Saturday, February 23, 2013

Fish Story launching on Rockethub

I have made the decision to set aside work on my dissertation so I can focus entirely on producing Fish Story for May. I'm diving in with both feet and beginning my launch with Rockethub to start raising some serious financial support. This is the project description that will go on line in 24 hours:

Fish Story is a May 2013 participatory public art project about water and habitat for Memphis, TN. 

  Fish Story is about how the lives of fish in the Mississippi River reflect global environmental challenges. It is planned by artist Aviva Rahmani for May 2013, Memphis, TN, as part of the city-wide Memphis Social, apexart franchise exhibition curated and organized by Beautiful Fields. Fish Story is based on four years of art/ science research with Gulf to Gulf, a series of webcasts about global warming. The project is designed as a model for artists, scientists, conservationists and activists to work together on ecosystem problems. Fish Story will unfold in 4 stages: 1. Traversing river tributaries, 2. Mapping knowledge at Crosstown Arts, Memphis, TN., 3. Interpretive installation at Memphis College of Art, 4. Webcast public discussion about implications of what was learned and national options: May 11, 2011. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Connecting dots between fish, activist art and social networking

Fish don't do FB.

But FB can connect the dots between global issues with globalized conversations in which fish must have a voice. Since I've been doing FB, I've been experimenting with how to manipulate the assemblage of time and space to tell a story. I was esp pleased with today's story of tragedy and courage around the world. The way I see it, military or police violence against civilians or oppressed populations, and violence against women and dissenters are the same as assaults on the environment that are motivating me to do Fish Story. The "answer" is in allowing co-habitation between different points of view, urbanism and nature. That is harder work that sustaining the status quo but as I wrote in one of my captions, it is that very work of displacing one set of data for another, that permits a closed system to open.

This is the first half of my FB page this morning, which contrasts Michael Kimmelman's article on the Netherlands example of allowing sea water into their country to save their land with a petition about and news that two of the convicted Pussy Riot musicians, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22 were in physical danger. I captioned the first article as a remarkable show of enlightenment and the second as a a remarkable lack of enlightenment.

Then below those two references, I reported on a series of sessions I attended at the College Art Association conference conflating ethics and activism internationally:

This album of twenty images reported on work by artists in Cairo, Egypt resisting military actions, Dread Scott resisting police violence in the USA and Jenny Marketou resisting sexist oppression in Ramallah, among other works of resistance and protest.

Then with individual captions for the images inside the album, I could tell a more detailed series of stories:

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Canaries and Fish on Valentine's Day

OK. I have a simple solution to the world's problems: love. Love each other, love the earth, love the fish. Work together. Collaborate. More.

Artists have often been called the canaries in the mine of things to come. Fish, are the canaries in the sea of what we've done to the planet. So where are the systemic solutions coming from these days and how do I plan to conflate canaries and fish? How do you actually implement love? 

I think for many generations, solutions have come from science and art and that is what the Fish Story team is also trying to consolidate for May. Monday night I met with James Bradley, who is developing what will become our collection point website. Tuesday morning, I met in a Gulf to Gulf webcast session with Gene Turner and Jim White to talk about how Memphis may be Maxwells' Demon (the place where physics predicts that unexpected events might turn systems around) in the kinds of crisises we face now. and I do think it's about love.

Today in New York City, I am attending the College Art Association annual conference,  with thousands of shades of gray canaries in the international art world in the same square footage of urban space. And what do they think about the shape of things to come and our present crisises?

Well, like the rest of the world, they are divided but many of us are talking about it and doing so across platforms. That's a kind of love.

Don Krug, who was not at the conference but teaches at the University of British Columbia, recently posed the question to the ecodialog list serve (a collective of about 100 international ecological art practitioners & affiliates),  'what does it mean to think about sustainability, to ask what "thinking" means?' That is a question his University is asking: "how do you teach sustainable thinking?" So he asked, what does thinking mean?  His post followed a post I had asked yesterday about strategies for collaboration.  I believe collaboration is at the heart of any solution for the future we will find. Several people answered in detail, including artists David Haley, Alyce Santoro, Eve Laramee and Shai Zakai. I think artists who are thinking strategically about collaboration are the forerunners of what the whole world needs to do: to think creatively about how we (and fish) might all survive. This is how I followed that thread up and tied it together in social networking (FB) with events at the CAA:

I think the question Don posed about sustainable thinking and the Q&A about          collab I posted yesterday in the ecoart list serve are of a piece. I think those of us grappling with strategic answers are fulfilling the cutting edge task artists (and scientists) have often fulfilled: to solve the big problems with new thinking.  

