Sunday, March 24, 2013

Research for Fish Story

Detail of "River View #1," for Fish Story for Memphis Social, 13'x19" encaustic on paper
This is a detail of a series of google maps I've been working with to see how the water might behave along the backs of the Wolf River as it comes into the Mississippi, IF it were unimpeded by hardscaping and habitat fragmentation. Encaustic, a heated wax medium, behaves like water under the effect of the heat gun.

I used a combination of Phthalo blue metallic gold pigment to reflect how I think we have already chemically polluted our waters and what is driving that pollution, greed. In the upper left, where the Wolf should connect with the Mississippi, the effects blur, because the Army Corps of Engineer diverted the river to create a Peninsula

Friday, March 22, 2013

Connecting the art market to Fish Story, to the Rockaways, to Memphis in May

Recently, I collaborated with the ecoart collective to send a video proposal to MoMA, on the occasion of their call to "rebuild" the Rockaways waterfront since Hurricane Sandy. I believe the same issues facing the Rockaways are facing the fish in Memphis or the art market in NYC. They are all fulcrums. 

The basic response from the ecoart collective was that the very idea of rebuilding the Rockaways waterfront in the anthropocene is an oxymoron. Rather, as the artists Newton and  Helen Harrison have suggested, we need to "withdraw gracefully." The solution I see, isn't always withdrawal. The variations depend on thinking bioregionally and then looking for "trigger points," to effect environmental justice. It always starts, not with the people, but the animals. That is why I keep coming back to fish for Memphis (Fish Story).

On Jerry Saltz's FB page yesterday, Mia Pearlman posted a link to Ed Winckleman's blog decrying the state of the art market today. My response, which I've posted below, was that the art market only reflects the global crisis. To my way of thinking, the ecoart collective's video was a response to that insanity, and for that reason, I would be very pleasantly but nonetheless surprised if MoMA likes it (my implication being that MoMA is the belly of the art market beast). That said, I think the "answer" to the art market/ fish/the anthropocene will be collective. The panel I suggest at the end of this post is specific to the art world but the premises could easily be expanded in the right venue:

Here's the link to Ed's page — with Edward Winklemanand here is my long-winded response:

I really appreciated this post & thread. I was so dismayed by my art fair experience last weekend that after just one 2 hr stint, I went home & took a long nap. The most interesting work I saw were the women who could walk on ultra-high heels. 

Exhibit A of the NY Art World Fairs

The recommendations (in Ed Winckelman's blog) are great but what I think is happening to the art world precisely mirrors what is happening environmentally and economically: as species (and classes and roles) get hollowed out, connections break and the entire system gets pushed past a threshold point of collapse where it will self-organize.

As an ecological artist, on the one hand, I think it is possible to predict what will precipitate the "last straw" that will create that self-organization. I have been saying for a while, that the best hope is in understanding physics. There is a point (that I call a trigger point when it is deliberately calculated) where Maxwells' "demon information" can displace the old system. I can calculate that environmentally, but the art market in some ways is still less over-simplified than what we see in ecosystems in the anthropocene. The problem I see that needs to be examined, is what are the factors that go into modeling predictively?
I presume, based on thinking about the natural environment, that the greatest factors are neither obvious nor easy to move, such as capitalism run amuck. On the other hand, if my reference to physics is correct, it may just take the right small trigger to effect change.
I can only go back to what I work on in my own practice as a model. 

Right now, I'm experimenting with trying to recapitulate the pressure, multi-tasking and preparation work that will go into solving climate change in a project I'm preparing for May in Memphis (Fish Story). I see that as an endurance performance. The personal trick for me, is how to do that without burning out & crashing before I get there, let alone afterwards.
The relevance of my practice model to the art market is that if the artist is the "trigger point" in the critical shift we all need, the question is how individual artists are going to survive the present? The short answer is not easily and not alone. Artists have been competitively divided from dealers and each other. But no matter how powerful insanity may be in the art world right now, like fracking, there are many more of "us" losing from what is happening than there are of "them" gaining big time at everyone else's expense.  

When Rob Storr recently addressed the College Art Association (CAA) with a litany of what the schools & academia are doing wrong, instead of complaining about how he was a "downer," I think he should have been heard as a clarion call from Cassandra. His talk and some others last month at CAA, this blog and the responses, Jerry's FB page are parts of what keeps me going so I don't crash in isolation as an artist. I believe we can be the 99% if we make ourselves heard. 

The simplest answer to what can be done is to say it more and say it loudly. This is a collective endurance event.

As I was typing this, I got a call from the artist Carolee Schneemann and we talked about where values and discernment had gone these days (out the window). Values & discernment will go the way, I think of this entire world unless those of us who care passionately about a different set of values find our collective voice. That process of finding a collective voice, is, I think the "demon information" that could trigger a change.
Will it bring back a past we loved or at least sentimentally enjoyed in our lifetimes? Not for many polar bears or elephants, not for the people who now have polluted water and not for many of us in one aspect or another of the art world in our lifetimes. But something & some of us will survive with integrity.

