Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Personally, I find it very hard to be hopeful when I'm exhausted. It has been an exhausting year. But as we approach the last hours of 2014, I happen to be rested today and can think more lucidly about hope. Jim White, one of the scientists I work with always points out to me, when I feel gloomy about our environmental prospects, that there is always hope. It just gets harder.

At dawn this mooring I looked out my window to my Manhattan viewscape
to see a workman flexing his muscles for my camera.
The image I snapped this morning of a man on the roof across the way, looks like a small King Kong on the skyline. He may or may not have seen me taking shots, so may or not have been posing. But at this early hour, this man represented to me how humans stand on top of all we have created and look out to one another, or the future. But perhaps, we might more profitably consider what is below all we create, for example, soil or water and how fish might reflect the health of either.

The future many of us want to see these days is just something hopeful. I have written often here, about how fish are indicators of aquatic habitat health. Soil is a material that stands at a confluence between animal life,  geology, and water. It reflects the health of all the relationships that make clean water possible. It is what the quality of our food depends upon.

As the year turns, we have a few days to rest up and regather our stamina to go forward, to consider the basics that support us and build our "hope" muscles. As rested as I am, at least today, I think it is just a question of work and not impossible.

In other posts, I have written about Maxwells Demon, the premise from thermodynamics that implies that the energy of work can change the most closed systems on earth, by presenting new data. So, rest means we can do the work of that data transmission.

The task we build our hope muscles for, may be to identify that critical data that can make that critical transformation.

In the new year, I wish us all enuf rest to feel hope, to exercise the work of environmental transformation, to see more fish, that we may enjoy clean water and fertile soil.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Collapsing silos

This week, I was very proud that WEAD published my article, "Communities of Resistance" in their Issue 7. It is about how science and scientists have informed the evolution of my thinking as an ecological artist.

Now that progressive thinking lost the American election, we can start rethinking how to go forward, which must include some bold advances in ecological art thinking. I think a fundamental aspect of going forward is going to come from collapsing the silos between disciplines- not to abandon the disciplines, but to open the doors and windows of the silos and let in the fresh air of some new thinking.

I wrote to my Foundation Drawing Stony Brook University students (who are primarily science majors) tonight:

"At least one person has asked to speak to me about how to combine art and science as a career. I am wondering if this is a topic others might want to discuss, perhaps next Thursday in class? It is a topic I know a great deal about and have been immersed in thruout my career. I would be happy to share my experience and encourage anyone with this interest. I think many of you are very talented and clearly serious in both directions. The world would do very well with a new generation that looks at the world in a more spacious way than just silos of art on one side and science on the other. Stony Brook might be an ideal place to explore how to go about that."

All semester, I have returned my students to the idea that to make a mark, the artists "tache," we must first pay attention to how we observe, how the rods and cones function in our eyes and how being an upright animals inflects our thinking. Now, I will try to talk to them in more depth, not just about how formal aesthetic ideas like chiaroscuro, line and depth are related to physics, mathematics and community biology, but also, what transdisciplinarity is, what it means in our world today, what has come before and how their "mark," might transcend artificial separations between art and science … and earn them a living.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Collapse of Time Part II

The hope

Sunday October 26, the second day of the Techno-Utopianism & Fate of the Earth conference was more hopeful, despite the dire news of the first day. I had come away on fire over how critical the American election will be next week. Scroll down to read more.

Vandana Shiva
Coming into the conference on the second day, my greatest worry was the steady drip drip of news about the global proliferation of failed states, under the confluent pressure of over-population, dwindling resources to support life on earth as we know it, such as clean water, and the need for rapid adaptation to radical biogeographic change. As a citizen, I have no faith that Republicans have the courage, wisdom or intellectual integrity to cope wth any of those pressures. As a teacher, what nagged at me, were a series of conversations with my students this past Fall, about how daunting life is now and how even more daunting, the world may be that they will confront on graduation. They will live deeper into the twentieth century than I will, well into the brave new world of the Anthropocene we have created for them. I worry for them all. A week after the second day of the conference, I’m not sure whether the worries that had carried over from the day before, were answered.

As an artist, my questions are all about form. What is the best form now to answer the present? Meanwhile, i continued to listen and consider what I heard.

What I heard Sunday, was Vandana Shiva speaking to how indigenous peoples in India had resisted the unconscionable behavior of American corporations. She commented that globalization can only deal with reductionism, which in this case, is reduction to the most simplistic cash profits of shareholders.