Arguably, the stakes have never been higher. We've never needed more love.

Below, I've posted the text of my description of CAA events yesterday which relate to these questions. For those of you unaware, the CAA is the largest professional organization for the arts in the world. It meets annually, bi-or tri-annually in NYC:

  • "Several people were upset with Robert Storr's talk at the CAA convocation tonight, a rant about denial in the art world. I found it bracing. Martha Rosler took a pic of the audience when she accepted her award. The session on earning a living was good. The one on Darwin was not bad. I'm really too obsessed with my dissertation, however to be appreciative of much else.  Rob spoke to the fact that we're in a post-capitalist society that can no longer support it's population, particularly of artists in the ways in which artists, esp of the baby boomer generation, have been supported. Also that people being educated as artists today are being prepared for a world that has vanished. Later, Ellen Levy & I went out for a bite and discussed the talk and its relevance to the PhD programs we're involved with. Storr railed against the unsubstantiated hyper-abstracted "opinions" & jargon people become attached to (ie., post-capitalism) without doing the work of knowing history and meanings. I think he's on to something there and the dissertation process requires people to learn to back up their babbling (and practice).
'The criticism of Storr's talk was that it was a rant against the Octoberists and nothing new- that he had to provide a solution if he did a critique. I'm not sure about that. Hal Foster, one of the awardees, deliberately walked out when he began speaking, apparently because they've had a running feud for decades. It's clear to me that few of the sessions this year address really fundamental issues. The session on earning a living was packed, inconclusive and didn't address the realities Rob tried to hit head on. I didn't go on to the reception @ the Guggenheim, but perhaps it was discussed in more depth there. Certainly, as I wrote, the issues reference what Ellen & I talked about later: whatever is happening in the art world reflects enormous global (human) self-inflicted wounds with many consequences and responsibilities none of us, NONE OF US (I think) are prepared for."

But this is not the end of the story. There are several more days to the conference and many more conversations will take place. Conversations on social media will continue. What is of interest to me, is how we can talk about, exchange ideas about what is at stake and how we will solve these issues none of us (I think) are prepared to solve. That is also the goal of Fish Story, for the third largest watershed in the world.

There is a long ways to go still from here to May, when Fish Story will launch: logistics to nail, funds to raise, nodes of connection to activate,  thinking to clarify and for me,  a dissertation to write. It used to be that folks would say about options, that there were plenty of fish in the sea. No more. Not in the sea and not in our rivers. I wonder if there may, however, be plenty of ways we might work together to (lovingly) solve the problems we've created?

Monday, February 4, 2013

First advance press for Fish Story

I'm pleased to provide this link to the first media press for Fish Story. The visual is on the site of JUICYHEADS and in earlier posts here. The text is as follows:

Fish Story: Memphis is the center of the world. 
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.
Fish Story was created for Memphis Social, at the invitation of Tom McGlynn cofounder of "Beautiful Fields," (awarded the domestic 2013 franchise support grant from apexart). It is conceived as public art that straddles science, performance art and environmental restoration work to engage people in the conservation and restoration of waterways.
Memphis is the center of the world symbolically and continentally. It is significantly located along the Mississippi River, in the third largest watershed in the world, heavily polluted by factory farming upstream, which contributes to dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico down stream. The city has been characterized as a racially divided, economically depressed community in which large numbers of young people have little access to opportunity or quality education. Memphis also has a rich history of activist volunteerism. These characteristics make it a good paradigm for the kinds of global circumstances and local engagement that determines water quality.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Animal intelligence

My 19 yr old cat makes every effort to avoid throwing up on the carpets I inherited from my Mother. These aren't hairballs. It is bright yellow bile. And she understands that it upsets me more to clean it up from the carpets than when she makes it to the wooden floor. When she can't make it, I always feel sad because it is another reminder that she is aging and her life, like mine, or my Mother's before me, is finite.

