Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Anthropocene Game for Gasser Grunert Gallery, a preview for Fish Story

Anthropocene Game for Gasser Grunert Gallery
Fish Story, Memphis is the center of the world: a trigger point for change
I'm interested in redefining public art as personal accountability to bioregions and environmental justice. That work includes creating strategies that catalyze overlapping constituencies to effect ecosystem resilience in the anthropocene.

The idea for trigger points emerged from my decade long project restoring a coastal town dump in Maine, Ghost Nets. Early in the project, I was diagnosed with a severe case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and found that acupuncture was the only way to support my resilience. It inspired me develop a theory of ecoregional nucleation for environmental restoration: trigger point theory.

The Anthropocene Game, on Martin Luther King Day, was designed for Alyce Santoro’s Dialectic Revival series, part of her installation at Gasser Grunert Gallery, 524 W. 19th St. in Chelsea, NYC. It was the gallery's first event after the devastating impact of Sandy, which left 21’ of water in their building. The game was intended as an experiment, a test for trigger point theory and the second phase of what will be done for Fish Story at Crosstown Arts, May 6, 2013.

Monday night, I began by reading a brief statement, which was also distributed in hand-outs:

Photograph of me delivering game instructions to the audience by Julian Mock. Work by Alyce Santoro behind me.

Trigger Points after the storm;
 finding where bioregionalism and environmental justice meet

We are in the Anthropocene, the era when humans have come to dominate every aspect of life on earth. But no living species evolved to cope with this level of rapid change. We are experiencing what I call, a collapse of time. In 2010, we entered the fast phase of climate change. Sandy was a symptom of that change. Many respond to change with fight or flight. What we need is connection.
Talk alone doesn’t solve these challenges. Some knowledge comes from embodied experiences. Some comes from meditation. Some comes from our senses. And some comes from talking. Tonight I want to seek new knowledge.
I invite you to join me in a sequence of experiences before we talk. It will be a game, an experiment in finding the “unknown unknowns,” Trigger Points, where bioregionalism and environmental justice might converge.

The print-out also Quoted from Rumsfield about unknown unknowns:

Slate has compiled … the exact words of the defense secretary (Donald Rumsfield), as taken from the official transcripts on the Defense Department Web site:
The Unknown/
As we know/ There are known knowns./ There are things we know we know./ We also know/ There are known unknowns./ That is to say/ We know there are some things/ We do not know./ But there are also unknown unknowns,/ The ones we don't know/ We don't know.
—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

In parenthetical statements, I conflated racism, speciesism as forms of lack of compassion or ecosystemic prudency. I spoke to why we would experiment with the role of play in discovering imaginative solutions, as a means of uncovering unexpected solutions to intractable problems. The discussion focused on the imminent problem of fracking in New York State. At the end of the evening, I concluded that people have a tendency to allow their passionate commitments to specific solutions to become competitive rather than co-operative (which may be overcome by connections between constituencies). We went thru the sequences I had planned: an initial intro, a game exercize, a meditation with music. The game directed people to create teams, such as “money” or “poverty” and then physically (albeit gently), struggle with each other to dominate the center of the space. The game continued until people formed a composite team of "connectivity." When I called “stop,” people sat down, closed their eyes and listened as I sang Faure’s Au Bord de L’Eau with Alyce accompanying me on her flute. Then we had our discussion. My notes below, fleshed out with some literal quotes, are from the ensuing discussion but not in any particular order, nor intended to be complete:

Ruth Hardinger: info on fracking, write letters. “Fracking would pollute drinking water for New York State and New York City's upstate watershed with poisonous, naturally occurring and induced chemicals and those toxins could migrate to aquifers and surface water. If hydraulic fracturing for gas is approved in NYS a result could be that when Marcellus Shale gas is piped to NYC, carcinogenic radon would be emitted from kitchen and commercial gas stoves. In drinking water, it could bring radon levels 80% higher than EPA standards for end users. Write letters to and call politicians now!
O'Kang Ruddock: what is fracking?  (I answered by explaining that it is the nickname for hydraulic fraturing of rock, to retrieve natural gas. It requires massive amounts of water, the injection of toxic chemicals that migrate horizontally for miles thru rock fissures into the watershed and despite marketing publicity generate even more carbon than other fossil fuels)
Ghana: didn't speak, will call her later
Klemens Gasser: use strategy for activism
Tanya Grunnert: art can't use strategy (except Haacke), education & getting info out, apathy of young people -(my comment: what do we mean by strategy? Strategy is a plan but also a military term which relates to my experience after COP15, of large fossil fuel corporations pouring $ into disinformation. Artists have prerogative of appropriating terminology)
Kevin: (we) went from play, fun to fear, anger, conflict (Note -my interpretation-: because going from Kumbaya platitudes to becoming specific is where people can disagree)
Tom MyGlynn- strategy/ no strategy no diff for artists, “artists exist in the actual, between the ideal and the real, and that an agonistic tactics, strategy, is less effective in the social communication of such fraught issues as fracking than a willed suspension of judgment between the either /or of political struggle. A" beyond good and evil" approach may seem immoral on the surface but might actually go deeper than circular political arguments allow. Humans dwell in the "actual". More often than not it is artists that enact this with their practice, which isn't necessarily pragmatic, but nevertheless exists (or is an invitation to exist) in an actualized present.”
Ellen Levy: desperation of poor rural landowners over fracking makes them vulnerable (my comment: weakness & dependency of humans on water & other species = strength of arguments against denial). 
Abigail Doan: from farming family- her area in turmoil. Spoke of need for trust. “(there)is an underlying sentiment of distrust based on the differences perhaps between local activism and concerns and efforts by so-called city dweller, i.e. New Yorkers. Many in the upstate communities feel that NYers are in an outrage over fracking as it will effect their water supply and urban lifestyle, rather than being outraged that this wave will also destroy farm communities in areas that have been experiencing economic hardship for years now. There is already a built in tension that often leads to mistrust, and makes it difficult at times to brings these groups together. If fracking did not directly effect New Yorkers in some manner (and only impacted the rural communities to date) the NY activists might not be as outraged by this issue. Obviously, this is not just a regional concern, but this is the sort of frayed discussion that I hear around dinner tables when visiting folks four hours north of NYC.” - Abigail
Jay McDonald: answer is a new religion (of the earth)
Alexis: friends & family involve with fracking, discouraging (my comment: artists may not be able to have direct impact but perhaps indirect impact)
Aviva: play as part of answer, to Klemens & Tanya: rebuilding = spiritual resilience; each of us responsible to create constituencies, overlap constituencies
Alyce: recycling & using less (my comment: deprivation may not work unless people see potential for pleasure). " at the end of the action led by Aviva during which individuals named social or environmental challenges or themes that they would like to see addressed, representatives from the various "teams"  (water, fracking, joy, interdependence, poverty, etc) seemed to come quickly to the conclusion that, as we say in the OCCUPY movement, "all our grievances are connected"...many of us found ourselves in a twister-like configuration of hand-holding, not able to choose one particular "side", but realizing that no problem or solution exists in isolation. Personally, my chosen theme/team last night was "independence/interdependence"...reduction of consumption (by the greatest users: ie: we citizens of the "developed world") came up as an example, one of many ways we can become more engaged and conscious members of communities and society at large (i referenced joseph beuys' maxim that "everyone is an artist" engaging personal creativity we become empowered, engaged citizens)... "recycling" is a part of this."
Julian Mock: didn't speak but had contributed sound checking and Rumsfields quotes of unknown unknowns
Wendy Osserman: “I was struck by how cooperative we strangers to each other were even though we were somewhat reluctant & not sure what we were doing; it gave me hope that because people have this social side, perhaps together we can get things done that seem so difficult (fighting fracking etc)”
red-haired woman: did not speak
Roger Denson did not speak
Tom (non-artist): artists have onus of communication, even iconic images (Alyce's comment: not just one image, one artist)
Kate Temple: Joy initiated as a team "joy" in the trigger point (Anthropocene) game.