Helena Norberg- Hodge, who spoke on food safety, justified extensive travel to spread the word. I am not sure I agree.
Severine von Tscharner-Fleming is an amazing young woman who is organizing organic farmers, even finding ways to work with monoculture and factory farmers to allow, for example, sheep to graze between vineyard rows.
Incidentally, the next day, in a conversation with Ray Weill, I learned, to my delight, that some of those same megafamers are going much lighter on petroleum fertilizers now because they’ve been convinced that organic is less costly in the long run.
Winona LaDuke gave an amazingly moving presentation, that began with the showing of “Honor the Earth,” a 200 mile horseback ride of Indigenous leaders opposing the tar sands pipelines and confronting the police.
Victor Menotti detailed how the Koch Bros $100 billion derives from making sacrifice zones of indigenous lands.
Mzwanele Maekiso, a modest man from South Afria speaking on fracking, gently pointed out that our biggest problem is in-fighting egos over, “my organization/idea is better than yours competitions,” which I also can testify is corrosive to any fragile resistance we might muster.

As I continued to think thru the day about the obstacles we face, I wondered whether the competitive defeatism Maekiso described is even more poisonous than the Koch Bros $100 billion spent on re-electing people whose primary responsibility is to proliferating fossil fuels and nuclear war. If we are competing with each other, under mining each other’s hard work, the Koch Bros can just sit back and laugh while we do their work for free. Sadly, I see too much competition in the art world.

A detail from Hans Haacke's show. Saturday night, I rushed from the conference to his opening and then back to hear more grim news. As gripping as I find this work, and I do, I'm not sure how it contains these painful issues and find it confusing to know when to back off from being didactic. It seems to be a matter of trust.
Dave King gave a fascinating historical talk on the Luddites, explaining how they were never against technology, but rather how companies were using technology to shaft workers rights.

A recurrent theme was how we are not only addicted to fossil fuels (the only smart thing George Bush ever noted), but that the resulting system are grossly inefficient if you factor all the costs, water, etc, etc, for example to produce a pound of beef.
Some one who spoke at the conference described addiction as “you do bad stuff and hang out with dealers.” Amen.

Forgive me if the rest of this summary will be brief, but a series of indigenous rights people described how they are fighting these corporations and their multi-national power with legality. A recurrent theme was that an unjust law must not be obeyed or defended. If people had not acted on that premise, we would still have slavery, women would have no rights at all and so on.

Of course, implicitly there is the fact that we have a series of male Supreme Court justices in this country whom are doing exactly that, defending and demanding obedience to unjust laws such as Citizens United.

As an aside, a point I have made elsewhere at another time, the reason I think we have an apathetic electorate in this country, is that they are suffering from the oligarchic experience of domestic violence. Like any abused and beaten down wife, they have given up and given in to learned helplessness.
There were several references to the Buffalo Treaty which united 11 tribes to affirm their culture and its relationship to environmental restoration.

So will all that be enuf?
We shall see.
Much more work ahead.

As an ecological artist, the trick I hear many colleagues struggling to master, is how far to push relationships between activism and social practice that addresses these issues? Speaking for myself, my own task seems to be to clarify the frame of what I have to contribute, much of which right now, as I complete the last phases of my PhD dissertation on "trigger point theory as aesthetic activism," seems to be about how and what to publish and exhibit from that conceptual endurance event over the year ahead.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Collapse of Time, Part I

49 leading environmental activists from all over the world convened at Cooper Union for a two-day Teach-In conference this weekend on Techno-Utopianism & the Fate of the Earth; why Technology will not Save the World, presented by the International Forum on Globalization and the Techno-Utopia Project in collaboration with the International Center for Technology Assessment, the New York Open Center and the Schumacher Center for New Economics.

Ralph Nader telling the overwhelmingly progressive audience to get over the "euwww" factor and make coalitions with Republicans to save the world from the Koch Brothers and the fossil fuel industries.
Throuout the two days, they reminded us that revolutions start and even are carried out by a handful of people. Tho the reality is grim, we have the means to resist. The first act of resistance will be to get out the vote in the USA next week, despite the feelings of learned helplessness in the electorate. The changes they discussed in this event have all happened very quickly, in the past ten years, and our time is short to forestall the worst damage of what has been set in motion.

I took many notes and will add installments, links and pictures to this post over the next few days, as I have time. First, I want to just set it all down. I took the notes so fast that I’m not sure I always got the precise quote or the attribution so apologize for that. It will need to be better organized later.

The general message was that corporations have bought governments internationally, and especially, in the United States, where the Koch Bros have bought most Universities, the US Congress and are about to buy the Senate. However, there is a vigorous resistance movement led by Indigenous Peoples and young organic farmers. The goal of the Koch Bros and their cohorts is a state of perpetual global nuclear war fueled by conscienceless extractive industries, manned increasingly by intelligent robots and enslaved and indentured human labor, thanks to vast over-population. Science fiction horror story? Not anymore.

