. 2019 marked twenty years that Watts and Lipton have curated art and ecology programs, participating on panels and giving lectures internationally. Combined, they have curated over sixty art and ecology exhibitions, many outdoors in collaboration with artists creating site-specific works. They have worked with over one thousand artists from across the United States, and some internationally. Starting 2020, ecoartspace became an LLC membership organization based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

Go to EcoArtSpace

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Transdisciplinary Mediation for Environmental Policy

The Blued Trees Symphony as Transdisciplinary Mediation for Environmental Policy

Aviva Rahmani

Abstract

As the devastating impacts of anthropocentric behaviors have emerged in the Anthropocene, the specter of globalized “ecocide” has also emerged, requiring creative policy solutions. The Blued Trees project was an experiment in modeling how art might forestall ecocide by legally redefining public (economic) good to reconcile with common (benefit to a community) good. This continental-scale work of interdisciplinary art was copyrighted in 2015, requiring courts to recognize an emergent overlap between copyright ownership, eminent domain law, and new forms of art. My intention was to create a transdisciplinary, art-based model for sustainable relationships with other species and across demographics, which could be scaled in the court system for policy implications. My premises were that transdisciplinary thinking—work that dissolves disciplinary boundaries—can best preserve habitat integrity in these complex, uncertain times, and that laws are the building blocks of policy. The Blued Trees Symphony was conceived as sonified biogeographic sculpture in five movements based on the eighteenth-century sonata form, with the musical structure narrating a contest between Earth rights and accountability for ecocide. The legal theory was litigated in a mock trial produced with the fellowship program A Blade of Grass in 2018. The work, which brings together art, music, and performance with law, ecological science, and dynamic systems theory, continues as a work in progress in that some of its elements, such as trees and ecosystems, the score, and the vital need to stop ecocide, remain alive and very much in play today.

Introduction

Climate change resulting from unchecked fossil fuel use, exacerbated by habitat fragmentation, overpopulation, and sprawl, prompted me to develop The Blued Trees Symphony (2015–present). This project is a transdisciplinary large-scale eco-artwork intended to effect social and ecological change. In 2015, at the invitation of private landowners, I began installing a series of one-third-mile-long musical measures in forested corridors where natural gas pipelines or pipeline expansion projects were proposed. GPS-located individual trees in each measure were mapped as “tree-notes,” in an aerial score. Tree-notes were identified in advance using aerial satellite mapping and ground-truthing. The measures were transposed and performable by live musicians. Each measure included at least ten tree-notes conceptualized in G major, a key that musicians in the Baroque period, such as Scarlatti and Bach, considered pleasing and stable. Since the intention of the project was to envision continental habitat contiguity, this seemed the obvious choice. The time signature in the score submitted for copyright is unperformable in any conventional sense: thirty-two beats to a measure, and the quarter note gets one beat because it is too rapid. This time signature was intended to indicate that we need to imagine another world if we aspire to protect the one we have. But the melodic refrain can still be sung, performed, and developed.

The legal intention was to “harmonize American with European intellectual property laws protecting droit moral, the moral rights of art and extending the law to protect features of ecological significance.”[1] The tree-notes were each marked with a vertical sine wave design. A sine wave indicates the movement of sound in time. The mark, like the impossible time signature, was intended to symbolize an acoustic experience that is multidimensional. The marks were painted—from canopy to roots, including rock formations at the base of the trunk—with a permanent casein of nontoxic ultramarine blue and buttermilk that could grow moss. The sigil referenced the dimensionality of sound in the project. Cumulatively, the measures contribute to a synesthetic,[2] continental-scale score in progress for the Overture and First Movement. The Overture was installed on the summer solstice of 2015 in Peekskill, New York, and the elements were immediately submitted for copyright registration. Rather than copyrighting the forests endangered by natural gas pipelines in The Blued Trees Symphony, we copyrighted relationships between the human teams, the art, and the trees in their habitat. (In writings and interviews, I have been careful to describe the work as being with the trees rather than on them.) We received confirmation of our registration that fall (figure 1).

GO TO FULL ARTICLE HERE

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ecoartapace was conceived in 1997 by Patricia Watts in Los Angeles. In 1999, Watts partnered with east coast curator Amy Lipton, operating as a nonprofit under the umbrella of SEE, the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs in California. 2019 marked twenty years that Watts and Lipton have curated art and ecology programs, participating on panels and giving lectures internationally. Combined, they have curated over sixty art and ecology exhibitions, many outdoors in collaboration with artists creating site-specific works. They have worked with over one thousand artists from across the United States, and some internationally. Starting 2020, ecoartspace became an LLC membership organization based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

Go to EcoArtSpace

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The Mending Ground at Eden Grove: An interview with Connie Michele Morey

Please tell us about yourself, where did you grow up, what is your background?

