Saturday, October 11, 2014

Starting, finishing and beginning

This Fall, I will welcome Heidi Hutner to join a couple Gulf to Gulf webcasts on the relationship between education, activism, and climate change. Heidi is the director of the Stony Brook University Sustainability Studies Program. She will join us Nov. 5th at 3:00 PM EST and Dec. 3rd at 11:00 AM EST.

In August 2014, I began teaching a class in Foundation Drawing at Stony Brook University (SBU). I have always enjoyed teaching and my new students have been delightful: serious, hard-working and willing to tackle the difficult assignments I have challenged them to complete. They are also, mostly science students, many of whom are exploring art for the first time.

Nonetheless, they are producing good work.

In this case, my students were given the task of portraying a landscape with coat hanger wire. It required them to learn to handle materials with care and describe their observation with a single, continuous line.
At some point this Fall, I gave my students several difficult theoretical texts to read, consider and comment on that discussed the nature of any culture, as a means of sustaining or resisting political control. That day, I went on to explain that if we are critical of culture, as artists, we must understand that change begins by questioning the nature of our (human) perception. Therefore, I have pushed them to relinquish what I've called their automatic translation of observation into simplistic photography and instead, learn to observe on the basis of the more complex physiological potential of what I've called the "technology of (human) perception." We do that with a number of assignments both in class and out. These young people are at the beginning of a long process, in which art may or may not remain important in their lives. My task is simply to encourage them to try to see in depth.

The exercises I am giving these students recapitulate much of the aesthetic thinking that went into my PhD dissertation, "Trigger point theory as aesthetic activism," which was sent out to my Viva Examiners at the University of Plymouth, UK this past week, in preparation for my oral defense, which will take place early 2015.  The thinking in that writing attempted to layer a variety of points of view and approaches to data about localized sites, in order to develop strategic restoration plans for large bioregions. In that writing, in addition to statistical analysis and geographic information systems (GIS) mapping, I also considered philosophical presumptions challenged, for example by ecofeminists. That strategic approach is a methodology that solves problems dualistically: from simultaneously observing  large global patterns and from observing what scientists call the more "fine-grained" details of specific and local situations. As I now enter the final phases of my dissertation process, I can begin to step back and reconsider the larger patterns I researched for five years.

The largest pattern I think we're all facing, that was implicit to me in all my dissertation writing, is in how geopolitics are being catalyzed by the causes and effects of climate change. As an artist, I want to see that larger pattern and apply my formal tools, the "technology of (my) perception," to change the patterns I see. Art. of course, doesn't work exactly so directly. We experience life, in the sense John Dewey wrote about, and then we work through a complex process from which 'something' emerges … which then affects others … and eventually, sooner or later, affects change to the culture. Artists may be helpless about the timetable for that change but we CAN shed light on what change looks like, whether the evidence is reflected in Hong Kong or Gaza.

As a person whose family were among the early founders of the state of Israel, going back to the late nineteenth century, and whose father was especially open to the plight of local Arabs there, I have had a special interest in events in the Middle East and engaged in several FB threads during the most recent war, struggling as many were, to understand the horrific consequences of patterns unfolding beyond our control. Yesterday, I heard an illuminating conversation and wrote about it on FB:

"By far the best discussion I've heard on Israel-Palestine was recently on WNYC radio:

What I found excellent about this discussion were two points: 

1. A critique of the lack of context in most of the summer discussions during & after the war; specifically, the role of the Protocols of Zion in the radical anti-semitism that is fueling both Hamas and ISIS. The discussant argues that this legitimates an unrealistic focus on the "moral failings of Jews." He argues that in the context of media narratives, particularly in Europe, that context fuels anti-Zionism. 

2.An analysis of the absence of a larger geopolitical framing of conversations, in public and private that would include the larger Arab world demographic narrative over the past 100 years. 

I would also argue that that very lack of adequate framing excludes the greater global biogeographical narrative of climate change and over (human)- populations. I tried to point that out last summer in several FB threads and in this blog."

This is, I believe, is part of the depth of perception of the unfolding tragedy of what happens when climate change meets over-population meets simplistic narrative conclusions. The world is running out of the resources that have sustained our present culture, It is so much easier to ascribe blame and resort to violence and exclude critical narratives than to deconstruct these complex points of confluence and then reconstruct hard answers.

