Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Blued Trees Symphony update

From April 2016 until late November 2016, I juggled dealing with surgery, chemotherapy and adjusting to long term medications, while moving The Blued Trees Symphony project forward. I blogged extensively on FB about my journey, making analogies between what I was experiencing and how the whole ecosystem was struggling to adjust to pollution, fragmentation and climate change, and was pleased to have a chance to write about the broader context I see for this work: Thanks to Betsy Damon, Kate Cummings and Jeremy Ohmes.

The Blued Trees Symphony carried on. Under the direction of Robin Boucher, curator of Perspective Gallery at Virginia Tech, students and other volunteers painted almost 200 trees in Blacksburg, Virginia to resist natural gas pipelines there that would devastate local habitat and endanger the water system, and installed an indoor version of the material.

Trees painted on Chinkapin Hill, VA. November 11, 2016 for The Blued Trees Symphony

String quartet performing November 11, 2016 in the installation of the Blued Trees Coda
at Perspective Gallery, Virginia Tech.

Now under the direction of Anita Stewart, The Blued Trees Symphony is expanding along the Sabal Trail in Florida. Activists against the pipelines there have encountered serious opposition, allege extensive public corruption, and have seen inadequate investigative reporting.

In recent weeks, my attention was consumed by the drama of the American Election, and the horrors of assaults on Native peoples defending water rights at Standing Rock. I am still very focused on the travesties of justice being witnessed there, where the sitting governor and pipeline corporations complain that the Water Protectors are standing in the way of their ill-gotten gains from ignoring treaties and destroying habitat, not to mention, threatening life. It has been heartening to see the attention build to this disgusting display of greed and tyranny. While recently attending the American Studies Association conference in Denver, I had the great privilege of meeting and speaking with some of the amazing women from Oceti Sakowin. I found them very inspiring. 

This is where donations can be made:

My task as an artist is to continue the project as an artwork, and to continue to build the standing for legal arguments when and if we can launch a test case in the courts.

The Coda to the raw material for the symphony was intended to be gathered Nov. 8, with the Election. My intention was contain the experience, and it was performed at the Perspective Gallery, at Virginia Tech the following Nov. 11, 2016.  The genesis of the show was covered in the Roanoke Times:

Detail of installation at the Perspective Gallery, Virginia Tech

But it has turned out that post-Election events continue to unravel, and now I don't know how the resolutions will be expressed. What I do know, is that the symphony continues to evolve, along with national resistance to the voracious greed of natural gas companies, and the parodies of justice and good governance that abet and defend that greed. I know that art, like the prayer of those at Standing Rock, has an ineffable power of its own, and I intend to continue to yield it.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

How to make a coda

The Coda for The Blued Trees Symphony has been a work in progress since October 1, 2016. It follows the third movement of the Symphony, which was about the legal framework of the project, and began the first of the year, January 1, 2016. an excerpt from that movement was recently performed at White Box Gallery.

The entire third movement unfolded as I was also coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis and the treatment, which I am still enduring. I experienced that as an internalization of the same degradation we are inflicting on our entire ecosystem, and most recently, on our culture and the very basis of civilization, in the form of the populist challenge Donald Trump and his followers represent.

Any symphonic coda is intended to resolve previous themes in the sonata form. In the case of Blued Trees, those themes include the need for the ecosystem that supports human life, and the manifold threats to that ecosystem, in these times, in the form of ruthless fossil fuel expansions. This coda will end on the American Election Day, Nov. 8, 2016, for the next President of the United Sates. As Trump's polls have fallen, he has encouraged his followers to stage a violent coup d'etat should he lose the election. The United States has never before face such a crisis.

In the next months, the project will travel to many venues, including George Mason University, Virginia Tech, the ASA conference, KRICT in Korea, and the 2017 College Art Association conference. At each venue, I will be presenting segments of the whole work, while I will be becoming to assemble the arts into a whole work for future venues. I will also be, with the rest of the world, watching this political debacle play itself out, and monitoring myself personally for a recurrence of cancer and tolerance for the meds I've been prescribed.