Today, I only wrote 122 new words for Chapter 4 of my dissertation on "Trigger point theory as aesthetic activism." But I have figured out what I want to write about relationships between various forms of mapping that represent what I want to say about complexity in the anthropocene. My cat, my Mother, the carpets, the fish of Fish Story, are part of an elegant tapestry not a brick in a pyramid with a top and a bottom. We living humans don't sit at the apex of a pile of bricks, we are a dot in the complex tapestry that maps our future. I think that when we see that our lives are no more important, no more thought-based than any other being, perhaps we will see how to choreograph our decisions with greater grace. Then we might know how to survive the anthropocene.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Participatory mapping and Fish Story

Participatory mapping is a key tool for many ecological artists working with communities. It will also be a phase of the work planned for Fish Story. It will be part of our event at Crosstown Arts May 8 and contribute both to the subsequent installation at the the Memphis College of Art and the webcast event there May 11. Here, I've excerpted an edited rough draft version of the introduction to the fourth chapter of my dissertation, which discusses how participatory mapping can function in communities to bring attention to critical problems which might otherwise be overlooked:

“Geography, sir, is ruinous in its effects on the lower classes. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are comparatively safe, but geography invariably leads to revolution.” (1879 testimony before a Select Committee of the House of Commons, London, England, regarding expenditures of the London School Board and the introduction to Juliana Maantay's blog on GIS mapping

“Where maps measure and notate the world, mapping is, in the words of landscape architect James Corner, ‘a collective enabling enterprise,’ a creative act that describes and constructs the space we live in, a project that ‘reveals and realizes hidden potential.’” (Abams, Hall 2006)

Arguably, mapping is the perfect visualization of metaphorical relationships. Increasingly, what is mapped is far more complex than simple indications of where material, abiotic elements might be located. Mapping is used to diagram conversations, ideas and consumer habits. It is therefore not surprising that many artists, especially those concerned with conceptual or ecosystem functions have explored mapping as either a genre or a tool, as have I.

In this chapter, I will discuss how mapping is used as a tool for environmental activism and conservation. I will make comparisons between how GIS is used by environmental artists.  I will consider what GISc means in the particular context of identifying nucleation points for landscape scale restoration as environmental triage and discuss why and how I employed GISc as a tool to argue for trigger point theory.

Participatory mapping as a means to empower the invisible 

In other cultures, as Australian aboriginal Maori peoples, maps of dreams and spiritual experiences in walkabouts have always been considered as real, if not more so, as the material world. Such maps may be seen as precursors to participatory mapping, a ubiquitously applied Western educative exercise in “locating” experiences of a place that may include diverse elements which might be given relatively equal spatial value, e.g., subjective perception and memory, emotions of fear or serenity, government regulations, a bicycle route or a river. Participatory mapping is often used to formally engage communities, as pastoral Kenyan farmers in public planning for ranked risk management (Smith et al 2000). This may be a critical methodology for land and water management.  In the Kenyan example microvariant concerns about education and health were brought to the attention of government policy makers. It can make a relatively inexpensive bridge between intuitive and precise observations and engage hitherto unlikely sources for critical analysis, as sexworkers in Madagascar (Kruse et al 2003) to track where sexually transmitted diseases might be communicated.

In these examples, events and experiences are not always expected to be locationally accurate as psychosocial reality which can be a disadvantage of the technique. A church may be disproportionately large in relation to a forest stand. It can be difficult to later georeference important data. As with adaptive management, less vocal participants can become excluded. At worst, these documents can be a treasure map for scarce or protected resources.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) recommends that communities undertaking participatory mapping with outside stakeholders protect themselves with written legal agreements. IFAD recommends that goals be clearly identified by asking questions such as:
• Why do we want to make a map?
• Who do we want to show it to?
• What are some of our most important land-related issues?
• What can we use the map for in the short term?
• What can we use the map for in the long term?
• Is there a predefined reason for creating the map?
The advantages of participatory mapping, besides economics and time sensitivity include that respondents who actively participate can determine priorities, create easily understood, informal visuals and indicate early warnings of problems without laborious training. Indigenous communities often initiate participatory mapping as a means of empowerment. It can be a first political advocacy step in archiving or sharing local knowledge and making concerns visible to an outside world, including sovereignty claims (IFAD 2009) and resistance to industrial hegemony. These maps may be 3D, include oral or written histories and songs as well as graphics, creating accessible performative scripts for map readers. Policy and restoration work is often best served by a combination of participatory mapping and GIS spatialization. In poorer communities the need to integrate participatory mapping with low cost GIS can be served by a movement for participatory GIS (PGIS). But that doesn’t mitigate how difficult GIS software can be.