As I enjoy the luxury of increasing distance upon finishing my dissertation and consider the experiences of my students who are just starting a life that includes art, I can also step back further to meditate on all these questions and implications. I am just at the beginning of seeing how educating young artists might be part of this process.

The next two Gulf to Gulf sessions this Fall that will discuss these critical confluences between art, education, activism, climate change and restoration, with Heidi Hutner, Director of the Environmental Humanities, Sustainability Studies Program at SBU, will include Dr. Eugene Turner of LSU, Dr. James White of INSTAAR and myself.

Monday, September 22, 2014

And so it begins. Post climate march thinking.

Chris Hedges,"we will have to act …(at the) beginning of a titanic clash," 'between the corporate government (inc the Democratic Party) and the will of the people to resist ecocide with civil disobedience.' Bernie Sanders, 'nothing happens in Congress without the approval of the fossil fuel industries … (the small evil group headed by the Koch brothers).' Arrests anticipated as the Flood Wall St. group heads towards the Koch Bros offices. Signage yesterday, "we know who is responsible." All yesterday I found myself off & on singing the Marseillaise, "allons infants de la Patrie, le jour de gloire at arrives." And as I said in one of my first trigger point workshops, on fracking in 2010, and I heard Bill McKibben reiterate this weekend, "there are more of us than there are of them." And so it begins.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Contextualizing Sunday's climate change march in NYC with COP15 2009 and my own dissertation work on trigger point theory

In 2010 I wrote about what might effect policy makers on climate change and COP15. At that time, like many, I had been hopeful that information and passion might affect policy makers to respond and "do the right thing." My observation after COP15 was that policy makers are so deeply in bed with and beholden to global fossil fuel industries, that their response to global concern was ruthless violence. That violence was expressed by the Danish police at the end of the 2009 conference. I was stunned and radicalized and blogged for High Tide and wrote about my experience for CSPA:

I think Sunday's climate change march has the potential to be a significant event, perhaps a trigger point. That is because it may signal a new grass roots determination to see change, despite the memory of the violent backlash of corporatized policy makers in 2009 in the name of the Danes. 

The historical significance of this march goes back to COP15. That was when it became clear that change had to come from grass roots action. 2009 was the Flower Power phase of the movement. As I wrote yesterday however, climate change is too important to leave to policy makers. The crushing of the 2009 Flower Power phase of hope is what the internationalization of this march disproves. The difference between 2009 and 2014 is the determination and radicalization of demonstrators as the impacts of climate change have accelerated and policy makers have dithered. I blogged about my experience in Denmark in 2009 and 2010, when I tried to make the point that a persistent international movement is what must turn the tides. This could be the beginning of a resurgence of that movement and NYC might be the trigger point to triage our future.

2009 was also when I began my PhD dissertation work on trigger point theory as aesthetic activism with the University of Plymouth, UK. The same weekend as the march, I am now completing that writing and preparing it for my Examiners. Writing my dissertation on what may effect change was my answer to conflating activism and practice. 

More to be revealed; more to be revealed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The violence of climate change feeds potential for human violence

Ferguson is no different than Gaza or Syria: it is a Mecca for disaffection. And like those other sites, the inherent injustices are circumstantially fueled.
I find it both heart-breaking and mentally exhausting to try to understand the conflicts we see around the world now. I am not alone. It seems difficult for even the most sophisticated people to layer the complex sources and consequences of the imbalances that lead to chaos. The geopolitics, biogeography and local demographics need to be separately teased apart and viewed dispassionately, at a time when few of us have the skills or even the incentive to take that on. That, however, is the task ahead for us all. It is a good one for ecological art. 

My previous research on correlating climate change and conflict zones gives me a modest head start. In terms of correlating observations between Ferguson, Gaza and Syria, besides being on similar meridians, they share what Dr. Jim White & I analyzed in "Trigger Points/ Tipping Points," for "Weather Report," for the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art in 2007: that conflict zones will follow climate change hot spots. Geopolitically, as biogeographically, the chaos of disruption will eliminate the previously balanced competitive system and the role/ functions of many species/ human groups in that previous system. Other species/ groups will be reduced because the interactions shift dramatically. If we consider the principles of island biogeography that contend a steady intake outtake flow will sustain a measure of equilibrium, then we can observe how the equilibrium of previous ecosystems will end. The result on the biological level is the collapse of ecosystem biodiversity. In human terms, this means war.

