Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Post - Fish Story Memphis

I am back in Maine now, organizing, assembling and making sense of the documentation of our experiences with Fish Story in Memphis, which I will begin posting here later in the week. As with everything in nature, including mental creativity, there has to be some fallow time for fertility to be restored.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Big Fish of Fish Story

The  NYC art world is responding to the bigness of two male artists making big & irrelevant artworks: Paul McCarthy and Jeff Koons dueling for attention. Of the 2, McCarthy is arguably a better artist. Both sell their works for many millions of dollars. The three galleries/ gallerists showing them, Hauser & Wirth, David Zwirner and Larry Gagosian sell to very big collectors, some of whom are using art to launder money. The art often gets stored in a warehouse as one more commodities investment without further aesthetic discussion.

What is "big" art in today's world? What are big ideas? I humbly submit that the biggest idea may be to simply stop doing what we have been doing: making many babies and consuming many planets to support all those extra people. The second big idea might be to put things back where we found them- like missing fish. Apparently, easier said than done.

So, what else's big? Perhaps, the enthusiasm and commitment and success I witnessed among the people I encountered in Memphis for a better environment,

Participatory map from playing the Anthropocene Game at Crosstown Arts, Memphis, TN.,  May 6, 2013
as part of Fish Story, Memphis for Memphis Social

Fish Story Memphis generated 80 blog posts on this website since November 2012, with 9 911 views; 1 room size installation at the Memphis College of Art, Memphis, TN.; 1 9.5'x 28' painting on paper, almost 100 paper cut-outs of individual fish from 16 freshwater North American species; 7 13"x19" encaustic paintings on google map prints of the tributaries; 3 video tapes- 1 from a Pecha Kucha at Crosstown Arts Gallery in Memphis, TN. December 2012, 1 of a participatory mapping exercize after playing the Anthropocene Game at Crosstown Arts Gallery in May 2013 and 1 of a webcast between NYC, Memphis and Greece connecting river dots to radioactivity and fracking May 11,2013 ; 1 participatory map of what causes and cures environemntal degration; about 50 photographs of fish habitat and ecosystems taken on site in Memphis and on the Wolf River; 15 assessment evaluations and 1 hand-out, all to establish a basis to say that our world needs to pay attention to the story fish tell and pull together to save our common environment MORE than we need to extract energy to keep on the way we've been keeping on. That basis for change is the big fish I'm trying to land. I came away from Memphis happy to know that so many others are fishing in this new way.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Connecting the river dots in Fish Story

Today at 2:PM CT from the Memphis College of Art, we will do a public webcast to compare river issues in Memphis, TN from Fish Story, to river issues in Greece with Yvonne Senouf of MELD and Amy Lipton from ecoartspace and relate those problems to the emerging impacts of radioactivity with Eve Andre Laramme and radon from fracking with Ruth Hardinger.

Installation detail from the Hyde Gallery, Memphis College of Art, Memphis, TN
On a pedestal outside the installation room a hand-out says:

"Scientists have confirmed that carbon dioxide levels in the air have reached 400 parts per million.
(see article) Off-setting that rise would require people to green the earth by an additional 36% by 2030.  Without such drastic measures, most species, including humans will not survive. The easiest way to change that is to restore degraded ecosystems. Everyone on this earth can participate in that work. Memphis may be a critical place to begin.

    We emit globally about 10 BMT/yr of  carbon (billion metric tons per year) in Fossil Fuel burning       and deforestation. In 20 years, that would mean about 200 BMTs.There are about 550 BMT of carbon in all plants above ground, and 1,500 BMT below ground (in soil carbon), so you need to add   about 2% to the living global biosphere every year to offset the above. In 20 years that would mean you need to add 36% to the living biosphere to offset Fossil Fuels and deforestation, or you'd need 1/3rd more biosphere in 2030 to do the offset. Its less if you can figure out a way to speed up the transfer of carbon form the living bits to the soil carbon pool. 
–Dr. James White, member of the Fish Story team

Fish Story Memphis is about how the causes and effects of global warming are affecting fish as indicator species for habitat and water quality. Memphis is a critical ecoregion: in the third largest watershed in the world, along the sixth largest river, South of factory farms and North of dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico. The Wolf River may be a bioregional opportunity to effect large landscape restoration. Reconnecting the Wolf River to the Mississippi may be the first step.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Canoeing the Wolf RIver, Dr. Eugene Turner, guest blogger for Fish Story

The Canoes of the Memphis Social(s)

            A woman emerges from the darkened room, turns around to cast back a whispered ‘I love you, Bye!’, closes the door softly, and scampers off barefoot -- lightly thumping the wood floor -- gathers sandals, and zips downstairs and away. An old man smiles at the youth, the opportunity to care, and good use of precious time. The morning’s first restorative light spears glide across the room. Time to nourish oneself and get in motion.

