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.

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