Later, Ellen Levy added, "An embodied approach to ecological issues makes sense, and it is the reason that artworks have the capacity to be moving emotionally.  In the case of your game, one advantage was that it required no props.  It seemed to me that the interpretation was, of necessity, ambiguous.  For some, the feelings provoked elicited interrelatedness. For me, it also illustrated that differing stances/ideologies could not occupy the same space.  I think that the game is certainly worthwhile to pursue as a way to open up discussion. Perhaps using 2 or more such games in encounters with audiences would lead to the ability to more easily compare the respective merits of such hands-on approaches. (another example that readily comes to mind is Lillian Ball's ecological game of competition vs collaboration, which does require props.).

And yet, this problem Ellen identifies, of containing different stances/ ideologies, is precisely what we need to solve in order to effect adaptive change.

The next night, the difficulties of achieving "joy" with the conflicting stances/ideologies problems we face was framed by the stark reality that for some people, whatever can be understood, created or designed may be too late for the kinds of discrepancies in justice we must reconcile with ecoregions. After the last of the 4 Dialectic Revival events last night, I wrote about what I later encountered on FB. When I falter in my own convictions or stamina to find solutions, I think of the kind of experiences I had last night:

Walking East in bitter cold & occasional snow flurries from Chelsea after the last Dialectic Revival event @ Gasser Grunert Gallery, the first beggar approached me on 9th Ave about 9:30PM. He was hunched over and said, "it's so cold out here. Can you spare some change? I want to get some food." His voice sounded desperate to me. As I fished in my purse for a dollar, thinking that wouldn't be enuf for a meal, he kept moving towards me as tho I embodied the hot dinner he needed. As soon as I could give him the dollar & wish him well, he was off asking the next person, still hunched against the cold. At 8th Ave I encountered the second beggar. He was seated on the pavement in front of a cardboard sign that said simply, "Homeless. Please help. God bless you." I can't imagine how cold he must have been tonight sitting motionless on that concrete, hunched like the first man, but his face hidden under a hood. He never looked up as I wished him good luck. Every Winter there are a few homeless people who die of hypothermia. I have a friend who thinks beggars shouldn't be indulged and never gives them change. I wonder what my friend would have thought of those two shivering people tonight?

If we can't have compassion for and connect to the most vulnerable of our own species, how can we have compassion for and connect to all the other species dying because of our negligence, let alone compassion for the consequence for ourselves? Perhaps we can't. What I hope, is that with Fish Story, we may at least care about our dinner plate and from there, realize that compassion connects us to our own dependency on the rest of the world.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Collapsing time for fish ... and others

Today's post is a sketch for what I'm thinking about presenting PM 7: Monday evening at Gasser Grunert Gallery The event, "Trigger Points after the storm," is "contained" by another artist, Alyce Santoro, who has an installation in the gallery and invited me to present as part of a series of talks and events intended to generate productive discussion. The invitation happened to have come in the midst of a series of other events claiming my attention.

When I was young and first lived full-time in NYC, it was the sixties. I went to the Art Students League and NYU during the day, Cooper Union night school in the evening, topped off the night at the jazz spot, Slug's or dancing at the Electric Circus, went to shows, worked with Joseph Pilates, performed with the Bread and Puppet Theatre, participated in demonstrations, joined E.A.T. and felt like being in that whirl at that time opened me to the whole universe, was good for my work and would lead me to "answers" to the burning questions of that time. And I suppose somewhat it was and did but it was also a very hectic way to live and I think there were invisible casualties.