What I am curious about in Ferguson, is whether the best minds can help another self-organization emerge rather than the descent into increasing anguish we are witnessing? As in the Middle East, these conflagrations are irresistible opportunities for invasive elements, whether you call them instigators, ISIS or European green crabs. 

The tragic mistake I fear, is the probability that the imminent socio-political goal is order for it's own sake rather than combining due process with the needed global macro approach I foresee as necessary. Without the macro view, I believe we will continue to see these kinds of disruptions escalate, proliferate and destroy civilization as we know it.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Cold eyes on hot issues

Today, international peace has shattered again. Addressing bioregional patterns seems remote. But that is exactly what I think we must continue to do, regardless of the present conflicts. Since I began this blog, I have shared my thinking and research, trying to layer bioregional, trigger point concerns with larger systemic trends.

Yesterday, I wrote hesitantly, during what had looked like a detente in israel-Gaza, before news of ISIS moving forward in Iraq to claim more lives. I had hoped a period of peace might be an opportunity for the world to think thru logical responses to illogical situations.

A month ago, I performed the following Gulf to Gulf webcast with Dr. James White, my long term collaborator on climate change issues. This is that link:

In that recorded session, we discussed the larger problems: that too many want too much from too little.
This webcast was important as an example of how we might use different tools to predict changes in large patterns and systems and to move towards solutions.

These conversations have been explorations of how informed conversations may be integrated with some of the same predictive layering as Geographic Information Systems science, which would verify some intuitive conclusions. Right now, the Pentagon may be the only institution attempting that with computers. However, the Gulf to Gulf webcasts have been experiments in seeing how accurate alternative predictive results might be. In this case, the predictions that emerged from our conversations in 2007 were all too horrifically correct, giving some credence to this methodology.

The conclusion that emerged included the premise, developed from my own research work, that our solutions will somehow emerge from the paradoxical conflicts we now find ourselves immersed in. What those solutions on the ground may be, are not yet clear to me. However, I'm sure they will not appear in expected forms, such as shouting at each other across divides or allowing horror to avert our eyes from reality.

In this case, I think ISIS and other geopolitical forces are effecting the biological imperatives to reduce human populations that we have been unwilling or unable to effect in more humane ways. We cannot overcome that imperative or the conditions that catalyzed ISIS, without addressing the complex relationships between agents.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wars, animals and climate change

I have added my work-in-progress to a FB album titled, "Other kinds of death and life."

8. 7. 14
Addendum to the earlier post below: After a horrendous  month of murder, mayhem, public relations and carnage, we seem to be in a detente. I am so utterly sick of hatred, blaming, terror and grief. What has been happening in the Middle East, as I tried to address in the post below, is a microcosm of a world struggling and failing to negotiate between impossible realities with intractable rhetorics. During this period I have worked in my studio on a series of small encaustic paintings, just calculating a visual formula between lost species and soil making grasses as I think about what qualities might save the human race from itself. I considered editing my original post, based on thinking that has emerged this month, but we are really just at the beginning of understanding, so I leave what I wrote as my snapshot of a moment in time.

7. 9. 14
Is it always darkest before the dawn?

Maine dawn

Since the last time I posted here, I came up from New York City to spend a couple months in Maine. Before I left, I completed revisions for my PhD dissertation text, "Trigger Point Theory as Aesthetic Activism," and since I've been here, a video as a trailer for that research and written but not yet published  an article reflecting on what resistance to environmental wars might look like. The trajectory of my thinking during this period has been all about what is the most effective response, as an artist, to escalating stressors? My last post was part of a thread of thinking since that I've published on FB and with colleagues in response to developments I've watched carefully in the world: complex patterns of continued weather extremes, migrations and conflict zones related to global warming.

How do we unravel complexity?

Drift Nets detail

What I want to know is, when does human logic become irrelevant? Where do I find the healing trigger point? This post is an exercise in exploring the edges of those questions.

Re: events in Palestine/ Israel. I can hardly bear to look. I cannot look away. Another reason to be heart sick. 