There are three weeks left to complete this coda, with stem semblance of coherence. Will the tempo be temp, like a series of jagged events and emotions? Or largo, as we all step back in a search for sanity and equilibrium? Will it be a waltz, as though death and life are dancing together? I shall see.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

On Defiance, Uncertainty, and Empathy

Photograph by Joe Gaffney

Shortly after my last post on this site, I began chemotherapy for breast cancer. I am now halfway through that grueling treatment protocol. Meanwhile, Blued Trees was awarded a 2016 Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts in the category of Architecture/ Environmental Structures/ Design, and a wonderful new article was published in the Village Voice on Blued Trees, by Audrea Lim, which included this quote:

"Michael Royce, editorial director of the New York Foundation for the Arts, says there's a strong case to be made that Blued Trees"expands the boundaries of traditional sculpture installations and symphonic orchestration by allowing for a fluid interplay of music and physical experience...with the viewer as participant or observer."

The article makes clear, that in Peekskill, New York, the site of the 2015 overture launch of Blued Trees, the Spectra Corporation defied both good public policy, and legal constraints, to place their corporate profits above safety for millions of people. On the other hand, the article also made clear, that an idea cannot be killed. 

As I negotiate the private process of surviving the medical protocols for cancer treatment, in the midst of creating the Coda movement which will culminate Blued Trees on the American Election Day, November 8, 2016, I am reminded of all the ways humans must publically negotiate uncertainty in the Anthropocene era.

A central thesis in my dissertation, "Trigger Point Theory as Aesthetic Activism," circled around the implications for the second law of thermodynamics, of James Clerk Maxwell's nineteenth century idea model, Maxwell's Demon, which posited that the work of sorting information, is a form of entropy. The implications I saw for environmental triage, were that the correct information can effect surprising change, in even the most apparently hopeless situations. In an era of unprecedented uncertainty and risk, the need for clean habitat for life on earth supersedes the disruptive impacts of greed.

In the case of the Blued Trees Symphony, which evolved out of Blued Trees, the surprising information is in the resilience and power of beauty, and empathy, in the face of destruction and greed. Effecting that surprise is the task of art. It is the mission of the Blued Trees Symphony. One tree,  one note in our continental music. One person's struggle to defy despair, is all of our struggle to hold onto hope. That is how I would define empathy.

We now have the legal framework to resist the proliferation of fossil fuel infrastructure poisoning the earth, thanks to the work of the legal team of Gale Elston, and Michael Gentlesk. It will be made available to the Blued Trees painters.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Blued Trees Symphony, an anniversary event

We are pleased to announce a new article about Blued Trees, by Nancy Averret, as we anticipate more painting the weekend of June 18, 2016, the anniversary of the Blued Trees overture.

You are invited to keep track with Facebook, on The Blued Trees Symphony public page. Join us!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

New Press on "Blued Trees Symphony"

Detail of a Blued Tree before destruction by Spectra Corporation to install natural gas pipelines in Peekskill, New York Photo by Erik R. McGregor
There is some amazing new press on the Blued Trees Symphony:

This afternoon, April 21, 2016, thanks to a generous grant from the Ethelwyn Doolittle Justice and Outreach Fund from the Community Church of New York Unitarian Universalist. we will be meeting with our lawyers to create a legal framework that would umbrella all the Blued Trees sites!

Please consider donating to this project:

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Methane Is: shale gas methane emissions contribute substantial greenhouse gases, by Ruth Hardinger

I invited my friend and fellow activist artist, Ruth Hardinger to guest blog on methane emissions. The dangers of these emissions is one of the most serious motivators for the Blued Trees Symphony. I am happy to post this on the day after the arrest of eleven Resist AIM Pipeline defenders who chained themselves to an access gate to halt Hudson River drilling for the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM)- the Spectra Corporation Pipeline. The site of their arrests was not far from where Spectra destroyed the Blued Trees overture   Thanksgiving weekend 2015. On the same day, Governor Cuomo sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to halt construction on the AIM, and New York State Senators Liz Krueger and Felix Ortiz demanded pension fund fossil fuel divestments from Albany. It is a companion piece to the previous post, "After the Ph.D.," on environmental research work from artists. - Aviva Rahmani

Activists blocking Spectra work before arrests. Screenshot from FB of Photo by Erik R. McGregor

The short-lived climate pollutants [like methane] that we emit from human activities are basically controlling how fast the warming occurs, she said. This is because they are very powerful at absorbing radiation."[1]

Methane is CH4.  It is a powerful greenhouse gas. It degrades over 8 to 12 years in the atmosphere, as it converts into carbon dioxide (CO2).  There are three different sources of methane gas including thermogenic (from deep geology), anthropogenic (from human activities) or biogenic  (from living organisms ) methane[2].   “Natural” gas is composed of 85 to 99% methane, mostly thermogenic methane. 

