Art/ist Roles

By Eve Mosher

October 29th, Hurricane Sandy made landfall. The eye of the storm passed over New Jersey but the hurricane winds, and worse, a massive storm surge hit New York City. The storm surge, combined with high tides and sea level rise created a superstorm that sent waters rushing into the coastal areas of New York.

As images of the floods began to circulate, I got a sense of eerie familiarity. The debris line near the 14th street power station (where an explosion knocked out power for lower Manhattan for almost a week), the flooded Battery Tunnel entrance in Manhattan and the water soaked communities of Red Hook and Dumbo.

Debris in front of the ConEd substation at 14th and Ave C.(Dan Lurie / Gothamist)

Debris in front of the ConEd substation at 14th and Ave C.(Dan Lurie / Gothamist)

These images and places were where I had walked, in 2007, slowly drawing a blue chalk line along the ten foot above sea level line.

Eve Mosher’s, HighWaterLine Project on 14th street

I knew the areas well, met community members and witnessed everything along that line. I was creating a visualization based on a report written by climate scientists in 2001, which forecast more frequent severe flooding (from stronger storms) with a worst case scenario of a devastating flood once every four years by 2100.

The intention of the HighWaterLine project was to create a spectacle around which people could gather to engage in a conversation about climate change and their role in changing future scenarios.

The project has now become a rally cry for what we knew then and what the challenges we face now.

 

What is the place and power of art at the intersection of science, the environment and policy? And what power does art have on participating in the ever changing urban landscape?

Public works have the power to disrupt our daily routine and in so doing, leave an indelible impression upon us, scientific study even upholds the notion of the power of the unexpected From this place, art becomes an entry point for a memorable experience that can inform personal and community decisions. Some works create a space for a deeper experience and contemplation – Agnes Denes’ “Field of Wheat,” at once informed and motivated consideration on the culture of development and displacement. The “I Wish this Was…” project by artist Candy Chang sought to spur greater action – creating a space for creative thinking about development by and for a community.

Artists have a distinct ability to approach a problem or visualize an issue in a way that might exist outside the rubric of peer-reviewed reports, bureaucratic infrastructure and other frameworks which seek to create impediments instead of inspiration. Artists use visualization and emotion to convey information that could elsewhere read as dry and uninspired.

What are the various roles inhabited by art or artists that might allow participation in global issues?

  • Art/ist as commentator. Not merely editorializing on contemporary issues, but translating the facts into a work that creates an emotional experience. A successful project can go beyond the act of re-stating an issue by inciting questions and action.
  • Art/ist as collaborator. Working with science & scientists to create works that make complex knowledge accessible, and can be taken into the wider community. Mary Miss’ City as Living Laboratory/1,000 Stepsproject engages local communities, artists, scientists, planners and other stakeholders come together to design and develop projects to address sustainability along the Broadway corridor in NYC.
  • Art/ist as witness.  Work can create a space for community reaction, or act as a method of observing and documenting those reactions.
  • Art/ist as storyteller. Stories as a tool for communication are jarringly powerful. The personal relationship to issues and information creates an emotional connection. Acting as witness is also a method of collecting and redistributing stories.
  • Art/ist as catalyst. Creating works that spark or inspire change in thought and attitude or act as instigator for discussion play an important role in transfer of knowledge and civic engagement.
  • Art/ist as innovator. Unhindered by existing frameworks, artists can restructure and reinvent  solutions and methods of engagement through artistic acts.
  • Art/ist as community builder. An artist can provide an object or event upon which people can focus, showing their support, enthusiasm or varied passion. Xavier Cortada‘s Reclamation Project, which engages communities in the act of nurturing and planting mangrove trees in Florida is a simple act in which participants gain knowledge and a sense of acting to reverse the devastating impacts of development on their own communities.

After Hurricane Sandy, my work was used by Elizabeth Kolbert, writing in The New Yorker, as setting the stage for comprehension of the great challenges that lay ahead for the city of New York in addressing future floods. It was also used by Bill Weir, on ABC Nightline News to create a local visual tie to global climate change impacts as documented by the Extreme Ice Survey time lapse documentation of glacial retreat.

For me, this is indicative of the great role that art can play of focusing attention and translating complex situations into powerful, visual statements.

©Eve Mosher 2013

Effective Art

By Lillian Ball

There is an innovative category of artist that confirms the many ways art can do more than mirror the state of our culture, or current events. These artists are committed to working in ways that actually change how the world works in addition to the ways we might perceive the world.

The diverse art projects I am fascinated with cover a wide range of disciplines. Social practice or public interaction is often a vital component. These international artists are doing more than merely talking about “relational aesthetics”. Ecological systems are inherently relational with great potential for embedded aesthetics. Financial and economic crises, sustainability and green infrastructure, bioremediation and native habitat restoration: all can be subjects of this reflective approach.

Some projects are activist in form, but others may just be creatively subversive – employing whatever tactics go beyond getting the point across, all the way to actually making a difference. Artistic personalities can be resourceful in unique ways because artists are taught to think outside the box. Adversity trains them to be capable of negotiating transformative paths. This work is not necessarily political, but often involves alternative structures, cross-disciplinary methods, and the applied sciences. Public officials may be supportive, or in opposition, but the work certainly provokes a response.

Several international artists present solutions to environmental and land use challenges in a variety of formats. Project manifestations range from studio art, to performance, to depictions of permanent public installations. The artwork itself is visual, poetic, and ambiguous, not didactic in nature. We can be inspired, and intelligently seduced into action, without being bombarded by post-apocalyptic visions.

Links below are examples of projects that hinge on the artist’s individual commitment to public interaction:

Fernando Garcia Dory organizes Shepherds events that maintain farming culture and prevent development in the mountains of his native Spain.

 

 

Reverend Billy/Church of Stop Shopping deposited “murdered mountain mud” at 20 Chase Manhattan branches informing customers about the bank’s mountaintop removal financing.

 

 

 

Betsy Damon creates interventions with Tibetan communities to save sacred water sources.

Mathias Kessler & scientist Dr. Wendelin Weingartner, use software interfaces to verbally announce plant stress symptoms.

Certainly not “art for art’s sake”, Effective Art derives inspiration from outside the art discourse. This work stretches what art is capable of doing, beyond green-washing contemporary culture or complaints about art’s marginalization. As Gustave Speth, a founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council and former Dean at Yale School of Environmental Studies says “we need all the help we can get”. This work of these artists examines successful tactics that use art as a critical weapon in the fight against environmental destruction.

©Lillian Ball 2013

Hear from Our Team!

By Jenny Laden

Now it’s time to hear from our team !  Here they are, discussing our planning project, the art program’s goals, and what makes The Schuylkill Center unique. Our Advisory team is collectively committed to progressive collaboration in art and science, and after our time together have a sincere fondness for the site and the program.

Moving forward, we will be sharing some thoughts and ideas from the team members themselves in the coming weeks. In the meantime, watch these smart amazing people, and join in our Walk in the Woods.
Special thanks to Mangrove Media for their gorgeous filming.

What Makes the Schuylkill Center Unique

The Goals of this project