Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fish story isn't just about fish

Many of you have sent us your wonderful fish stories. Thank you!  We want more of them. There are still more I will post. But Fish Story isn’t just about fish. It’s about global warming, knitting bioregions and connecting the dots to environmental justice, one critical location at a time. Homelessness and dying fish are linked by dysfunctional systems that have sacrificed many human and non-human lives.  Fish Story is working to increase awareness while restoring degraded ecosystems.

Tis the season to be giving, Sunday morning Greenwich Village before Christmas 2012. 
Photograph by Aviva Rahmani

Fish Story has been in development for six months. Our implementation plan in Memphis will include three stages of engagement and creation. I am not ready to release that plan here, but a prospectus will be available for our supporters early next month. Two weeks ago, I was in Memphis on reconaisance, lining up support from several of the premiere regional conservation institutions there, meeting each one of those wonderful folks in person.

I was very impressed by what modest Memphis has been accomplishing and look forward to writing more about the people I met and their conservation and engagement projects over the next months. Memphis is split by racial, political and other demographic divides. It bears the burdensome legacy of King Cotton and the history of slavery that reigned then. It still has charming, bubbling brooks but is shadowed by fracking state neighbors who may endanger their water systems. It is the belly of the beast of where America sits on the fence between a short term energy future status quo before inevitable water-less collapse and longer term, albeit rocky planning for the survival, not just of fish, but ourselves. And yet, there are people doing amazing things there.

The image of the NYC homeless person above (I think it was a woman) struck me, not just for how neatly her belongings seem to be arranged around her, but the evocativeness of the red door behind her figure. It reminded me of another image I have, from the series of works that have proceeded Fish Story for the last few years. This one (below) is from, "Oil & Water," a version of which will be in a couple shows next month, "It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine)"at Ramapo College, Mahway, New Jersey, curated by Amy Lipton and "One of a Kind III" curated by Heide Hatry, University Gallery of Canada: at the Owens Art Gallery at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, from January 11 - February 24, 2013.

Red Sky: Warming skies over the Louisiana bayous seen from train window during hurricane season 2010. Photograph by Aviva Rahmani

What is striking to me about comparing these two photographs and the function of the color red, is how in the Red Sky image above, there is no sign of human habitation but the sky is alive with ominously heated color. In the second, the figure is very present but huddled and anonymous. "She,"is front and center, while the red door behind "her" is dull and relatively small. 

The Red Sky, symbolizes the contrast to me, of how dramatically imminent and overwhelming global warming felt to me in 2010. I had taken the photograph in 2008. Katrina still felt raw and bloody. COP 15 in 2009 left me with over whelming feelings of urgency. I was totally energized by rage and hope. I knew we were entering the fast phase of global warming. I could not believe what was going to happen, did happen, that every powerful leader would be cowed by corporate interests and determinedly stick their heads in the sand, while sticking their hands out for, in effect bribes from fossil fuel industries, particularly natural gas, at the expense of the whole world as we know it.

Three years later, I think part of me feels like the woman in the doorway, self-protective and huddled against the truth of the red door into hell humans have opened for life on earth, which has become a dull back drop to misery. 

Another part, is hard at work on completing a dissertation to address the theoretical underpinnings to another approach, grounded in an admittedly limited understanding of physics. But... I think, viable and as scientists say, falsifiable. which means, it can be tested. And Memphis may be ground zero for the first test.

It was last Spring, that I began documenting my encounters with homeless people. It began while I was going for cancer radiation treatments at Mt. Sinai hospital. I felt stunned by the contrasts I saw between the lavish comeliness of Upper East side Fifth Avenue NYC window boxes and neat gardens and the homeless people I was encountering as I traversed the city each day. My cancer, their restricted lives, all seemed a piece with the reduced world we have made for our children. It was then, that the ideas for Fish Story began to take shape. Next week, I will go for my follow up tests. But so will the rest of the world.

All that drama having been stated, I am now completely committed to what Fish Story in Memphis could mean. Memphis is the center of the world, in the heart of the North American continent, with Canadian tar sands at one end and South American drug cartels at the other end. It is the most degraded and promising place in the third greatest watershed in the world. I think there are grim and daunting days ahead for many of us ... but it must start somewhere and Memphis is going to be a good place to do that from.

Dec 18, 2009, I blogged from Copenhagen:

"... as many pointed out to me ... thruout this process, from Kelly Blyne of and Jim White, my collaborator from INSTAAR, to the EU negotiator on the train up from Germany, it isn't the end of the story. It just makes for a more painful and complex narrative.

For the long term, I am actually vastly encouraged by the many wonderful projects I learned about around the world, mostly at the Side Events in the Bella Center, many of which I tried to share here. I wish the whole world knew about them. An enormous amount of networking occurred and I'm sure the grounds for further policy negotiations were laid.

In the short term, I think every sane person who was here and a lot of the rest of the world, is speechlessly bowed down by grief for every species, every nation which, every child who, will bear the consequences of COP15's failures. And in the end, nothing and no one will escape the scary consequences of failure to act on the causes of climate change in a timely manner."

O how I wish I had been wrong.  It is almost midnight in New York City and they predict snow again for Saturday: another opportunity for hope and innocence. 
Amen and happy new year.

Friday, December 21, 2012


                May you be led by light this year!