Some of the many books on sale outside the Cooper Union hall
The antidote is accepting limitation, effecting structural change, collaboration without ego, facing how addicted we are to the delusion of cheap, easy, fast energy. We must come back to our bodies and the earth. “Efficiency” only increases competition and alienation. Negative consequences are inevitable (Barry Commoner). There are no techno fixes. Over-population is the friend of business and religion (but not the earth). Over-population began with agriculture, not the industrial revolution, when we got the idea we could control nature. At the advent of agriculture, the human population exploded. Everything has a cost. Progress is a process of diminishing returns. The weakness of the scientific method is reductionism.  We now have market driven education. There was a time when the UN had regulatory control over corporations, but pressure from the US gutted those provisions.

Helen Callicott indicating where fall out from her Chernobl continues to poison people and habitat.
Helen Callicott: Congress has now allocated $1 trillion to new nuclear programs that even the Pentagon did not want. 1 million people died from Chernobyl. Nothing should be eaten from Turkey or Japan because it is so radioactive. Fukushima still releases 3-400 tons of radioactivity into the Pacific Ocean daily. This is a crisis without end. The goal now is nuclear power to explore space for mineral extractions by the military industrial complex.

Wes Jackson: “technology shapes culture. Biodiversity (should be) the metric for success. Efficiency is inherent in natural integrities.”

“How to survive genocide (towards the goal of extractive industries)?”
weapons of war have become the US’s primary industry. $.59 of every tax dollar goes towards the Pentagon. 10% of Maine’s economy is now military and they plan to put missile sites and toxic fuel in the Rangeley Mountains at a cost of $4 billion to benefit Boeing. The Chicago Crown family is being “rewarded” by Obama for their support of his election with the Rangeley contract. The Pentagon didn’t even want it.  Not even Congress wanted it but Obama did.

Vandana Shiva: “We defended the freedom of the seeds. Monsanto earned $10 billion from seed patenting in the US alone. They have bought the biggest soil database. They are sueing seed libraries. In 2008, Ghandi taught us not to obey bad laws. The propaganda for this corporate biopiracy is being packaged as religion, referring to “miracle” seeds and apostles.

GMOs are failures. They advertise results before they have them and then can’t verify anything. Instead, indigenous yields are 10- 100 times what Monsanto can deliver. Monsanto delivers “food” commodities that aren’t actually food. They measure “yield” but not nutrition. GMO agricultural land produces 30% of food but destroys 70% of the earth’s biodiversity.”

Atossi Soltani on work in the Amazon: “Indigenous peoples are the guardians of the earth. Their lands are the same lands where we find 80% of the earth’s biodiversity. 4% of the world’s population are protecting that 80%. We must subvert the war paradigm that leads to deforestation. This means being good to our ancestors. The most biodiverse lands are threatened today by oil companies. When 800 000 Ecuadorans signed a petition to keep the oil in the ground, but President Rafael Correo went back on his campaign promises and over rode the petition.

Richard Feinberg: “the party (for us) is over. Adam Smith warned us that applying supply and demand to nature is a recipe for disaster. (But now) labor (humans), and land (nature), have all been commodified. EROEI: energy return on energy investment. We need FRED: Facing the reality of Extinction and Doom.  Efficiency = ideological displacement, cognitive belittlement and fictitious commodities unless we can re-embed the economy in ecology and nature. Denial of limits means the loss of beauty. (Because) we haven’t accepted limitation, the banks have been allowed to get even bigger and more irresponsible. The coming crash will be 10X worse than what we saw in 2008.

Quote from a Chinese GMO scientist: “we can now produce anything, anywhere, without people.” This will mean the end of countless small farmers world-wide, for example in Haiti where they produce vetiver for perfumes or in Madagascar where they produce vanilla.

Anthropocentrism, arrogance, greed run amuck.

The question this begs is, without real education, jobs, or governance, what will happen to the billions of useless, disenfranchised, impoverished people of the world, let alone, the remaining wildlife?

Pat Mooney: “the rich see what’s coming. The poor can’t get out of the way.”

We need:
1.     public education
2.     exposure
3.     strategy

Ralph Nader: “organize, organize with the right, organize. The biggest asset these corporations have is to inculcate feelings of powerlessness. How they have done this is:
1.     technological development
2.     secrecy
3.     alliance with the state
4.     buying time with a science backlash
5.     They have confused corporate science with academic science
6.     They have compromised academic credibility in Universities with “research” money

This is the golden age of exposure documentaries but the missing link is distribution. The best films might reach 150 000. The best book might reach 10 000.
The public must wake up, be woken up. Start small, in one place, 1 congressional district. Organize with intensity, persistence. Change the zeitgeist.

