Thursday, January 30, 2014

Meditation on the Artists' Mark

I think I might keep revising this over a few days because the ideas aren't simple to me. "Tache," is the painterly term for the mark of the brush on a surface. The origins are modernist, dating from impressionism but it is also associated with abstract expressionist brushwork. For a long time, it was out of fashion to leave any trace of the artists' presence so there were no marks. Then we went into an era of deskilling, where the artists sloppy marks were everywhere to prove it wasn't a rote effort, something machine made and all gloss.

As an ecological artist, I am ambivalent about my mark on the outcome of my work. If the desired outcome is a restored or at least healthy ecosystem, does it need the human touch in any form? That can segue into long theoretical discussions about the nature of any restoration and the implications and extent of human presence but my concern in this post, is just to begin to clarify my own thoughts about the artists' mark.

The artist Lucy Meskill posted something on her FB page today in response to news that populations of Monarch butterflies are crashing due to lost habitat. Her post was a plea to buy and plant asclepius, commonly know as milkweed, the only food monarchs eat (rather than lawns). That is, to me an ideal tache on the landscape. It would be the mark of a healing effort, not to mention that the flowers are beautiful, as are the doomed butterflies.

But my mulling about marks goes a little further because recently, as I wrote on my own page, I have been feeling consumed by paint-envy, as I've been reading Martin Gayford's, "Man with a Blue Scarf," about posing for the painter Lucien Freud. On the ecodialog, I started writing about that longing as almost like wanting to have a baby used to be, when I was younger: I just want to be mixing & applying paint, like I once just wanted to bear a child. There was an avalanche of eloquent response from my colleagues. Everyone confessed their longings and fulfillments.

My own questions are about how could I make a painterly mark, a tache that is evoked by trigger point theory, that evokes a trigger point effect?

I supposed in one way, the desire to leave a mark couldn't be much different than a dog that has to pee on the lamp post. So to think out what I was thinking, I went to an art opening for Shirin Neshat's new work on the political tragedy in Egypt, "My house is burning," a reference to a poem by Mehdi Akhanan Slaes, whose first line is, "My house is on fire, soul burning." Over her large, monochromatic, powerful portraits, Neshat had superimposed fine Islamic calligraphy. This is a trope I'd seen before in her work. Sometimes it worked in this show to convey the pathos of the population and sometimes not. I haven't decided. What was her impulse in these marks and did it distract or add another layer of meaning? I'm not sure.

Shirin Neshat 2013

I thought she was more successful when the images were less explicit, the tasche more mysterious.

Shirin Neshat 2013

In my own work, when I paint, I am being reflective about my content, which is always some aspect of reality that eludes me or that I want to somehow contain and digest. I am also trying to capture some moment, some world view that might convey some deep emotion and share it, for example, as I am thinking about now, trigger point theory. For many years, I thought it was impossible for me to express myself in any more truthful form than those marks I could make on a surface.

"beautiful View," selection of small paintings each 10"x10" oil on linen 2010
Now suppose, everyone who could, bought a packet of asclepius and the result was a resurgence of monarchs, then whose tasche is it? Lucy's for making the suggestion? What is the goal of the tache besides a service to the universe? Is it still an artists' tache? Is the tache, the flight of the butterflies? In chaos theory, we reference the impact of the flap of a butterfly's wing to indicate the delicacy of sensitivity to initial conditions that can change the earth. Could all those Asclepius seeds change the future? If such an effort were successful, I would call it DIY restoration and would hope for much more.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Trigger point options?

Today, after a few hours of work, I went to see Dr. Susan Levine, the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) doctor/ researcher who has been treating me since 1991, told her what I'd been up to and what my worries were while she took some blood. The conversation was grounding. I've stopped talking about CFS much except to people who have it or treat it, except about how it inspired trigger point theory. Often, when I'm in a relapse, as I was tonight, I'm reminded how that works: I have to choose where to put limited stamina. That's such a simple idea but the implications have been profound for me. Tonight, I had 4 events on my agenda plus follow-up on 6 more. They didn't happen. Instead, I just thought. I asked Susan what is happening to CFS patients as we all get older, with vanishing emotional and financial support for many and still no seriously promising answers? She said, "it's a very serious problem." And that is what I see with trigger point theory/ environmental war triage: serious problems, no obvious answers, limited options. Even my own theory, is just a promising theory. I discussed this with kitty. She stretched, yawned, studied me with her big green eyes and then purring, curled up closer for a moment before wandering off to her food bowl.

My new kitty has been in residence exactly one week and has become the resident philosopher and a FB star with her own album and fan mail.

This is an example of what will require some serious thinking about our limited options:

More Than We Thought
H. Jesse Smith
One of the most worrying impacts of climate warming is the sea-level rise caused by melting or collapse of the polar ice sheets. The Antarctic Ice Sheet contains enough water to raise sea level by roughly 60 m were it to melt completely. Most of the work done to determine the influence of warming on the Antarctic Ice Sheet has focused on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is thought to be the most unstable portion with respect to warming. Fogwill et al. consider the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS), which contains 90% of Antarctic ice, using a computer model to examine how much of that region may have melted or collapsed 135,000 to 116,000 years ago during the last interglacial, when the global average air temperature was about 2° C higher than it is now (a potential analog for the warmer climate of the next century). They focus particular attention on the effects of the Southern Hemisphere westerly winds on Southern Ocean circulation and the dynamics of the Antarctic ice sheet, concluding that the EAIS may have made a significantly greater contribution to sealevel rise over that period than currently is believed, with the implication that projected changes in the climate of the southern hemisphere may constitute a more serious threat to the future stability of the EAIS than has generally been appreciated until now.

Sometimes the trigger point is where and and with whom we consider our options. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

IPCC 2009: Memories of times past and time lost

In 2009, I had the privilege of working with Donald Brown, who has a new book and also writes of Dr. Robert Brulle's new study documenting the immorality of climate deniers and their funding, Chris Cuomo and others on the press release of the Ethics Committee that was delivered at COP15 in Copenhagen for the IPCC, when I was a formal observer for the University of Colorado. The following iteration was one of the versions I worked on then. Shortly afterwards, as I blogged in the High Tide COP15 Project, the Danish government went into full panic mode. Police attacked peaceful demonstrators. They shut down the conference, and everyone went home.  The global fossil fuel industries went to work on smear and disinformation campaigns against activists and scientists alike. The world has squandered precious time and lives while climate change has accelerated. J'accuse the fossil fuel industry for their frantic, amoral scramble to amass ever greater profits at the expense of the entire world.

                                  Press Release

Press Conference on Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change
Friday, December 11, 2009 9:30 am, Press Conference Room

The Crucial Missing Element in the Climate Change Negotiations: Duties and Responsibilities, Not Just Narrow National Economic Interest.

Ethics is a practical issue. Tuvalo’s demand for a binding agreement illustrated the Ethical challenges of the negotiations. To make climate justice operational, ethics issue must be included in the text. Ethicists from around the world call on those nations opposing meaningful commitments. Do you deny duties and responsibilities to:

- Tens of millions of Africans whose food and water supply is threatened by increasing drought
- Small island states who see their very existence jeopardized by rising seas
- Much of central Asia faces losing their fresh water supply as the Himalayan glaciers melt
Many parties continue to justify their positions in climate change negotiations based on their economic interests alone. Climate change is a matter of justice and morality. COP15 commitments must take responsibility, to protect the poorest peoples and richest ecosystems, who will suffer the direst consequences of climate change.

The COP15 is struggling with the gap between commitments and implementation. Previous failures have created a lack of trust in the process. Parties need to agree on how to make climate justice operational in the text. This press conference examines how nations must negotiate if they acknowledge their duties and responsibilities

-   to prevent dangerous climate change
-   to pay for harms caused by high levels of greenhouse gas emissions
-   to prevent deforestation programs
-   to enable transfer of sustainable energy technologies to poor nations.

This press conference will assist the media in understanding how some parties are taking ethical responsibility while others employ naked self-interest to justify their negotiating positions.    

The press conference has been called by the Collaborative Program on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change (EDCC. EDCC is a program comprised of 17 institutions around the world working on climate change ethics and whose secretariat is the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State University. Other members of the EDCC include the IUCN Ethics Working Group, the Bahai, etc, etc, and individual ethicists from around the world working on the ethical dimensions of climate change. Interested individuals can contact EDCC program coordinator Don Brown at or Dr. Nancy Tuana, Director of the Rock Ethics Institute  at Penn State University at

Monday, January 13, 2014

Stop having children

I'm very glad to hear this article on environmental apocalypse by Dahr Jamail has gone viral. As I wrote last Spring, in response to Ian Dunlop's presentation at the UN, without dramatic interventions, we may be facing a drop from 11 billion to 2 billion people by 2050, not just from sea level rise, climate change, diseases, starvation, invasive species infestations, food web collapse and loss of biodiversity, water contamination, etc but from the geopolitical disruptions we're already seeing spread world wide. A topic we've increasingly explored in the "Gulf to Gulf" series, is whether we need to consider all the factional tensions world wide as adaptive biological responses to over-population, etc., in which the rhetoric (ie., of the far right) is just symptomatic. 

These implications are extremely messy, albeit somewhat avoidable with more realistic policies about extractive industries and the income gap fueling climate change. The greater the gap between the power of First World countries and global corporations driving fossil fuel extraction, the less likely we are to forestall disaster.

In our last "Gulf to Gulf" with Jim White for a few months last week (which we'll get on line ASAP), we reviewed some of the maps we generated in 2007, to analyse data and biogeographic patterns. At the time, we came to conclusions, without GIS to verify our conclusions, that were far ahead of the curve of predictive conclusions we're seeing even now. Last week we discussed the personal implications of living with that knowledge. It's pretty alarming and that alarm has been for me since 2007.

"Trigger Points/ Tipping Points" variable sizes Rahmani with White 2007

What is relevant here & now, is how to best live and work with this knowledge, nicely presented here I have contended several points for several years:

1. Team work, of which attribution & generosity are keys, is critical. So is the mutual support we can give each other.
2. Despite our urgent realities, we must take time to think thru our options very carefully, which paradoxically takes time we don't have.
3. Despite our selfish & realistic terror for our own species, it is going to be focusing on other species that can best "save" us, such as fish.
4. We can analyse large systems for critical leverage points (trigger point theory). I learned this from living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
5. It is possible that we first need to accept the hopelessness and despair of what we have wraught before we can realitically figure out our next steps.
6. Stop having children. Nothing is contributing more to the planet's stress than over-population, especially from the First World.

An addendum based on that last statement & my title, which alarmed some folks as an injunction to the third world. I added, "particularly in the First World," because our impact is so disproportionate. If people think I'm talking about third world fertility, I think that just reflects their racism. Also, I think over-population IS the critical issue. I also agree with others, however that capitalist consumption is critical & actually think the two issues are mirror images of each other: we think we can have unlimited children. We think we can consume unlimited resources. We entitle people to be monster narcissistic consumers in every way, whether financial, attention or morally. Capitalism encourages all of the above but is also a symptom of the more is more mentality. A related issue on art making is the whole object issue of fetishism, critiqued by post-modernists- a whole other kettle of fish. Finally, having children is the third rail no one wants to come to grips with. In the FIRST WORLD WE SHOULD NOT BE ENTITLED TO PRODUCE MORE CONSUMERS no matter how much we love the little critters. Hate that message but heed it, please. If we don't, there will be nothing left for anyone or anything except the roaches.... in our lifetimes and certainly in the lifetime of any child born today.