Since 2007, James White and I have spoken about a different kind of whirl, what I call a collapse of time, the effects on the world of a confluence of climate change, species loss, over-human populations and so on. Biogeographical events are unfolding at a dizzying speed with both invisible and visible casualties. It's easy for most people, however, to ignore those collapses and casualties and simply stay focused on the known. Of course, for many, it is not possible to take that option. It is not possible for coastal communities, farmers in drought stricken or fire-prone areas, island nations, urban areas, such as Delhi, India, whose aquifer is dwindling... or fish.  Fish are particularly helpless to adapt to these rapidly changing conditions. They can't travel to safety where the water stops, when it stops. They are among the invisible and visible casualties of collapse. And that is why they are the focus of Fish Story.

My life still seems replete with multi-tasking on too many days, and that seems to be increasing, to my discomfort. Certainly, this week that is true. It doesn't seem as much fun as it was in the sixties. The stakes seem higher. I have less stamina to weather the shifts. I am getting a dose of time collapse. I wonder even for those of us privileged to live in prosperous areas, such as NYC, whether one unknown is how to cope with a world where many things are happening at the same time, all of which seem to be demanding our attention with equal urgency, a world where our time is collapsing with few obvious answers to the problems we glimpse in passing? Monday evening in the gallery, I intend to try to set up a situation which simulates some aspects of that time collapse simultaneity in rapid succession and see what insights might emerge from the discussion afterwards.

On FB last night I wrote:

Preparing for my Trigger Point event Monday, I've been thinking about how to define the "collapse of time," of the anthropocene, the phenomena of too many changes happening faster than any species can assimilate. I feel like I've been experiencing it all day. Today I did singing practice, wrote fundraising cover letters for Fish Story in Memphis, worked on GIS, my dissertation, an article, co-ordinated art pick up, organized my bills, did some filing, vacuumed, responded to a family issue, contacted or switched appointments with about 20 people and trimmed my eyebrows.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Mierle Ukeles at the Brooklyn Museum on maintenance

In developing Fish Story, I am often reminded of the work of artists such as Mierle Ukeles, known for her work on Fresh Kills wetlands and as the artist in residence for the NYC maintenance department.

Mierle Ukeles is remarkable to me not just for her work but for her thoughtfulness, modesty and generosity to others. I think she lets the work speak for itself without languaging or keywording at all. In this case, the work was all about framing her questions about the meaning of maintenance and the implications of Sandy with peoples experiences, letting the context frame the content.

Mierle began the event with some opening remarks, most of which I missed. Mierle referenced an earlier performance, in the 60's and that now was a good time to revisit the meaning of maintenance. She was seated to the audience's right, on a raised platform podium, at a table and each person sat across from her, like Marina Abramovich at MOMA last year.  She was in a relaxed posture but didn't break till everyone was done, about 6:PM. 

She had sent us questions- how do you survive, how will NYC survive (after Sandy):

What keeps you alive?
What do you need to keep going?
What keeps NYC alive?
What does the city need to survive?
in the short run
in the long run
She also asked us each for an intro.

Each participant was weighed before they ascended & then after they descended the platform.
The entire event was taped and will be available on disk.
A questionnaire was distributed inviting people to list their maintenance activities.

The day interspersed artists, a few scientists with maintenance workers who each spoke precisely 15 minutes. I stayed till the end.

There were several of us present from the ecodialog. Jackie Brookner, Betsy Damon & myself spoke about our current work, respectively in Fargo, China and Memphis. Lillian Ball & Ruth Hardinger were also there. 

Betsy Damon talking with Mierle Ukeles

One account was from a museum window washer, who had had cancer, was a former model. She could be seen washing the windows behind Mierle earlier in the performance. 

The window washer

The maintenance people fascinated me. They were modest, humble & competent. Very smart people and as Mierle said, what keeps us going. They were the people  one Parks dept cleaner said & Mierle agreed, who could just as easily be CEOs.