The global warming potential of CH4 has been upgraded by IPCC to at least 86 times stronger than CO2 during a 20 year time frame of this gas, and 105 times stronger over a 10 year time frame.  Methane, grouped with other near-term climate forcers such as black carbon, hydrofluorocarbon and aerosols, is the most likely greenhouse gas escalating the planetary heat now, because there is so much of it being released.  There have been few measurements of gas leakage from gas wells and pipelines.  The measurements that have been made have found substantial concentrations of methane in the atmosphere.  Further, the EPA comparison of methane to CO2 on the 100 year time frame claims methane is 25 times stronger than CO2, hiding the real impact of CH4’s near-term presence.  Simply, the 100 year time frame does not acknowledge methane’s impact. 

The current atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide have levels unprecedented in the last 800,000 years.[3]  There is great concern about the absence of data collected of actual measurements of emissions.   Fugitive methane emissions have been measured in only a few cities: San Francisco CA, Manhattan, NY[4], Washington DC, Boston MA, and several small towns. The urgency to address climate change should be based on the actual impacts of this potent GHG.  Bryce Payne, PHD and two other scientists wrote to the White House and State Department that the GWP (global warming potential) of methane needs be positioned even shorter than 20 years, it should be a 10 year time frame.  This will allow us to understand what we are facing and to act appropriately to reduce the changing of our planet’s climate.

Methane leakage impacts arise from man-made sources that include natural gas pipeline leakage, leakage and venting of upgrading pipelines, abandoned old wells, new wells, gas or oil storage fields (these are highly pressurized for example near Porter Ranch), migration underground that rises to the surface, and emissions from waste water disposal and earthquakes, venting methane in oil well fields, and more.  This is happening in the US and in other countries. Evidence of leakage can be seen in the images attached here.[5]  Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS) has conducted methane emissions measurements in rural areas where methane escaped and has travelled beyond the target production zone underground, connected existing faults and fractures allowing gas to migrate to aquifers and the surface. 
Figure 5.  Image created by Bob Ackley, and Bryce Payne, Ph.D GasSafetyUSA 
The 3-4 June 2013 Towenda-Wyalusing Ambient Air Methane Survey.
Relative methane levels indicated in red (highest peak in the image = 3.9ppm)
Blue and orange markers indicate the Paradise Road and Sugar Run methane migration
impact areas (4-mile) designated in 16 May 2011 Pa DEP Consent Order.

Wyalusing area showing elevated methane (geological leakage) over a wide area in Susquehanna County, PA along the Susquehanna River  This is data obtained with a Picarro CRDS machine which produces very accurate measurements of methane to 1/2 ppm.  Chesapeake, the gas driller in the area, was fined $900, Pennsylvania DEP for causing gas migration. The area picture is detailed in the May 16 PA DEP Consent Order (post damage arrangement) which has the maps that are made by the yellow and blue points in the image. At least one lawsuit was settled there for $1.6 million and there are many more filed.

Image created by Bob Ackley, and Bryce Payne, Ph.D GasSafetyUSA 

Results of methane survey of parts of Manhattan and rural areas to the East on 27-30 November and December 2012.

DCS reported on fugitive emissions of Manhattan in 2012 and in New York City Gas Safety Inc. in 2015 determined that at least 6.6% of the total delivered gas is leaking although likely much more. [6]

Natural gas brings substantial and devastating health impacts.  DCS has participated in a compendium of health impacts from fracking.[7] Methane is an indicator gas for the mixture that is natural gas.  The mixture includes radon, endocrine disruptors, benzene toluene VETX , and more. Methane creates asthma from ozone and burning the gas emits ultrafine particulate matter, under 2.5 microns–these are like breathing someone else’s tobacco, an impact that it is overlooked.[8]  Global health agencies have encouraged awareness of air pollution-related diseases that causes over 6 million deaths every year. [9]

A quote from Bryce Payne, PhD  [10]
"It is essential that all UNFCCC (Cop 21) Parties and the global citizenry be as clearly informed as possible with respect to potential climate change and what is being done to mitigate anthropogenic forcing of the climate compared to what is actually necessary if disruptive climate change is to be minimized. If climate change mitigation efforts are to be effective, the short-term impacts of potent, short-lived greenhouse gases, especially methane, must be considered. In the near term, methane emissions due to human activity have a stronger global warming impact than the much larger emissions of carbon dioxide. Current greenhouse gas inventory and reporting rules of the UNFCCC are causing the climate impacts of greenhouse gases such as methane to be effectively ignored."