And then to try for understanding, I start with questions.

How much of recent military conflicts we see globally, but particularly in the Middle East now, have to do with biological imperatives- closer to lizard brain neurological conditioning and animal reflex in which human "logic" is irrelevant rather than strategic thinking about a common future- or is it simply that some people's fundamentalist strategic thinking is my anathema?

When war broke out again between the Palestinians and Israel this week (And it IS already war)  I was immediately in touch with friends & family in Israel. I imagine few people I know, also know many people in Palestine, and that knowing is even less likely in the even more ghastly situations in Syria or Iraq or even Egypt. So, for those of us outside those fields, it's hard to know the whole truth except that it's very, very bad. Of course, it is a terrifying situation for almost everyone and I'm concerned, as I'm sure almost anyone is, for everyone's safety and the regional stability. 

I do however, want answers to two questions I've been thinking about a great deal.

Since 2007, Dr. Jim White & I have been speculating about the geopolitical impacts of climate change, specifically how migrations of species, climates and peoples are contributing to global conflagrations. I anticipate that the Middle East is the tip of the melting iceberg of conflicts we can expect to see at the nexus between climate change, resource depletion, etc. All the thunder about religion, ideologies, etc just mask, in my opinion, lizard brain responses to stress. It's no accident that the most virulent Tea Partiests live in the hotter states. So here are my questions:

1. What is the research about animal behavioralism on exactly how animal self-destruction emerges under heat/ drought stress?
2. How can artists contribute towards quantifying (modeling) impacts of relatively small initiatives such as ecological art is capable of, on such complex situations? 
These are of course, somewhat rhetorical questions that others are working on as well as myself.

Yes there are crazies- on both sides in Israel-Palestine and so many other places. But as the parent of one of the murdered Israeli boys said, "I see no diff between the blood of a Palestinian boy or an Israeli boy." And yet, humans can still surprise us with compassion;

However, one can't dismiss patterns: Hamas's vow to wipe Israel off the face of the earth or the calls to kill Jews internationally or the rise of anti-semitism. If you don't call that collective, lizard-brain retribution, I don't know what is. This conflict is a monstrous situation with horrendous implications not just for the peoples that can't share this land but for many way beyond the borders of this hopeless conflict. Blaming either side at this point, except for the extremists, is just shallow, simplistic and counter-productive, adding fuel to an already raging fire. However, how much of that fire is being deliberately set and how much is grounded in inevitable animal responses to stress? How much is the deliberate manipulation of the inevitable? Where are the larger patterns?

My friend and colleague, the artist, Alyce Santoro shared a few links on topic:

can climate change cause conflict? recent history suggests so:
Climate change is world’s ‘gravest security threat’ – report - See more at:
Climate change is world’s ‘gravest security threat’ – report - See more at:
Climate change is world’s ‘gravest security threat’ – report - See more at:
climate change is world's greatest security threat:
So, let me deconstruct some specific manipulating of the inevitable, beginning with marketing  The Palestinians and the Arab world in general have been far more clever in their marketing & the Israelis far more naive, isolated and isolationists. 

But that doesn't define the issues. I persist in arguing that the real issues reflect far deeper, broader problems that are not regional, may not even be conscious and do presage terribly worrisome implications for what is coming in the next decades as more & more humans continue to compete for fewer & fewer resources with greater & great weapons of destruction in every sense of those words- psychologically as much as by missile strikes- under ever greater stressors. What is needed now is wise leadership from an eloquent and compelling voice and that is sorely missing The closest we have might be the current Pope but alas for the Middle East, his audience is neither Jewish nor Muslim.

The geopolitical marketing issue came up decades ago and has been an incomprehensibly disastrous lapse in judgement for the Israeli state. My hunch is that there's an odd combination of fatalism and self-righteous entitlement that has sabotaged any effective PR. The Muslim fundamentalist movement, on the other hand, completely grasped an opportunity to frame the arguments from the very beginning and have played them as skillfully as the American far Right leveraged & conflated religion, racism, right-to-life, individualism and guns to sell a corporate culture based on fossil fuels. Both the far Right in the West and OPEC/ Muslim Fundamentalism have had access to unlimited funds for think tanks to advance their cause from the sale of fossil fuels as the covert centerpiece of their respective agendas. That would explain the costly marketing campaign success. 