One particularly riveting speaker was a maintenance man from the Rockaways, who described his experiences with Sandy. His time went double everyone else's. 

Describing the clean-up after Sandy

Mierle listening

These were some of the quotes I wrote down:
What are we going to sacrifice to survive?
I'm proud to be an American and a New Yorker ... there's worse out there
We cried the whole night about Stage 4 cancer and then we were OK
It was magnificent (about people helping with Sandy) ... I wanted to be helpful. I grew to hate the storm.' I'm reporting for duty.' They put me to work and I felt useful. People have to shred more. You could only operate while the sun is shining.
Methane harvesting (at Fresh Kills) for 100 000 homes and generating $1 million for the city
make people biological by connecting them to the land
"You don't know who you are until you know WHERE you are" (Wendell Berry)
How the story will end?  "You (Mierle)" remind us we are all stardust.
Emptying out art

Earlier in the day, I had passed a homeless person, asleep in a  church doorway and wondered what their maintenance was like.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Like wounded fish lost in the sea

It seems to me that the homeless people I pass as I walk around Manhattan are like the fish in the rivers, streams and oceans, that we don't think about, but they suffer our indifference, wounded and threatened. It could be said that like the homeless, fish depend on the fickle kindness of strangers.

Yesterday, I passed the same woman a block from Zabar's I'd seen before, the one who looked like a soccer grandma. It was drizzling and she was sitting without any shelter in front of the church grate. Her face was much more pinched & narrow than the last time I'd seen her. I said, as I gave her a dollar, "I'd hoped I wouldn't see you here on a night like tonight." She smiled wanly, as tho to say, "me too." When I passed by about an hour later, she was gone, but another beggar stopped us on the way into the subway. Later, leaving Chelsea, I heard the most beautiful Portuguese singer. I budget myself $5. for beggars & musicians each time I go out. I rarely spend more than $3. I figure it's an investment in Karma.

I rarely refer to having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, tho it cuts a wide swathe thru my life. But recently I encountered a couple situations where the standards were so inflexible for my participation, that I was forced to accept exclusion. It is a frustrating reality that this society doesn't cut people much slack for disability, visible or not, fish or human. I always wonder about the judges: how their tables might be turned if they were to walk just a step or 2 in the shoes of people or species unlike themselves. I suppose it is one reason I can relate to homeless people.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Fish story from Ghana, courtesy of HMJokinen, Hamburg, Germany for Fish Story

Dear Aviva,

I would like to tell the fish story from Accra, Ghana.

"We must know that 'away' is in fact a place ... where people and environments will suffer from our carelessness, our ignorance or indifference." Jim Puckett, environmental activist

This series of photos (above) shows the way mostly illegal transports of e-waste, computers, refrigerators and broken cars leave Hamburgs harbour and arrive in the harbour of Accra/Tema, Ghana. There parts which cannot be repared (approx. 70 %) are transported to Old Fadama, a sad place for globalized e-waste from many harbours in rich Western countries, also the USA.

Old Fadama holds the reputation of being "one of the most polluted places on earth". Huge amounts of broken cars and electronic waste are manually taken apart by the poorest of Ghana’s poor. Extremely poisonous fumes are emitted when children and young people burn plastic coated computer cables to salvage metals. The hard foam removed from old refrigerators is used to kindle the fires.  The air as well the nearby Korle Lagoon and sea water are significantly polluted with heavy metals. The health of people living in proximity is put in danger, while on the coast of Accra high levels of toxins are killing off the fish which has been an important food supply and source of income.

Old Fadama with 80.000 inhabitants is situated in the center of Accra. The residents make a living mainly through small businesses in nearby market places. Currently foreign investors have become attracted to this centrally located land. Their plans to build a recreational park are supported by local politicians and accompanied by the Korle Lagoon Ecological Restoration Project KLERP - at first view a reasonable solution. However, the area would fall victim to gentrification, all the while the Old Fadama residents would be forced to the outskirts of the city where they would loose their very means of subsistence. International NGOs have presented substantial alternative models for recycling e-waste which would avoid the environmental damage currently happening but these proposals seem to have fallen on deaf ears of the decision makers. The Old Fadama people are organising protests and strikes against the forced evictions.