Ruth Hardinger is an artist and a Board and Steering Committee member with Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS) since 2009.  DCS is a 501-C3 organization that stands for clean water, air and land as basic human rights.   She initiated the fugitive emissions measurements and studies in Manhattan for DCS with Rebecca Smith, and Barbara Arrindell (DCS Director).  In recent art installation exhibitions, Hardinger has used abstraction from the methane measurement work for The Basement Rocks and The Basement Rocks – LOUDER.  The materials and sensitivity of constructions encourage awareness of the underground.  These exhibitions are accompanied with “Grounding” a sound of the underground, by rock musician Andy Chase, and letters for the visitors to take that convey her conversations with scientist, Bryce Payne, PhD and professor Ron Bishop, PhD regarding damage that is happening to the underground, the place of the most biomass in our planet. 


Friday, February 26, 2016

After the Ph.D; working in the third movement of "Blued Trees"

Gaining a Ph.D late in any artists career is controversial.  Those who think an artists task is to present the visual evidence and then step back, take exception to all those words, all those hours of research about content. I have always argued that an artist's research work at the Ph.D level becomes a more complicated process than routine studio research, and in the Anthropocene era, art should be more complicated.

Last weekend, I was in Zurich for a reunion of sorts, with the cohorts who had gained Ph.D's from the Zurich Node of the Planetary Collegium, initiated by Roy Ascott at Plymouth University, UK. The occasion was the presentation of Models of Diversity at the ETH, and the Zurich University of the Arts, where we had convened under the supervision of Dr. Angelika Scott, my first supervisor, and Dr. Jill Scott, my second supervisor, who started that program in 2005. It was the end of a unique integration of environmental sciences, technology and studio art.

The work of mine that was shown for the exhibition was from a 2007 group show, "Called to Action," curated by Lillian Ball. The view and details below, are from an installation visualization of trigger point theory,  which became my dissertation topic (Trigger Point Theory as Aesthetic Activism). That theory inspired the website, and led to Blued Trees.

"Trigger Point/ Tipping Points," work in installation in "Models of Diversity", 2016
This was the first full installation of the complete work, Painting and drawing on paper with photography300 cm x 200 cm
This work compared several sites in the Gulf of Maine to a site in Riverhead, NY, the location of the gallery, and the changes over ten years of time to the Ghost Nets site.

Installation detail 1 These details just compare two sections of the Ghost Nets site, the wetlands is the process of restoration, and the uplands riparian zone in 1997, and then ten years later, with the schematic analysis of the project sphere of affect from the nucleation process of the trigger points.

Detail 2 of "Trigger Points/ Tipping Points" installation. This is a detail shot of how one coastal city could effect an impact on a wider ecosystem on land and for marine life.

As part pf the conference that was part of the event, "Grounded Visions," I presented a PPT, that tracked how my theoretical work, which began before doing the Ph.D, culminated in Blued Trees, after completing my research.

Slide from conference presentation of Trigger Point Theory as Aesthetic Activism, to Blued Trees presented at ETH
Feb. 19, 2016 for the "Models of Diversity," conference. In this slide, I explained the role of law in effecting trigger point theory to stop fossil fuel proliferation, and made the relationship between the rules of law, the incidence of chemical discharge in Newtown Creek, and corollaries to musical systems in Blued Trees.

I am now into the third movement of Blued Trees. It will continue until the summer solstice anniversary of the launch of the overture. In considering the copyright aspect of the project, I am focusing now on the the implications of the term, droit morale, which literally means, moral rights. Originating in the French Revolution, the term means the spiritual value of the artwork has inalienable rights. That concept is the basis for all copyright law. The difference between approaching

Trigger Point Theory before and after the Ph.D work, is that I can now frame my questions on multiple layers, with formal parameters that are far more sophisticated, leading towards more complex questions. The original idea, was that there are small geographical points, physically located, whose restoration might effect a larger systemic healing to degraded ecosystems.