The prescription: clear thinking. (But) the public (seems) bored with solutions.
(Is it) easier than we think? How much does it take to effect change?”

Bill McKibben: “I (still) feel fear dominated by sadness. ‘We have become as gods, destroyers of the world.’ Restraint is a gift. The climate change movement is conservative. The oil people are reckless radicals.  This will be a leaderless movement. We will be protean.”

Hans Haacke's commentary on the Koch Bros.  "purchase" of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Personally, I felt devastated and physically sick, as I had written on FB Saturday night, by the sheer scale of evil ambition and ruthless exercise of financial power that was being detailed. I also found myself thinking that the community appeal of the presenters would not be met (at least among ecological artists, whom I think should be spearheading a response) because the market forces on us still make ego and competition too tempting distractions from what is required, which is grounded in a profound generosity of spirit and vision- that little in art world traditions fosters.

However, I do still think most of us can (and should) be part of a significant movement. As I stressed, it just takes a few, not all of us.

What the presenters spoke about that answers spiritual questions on Sunday, was the sheer faith in that possibility of the power of the small and few, not just in terms of activist organizing, but the very personal capacity of humans to rise to these challenges and how those few people can turn a tide (what for me, represents what I term trigger points). I think that is a profoundly spiritual position. I suppose I didn't write more about it yesterday because it both seemed obvious to me and I was still reeling from much of what I'd heard and been thinking about.

Finally, Sunday, which is what I will write more about asap, was all about models of incredible courage and beauty, mostly, as I wrote before, from Indigenous and young people. In the case of the former, the spiritual was explicit in many forms and deeply inspiring, even cathartic to hear.

A theme that emerged at the conference Sunday, was that property-based laws that protect corporate banditry are unjust, must be resisted and fought, just as people fought for slave emancipation and suffrage. That analogy was repeatedly made and framed as the "integrity of whole communities," including whole rivers, etc. Winona LaDuke & a woman from the Amazon were amazing on this topic. That is what I will write about next.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Starting, finishing and beginning

This Fall, I will welcome Heidi Hutner to join a couple Gulf to Gulf webcasts on the relationship between education, activism, and climate change. Heidi is the director of the Stony Brook University Sustainability Studies Program. She will join us Nov. 5th at 3:00 PM EST and Dec. 3rd at 11:00 AM EST.

In August 2014, I began teaching a class in Foundation Drawing at Stony Brook University (SBU). I have always enjoyed teaching and my new students have been delightful: serious, hard-working and willing to tackle the difficult assignments I have challenged them to complete. They are also, mostly science students, many of whom are exploring art for the first time.

Nonetheless, they are producing good work.

In this case, my students were given the task of portraying a landscape with coat hanger wire. It required them to learn to handle materials with care and describe their observation with a single, continuous line.
At some point this Fall, I gave my students several difficult theoretical texts to read, consider and comment on that discussed the nature of any culture, as a means of sustaining or resisting political control. That day, I went on to explain that if we are critical of culture, as artists, we must understand that change begins by questioning the nature of our (human) perception. Therefore, I have pushed them to relinquish what I've called their automatic translation of observation into simplistic photography and instead, learn to observe on the basis of the more complex physiological potential of what I've called the "technology of (human) perception." We do that with a number of assignments both in class and out. These young people are at the beginning of a long process, in which art may or may not remain important in their lives. My task is simply to encourage them to try to see in depth.

The exercises I am giving these students recapitulate much of the aesthetic thinking that went into my PhD dissertation, "Trigger point theory as aesthetic activism," which was sent out to my Viva Examiners at the University of Plymouth, UK this past week, in preparation for my oral defense, which will take place early 2015.  The thinking in that writing attempted to layer a variety of points of view and approaches to data about localized sites, in order to develop strategic restoration plans for large bioregions. In that writing, in addition to statistical analysis and geographic information systems (GIS) mapping, I also considered philosophical presumptions challenged, for example by ecofeminists. That strategic approach is a methodology that solves problems dualistically: from simultaneously observing  large global patterns and from observing what scientists call the more "fine-grained" details of specific and local situations. As I now enter the final phases of my dissertation process, I can begin to step back and reconsider the larger patterns I researched for five years.

The largest pattern I think we're all facing, that was implicit to me in all my dissertation writing, is in how geopolitics are being catalyzed by the causes and effects of climate change. As an artist, I want to see that larger pattern and apply my formal tools, the "technology of (my) perception," to change the patterns I see. Art. of course, doesn't work exactly so directly. We experience life, in the sense John Dewey wrote about, and then we work through a complex process from which 'something' emerges … which then affects others … and eventually, sooner or later, affects change to the culture. Artists may be helpless about the timetable for that change but we CAN shed light on what change looks like, whether the evidence is reflected in Hong Kong or Gaza.