In terms of recent human history, how do I think we got here? In the sixties, Israel was an extension of St. Tropez. People still remembered WWII and so anti-Semitism and tolerance for it declined. The beaches were beautiful. There was no apparent conflict between Arabs & Jews. I was born in NYC but routinely spent time in Israel almost every year from childhood. My father had many Arab friends. In fact, that is the origin of my name. My real family name was changed because Stalin had sent my uncle to Siberia and my father tried to protect him by changing our name from Gabin to something more common in the Middle East. Then things changed.

In 1982, after the war with Lebanon I went back to Israel by myself and spoke to some of the Arabs I met casually and asked them what had happened. I will never forget a conversation with one taxi driver. He said one day, the Iranians started going door to door and telling people that if they didn't join the Intifada, they would be killed. Simultaneously, many ultra-Orthodox Jews were settling in the Israeli occupied territories who had no experience of or interest in living side by side with Arabs. The right wing began to rise again in Europe (it never really went away- I went to school in Europe and knew many Germans who would say in an argument, "Hitler was right.") and deliberate campaigns of anti-Semitism were financed out of Iran, etc. Of course, many settlers acted with arrogance & entitlement and the Israeli govt backed them to stay in power. A past of peaceful co-extence is now forgotten. The rest is sad, tragic history.

What I think began as a very smart (if, arguably evil) campaign coalition between OPEC & Muslim Fundamentalists in which Israel was led into a proxy war with the West & Western oil interests, has become something entirely different and not what anyone bargained for. I don't think most Arab muslims are entirely happy with ISIS's Sharia Law for example. The disaffected army of the long disenfranchised began to lead the clever generals. But I still think that the drivers aren't just human greed for power.

Which brings me back to the animals and climate change and complex relationships between war, animals, and climate change. Humans are animals. Most animals respond in similar ways to environmental stress. We know that from E. O. Wilson's island biogeographic theory: they move, start competing harder for resources, become more stressed, anxious, fretful and default to flight or fight: migration or war or both. That is exactly what we're seeing and unless cooler heads prevail, will continue to see much more of. The conflagrations in the Middle East are tips of icebergs floating and melting into our seas.

So where is the trigger point in this snarled net? Where might an artist intervene? I'm not sure yet but I'm dancing as fast as I can at the party.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Apocalypse Now

In 2007, in conversations recorded with Dr. James White as part of our project, "Trigger Points/ Tipping Points," he said we were entering the fast-phase of global warming, which would accelerate in about three years: 2010. It is now 2014.

Tonight, NYC expects flash floods and my mind is still full of burning California hills. As San Diego cools down, I am considering ... we have entered the fast phase of global warming, in which climate change impacts will geometrically accelerate with all the attendant globalized socio-poitical-economic disruptions we are already observing and consequent loss of life. Geometric means each year, the impacts double. Or triple. They don't go to a steady state where people and other animals can adjust. So, if I apply trigger point theory, the answer is to go into the chaos, dive into the fire and flood for answers, not fight or try to control it but learn it's logic. I don't even know what that means, except that physics and complexity theory tells me it must be true.

My worries are based on films and photos of fires in San Marcos above San Marcos University. I once watched a cougar visit me there. The cougar sat at the top of my driveway. I sat in my car at the bottom and we just watched each other for the longest time.

I know exactly where the photos were taken from on Barham Road. It looks like the flames overcame a house I built there in 1979 on Walnut Hills Drive, as my first strategic design of a trigger point. The beautiful house I built with a wildlife refuge, gardens, orchards and a medicine wheel meditation area surrounded by Torrey Pines trees grown from seeds might very well be ashes now. 

Still from news video.

It looks very likely my former home is gone. The cougar is long gone. In a sense, it doesn't matter- it could be anyone's home, anyone's dream, anyone's life. I find these fires a terrifying harbinger of the consequences of global warming. I don't know how I could have screamed louder over the dangers we've been hurtling towards as either an artist or a person. I tossed & turned over this till 4:AM last night. This AM, I am more in grief than anger. In my mind's eye, there is the fire and the cougar.

I will paint it in encaustics this week, with wax and flame. To the left, fire. To the right, flood.

Sketch for Apocalypse Now.