I think the same skills that might have accomplished that physical identification of trigger points, has become a model to identify more complex points of intervention, such as the legal points in Blued Trees. I can now ask, "what has happened to the moral-spiritual value of artmaking?" and it's corollary, "what relationship might there be, in the Anthropocene era, between making art, and the moral basis of justice?" Could droit morale be a key to that answer?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Pushing waves, making waves

The goal of Blued Trees has been to make waves in the legal system, by painting sine waves on the trees in forests, making music out of our relationships with those trees, making each site a trigger point for possible change.

I called this blog "Pushing Rocks," because that's what it often feels like to practice ecological art in the Anthropocene. Pushing waves, of course, is impossible. You either go with the flow of the waters or you resist them. I believe there may be ways to go with a flow.

What we want is sustainable change. Change that moves towards a resilient future. That may be far easier said than done. In this webcast with my colleagues, Jim White of UBS, and Gene Turner of LSU, we discuss how we might adjust to a very imminent future, in which the principles behind Blued Trees may have a  role.  As Jim White references in this webcast, perhaps it is not impossible to find a way to be part of the waves. What we want is to make waves that could erode hopelessness in the face of despair. We may need to first wade through a good deal of that despair.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"Blued Trees" for Resilience and Resistance

Blued Trees in the frontlines from Virginia to Rensselaer County
February 20, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland, a Blued Trees progress report will be delivered during the "Resilience" panel for the Models of Diversity conference and exhibition at the Institute of Integrative Biology, ETH Zurich. 
Federal copyright registration of Blued Trees sites continues. Legal research is currently being assembled to consider charging Spectra Energy with copyright violation over their destruction of the Blued Trees overture as a fixed work of ecological art. Blued Trees continues to be installed in the United States, in pathways of proposed natural gas pipeline expansions internationally, for the Blued Trees Greek Chorus.
The Blued Trees symphony has entered the third movement. It continues to seek novel legal recourse to protect the symphony and will track, respond and transpose legal developments around "public good" and eminent domain takings that support toxic fossil fuel industries. The third movement will segue to the coda of Blued Trees on the American Presidential Election Day, November 2016. 
The following excerpt, with music based on transposing the distribution of painted trees in New England, is from a December 15, 2015 performance at ISCP. That performance was a first draft for future events:

Blued Trees stands in solidarity with conscientious objectors, such as the "Montrose 9" who were arrested for protecting the same site where the Blued Trees overture was destroyed, November 9th, 2015. They will return to court February 3, 2016, to exercise the climate necessity defense for civil disobedience:

Watch the Blued Trees overture:

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Draft letter to a policymaker in New York State on the proliferation of natural gas pipelines

I have been advised that the legal process is both too expensive and takes too long for an artist to engage in to resist the proliferation of natural gas infrastructure at the expense of citizens. Some activists, such as the Montrose 9 + 2, have taken the route of risking (and being) arrested to prevail under the "necessity defense," that the necessity of opposing a disaster prevails over other considerations. Instead, I was advised to, and decided to find a policymaker who could spearhead the necessary changes. So I drafted the following letter for a policy maker in NYS:

I am writing as a citizen concerned with pubic good, and aware of your record of concern for the people of this state, with the hopes that we might meet to discuss your position on natural gas. I am a resident of NYC, and an ecological artist, with a transdisciplinary PhD in environmental sciences from the University of Plymouth, UK, and an Affiliate at the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I was approached a year ago, by activists opposing the Algonquin natural gas pipeline (AIM), now being installed in Peekskill, NY close to the Indian Point nuclear facility. Since then, I have informed myself about the risks that concerned them. In June 2015, I launched a public art project, “Blued Trees,” at the invitation of private landowners resisting eminent domain condemnation of their lands. That work has now been installed within the corridors of miles of proposed natural gas infrastructure, throughout the United States, copyrighted, and in the case of the Algonquin, a cease and desist was issued, and subsequently ignored by Spectra Corporation. The grounds of this legal-art work, are that the public good is not being served, as we face a catastrophe of climate change, alarming data on fugitive methane emissions, the probability of a fracked gas explosion close to a nuclear facility thirty miles from NYC, and impacts on watersheds and the small farming communities of upper New York State. I would be very appreciative if we might meet to discuss the data about this situation.

Thank you for you time and attention,

Dr. Aviva Rahmani