From an early age, I roamed the woods of the Frontenac County of Ontario, Canada on what was once a vast territory of the Anishinaabe peoples. Our family lived rurally off the land, building, gardening, canning, hunting, fishing, tapping trees and cutting wood. My adopted father was a mason and my mother taught me a deep appreciation of all living things and a wealth of textile experience. My first aesthetic experiences were in the woods, wandering by myself, paying attention and being awestruck by the forest that was my elder and teacher. I was drawn to both the forest and textiles at an early age, but it was not until I was an adult that I realized that my lived white privilege and Scottish and Swedish ancestry included the erasure of early Anishinaabe ancestors (paternally Algonquin, and maternally Ojibwe). On my mother’s side Ojibwe ancestors were hatters, moccasin, and coat makers, with abundant textile experience and knowledge of the land. This is the foundation of my Identity and later education and research in textiles, sculpture, performance, eco-ontology, and decolonial studies.

And, where do you live now?

I currently live on the unceded territories of the Lək̓ʷəŋən and W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Vancouver Island is home to some of the oldest trees on the planet. Travel two and a half hours north-west of Victoria and you will find the contiguous forests of the Fairy Creek and Gordon River Watersheds on unceded Pacheedaht territory and the Caycuse Valley on unceded Dididaht territory.  These are the sites of several blockades established by the Rainforest Flying Squad under the guidance of Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones and Hereditary Chief Victor Peter protesting the threatened logging of the less than 3% of the ancient forests left on Vancouver Island.  In these watersheds are the small, protected area of Avatar Grove and the legendary Big Lonely Doug. A short hike past Big Lonely Doug in the Gordon River Watershed is one of the most beautiful ancient places on earth – Eden Grove. Eden Grove is the site of Eden Grove Artist in Residence Program – a grassroots artist residency set up by curator and forest activist Jessie Demers, in alliance with the blockades. It is here that I have carried out my most recent studio project “The Mending Ground” in the ancient forests of Eden Grove as one of the artists participating in the program.

Installation view of The Mending Ground Community Project, Art-socks by Amy Marcus & fifty other makers and menders from across Turtle Island, Eden Grove, June 2021

Tell us about your arts practice.

My studio practice explores the experience of home as ecological interdependence. It asks questions about ecological relationships – the relationships between economics, labour, displacement and belonging to the earth as home. Through site-specific performance and participatory sculptures documented through photography and video, my work explores how colonial approaches to industry and labour are informed by a displaced relationship to the earth and how Industry’s engagement perpetuates further acts of displacement.

I understand you’re currently an artist in residence at Eden Grove on Vancouver Island. Please tell us more about your work there and the place.

Prior to my current residency at Eden Grove, I spent two years traveling to over forty displaced industry and village sites on the east and west coasts of Canada. This studio research led to projects like: Project Homesick (Roof Over My Head)The Breathing WallHearing VoicesDivision of LabourWriting for the Soil, and my current work for The Mending Ground. Visiting these sites increased my awareness of the relationships between the primary resource industry’s focus on “economic growth” and ongoing acts of displacement towards marginalized groups and species that have come to be a pattern for colonial culture in North America.

The Mending Ground Community Project, Art-socks by Christina Morey & fifty other makers and menders from across Turtle Island, Eden Grove, June 2021

What is Mending Ground?

The Mending Ground is a three-part studio project that includes: (1) The Mending Ground Community Project, (2) Harvest and Gather(performances with the trees) and (3) The Ground that Mends (a textile-based stop motion animation exploring the relationship between the body and the earth). The Mending Ground Community Project invited artists, makers, and menders to creatively darn, embroider, stitch &/or bead an ‘art- sock’ as an offering of gratitude and healing to the earth. The project asked participants to stand with the last remaining Ancient Forests while they continue to provide for us, clean our air, nourish our ecosystems, teach us how to live, breathe, be present and heal. Fifty participants of all ages from across North America responded to the call and their work was exhibited together in the ancient forest at Eden Grove with a one-day pop-up installation on June 1st, just prior to police enforcement on the blockades at the entrance to logging road leading to Eden Grove. The acts of stitching traditionally reference ‘matrilineal’ acts of care and healing in mending our relations with materials, each other, other species, and the earth. Darning, stitching, beading, and embroidery are creative skills sets often passed down from mother to daughter that offer a way to honour materials by mending to extend the life of the item, beautify, care and avoid planned obsolescence and material waste. Each art-sock made by hand is a tender act of standing with old growth for many menders and makers who could not travel to the blockades.