As a person whose family were among the early founders of the state of Israel, going back to the late nineteenth century, and whose father was especially open to the plight of local Arabs there, I have had a special interest in events in the Middle East and engaged in several FB threads during the most recent war, struggling as many were, to understand the horrific consequences of patterns unfolding beyond our control. Yesterday, I heard an illuminating conversation and wrote about it on FB:

"By far the best discussion I've heard on Israel-Palestine was recently on WNYC radio:

What I found excellent about this discussion were two points: 

1. A critique of the lack of context in most of the summer discussions during & after the war; specifically, the role of the Protocols of Zion in the radical anti-semitism that is fueling both Hamas and ISIS. The discussant argues that this legitimates an unrealistic focus on the "moral failings of Jews." He argues that in the context of media narratives, particularly in Europe, that context fuels anti-Zionism. 

2.An analysis of the absence of a larger geopolitical framing of conversations, in public and private that would include the larger Arab world demographic narrative over the past 100 years. 

I would also argue that that very lack of adequate framing excludes the greater global biogeographical narrative of climate change and over (human)- populations. I tried to point that out last summer in several FB threads and in this blog."

This is, I believe, is part of the depth of perception of the unfolding tragedy of what happens when climate change meets over-population meets simplistic narrative conclusions. The world is running out of the resources that have sustained our present culture, It is so much easier to ascribe blame and resort to violence and exclude critical narratives than to deconstruct these complex points of confluence and then reconstruct hard answers.

As I enjoy the luxury of increasing distance upon finishing my dissertation and consider the experiences of my students who are just starting a life that includes art, I can also step back further to meditate on all these questions and implications. I am just at the beginning of seeing how educating young artists might be part of this process.

The next two Gulf to Gulf sessions this Fall that will discuss these critical confluences between art, education, activism, climate change and restoration, with Heidi Hutner, Director of the Environmental Humanities, Sustainability Studies Program at SBU, will include Dr. Eugene Turner of LSU, Dr. James White of INSTAAR and myself.

Monday, September 22, 2014

And so it begins. Post climate march thinking.

Chris Hedges,"we will have to act …(at the) beginning of a titanic clash," 'between the corporate government (inc the Democratic Party) and the will of the people to resist ecocide with civil disobedience.' Bernie Sanders, 'nothing happens in Congress without the approval of the fossil fuel industries … (the small evil group headed by the Koch brothers).' Arrests anticipated as the Flood Wall St. group heads towards the Koch Bros offices. Signage yesterday, "we know who is responsible." All yesterday I found myself off & on singing the Marseillaise, "allons infants de la Patrie, le jour de gloire at arrives." And as I said in one of my first trigger point workshops, on fracking in 2010, and I heard Bill McKibben reiterate this weekend, "there are more of us than there are of them." And so it begins.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Contextualizing Sunday's climate change march in NYC with COP15 2009 and my own dissertation work on trigger point theory

In 2010 I wrote about what might effect policy makers on climate change and COP15. At that time, like many, I had been hopeful that information and passion might affect policy makers to respond and "do the right thing." My observation after COP15 was that policy makers are so deeply in bed with and beholden to global fossil fuel industries, that their response to global concern was ruthless violence. That violence was expressed by the Danish police at the end of the 2009 conference. I was stunned and radicalized and blogged for High Tide and wrote about my experience for CSPA:

I think Sunday's climate change march has the potential to be a significant event, perhaps a trigger point. That is because it may signal a new grass roots determination to see change, despite the memory of the violent backlash of corporatized policy makers in 2009 in the name of the Danes. 

The historical significance of this march goes back to COP15. That was when it became clear that change had to come from grass roots action. 2009 was the Flower Power phase of the movement. As I wrote yesterday however, climate change is too important to leave to policy makers. The crushing of the 2009 Flower Power phase of hope is what the internationalization of this march disproves. The difference between 2009 and 2014 is the determination and radicalization of demonstrators as the impacts of climate change have accelerated and policy makers have dithered. I blogged about my experience in Denmark in 2009 and 2010, when I tried to make the point that a persistent international movement is what must turn the tides. This could be the beginning of a resurgence of that movement and NYC might be the trigger point to triage our future.

2009 was also when I began my PhD dissertation work on trigger point theory as aesthetic activism with the University of Plymouth, UK. The same weekend as the march, I am now completing that writing and preparing it for my Examiners. Writing my dissertation on what may effect change was my answer to conflating activism and practice. 