My suggestion: put together a panel some place very visible, inc Ed, Jerry, Rob, Carolee, Alain & whomever else has a clear voice (more articulate women) and drag people to it with a media campaign that connects these issues to all the others we are facing globally.
Add Mira Schor and Mierle Ukeles to that panel.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Training to prepare for performing Fish Story in Memphis

Most of my blog posts here have been about the ideas behind what Fish Story means to me. But I have many  categories of work to complete before I return to Memphis in May. Some I haven't written much about include, the fund raising, the marketing, the thinking, the networking. These are all time-consuming tasks. The "work" of the art work, however, will be a series of performance events, some private and some public. Training to perform that "work" will make the art happen and requires some daunting preparation to be "ready."

What I mean by ready, is ready to sing, row, draw and talk in four discreet events. Each event will be progressively more public. The first of those events will be rowing to the Mississippi via the tributaries while I document fish habitat. The second will combine performing a game with an audience, leading participatory mapping and singing as part of the workshop at Crosstown Arts.  The third will be several days of semi-publically creating an installation of drawings, photographs and other material at the Memphis College of Art. The fourth and final will be a live interactive live webcast with audience.

I take the singing part very seriously and it's often the most difficult part of my training because it requires the most disciplined focus. So no matter how tired or distracted I am, I begin my work day with 15 min of vocalization and then another 15-30 min of work on particular art songs that work the part of my voice I need to concentrate on, for example middle voice transitions this week. Most recently some new Gabriel Faure repertoire. I need to build that up with long sustained melodic passages.

Rowing the Wolf River to document fish habitat is the most intimidating to me. I'm out of shape and need to build my stamina and strength and requires the most willpower to be consistent in my work. I'm preparing for the canoe work by training at a local gym at least 3X per week. So, again, no matter how tired I am, I haul myself North to the Paris Gym above 96th St and lift weights for at least 30 min. Wednesday, I increased my reps and totaled 40 min.

The show goes on no matter how tired I am. This shot after a gym work out, training to row the Wolf River in Memphis
Developing my drawing ideas for the installation is the most fun to prepare for and takes the least effort. But requires me carve time out of my day when it seems like a million other tasks are demanding my attention. I have started by assembling the raw material- translucent Japanese papers, maps, images of fish & fish habitat. Since my tiny apartment in NYC is already cluttered with research to complete my PhD, it is no small feat to perform orderly work and store the results. Readiness for drawing on site means fixing in my mind where the factory farms are, what the habitat looks like, the demographics of the city, the topography .... Today, I started fitting some of the google earth images together and studying paper samples from NY Central Art.

Finally, there is preparing for the webcasts. In some ways, that is both the easiest of all and the hardest because so much can go "wrong" and be out of my control for me to worry about. Besides the tech and people's availability & interest to participate on line, there's whether I can be on top of data, somewhat funny, a little glamourous, responsive and ready to swing with the tides when there are glitches. There will surely be glitches. I prepare by trying to be a rested version of myself, which is sort of like saying I prepare by making my brown eyes blue. I prepare by reading voraciously- not just for my dissertation, tho that will be relevant when the time comes but all sorts of things that help me put conceptual flesh on an exoskeleton of my thinking about why I'm doing all this. I prepare by digesting sorrow and hope about environmental events from the news. I prepare by trying to be warm and friendly and patient with people no matter how stressed I feel so that my empathy and acceptance muscles are exercised.

My basic motivation for these efforts, is to make those four performances a living paradigm, ten-days of enacting responses to the environment in Memphis, in the world, in the age of climate change, in the anthropocene. The paradigm/ parallel is how we must collectively exert ourselves in ridiculously demanding ways to make things happen differently.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Old rules, new ideas to connect the dots from Maine to Sandy to Memphis

Old rules, new ideas

1.     Do no harm
2.     Fix what’s broken
3.     Make wise choices

I'm proud to be part of the solution on Friday, at this year's NES 12th Annual Colloquium "Superstorm Sandy: Before, During and After" at CUNY.

I will present the culmination of 2 years of GIS research on how to support finfish in the Gulf of Maine. This is an exciting opportunity to discuss with others how to contribute to future policy solutions. The work offers a means to apply the principles of trigger point theory to target where we might focus restoration work to support dwindling biodiversity. This project demonstrates how to leverage small efforts to address systemic impacts before and after the effects of climate change.
Old rules, new ideas.