            We are here as part of the Fish Story team for ‘Memphis Social’ that opens in two days. We have been reconnoitering the area, beginning with a canoe trip on the Wolf River May 4, then installing artwork for 5 days, giving one workshop at Crosstown Arts Gallery, and plan to attend the opening Friday night, and organize an international webinar on Saturday, May 11.

Dr. Eugene Turner and Aviva Rahmani with 8 guides from the Wolf River Conservancy

            The Wolf River cradles the southeast of Memphis, Tennessee. It drains the high ground above the present day Mississippi River, opposite the low ground of the present-day State of Arkansas. Ninety-five million years ago it debouched directly into the salty Mississippi Embayment, then an extension of the Gulf of Mexico. This was 60 million years before the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide concentrations dropped below 350 ppm, after which it was cool enough for ice sheets to form, and long before our human ancestors could exist as forest dwellers, which was about 6 to 8 million years ago. When sea level dropped because this global cooling, the embayment filled in with sediments to form the Mississippi delta lowlands. 

            Whap!...our canoe bumps another cypress knee. We push off and it hits another on the opposite side; the current moves us sideways against a tree buttress, and I briefly consider abandoning ship, lest we capsize in six inches of water. The paddle can be useful at both ends of the canoe, but if we both pull strongly on the same side at the same time, then …we’re with in with whatever fish are there. Sometimes we back up because the various openings are not wide enough or spaced apart enough to allow passage. We drag on the bottom. The canoe behind bumps into us. Then we turn in front of them to avoid a log. And so it goes for 10 minutes until we find a wider channel; and then it starts again.

            The water is high, or we’d be aground in a 10 mile wide swath of recovering swamp.  I say ‘recovering, because it was cut over, farmed, channelized and burnt many times over the last 200 years. Birds, snakes, bear, fish, raccoon, deer and the occasional bison and elk were hunted down as the European-based eastern seaboard culture moved west like termites chewing their way through wood, forming channels and burrows in the eatable valleys. These are mostly cypress, tupelo, and gum trees, but there are also splotches of marsh with bull tongue, waterlily, grasses, and reeds. Life will not be denied, in one form or another – it’s just that the place may silt in, foreign plants take over, birds disappear, and game be sparse. The largest cypress trees now reach up about 80 to 100 ft, but are only 4 to 5 ft wide. The record cypress in Mississippi is 15 ft. in diameter and the largest in the US is 17.5 feet in diameter. The biggest might have been 2000 years old. Gone now, for sure.

            Two of the 8 guides from the Wolf River Conservancy are behind mothering us along like a duet of parenting ducks teaching their newly hatched. One of them explored this section og the river  earlier this week to mark a new trail. Henry comes up from behind to joke that he has picked up the orange markers so that we can use them to mark the way forward, but wants to know “which way is forward?”. And it is not always clear where the trail is in either direction, either. Last year a helicopter picked up a pair of lost bayou paddlers. More people signed up for today’s trip, but the weather forecast discouraged them and they weren’t at the launch site when we left. But the temperature turned out to be agreeable and there is no rain. It’s cool enough to sweat, but warm enough to hold a paddle, and even to dry out if we tip over. The canoe needs only 2-3 inches of water and we are mostly in less than 1 ft of water. Some of the guides are in kayaks that are even closer to the water. Some of us are in wool (good if you fall in) and others in cotton (not so good). One has the ‘Full Monty’ – a neoprene diving suit from ankles to neck. The view from an airplane must be like a cluster of 11 dots moving across the green and brown, shivering, vibrating and mixing like water striders. If you haven’t seen them, water striders ‘walk’ on water supported by surface tension, with ripples emanating from each of its four legs. The water is muddy from eroded silts and clays. The paddle sometimes digs into sand, which would be bright white streaks when water is low and the surrounding land is restored.