"Mississippi River at Twilight" Riverfront, Memphis, TN 
Day 1 Fish Story, a project about the impact of climate change 
Photograph by Aviva Rahmani December 13, 2012

Please consider a tax-deductible donation to this project through NYFA

Thursday, December 20, 2012

FB divestiture and migration to Fish Story

March 11 update: as it turned out, I decided it wasn't worth it. But this was what I was thinking that day:

I have decided to divest my almost 1000 photos in almost 80 albums gong back to 2009, from FB because of their privacy policy. Over the next days, I will take screen shots, label and add more screen shots of each album, load them here and comment on how the ideas in each album relate to Fish Story. Cumulatively, they represent a mini-memoir of the years of writing my dissertation on "Trigger Point Theory as Aesthetic Activism," and the foundation of the thinking that culminate in Fish Story for Memphis, TN. Below, is a preview of the contents:

New York City has been where I engage in dynamic conversations with colleagues and consider challenging questions about any art practice.

Fish Story began in Vinalhaven, Maine, as I struggled to restore the town dump there to flourishing wetlands for Ghost Nets (1990-2000).  The work of restoration helped me conceive of  theoretical approach to environmental restoration, "Trigger Point Theory," which led in turn to "Gulf to Gulf," a mini-think tank with a core of scientists to consider what to do about global warming. Fish Story, at the invitation of Tom McGlynn, began looking at Memphis, TN with the  "Gulf to Gulf," team, at the center of North American ecosystem dynamics.

At every stage, art work was created to explore relevant ideas from biogeography to species diversity.

In Memphis, studying the city' s relationship to itself and the river, I continued to think and write in my dissertation about how complex agents interact in predictive modeling systems.

My time in Vinalhaven allowed me to quietly contemplate difficult possibilities.

Contrasts between city and country reflect different aspects of environmental problems.

Personalities and personal routines transcend ecosystems.

The task is always the same, connect the small dots, for example of ecotones and edges to the large dots of bioregions and global dynamics mediated by astrophysical processes as the planet warms.

Geographic Informations Systems science (GISc) is one of the most powerful tools ever discovered to see layers between bioregional and demographic layers of information, by matching up statistics and geography.

What keeps me going is my passion love for the beauty of the natural world.

Fish are the key to the health of water systems everywhere in the world.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Day 4, December 16, 2012 Preparation for Fish Story, Memphis, TN

The pictures I took on my last day in Memphis, preparing for May's "Memphis Social," were all about the trajectory of fish and water from one small tributary (the Ghost River) to the Mississippi, via the Wolf River. It is a path fraught with human infrastructural impediments to the free flow of clean water and that trajectory recapitulates many obstacles to either sustainability or resilience humans have instituted. Those obstacles often mitigate against our own survival and recapitulate questions about environmental justice and ecoregional linkage.

One of those obstacles is what may be contaminating the water. Most countries are now dealing with the "choice" between fracking for natural gas and the "environment," framed as choices about energy vs. water and air quality. But is energy all there is?

In TN, yesterday, where I spent most of the day researching for Fish Story, I drove thru healthy farmland. TN is not far from fracking activity in North Dakota. North Dakota is where TN water comes from and the TN dilemma is a paradigm for the rest of the world. Fracking is already an issue in Pennsylvania & an imminent issue for New York State. The UK is teetering on the brink of enormous decisions about fracking and much of Europe has taken sides on the controversy.

This recent article by Elizabeth Royte in The Nation, details the additional implications of potential impacts on food supplies:

I won't go into the insanity of trading not just water or wildlife but food for the short term energy "benefits" of "natural" gas. But consider: Royte writes of the tails dropping off of cattle and squirrels. There is currently no testing being done on animals and plants subjected to nearby fracking. We have no tails that might fall off when we consume our food. But as apex predators, the chances are that our bodies will concentrate even more toxins that will affect our systems.

In speaking with some of the Foundations in Memphis, Ducks Unlimited, a representative said, "we are moving as fast as we can slowly." The problem for us all, is that may not be fast enuf.

Royte's additional information speaks again, to the often difficult tension I, along with so many others, struggle to sustain, between urgency and calm reflection on challenging environmental issues. The advice from Royte was, ask your organic farmers, 'how close are you to fracking and have you tested your produce?' 

Approaching the Church of the River, which has prioritized good stewardship for its' location on the river.

The view from the Church of the River onto the Mississippi before the service, just past the point where the Wolf River historically emptied into The Big Muddy.

Singing Christmas carols at the Church of the River after the service.

The Rev. Burton D. Carey clowning with his congregation, as one of the lords a leapin' for the "12 Days of Christmas," at the Christmas carol sing-a-long at the Church of the River.

View of the Mississippi after the Church of the River service and caroling, 2 hours after I first arrived, with a subtle change in the light.

Band of erosion exposing the rich soil quality, down a country road near the beginning of the Ghost River that feeds the Wolf River, a tributary of the Mississippi.

At the end of the country road I drove down, it turned into a dirt private drive for what was apparently a large estate, possibly a former cotton plantation.

Once this countryside was part of King Cotton, the center of the economic world. Now, the remnants of field cotton look just like melting old snow, like another vanishing memory, the real snow of "real" winters, before global warming. The vast cotton industry was sustained with slavery, arguably, analogic to how the present world economy is sustained by fossil fuels including natural gas.

Rural Tennessee is just an hour outside the city,

I drove to the Ghost River and back before heading to the airport. The trajectory from Ghost River to the Mississippi via Wolf River will be the heart of my plan for the Fish Story events in May for Memphis Social.