The research I will present is some of the raw material for Fish Story.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The demographic infrastructures of Fish Story

This is what the mechanism of hope looks like to me. It is a diagram of how air is controlled in bel canto, the technique required for opera singing, by a combination of redundant anatomical engineering and the physics of sound waves.
Since I came back from Memphis about ten weeks ago, my attention has been on the finances and logistics of launching Fish Story. There is now a little less than ten weeks left before Fish Story will be completed, by which time I will have spent a year of my time conceptualizing and designing the work since Tom McGlynn first extended the invitation to me for Memphis Social. I've made progress with the help of my studio assistant, Daisy Morton. Along with Tom and Daisy, a number of wonderful folks in Memphis have guided my thinking, including Scott Banbury of the local Sierra Club, Matt Farr of Shelby Farms, Virginia McLean of Friends of Our Riverfront and Cathy Justis of the Wolf River Conservancy. They have each taught me an entire encyclopaedia about the political and biogeographic ecosystem they work in. This week, I had to accept that my goals for Memphis aren't going to be a trick I perform by May. May will have to be a salvo in a much longer process.

Memphis is not only the center of the world in a continental and paradigmatic sense, it is also the center of a world of complexity. Two elements seem at the heart of this complexity. One is the fish, whose life cycles reflect all the complexities I've been studying and considering this year about Memphis. The other element is "inner city youth," whom each of the people I've spoken to, whose mandate is the environment, have worked to engage with and bring into a relationship with the natural beauty of the region. Inner city youth are important because they represent a huge demographic of our collective future. Globally, they are now disenfranchised and vulnerable to manipulation. They are the raw material of unrest, gangs, terrorism, the target of fascistic enterprises and the fodder for dictatorships. They COULD be, the force that turns us all away from the disaster of the anthropocene. Right now, instead, funding for education, transportation, science research and other facilities that might bring them into a conversation with the rest of the world, are being cut even more than they already were. Memphis embodies the economic over-simplification the whole world is facing as the gap between rich and poor yawns ever wider, recapitulating the same gaps we see between humans as top predators and the other species we are predating.

It is not easy to engage impoverished young people and the percentage of them that my new friends have been able to reach, let alone their parents or grandparents is relatively small. The poor in Memphis, remain largely physically isolated from the more prosperous central city or the affluent suburbs of Germantown. The result is that a large sector of the population is not part of the solution to their own problems. That is the fascination of Memphis for me, how to draw all of "us" into a conversation about the anthropocene and empower everyone towards hope.

As I've worked on Fish Story, I've also been completing my dissertation, on Ghost Nets as a case study model for my theory of environmental restoration (trigger point theory). In the research for that writing, I've focused on studying issues in the littoral zone, the fragile area between marine life and land we call: "the beach." The littoral zone is important, not only for the life it supports, but because it is complex in the ways we need to make sense of for every other system on earth. Like Memphis, the very complexity of the challenge is the very paradigm we need to resolve for the survival of our species, along with every other species, as, fish.  In the littoral zone I've used fish as the fulcrum and harbinger of what that trigger point model needs to consider because they are among the most indicative taxa for ecosystem collapse. Since I began my PhD work in 2009, news of trophic cascades, species loss and other environmental disasters has only escalated. The challenge of finding solutions has proportionately dramatically increased, even as conservative forces have resisted necessary steps to alleviate problems and supported behavior that could only make things worse, as, fracking. This, in the face of calamities such as the BP spill and Sandy.

On Thursday, I spent the day traveling back and forth to Ramapo College, where I participated on a panel organized by Amy Lipton for the show she organized, "It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)." The exhibition includes my work, "Oil and Water." I commented in my opening remarks that any engineer can tell you a good system requires redundancies to be resilient to stress and that is what biodiversity permits in food webs. The danger of the anthropocene is that our predation and contamination of the environment has not only impacted but over-simplified every system on earth. The result is that we are eliminating those protective food web redundancies. In my writing and research trying to reconcile the problem of supporting resilient complexity in the face of the anthropocene, I have been inspired by two systemic models. One comes from the logistics of physics. The other is bel canto singing. Both are represented in my little diagram at the beginning of this post. I've studied bel canto since 1999, mostly with the coloratura Debra Vanderlinde, formerly with the New York City Opera.

What is relevant about bel canto, is how in the midst of the over-simplication of ecosystems we have precipitated, we contain a solution in our own bodies that conflates the complexity of physics and biological redundancy. The vocal system that produces music from the manipulation of air in a very small space in the human body: the space between the diaphragm and the mouth from which sound emerges, may be a viable model for future solutions to littoral zone problems, whether demographic or hydraulic. In effect, our body contains the very model for redundant complex engineering we need to study as a template for how a healthy infrastructure functions. The peripheral apparatus that produces an operatic aria is as complex as a healthy littoral zone that permits tidal flow for the health of water and biota (fish).

The trick I need to pull off, is to translate my diagram above into chipping away at solving the problems I see in Memphis, in a way that enhances the life of fish and by implication the lives of folks who eat them now. If I find a way to leverage those logistics, including a means to engage the many poor people to whom my diagram might seem irrelevant, the incrementally improved well-being of fish will be a measure of my success.