More to be revealed; more to be revealed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The violence of climate change feeds potential for human violence

Ferguson is no different than Gaza or Syria: it is a Mecca for disaffection. And like those other sites, the inherent injustices are circumstantially fueled.
I find it both heart-breaking and mentally exhausting to try to understand the conflicts we see around the world now. I am not alone. It seems difficult for even the most sophisticated people to layer the complex sources and consequences of the imbalances that lead to chaos. The geopolitics, biogeography and local demographics need to be separately teased apart and viewed dispassionately, at a time when few of us have the skills or even the incentive to take that on. That, however, is the task ahead for us all. It is a good one for ecological art. 

My previous research on correlating climate change and conflict zones gives me a modest head start. In terms of correlating observations between Ferguson, Gaza and Syria, besides being on similar meridians, they share what Dr. Jim White & I analyzed in "Trigger Points/ Tipping Points," for "Weather Report," for the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art in 2007: that conflict zones will follow climate change hot spots. Geopolitically, as biogeographically, the chaos of disruption will eliminate the previously balanced competitive system and the role/ functions of many species/ human groups in that previous system. Other species/ groups will be reduced because the interactions shift dramatically. If we consider the principles of island biogeography that contend a steady intake outtake flow will sustain a measure of equilibrium, then we can observe how the equilibrium of previous ecosystems will end. The result on the biological level is the collapse of ecosystem biodiversity. In human terms, this means war.

What I am curious about in Ferguson, is whether the best minds can help another self-organization emerge rather than the descent into increasing anguish we are witnessing? As in the Middle East, these conflagrations are irresistible opportunities for invasive elements, whether you call them instigators, ISIS or European green crabs. 

The tragic mistake I fear, is the probability that the imminent socio-political goal is order for it's own sake rather than combining due process with the needed global macro approach I foresee as necessary. Without the macro view, I believe we will continue to see these kinds of disruptions escalate, proliferate and destroy civilization as we know it.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Cold eyes on hot issues

Today, international peace has shattered again. Addressing bioregional patterns seems remote. But that is exactly what I think we must continue to do, regardless of the present conflicts. Since I began this blog, I have shared my thinking and research, trying to layer bioregional, trigger point concerns with larger systemic trends.

Yesterday, I wrote hesitantly, during what had looked like a detente in israel-Gaza, before news of ISIS moving forward in Iraq to claim more lives. I had hoped a period of peace might be an opportunity for the world to think thru logical responses to illogical situations.

A month ago, I performed the following Gulf to Gulf webcast with Dr. James White, my long term collaborator on climate change issues. This is that link:

In that recorded session, we discussed the larger problems: that too many want too much from too little.
This webcast was important as an example of how we might use different tools to predict changes in large patterns and systems and to move towards solutions.

These conversations have been explorations of how informed conversations may be integrated with some of the same predictive layering as Geographic Information Systems science, which would verify some intuitive conclusions. Right now, the Pentagon may be the only institution attempting that with computers. However, the Gulf to Gulf webcasts have been experiments in seeing how accurate alternative predictive results might be. In this case, the predictions that emerged from our conversations in 2007 were all too horrifically correct, giving some credence to this methodology.

The conclusion that emerged included the premise, developed from my own research work, that our solutions will somehow emerge from the paradoxical conflicts we now find ourselves immersed in. What those solutions on the ground may be, are not yet clear to me. However, I'm sure they will not appear in expected forms, such as shouting at each other across divides or allowing horror to avert our eyes from reality.

In this case, I think ISIS and other geopolitical forces are effecting the biological imperatives to reduce human populations that we have been unwilling or unable to effect in more humane ways. We cannot overcome that imperative or the conditions that catalyzed ISIS, without addressing the complex relationships between agents.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wars, animals and climate change

I have added my work-in-progress to a FB album titled, "Other kinds of death and life."

8. 7. 14
Addendum to the earlier post below: After a horrendous  month of murder, mayhem, public relations and carnage, we seem to be in a detente. I am so utterly sick of hatred, blaming, terror and grief. What has been happening in the Middle East, as I tried to address in the post below, is a microcosm of a world struggling and failing to negotiate between impossible realities with intractable rhetorics. During this period I have worked in my studio on a series of small encaustic paintings, just calculating a visual formula between lost species and soil making grasses as I think about what qualities might save the human race from itself. I considered editing my original post, based on thinking that has emerged this month, but we are really just at the beginning of understanding, so I leave what I wrote as my snapshot of a moment in time.

7. 9. 14
Is it always darkest before the dawn?