(Photos: HMJokinen, Gordon Uhlmann; project AWAY IS A PLACE 2011 htttp://; installation "zongo. caravans of hope" 2011; text by HMJokinen and Charlie Michaels from the catalogue )

Me (below) taking a water sample near Korle Lagoon in Old Fadama. 
(Photo: Charlie Michaels):

The water sample under a microscope (heavy metal analysis) and a fragment from the "Animistic Spells I-XIV" poem by Wole Soyinka (below):
(Photo: Institut für Hygiene und Umwelt, Hamburg)

A flag showing the situation in Old Fadama. While e-waste is burnt, inhabitants and fish die. The text on the flag in Twi, the Ghanaian language: "Last bath. Troubled waters." The term "last bath" also refers to Assin Manso, a memory place where enslaved people  had to take a bath after a long march and before they were sold and transported to the slave forts on the coast to be shipped to the New World. Ghana's ressources have  been exploited since centuries.

A second flag showing the struggle for fish. While the fish is dying on the coast because of the e-waste burning and the local fishermen and their families loose the existence, the rich nations' trawlers show up off coast and take away the very rest. The text on the flag in Twi, the Ghanaian language: "Last supper. Troubled waters."

The two flags refer to the traditional Fanti Asafo Flags which visualize historical events of the community for future generations. These flags were designed sown by Kodwo Edusei after I told him the two stories - a traditional way for ordering such a flag.  (Photos: HMJokinen)

Best wishes
HMJokinen, Hamburg, Germany
visual artist, curator

Monday, January 7, 2013

Where suburban Memphis fish live

This is one of the sections of the tributaries to the East of the Mississippi I plan to traverse en route to the big muddy, the week of May 5, before Fish Story opens, sent by Kenny Latta:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Hatto Fischer's fish story for Fish Story

Yesterday we saw a film about the salmon fish. It reminded me of your fish stories. Amazing how this Salmon fish can leap up water falls. The commentator compared it to what such heights would mean for a human being, namely a four storey house. Can you imagine yourself up to such a height? As you expressed the wish not to stay only with the fish itself but link it to climate change, what comes to my mind is the stinking fish when all water has receded and no more oxygen is left in even the smallest pool of rest water. May your efforts to avoid such catastrophe in the coming New Year bear some fruit. Happy New Year.

Geoff Hendricks' fish story for Fish Story

"My consciousness of global warming is perhaps most pronounced at my farm on Cape Breton Island where first, perhaps a decade ago, the spruce bud worm attacked a lot of the white spruce leaving patches of dead trees in the woods and then a few years ago the spruce bark beetle came along and killed off a lot more of the spruce trees. The winters were just not cold enough to kill the larvae. And last summer the neighbors said the ice never formed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It used to be that the people would go out seal hunting on the ice in the winter, and could drive from Port Hood out to Port Hood Island over the frozen harbor. With the spruce dying I haven't been finding the chanterelles in my woods that used to be there. Back in the 70's and 80's I was able to go into the woods and quickly pick a large basket full of chanterelles, and every summer we would dry them, and also pickle them and put them up in mason jars.

Could also talk about the water. When we were first coming down to Cape Breton in the 60's the water at the West Mabou beach and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence was clear. Now it's not so clear and jelly fish have come in. Also in the 60's the fishermen would go out and bring in large Hake and Cod. Now they're restricted because of the diminishing stock and one can get smaller hake and cod from the local Fish Co-op caught in the Atlantic on the other side of the Island. Local fishermen will sometimes have some mackerel they've caught."

-Geoff Hendricks