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.

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