Harvest, Performance with hand embroidered ‘companion species,’ Eden Grove, June 2021

The performances Harvest and Gather engage ritual responses (rather than spectator focused events) of presence and reflection with the trees. Both performances are indebted to Anishinaabe biologist and matriarch Robin Wall Kimmerer’s advocacy for The Honourable Harvest, and question what it means to harvest, gather, labour and engage with economics, while looking to the forest as a model for revisioning systemic colonial ideologies of economic growth. 

The textile-based stop-motion The Ground that Mends subverts the title The Mending Ground, which focused on human-centered modes of caring for the earth. It acknowledges the role of the sentient ecosystems of the ancient forests as biomes that provide, sustain, and heal in succession. If ecology is about relations, then perhaps human species would benefit from looking to the ontological relations of the ancient forests as a path forward – a way to heal our impoverished approaches to relations with each other, other species, global economics, labour and what we understand as home.

I can imagine it has been a great experience for you making work amongst old growth trees. What are your thoughts about the role artists and the arts can play in protecting trees and forest? Do you feel artists also need to be activists? How can artists make a real difference?

As I stand in the forest performing and documenting work, I am brought back to a childhood experience of gratitude and awe of the forest’s mending ground. In the old growth of Eden Grove, thousand-year-old trees hold space for other species to flourish. Even in their falling, during storms and other natural occurrences, old growth ecosystems provide successive restoration for everything, including those humans that rely on them for their survival, while often denying their right to be. 

Artists have such an important role in giving voice to important social issues. Yet the activism that artists offer is uniquely symbiotic. Art transmits experience.  Rather than telling the viewer what to think, art can bring the viewer embodied experience, memories of the body of being connected to the earth. This form of embodied experience mediated through art connects on a different level than fact-based evidence. It is knowledge that not just cerebral as art engages the senses, with the body, emotions, and mind, as one. Many contemporary art practices explore important environmental and ecological issues in a way that allows for the complexities of the world to co-exist, while moving the viewer from the inside-out towards the need for action, accountability, and voice. I love when art invites questioning, because I think that through embodied experience and open questioning, personal engagement becomes possible. In this space of connection, we open ourselves to what really matters, memories of the body that remind us of the fundamental need for attachment, to belong and feel connected with the earth as home.  

I do not believe that any significant socio-ecological change can occur unless there is an ontological shift in the way we see our relationships with the earth, other species and each other, as one that it intimately interdependent. Once we experience everything as kin, we are less likely to use others as “resources” available for exploitation. Art is sensorial and experiential, and it is through embodied experience that we authenticate these connections.

Old growth forests are pioneer aesthetic environments. They wake up our senses, connect us to the earth in the present, and make us feel alive. Ancient forests not only give us life, but also resuscitate us, connect us to our creative selves, and model a way forward to heal our displaced relationships to with the earth, each other, and ourselves.  It is not by accident that so many artists have come together to defend the right for these ancient biomes to exist. Old growth forests are matriarchs of creativity.  They embody imaginative abundance, allowing for unique species to connect and growth symbiotically while remaining distinct. My experience of creating in the presence of these sacred trees is akin to the embodied experience of morning sunlight or fresh wet air; it is a coming home to myself-in-the-world.


The Mending Ground studio project is situated at the intersection of art and activism as an act of standing with the last remaining old growth forests of Vancouver Island. The project includes: The Mending Ground Community Project with fifty participants across Turtle Island, as well as performances and a stop-motion video by Connie Michele Morey, in partnership with Eden Grove Artist in Residence Program on unceded Pacheedaht territory.

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ecoartapace was conceived in 1997 by Patricia Watts in Los Angeles. In 1999, Watts partnered with east coast curator Amy Lipton, operating as a nonprofit under the umbrella of SEE, the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs in California. 2019 marked twenty years that Watts and Lipton have curated art and ecology programs, participating on panels and giving lectures internationally. Combined, they have curated over sixty art and ecology exhibitions, many outdoors in collaboration with artists creating site-specific works. They have worked with over one thousand artists from across the United States, and some internationally. Starting 2020, ecoartspace became an LLC membership organization based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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ecoartspace: Fiber Dialogues

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

United States: 3pm PT, 4pm MT, 5pm CT, 6pm ET

Australia: 8am AEST, Friday

Where: ZOOM

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In this second roundtable discussion we will explore the many ways artists are engaged with fiber and textiles to address climate. There are currently over fifty members who have identified textiles as one of their mediums. We will begin with invited members to share about their work for the first 30 minutes (no sharing screen), then 10-15 minutes in breakout rooms so everyone has the chance to share. The last 15 minutes will be dialogue and exploration of a possible collaboration focused on regenerating soils. (1 hour, no recording)

MEMBERS ONLY plus one guest per member. Capacity is 100 participants. All participants MUST REGISTER.

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Image: Laurie Lambrecht, Bark Cloth, Bridgehampton 2017.  

You will be sent sign-in information for the event after you have registered and a reminder will be sent the day of the event.