Endangered Species

A + E Conference: Day Two

Day two in the coffee-and-crumpets conference world.

Patricia Johanson was a highlight. Not just because her presentation was comprehensive, wise, and dynamic. Not just because her work is ecologically restorative, respectful of local religions and cultures, and deeply rooted in community practice. Because in this field, where ideas are infectious, where doom is palpable, where the issues at hand are so huge as to be hilarious, Patricia Johanson has done the work. She’s gone out to Dallas and made a sculpture that restored a lagoon. She’s created a wetland sewage system that is both a tribute to and a habitat for an endangered species. She’s done it while continuing the dialogue both in terms of artistic form– sculpture, painting, light– and ecological relevance. Full disclosure: I asked for her autograph.

The morning started with the music of Sean Shepard— composed for the Nevada landscape. It continued through the cultural waters of Australia, tromped through Italy on Amy Franceschini’s Not A Trojan Horse, and announced the research project “Venue,” an extended journalistic road trip by Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley.

On a day where MacArthur Genius fellow Jorge Pardo describes the houses he builds as not-architecture, author Bruce Sterling called for a reexamination of the definitions. “Disciplinary silos are breaking down in places like this,” he said. “You can actually hear them shattering.” What we have is not nature, he said. What we have is Next Nature, a world bereft of unaltered landscape. And the slow dawning is the sheer magnitude of the responsibility for that landscape.

The evening ended with a cocktail hour on the roof of the museum. On the one side, the mountains. Urban trees. On the other, the blinking lights of the biggest little city in the world. In a sense, Reno is the perfect setting for the destroying of silos.

project::endangered species

ENDANGERED SPECIES – This temporary public art project uses transit vehicles and their environments as a medium, investigating relationships between city and region, social and environmental values. From January into April 2011, four Endangered Species buses will circulate throughout San Francisco, dispatched to different routes each day.

FROM THE PROJECT SITE: The idea came when I learned the SFMTA’s “Transit Effectiveness Project” was measuring maintenance, driving efficiencies, ridership statistics, the bread and butter of transportation engineers work. But no one was discussing aesthetics, or what wider impacts and meanings transit has. It seemed to me that an assessment of effectiveness should include these criteria too.

Like street trees, sidewalk cafes, and parks, public transit vehicles can be lively, as well as useful visual elements of everyday urban life. But the buses are so assaulted by advertising, it’s as if our transit system is not our own. But whose environment is it? How can we best look after the places we live? Public transit is about pooling and sharing resources. Bringing the bus together with local ecosystems and  vulnerable animal species was a natural fit once I started to think about it that way.

The project is also a metaphor of the relationships it addresses, like a fractal whose structure is similar at different scales. The images on the buses are at the center, but they are activated as the buses circulate through different neighborhoods and circumstances. And in parallel to the buses, there is the project website, which opens doors to information and partnerships with area non-profits whose work addresses the questions the project is raising: what is beauty in everyday life? what are our responsibilities to the resources we use? How is ownership and power divided between people – and between species?

As the project evolves I’ll be updating this webpage. For more on how I’ve been thinking about Endangered Species, please see my article “In and Out of Place” in ANTENNAE: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture. And for more on the species and organizations behind the project, please browse the project website. Photographs of the buses are posted on Flickr here.

I am grateful to the many people who have helped with Endangered Species, as well to these supporting institutions: Community Initiatives, a San Francisco-based fiscal sponsor which is a 501 (c)(3) organization; the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Authority; SPUR; and the San Francisco Arts Commission, Potrero Nuevo Fund of Tides Foundation, Zellerbach Family Fund, San Francisco Foundation, Adobe Community Foundation, and Christensen Fund.

via project::endangered species.

In praise of the Boring Milipede

Boring Milipede

Erratic Ant

Hornet Robberfly

Orange Roughy

Elegant Earthstar…

Today I am giddy with the found poetry of the names of endangered British species. A member of the Arts & Ecology ning has posted news of an imaginative new artwork by the Ultimate Holding Company collective in Manchester. extInked starts on November 19 November 12 as an exhibition of drawings of 100 endangered species from the UK. From November 26 tattooists start to ink those drawings onto the skin of 100 volunteers. Each illustrated person then becomes an “ambassador” for the threatened species their body plays host to. The exhibition has been arranged with the support of the Marine Conservation Society, Buglife – the Invertebrate Conservation Trust and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species.

The announcement of the exhibition came with the full list of the 100 species that the artwork was focussing on:

Scarlet Malachite Beetle

Soprano Pipistrelle

Noble Chafer

Wormwood Moonshiner Beetle

Noctule…

We tattoo our skin with the names of our loved ones. This artwork seems to question how much we love these declining species. ExtInct makes me think of the project the writer and journalist Caspar Henderson has been working on, The Book of Barely Imagined BeingsThe Anthropocene extinction, human imagination, and what comes next. In his explanation for the project he comes out with a brilliant phrase which has stuck in my head ever since I first read it:

Most real creatures that we think we know embody wonders we have hardly dreamt of.

Read more about extInked., (includes the full list of 100 species.)

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Declining newspapers: arts moving into empty spaces

bumblebee_page3_1000

Artists love disused space. Artists And Makers have been tweeting me about the Empty Shops Conference they’re running on October 19. Meanwhile here’s another example of a street artists moving into a disused property. The collapse of the newspaper market in the US has been even more precipitous than it has been here in the UK. Print ad sales fell by a horrendous 30% in the first quarter of 2009; titles have been disappearing at an alarming speed.  The newspaper is a strange but crucial part of the social glue in the US, a country where there is no such thing as a “national” newspaper outside of USA Today. Americans are losing a major part of the way in which they tell their stories.

Out of decline comes opportunity. Here’s an example of one street artist Bumblebee, who has been opportunistically taking over empty newsboxes on the streets of Los Angeles, to create a series of narrative tableaux, linking the declines of newspapers to that of another endangered species.

The art, it has to be said, is pretty grim. Nice idea, though…

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology