Friday, July 3, 2015

"Blued Trees" overture launch

Storyboard sketch for Blued Trees video trailer edited by Denise Petrizzo
Over the next few days, I will add to this post to describe the Summer solstice event that has launched the overture for the Blued Trees symphony, in the style of a personal diary. In this account, my goal is less about the legal, political or scientific aspects that underpin this project, but rather to convey a sense of what the personal experience of the launch was for me. - July 2, 2015

It was a long trip to the Blued Trees site. I headed down from Maine to New York Thursday June 18, 2015, leaving my cat, Bliss at 6:30 AM, in the care of my studio manager, Daisy Morton. I caught the 7: AM Ferry from Vinalhaven Island to the mainland, a taxi to the airport at Owl's Head, boarded a 6 seater little Cape Air plane down to Boston about 11: AM, where I took the shuttle to South Station to catch a Greyhound Bus down to Penn Station and then a taxi home to the Upper West Side. 13 hours after leaving my home in Maine, I unlocked the door to my apartment, back in Manhattan.

Early morning in Maine June 18, 2015. This is the world I want to save with Blued Trees.

I prepared myself for the event by making the rounds of alternative care providers to maximize my stamina to get through the weekend. There were dire warnings of Hurricane Ed hitting us hard with driving rain, floods and lightning predicted for the Sunday launch, so I bought a sturdy rain hat. I had already decided that this would be another opportunity to research whether CFS might model how to make efficient choices to reverse environmental degradation, regardless of the scale of the challenge. Hard weather always activates my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), leaving me extra exhausted and struggling to concentrate but I was already pretty pumped with adrenalin, even without a B12 push and a shot of a gamma globulin chaser on top of acupuncture. The night before I left, Jesse Etelson and Deanna Pindell had already sent me material from their Greek Chorus events as part of the overture.

Peekskill, I speculated, might be a confluence of "natural" gas and nuclear power that could either signal disaster or trigger awareness of the danger we are in with current energy policies. Peekskill is a modest, primarily working class community. demographically, it includes a high proportion of people of color. It is the prototype for where environmental injustice often occurs: where populations are vulnerable, often economically desperate and politically disenfranchised. My personal perception of Blued Trees in response to this reality is simple: no means no. The allusion to sexual rape is deliberate, and comparable.

As far as the weather, it would be sentimental romanticism to presume that Mother Nature would make this easy just because a few humans might be in jeopardy. After all, the consensus amongst many is that she has been very angry with people for sometime. I thought this launch would be another example of learning to collaborate with nature rather then trying to dominate or exploit her.

Early Saturday morning I headed crosstown to catch the train from Grand Central to Peekskill. I was running late, so caught a taxi. In the taxi, I had a conversation with the cabdriver from Hong Kong, and told him where I was headed and for what purpose. He listened and then said, "you must be rich. Only rich people can afford to do these things. Poor people can only think of where their next meal will be. It is the responsibility of rich people to help us all. No matter how much money you have or don't have, you are rich compared to others and must take that responsibility."

An hour later, Linda Leeds picked me up with Tania Barricklo. Tania shot a good video pan of the other side of the Hudson River to the Indian Point nuclear facility before we left the station. We went on to Nancy Vann's house to drop off my stuff, and take a quick look at the maps of the site and the proposed pipeline expansion to orient ourselves between the measure I had designed, company easements and satellite imagery before heading to the launch site.

Videographer Denise Petrizzo drove up from the city and met us at the site about 2: PM. There were a few minutes of panic when we realized none of us at the site had Denise's number but she found us without any trouble. As we organized ourselves to begin the site examination, two cars of local residents with young families came by and asked what we were doing. We explained and they seemed delighted, promising to return the next day.

Then the four of us began walking the 1/3 mile measure to mark which trees would be painted. At first I felt very disoriented trying to jive where the trees were that needed painting with the satellite images I'd been studying for weeks. Eventually, I began to feel the pattern of logical distribution. by gauging the rhythm of our walking.

Soon, as we walked the site, the rain began in earnest. I was walking in lakes, sopping wet. Before we quit, Linda wanted to paint at least one tree, at the entrance to the site. We walked to the turn in the road that led to the site, chose a tree to make an opening note in the overture and began painting. As we worked, a tall man with a German accent jogged up and unlike the previous friendly residents, demanded we immediately stop painting. Denise turned her camera on him as he yelled at us. He screamed at Denise that she had to give him her video card, but she turned off her audio and told him he hadn't been recorded. Disarmed by our previous experience with residents, I briefly tried to explain our mission but soon saw he wouldn't be charmed or cajoled. Instead, he threatened to go to the Supreme Court to stop our work, declaiming that we were defacing nature like children making graffiti, he shouted at us about the authority of his opinions, exclaiming that he understood nature, what it needed and what art is and should be. We smiled and continued to paint. Eventually he left and we finished the evening's work. Both incidents with residents were heads up about what might come from a full symphony: the good and the bad, delight and hope vs. rage and efforts to control and dominate.

About 7: PM, Linda, Nancy and I went back to Nancy's to study the maps again. Denise stayed with us to shoot a bit more and then she went home to Brooklyn until 9: AM the next day.

From left to right, myself, Nancy and Linda trying to make sense of company maps that were very confusing to read, to confirm how the measure would be laid out between the easements. As I told them, if I could sing the spatial relationships, I would know the distribution was correct. Still from Denise Petrizzo's video documentation of Blued Trees.
About 9: PM, Linda and I quit working on the maps. Nancy had already retired. Linda and I were both exhausted. We went out to find me rubber boots for the expected rain the next day, and dinner.  It was already raining hard. We found a pair of boots for $13. on sale at Marshalls and then a dive of a Chinese restaurant for veges & brown rice with fortune cookies for dessert. I went to bed willing to roll with the punches of whatever Mother Nature would dish out the next day, trusting that whatever was to happen would be perfect.

I woke early Sunday morning to birdsong and sunshine that would segue back and forth between steamy clarity and light rain until midday and bursting with excitement. We headed to the site for the launch to meet the performers shortly before 9: AM.

To be continued. - July 4, 2015

If Blued Trees represents a paradigm of what needs to happen to change our relationships to biosystems, then part of that paradigm is accepting limitation while having faith in a larger community. Two weeks after the launch, I am still recuperating from the exertion that launched the project. This tells me that efforts to create change and avert disaster costs high levels of energy investment, periods of patient rest despite the urgency of circumstances, and tolerance for and acceptance of the frustration that comes with the subsequent delays. Today I am back in Maine. It is sunny and beautiful and things are moving along, albeit a bit slower than I'd hoped. And what I am only beginning to fully absorb is the implications of all the people who participated as well as the experience of "embracing" the trees to make music with them.

The day of the launch, I was tremendously excited to see load after load of folks arrive from various places to participate in the painting. There was light rain but my shoes were still soaked through from the previous day. I was grateful for my $13. boots. Linda had the situation well under control, armed with water for everyone, she was soon efficiently mixing a vast vat of beautiful blue paint slurry and dispensing it in bright ultramarine buckets for the painters. We walked the site again and I double-checked the trees we had marked off to be sure they were accurate to the notes of the measure. We were joined by small waves of people, who were immediately set to work. I was delighted to welcome a cohort of Earth Guardians. I gave them all instructions as they joined us and as the morning progressed, my heart swelled with the excitement of the day: art might effect change. We could collaborate with nature to save us all. people really don't want to continue destroying the earth.

We had two confrontations, building on the tension of the previous day's experience with the jogger. One was from a property owner along the corridor, whose land was leased to the pipeline company. The second was with our German friend from the day before, whose wife joined in screaming abuse, as they both threatened to call the police on us,whom never arrived. Presumably they had greater threats in the community than a modest group of tree huggers traipsing through the woods with buckets of blue slurry. We were soon joined by other local residents, including two young children, all of whom were very concerned about the potential impacts oft he planned pipelines expansion, the health dangers and the threat of a nuclear accident.

Earth Guardians (Christian, Aidan and Sam) pose with Nancy Vann and the trees they just painted as part of the overture launch for Blued Trees.

To be continued. - July 5, 2015

Approximately 3:30  PM, we began the last event of the Blued Trees launch: a performance. I changed from my work clothes to a silky gray tunic, took off my rain hat, let my hair down, coached to performers in singing the measure we had just laid out along the 1/3 mile measure and led the remaining participants who had stuck with the event since 9: AM in the morning despite rain and heat, on a meandering walk through the installed measure. Denise Petrizzo, photographer Susan Rutman and the reporter Peter Rugh, of Vice, shot our passage through shaded woods and high grasses. We walked in a measured cadence, in the 1/64 rhythm of the composition, singing the musical iterations of the overture. Each "note" was visited, sung by each tree of the spatialized melody and joined by all the voices of the performers. I have seen few stills from this event and none of the video yet.

The performance took place spatially, acoustically, visually and psychologically. The "audience," besides the performers, were the trees whom had been the designated "soloists" in the musical measure we had just installed on the site and their non-human denizens. I continue to wonder about the sentience of the trees. We know that trees "communicate" through their root systems, for example, to warn each other of threats. However, fewer people "speak tree," than speak dolphin or whale language in the sea, to know what the content of those communications might be. If those trees could have spoken, as Mother Nature seemed to have spoken, what might they say, healthy, vulnerable and threatened as they are, to the small band of humans passing amongst them, marking their surfaces with something that might grow moss. listening to the "songs" each tree sang, even as they heard our song?

The aesthetic perception of the whole on the day of the launch was in the capacity of the performers to hold that synesthetic structure in their own minds. It was a conceptual structure intended to defy the fragmentation and over-simplification humans have become accustomed to. That fragmentation and over-simplification permits us to cut down swathes of ecosystems and water resources humans depend upon for our own survival. It allows us to proliferate toxic fossil fuel infrastructures, such as the Algonquin pipeline 105' from a nuclear plant, on the edges of a working class community, rather than honor the other species who give us life. Fragmentation and over-simplification is a seduction I succumb to myself, when I drive myself to "perform," despite CFS. But then I embrace the connectivity and complexity, when I accept my dependence on every person or other being I encountered from start to finish to effect this launch.

Photograph by Susan Rutman

- July 7, 2015

Now that the launch is complete, I am thinking about what comes next. First, I need to thank everyone who participated, who taught me about the issues, obstacles, and opportunities, who gave me this opportunity to, as the artist and colleague Eleanor Antin once put it, "be part of the conversation." Today, much of the world is engaged in a grand conversation about whether the human condition will survive the human species. I am still listening to that conversation, even as I assemble the vast amount of materials for the copyright filing for Blued Trees that would initiate the phase of legal work. While that is assembled,  after sending out as many individual, personal  thanks as I can, my next task will be helping a widening circle of others to experience this Overture measure for the Summer Solstice and appreciate n a full symphony at a later date.

-July 8, 2015

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