Maine dawn

Since the last time I posted here, I came up from New York City to spend a couple months in Maine. Before I left, I completed revisions for my PhD dissertation text, "Trigger Point Theory as Aesthetic Activism," and since I've been here, a video as a trailer for that research and written but not yet published  an article reflecting on what resistance to environmental wars might look like. The trajectory of my thinking during this period has been all about what is the most effective response, as an artist, to escalating stressors? My last post was part of a thread of thinking since that I've published on FB and with colleagues in response to developments I've watched carefully in the world: complex patterns of continued weather extremes, migrations and conflict zones related to global warming.

How do we unravel complexity?

Drift Nets detail

What I want to know is, when does human logic become irrelevant? Where do I find the healing trigger point? This post is an exercise in exploring the edges of those questions.

Re: events in Palestine/ Israel. I can hardly bear to look. I cannot look away. Another reason to be heart sick. 

And then to try for understanding, I start with questions.

How much of recent military conflicts we see globally, but particularly in the Middle East now, have to do with biological imperatives- closer to lizard brain neurological conditioning and animal reflex in which human "logic" is irrelevant rather than strategic thinking about a common future- or is it simply that some people's fundamentalist strategic thinking is my anathema?

When war broke out again between the Palestinians and Israel this week (And it IS already war)  I was immediately in touch with friends & family in Israel. I imagine few people I know, also know many people in Palestine, and that knowing is even less likely in the even more ghastly situations in Syria or Iraq or even Egypt. So, for those of us outside those fields, it's hard to know the whole truth except that it's very, very bad. Of course, it is a terrifying situation for almost everyone and I'm concerned, as I'm sure almost anyone is, for everyone's safety and the regional stability. 

I do however, want answers to two questions I've been thinking about a great deal.

Since 2007, Dr. Jim White & I have been speculating about the geopolitical impacts of climate change, specifically how migrations of species, climates and peoples are contributing to global conflagrations. I anticipate that the Middle East is the tip of the melting iceberg of conflicts we can expect to see at the nexus between climate change, resource depletion, etc. All the thunder about religion, ideologies, etc just mask, in my opinion, lizard brain responses to stress. It's no accident that the most virulent Tea Partiests live in the hotter states. So here are my questions:

1. What is the research about animal behavioralism on exactly how animal self-destruction emerges under heat/ drought stress?
2. How can artists contribute towards quantifying (modeling) impacts of relatively small initiatives such as ecological art is capable of, on such complex situations? 
These are of course, somewhat rhetorical questions that others are working on as well as myself.

Yes there are crazies- on both sides in Israel-Palestine and so many other places. But as the parent of one of the murdered Israeli boys said, "I see no diff between the blood of a Palestinian boy or an Israeli boy." And yet, humans can still surprise us with compassion;

However, one can't dismiss patterns: Hamas's vow to wipe Israel off the face of the earth or the calls to kill Jews internationally or the rise of anti-semitism. If you don't call that collective, lizard-brain retribution, I don't know what is. This conflict is a monstrous situation with horrendous implications not just for the peoples that can't share this land but for many way beyond the borders of this hopeless conflict. Blaming either side at this point, except for the extremists, is just shallow, simplistic and counter-productive, adding fuel to an already raging fire. However, how much of that fire is being deliberately set and how much is grounded in inevitable animal responses to stress? How much is the deliberate manipulation of the inevitable? Where are the larger patterns?

My friend and colleague, the artist, Alyce Santoro shared a few links on topic:

can climate change cause conflict? recent history suggests so:
Climate change is world’s ‘gravest security threat’ – report - See more at:
Climate change is world’s ‘gravest security threat’ – report - See more at:
Climate change is world’s ‘gravest security threat’ – report - See more at:
climate change is world's greatest security threat:
So, let me deconstruct some specific manipulating of the inevitable, beginning with marketing  The Palestinians and the Arab world in general have been far more clever in their marketing & the Israelis far more naive, isolated and isolationists. 

But that doesn't define the issues. I persist in arguing that the real issues reflect far deeper, broader problems that are not regional, may not even be conscious and do presage terribly worrisome implications for what is coming in the next decades as more & more humans continue to compete for fewer & fewer resources with greater & great weapons of destruction in every sense of those words- psychologically as much as by missile strikes- under ever greater stressors. What is needed now is wise leadership from an eloquent and compelling voice and that is sorely missing The closest we have might be the current Pope but alas for the Middle East, his audience is neither Jewish nor Muslim.