            “We”, the tourists, includes the artist, Aviva Rahmani, and me, her team-member scientist who has signed up for what we call ‘art camp’. Aviva has the moxie to set this in motion and we try to help out. Another team member, Jim White, a paleo-ecologist from Boulder who is intimately involved in climate change programs is not here. The guides are from the thriving local canoeing club of the Wolf River Conservancy and are all a half-century old, or more. By virtue of their enthusiasm alone, they are helping reclaim, rehabilitate, re-discover, restore, and just enjoy what this place is and might become again. Mary is a computer-savy health specialist. The SoJourner brothers are former policeman and fireman. The names and specialists of the others are lost in a swirl of shadows and puddles, and I regret not writing them down, but we were in the midst of greenery, balancing, hunger, lightness, bugs and laughter. A camera does not work; cell phones are useless (thank goodness!), and the twists and turns around a thousand missed and a hundred un-missed obstacles kept us occupied.

            We stop at some high ground to chew and converse, point and laugh, and smile and inquire about each other. They are proud to be friends and find joy being on the water with a light touch. Some beaver mounds are discussed, the red-berried Ohio Buckeye pointed out, and… is it an eagle or an osprey nest over there?  Two of them?  And abandoned duck decoys – the flotsam and jetsam of modern life, like a plastic bottle, some loose twine, and plastic bag are picked up, but there is little of it. By the time we pull out to clean up and return home, we are tired, glad to survive and say quite honestly how much fun the work was, and that maybe we’d be a little sore tomorrow. Say, could you send some of those pictures? 

            Restoration in the broad sense of people, place and other, may be something like this canoe trip: Exploration, capsizes, led by both experience and chance, exchanging the lead to follow, tutoring and yelling, and with some companionship against the stream of dysfunctional pressure to subdue random acts of love, kindness, fun and exertion. The way back will be opaque in our collective memory for lack of examples, extinct species, and common goals. Moving forward with the current, we may get back with stiff muscles, but also with appreciations for how we need to just a little amount of gear to travel well, that the arch of similitude between our ancestral sensual lightness with the world and today can be couched simultaneously in awe and practicality.  But more on that later.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Fish Story update

I've been adding images of my visual progress towards the two events below, on FB each day for the past couple weeks. The FB screen shot above is from an album posted yesterday, of what I saw on Beale St, at A.L. Green's service and at Graceland. My impressions both seem on a continuum of what I saw on the Wolf River Saturday and in contrast to the green and subtle sounds I saw from the canoe I shared with Gene Turner, with whom I've been working since he joined me Friday. Tomorrow, before the participatory mapping @ Crosstown Arts, we will start installing at the Memphis College of Art.

Tuesday: 6:PM CT May 7, 2013 @ Crosstown Arts, Memphis, I will speak for a few min of intro, then give out instructions for an interactive, role-playing "Anthropocene Game" about environmental dynamics that affect fish habitat (and human survival). After the game, people will be asked to find a place to sit down, close their eyes and consider what might have been learned from the exercize, as I sing to them. Then we will start to map the insights & experiences people can share about fish & fish habitat, on a large piece of butcher paper, with markers, while discussing relationships between these local problems. Finally, there will be refreshments.

Saturday: 2:PM CT May 7, 2013 @ Memphis College of Art (MCA), Memphis, there will an unknown audience number viewing a webcast projection in a room with an installation @ MCA (detail images or earlier on this page) and interacting with about 7 people internationally, discussing how issues local to Memphis about fish habitat relate to other issues both nationally & internationally that are serious ecological problems:

The location is 477 South Main, The Hyde Gallery at the Nesin Graduate School Memphis College of Art (Downtown campus). I will host an open, public webcast comparing global bioregional habitat concerns. Webcast participants will include ecological art practitioners: curators Yvonne Senouf and Corinne Weber of M.E.L.D. of shows on global warming and endangered river systems; Amy Lipton, ecological art co-curator with Tricia Watts for ecoartspace; artist Eve Andree Laramee who works on radioactivity; artist Ruth Hardinger whose work focuses on fracking; artist Lenore Malin who experienced Sandy in NYC; Fish Story team members Dr. Eugene Turner, wetlands ecological biologist, restorationist and dead zone expert; Dr. James White, paleoecologist and Director of INSTAAR UCB and ecological artist Aviva Rahmani. The webcast will be recorded and made publically available after May 20, 2013.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Fish Story in Memphis

Arrived Memphis for Fish Story in pouring rain Thursday night. Vivid sunlight on the Wolf River for our 4 hour canoe ride thru the Wolf River swamps to the river with 9 Wolf River Conservancy guides creating a new trail thru that stretch of the system. 4 osprey nests in a row, many banded snakes, water moccasins, egrets, many beaver mcmansions, Canadian geese flying over, red-winded blackbird, big delicate spiders but no visible fish. Turbid water silted over from previous clearcutting. Photo edit from shot by Gene Turner. Tomorrow, Al Green's church, maybe Graceland and Beale St. blues.