The geopolitical marketing issue came up decades ago and has been an incomprehensibly disastrous lapse in judgement for the Israeli state. My hunch is that there's an odd combination of fatalism and self-righteous entitlement that has sabotaged any effective PR. The Muslim fundamentalist movement, on the other hand, completely grasped an opportunity to frame the arguments from the very beginning and have played them as skillfully as the American far Right leveraged & conflated religion, racism, right-to-life, individualism and guns to sell a corporate culture based on fossil fuels. Both the far Right in the West and OPEC/ Muslim Fundamentalism have had access to unlimited funds for think tanks to advance their cause from the sale of fossil fuels as the covert centerpiece of their respective agendas. That would explain the costly marketing campaign success. 

In terms of recent human history, how do I think we got here? In the sixties, Israel was an extension of St. Tropez. People still remembered WWII and so anti-Semitism and tolerance for it declined. The beaches were beautiful. There was no apparent conflict between Arabs & Jews. I was born in NYC but routinely spent time in Israel almost every year from childhood. My father had many Arab friends. In fact, that is the origin of my name. My real family name was changed because Stalin had sent my uncle to Siberia and my father tried to protect him by changing our name from Gabin to something more common in the Middle East. Then things changed.

In 1982, after the war with Lebanon I went back to Israel by myself and spoke to some of the Arabs I met casually and asked them what had happened. I will never forget a conversation with one taxi driver. He said one day, the Iranians started going door to door and telling people that if they didn't join the Intifada, they would be killed. Simultaneously, many ultra-Orthodox Jews were settling in the Israeli occupied territories who had no experience of or interest in living side by side with Arabs. The right wing began to rise again in Europe (it never really went away- I went to school in Europe and knew many Germans who would say in an argument, "Hitler was right.") and deliberate campaigns of anti-Semitism were financed out of Iran, etc. Of course, many settlers acted with arrogance & entitlement and the Israeli govt backed them to stay in power. A past of peaceful co-extence is now forgotten. The rest is sad, tragic history.

What I think began as a very smart (if, arguably evil) campaign coalition between OPEC & Muslim Fundamentalists in which Israel was led into a proxy war with the West & Western oil interests, has become something entirely different and not what anyone bargained for. I don't think most Arab muslims are entirely happy with ISIS's Sharia Law for example. The disaffected army of the long disenfranchised began to lead the clever generals. But I still think that the drivers aren't just human greed for power.

Which brings me back to the animals and climate change and complex relationships between war, animals, and climate change. Humans are animals. Most animals respond in similar ways to environmental stress. We know that from E. O. Wilson's island biogeographic theory: they move, start competing harder for resources, become more stressed, anxious, fretful and default to flight or fight: migration or war or both. That is exactly what we're seeing and unless cooler heads prevail, will continue to see much more of. The conflagrations in the Middle East are tips of icebergs floating and melting into our seas.

So where is the trigger point in this snarled net? Where might an artist intervene? I'm not sure yet but I'm dancing as fast as I can at the party.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Apocalypse Now

In 2007, in conversations recorded with Dr. James White as part of our project, "Trigger Points/ Tipping Points," he said we were entering the fast-phase of global warming, which would accelerate in about three years: 2010. It is now 2014.

Tonight, NYC expects flash floods and my mind is still full of burning California hills. As San Diego cools down, I am considering ... we have entered the fast phase of global warming, in which climate change impacts will geometrically accelerate with all the attendant globalized socio-poitical-economic disruptions we are already observing and consequent loss of life. Geometric means each year, the impacts double. Or triple. They don't go to a steady state where people and other animals can adjust. So, if I apply trigger point theory, the answer is to go into the chaos, dive into the fire and flood for answers, not fight or try to control it but learn it's logic. I don't even know what that means, except that physics and complexity theory tells me it must be true.

My worries are based on films and photos of fires in San Marcos above San Marcos University. I once watched a cougar visit me there. The cougar sat at the top of my driveway. I sat in my car at the bottom and we just watched each other for the longest time.

I know exactly where the photos were taken from on Barham Road. It looks like the flames overcame a house I built there in 1979 on Walnut Hills Drive, as my first strategic design of a trigger point. The beautiful house I built with a wildlife refuge, gardens, orchards and a medicine wheel meditation area surrounded by Torrey Pines trees grown from seeds might very well be ashes now. 

Still from news video.

It looks very likely my former home is gone. The cougar is long gone. In a sense, it doesn't matter- it could be anyone's home, anyone's dream, anyone's life. I find these fires a terrifying harbinger of the consequences of global warming. I don't know how I could have screamed louder over the dangers we've been hurtling towards as either an artist or a person. I tossed & turned over this till 4:AM last night. This AM, I am more in grief than anger. In my mind's eye, there is the fire and the cougar.

I will paint it in encaustics this week, with wax and flame. To the left, fire. To the right, flood.

Sketch for Apocalypse Now.